Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

Eli is standing inches from the face of a blond haired, young man in a freshly pressed khaki Army uniform buttoned to the neck with a tie. His eyes are level with Eli’s eyes and he is of thin build. His blond hair is short but of a length that can be combed. It’s parted almost in the middle but slightly to his left side. He has a narrow, freshly shaven face. His eyebrows are normal thickness but so light in color that they are almost invisible. With his left hand he lightly pushes on Eli’s right shoulder and tauntingly says with a southern drawl, “Well, go on Bailey. What are you waiting for? She doesn’t have a guy with her.” Eli turns his head to look across the very large room. “Don’t be such a chicken-shit,” the man heckles.

Without focusing on anything across the room Eli turns back to the man and looks him squarely in the eyes. I can sense Eli has formed a big grin and comments, “Parker, you are such an ass-hole.”

“Well, okay I’ll buy that,” Parker agrees then continues, “if you’ll buy the fact that you are chicken-shit. You don’t have a hair on your ass if you don’t get over there!”

Page 12


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

“Fine, then take a close look at my hairy ass while it’s leaving, shithead,” Eli laughingly responds as he pivots left in military style. His eyes scan a raised stage with only female musicians milling around. He stops his turn with his gaze looking across a large dance floor at people seated at tables. The Art Deco ballroom is done with patterns of primarily cyan accented by apple green and lime green. Overall the males outnumber females slightly and most of the males are soldiers. Eli can see many tables, each circled with chairs, few of which are unoccupied, surrounding a nearly vacant large dance floor. For a few moments Eli hesitates as he exudes apprehension then, as he forces his trepidation to shift to determination, he boldly crosses the dance floor in front of the stage. As he approaches the other side of the ballroom all peripheral vision disappears as his resolute gaze is focused on two women in their early twenties seated at the second table from the stage on the edge of the dance floor. I think they might be sisters. They have similar shoulder length hairdos in a style that reminds me of Rita Hayworth in the 40’s movies. They are by themselves as they converse with each other. There are two empty chairs, one on each side of them. As Eli continues his determined march he glances at the woman on the right. She has medium brown hair. She is wearing a white collared blouse unbuttoned enough to expose just a peek of cleavage with a blue floral print skirt. About four strides from his target his gaze shifts exclusively to the woman on the left. I now realize that she was his objective from the moment of his pivot away from Parker but I was unable to pinpoint his fixation until we got this close. Eli realizes she bears a remarkable resemblance to his fourth grade teacher, Miss Shannon. Contrasting her very dark brown hair, her white blouse with a wide ruffled collar is open but modestly

Page 13


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

buttoned. Her skirt’s hemline just below the knee reveals attractive calves that curve into her slender ankles. As he stops in front of their table his gaze again captures both ladies. They simultaneously turn to look at Eli with expressions of curiosity. His focus returns solely to the woman on the left. Speaking directly to her Eli says, “Please forgive me for the intrusion, my name is Eli.” Then, as he turns his head toward the group of men, with his hand he motions across the floor. He pauses when he sees Parker. The group of men are staring back at him. He then turns back to the ladies and comments, “Those fellows with the stupid grins would not stop pushing me to come over here and speak to you.” Eli’s voice has an accent similar sounding to that of Tom Bodett of the Motel 6 commercials.

“Speak to me about what?” she asks while staring at the men with stupid grins. “What impudent stunt did they put you up to? Or better yet, just tell me up front the terms of the wager.”

Eli points at Parker who is now waving the back of his hand with fingers pointed down as in a gesture of ‘go on….go on’. “Oh, there was no bet. I had told the one with blond hair that there was some mystical power drawing me to you. He started urging me and soon enough they are all relentlessly ganging up on me to come over here.”

“Well then, to avoid further torture, please sit down,” she requests as she pulls the empty chair next to her away from the table. “My name is Mayme. This is Geraldine. To be honest, we didn’t come here to sit at this table by ourselves so we would be happy to have you join us.”

“Thank you, Mayme. You have a great name,” Eli remarks in earnest. He reaches between his legs to pull the chair under him as he sits down. “It fits you perfectly.” Then, as he nods to Geraldine he says, “It’s nice to meet you Geraldine.”

Page 14


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

“So where are you and your friends from?” Geraldine queries.

“I am from Iowa,” Eli replies. “They are from all over. I didn’t know any of them until a few weeks ago. This is our last night. We are getting on the train to ship out tomorrow morning. Are you from around here?”

Mayme begins to open her mouth but Geraldine, who seems to be staking her claim on Eli, rattles on, “Yes, we live close to here. We wouldn’t have missed tonight. They haven’t had a band here since the Army moved in. Thanks to the USO we have someplace to dance tonight besides the Steel Pier. We got here early to get this table. It is a good thing we did because it is a double header tonight. The first band is an all girl’s band and it looks like they will be starting any minute.”

As Geraldine is finishing Eli turns back toward Mayme in time to see her irritated glare toward Geraldine. When she realizes Eli is looking, her expression transforms to a smile. Mayme reclaims the conversation, “So, Eli, tell me about this mystical power that has a grip on you.”

Eli stammers, “Ah, w-well, maybe that was a poor choice of words. My mouth is always saying stuff that I end up having to explain. I don’t want you to think I am some kind of nut case.”

“That didn’t work Eli,” Mayme admonishes with a perplexed expression. You are beginning to sound like a nut case. So in addition to having mystical powers, you also don’t have control of what your mouth says?”

Eli is embarrassed now. He thinks it may have been a mistake to come over here. He is so enamored of Mayme he decides to make good on his effort at explanation. “It’s just that I was looking around at all the people here and when my eyes found you they automatically

Page 15


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

stopped scanning the room. My attention was glued to you. You are very pretty but it is more than that. It is you that has the mystical power over me.” Up to this point Eli has remained serious. He wanted to tell her it may be fate that made her stand out in the crowd but he thought that might make Mayme uneasy if brought up anything about the power of fate. So to lighten the conversation I can feel his grin as he laughingly says, “And the part about my mouth is simply that your mystical power has me hypnotized and therefore you had disconnected my mouth from my brain.”

As he delivers his explanation Mayme’s face goes from a puzzled expression to a smile. “Okay Eli, you have redeemed yourself. That was pretty smooth but your grin gives you away. I can tell you have a sense of humor. Good thing too because if I thought you were serious I wouldn’t be able to handle a guy that believed he was that suave.”

The band has just started playing Moonlight Serenade as he comments, “Suave is about the furthest thing you could use to describe me. I am just a simple boy from Iowa. The only thing you could find in Iowa that is suave is Cary Grant up on the screen in a theatre.” Eli has a feeling of relief come over him because he doesn’t think Mayme could hear the last remark over the band. He turns to watch the band to hide his embarrassment. He silently reprimands himself, ‘What a stupid thing to say. Don’t try to make jokes.’ His mind is racing to figure out what to say to the woman he thinks may be the one his father told him to watch for. In his mind she looks exactly like a composite of all the women he had been drawn to in his life. He looks out the corner of his eye to see Mayme watching the band. Eli mentally speaks to himself, My attempts at small talk with women are pointless. I always sound dim-witted. This is hopeless. Now, I am so infatuated I will

Page 16


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

never be able to have a real conversation with this woman. Eli fears that if the band finishes this song he will lose his chance at an easy exit so he rises and starts back across the now full dance floor.

Mayme immediately calls out, “Eli.” As he hears this he hesitates for a moment but he is unsure whether he should turn around or not. Then Mayme loudly yells, “Eli!” With his feet remaining pointed on course, Eli swivels at the hip to look back over his shoulder at her. She is holding his garrison cap, that foldable cloth type of military cap. She waves it around as if beckoning Eli to come take it. He wonders how she got it as he looks down to check his belt where it should be secured. He turns around and makes the short return trip but does not sit down. The band is playing a slow romantic song. As he reaches out to retrieve his cap she snatches it back. She states at a volume level to be heard over the band, “I would be open to an invitation to dance, Eli.”

Eli confesses loudly in an apologetic tone, “I am not a good dancer. A skill I never acquired, I guess.”

Mayme is now looking up at Eli as he stands in front of her. She appears disappointed and pleads, “That’s too bad Eli. I did come here to dance. This song is slow. Would you be willing to let me show you how to dance? I promise it will be painless.”

Eli rethinks his trepidation and warns himself, this may be my only chance! “Well, you should know, I am powerless to decline your wishes,” Eli admits. Then he extends his right hand and requests, “Mayme, may I have the honor of your hand for this dance?” Mayme rises, takes his hand with her left hand and walks a few steps from the table. The first touch of Mayme’s hand to his hand is a savory experience for Eli.

Page 17


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

She points out, “We have enough seclusion here to allow a student to learn.” Mayme’s definition of seclusion is an unoccupied five foot square. She turns face to face with Eli. With her left hand she pulls his right hand around behind her and places it above her waist. Then she places her left hand on his right upper arm. She takes his left hand with her right and presses their palms together. She holds them out away from them but with elbows slightly bent. She pulls him closer but leaves a comfortable gap between their bodies. “This is the proper position for waltzing Eli. However this song is not a waltz but we will use it for any slow dancing. Now we will just start stepping side to side in time to the music. For this song we will step to every beat. Just watch my feet for a few steps and mirror me so your right foot mimics my left and vice versa.” She drops her left hand from his arm and takes his right hand. “We will get out of the dance position so while you watch we will just hold hands.” Eli nervously complies as he backs away from her so he can see her feet. They step side to side for a few beats. “That’s it. Now look up at me and just keep doing that while you feel the music.” In spite of her praise he still feels awkward. She brings him closer again. “Now we just shuffle around doing the same step while changing directions.”

After a few moments he asks, “Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing, Mayme?”

Mayme praises, “You are doing splendidly. You can be proud of yourself.”

Eli is just slightly taller than Mayme so they are almost eye to eye and he loves staring into those dark brown eyes. They have been dancing for a couple minutes now. With this slow tempo Eli has easily been able keep up. Mayme is leading, directing them around in this

Page 18


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

small area of the floor. She has been accommodating him by walking backwards and just slightly pulling or pushing to make the turns. Moonlight Serenade ends and smoothly transitions to I Had the Craziest Dream. “This is a slightly faster tempo, Eli,” Mayme instructs, “So watch my feet for a moment.” He has immediately felt the tempo change and continues stepping to the new beat. “Well, you caught onto that quickly. You seem to have no trouble dancing, do you enjoy it?”

“I certainly do. More than I ever imagined I would.” To Eli this is an understatement but it is the only words he can find. After a few moments he asks, “Have you been dancing long?”

“Geraldine and I have been dancing together since we were young teens.” she replies. “Ever since swing dancing started we have been doing it a lot. We both love it. Swing dancing is much faster than this but I still enjoy this too.”

Another minute passes as they silently dance when Mayme begins to speak softly as they shuffled about the floor. Eli pulls her closer so he can hear her over the music and other people. She is not speaking but singing the lyrics with the vocalist on stage. Now he begins to listen closely.

I had the craziest dream last night, yes I did.
never dreamt it could be
Yet there you were, in love with me.
I found your lips close to mine so I kissed you
And you didn’t mind it at all.

‡ “I Had The Craziest Dream” lyrics written by Mack Gordon

As he listens to her he thinks this song must have been written for Mayme and him, at this moment. The lyrics were perfect. Her smooth

Page 19


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

feminine voice, even though she is singing softly, has a subtle perfect vibrato. As he held her in his arms he wishes she was really saying those words to him instead of merely singing with the vocalist. He nuzzles his nose into her hair and draws a deep breath. Her smell has him mesmerized. It isn’t perfume, maybe its shampoo, Eli thinks. A feeling of tranquility has come over him, like he is home. I Had the Craziest Dream ends and the vocalist leads off her solo with the word “Heaven” as she starts singing the first line in Cheek to Cheek. The band comes in on the next word as the vocalist continues, “I’m in heaven.”

“They just doubled the tempo, Eli, but just keep stepping the same. We will step to every other beat. We are still just rocking side to side so it works just the same for us. That way we can keep slow dancing. Just follow my feet and ignore what everyone else is doing. Pretend it is just you and me out here.”

“I can do that Mayme,” he happily complies. He is amazed how easy this is. Mayme really knows what she is doing, he thinks as they keep dancing. They have come together little closer now so that their bodies are sometimes lightly touching. The room is large enough that the walls provide an echo to the band. He feels as if he is experiencing a movie. He looks around as they dance. The ballroom is quite crowded now but Mayme keeps them in the corner of the dance floor near the band and her table. It’s less congested than the main part of the floor. Eli can’t believe he has danced this long and really enjoys it. He notices there are couples dancing quite fast and doesn’t see anyone dancing like Mayme and himself. Somehow he is not self-conscious and doesn’t care about anyone else. Time passes and Eli has slipped into a trance. For the last couple minutes he has kept his feet moving

Page 20


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

but hasn’t heard a thing she has said. Now he realizes Mayme is not singing but has repeated something. “I’m sorry, Mayme, what did you say?”

She repeats, “I asked you what Iowa was like, Eli. Have you heard a word I have said?”

“I am so sorry, Mayme,” He apologizes as they continue shuffling about to the music. “I am enchanted by this whole thing, the music, the way this ballroom makes it sound, the people, but mostly having you in my arms. For the first time in my life I am actually enjoying dancing. Anyway, Iowa wouldn’t impress a city girl like you.”

“But you are wrong,” Mayme stresses. I am very interested. I have hardly been anywhere. Please tell me what you find special about Iowa.”

“I am much like you, I am no world traveler. Before I joined the Army I had only once been out of Iowa and that was a weekend trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play. There are some things in Iowa that I am sure you have never seen though. For one there is the famous tall corn of Iowa. We even have a song about our corn. Our corn grows to over ten feet tall. When you step into a corn field….”

Mayme stops him midsentence, “Sing me the Iowa corn song, Eli. I want to hear it”

He enumerates multiple excuses. “Well, I don’t know if I can. I am dancing. There is other music playing. The two melodies would confuse me.” As if right on queue the band stops.

“See, Eli, all of your pretexts just disappeared.”

“But now there is no music playing and someone might hear me.”

Page 21


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

Mayme argues, “You can’t use the same excuse both ways, Eli. I won’t allow it. Besides that, the band leader is talking and everyone else is talking. There is a din in here. No one will hear. We’re just waiting here on the dance floor to see if the next song has an Eli beat. You might as well sing while we are waiting.”

“Okay, but no critique.” He looks around, then at a volume only Mayme could hear, he sings:

We are from Ioway, Ioway.
State of all the land, Joy on every hand.
We are from Ioway, Ioway.
That’s where the tall corn grows.

‡Iowa Corn Song words by George Hamilton and Ray W. Lockard

Eli’s grin grew as he sang. He was almost laughing as he finished.

“You didn’t make me promise so I will critique.” I think Mayme expected a protest because she has paused but Eli gives her none. “I loved it. It’s a cute song. You sang it beautifully, I might add.”

He smiles and looks around again to be sure he is free from embarrassment, then proudly states, “If you ever meet anyone that says they are from Iowa and they can’t sing that song then they are lying. Every Iowan learns that song while they are still in diapers.”

“Is that it? There is only that short verse?”

“No, that is just the chorus. You’ll not get me to sing the whole thing though.” He realizes she may take that as a dare so he softens his statement to a request. “Please don’t ask me because I would be overcome your charms. You must be careful with your mystical powers as you can be quite bewitching and it gives you an unfair advantage.”

Page 22


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

Mayme tilts her head and gives a pondering look for a moment then muses, “I don’t think you called it Ioway before.”

Eli explains, “We Iowans have rules of grammar like anyone else. When not in Iowa, say Iowa. When speaking to an Iowan, say Ioway.” Eli recites this in a sing-song way as if it were some lesson he had learned by rote and then laughingly continues, “It’s kind of like that i before e rule. No exceptions for Iowans though!” Mayme laughs so he thinks he might have an acceptable sense of humor after all.

The band leader has quit talking and the band resumes playing with Opus No. 1. Eli observes “Wow, look at the people move now. There is no way I can do that, Mayme. Some of these guys are throwing their partners all over the place. I can’t do that.”

“This tempo is just too fast. Only the very accomplished dancers are keeping up. We will sit this one out.” Mayme shrugs, takes Eli’s hand and heads off the dance floor. “Well, I guess it’s back to the table. That’s okay though, because I want to hear more about Ioway.” She emphasizes the long ‘a’ at the end of Iowa.

As they arrive at the table, Eli seats Mayme. Geraldine is not there. There are two empty glasses on the table. Eli asks, “May I get you a drink, Mayme?”

“That would be nice. I will have a Seven-Up please.”

Eli goes over to the bartender behind a counter against the wall on the same side of the ballroom as their table. The bartender, resting both hands on the bar with a towel in his left, doesn’t say anything but just looks up at him. Eli orders, “A Coke and a Seven-Up please.”

“That’ll be fifty cents please,” the bartender states loudly.

Eli puts two quarters on the bar and heads back to Mayme. On the way back he tries to think where he left off before his rendering of the

Page 23


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

Iowa song. He places the glass on the table in front of her as he sits down.

“Thank you, Eli.”

The band is still playing loudly so he leans in to speak into her ear to remind her, “Oh, yes. Before I sang you the Ioway song I was telling you about Iowa and the corn.

“Yes, you were telling me about how tall the corn grows.”

“Yeah that was it. The corn is so tall in late summer once you get a few rows in you can get lost. On a cloudy day, without the sun to fix on, the only way out is to pick a row and keep walking in one direction or you can keep crossing rows but you can never make turns or you’ll never make it out. Then in June there are the fireflies. I don’t know, maybe you have lots of them here too, but they are always a favorite of mine. When you go out in the evening just at dusk there are so many of them.” The band finishes Opus No. 1 and immediately goes into Stompin’ at the Savoy. “You can look in any direction and see thousands streaks of light blinking in and out. It is amazing. I used to go out at night to catch them and put them in a jar. I would collect 20 or so in the jar then take them to bed with me. They wouldn’t seem to glow as often as when they were outside but they would still amaze me. Another favorite thing I can think of is the wheat fields. In late summer I would sit on a hill overlooking a field and watch the wind blow. You can actually see the air. As far as I know, a wheat field is the only place you can see the variations of air pressure and direction of its movement so plainly. When the wind blows over water it starts to make waves but they become consistent waves because of the density and momentum of water. A stalk of wheat has no resistance to the movement of air and gets no momentum. The stalks move back and

Page 24


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

forth in unison and if you look over the whole field you can see the movement of the pockets of air.”

“Eli,” Mayme interjects as she leans in to his ear, “you are probably the most observant person I have ever met. Most people would just see a field but you actually see the air.”

They fall silent. Eli immediately feels uncomfortable. He looks around then mentions, “I have also observed that Geraldine is missing. Do you want us to look for her?”

It appears like Mayme is thankful not to have competition for the conversation. “No, I think she has found a friend. I saw her on the dance floor a while ago.”

Eli is pleased to have her to himself. “That’s good,” he comments. To be honest I enjoy your company and wanted to be alone with you.”

“Thank you Eli, I enjoy being with you too.” Her attention is drawn to the dance floor as she blurts, “Speak of the devil.” Eli turns to look in that direction. He spots Geraldine coming back to the table from across the dance floor. It is obvious that Mayme has no desire to be sharing Eli with Geraldine again. With a sense of urgency she suggests, “There is a drug store just a few blocks away that has a soda fountain where we could have a quiet conversation sitting in a booth. Would you mind if we went there to get better acquainted?”

“That would be great, let’s go.” Eli leaps at the chance to have her alone.

As Mayme rises from her chair Geraldine is approaching the table with a man in tow. “Geraldine!” Mayme yells. “Eli and I are going to go to Kessler’s for some quiet conversation. We will be back later.” She doesn’t wait for a reply and turns to leave. On the way out,

Page 25


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

pointing at a couple of the guys that came with Eli, she asks, “Are your friends going to be missing you?”

“They won’t miss me. They are really just acquaintances of just a few weeks. Well, all but one. The guy with the blond hair was with me at the Army camp I was in before Atlantic City. Even though we have kind of a strange rapport, I guess I would call him a good friend. I need someone to call a friend, otherwise I would be alone and I wouldn’t like that. I really only have one true friend. We signed up together but we went our different ways and he is already overseas.” They are walking side by side along the dance floor as they leave the table. Actually, Eli is happy to be away from the needling men. Space along the edge of the dance floor becomes scarce as the flying dancers force him to fall behind Mayme. He watches her skirt sway from side to side so he enjoys the view and thinks her walk is so feminine. She takes a narrow path between tables. Stompin’ at the Savoy ends and the leader announces the next song as The Music Goes Round and Round. Mayme reaches a set double doors. She pulls the right vertical brass handle. Eli grabs the edge of the door and scolds himself, I should have gotten that. The door self closes after them and although you can still clearly hear the band the volume level drops greatly. With no conversation they both stop at the coat check room directly across the hall. The girl brings Eli’s coat first then returns to the racks of coats. He quickly slips his coat on as he wants to be ready to take Mayme’s coat when it arrives. The coat check girl returns just as he finishes his last button. She hooks Mayme’s coat collar on Eli’s outstretched hand and turns away. He drapes her heavy wool coat over his left forearm. He turns and she has already started walking away. He again fixes on Mayme’s walk as we enter the hotel lobby. By today’s standards she is

Page 26


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

hardly showing anything but Eli thinks her legs look so great. He unsuccessfully tries to recall any Iowan women walking that way and decides maybe it’s just the rhythmic swaying of the skirt. He glances at a registration desk above which is a red, white and blue banner that in large print says USO Night at the Knickerbocker. The smaller print can’t be deciphered with his quick glimpse. There are two gentlemen, a bellman and a clerk, standing together behind the desk. Eli’s eyes catch the men staring at Mayme as she walks. Their eyes meet Eli’s and all three silently strike an accord on what each is thinking with an exchange of smiles. Mayme is oblivious to the agreement of the men and strides on. As they arrive at the hotel exit Mayme turns her back to Eli with her arms angled back and her elbows bent slightly so her forearms point straight down. She has her fingers shaped to form a point ready to receive her coat. He has never put a coat on a lady before but her position makes it clear what he must do. There seems to be extra fabric at the collar of her coat so Eli fumbles until he gets it open by holding the lapels and guides her hands into the arm holes. He lifts it up into place on her shoulders then she turns around to face him as she wraps the coat closed. She looks up at Eli as if waiting for his inspection approval. I can feel Eli give her a warm smile. As she swivels around to face the door Eli makes a dash around her left side so he can get the door. Instead of being on the outside wall of the hotel foyer it is a single door on the right side of what appears to be a temporarily constructed twelve foot by twelve foot room. She gives him a smile of approval and steps back allowing him to cross in front of her to hold the door. She walks past Eli then he follows her into a closed entryway that has everything painted black. This room is lit by a hooded dim light at knee level. In a routine they appear to find

Page 27


Chapter One

The Knickerbocker

commonplace, Eli waits for the interior door to be fully closed before he opens right exit door. Mayme exits and turns to wait for Eli.

Page 28

NEXT CHAPTER

BACK TO CHAPTER SELECTION

THANK THE AUTHOR

BUY THIS IN PAPERBACK