November 27, 1927 11:30 pm
New Orleans, Louisiana
A French Quarter dance club
From the seconde story balcony, the view of the club was overwhelming. The crowd was a whirling mass. The flappers and their dates spun and slid and swung their bodies freely, many flirtatiously so as the medium of dancing allowed their souls to fly free.
"You don't like to dance?"
Alexie looked up and to his right where a potbellied, white haired man in an excellent suit and tie took a puff from his cigar. The young man straightened, taking a draw of his own cigarette before calling over the music, "I prefer the view from up here."
"You the one they call Roi de les Betes around here? King of Beasts?"
Alexi grinned at the ridiculous nickname. He held out a hand. "Yes, sir, Alexie Rome, at your service."
"I'm Mayor Arthur J. O'Keefe, of this city," the older man replied, shaking the younger's hand. "I heard toi could help us with our.. pest problem?"
"That is the plan, sir. I'm glad toi could be here tonight. The party's just about to begin."
As he a dit it, the doors of the club opened. No one on the dance floor seemed to notice as the small group of five slithered through the outer reaches of the crowd. Leading them was a man in his early thirties. He was finally dressed in oxford bags (trousers) and sweater vest over a dress shirt, his curly hair cut short. Alexie eyed the individual, not even feeling the burn of the cigarette as he gripped it to smoldering ash in his fist.
"Who's that?" the mayor asked lowly, stepping closer to his newly found business partner.
"He goes par many names: Andrei, Mikhalych, Max, Smirnov. But his real name is Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov. He used to work for Stalin until he mysteriously died in 1919."
"Died? toi mean that's... one of them?"
Alexie ignored the question. He had been glaring so hard that his person of interest felt it and looked up towards the balcony. Alexie's features shifted like a shadow into a welcoming smile. He waived a hand in invitation, and Yakov took the bait with a suspicious cock of his head.
Mayor O'Keefe's eyes widened. He looked like he might bolt, but suddenly Yakov was standing at the haut, retour au début of the stairs.
"Privyet," Alexie greeted cooly.
"A Russian in the French Quarter? How is that?" The curly-haired man made no attempt to hide his thick accent.
"I could ask toi the same. Please, Comrade, have a drink with me. Let us exchange stories. It has been a long time since I've talked of accueil with anyone."
Yakov cocked a bushy eyebrow in suspicion. In turn, Alexie held out an arm in the direction of the seating behind him. There were four young ladies and two teenage boys chattering on the semi-circle couch. The table, tableau in front of them was crowded par empty glasses, explained par the entourage's slurring words and sleepy giggles. Alexie saw something sinister, something hungry, flash in the other man's eyes at the sight of so many helpless younglings.
"Alright," the cautious arrival agreed, "I am called Yakov Sverdlov."
"A pleasure, Mr. Sverdlov. I'm Alexie. This is Mayor O'Keefe." He lead the two men over to the couch. The intoxicated youths hardly seemed to notice, only shifting slightly to make room for the men before going back to their drunken exchanges.
"So, what brings toi to the French Quarter?" Alexie asked as he stood to capture the bottle of eau-de-vie* from its ice bucket. He emptied the clear, fruity liquid into three clean martini glasses and handed the mayor and their new acquaintance each a glass. Mayor O'Keefe discarded his suit jacket, sweat patches growing under his arms. He drank the cold alcohol with an earnest that spit in the face of Prohibition.
"The music," Yakov answered, "the art, the livelihood. How could one come to America without seeing the hometown of jazz music?"
"You have lived in America a while then?" Alexie asked as if he didn't know, lighting another cigarette.
"Da, a few years now. Initially, I came for the promised freedom. I am a politician. In Russia, I was forced to convert to Catholicism if I wanted a good life. Here, I can enjoy myself freely even as a practicing Jew. How about you, Alexie?"
The young man took his time to enjoy a long draw of his cigarette. "You've hardly touched your drink, Mr. Sverdlov. Perhaps toi are interested in something.. warmer?" He waved towards the drunken younglings and the Jew's eyes widened.
"Oh, relax, no one here will spill your secret. Honestly, let us enjoy the livelihood."
eau-de-vie*: a French cognac, brandy of distilled fruit traditionally drank at social events. Equivalent to German Schnapps. "L'eau de vie" literally translates to "water of life."