“You need some help with that valise, Dottie?”
I clicked my compact shut and turned to see Dottie struggling with a suitcase as she made her way toward our makeshift dressing room. Mr. Samuels, the owner of the Broadway Fur Salon, trailed her down the hall offering assistance.
“No thanks, Mr. Samuels. I’ve got it,” Dottie used her hip to close the door behind her. She sighed, setting down her load.
"Going somewhere?" I asked.
"I'm meeting Jimmy at Grand Central after work."
Jimmy, of course. My brother, New York’s worst gambler and the man who’d stolen Dottie away from me. It was my own fault for introducing them. I knew Dottie had a thing for bad boys that trumped her attraction to busty blondes. He and Dottie took one look at each other and I was yesterday's news.
"So Jimmy’s finally spending some money on you. Where are you going - Atlantic City for the weekend?"
"He wouldn’t tell me where. He owes Frank Kenner five thousand bucks he can’t pay back. We’ll be laying low for a while."
A knock on the door and Mr. Samuel’s voice came through. “Kath, anytime you’re ready.”
“We’ll be right there,” I called.
“Anytime you’re ready,” Dottie sing-songed in imitation. “What a soft spot he has for you. It’s kind of cute, really.”
“Don’t change the subject. You’re taking off for parts unknown with Jimmy, of all people? I thought you were smarter than that.”
“I’m plenty smart. That suitcase is empty.”
“What?” I bent down, gripped the handle and pulled, ready for resistance. There wasn’t any.
“Pretty good acting, huh?” She gave a playful smile and a dark lock of wavy hair fell over her right eye. God, she was gorgeous.
“Terrific, but what’s with the suitcase?”
“I thought I should fill it with something valuable before I left."
“Are you kidding? Samuels has got eyes in the back of his head. You think you’re going to sneak a grip full of furs out of here?”
“Not by myself.” She gave me that smile again. This time it bounced right off.
“Was this Jimmy’s idea?”
The smile became a pout. “If you don’t want to do it, just say so.”
“I don’t want to do it. And you shouldn’t do it either.”
“If I’m going to leave town I need cash.”
“Why leave at all? You know Jimmy only wants you with him to wash his shirts and make his coffee."
I expected Dottie to rise to his defense - give me the usual sob story about Jimmy having a good heart and bad luck. Instead she slipped off her coat and hung it on the rack.
"Forget I said anything.” She reapplied her lipstick while I watched, trying not to remember the feel of those lips. “You look nice tonight. Is that a new gown?" she asked.
"Bargain basement, Gimbels."
Her hand slid over the fabric covering my thigh. “You sure that’s not silk?”
“Like I could afford silk.”
“You could if you’d help me out. I’d give you a cut. Think of what’s lying around out there.”
She placed a hand on the back of my neck, playing with my hair, and leaned in to whisper in my ear. "That leopard jacket for instance. The one you say makes me look like Myrna Loy. And the mink...the chinchilla cape."
Her breath was coming faster as she pictured the haul, fingers twisting my hair until it hurt. I didn't want her to stop. But I couldn’t risk my job.
"Nothing doing. Samuels will know I was in on it. He knows we're friends."
"We're more than friends, aren't we, honey?" Warm lips on the nape of my neck. "We're practically sisters."
My knees went weak but somehow I managed to head out the door into the showroom.
Dottie joined me a minute later and for an hour we paraded in front of the plate glass window, modeling furs for the hordes shoving their way down Broadway. Dottie wouldn’t give up, telling me her plan in installments each time we changed coats.
My job was to distract the boss. Follow Samuels into his office, close the door and let him think I was going to put out. By the time his hands reached the top of my stockings Dottie would have stuffed the furs into her valise and run off to meet Jimmy. She’d wire me a share of the dough.
"I’m not doing it.” I slid a rabbit jacket back into its place and chose a full-length mink.
Dottie held the fur for me as I slipped into the sleeves. Embraced me from behind. "I think you will. Because if you don’t I’ll tell Samuels you tried to molest me.”
I turned to face her. “You wouldn’t.”
Her blue eyes were like ice. “You already said what a good actress I am. I don’t think his crush on you would survive what I’d tell him. He’d fire you on the spot.”
I knew she was right. And I knew I couldn’t afford to lose my job.
“What do I have to do?” I asked.
“Let him get a feel or two.” She smoothed the mink with her hands, illustrating. "I only need five minutes."
It didn't take much effort to coax Samuels into his office - a smile and some eyelash fluttering. Once the door closed behind us I told him why I was there. His expression went from good-natured leer to apoplectic rage. He launched himself into the main room to find Dottie struggling to latch her overstuffed suitcase.
Samuels pressed charges. How could he not? He had to set an example for all the greedy, pretty girls who worked for him. He showed his appreciation to me though.
Jimmy says it’s wrong to wear my mink to Bedford Hills on visiting days, but I’m sure Dottie doesn’t mind. We’re practically sisters, after all.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Story: WINDOW DRESSING
“You need some help with that valise, Dottie?”