Friday, September 18, 2015

Excerpt from the Louise Brooks inspired Roaring Road novels by Johann M.C. Laesecke

What follows is a brief excerpt from chapter 26 of the Louise Brooks-inspired novel The Roaring Road: Book 2 The Road East. According to author Johann M.C. Laesecke, "There are things not evident in this excerpt, including a description of how Louise transfers the derringer to Laure. Too much of a spoiler. But the excerpt is a good example of one of Louise's actions in The Roaring Road."

For more on this work of historical fiction, check out the interview with the author on the Louise Brooks Society blog from September 8th.

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“Who do we have watching the Crawford Theater tonight in case any of Pádraigh or any of his people show up?”

“We have not assigned that. Although it’s unlikely they show, we should have someone there who can think fast and call for backup. Someone that Laure, Frank and Buster would recognize, but who is not known to Pádraigh” Dawn said.

“I’ll watch the Crawford” and we all turned in surprise to Louise Brooks. She was in the meeting because she wanted to make sure we would get Buster out soon.

Bill said “Everyone would recognize you Louise, even some of Pádraigh’s gunmen.”

“And what if they do? You guys haven’t let me outside except when I go in disguise. And they don’t know I’m with you guys. My father moved us to Wichita and I went to high school here. I’m well known in Wichita so tonight I can play Louise Brooks, lost little girl from Kansas, an ex-Denishawn, ex-George White’s Scandals and ex-Ziegfeld Follies dancer and now one of Paramount’s new Junior Stars. I danced at the Crawford Theater when I was with Denishawn so it would be natural for me to attend their performance. I can move about the place and no one would be suspicious. I know all the back rooms and hallways and even the basement hidey-hole. It was put there by one of the builders who was also a rumrunner. Montgomery County was dry a long time before Prohibition and I dated guys who knew how to move contraband here.”

“I would like to see the latest Denishawn players and dance routines and the Pádraigh guys probably won’t show up, but if they do I can sneak out to the drugstore around the corner where they have public telephone booths and call you. The best case would be if Buster or Laure or Frank show up so I could pass a message or something.” Louise looked at me and I could tell she was serious. While she was not an experienced operative she was very smart, not a coward, could think on her toes and she was a natural actress. After a short discussion everyone agreed and I asked Louise if she would agree to try to pass Laure’s derringer to her if she was there. It would be dangerous and have to be done with the utmost subtlety so when she agreed I told her to talk to Dawn and Meghan before she went to the Crawford Theater.

After the meeting Louise stopped by to see Dawn and Meghan, who gave Louise a small cloth bag. It was heavy, as if it had a metal object in it. “It’s a derringer, a very small handgun that Laure requested.”

“I’ve shot guns and I know what a derringer is. How do I give it to Laure?” asked Louise.

“There’s no way to plan that because we don’t know if she is really going to be there and how many men will be watching her if she is. You must get it to her without anyone knowing, without any suspicion. If nothing else, try to give it to Buster or Frank. If they are there but if it doesn’t look possible to transfer the gun, call Meghan at this telephone number. Memorize the telephone number so if you’re caught they won’t find it on you. If you call Meghan, just say something like ‘I forgot to feed the dog, can you do it?’ and Meghan will be there as quick as she can. And don’t feel bad about asking for help – even the best and most seasoned operators know that calling for backup is better than forcing the issue and getting caught or blowing the game. When Meghan arrives she will assess the situation. One of the things she might do would be to create a diversion to draw everyone’s attention away from you, to give you a chance to pass the gun to Laure.”

“Is Laure going to shoot the gangster?” Louise asked.

“She will if the opportunity presents itself. She is very courageous and resourceful” said Dawn.

“Like her sister?” Louise asked with a beautiful, rare smile.

“Yes, just like her sister. You OK with this? You don’t have to do this, you know. It’s not your business and it could turn dangerous” said Dawn.

“I’m OK doing this. I love Dan and Laure, they are so wonderful together and they treat me like a loved sister instead of a dumb bunny like some others do. I’ve made a mess of their relationship so maybe I’m feeling a little bit guilty. If Laure is being held against her will I want to help get her out. I also need to get Buster out for my own carnal needs. Since I can be expected to know my way around the theater and talk to lots of people, I will blend into the audience.”

Dawn said “Thank you Louise. You have a good heart. If you call Meghan, I will be somewhere in the background too and I’ll watch for you if there’s any trouble.”

“Me? Have a good heart? Don’t let that get around. I have to keep up my reputation for enraging people” Louise said. Dawn laughed. She was beginning to like Louise.

Laure wanted to be at the theater early to get good seats but Buster called ahead and talked to the theater manager and requested three seats together be held for an important person who would arrive just a few minutes before the show started. The manager reluctantly agreed when Buster promised to pass something along when they shook hands.

They arrived at the theater four minutes before show time and Buster sought out the manager, shook hands with him and the manager found a sawbuck in his hand. The manager was disappointed because the usual tip for these seats was twenty bucks each. Frank, Laure and Buster were seated just six rows back and near the middle of the row, a perfect sight line for the show. Frank and Laure had become very good at talking to each other without moving their lips much and he told Laure that he was sure someone from Dan’s crew would be here too, but not to acknowledge anyone, which could jeopardize any transfer of materials or messages. Frank knew Laure was hoping to get her derringer. Frank told Laure who then passed it on to Buster that he had spotted Tony in the audience a few rows back and that there might be others that he had not seen, so they had to be extra careful. Frank and Buster would have to act like tough bodyguards if she talked to anyone in the theater.

The show began with a short vaudeville act that wasn’t very funny or interesting. Laure wished that W.C. Fields was there. Now he was a man who got the audience to laugh. The dance show began on time and although Laure only knew ballroom and jazz dancing, she thought the Denishawn Dancers were very elegant and graceful, with each dance telling a story. She could see why Louise had enjoyed dancing with Denishawn, even if they did throw her out for being too bold when it came to her relationships with men. At intermission time the lights were turned up and Laure wanted to get up and move around but Frank pushed her back down, a little roughly Laure thought, but then she remembered that the ugly thug Tony was watching.

Seemingly from out of nowhere Louise Brooks came rushing down the row of seats and pulled Laure up from her seat to hug her. She had moved quickly and no one had seen her coming, not even Tony, who stood up and put his hand inside his coat and rested it on his gun. Tony noticed Frank did the same and Buster took Louise by the shoulders and moved her away roughly. Louise had only been able to hug Laure and her hands were visible and empty the entire time so she could not have given anything to Laure. Buster took Louise by the arm and moved her down the row toward the aisle. When they reached the end of the row, Louise turned and slapped Buster’s face hard, then again. She loudly told him to keep his hands off her or she would call her friends in the police department and have him arrested.

Louise turned with an arrogant flounce and stormed her way to the exit. Tony saw the entire incident and did not see how Louise could have given anything to Laure. His only concern was that Laure should be frisked to make sure. From the rear of the auditorium, Dawn had observed everything. She was a Pinkerton-trained observer and saw what Tony did not see, that Laure had received the derringer. Louise had played her part perfectly. But then, Dawn thought, Louise was one of the best movie actresses in the business, she could hardly have done any less. Dawn spotted Tony watching and went to the drugstore’s public telephone to call Meghan and tell her what disguises she should bring for each of them. There was now another part for them to play.

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