It was raining badly. Evelyn hurried down the street. The pavement was wet and dirty. She was holding her small purse over one shoulder, looking desperately for a cab while asking strangers for directions. They looked down at her from under their umbrellas, analyzing her, her cheap clothes, her worn out shoes, her unhappy face. And their eyes betrayed pity. Pity. She hated them for seeing her as pitiful. She was many things, but pitiful wasn't one of them. They raised their chins, answered vaguely, diverted their eyes from her and moved on.
She didn't have to fumble through the dark streets for too long, though. She finally found a cab, patiently waiting in an alley corner. Evelyn sprinted for the black car, brushing down her wrinkled white shirt as she went. She got in, wet as she was, panting a little. She was in the front seat, where she could clearly see the driver. He was smoking, looking quite bored and disinterested, but his eyes widened a little when he saw her. He threw the cigar butt out the window and started up the car.
"Evenin', miss. Where to?"
"Maribel hotel, please. And do hurry." she replied.
The man nodded. He was a dark brown tabby, with his left eye permanently squinted for some reason. Evelyn looked away from him, closed her eyes, and sighed. The sound of rain drops on the car roof was relaxing. Despite all, she liked the rain. If only she weren't late.
She opened her eyes again and studied her reflection in the rear-view mirror.
Oh, God, I'm a mess, she thought sadly.
Her curly shoulder-length hair, which she's spent hours working on for this special day, was now wet and ruined.
She made a pathetic attempt at fixing it, but then gave up, with another sigh. She was a professional in the art of sighing.
She noticed the driver staring at her with the corner of his eye. She didn't react. She was too busy looking miserable. She ironed her clothes three times, making sure they were perfect, and now her shirt was in a horrifying state, and her skirt was wet in the deepest corners of it's very being.
"Why the long face, miss?" asked the driver.
"Because I'm late and it's raining." she answered, sighed again and rested her head on her arm, looking out the window.
She liked St. Louis, but it looked so monotone to her that evening, with the gray rain and all those people sheltered under umbrellas, they all looked the same to her.
"Rain ain't that bad. 'S just water, after all. And it might be the one you're expecting is just early. A lady is never late."
A corner of his mouth twitched up. She just looked at the dark sky. She wished to see some stars, but there were only a few, small ones, barely showing through the dark blue matter of the sky. The night sky, everyone said, matched Evelyn's eyes. She liked that. She liked thinking the colour of the night was found in her eyes. She liked the night. All cats are black at night. The moon, though, that was the night's REAL jewel. Her mother used to tell her, when she and her sister were little, that the earth was a queen, and she had two crowns, which she wore regularly. Her subjects have taken to calling them "Day" and "Night". And both crowns had each one gem. The golden day had the sun, and the dark night had the moon. She had believed it then, but as she went to school, she adopted the scientific theory of the day and the night. Although she favoured her mother's story. But if the world was a queen, and the people lived at her bosoms, then the queen was a cruel one.
"You don't look like t sort of lady that goes to Maribel." The driver pointed out.
Evelyn turned to him, indignant.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she snapped.
"Now don't be all offended, miss, i was merely makin' an observation. Your boy waiting for you there?"
"What? No! No, it's nothing like that, sir! And even if it was, my private affairs are none of your business!"
The driver shrugged.
"You're havin' a real shitty day, huh?"
Evelyn frowned, feeling even more miserable and guilty.
"I apologize. I just... I've been looking for a job for a long time. I need this one. Desperately."
"It'd seem so. Although i still don't see what you could possibly do there. It's a dangerous place, Maribel."
"Oh, I know."
The rest of the ride was silent. Evelyn thought about her mother, so she'd find motivation, reassurance.
It'll be fine. You look fine. You WILL be fine. You need this. Mom needs it.
She kept thinking it over and over while tinkering with her hair and clothes. Her big eyes looked sleepy. She was tired. Sue had kept her up all previous night, and she spent all day preparing for what was awaiting her at Maribel hotel. She really DID need the job. Mother's treatments got even more expensive and Sue needed to go to school, she had to get her books and clothes and she needed to pay for the new apartment she bought only a while ago...
So much to be done...
Could she really support her family by herself long enough? Sure, she's been doing it for years, but...
Suddenly, the cab stopped, and Evelyn woke up from her reverie.
"Welp," the driver said, "End of the road, miss."
"Thank you, sir."
She handed him the money and got out of the car. She felt his eyes hungrily watching her for a last time, and she felt disgust, but she couldn't do anything about it, she knew. She just had to live with men's eyes searching her all over, with nothing to do about it. She'd learned to get used to it.
"Good luck, kid." the cab driver muttered, but she didn't hear.
The hotel looked very tall and intimidating from the outside. It was pretty, and it even had a neon sign that read Maribel hotel, golden on red. Some people on the street went in, all dressed in clothes fancier than Evelyn had ever dared hope to possess. She straightened her pose, pulled her skirt down, lifted her chin and entered.
The reception was empty but for the receptionist himself and a few men who were talking with him, their conversation seeming rather amiable. The reception room had a marble floor and a big chandelier, and the desk was made of beautiful oak wood. Evelyn gave a low whistle of admiration as the door opened and closed behind her as the door opened and closed behind her. She approached the men carefully, crossing her arms over her chest, her eyes wide and her bushy tail flicked up.
"Um, excuse me?"
Her curly auburn hair was wet and glistening in the golden light of the chandelier, encasing her small beautiful face, with her mesmerizing eyes and full lips, which she had taken special care to turn bright, blood-red with her only lipstick.
She looked frail, but strong. Can those two characteristics be attributed to only one person simultaneously? Apparently so. She was slim, petite, but didn't lack in muscles and curves. She'd lived a hard life, and a hard life moulds a hard person.
The men turned and saw her standing behind them. A lock of hair covered her eye, so she blew it away, annoyed.
The receptionist cleared his throat, not taking his eyes off her. She was really charming.
"How may i help you, miss?"
"I would like to see Mr. Sweet, if you'd be so kind to tell me where he is." She answered.
"He's pro'ly in the Marigold room. Do you need help getting there?"
The receptionist asked one of the men he was talking to to take her to the hotel's night manager. He was a brute of a man, big as an ape and wearing a honeyed smile so unfitting of his ugly face it made you vomit. His tan fur looked dirty and his breath stank as much as his appearance did.
Evelyn wrinkled her nose as she followed the man, leaving the other men staring after her with puzzled looks.
She couldn't go back now.
Do it for mother. And for Sue.
Yes, she would keep going for them. For them. They were all she had left in this world. She needed money, but not for herself, although some good books and decent clothes weren't at all unwelcome, she wanted money to support mom and Sue.
For mom and for Sue.
"So what's your name, miss?" the man asked.
"I was asking your name, is all."
She frowned. Names were dangerous.
"Just curious. You don't look from here."
He grinned. Boy, was he ugly. Evelyn looked at him. She wasn't afraid of the likes of him. She'd grown up with them.
"I'm not. From here, i mean. I'm from Green Ridge. I just came here looking for a job."
He nodded absently. He wasn't really listening. Evelyn gave him one of her trademark sighs.
They had reached a double door guarded by two men, both in uniforms. The man leading her smiled at them.
"Hey, boys. We're looking for Mr. Sweet."
One of the guards looked at him,, then at Evelyn, then back at him.
"Malcolm, you at it again, you sly dog!" He grinned all-knowingly, but his partner was incredulous.
Malcolm laughed, but Evelyn's face looked fierce.
"I don't find what you implied funny, sir, as you can see. So please, at least have the courtesy to refrain yourself from laughing."
Her stern tone made Malcolm laugh even harder, which infuriated her, but she relaxed and forced her face to appear blank. The guards got serious again.
"Mr. Sweet's playing poker with the other patrons. He's in the usual place. You know."
Malcolm nodded and suddenly took hold of Evelyn's hand to drag her in the Marigold room. He only just managed to get her through the doorway before she wriggled free, outrage.
"I don't recall i ever allowed you to touch me, sir!" she snapped.
Malcolm laughed again. Evelyn decided she hated him. She turned her eyes from him to the fascinating tide of people. Her great passion was observing them. Different persons. Bad persons. Good persons. She enjoyed watching them. It was like a relaxing study. It was so weird to see so many specimens of the same species acting so different. Everyone has unique hobbies and quirks and fetishes and demeanours!
She followed Malcolm through the crowd, her dark eyes wide. All those women in their colourful clothes and men in their tidy suits and hats... The lights, the smells, the MUSIC... It was a party.
Evelyn hated parties.
Malcolm stopped next to the bar. He leaned on it and pointed to a round table not too far away, where a bunch of men were playing cards.
"See that big fella with an even bigger mouth?" he asked.
Evelyn saw him. In fact, you'd have a hard time moving your eyes past him. He was a fat man, reasonably tall, wearing a sky-blue suit. He had a a tan yellow fur and green squinted eyes, giving Evelyn the impression of a silky untrustworthy guy. And he was plenty loud, as well. His laughter boomed, numbing all the other sounds in his near vicinity. The other men rolled their eyes. She could sense some sort of unorganised intelligence behind that sly cheerful face. Some leadership and cautiousness, too. It won't be easy...
"That's your man. Mr. Sweet." confirmed Malcolm.
"Thank you for taking me to him. Goodbye." said Evelyn, emotionless.
She remained impassive as he turned and went his way without another word. She started walking towards the table when he called after her:
"We'll see each other again, sweet-cheeks. You'll see."
He was smiling. She could hear it. But she didn't look back at him. Evelyn pushed sown an unsettled feeling. She was used to these kind of men. She wasn't scared. But that didn't mean she shouldn't be careful... She made a mental note to stay clear of the Malcolm individual, but also to keep an eye on him.
Now closer to Mr. Sweet's table, she coughed a little, trying to get his attention. Only, as loud as the music was, she wasn't heard... By anyone but the black cat standing up next to Mr. Sweet. The first thing Evelyn noticed about him were his spectacles, hiding a gorgeous pair of deep green eyes. He was handsome. She'd never seen anyone like him. But he didn't seem to be enjoying the party at all. In fact, he wasn't even trying to hide his emotional detachment. He looked ever so elegant with his impeccable presentation and straight pose. She was warned about him. He regarded her with a cold stare, which she returned, unflinching. If she flinched, she'd lose. She hated losing.
Without diverting her gaze, she coughed again. Louder.
"Mr. Sweet?" she asked.
The black tom gave him a nudge and nodded towards Evelyn. Mr. Sweet smiled at her.
"What can I help you with, honey?" he asked her.
"I apologize for disturbing you, sir, but I came here about a job." she replied.
"I see. Give me a minute."
Evelyn nodded, hands behind her back, head high. Some of the men winked at her. She didn't even look at them.
Mr. Sweet got up, Mordecai Heller right behind him, and she followed them out of the Marigold room, her old black Mary-Janes making a pleasant clicking sound on the floor, covered in a beautiful red carpet. Evelyn sighed.