The Gangster's Hand by Ginger Ring by Ginger Ring - Read Online

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The Gangster's Hand - Ginger Ring

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The exhaust fumes and dust burned her eyes. Vivian Flynn bit back the tears as the bus drove off. She was now alone and penniless in a rough and rowdy western town. Had she made the right decision stopping here? Heck, she really didn’t have a choice. The journey was a slow one and at the last rest stop, the driver suggested she try reading a book to pass the time. Always an avid reader, Vivian agreed and had the driver lead her to her bags to retrieve one but they were gone. Everything was gone. Her suitcases were nowhere to be found.

Even worse was the fact that all her extra money had been in those bags. Her belongings had disappeared at some stop along the way. The sympathetic bus driver assured her they would find the luggage and return them to the station of her choosing as soon as possible. She’d no choice but to get off and wait for them to show up. The only good news was that the girl sitting next to her on the trip had mentioned that it would be easy to get a job in this town.

I certainly hope so. Vivian breathed in the warm, dry air. It was barely daybreak and the temperature had already climbed into the nineties. What she wouldn’t give for a cool drink of water right now. She was parched. The bus driver had been gracious enough to drop her off on the street where the new hotels and resorts were, instead of the busy downtown. According to others she’d talked to since the last bus stop, this was an up and coming city. It seemed like nothing out of the ordinary to her. With nothing left to lose, she squared her shoulders and began to walk. There wasn’t much time to find a job and a place to stay.

It felt good to stretch her legs. Sitting and sleeping on a bus seat was anything but comfortable. It was early morning but she was exhausted. Her family had always labelled her impulsive but that wasn’t true. Vivian had a plan. She was going to be a star and no one would stand in her way.

Vivian pushed her sunglasses up on her nose and adjusted the scarf on her head. The wind and heat were terrible. Thankfully, there was a phone booth up ahead. Her parents would be furious when they read the note left behind on her pillow but right about now, they would be sick with worry. That was what hurt the most. Never had she intended to upset them, but they just didn’t understand. No one did.

A man in a convertible whistled and waved at her as he passed. Clutching her purse tighter to her side, Vivian kept her pace. The booth was only one short block away now. There was no way she would dare call her parents, but she had to let someone know where she was.

The air in the phone booth was suffocating. Leaving the door open, she pulled some precious coins from the bottom of her purse and put them in the phone’s slot. Her fingers shook as she dialed the number. She shivered despite the heat. It rang once, then again. Oh, please let him be at home.

Hello, a deep voice on the other end finally answered.

Granddad? she answered meekly.

"Viva, is that you? And what is my favorite person doing this morning? The man seemed far too chipper for this time of day.

I’m sorry for calling so early. I forgot about the time change. Vivian leaned on the glass for a second. It burned her shoulder and she jumped away.

Time change? She could hear the squeak of his office chair as the man must have tipped closer to the phone. Where are you?

Well, Granddad. It’s like this. This time she tried to rest on the shady side of the booth.

No ‘Granddad this.’ I want to know where you are and I want to know now. Her grandfather had never been known for his patience.

Mom and Dad told me I had to stay in school, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I want to be a star and I’m not getting any younger. If I waited any longer I would be too old to be in the movies. This wasn’t going as well as she’d planned.

Viva? Where are you? He emphasized each word. Goose bumps rose on her arm.

I took a bus to Hollywood.

What? You’re in California? Her grandfather’s anger was clearly evident in his voice.

No, not quite. She wavered

Vivian. He’d used what she also referred to as his gangster voice. That tone with the deep edge that could bring men to their knees. One that said you didn’t have much time left to plead your case or you’d meet your maker. A vision of steam bursting out of his ears came to mind.

I was headed there and my bags got lost. She hesitated. And my money.

Dammit, girl. He groaned. Are you all right? His fury turned to concern.

I’m fine, Granddad. Everything is fine. The bus company is going to locate the bags and return them as soon as possible but in the meantime I have to stay here and find a job. A slot machine dinged in the background and a man and woman joyfully whooped and hollered. Vivian turned toward the noise and noticed a sign flashing the word ‘Casino’. I heard about an opening in the town here and thought I would work until my things showed up. It would be good experience, too. You always said I should get a job. She rambled on and on. The words flowed faster and faster as she talked.

Vivian, I’m going to ask you one more time. Her granddad was upset and that was never a good thing. Where are you? He stressed each word slowly.

She focused on the couple as they hugged and jumped up and down in the casino in front of her. Vivian crossed her fingers and prepared herself for the storm that was coming when her grandfather found out she was in the middle of nowhere.

It’s a western town out in the desert. A place called Las Vegas.

Vegas? The name seemed to bring about a coughing fit from the older man.

Are you all right? She’d never meant to cause any distress to her loved ones but not only must her parents be sick with worry, now her grandfather was suffering. The sound of him struggling to catch his breath and then gulp down some water echoed on the line. Vivian rubbed the back of her hand across her forehead. It was so hot. She stepped outside.

Vivian, you listen to me and you listen to me good. His voice was raspy. You get on the next bus home.

I can’t do that. I don’t have any money. Her back straightened and yet she felt spineless at the same time.

I will wire you some money. The squeak of his chair indicated he was reaching for something. Her mind pictured a fountain pen. Now give me the name of the nearest bank.

No. She stepped back inside the phone booth and took a deep breath.

No?

A lump formed in her throat. No one ever said no to Mr. Edward Killian. In his younger years he was nicknamed Eddy ‘the Knife’ Killian. She’d never asked the reason and didn’t want to know where the moniker came from. He was her birth father’s father and through the years she’d grown to love the old man no matter what he’d done or hadn’t done in the past. She did know that no one disagreed with the man without facing the consequences. But she was an adult and it was time that her family started treating her like one.

Yes. She shook her head. I mean no. I’m not coming home. It’s time I start to make my own way. I’m not going to be a star if I turn tail and run at the first obstacle that comes my way.

That may be, Vivian, but you are in Vegas. It’s a town full of gamblers, prostitution, and all kinds of other things that you don’t need to be anywhere near.

How do you know about this place? I’ve never heard of it before. She frowned. Her forehead wrinkled. It barely had a population of 3,000, almost as big as the town she was from in Iowa.

I know lots of things my little Irish Rose and I want you to come home before you get hurt.

At the sound of her pet name, her lower lip quivered. She already missed her family and it hadn’t been that long since she’d snuck out of the house and onto the shiny silver bus. If her stepfather was still with the FBI instead of the local police department, he’d have called out a nationwide search party for her by now. I won’t get hurt.

Viva.

No, Granddad. You know I love you but I have to follow my dream. She paused, waiting for him to interrupt, but he didn’t speak. I can’t live my life knowing I didn’t try to become a star.

You’re the star of my life. Her grandfather spoke quietly. He was a proud man and never believed in showing any vulnerability. As his only grandchild and only living relative, she was his weakness.

I know that and I love you more than you know. The dry air prevented the wet tears from falling. Let me make you proud and show the world my talent.

I know you have talent but— he started.

No, buts, she interrupted. I have to try this on my own. Please let Mom and Dad know I’m okay and I will call again soon. Her index finger pressed the cradle of the telephone and ended the call before she could change her mind. It was morning and all she wanted to do was crawl into bed somewhere and go to sleep. It was too late to turn back now. If she was going to live her dream, she had to make it happen. Working at some club in Vegas wasn’t how she pictured it but it would be a good opportunity to learn.

With her determination renewed, she put one foot in front of the other and started toward the Lady Luck Club. According to the bus driver, this wasn’t the biggest or fanciest place in town but it had the best entertainment. If she wanted to get into show business this was the spot to be.

The club didn’t seem that far away but with the heat, her journey took forever. Some of the casinos and hotels she passed had a western theme while the one called the Flamingo had a flashy tropical theme. Vivian giggled. As she strolled past fancy casinos and the one with long legged pink bird ornaments on its front lawn, it finally hit her. If the folks back in Iowa could see her now.

Finally her destination came into view. Whereas the other places she’d passed had a more rustic look, aside from the one with the birds, this one oozed class. The exterior was yellow stucco and the roof was made of red tiles. The windows were all arched at the top and black ironwork was everywhere. The black wrought iron was also along the stairways, in window boxes that overflowed with red flowers, and at the entrance to the resort. Apparently all the hotels and clubs were called resorts and most had elaborate swimming pools in the back. At least that was what the girl on the bus had told her.

A middle aged man in a suit opened the door to the Lady Luck and gestured her in with a welcoming smile. Can I help you, miss?

Cold air greeted her and she rubbed the goose bumps along her skin. It’s cool in here.

Yes it is. He chuckled. It’s the air conditioning.

Vivian wrinkled her forehead, air what?

It cools the air. You always feel a chill when you come in from the heat but you’ll get used to it in no time.

Air conditioning? Imagine that. What will they think of next? Her gaze lifted to the ceiling but the source of the cooling breeze was nowhere to be found. She’d heard of it but never experienced it before. A girl could get used to this luxury in a hurry in the summertime.

Yes, at the Lady Luck we like to provide the best of everything for our guests. The doorman interrupted her thoughts. Are you here to check in? The registration desk is right over there. With a sweep of his hand, he pointed out the desk behind an intricate fountain.

I heard you might be hiring some dancers or singers. I’m here for a job.

Hmm? He gave her a quick glance from head to toe.

My bags were misplaced on the bus so I have no money. I really need a job.

He rubbed his chin with his hand, looked behind him, then waved over a woman that was passing through the lobby. Gina, could you come over here?

Gina, a beautiful woman who appeared to be around her granddad’s age, crossed the room with the grace of a dancer. He quickly explained Vivian’s predicament and Gina’s face lit up. Yes, we do need someone. Follow me.

Vivian’s heels clicked on the marble as she struggled to keep up. The woman moved fast and spoke as they walked. I’m sorry but I know the boss is very busy and I want to make sure he gets to see you.

Oh, okay. Thank you. Her heart pounded and her head throbbed. She had cotton mouth and desperately needed a glass of water. Even her skin felt clammy.

Oh, there he is. Gina indicated a man up ahead.

Vivian barely noticed. It took all she had to keep breathing. She yawned and her muscles ached. Something wasn’t right. Her legs trembled more with every step. Gina stopped and stepped to the side. Enzo, here’s a young lady I would like you to meet. She’s interested in joining the line.

Line? What was a line? Vivian’s vision blurred and she tried to focus on the tall, large man in front of her. Ernest? Endo? What had Gina said? The only thing that resonated was that the man was drop dead gorgeous. He held out his hand. Their fingers touched and then all went black.

––––––––

You poor dear. Gina placed a damp cloth on Vivian’s forehead and fanned her with a magazine.

What happened? Vivian opened her eyes. Why was she so lightheaded? Briefly rubbing her eyes and sinking into the soft couch a moment longer before slowly rising to sit. The room swam and then everything came into focus.

Here drink this. All of it. The woman placed a tall glass of water in her hand and from the look on her face, she wasn’t taking no for an answer.

The water refreshed and cooled her. I can’t believe I fainted. I’m used to warm weather but I guess I hadn’t been drinking enough.

Gina nodded before rising. She returned with a tray full of food. It was a breakfast feast including bacon, eggs, toast, and juice. When was the last time you’ve eaten? She raised an eyebrow. Not only would the woman be the same age as her grandmother, if she’d had one, she acted like one, too. That fact alone seemed to comfort her. Being in a strange city, not feeling well, and having no money probably helped aggravate her loss of consciousness.

I’m afraid in all the excitement, I’d forgotten. She dug into the meal with gusto. In between bites, she explained her plight to Gina.

The woman stood and folded her arms across her chest. You’re lucky. You’re in good hands, now. The boss is concerned about you so eat up and I’ll go let him know that you are recovering nicely.

I’m so embarrassed. Vivian’s shoulders sank as she bit off another piece of toast. And I still need a job.

Don’t worry about that. Girls come and go so we’re always looking for dancers in the chorus line. You can dance can’t you?

Yes, and sing but I’ll wash dishes, wait tables, clean rooms. I’ll do anything. I just need a place to stay and a way to earn some money until they find my bags. The fact that there might be openings lifted her spirits and gave her hope. She would do anything for a job but to work in show business would be her wish.

Gina raised a perfectly arched eyebrow and patted Vivian’s shoulder. Don’t worry. I need to let Mr. Star know how you are doing and then I’ll be right back.

Thank you, Gina. I really appreciate your helping me.

Of course, dear. You keep eating and I’ll return soon.

In only a few short minutes, her guardian angel returned. Your color is coming back. Are you ready to go?

The fresh water and hearty meal had worked wonders. She felt back to normal again.  Yes, of course. I’m so sorry again for all the trouble. Vivian followed quickly. The woman sure moved fast for her age.

No, trouble at all. She talked while they hurried down