As promised, here's my entry in Do Some Damage's Christmas Noir Flash Challenge, followed by the story behind the story:
All Wrapped Up
by Gerald So
I was between Christmas songs at the Pair-O-Dice Club when Oscar, the manager, came backstage, looking even more excited than usual.
"Hey, Bird," he said. Short for what I was calling myself, Songbird Jayne. "'O Come All Ye Faithful' is next, right?"
"An old pal of mine just walked in, and I want you to sing it special for him."
"How special depends where he's sitting," I said.
"Yeah, yeah. Center table."
While Oscar re-introduced me, I looked in the small mirror backstage and ignored how tired I felt.
Of all the songs I sing, "O Come All Ye Faithful" is the hardest to do with a straight face. Think how many times "come" comes up.
Anyway, I did my best and stared longingly at the man at the center table. He had the body of a coat rack, and his hair and mustache looked fake. What was so special about him?
When the song was over, I took my bows and saw him smiling and nodding at me. I stepped down and approached his table.
"Merci," he said with an accent as thick as his mustache. Was it fake, too?
He kissed my hand and nodded me to a seat. I'd never sat with a customer so soon after a show. The other men in the crowd had to be jealous, but no one said a word. Who was this guy?
As if to answer me, he said, "My name is Jacques Cartier."
"Old friend of Oscar's."
"Yes. He has spoken very highly of you, so I felt I had to come hear you sing, meet you."
"You are exquisite. May I buy you a drink?"
I was done for the night. What the hell?
He signaled and the waiter came right over. Did they know each other?
He ordered a Cuba Libre. I ordered a vodka martini.
There was no reason I should feel antsy, but I did. "How are you spending Christmas?" I asked.
"Alone, I'm afraid."
"Sorry to hear that." Actually, I was glad he didn't assume he'd be spending it with me.
Our drinks came, and we took long sips.
"Yes," he said. "I've been caring for an injured friend of mine. This is the first time I've left him in six months."
I finished my martini and signaled for another. "How badly is he hurt?"
"Not badly in the physical sense. Mentally, though, spiritually, he may never be the same."
My head felt fuzzy. The only response I could think of was, "Sorry to hear that."
* * *
Someone was calling my name. My real name. "Sonia. Sonia, I'm sorry."
I tried to move toward the voice, but I was strapped down.
"I didn't ask him to find you. I didn't ask..."
As my head cleared, the first name I thought of was Richard Grafer. We were married once. Rich, too. But he was one overbearing bastard. So when I met someone else, someone with the balls to take me away...
I remembered his name. "C.J. Stone." The room was dark, but I saw the lines of his face.
"How are things?" he asked.
"Oh, swell," I said.
"Jock didn't hurt you. You're just his twisted idea of a Christmas present."
"He's not all bad. He's taken care of me since I crashed Grafer's Goose. Both the Goose and I are on the mend, but Jock's always talked about giving me closure." Before I could give a fake apology for not meeting up with C.J., he said, "I'll try to get you out of here as soon as I can, but it's really up to Jock."
"Well, Merry Christmas."
# # #
If you recognize my series protagonist C.J. Stone in a supporting role, this commentary is for you. I first imagined a story from C.J.'s point of view, reuniting him with Kate Holden. However, spending Christmas together is shorthand for more commitment than either C.J. or Kate wants.
Then I thought of Sonia Grafer, from my Shred of Evidence story "A Little Trouble" (2004). I had Sonia disappear at the end, not knowing when or how I'd bring her back. "All Wrapped Up" is from her point of view so as not to give away Jock's or C.J.'s role in the story.
Finally, I wanted to show that Jock's helping C.J. through several stories came at a price. Here, C.J. has to accept Jock's definition of closure.
Trivia: The Pair-O-Dice Club was the first casino nightclub on what would become the Las Vegas Strip.
Here are links to all the C.J. Stone stories.