The Gentleman's Agreement Ch. 02byBenjiBright©
"Officer Hawthorne, can you read that back to me?"
Warren looked up, eyes bleary and thoughts elsewhere. He glanced down at the dictation. He had taken it with only a portion of his concentration, but he was fairly sure it was competently done. David Brown, his commanding officer, regarded him with a look of patient disappointment that a governess might reserve for a particularly obtuse ward. Warren felt the beginnings of a sermon coming his way. But just as he was about to speak, Lieutenant Brown sighed and the look on his face turned swiftly into concern.
"You'd rather not be here right now, I gather?" Brown asked. Warren started to object, but the lieutenant raised a hand to forestall his argument. "Everyone has their tough days, Warren. A part of my job is to read my officers and you've had a look on your face all morning..."
Brown smiled. "Just get that notice typed up and then go home for the day. Give it to the new kid and have him take it over to the district attorney. That queer bar we hit last night could be our in-road into some of the major liquor distributors in this county, but we've got to do it by the book. We need this thing clean as a whistle, so I need all my men sharp. Therefore the next time I see you, you'd better be ready to work for me. Fully. Am I understood, Officer?"
"Of course, sir. My apologies."
Brown came over and clapped him on the shoulder then he pointed at the handwritten dictation. "Type. New Kid. Home."
Warren gave a nod which Brown returned before leaving the room to attend to one of the other myriad tasks that required his constant vigilance. As the local liaison to the Federal prohibition enforcers, the lieutenant and his staff had been conscripted into the war against alcohol. Increasingly though, that war had come to include other unlawful behaviors and the first thing Warren learned as he reported for duty that morning was that there were several local entities who weren't at all broken up to see The Gentleman's Agreement shuttered. That list included a nearby bakery, and a growing woman's group, among others.
He started typing up the letter for the district attorney, but his mind drifted back to the previous night. After the raid he had carefully made his way home, avoiding being seen by anyone in law enforcement who might recognize him. Only when he was in his apartment behind a locked door did he let himself take in how close he had come to being caught in the raid. It was no secret that some officers of the law enjoyed a drink every once in a while, but Warren didn't have the clout to survive such an embarrassment. If he was lucky he would be suspended, if not, dismissed and formally charged. He would become a strawman to throw to the temperance leagues, made an example of in order to prove that the watchmen could be trusted to watch their own without ever dealing with the depths of corruption in their ranks.
Warren sought out 'the new kid' once the letter was finished. Officer Angelo Cliff was sorting through the rubbish pile when Warren found him. The pile was a list of cases that had languished, stalled, or had been too inconsequential for the department to devote resources to. Sorting through it was the bane of rookies.
"You need a break?" Warren asked, as he sidled up to the rookie's desk.
Angelo looked up. He was handsome by any standard, but his perpetually bewildered expression filed the edge off of his almost androgynous good looks. His wonkiness made him approachable.
At the mere mention of a break a spark of relief lit in Angelo's hazel eyes and his shoulders relaxed.
"This pile is never ending. I dream about these case files." He grinned. "Please tell me I get to leave the station?"
Warren waved the letter. "A run across town. District Attorney's office."
"You're my saving grace!" Angelo said, grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair. "Are we going together?"
"Just you. I'm gone for the rest of the day."
Warren thought that perhaps he noticed a look of disappointment at that, but whatever it was left swiftly as Angelo took the letter. The rookie winked, and said, "Lucky stiff. Try not to have too much fun."
Angelo left quickly, probably trying to get out before the lieutenant changed his mind and put him back on the rubbish pile. Warren followed soon after and headed straight home. It was a bit of a hike from the station to his apartment, but he had a lot on his mind and felt the walk would give him some time to decompress. He made his way up the west side and his thoughts wound their way inexorably back to Jack. He knew that the bartender had other jobs and he hoped that he'd be OK despite the fact that the Agreement wouldn't likely be opening back up any time soon. Of course, that assumed that Jack wasn't sitting in a jail cell or laying in a hospital bed. The prohibition agents were rarely a friendly sort.
Warren rounded on his block nearly four minutes later. The neighborhood was working class and in some ways signified the kind of togetherness that many felt was rapidly disappearing from New York. Warren could name all of the eight children playing stickball in the street. Several of which had sent balls through his third floor window, much to the chagrin of their overworked mothers and no-nonsense fathers. One of the players, Franny Hill, was dressed in breeches again despite every effort on her mother's part to get the girl in attire more fitting of her gender. Warren couldn't imagine the girl in the frilly skirts her mother had in mind, but he was careful not to mention it to the girl's imperious mother.
Warren made it to the front of his tenement. He had almost gotten inside when he saw Mildred Morgan across the street. He thought that maybe she hadn't noticed him, but he perceived her coming toward him. He was getting very good at noticing her coming without actually seeing her. He fumbled with his keys, trying to find the right one for the front door of the building as Mildred pressed in. Finally he found it and opened the door just as she started calling out his name. Feigning total ignore he made his way inside the building and up the flight of stairs toward his apartment.
At some point Mildred Morgan had become convinced that Warren, as a police officer, was the perfect specimen of man and could do no wrong. As such she made it her duty to report to him every instance of petty lawbreaking, every puffed up moral outrage, and every baseless suspicion despite the fact that Warren repeatedly informed her that he was just a clerk. Still, Warren found he could deal with her gossiping, however he truly dreaded the ceaseless exhortations that he should take out Mildred's daughter, Betty.
The moment that Warren reached his apartment he was safe. With the door locked behind him, no amount of pounding and calling would get him to answer. Mildred would be banished by the sturdy oak door as sunlight does to a nightmare even if she had the gall to sneak into his building: an occurrence which had been increasing as of late.
Warren shook his head in order to dispel thoughts of his nosy neighbor and was about to take off his jacket and hang it up on the coat rack when he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. He whirled to face it and whatever threats he was about to issue to the intruder in his apartment died abruptly.
"Jack..." he said.
The bartender was wearing the same outfit as the night before. His clothes were disheveled and his hair a mess, but he was whole and standing in Warren's living room.
"I know it's weird that I'm in your apartment. Trust me, it's not the first place I thought I'd be today. Still I figured it's a little less obvious than standing on your doorstep all afternoon."
"How do you know where I live?"
Jack folded his arms. "I...uh...I followed you home once. You mentioned you lived in the area once and I was curious, so I followed you home. You don't say much about yourself, you know. I'm not proud of it, ok? But I did it and it's done and..." He drew his arms tighter around himself. "...I didn't know where else to go. Murray was letting me stay above the bar, but the whole building's shut down now. I couldn't even get in to grab some clothes. I stayed at a diner near here quaffing coffee all night before I remembered that I could find you. It took me all morning, but I found your place and I um...let myself in."
Jack sighed and visibly deflated. The piss & vinegar that got him through the night seemed to be leaking out before Warren's very eyes. But he was safe. Jack had made it out and the worst of Warren's fears about his own cowardice had amounted to nothing.
"I'm glad you're OK, Jack. I really am," Warren said, then added with a smile, "even if you did break into my apartment."
"A technicality. I'm sure if you had realized that my handsome self was in such dire straits, you would certainly have offered up your home. Simple hospitality," Jack explained.
And he was handsome. Even a sleepless and nerve-wracked night hadn't affected his looks. His dark hair, gelled the night before, fell in greasy curls around his head. He looked profoundly tired and just the mere thought of Jack lying down in Warren's own bed caused Warren to spring an inappropriate erection. If Jack noticed, he was polite enough to not to mention it.
"Of course you can stay here until everything is sorted out. I only have the one bed, but there's the couch. I could sleep on the couch."
Jack stepped closer and Warren could feel the devil playing the harpsichord on his nerves.
"We could share it," Jack said quietly. "I don't take up much room. You'd hardly notice."
There was no indication that Warren was going to grab Jack before it happened. In fact Warren seemed more surprised about it than Jack did. It was as if he was driven to it, as if he had resisted as much as possible and could go no further. Warren grabbed Jack's arm in a hard grip around his bicep and pulled him closer. Their eyes locked.
Their first kiss had little in common with the romantic tableau Warren had painted for himself. It was desperate and sloppy. It was as if he was burning off months of pent-up desire in a single moment. It was incredibly hot.
Warren slammed Jack against a wall, breaking contact only long enough to draw a breath before diving back against his mouth. Both their hands tugged at various pieces of clothes: clumsily unbuttoning, unzipping and untucking. Jack's lips were so soft and full and felt so good to kiss that Warren's feverish imagination immediately pictured it set to work on other parts of the body.
Jack could clearly feel the insistent throbbing against his inner thigh as they kissed and groped. His hand went to it and both men groaned; one with pleasurable relief and the other with growing satisfaction. Jack was about to push aside Warren's trousers and rid them both of one more obstacle when there was a knock at the door.
Warren froze and Jack followed his lead. They waited for a moment and then the person on the other side of the door knocked again.
"Warren, I know you're in there. It's me. Betty Morgan. We need to talk and I'm not going away until we do."