Downtown Strut: An Edna Ferber Mystery (Edna Ferber Mysteries)

Downtown Strut: An Edna Ferber Mystery (Edna Ferber Mysteries) by Ed Ifkovic Read Free Book Online

Book: Downtown Strut: An Edna Ferber Mystery (Edna Ferber Mysteries) by Ed Ifkovic Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ed Ifkovic
Immediately I felt deflated, shunned, the pleasure ripped away.
    At that moment, out of nowhere, I remembered the modest love sonnet Ellie had written last summer, which she’d been hesitant to share with her friends in my living room. It talked of a saxophone player in a shiny powder-blue Norfolk suit and the way he wailed his instrument, drunk in an alley, as he watched an orange harvest moon rise over the Hudson. An Elizabethan encomium to a failed love affair. It had given me chills then. Now I understood why.
    “Amazing,” I whispered again, but to myself.
    But that was her last number. She bowed a thank you, back to being a shy schoolgirl. The sax player threw her a kiss as she left the stage. She was followed by a raucous, whoop-di-do combo, a band of rollicking men who shifted the tone of the room, brought the crowd to its stomping feet; shrill whistles of approval burst out across the floor. Sipping the last of the drink that had mysteriously appeared on the table, I signaled to Jed that I was ready to leave. He wasn’t: he was staring off into the wings, where, I noticed, Ellie was having a lively chat with someone.
    Eventually, goading him, I got my way, though Jed fussed and hawed as we strolled back out onto the sidewalk. “The night is so young,” he bellowed.
    “We came to hear Ellie,” I insisted.
    “Maybe you did.” He waved his arm, taking in the busy street. “Christ, Edna, everyone’s waiting for Ethel Waters. You know what I paid to get us in there?” He sighed. “Well, we could go to the Cotton Club or…”
    “There’s a cab that just emptied,” I pointed out, the shrewish party-pooper. “If we rush…”
    But standing a few feet from me, tucked into the shadows of a hardware store but positioned so that I would notice him as I turned, was Roddy Parsons. I was surprised to see him standing there at this late hour, and alone. I motioned him over.
    “Miss Ferber. Mr. Harris.” A pause. “Good evening.”
    Though he’d purposely got my attention, now he seemed hesitant to join us, speaking our names from the shadows while he glanced from me to Jed. Strangely, he was frowning at Jed, which baffled me. But then the frown disappeared in an instant. He smiled at me. “So you came to hear Ellie after all.” He sounded pleased.
    “Yes, I surprised myself, Roddy. But we only caught the last song. Though, I must say, she has a wonderful voice.”
    As he walked close to us, he confided, “She can make it downtown on Broadway, you know. We all say that—her friends. She’s got the real stuff.” He looked at Jed who was then tapping his foot, impatient. “She’s new here, so they’re trying her out. That’s why she only does one early show. And just three numbers. It’s a shame, really.” He breathed in, nervous. “But she said they like her.” Stressing the word, he glanced back to the entrance to Small’s Paradise. “She should be a headliner .”
    “I sense a ‘but’ in your words, Roddy.”
    “She’s so shy. She’s not…aggressive. Singers got to be…you know…pushy.”
    “She’s like one of those women you don’t notice on the street but, once onstage, they seem to come alive.” At that moment I was thinking of Helen Hayes, an unassuming and even mousy woman at a party, but once she stepped before blazing footlights, as in her current hit Coquette , she dominated, soared, seduced, and demanded your attention.
    “I’m waiting to see Ellie home,” he told me. “She lives uptown. Two subway stops. I do it sometimes when she does a show around here. We spend some time together.” He looked over my shoulder, his eyes taking in the marquee for Small’s Paradise. “I’m not allowed to go inside to wait for her.” He looked back at me but immediately looked over my shoulder again, up the block. “Bella’s with me. We were having coffee at Harry Chang’s.” He pointed back to a chop suey joint on the corner, the name “Harry Chang’s” illuminated in

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