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Medicine for the Blues
a trilogy of novels

Based on extensive period research, Medicine for the Blues explores the complexities of gender and sexuality through the historical lens of the early 1920s.

Book 1 Acquaintance

As a young surgeon, Carl Holman has experienced the horrors of World War I and the death of his lover, a fellow officer. Back home after the war, he befriends a young jazz musician who he hopes will become a companion he can share his life with. But this is Oregon: the Ku Klux Klan is gaining influence, homosexual acts are illegal, and such a relationship will jeopardize Carl’s promising medical career. Musician Jimmy Harper has his own dreams for the future and his own obstacles to overcome before he will allow himself to accept Carl’s love. Published in Fall 2017.

Book 2, Chicago Blues, tells the story of Jimmy Harper’s adventures in Chicago where he becomes entangled with an array of underworld characters. Available Spring 2018.

Book 3: Dangerous Medicine returns to Portland where Carl Holman struggles to navigate his medical career in the face of social and personal obstacles from the KKK, society, and other dangers. Available Fall 2018.


Book 2:

Medicine for the Blues



Jeff Stookey

PictoGraph Publishing

Portland, Oregon 2018







































Medicine for the BluesTrilogy
Book 2: Chicago Blues

PictoGraph Publishing
© 2018 by Jeff Stookey

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means—graphic, electronic, mechanical, or digital—including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Book and Cover Design
Amy Livingstone, Sacred Art Studio




Cover Photos:

Chorus girl in beaded dress:

Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

White jazz band:

From the collection of the B&O Railroad Museum. Courtesy of the B&O Railroad Museum.

Black jazz band:

Missouri History Museum, St. Louis. Unidentified Jazz Band, ca. 1925, Block Brothers Studio. Sepia tone color adjustment used in reproducing this image.


“For the young who want to,” 1982 by Marge Piercy; from CIRCLES ON THE WATER by Marge Piercy. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Any third party use of this material, outside of this publication, is prohibited. Interested parties must apply directly to Penguin Random House LLC for permission.

Excerpt from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, translation by Jill Kelly, PhD, courtesy of Jill Kelly, PhD.

Excerpt from Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, translation by Jill Kelly, PhD, courtesy of Jill Kelly, PhD.


“For the Young Who Want to,”

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

—Marge Piercy

For Ken

When you first began learning to knit, you unraveled
the yarn of that sweater over and over, only to start again.
Where would I be without your fine example?
If the sweater fits, wear it.

After his death in 1983, Dr. Carl Holman’s memoirs were found in a desk drawer. The estate sale manager donated the document to the local historical society. This quotation was paperclipped to the front of the manuscript:

“I’ve held nothing back of the bad, added nothing extra of the good, and if it happens that I’ve used some small embellishment, it’s only because of the gap in my memory; I may have supposed something to be true that could well have been so but never something that I knew to be false.”

—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions

Facsimile of the title page from Carl Holman’s manuscript.

Memories of Jimmy

by Carl Travis Holman, MD

completed 1981

“Oh, let me, true in love, but truly write.”

−William Shakespeare, Sonnet 21

From time to time, I forget the self-pity I’ve fallen into: he will
make me strong, we will travel, we will hunt in the desert, we will
sleep on the cobblestones of strange cities, carefree, carefree.

—Arthur Rimbaud, “Delirium I: The Foolish Virgin,
The Infernal Bridegroom,” A Season in Hell


October 1923

As Jimmy Harper rode out of Portland, Oregon, with the Diggs Monroe Jazz Orchestra headed for Chicago, he felt something tugging at him to stay. He was leaving Carl Holman behind. But he disregarded the feeling and watched the road ahead, never looking back.

It was a fair October morning, and the six young men in the two automobiles stuffed with luggage and musical instruments were off on an adventure. Their first destination was a small town in eastern Washington that was home to the state college. Diggs had belonged to a fraternity during his truncated college career in southern California, and he had arranged for the band to stay the night with brothers of his chapter on campus. The Greek brothers coaxed them into playing some tunes the afternoon they arrived and were so impressed that they quickly organized an informal dance that night. So the band got paid for an unanticipated booking.

From there the band drove east for many days. They were delayed by a flat tire while crossing a bridge over an Idaho river. They got stuck in snow in the heavens of the Rockies. They were caught in a windstorm in eastern Montana. Crossing the vast godforsaken prairies of North Dakota, they took a wrong turn and got lost, winding up with both cars stuck in mud on a reservation. An Indian family passing by in a horse-drawn wagon pulled them out of the wallow. The driver told them they should get a horse and said his uncle had one for sale. The band of musicians declined the horse, but they did buy a bottle of bootleg whiskey from him, and before driving on they paid him extra for the tow. Outside of a small Minnesota border town, they ran out of gas and had to spend the night in their cars when a rain storm caught them by surprise. At long last, they arrived in Minneapolis.

Diggs had lined up a date playing for a homecoming at the University of Minnesota, where a fraternity brother of his was now teaching. The frat brothers put the band members up on couches and cots in nooks and crannies of the fraternity house. The band was so well-received that they were asked to play at a Sunday tea dance the following afternoon. Next, they drove on to Madison for another date at the university there. When Diggs and the band left on the last leg of their trip to Chicago, they were flush with cash.

At a roadhouse where they’d stopped for lunch, the band members began talking about what they would do first in the Windy City. Chuck, the trombone player, was a big bear of a fellow who rarely talked, preferring to let his horn speak for him. He surprised them when he volunteered, “I want to see the Loop first.” Everyone turned toward him. “What about you, Diggs?” he said.

The band leader and business manager of the group scrunched up his freckled face and ran a hand over his red hair. “I’m going to be pretty busy hustling up play dates for you fellas. I don’t think I’ll have much time for sightseeing. I’ll be lucky if I can find time to practice my cornet.”

Jimmy’s old college friend Howard Henderson, the clarinet player, repeated his intention to go to a high-toned brothel. He had a reputation as a womanizer and his looks helped him out in that department. Because of his suave demeanor and air of worldly knowledge, the other band members tended to look up to him.

Larry, the banjo player, smirked at Howard. His long, thin face and pointed nose always reminded Jimmy of a weasel, and Jimmy often had second thoughts about Larry’s judgment.

“Hey, I’m with you,” Larry said. “I haven’t been able to get close to a girl this whole trip.” The remark was no surprise and the others laughed. Larry was so brazen with girls that he usually offended them. He affected a bravado but lacked Howard’s cool finesse. “What do you say, Jimmy?”

“I don’t know.” Jimmy hesitated. “I’d like to hang onto my money until we see how things work out in the big city.”

“Oh-ho. I bet you’re just chicken.” Larry elbowed Jimmy.

“Aw, get outta here.” Jimmy elbowed him back.

Bill, the drummer, who spent a lot of his time with Larry, chimed in. “Why, I bet Jimmy hasn’t gotten any since he broke up with his girl this summer.” There was a dumb grin on Bill’s face. He had bad acne and bad table manners and a bad habit of making thoughtless remarks intended as jokes. The band members all knew that Jimmy’s break-up was still a sore spot.

Jimmy shot Bill a piercing glance.

Larry caught Jimmy’s look and said, “That is, unless Jimmy’s turned fairy on us and he’s been getting it from that doctor fella.” Amused with himself, Larry let out a horselaugh, and Bill joined in.

“You haven’t turned pansy on us, have you?” Bill called out. The remark could be heard across the cafe over the murmur of the other diners.

A sudden rage flooded Jimmy and before he knew what he was doing, he jumped up, and with more force than he intended, yelled, “Oh, go to hell, you bastards.” A silence fell over the cafe. As Jimmy turned to walk away, his coat caught on his chair and it fell to the floor with a clatter. He stormed out the door.

When he got hold of his emotions, he was a quarter mile up the road. Something told Jimmy he should just keep on walking and never turn back.

He stopped and took a deep breath. The sound of a stream running alongside the road murmured to him through the trees. He remembered talking to Carl by a stream at the Grange dance not long after they first met. He missed Carl with a deep ache that surprised him.

Carl had listened with concern when he described his disastrous engagement to Mary. Jimmy had wanted to prove his manhood after Carl made that pass at him. He proposed to Mary and persuaded her to have sex, and she had seemed so willing and passionate, but then Jimmy wasn’t able to perform. His wounded pride resisted the memory.

To hell with Larry and his insinuations, Jimmy thought, maybe I should just forget about Chicago—and the band, too.

Deep in thought, he walked on. Up ahead through the trees, the stream babbled along below the roadway, and across the water an embankment with railroad tracks rose above it. In a clearing farther on, the smoke from a small campfire caught his attention. There sat two hobos, one was about 30 with a full dark beard, the other, a youngster. A passing fantasy about taking up the life of a hobo flickered across Jimmy’s mind. Maybe he could befriend these knights of the road and they would teach him how to hop a freight back to Oregon and Carl.

Then doubts overwhelmed him. What would he do without the band? Jimmy slowed his pace. What if they left without him?

Jimmy wanted a musical career and he thought that he could have that with the band. Besides, he had been with them the better part of a year, and now he felt somehow bound to them. He might be able to find another band or make it on his own, but he knew he was not prepared to do that now. Standing there, teetering on the cusp of the past and the future, he had no idea what tomorrow would bring, and it seemed safer to cling to something he knew than to strike out into the unknown all by himself.

Jimmy stopped and fumbled for a cigarette. As he struck a match, he noticed that his hands were still trembling. He knew he had to calm down and think this through.

Maybe the band could make it big in Chicago, and he wanted to be there with them to make it happen. Maybe he could even learn to change and be like the fellows in the band, after all. Maybe he could go to the cat house and prove himself to them, prove his manhood, prove to himself that he could still desire women. He was willing to try. He decided he had to. Maybe he could arrange to see Mary again in Chicago and even patch things up with her after their ill-fated engagement.

He turned and headed back toward the cafe, collecting his thoughts and planning what to say to the band members, trying to think of a way to smooth over his outburst.

When he got back to the roadhouse, the band members were standing around the two cars, some leaning on the fenders, Howard with his foot up on the running board smoking. Jimmy mustered his courage and looked straight at them as he approached.

“Hey, Jimmy,” Larry began, but Jimmy held up both palms to stop him.

“Fellas, look, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to fly off the handle. It’s just that Dr. Holman has been so good to me, letting me leave my stuff at his house and all. He’s been a real pal and I—I’m sorry, Larry, I know you were only kidding me.”

“He didn’t mean anything by it, Jimmy,” Diggs stepped in. The others voiced their agreement.

“I know, I know,” Jimmy raised his hands again in surrender. “I guess I’m just tired from all this traveling. I don’t know what came over me. Just forget it. Let’s go to Chicago. I’ll ride with Larry and Howard for a while.” Jimmy squeezed into the back seat of Howard’s car next to the luggage and the others piled in with Diggs.

Larry settled into the passenger seat, then half-turned to look at Jimmy. As Howard pulled out, Jimmy leaned into the front seat and put one hand on Howard’s shoulder and the other on Larry’s and said, “Say, look, I’ve never even seen a whorehouse. No kidding. Let me come with you when we get to Chicago. What do you say?”

Howard shrugged and said, “It’s your call.” He eased the car into first gear and headed off. Larry let out a whoop and called out, “Wicked, windy city, here we come!”


The band approached Chicago as the afternoon faded. First, more small towns appeared along the road, and the open farmland gave way to the city’s outskirts. More houses, more automobiles, then workshops and warehouses crowded together along the streets. Factories, monstrous operations, loomed up along the road, spewing out smoke and steam and soot. Dense truck and auto traffic slowed the band to a standstill, and people and bicycles and handcarts darted past. Smells assaulted them, a stench of animal manure and putrid flesh, burnt hair and hide, all mixing in with gasoline and diesel exhaust. The night descended as the band steadily wound their way through the congested streets and across railroad tracks, occasionally blinded by the headlights of passing locomotives. Tall buildings sprang up, surrounding them. They were engulfed by the din of trains rumbling by overhead on the tangle of black steel girders and freight whistles screaming past on nearby rails.

It was dark when at last they found their way to the Firestone Hotel, an inexpensive place where Diggs had booked rooms. As they piled out of the cars, they were hit by blasts of icy wind off the lake. It was as cold as Hades.

They checked into the hotel and moved into two rooms with twin beds, arranging for an extra bed to be brought to each room. Before anything else, Howard went to the lobby and telephoned his cousin to find out the address of the brothel. Jimmy and Chuck and Howard moved their things into one room, while Diggs took the other with Bill and Larry. After stowing their luggage and musical instruments, they went out to a nearby diner.

Diggs had already lined up two college dances through fraternity connections and he planned to drum up more work as he became familiar with the Chicago scene. While they ate, Diggs reminded everyone that they had to play for the sorority ball the next evening. In order to arrive at the ballroom in plenty of time to set up, they would be leaving the hotel at 7 sharp. “I’ll give you each a hundred dollars of your earnings back at the hotel after dinner, but that’s all you’ll get until we’ve finished playing tomorrow night. That ball is going to be a high-toned affair and I want you all in good shape to play. We’ve got to make a good impression. So whatever you do tonight, get some rest before tomorrow evening. And I don’t want any of you winding up in jail your first night in town.” Diggs eyed Howard and winked. “I know where your hundred bucks is going.”

Diggs went on. He wanted the band to go to a photo studio at 4 the next afternoon. They were to take their instruments with them and have some publicity pictures taken to hand out while they looked for work. Tonight he had to go meet with some people he knew, but he suggested a couple of dance halls they could check out and listen to the bands and find out what was popular. Clearly Diggs had a good sense of business, but Jimmy was no longer so sure how much Diggs cared about making great music. And at that moment, hot jazz was what Jimmy cared about most.

Back at the hotel, Diggs paid each of the band members and left for his appointment. The band members cleaned up and changed, getting ready for a night on the town.

Jimmy showered in the bathroom down the hall and studied himself in the mirror as he dried off. He thought of Carl, sleeping naked next to him—the way Jimmy’s slim, hairless body fit against Carl, feeling the dark hair of Carl’s chest against his back.

He dried his sand-colored hair and leaned into the mirror to see if he needed a shave. His beard was thin and pale and wouldn’t need a shave till the next day. By contrast, Carl’s beard began to darken his chin late each afternoon.

Jimmy evaluated himself. Not a bad face. Carl liked it. He had admired Jimmy’s blue-gray eyes. Maybe he could attract a female—although, he guessed, at a whorehouse that wasn’t the way things worked. As he dried himself, he looked at his penis, so different in appearance from Carl’s which was uncircumcised. Jimmy hoped that he would be able to get it up for a prostitute.

Back in his room, he oiled and combed his hair, parting it carefully down the middle and slicking it back. He pictured Valentino and considered moving the part over a bit, then decided to leave it. He put on his best suit and met the rest of the band in the hotel lobby.

“Come on, lover boy,” Larry said as Jimmy joined them.

They all headed off in Howard’s car for a dance hall called the Avalon Gardens. It turned out to be the largest and most elegant dance palace any of them had ever seen. A band of ten white musicians, including a couple of violins, played what Jimmy judged as routine popular music. He told the others that he was hankering to see some hot Negro jazz bands. They listened to the music for a couple of hours, and Howard kept trying to meet girls and get their phone numbers. But he didn’t have much success. About 11 Howard announced that he was ready to try his luck with the filles de joie.

“With the what?” Larry asked. Howard leaned in close to be heard over the music and said, “The ladies of the evening.”

“Oh. Yeah, of course,” Larry said.

“But you can all stay here and listen to the music if you want,” Howard said. “I noticed some taxis out front when we came in. You can catch a ride back to the hotel with one of them.”

“Hell, no, I’m sticking with you, Howard,” Larry said. No one else wanted to be left out of Howard’s adventures of the flesh, least of all Jimmy after the incident at the roadhouse. So they made their way out of the dance hall and back to the side street where Howard’s car was parked.

The wind from earlier had let up, but the air was still chill and damp.

Howard couldn’t get his car engine started, and after numerous attempts and spells of angry cursing, he gave up and suggested catching a cab. Howard’s cousin had given him the address of the brothel with directions to another part of the city.

“This pleasure palace may be easier to find by cab anyway,” Howard said. “Cabbies always know where the cat houses are located.”

They walked back toward the dance hall, and Howard stopped at the first taxi he came to. He leaned in to ask the driver if he knew the address and to negotiate a fare. Then he turned and said, “Pile in, boys. This fellow is going to ferry us over Jordan to the Promised Land.”

As they started off, they discussed the band they had just heard and argued about whether the music was any good. After a time the cab driver turned and said, “Sounds like you boys are musicians.”

“Yeah,” Bill answered. “We try to be.”

“I’ll make you a deal. I know where you boys are headin’ and it ain’t no cheap dive. You’re gonna need all the dollars you got. Now, if you can sing me something while I drive, I’ll take you across the river for free. What do you say?”

“That’s mighty sportin’ of you,” Howard said. “What do you say, fellas?”

“Jimmy’s got the best singing voice,” Chuck said. “What should we do, Jimmy?”

“How about some blues for this gentleman?” Jimmy said. “Let’s do ‘Graveyard Blues.’ You fellas can vocalize your instrumental parts and I’ll take the melody in the lyrics. Okay?”

The others all agreed and Chuck took out a pocket comb and some tissue to improvise a kazoo. Jimmy counted out a rhythm and said, “Hit it.” After a short musical intro, he began to sing.

Blues on my mind and blues all around my head.

Blues on my mind and blues all around my head.

I dreamed last night

that the man that I love was dead.

I went to the graveyard, fell down on my knees.

I went to the graveyard, fell down on my knees.

And I asked the graveyard digger

to give me back my real good man, please.

The gravedigger looked me in the eye.

The gravedigger looked me in the eye.

Said, “I’m sorry, lady,

but your man has said his last good-bye.”

I wrung my hands, and I wanted to scream.

I wrung my hands, and I wanted to scream.

But when I woke up,

I found it was only a dream.”

As Jimmy crooned the lyrics, the others wove their parts around the words. Loosened up from drinks at the dance hall, the band fell into this musical exercise with an uninhibited enthusiasm. The driver tapped his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the music. The black Ford glided over the dark pavement of a bridge, and the lights of the city glistened on the inky river.

With the last notes of the song, the cabby let out a laugh and a hoot. “Man, you fellas sure do know a thing or two about music. Where’d you learn that stuff?”

“We listen to phonograph records,” Jimmy said. “But we came to Chicago to hear the real thing. Tell us where can we go to hear some good Negro jazz?”

The driver named a couple of clubs and their house bands. Jimmy made a mental note.

Before long the taxi drove up in front of a three-story Victorian mansion. Both the house and the neighborhood looked like they had seen better days. The lights were on and there were girls in the front window. Larry rolled down the car window and waved, and the girls blew kisses back.

“Looks like we’ve found the party,” Howard said with a grin. He asked the cabby to drive around the corner to let them off. The band members got out and thanked the cabby for the bargain fare. Jimmy went over to the window of the cab and thanked the driver for the advice about bands and clubs and slipped him some money. As an afterthought, the cabby added, “Oh, by the way, you should be sure to catch the band at the Checker Club too. They’re hot.”

“The Checker Club?” Jimmy repeated. “Okay. Thanks for the tip.”

As the taxi pulled away, Howard said, “I’d keep some of my money in my stocking if I were you,” and he bent down to pull up his pant cuff. Jimmy had left half his money at the hotel, and he was wearing the money belt Carl had given him with the $200, but he transferred his billfold to the front pocket of his pants.

The sky had cleared a bit and a sliver of the waning moon showed between the clouds, pointing its horns to the West. The cold breeze stirred again as the men started for the front of the house.

Waves of butterflies fluttered in the pit of Jimmy’s stomach, but it was different from the stage fright he felt before a musical performance. He stifled the chattering of his teeth, caused as much by nervous anticipation as by the cold wind.

But Jimmy felt better when he heard ragtime coming from inside as they mounted the front porch. The beveled glass door was opened for them by a stocky black man in a tuxedo, admitting them into a large entry hall dominated by a broad curving stairway. A laughing woman in a blue kimono was leading a man up the red carpeted steps.

The newel post at the bottom of the stairway was embellished with a bronze statue of a woman dressed in a Greek gown, unfastened at one shoulder so that her breast was exposed. In one hand she held aloft a red glass torch with an electric light and in the other hand she carried a basket containing grapes and sheaves of grain.

Three women waved down from the banister as the young men entered. A well-groomed older woman in an elegant black evening gown came forward to welcome them and introduced herself as Miss Eva. She led Howard and his friends into a plush carpeted salon, dimly lit by glittering chandeliers. Just inside the room, under the stairway, sat a heavyset older Negro man, also in a tuxedo, playing a grand piano. While the music was ragtime, it had something else to it that Jimmy couldn’t name, and his attention was drawn to the piano rhythms, in spite of the many distractions that filled the room.

Some women, lounging on the overstuffed furniture, smiled and winked at the boys. A heavily rouged redhead sat in the lap of an older man in full evening dress and fed him from a brandy snifter with a spoon. Other gentlemen danced with girls in various stages of undress. At an ornate bar at the side of the room, a bartender in a tuxedo served two men in evening dress who were being fussed over by a couple of the girls. A roar of laughter burst in through an archway at the far end of the room where well-dressed men were gambling. Miss Eva invited the band members to have drinks at the bar and make themselves comfortable. When Jimmy paid for his gin cocktail, he was shocked at the charge.

As he took a seat at a table with the others, Jimmy leaned close to Howard and said, “Looks like we won’t be getting drunk tonight. Now I understand what they mean by whorehouse prices.”

“We didn’t come here to get drunk,” Howard said and turned, raising his glass in a toast. “To love and life,” he said.

Larry leaned in to Howard and asked in a low voice, “How does this work? Do we pay Miss Eva or what?”

Howard said he had asked the bartender, who told him to choose a girl. “She’ll show you to a room, and then you can pay your thirty-five dollars to her.”

Miss Eva approached, escorting two young women in loose attire that revealed their undergarments. “Boys, this is Lily and Rose. I’ll send some more girls round for you to meet. Have another drink and enjoy yourselves.”

Howard winked at the dark-haired Lily and she sauntered over to him and ruffled his hair with her fingers. He reached out and slid his hand across her posterior, then moved his arm around her waist and invited her to sit in his lap.

“Do you find me beautiful, love?” she said in a British accent as she eased onto his thigh.

“Well, beauty is one thing,” Howard said, eyeing her cleavage. “And love is another thing.” He reached his other arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “And sex is something else,” he whispered as he nuzzled her neck.

Rose, a short blonde, asked where they were all from. Jimmy took another swallow of his drink and started to relax. He sat back and listened to the old black musician at the piano, who was now in the middle of a ragtime tune like nothing Jimmy had ever heard. He began tapping his hand on the table to the beat of the music.

Two other girls approached the table and began asking their names. A pretty blonde strolled over from the bar with a languid gait. Something about her struck Jimmy as familiar but he couldn’t quite place it. He smiled at her and she introduced herself as Elsa. He told her his name and she asked if Jimmy liked dancing. He told her that he did, and she pulled him up from his seat to dance with her. They did the fox trot and got better acquainted.

“You boys part of a football team?” she asked. Jimmy told her no and explained who they were. He said he was interested in Chicago race music and asked Elsa if she would introduce him to the piano player.

“Oh, sure,” she said. “He’s great, ol’ Mr. Keys.” She told Jimmy that Mr. Keys had played piano in Storyville down in New Orleans. When the Navy shut down Storyville, he had come north to find work and ended up working as a night watchman. One night he found a piano in a room in the building he was guarding and he started playing a little every night. About a week later, one of Elsa’s regulars, who was working late in the building, heard Mr. Keys playing and confronted him.

“Poor Mr. Keys was afraid he was going to lose his job,” Elsa said.

The man told him that he could earn a lot more money playing piano than working as a night watchman.

“Mr. Keys has been working here ever since,” she said. “That’s why they call him Mr. Keys, because of all those keys he used to carry as a night watchman.”

The tune came to an end and Elsa and Jimmy joined in the smattering of applause.

“Come on, sweetie, I’ll introduce you.” Elsa laced an arm around his waist and led him to the piano.

“I understand you used to play piano in Storyville,” Jimmy said.

The piano player nodded. Jimmy complimented him on his playing and asked about the ragtime tune that he just finished.

“Well, son, I just sort of feel my way as I go along. It’s easier like that and it comes out sounding better.”

“It sure sounds great,” Jimmy said. Mr. Keys adjusted his bulk and began to play another piece.

“I’m honored to meet you,” Jimmy said. The Negro nodded to him.

Jimmy turned to Elsa, and she indicated a large brandy snifter on the piano. It had a few bills in it. Jimmy pulled out a dollar and dropped it in the container. Mr. Keys nodded to him again.

When Jimmy and Elsa returned to the table, the other fellows seemed to be enjoying themselves with the women who surrounded them. Howard was nibbling the earlobe of a short redhead in his lap. Larry was arm wrestling with a blonde. An odd-looking brunette was lighting a cigarette for Chuck. A girl in a black corset was playing a game called “waterfall” with Bill the drummer, pouring his drink into his open mouth in a thin stream from high above his head to see how high she could go.

Elsa asked Jimmy if she could fetch him another drink from the bar. He leaned close to her ear and said, “How about plain ginger ale? I don’t want to get too drunk.” Then he surprised himself by kissing her on the cheek. He felt a moment of genuine affection for her and then it dawned on him that something about her reminded him of Carl’s friend, Charlene Devereaux. It may have been Charlie’s blonde hair, but it was more than just her appearance. He couldn’t define it. Maybe it was because back in Portland Charlie served as part of the ruse that Carl and Gwen were one couple and he and Charlie were another. Now Jimmy saw Elsa as a partner in his deception of the band. She would help him prove his manhood to them, and, for that, he felt a wave of gratitude towards her.

Elsa laughed as he handed her money for the bartender. Perhaps she sensed his sudden gratitude or his momentary feeling of genuine affection, but she looked at him openly for an instant, then turned and walked toward the bar. In that moment, Jimmy sensed she had let down her guard for the blink of an eye, and he had caught a glimpse inside her. Her laughter was almost convincing, but it faded a bit too fast. Her smiles seemed a little too forced.

The odd-looking brunette was telling a story about a man in a runaway automobile that had lost its brakes, and the boys were all laughing. Larry kept giving her the eye, and she went over to him. Jimmy could see Elsa across the room talking with the bartender, who poured her a shot. She tossed it back in one swallow, while the barkeep poured Jimmy’s drink.

Howard stood up and asked the redhead, “Can you show me the way to the gents’ room?”

“I’ll do better than that,” she said. “I’ll show you to a private bedroom.”

Howard laughed and put his arm around her. “You’re a girl after my own heart.”

“Well, it’s not your heart I’m after, lover boy,” she said as Howard kissed the side of her neck.

Larry piped up, “Yeah, Howard, it’s your wallet she’s after.” He sounded a bit drunk.

The brunette next to him put her arm around his shoulder and cooed, “Now you be nice. This is an honorable establishment here. We just want you boys to have a good time so you’ll come back and see us again. We like well-mannered young fellas like you.”

Something about the girl struck Jimmy as peculiar. She kissed Larry’s cheek and he pulled her down into his lap. She giggled and kissed Larry on the lips. His hand wandered down to her crotch and began exploring.

“Shit!” he cried out and shoved her off onto the floor. He jumped up, yelling, “God damn it, she’s a boy!” There was a chorus of laughter from around the table. Larry’s face turned bright red, and he screamed, “He’s a fucking fairy!” The little blonde, Rose, came around the table and put her arms around Larry.

“Now don’t get angry at our little Sylvia,” she said. “She thought you knew what you were getting. Come on, Larry, sweetie, let me get you a free drink.” Rose pulled Larry away toward the bar.

Elsa returned with Jimmy’s drink. She handed it to him and turned to help Sylvia up from the floor, where she sat rubbing her knee and pouting.

“Oh, men are such beasts,” Sylvia said.

“Get up, now, dearie,” Elsa said, “and don’t be theatrical. Some of our other patrons appreciate you.”

Sylvia stood up. “Well, some boys have no sense of humor.”

As he watched all this, Jimmy realized that Sylvia was a boy of no more than 15 or 16. Elsa gave her a squeeze and Sylvia sauntered off across the room toward the piano where she stood with her hands on Mr. Keys’ shoulders and swayed to the music. Mr. Keys turned his head and said something to her. She laughed and gave him a quick hug before she headed for the curving stairway.

Elsa returned to Jimmy and placed an arm around his shoulder. Jimmy could see that if he wanted to make a show of his manhood, he had to make a move soon before the party broke up into couples. He glanced around the table.

“Well, if you boys will excuse us…” Jimmy stood up and put his arm around Elsa’s waist. She leaned into him and he nuzzled her ear. He glanced over at Bill, who gave him a knowing smile. “Let’s find someplace private,” Jimmy said in a voice that could be heard across the table. Elsa drew him toward the stairway. He felt an urge to glance back toward the band, but he resisted. As they passed the end of the bar, he saw Larry and Rose raising a toast, and Jimmy called out, “Take it easy, Larry. I’ll see you later.” Larry raised his glass to him and winked.

Elsa led Jimmy up the grand staircase. He was hoping that he could find some way to desire her.

As they climbed the stairs, a baritone voice began singing softly several steps behind them. Jimmy recognized the tune that had gotten him into trouble at the Bisby Grange. “It’s right here for ya, If you don’t get it...” The voice struck Jimmy as unusually melodious and sexual. He was tempted to turn back to see who it was, but Elsa recognized the voice and spoke up.

“Don’t look now but we’re being followed,” she said in a way that was directed to the person behind them. Jimmy glanced back. A strikingly handsome young man with dark hair was a few steps below them. He was carrying the coat of his tuxedo over his arm and pulling the black bow tie from his collar. He eyed Jimmy as he finished singing the next line, “It ain’t no fault of mine,” then began unfastening the front of his shirt. He seemed to know that Jimmy found him attractive, and Jimmy felt embarrassed and diverted his eyes.

“Hi, Freddy,” Elsa said.

“Hey, Elsa,” he said and caught up with them. He reached into his coat and slipped something to Elsa. She pocketed it in a flash.

“I expected you earlier,” she said under her breath.

“Aw, something came up,” he said.

At the top of the stairs, Elsa led Jimmy across an expanse of red carpet toward a second floor bar, where she greeted the bartender. “Hi, Harry, how did the football game go?”

He remarked on the game, and she asked what room she could use.

“Number 5 is vacant.”

During this exchange, Jimmy couldn’t take his eyes off Freddy, who crossed behind them to stand in the archway of an alcove beyond the bar. Something about Freddy’s face and dark hair made Jimmy think of Carl. Freddy leaned against an alcove pillar with his profile to Jimmy as he finished removing the studs from his shirt. Even though Jimmy could only see the side of Freddy’s face, he felt that Freddy was still watching him. Inside the alcove, Sylvia sat on a sofa smoking cigarettes with a muscular young blond fellow dressed only in an undershirt and tuxedo slacks. Freddy greeted them, laid his coat on the arm of the sofa, and took a glass of beer the blond fellow offered him. When he settled back in a chair facing the bar, Freddy’s shirt fell open, revealing a chest tattoo—a scorpion with its foreleg pincers surrounding his nipple. Freddy looked up and saw that Jimmy was staring at him. Freddy smiled and raised his glass, then took a sip, never once losing eye contact.

Elsa leaned into Jimmy drawing him away from the bar.

Freddy called out, “Hey, Elsa, you’re stealing my business.”

She glanced at Jimmy with a soft laugh, and turning back to Freddy, she asked, “Got an appointment tonight, Freddy?”

“My one o’clock regular,” he answered, keeping his eyes on Jimmy, who looked away.

Elsa led Jimmy down a hallway to a room at the end and opened the door. Jimmy felt a quiver of nervousness as he stepped into the dimly lighted room. It was hung with heavy gold curtains and had a large angled, gilt-framed mirror at the head of the wooden bedstead.

“Do you like a girl to leave some article of clothing on?” Elsa asked taking a seat on the edge of the bed and slipping off her shoes. Jimmy was still puzzling over Freddy and he had to think a moment to understand her question.

“Uh, no. Just undress.” He sat in a chair opposite Elsa and began removing his tie.

“You know it’s thirty-five dollars,” she said, pulling off a stocking. “You can just leave the money here on the bedside table.”

He took out the cash and placed it on the table.

“Who was that fella out there?” Jimmy asked, trying to make the question sound off-handed.

“A friend,” she answered.

“A regular patron?” he asked, removing a shoe.

“No,” she said and laughed her strange disconnected laugh. “He works here.”

Jimmy’s expression must have betrayed his confusion. “It’s not uncommon,” she said. Jimmy’s confusion turned to disbelief. She added, “Some of our patrons prefer boys instead of girls.”

Jimmy was astounded. He had never heard of a male prostitute. Sylvia may have been a boy, but she looked and acted like a girl. Freddy, however, was every bit a man. The idea of Freddy selling himself slowly set off explosions in his imagination. By the time he finished undressing, he was beginning to be aroused.

Elsa lay back on the bed and beckoned to him. Jimmy went to her and began to kiss and embrace her. He moved his hands over her body, perfect and beautiful and white, but to him somehow cold as porcelain.

While his hands fondled her body, Jimmy remembered the sound of Freddy’s voice humming that tune behind him as they climbed the stairs. Jimmy began to hum the tune quietly to himself as he nuzzled Elsa’s neck and held her body against his. So Freddy was Elsa’s friend—and a prostitute? He remembered that fiery glint in Freddy’s dark eyes. Had she and Freddy had sex together? Had Freddy done what Jimmy was doing now? His mind focused on the image of Freddy’s tattoo and the thought of touching his chest, then the thick, dark hair on Carl’s chest and smell of Carl’s body.

And so it was by a trick, by a sleight of hand, that Jimmy’s member became erect.

While he was conjuring up images of Freddy and Carl in one corner of his mind, Jimmy became aware of an odd physical detachment in Elsa’s lovemaking, as if she were not there. She seemed to be just going through the motions. He was struck by the sharp contrast between Elsa’s lifelessness and the eager passion that Mary had exhibited in his only other sexual encounter with a female. This confused him. He sensed that Elsa was emotionally wounded somewhere and she carried that deep in her soul like a disfigurement. It occurred to him that she was willing to be used. In the midst of these vague intuitions, the image of Charlie unexpectedly floated across Jimmy’s consciousness again and then was gone. He dismissed it as an effect of the strangeness of the brothel. Jimmy focused on the movements of his body and imagined Freddy.

When they finished, Elsa indicated a door in the corner, which opened into a small bathroom. “If you want to clean up…” she said. He went in and used the facilities. As Jimmy washed himself, he realized that he had forgotten all about the condoms Carl had given him before he left Portland. Well, there was nothing to be done about that now.

After a short time, he came out toweling himself off. Elsa sat at the bedside table sniffing a white powder from the lid of a small brass box. She looked up. “Want some?” she said. “I can give you a bargain.”

“Uh…no,” he said shaking his head. “Thanks.” He began to dress. Elsa closed the little box and went into the bathroom.

The world’s oldest profession, Jimmy thought as he put on his clothes and mused about the ancient temple prostitutes he’d heard about. He was feeling good about his performance. He wondered if the fellows in the band would be able to see that he had made love to a woman. Maybe he was normal after all. Maybe he could win Mary back. He would telephone her at her parents’ home the first chance he had. He spontaneously began singing under his breath. “It’s right here for ya, If you don’t get it…” Elsa came out of the bath. Hearing him sing, she laughed and said, “That old song.”

Jimmy finished tying his shoe laces. “Yeah, we do that number in the band. I noticed your friend Freddy was singing it earlier.”

As she pulled on a stocking, she asked, “Are you interested in Freddy?”

Jimmy paused, tying his tie, and turned to her.

“For a little more money, I can show you to a place where you can watch him at work.”

Again Jimmy was astonished and at the same time a fire ignited somewhere down inside him. His throat felt dry and he had trouble speaking. “How much?” he asked. His voice trembled unexpectedly and he tried to steady it.


“Fifteen is all I’ve got,” he lied. He knew there was more in his wallet. He wasn’t counting the $200 in the money belt, but he didn’t intend for anyone to know about that.

“Okay, fifteen then.”

All over again, Jimmy felt a wave of nervous excitement sweep through his body. I can’t believe this is happening to me, he kept thinking to himself, and he had difficulty tying his tie, his fingers had begun to tremble so.

When they were both dressed, Elsa said, “I’ve got to tell Harry at the bar that we’re through with the room. Wait here.” She was back in a minute. “Harry says they’re in their regular room. I’ll show you the way, but you’ve got to pretend like you’re falling down drunk. Now put your arm around my shoulder and keep your mouth shut. And once we get to the basement, don’t make a sound.”

At the word “basement,” Jimmy began to feel apprehensive about what he was getting himself into. Was he being set up for a robbery? Well, he didn’t have much cash left on him, except in the money belt and that would be hard for a robber to find.

“Are you sure about all this?” Jimmy asked.

“It’s okay.” she laughed her peculiar hollow laugh. “If you can’t trust a whore, who can you trust?”

Jimmy laughed too and put his arm over Elsa’s shoulders. They stumbled out. She led him to a back hallway and down a servant staircase. At the bottom of the stairs, cool air from a rear entrance wafted in. A tall man stood outside a screen door smoking a cigarette. “Hi, Elsa,” the man said, “need any help?”

“No, Gus, thanks. He’s just one of my regulars. Had one too many. He’ll be okay once I get him to the kitchen for a bite to eat.” They passed through a steaming kitchen filled with food smells, to another staircase that descended into a dim, cool basement hallway.

Jimmy heard a woman weeping and the sound of slapping. There was a flash of light as a door opened and a man hurried past them up the hall. “Murray, this damn girl ain’t cooperating,” the man called out and disappeared into another room.

Elsa guided Jimmy into a room near the end of the hall. She closed the door behind them. The small room was lit only by a red-tinted lamp. Jimmy could just make out a small bed and another door. Elsa stood Jimmy up straight and removed his arm from her neck. She put her index finger against her lips as a signal for silence and opened the other door, which appeared to be an empty closet. She held the door open and motioned him in.

As Jimmy stepped into the small enclosure, he was overcome with doubt. Was this a trap? Regardless of the money belt, Jimmy was concerned for his safety. He turned back and looked at Elsa.

There was no danger. She stood there holding the door in the dim light, just a worn-out whore in a tawdry gown. She was not attractive to him. But the prospect of seeing Freddy at work seared Jimmy’s mind.

Elsa stepped inside and reached to the back of the closet, silently unhooking a heavy curtain to reveal an eye-level slit in the wall, which let in a dim strip of light from the adjoining room. She ushered him up to the wall, and then she was gone. He heard the closet door quietly closing behind him and he was left alone in the darkness.

Jimmy peered through the opening into another room. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he made out the shape of the room and a bright light spilling in from an adjoining bath where the end of a claw-foot tub was just visible. There was the sound of running water.

After a time the water sounds stopped and soon three figures entered from the bathroom. Jimmy felt an internal electricity as he recognized Freddy and the muscular blond boy from the alcove by the mezzanine bar. They were naked, except for the third man who was a stranger to Jimmy. He had very light hair and wore only a white dress shirt, the collar open. The stranger had Freddy stand on a chair and he told the blond boy to start sucking on Freddy. The stranger fondled himself under the tail of his dress shirt as he watched.

“Careful, there, Roscoe. I don’t want him going off half-cocked,” the stranger said and laughed.

“It’s okay, Mr. Felton,” Freddy said. “I’ve got it under control.”

“Sure, Freddy, I know you do. You’re my best boy. Just a little joke.”

Then he produced two condoms, handing one to the blond and then reaching under the shirttail to work one onto himself. After the blond had worked the condom onto Freddy’s erect member, the stranger told the muscular blond to get down on his hands and knees.

“Okay, get him ready,” the stranger said, handing a tube to Freddy. Freddy knelt down behind the blond and began applying something between the boy’s buttocks.

The stranger watched for a bit, continuing to fondle himself, before he came forward and pushed Freddy out of the way. He stood behind the blond boy for a moment, reached down to place one hand on the boy’s shoulder and the other went under his shirt. With a quick thrust he mounted the boy dog style. A groan sounded. The stranger held his position for several moments, his head shaking with spasmodic movements.

Freddy used the tube to grease his own member. Then the stranger called to Freddy who approached him from behind and lubricated deep between the man’s buttocks. At another command from him, Freddy began slapping the stranger’s backside. The slapping increased in harshness. “Now, now,” the man breathed. Freddy lifted the dress shirt and mounted the stranger from behind and, in turn, placed his hands on the man’s shoulders. Gradually the three began to move in rhythm and the heavy breathing turned into grunts and moans from which Jimmy could not distinguish between pain and pleasure. Jimmy reached down and unfastened his trousers.

The threesome writhed with more intensity and their groans became more staccato and sharp until they appeared to be a ferocious barking three-headed beast.

Jimmy couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The stranger was sexually giving and receiving at the same time, both male and female at once. It was a paradox that Jimmy could not fathom. He couldn’t believe that men performed such acts, that places like this existed, that he was there in such a place observing the spectacle. Jimmy experienced his second orgasm that night.

After a time the threesome subsided into exhausted panting and began uncoupling. Before long, the stranger in the shirt stood up and ran his hand through Freddy’s hair. “You do that real good, Freddy,” he said. “You’re a good boy. You deserve a special favor after that. Take a look in my briefcase.”

Then the stranger went off into the adjoining bathroom and there was the sound of running water. Jimmy watched until Freddy and the other boy began to dress. Before Freddy put his shirt on, just as Jimmy was about to turn away, Freddy took the belt off his trousers and walked over to a black valise on the bed, only a few feet from Jimmy’s hiding place. Freddy took out a gold case, the size of a small book, turned on a bedside lamp, and sat down on the bed.

“You want any?” he asked the blond boy, who shook his head no and continued to dress.

From inside the gold case, Freddy took out a syringe with a hypodermic needle and a small vial. He filled the syringe from the vial, then wound his belt around his biceps, held it tight with his teeth, and gave himself a shot in the arm. Then he pulled out the needle and lay back onto the bed.

Although Jimmy had heard of musicians using needles, he had never seen this kind of drug activity, and it was almost as shocking to him as the sex acts he had just witnessed.

Jimmy turned away. He fastened his fly and slipped noiselessly out of the closet. He made his way out of the room, checking first to see that no one was in the hall, then retreated toward the stairs. As he passed the room where he’d heard the weeping, a woman’s voice said, “Now I’ll ask you again. Are you gonna do what the gentleman asked you to do?” and there was a crack of leather against flesh.

Passing through the upstairs kitchen, Jimmy found an old Negro woman cooking at the stove. She flashed a gold-toothed grin at him and he asked the way to the front room. She directed him through a china pantry that led into a dining room set with white linens. The far door of the dining room opened onto the bar where Jimmy had first met Elsa.

The room was nearly empty now but for a few men and women at the bar and a white-haired gentleman in evening clothes sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs sipping from a brandy snifter and laughing with the dark-haired girl Lily. The gamblers in the back room were still hunched over their cards. The grand piano stood silent under the stairway. Jimmy approached the bartender and asked if the other men in his party were still there. The bartender hadn’t seen them come down yet. Jimmy was about to order a drink when he remembered he didn’t have much money left, so he wandered over to the piano.

He hesitated a moment, then sat down at the piano bench and began playing a few chords, which soon became a full improvisation. He didn’t know how long he had been playing when he felt the presence of someone standing behind him watching him play. At first something told Jimmy he should not turn around but keep playing, yet he felt the attention so keenly that he brought the improvisation to a close and looked around. Behind him stood the stranger from the basement room. He was clothed now in full evening dress with white tie and tails. The man might have been in his 30s or 40s, but he was one of those men whose age was impossible to guess. You wouldn’t have picked him out of a crowd. His face was nondescript. However, his hair was ash blond, or was it white? He had pale eyebrows and eyelashes, and his skin was white, like something that had crawled out from under a rock and never seen the light of the sun. The intense gaze of his blue eyes and something indefinable about his presence sent a combination of thrill and dread through Jimmy.

The stranger smiled at Jimmy and said, “You’re exceptionally eloquent with your instrument. I’m impressed.” He looked Jimmy up and down. “What’s your name, kid?”

For a split second, Jimmy wondered if the man somehow knew that he had been watching from the basement closet. Maybe Elsa had told him. Jimmy was on his guard. He stood up from the piano. “I’m Jimmy Harper.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Jimmy Harper. I’m Danny Felton.” The man extended his arm, and as Jimmy shook the cold hand, Felton asked, “You new around here? I haven’t seen you before.”

“I just got into town from Oregon.”

“Oregon. What brings you to Chicago?”

“I…uh…came here to find something I lost.”

“I hope it wasn’t your virginity you lost. You’re not likely to find that here at Miss Eva’s. Or anywhere else in Chicago.”

Jimmy blushed, feeling foolish.

Felton laughed and studied Jimmy’s face.

“Actually,” Jimmy said, trying to regain his composure, “I’ve come here looking for musical work.”

“You’ve made a long journey. Maybe I can help you out.”

Felton took out a gold business card case and an expensive fountain pen, and he began writing on the back of one of the cards. A signet ring with a black onyx surrounded by four small diamonds flashed on his left hand as he wrote.

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