Just after Royale took Albert to meet Sebastian, they trekked downstairs to close the tour when Lionel DeVoir appeared breathlessly and insisted that Royale was needed desperately at the end of rehearsal. Albert bade them goodbye, good luck with the show, all sorts of pleasantries, and got into his carriage and left.
Several hours later, after the sun disappeared behind the civilization-choked horizon and a myriad of smoky stars accentuated the inky sky, Albert checked the grandfather clock in the main hall of his town house. It was eight twenty-seven, and the main show at the Ruby Roulette would begin at nine o’clock sharp. He dressed smartly in his very best coat and tails. He brushed a speck of lint from his lapel, dwelling smugly on his luxurious lifestyle. One as successful as he surely dressed for success wherever he went. He checked his reflection unnecessarily in a floor length bedroom mirror, for he already knew he would look dashing and wealthy.
Each blond hair was in place, slick in a smart looking short side part. His jacket and shirt were neatly creased, his shoes polished scrupulously, watch and chain glittering. He was ready to go.
Several minutes later, Albert’s driver knocked crisply on the front door to signal the carriage was here and to escort him. Albert followed the man down to the street, boarded the carriage with his bodyguard already waiting for him, and was off to the Ruby Roulette.
After about ten minutes traveling, the vehicle rolled to a stop. The driver hopped down and opened the door for Albert and his formidable escort, who stepped down out of the carriage and tipped the driver. The man resumed his place at the reins, and in the blink of an eye the carriage was swallowed up by the darkness. Albert beckoned to his silent bodyguard and the two ascended the steps, the smaller man first and the larger man slightly behind.
The amount of sound upon entering the Roulette was tremendous. Brassy music blared from all corners of the building, not to mention the commotion made by the voices of all of the people. Besides the noise, the biggest change in comparison from when Albert was there earlier was the amount of people. The lobby may have been crowded, but when Albert ascended the staircase into the dance hall, he was hit by a wall of sound and found the dance floor packed solid. In the pit beside the stage, the band screamed swing music. A flurry of dancing bodies swirled around the floor. They were mostly, as Albert noticed, middle aged to older men with young women. He was a bit off-put by this, but business was business, no matter how crooked it may be.
Albert had never in his life been to such a boisterous place. He was enraptured by the transformation from the musty, quiet building from this afternoon to the life and energy displayed by this seemingly entirely different establishment. He was all eyes; staring all around him at the activity that surrounded him. After making his way to a shady table at the edge of the room, he sat patiently with his bodyguard standing silently against the wall behind him, much engaged, and waited for the show to start.
Song after energetic song, the crowd of avid dancers whirled away on the dance floor. Albert wondered how stressful some people’s everyday lives must be for them to cut loose so freely and have a good time out there. Personally, Albert was enjoying himself very much observing, but he doubted that he would ever find himself out there, cheek to jowl with these bohemians as though they were equals. Different classes had different ideas of fun. Albert’s idea of fun was watching his investment flourish, or going to the opera in Paris.
Albert’s bodyguard was just muscling his way through the crowd from the bar to bring Albert his drink when the lights suddenly dimmed. It was now even darker in the corners off to the sides of the dance floor than it had been before. Albert looked around in anticipation. He knew that now was time for the real show to begin, but he had no idea of the entrance or beginning of the number.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” said a sibilant voice in a magnified pitch. “Welcome to the Ruby Roulette.” The echoes of the MC bounced off the wall.
“Enjoy yourself and keep in mind,” The mysterious voice was gathering into a singsong sort of tone. “Tonight you’ll not forget.
“Hear their voices, see them dance, watch and feel free to stare. I now give you, don’t hold applause, the Roulette’s dance extraordinaire!”
After the last syllable of the narrative, many things happened at once; the orchestra blared an opening chord, the curtain was flung open, a spotlight rocketed toward a figure on the stage, and Albert’s breath was taken away. All of a sudden, the stage and floor were alive with dancers. Backflips, pirouettes, all were synchronized perfectly with each other. The visual and audio aspects of the performance clashed magnificently, leaving the bystander wondering which sense was better. There was no way to decide.
The lone figure on stage stood arrogantly, poised to begin and take total control of all persons’ attention. He wore a red tailcoat and a black suit and top hat, complete with white gloves and a cane. His features were illustrated starkly by the harsh illumination of the spotlight, and Albert could see that the MC was none other than Sebastian LaCrosse, the manager of the Roulette. Then he opened his mouth to sing.
LaCrosse’s voice was loud and harsh, but it was clear as a bell and had an amazing energy and tone. He walked the stage like he owned it, and he did. He commanded the audience completely. Albert thought LaCrosse’s performance was good, but he was soon distracted as he scanned the myriad of chorus members, searching for Royale among the crowd. However, everything was moving far too fast for him to pick her out.
With one tremulous chord, the music spiraled into a soft, tense undertone. Albert’s attention shifted to LaCrosse. The performer crossed the stage dramatically and was seated at a piano located at the far end of the stage. Without pausing, he began an elaborate, jangling solo. The tune was incredibly difficult and sounded like an Elegie, but it went eerily perfectly with the current dance theme.
A second tune melded seamlessly with the piano. It took Albert a moment to realize that it was a voice. A split second later, he realized that a second figure onstage was the one singing, and that it was Royale. Albert’s jaw dropped.
Royale looked absolutely amazing. Her costume was comprised of nothing more elaborate than a scarlet cocktail gown and a red rose in her hair, but to Albert she seemed utterly transformed from the merely pretty girl he had met that afternoon. The outfit did not change her, and neither did the makeup. The thing that made Royale so dazzling was her stage presence. Her aura was completely confident and yet a bit mysterious and ever so graceful. The combination was undeniably alluring. However, Albert soon came to the conclusion that Royale’s stage presence was a magnification of her natural personality. Offstage, she was outspoken and bubbly, and yet soft and sensitive. Onstage, she was confident and brassy, yet there was something about her that was deeper, darker, richer, and far more intangible.
Albert could not believe that this outstanding singer was the same girl he knew before. To him, there was something so attractive about both identities. But it was neither singer nor tour guide, drop dead gorgeous nor pretty, commanding nor demure that he fell in love with. During the show, Albert fell in love with just Royale.
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