Chapter 9 continues
The story so far: Milo moves to Vince Torelli’s boarding house.
Milo unpacked his meager belongings. Ana had stuffed a linen sheet in his sack, and upon seeing it, he felt overcome with gratitude. The sheet that was on his bed was filthy. He replaced it with the cloth. He shook out the wool blanket. “The blankets, are they lousy?” he asked.
“Mine ain’t. Guess you’ll find out about yourn soon enough.” The Swede introduced himself to Milo. His name was Lars. “We’re not all named Lars,” he said, “despite what they tell you. But me, I actually am. Lars Larson.” He agreed to show Milo around the place. “It’s almost time for dinner anyways. Cook ain’t that good, but the service is real pretty.”
Milo thought about the blonde with the painted face. He felt an aching and hoped his longing was not visible to the Swede. He tried to think of something else. He thought about the encyclopedias he had been saving for. Maybe he could bargain with the traveling salesman, talk him down. “Take it or leave it,” he would say to the salesman. “Offer only good today.”
Two dollars was an awful lot of money. But two dollars was half as much as four, which is what it would cost him tomorrow. And all he had was four dollars until next week’s payday. He had it right in his pocket. He’d already had his first drink of whiskey. He was living on his own. What other firsts would this day hold for him? He couldn’t wait to find out.
Susan Fletcher was the first sporting girl to work at Vince Torelli’s Boarding House, arriving with the “Original Seven” by train from Minneapolis nine years earlier. The other six dispersed to various brothels. Susan had worked at Torelli’s ever since and Vince had added four more girls.
Ina, Maria, Leppe and Brina had been falsely lured by Vince from their countries of origin to work as “waitresses.” Ina and Leppe were both blondes, from Sweden. They had lived in Biwabik for more than three years and had hardened to their fates. Maria, the Croatian, and Brina, the Russian, were both dark-haired with olive skin. They had been working less than a year. The bouncer, Moose Jackson, was aptly named. He was huge. At the end of the night, he collected the money from the sporting girls, gave Vince his share, the ladies their share and pocketed the rest.
Milo and Lars Larson sat down at a table near the bar. Brina, the Russian, approached their table, but was called off by Edna, who was still working behind the bar. She whispered something to Brina and a moment or two later the blond, blue-eyed Swede named Leppe came to their table. Without a word she plopped a bowl of venison stew in front of each man. Then she left, returning with a small loaf of bread, some utensils and butter.
“What else?” she asked. “Whiskey, Lars?”
Lars said something to her in Swedish and she laughed. “You?” She said to Milo.
By the time the two men finished their meal, Milo was so drunk he was talking to Lars in half English, half Slovenian. Lars responded in Swedish and it was all extraordinarily funny to both of them. After more than two hours had passed and many whiskeys were consumed, Edna was at the table, looking straight at Milo. “Deal is for one day only,” she repeated.
“I have money,” Milo said without hesitation.
“Good. She is waiting for you up the stairs. Past the boarder rooms, on the right. Last door. Think you can remember all that, Greek boy?”
“Right. What are you waiting for, then?”
Lars Larson patted Milo on the back, made a lewd gesture and wished him luck. As Milo quickly made his way up the stairs, the first waitress who had waited on them, Brina, caught his eye. She quickly shook her head and mouthed, “no,” but he paid no attention. He took the steps two at a time, his head filled with visions.
Twenty minutes later, Milo found Lars sitting at the same table where they had shared dinner. When he saw Milo, Lars stood up and cheered, drunkenly. He made the same gesture he had made the last time he saw Milo. “Sweden is a great country, no?”
“Best,” Milo said. He raised a glass of whiskey. “To Sweden!”
He watched Leppe come down the stairs a few minutes later. A man grabbed her hand. Milo stood up, infuriated. Lars pushed him back down. “Milo. Sit down. Finish your drink like a man. Then go to bed. Don’t start no trouble here. Not if you want to live. Don’t confuse her with a lady.”
“She’s the most beautiful lady in the world. But I listen to you. I sit down.”
Later that night, as he changed for bed, Milo frantically searched his pockets. He had handed her two dollars as requested. But the rest of his money was gone, too. Leppe had robbed him.
Tomorrow: Chapter 10 continues.