NYC Midnight Short Story Competition 2021 — Round 1
Synopsis: A young singer aids the French Resistance with a little sedition and a bottle of very rare German beer.
Character: A Teenager
Word Count: 2500
Enjoy! (Google PDF Version Here)
Men were entirely too predictable, Jacqueline thought, as the young man on top of her began to snore.
Jacqueline worked to heft the man off of her. Her stomach roiled at the smell of beer on the soldier’s breath and her skin stuck to the young man’s torso, his sweat leaching into her brazier as he gave another mighty snore. Curling her lip in disgust, Jacqueline forced the man - well, really, no more than a boy - off of her, dumping him unceremoniously onto the bed next to her.
She took a deep breath.
That was easier than usual, Jacqueline thought. She pulled the top of her dress up and over her shoulders, shaking her head with a scoff. The boy had barely made it past her shoulders before he’d collapsed on top of her. Maybe she’d dosed the beer too strong. Or maybe, as Marcelie had warned, she should have gone a little lighter for the poor kid.
Jacqueline turned back to look at the youth. For all her complaints earlier that he’d been young and lanky, there was a charm to his innocence. His blue eyes had been so wide with joy — as if perhaps, she really was his first. Tenderly, Jacqueline ran a finger down his brow, tracing his blonde curls.
Then she slapped him.
The boy didn’t stir. Instead, he only snored louder, his mouth slack against the satin sheets.
“Perfect”, muttered Jacqueline, swinging her legs off the side of the bed. She lit a cigarette from the bedside table and scanned the room with a practiced eye. “Now, to get to work.”
Earlier That Evening
“You can’t be serious. He can’t be more than — what — sixteen? And he looks like that uniform could swallow him whole!”
Madame Marcelie laughed, smoke trailing from her cigarette as she passed it to Jacqueline, “They’re bringing them in younger and younger. Starting them off in an easy village, or so I am told.”
Jacqueline took a drag of the cigarette, reveling in the comfort of their cloudy refuge behind the curtain, before passing it to her sister, Alexandra. Sitting atop boxes of old props and costumes, the trio had discarded their heels, which were scattered haphazardly beneath them. The large red stage curtain that hid them from the patrons smelt of stale beer, smoke, and sweat, but to the three girls, it was heaven — a memory of a long-past era.
Years ago, before the Occupation, La Rue De Rêves had been one of Rouen’s premiere showhouses. Known as the City of a Thousand Bells, Rouens sat mere hours from the coast, and only a short drive from Paris. Patrons from all over had made their way to the city to enjoy its botanical gardens, famous marketplaces, and, as the sun set, its lively, bustling nightlife.
La Rue De Rêves had been one such attraction. The expansive nightclub had been a center for showcasing musical talents; people vacationed across France to indulge in the luxurious tones of Frank Sinatra or the brazen rhythms of American jazz. Once, Jacqueline and Alexandra, sisters from the nearby Normandy, had been as close to famous as a pair of girls from Northern France could expect to be. Madame Marcelie, the nightclub’s owner, had been impressed with the girl’s showmanship and dulcet tones.
“Your looks will bring the audience in”, she had said, showing them to their own private dressing room, “and your voices will make them stay. And the longer they stay — the more beer they buy. And beer, my darlings, keeps them coming back for more!”
Jacqueline had laughed. She’d never tried beer, but could hardly see how a drink could have so powerful an affect.
How little she’d known then.
Alexandra passed the cigarette back to Jacqueline. “Are you sure you want to do this tonight? You seem a little tired.”
Jacqueline glared at her sister. She was tired, but only because she’d spent hours cycling across the rural countryside. Monsieur Gerlout may have the finest collection of imported beer this side of the Seine, but the effort of dodging the man’s advances had soured Jacqueline’s taste for his uses. “I don’t see why Jean-Luc can’t just import the whole lot of Gerlout’s precious beer. Save us the effort of having to cycle out there every week.”
“Because”, the Madame snapped, grabbing the cigarette from Jacqeline and taking a final puff before shoving it against an old picture frame from a long-forgotten show, “it’s supposed to be a novelty. You know these German pigs. If they knew it was all here, they’d raid it, and we’d have nothing left. But one bottle here and there? Now that’s the special stuff. And they can’t resist a taste of home.”
Her last words were laced with disgust.
Jacqueline sniffed, irritated. “Well, it’s not like they get to enjoy it anyway. But whatever Jean-Luc wants, Jean-Luc gets.”
“And tonight,” Marcelie said, easing herself down onto the ground and stepping into her shoes, “he wants that boy. More specifically, he wants what the boy is carrying.”
Alexandra reached over to the curtain and opened it an inch, giving Jacqueline a clear view across the room. Sitting at a small, round table were three German soldiers: the local Kommandant, his aide, and the young fair-haired youth, bristling proudly in his shiny uniform. He must be a special someone’s son — important enough to gain a rank, but precious enough to be protected from the front lines. Even through the low lighting and haze of cigarette smoke, Jacqueline could see his clear blue eyes — the perfect representation of the Aryan race.
The idea made Jacqueline’s lip curl, but it was just such the idea that made her perfectly suited for sedition and seduction. Her own blue eyes and blonde hair had worked wonders on the French audience, but for the Germans, she was idyllic. Perfect. “Ce magnifique”, as the Kommandant had once whispered to her.
Jacqueline had nearly spit in his face.
“Do we know what’s in the pouch?” Jacqueline said, hopping down from her own perch and snapping the curtain shut. She began to straighten her dark blue dress, cut low enough to attract attention, but not so low as to leave nothing to a man’s imagination.
Marcelie reached over and pulled Jacqueline’s sleeve off of her shoulder, clearly intending to help the boy’s imagination along. “A map, apparently. Of the Northern Coast.”
Jacqueline brushed Marcelie’s hands off of her, annoyed. “What, doesn’t the Resistance know what it looks like?”
“Not,” Marcelie snapped, as Jacqueline bent down to pull on her shoes, “with the positions of the Germans forces occupying it.”
“Oh!” Alexandra gasped excitedly, still perched atop the boxes. “Are the Americans coming?
Marcelie sighed, and Jacqueline looked up sadly at her little sister. Alexandra always seemed to harbor more hope than she did. Maybe it was because Jacqueline had worked so hard to spare her the reality of what it took to get the intel for the Resistance. Where Jacqueline could lie through her teeth and beguile even the roughest of German soldiers, Alexandra’s brown eyes were still full of trust and innocence.
It was that innocence that Jacqueline would work each and every day to protect.
“It doesn’t matter if they come or don’t,” Jacqueline said, straightening up to her full height, her heels adding inches to her already fine legs. “Whatever Jean-Luc wants, Jean-Luc gets.”
Marcelie looked Jaqueline up and down, nodding slowly. From behind her, she retrieved the bottle of imported German beer that Jaqueline had returned with earlier that day. She’d had it chilled, and it glistened with the promise.
Then, she pulled a small glass vial from under her skirt.
“Go light,” Marcelie said, handing the bottle and the sedative to Jacqueline. “He’s smaller than your usual mark; you don’t want him out before you get to the room.”
Jacqueline tucked the vial into her brazier and scoffed. “I doubt he’s even been with a girl before. I probably don’t even need to drug him. He’ll pass out from shock by the time my arms are bare.”
She turned and peeked out once again across the crowded room to the table with the young boy and his commanding officer. The boy seemed out of place, wide-eyed and straight-backed, though he failed to hide the awe and curiosity in his eyes. Every few minutes, he clapped his hand desperately over his heart, fumbling inside his jacket, clearly searching for something. Then, relief would flood hist face, and he’d allow himself to relax, only to repeat the process moments later.
Jacqueline shook her head, perplexed. He couldn’t have been more obvious if he tried. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand why they’d leave something so important in the hands of a teenager.”
“Probably don’t think the Resistance would hunt a kid,” Alexandra said from atop her boxes of colorful scarves and old hats. “Not,” she continued darkly, “that they’ve given us the same consideration.”
Ice flooded Jacqueline’s veins.
She turned and found Alexandra staring into the depths of the red theater curtain, a savage darkness swirling in her eyes. For all the work Jacqueline had done these last four years to protect Alexandra, the Occupation had still taken its toll on her little sister.
It had taken a toll on them all. The world had ended for some, but for others, it went on as normal. A new normal.
A disgusting, perverted normal.
A normal that Jacqueline was determined to end, no matter what she had to give. No matter how many bottles of German beer she had to lace, no matter how many sweaty soldiers she had to sleep with, no matter how many black eyes and bruised wrists she had to lie about.
The war would end one day, she swore to herself. With my help.
Her help, and one bottle of beer at a time.
“You ready?” Marcelie asked, breaking the heavy silence.
Jacqueline nodded. Alexandra bent down from her perch, the dark haze of her eyes once more replaced with a gentle faith in her sister. She kissed Jaqueline once on each cheek.
“Good luck! Give that teenager a night to remember.”
Jacqueline’s smile twisted up one side of her face, a sly twinkle in her eyes as she kissed her sister back. Then, she turned toward the curtain and closed her eyes, breathing in deeply. This was just another show; another performance. But this time, her tune was a siren’s song. Her skin crawled, pinpricks tracing their way up her spine. It was the same, intoxicating energy she had before every performance — an anticipation that transformed into a sort of magic that propelled her forward. She opened her eyes, preparing to cast her spell, and nodded once.
Marcelie pulled the curtain back, and Jacqueline stepped onto the stage, France’s rarest bottle of beer dangling tantalizingly from her hands.
Time for a little bottle service, boys, she thought, as the room turned to stare. But she only had eyes for one soldier. One boy, the most important man in the world, and the little brown satchel tucked neatly in his oversized uniform.
“Boire”, she whispered into the haze of the club. “Drink up.”.