Ivy fiddled with her new pair of high heels and eagerly smoothed down the fringe of her dress. It was a fairly bland Tuesday evening in the Little Daisy Cafe, and any passerby to glimpse the dolled-up adolescent in the shop window might have suspected that she was waiting to be picked up for a date. Everything from the jeweled headband with its bright yellow feather to the sparkling necklace and faint coat of lipstick suggested that she was expecting a more adult destination than was normal for her age: one with illegal champagne and tailored tuxedos and scandalous jazz music. However, no pedestrian would have guessed that the miniature flapper had no intention of leaving the Little Daisy that night. It was true enough that she had a date coming, but their destination wasn't away… it was below.
Ivy continued to fidget as the minutes ticked down. Her eyes roved over the cafe's empty booths and sparkling counter. She must have scrubbed it at least three times already that afternoon. Not that she was a neat freak… she was just excited. To excited to sit still.
Behind her on one side of the bookshelf, a familiar click and then a creak broke the suspended silence: a secret entrance opened up into the limestone caves below the city of St. Louis. Ivy glanced around the corner brightly at the sound of footsteps and grinned when Mitzi May emerged from the shadowy cavern. Like her adolescent goddaughter, Mitzi was decked out in her big-city finest: long strands of pearls, gold hair pristinely curled and bobbed, and long dark lashes coated with more than just a hint of mascara. Having the two of them together now in such a humble cafe looked increasingly odd, especially with Mitzi's curves filling out her sequined gown until the twinkling dress practically glinted all the way through the window and into the cobblestone streets.
"Has Rocky happened to come through yet?" Mitzi sighed with her hands on her hips. Her bright crimson mouth pursed into a narrow line, but she looked bored. This was certainly not the first time she had asked that question.
"Nope, I haven't seen him," Ivy admitted cheerily.
"Well, send him down as soon as he gets here. Zib and the rest of the band are going to dump him in the Mississippi if he keeps doing this every night."
Mitzi eyed Ivy's feathered coronet and smirked a little. "Corrupted another young gentleman, I see. Is that why you're still up here? Don't tell me it's another one of your classmates; your father will have kittens if he sees you with a boy on your arm down there."
Ivy's cheeks flushed beneath her coat of makeup. "Robert's different," she muttered. "He's the one who asked me if I wanted to sneak into a speakeasy. I simply…" she glanced at the shop entrance to see if anybody might be listening or approaching. "…suggested a better one to him than what he had in mind. And my daddy won't see a thing of him tonight, 'cause his vision won't be too great by the time Rob and I get down there."
Mitzi smiled fondly and turned back for the dark corridor. "Just be careful who you bring to the Lackadaisy; if my husband so much as smells a raid, he'll send Viktor after whoever squealed without a qualm about their age or their girlfriends."
Ivy perked up with curiosity before Mitzi started to close the Judas Hole. "Viktor? Who's Viktor?"
"Oh, he's been working for Lackadaisy since the out-set," Mitzi replied to her. "I suppose you haven't met him because he's usually out in the field. But he's recovering from a recent job, so he's really just here to have a few drinks and keep the peace tonight." She shook her head - perhaps fondly, perhaps in disapproval. "The poor lug has sustained about as many injuries as a body can manage: in all honesty, I'm impressed that he's still breathing."
The hatchway closed before Ivy could open her mouth to reply. It was just as well, though, because the high-pitched ringing of the bell over the cafe entrance caused her to practically leap off of her stool in excitement. She whirled around eagerly. "Oh, good! I was afraid you were going to be…" Her voice trailed off when she saw neither Rocky nor Robert coming through the door. Instead, she saw four or five very large and dirty thugs lumbering in from the outside. They were all very rough and unkempt and powerful-looking, but she had seen and dealt with their like before in Kansas City. "Hi! What can I get you gentlemen tonight?"
The first of the gang slammed a fist on her polished counter. "The booze. Where is it?"
Not the most subtle approach she had ever seen. Ivy's lip curled at his lack of discretion, as well as his lack of a clover pin - the unspoken password of the Lackadaisy customer - on his shirt collar. She crossed her arms and scowled at them, since that usually worked with her father's own hired hoodlums. "You know that alcohol is banned in this country. I'm only fourteen, anyway: what makes you think I would know where to get any?"
Their leader snatched at her necklace and yanked her forward across the counter to snarl in her face. His breath smelled horrendous. "Don't play games with me, Toots…"
Ivy swallowed and felt under the edge of the counter with her free hand until her fingers came across the familiar lump beneath the lining: something she had never actually had to use. She pressed down hard on it before she lost her chance.
Two stories beneath the Little Daisy Cafe, a small brass bell began to ring and overpower the thunderous swing music that was echoing through the city's underground caverns. Wealthy patrons paused on the dance floor and looked up from the card tables in uncertainty, then turned towards where Atlas May was standing.
The stoic proprietor hardly batted a eyelash. "Go on, then: you know what that means," he announced. "Get going!"
He clapped his hands, and the crowd obeyed. Once they were moving, he made his way over to Ivy's father, Reuben Pepper, and then to his own wife - who looked less than pleased. She scowled at him.
"As if business wasn't bad enough," she hissed at him as she slipped her arm into his. "First we lose our contract with Defiance, and now a raid--"
"The Lackadaisy won't ever be lacking for patrons," Atlas murmured back to Mitzi before he turned and cast a thin, shrewd glance towards the mostly-abandoned bar. An old friend was still sitting beside it, lingering in the shadows. "Viktor… I think it's time for you to earn a nice bonus."
Ivy could feel the links of her gold chain digging into the back of her neck. The thug was pulling her further forward across the countertop, and his teeth were bared in a menacing snarl. "I said I want me a drink," he growled in a low voice. "Now show us the way into the speakeasy."
"I found my piiiin," a screechy voice sang (or tried to sing) at the chiming of the bell above the cafe door. "I thought I'd never set foot in the Lackadaisy agaaa--"
The singer stopped, most likely at the sight of the gang of hulking thugs taking up most of the room. Ivy could just glimpse the tip of the feather always stuck in the band of Rocky's telltale azure fedora. "Well, good evening gents!"
Rocky waltzed forward without waiting for a word from anyone and slammed himself down on the counter beside the thug that had Ivy's necklace in hand. He wasn't that much older than Ivy, in reality, but the blank look on his baby-smooth face and his bright blue eyes (like now) made him seem often much younger (and stupider) than he should have. He offered Ivy a sheepish grin. "I lost my pin on the way here."
He fiddled with the small black clover brooch attached to his collar. "I had to back-track all the way to Fourth Street to find i- WOOP." He found himself suddenly nose-to-nose with the lead ruffian as well, who had snatched him by the tie without a moment of hesitation.
"Is that pin the way into Lackadaisy?" the looming mercenary snarled.
"Heh heh," Rocky chuckled weakly, finally catching on. "Uh, into the what? I'm not exactly sure what you gents are referring t--"
The leader shut him up with a giant wallop across the jaw. He turned back to Ivy and tried to yank her across the countertop by her necklace: she quickly ducked and felt the chain slip through her cropped hair and snag her headband as it came off. The thug had ben pulling so hard that he and she both tumbled backwards: he into his lackeys and down to the floor, and she off of her stool.
Ivy scrambled to her feet and tried to dart out from behind the counter and into the rear storeroom, but she wasn't fast enough to keep one of them from clamping a hand on her arm. He yanked her back into the room. Ivy instinctively let out a bloodcurdling shriek and turned to clawed at his face. It was enough to make him stagger back, but he didn't let go.
Another goon got to his feet, but a now-revived Rocky leapt on him from behind in a yodeling flash of blue pinstripes. The gang collapsed in a heap of fists and biting and scratching, with Ivy right at the bottom. She curled up into a ball with her knees pulled up to her chest, her hands clutching her head protectively, and her teeth gritted at the noise.
Another massive hand wrapped itself around the back collar of Ivy's dress, and it dragged her out from under the pile of bodies until she was dangling with her feet in midair. The brawny behemoth that was holding her was undoubtedly the scariest thug she had ever seen: he had a big black patch over his right eye, while his left one was bright green and staring her straight in the face.
Ivy caught a glimpse of Rocky lying in a puddle of drool nearby, which meant that she was on her own for this. Before she could start having second thoughts, she screwed up her courage and shot out a foot and kicked the beefy thug directly in his one good eye with a satisfying THONK.
He released her with a roar to clutch at his face. Before she had even landed she was already rolling over in midair and was trying to scramble away as soon as she hit the floor, but he wrapped his thick fingers around her ankle and started pulling her back. "Pokaj-te chvilu dievka," he swore in a thick Slovak accent.
"VIKTOOOOOR," Ivy screeched for help while she kicked the hoodlum over and over in his thick barrel chest with her other free foot. Her heels didn't seem to be causing much damage, so she decided to change her tactics. "VIKTOR IS GONNA MURDER YOU, YA HEAR!?"
The mercenary rubbed his swelling eye and peered out blankly at her from beneath his fingers. "…vhat?" he mumbled. Ivy thanked her lucky stars that she had ended up with one of the stupider grunts.
"Viktor: he's my bestest friend, and he's BIGGER than you, you big BULLY," Ivy lied furiously through her teeth. "If you think that eye of yours hurts now, you just WAIT until Viktor gets here, 'cause he's gonna… he's gonna carve it out and then eat it for breakfast! He's… gonna skin you alive and wear your sorry hide as a new jacket!"
The thug hesitated, looking unsure as to whether he should be scared or amused by this announcement. "This 'Viktor'," he stammered in broken English. "He sounds… bad."
"You bet he's bad; if you and your friends don't get out of here on the double, then he's never gonna rest until he's broken every single bone in your body! He's gonna bite your nose and your ears clean off--"
"Okay, okay," the lackey announced, releasing his hold on her ankle and holding his hands up in surrender. "I get picture. I vill… I vill just take my friends and go."
He got to his feet somewhat stiffly (perhaps Rocky had dealt some decent damage among the hoodlums after all) and grabbed the unconscious leader of the gang beneath the arms. When the other few thugs began to stir and sit upright, they caught one glimpse of the look on his face and immediately seemed to understand that unconditional surrender was the order of the day.
Ivy watched them all dart like frightened rabbits out the door of the cafe, followed eventually by the lug with the eyepatch as he dragged his own leader away down the street. Once they were out of sight, she ran over to Rocky and rolled him over as best she could. "Rocky? Hey, Rocky! Are you alright?"
"Unnngh," was the majority of the reply she received. Rocky managed to move his head around slightly, and he peered up at Ivy with a big maniacal grin. "I found my pin."
"You don't even need your pin to get into the Lackadaisy, you blockhead," Ivy exclaimed at him. "You're in the band; everyone already knows you!"
Rocky tried to sit up. It was not a good try. "I don't… feel so good."
Ivy wrinkled her nose. "You don't look so good."
Rocky considered his, scratching his head most thoughtfully; his face had never quite lost that massive excuse for a grin. "So did we win?"
Ivy helped support Rocky all the way down into the limestone caves, trying not to grimace at the sheer amount of weight that was coming from someone the same size that she was. Not to mention that Rocky had started humming to himself again. If she hadn't known that this was usual standard behavior for him, she would have assumed he was already drunk.
"Mitziiii," Ivy called as they came to the main entrance to the Lackadaisy Speakeasy. Her squeaky voice echoed along the cavern walls. "Mitzi Maaay?"
"Ivy, is that you?"
Three distant figures stepped out from behind the a corner of the stone chamber. Ivy recognized her father, Mitzi's shapely hourglass figure, and the stoic outline of the Lackadaisy's patron. "The posse of goons that bothered us is gone," she called to them while heading for a barstool. "And also, Rocky's here."
"So I see," Mitzi muttered at the sight of her tattered fiddle player.
Ruby Pepper made a beeline for his daughter and looked her over to check for bruises. "Are you hurt? Did they hurt you? Did Viktor find you? Where are they now?"
"Oh, they ran off," Ivy announced to her friends rather smugly. "I scared them all away by myself!"
Her father raised a doubting eyebrow. "Is that so?"
Atlas's gaze trailed off behind Ivy and locked on another figure that was coming in through the doorway. "Viktor, thank goodness. Did you catch the men responsible?"
Ivy turned and nearly let out a yelp: the big beefy lug with the eyepatch from earlier was lumbering in with a raw steak in his hand. He hardly grunted at Atlas as he approached the nearest table and sat down with a slight wince, as if his knees seemed to be giving him trouble. "You heard vhat that girl with you says. They all vere gone vhen I came up."
Mitzi glanced back at Ivy in disbelief. "You mean you really did scare them away?"
"Uh… sure did!"
Ivy put on her most innocent angelic grin to convince them. Mitzi glanced back at their hired muscle just before he could put the red meat onto his aching eye. "Where did that steak come from, Viktor?"
The brawny thug looked down at his prize blankly. "…from icebox."
Mitzi didn't look convinced. "And… why did you bring it down here?"
He bit into the meat without hesitation and tore off rather large chunk of it. "I vas hungry," he muttered calmly through a mouthful of raw cow. "All this raiding, it is making me to vant second dinner."
Mitzi grew pale and wrinkled her nose at his actions. "Uh… you know we can cook that steak up for you properly. So it's… cooked."
Viktor kept chewing and gave her a dull look. "Is fine."
Ivy had to stifle a giggle when Mitzi turned away and looked thoroughly sickened. Behind her, Viktor was preparing to put the remainder of the steak onto his black eye. But before he did, he met Ivy's gaze. And she never did figure out how someone with one eye could manage a wink… but Viktor sure did.