The Canary Club
I roll the name around in my head like a curse.
Glancing back over my shoulder toward my room, toward June, I know what I have to do.
For the most part, it suits me just fine to let people think I’m just some silly girl, some empty-headed dame. Because what it means is that they never see me coming, never suspect me of being capable of doing terrible things.
But I am my father’s daughter.
I was born to violence like a fish is born to water. It’s part of me, part of who I am. All my life I’ve watched the people around me suffer—the women most of all. It’s a fact of this life that more often than not, shots are fired, grievances aired, and warnings sent through the women around the powerful men. They are soft targets. Disposable, but cared for enough to make a point.
In this business, women are nothing more than weaknesses to be guarded and fodder to be thrown when needed. Pawns in a game we aren’t even allowed to play. It’s one of the reasons I was so glad when Mother had sent me off to private school upstate. For a few months, I’d felt normal. Safe.
Being called back to the life after losing her was like suddenly having an axe hanging over my head again. For one dark, dark moment I’d considered running away—and I might have too. But soon enough I realized that this is where I belong, even if I might wish otherwise. I have to do what I can to protect my family, what family I have left. I know my part and I can play it as well as any Hollywood starlet. I know I should be appalled, bereaved that things like this come so easily to me now. But I let that grief, and the dreams of being anything other than what I am, go a long time ago. And so I stay. Cursed to walk the fine line between hero and villain, between vengeance and redemption.
But Lepke isn’t going to get away with this. Not this time.
I drag my hand through the water, mixing in the salts, cementing my plan in my head.
As soon as I deposit June in the tub I steal away to the den to make a call.
“Hello?” Vincent Coll’s groggy answer reverberates through the receiver.
My heart stutters at the sound of his voice. “It’s Masie. I need a favor.”
“What’s up, doll?”
I hesitate, biting my bottom lip. It’s then that I notice the smear of blood on my dress.
“I have blood on me, Vinny,” I say, more to myself than him, but his tone heightens.
“Are you alright?” He’s awake now, alert and sharp.
“It’s not my blood,” I clarify. “It’s the blood of someone I care about, though.”
He calms again, “What do you need?”
“Lepke Brewer,” I spit the name, unable to quite put into words how I want him to suffer. How much I want him to hurt.
On the other end of the line there’s a deep sigh, followed by the sound of a lighter flicking and Vinny taking a long drag. Despite being someone I once cared about greatly, Vinny is a dangerously unstable man on a good day. I know he’ll do what I’m about to ask without breathing a word of it to anyone—not out of loyalty to me or sympathy for June and what had happened to her, but for the sheer opportunity to level some brutality on a rival. Most people call him Mad Dog, thanks to his reputation for being about as well tempered as a rabid animal. But to me, he’s just Vinny, the young boy who’d come to stay with us after being expelled from the Catholic Reform School his mother had abandoned him to. We’d spent our formative years together, thick as thieves and practically family, until he took up the roll as Daddy’s enforcer and hit man. He’d changed after that.
Hell, we’d both changed. And neither of us for the better.
I roll the memory of him around in my head, biting the inside of my cheek as I decide what to say next. We haven’t been close in a very long time, and that’s the way it has to be. It might have been something more once, or maybe I just wanted there to be something there that never was. He’d kissed me exactly once, and it had been enough to sear itself into my memory, only to be buried beneath piles of disappointment and choices neither of us can take back. He has to be hard to do what he does, with no weaknesses for our enemies to exploit. And if I’m being honest, it’s the darkness in him that terrifies me. Not because I don’t understand it, but because I do. I know exactly how easy it would be to allow myself to be consumed by the violence of this life—and how good I would be at it.
But that’s not the person I want to be.
Even so, here I am, about to ask him to do the dirty work for me, just so I can keep my hands just a little bit clean.
“You want him taken care of?” he asks finally.
I suck in a breath before answering. Yes, I want him dead. I want him wiped from the face of the earth so he can’t ever hurt anyone ever again. I imagine myself saying yes. I imagine myself throwing a fistful of dirt onto Lepke’s coffin as it’s lowered into the ground. And then I imagine trying to look myself in the mirror every day after that.
“I want him to hurt,” I say after a moment. “I want him to be broken to the core of him. But leave him breathing.”
Leave it to Vinny to echo my own fears back to me. “You sure about this, Mas?” he asks, taking another drag and exhaling it slowly. “It’s not going to keep you up at night?”
It’s a barb from an accusation I’d leveled at him the last time we spoke, when I’d asked how he slept at night, after all he’d done. His answer had been crude and aimed to hurt me. Mine would be much kinder.
“I suppose I will have to find a way to live with myself,” I answer, keeping my tone indifferent.
He hangs up without even saying goodbye.
I hold the receiver in my hand for a few heartbeats before returning it to its cradle. JD is being groomed to take over the family business and –despite daddy’s constant berating that he’s too soft-hearted or slow-witted or whatever insult he feels like hurling in the moment for the job—I’ve never stepped in and asked for a place in the business. I’m just the girl, after all, to be coddled and protected and mollified. I’d been surprised that he let me worm my way into the club as it’s headline singer rather than being shipped off to wherever. Now, I can’t help but wonder, if Daddy had seen me tonight, if he might rethink the line of ascension.
And I can’t help but wonder what life would be like for me if he did.