Al Capone once said, “When I sell liquor, it’s called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on Lake Shore Drive, it’s called hospitality.” It is my experience that the hospitality business in Harlem is booming. My name’s Ainsworth – Fred Ainsworth – and I’m a private investigator.
As I came to my senses and the feeling of impending doom abated, I could see that Bernice was biting her tongue – a diatribe about the dangers of drink was fighting to unleash itself upon the world. Mercifully, she walked out of the bathroom and left me to pull myself together.
After dousing my face with cold water for a few moments, I walked back into the bedroom and collected my thoughts. Before I blacked out, I was reading Ivy’s journal. It occurred to me that if I wanted to piece together the circumstances of Ms. Morgan’s ignominious end, I needed to go back to the beginning. And according to the journal, that meant I needed to visit the Blue Heaven Ballroom.
I scoured Ivy’s closet for something less matronly for Bernice to wear. No one was going to let her into one of Harlem’s hottest speakeasies looking like she just came from a relative’s sickbed. Despite multiple remonstrations and tut-tuts, Bernice took the dress I picked for her and pushed me out of the bedroom. I rummaged through the rest of the house and managed to find an old but suitable tuxedo. Within the hour, the two of us made a serviceable pair of socialites. We jumped into my car and drove to the club.
Even on a Wednesday, the line outside of Blue Heaven stretched nearly a block. Absent were the celebrities and VIP’s one encountered on a Friday or Saturday night, but plenty of New York’s cultural elite, gangsters, and out-of-towners had nothing better to do with their evenings. Bernice and I stepped into the queue, and slowly entered the club.
I could tell from the expression on Bernice’s face that she might as well have stepped into the Second Circle of Hell. Between the frenzied jazz music, free-flowing booze, and morally ambiguous clientele, I thought that she might slip into a fit. But to her credit, Bernice steadied herself and took a spot next to me at the bar.
I spent the next few hours talking to bartenders, doormen, waiters, and cigarette girls. I got very little cooperation when it came to Pete Manusco’s murder – most of the staff claimed to not be working the night the accountant was shot. However, they all recognized Ivy when I showed them her picture. It seems Ms. Morgan was quite popular with the young dilettantes that frequented the club. Once I handed over a few clams to the bartender, he pointed out a group of them sitting at a nearby table. I bought a bottle of over-priced bourbon, signaled to Bernice, and walked over to the group.
We sat in a pair of chairs that were recently occupied by a couple that had gone to dance. A number of tuxedoed dilettantes were participating in a spirited conversation with a tall, rugged, and handsome man.
“I say, fly-boy,” the dilettante began, “if you want me to introduce you to my father, you best not scare Trixie with your stunt-flying again!”
The handsome man smiled wryly. “With all due respect, Charles, you chartered my plane because you thought that a little excitement might be exactly what your lady-friend needed to, as you said, loosen up.”
The group laughed heartily, but stopped short when they realized that there were newcomers at the table. I introduced myself and Bernice, and uncapped the bottle of bourbon. It took very little effort to get the young men talking about Ivy – they were already well-lubricated when I started pouring drinks. Many of them had visited the Church of Cana – mostly because they thought it would endear them to Ms. Morgan. They didn’t necessarily believe that the end of the world was coming, but they were prepared to believe anything if it meant that they could spend a blissful night with Ivy. Over the last few months, however, Ivy had stopped holding services, and many of the socialites stopped seeing her socially.
Everything was going swimmingly until one of the dilettantes decided to rest his hand upon Bernice’s backside. Shocked and horrified, she picked up a glass from the table, and threw the brown liquor in his face. The group erupted in fits of raucous laughter while Bernice stormed from the table. I politely excused myself and chased after her.
I caught Bernice halfway down the stairs. She began to denounce drink and debauchery, but was interrupted by a call from behind. It was the handsome pilot that was sitting with us at the table. He introduced himself as Lex Lashley, and confided that he had run afoul Ms. Morgan at the Church of Cana. He claimed that he had gone to the church in search of a benefactor to fund his next treasure-hunting expedition, and that he and Ivy had hit it off. After an evening of lively conversation and copious amounts of bootlegged scotch, Lashley found himself in a Harlem alley, with scratches all over his back and a serious case of the sniffles.
My thoughts turned to the journal in Ivy’s bedroom. There, I came across some troubling entries about unnamed socialites, medical-grade ether, hotel bathtubs, and a lot of ice. It sounded to me like Lex Lashley was a victim of Ivy’s peculiar sexual proclivities, and I didn’t really have the heart to tell him.
Maybe I felt sorry for the guy. Maybe I realized that it was easier to fly to Massachusetts than drive. Whatever the case, I offered Lex Lashley five dollars a day to procure his services, and he agreed. As I walked out of the club and into the night, I silently doubted that anything good would come from involving Bernice and Lex in my investigation.