LIKE A MOTH TO THE FLAME
“Well, Adam...” Lucy whispers his name in a tone that in no way conceals her greatest desire. Him. She wants him. She needs him. All of him. She’s never felt this way before, giving in to her most primitive instinct: lust.
That’s not the type of girl she is. Was. Hailing from a small town in the Midwest, she was raised by a pastor and was taught right from wrong. This. This is wrong. Why then, does it feel so right? It’s the city, Los Angeles, it’s the age, the Roaring Twenties; it shifts your demeanor, it alters your mindset, it makes you do things you’d never thought you’d do, turns you into someone you’d never thought you’d become. The city, it beat and vanquished the girl. The era, it gave birth to an independent woman that yearns for freedom and danger.
He embodies those very traits. Freedom. Danger.
She bites her upper lip and crosses her legs, squeezing her muscles together so she can feel that sensational pressure. Perhaps a bit too much pressure. She lets out the faintest of moans, thankfully obscured by the sound of smooth jazz taking hold of the cozy, speakeasy establishment; Nadia’s—beaming with patrons of the upper class, all dressed in their best, men in three-piece suits and women in skirts. Blushing, then running a rebellious strand of red hair behind her ear, she conceals her embarrassment with a sip of gin.
He doesn’t notice.
He hasn’t noticed. He takes another hungry puff of his second cigarette and washes it down with a chug of whiskey. Sitting on a black stool with his back to the bar, his eyes remain fixated on the Russian singer onstage that has captured his attention.
“Hey.” The wealthy bachelor calls for the bartender in a dumbfounded state. “Hey,” he repeats, snapping his fingers. The bartender, an intimidating man hailing from the singer’s homeland, approaches with his arms crossed.
“What’s her name?” the bachelor asks. The bartender doesn’t answer, forcing the bachelor to huff with impatience. “Don’t you speak English? You were able to take my drink order, weren’t you? Her name, what is it?” Again, no answer.
At least not from him.
Fuming, Lucy, who sits next to the bachelor, clears her throat. She can’t believe him. What is he doing? Why is he doing it? He approached her. He began the conversation. He made her feel like—like this! She declares all of this with a look and a huff. What are you doing?
He rolls his eyes and says, “You’re still here?”
She could slap him. She should slap him. Her hand twitches as she contemplates the thought. She should have known better, she should have heeded all the negative rumors surrounding the young millionaire, Adam Bosch: pompous, ignorant, arrogant, disrespectful, a womanizer, a scumbag, a kind but deceiving smile, the list goes on and on; for every one good trait Adam has, ten bad ones always followed. But alas, they were all rumors. She should have known better. Surrendering with a sigh, she feels a flush of guilt and disgust for the lust that overtook her. Stomach churning, head spiraling, she leaves the establishment with her head lowered, ashamed for what she was about to do, ashamed for what the city has turned her into.
Adam watches her leave without a word, without a thought. She was pretty. Real pretty. They’ve all been. But… they’re distractions, brief pleasures, some last a day, some last a week, and only a select handful are able to ride the Bosch mobile for a good month. None more than that. It goes against who he is. True love’s kiss? There’s no such thing. Someone to share a bed for the rest of his life? No, thank you. He may have a king-sized bed but that’s only to accommodate the various… positions he undertakes with the dame of the day. The women he fancies vary according to his mood.
For the past hour, he was in the mood for the shy and silent type. The redhead—he can’t even remember her name—Lucy? Claudia? Lucy, he’ll go with that. Lucy was the lucky dame of the hour—his way of killing time while he waited for the Russian singer he’s been dying to see, the highlight of Nadia’s. A risky move for Adam. Why? This place was owned by Samuel Dawson, the Al Capone of LA.
Adam had Lucy the moment he approached her at the bar. He’s aware of the effect he has on the opposite sex and he loves it. Seducing them just might be his favorite part. Everyone has a different reaction; Lucy’s was biting her upper lip and crossing her legs. The more he talked and allured her, the more she did it. Charm her with a few words, she bit her upper lip. Graze the back of her neck and whisper in her ear, she crossed her legs. He continued until she was seconds away from taking him then and there. Until…
The Russian singer.
Taking a puff of his cigarette, he returns his attention to her as she begins her final song. The lights dim, the establishment grows as silent as the brutish bartender, and a single spotlight shines on her. Raven hair with curls that lure and entrap, eyes far more entrancing and snaring than the goddess of love, one emerald, one azure; she takes the microphone with a silk gloved hand, black, and awaits the first notes of the saxophone before she begins the highlight of her act, a slow melody about torched love.
Once upon a time
When I was six or maybe nine
I was told of love and all the beauty it bestowed
Love from then on out
Became a wonder to behold
A dream that cradled me until the age of twenty-three
He had me at first glance
Like a fool, I took the dance
And learned of love and all the beauty it bestowed
The taste was bittersweet
Not a wonder, not my dream
A dance much different than the one I was told
Love’s a wicked beast
One that crumbles, one that bleeds
A dance much different than the one I was told
Learn to play the game
Learn its rules and all its schemes
For in this life, love, there’s no such thing
For in this life, love, there’s no such thing
When the song ends, she bows as she receives the warm praise, none of the patrons getting out of hand. In mid-bow, she tilts her head and catches Adam’s gaze. With a tantalizing smile, she makes an abrupt turn and exits stage right, the applause continuing long after she’s gone.
“My, oh, my, a dame like that, well, they’re in short supply, aren’t they, buddy boy?” asks a man with a high-pitched voice and a sharp tongue that causes more harm than good. Adam recognizes that voice instantly. The prince of Los Angeles’ biggest radio station, KMDM.
“Dickie?” The man looks the way he sounds; small head, slim body, thin lips, narrow eyes, a receding hairline despite his young age, unattractive in every way possible. Were it not for his social and marketing skills—no, more importantly, were it not for his father, he wouldn’t have any luck with even the ugliest hen.
“Dickie Rohan? What the hell are you doing here? If your father finds you here, he’ll kill you, and me!” They exchange a handshake, Adam careful not to break the man’s weak grip.
“Oh, for the love of—enough about my old man, jeez, the man grinds my ass day in and day. I’m my own man, you know?”
Cigarette in hand, Dickie leans against the bar and watches the stagehands at work. “I noticed the way you looked at her, you know?”
“What’s her name? They never announced it.”
Dickie inhales slowly. “They never do. Word of warning, buddy boy, that’s a rabbit hole you don’t want to fall into, literally and figuratively.”
“You know her?”
“I know of her.”
“And nothing. I’ve said what I needed to say.”
“What do you know?” Adam presses, patience wearing thin.
Dickie clicks his tongue and smiles. “Adam, I’m insulted. I thought you knew me? My answers aren’t free, information comes at a price—you can’t get something for nothing, it’s the way of the world, you know?”
With a frustrated grunt, Adam finishes his drink before he slams it on the counter. “What do you want?”
Biding his time, Dickie takes another puff. He lives for this, getting under people’s skin. “Buddy boy, you know what I want.”
Dickie shrugs his shoulders. “Then I can’t help you.”
“Dickie, you know I—”
“I know you want that fine piece of Russian meat, and I know you’re willing to do anything to get to her.” He puts out his cigarette, calls after the bartender, orders an Old Fashioned, and patiently waits for it to be served. Only after he takes that first sip does he continue. “Look around you,” he gestures with his drink, “look at the people, the performers, what do you see?”
“And lots of them. Buddy boy, this place ain’t like the hole in the walls you visit.”
Growing defensive, Adam huffs. He prefers the general public not know about his night life, the speakeasies he visits. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Dickie grows silent for a moment. “Of course, but you know what’s really interesting about this place?”
“Samuel Dawson doesn’t own it. As a matter of fact, he makes sure to stay clear of the place. That’s something, ain’t it? If the most dangerous crime lord of LA doesn’t intervene, what does that tell you about this place? What does that tell you about her?”
“Who is she?”
“Like a moth to the flame! That’s why I like you! I’ll tell you, Adam, I want to tell you—I don’t want to be the guy that gets in the way of true love—but, if I’m going to help you, you’re going to need to help me. It’s only fair, right?”
“Your father, he’ll—”
“What about my father?”
“He’ll know it was me.”
“Ah, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, Adam, Adam. No. How could you say something like that? You know what that says about me? It says that I don’t care about my friends and that I’ll sell them out in a heartbeat.”
Adam’s gaze grows fierce. “You will.”
Adam knows Dickie could choose to use that tongue of his, he could choose to deny such an allegation, but instead, Dickie chooses to scoff and reveal that notorious grin of his. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
Adam looks away and clenches his fist, his blood boiling. Dickie. A weasel capable of selling his mother for a dime and infuriating even the holiest of individuals. Jesus Christ, Buddha, put them in a room alone with Dickie for five minutes and they’ll have their hands around his throat in one. His father, Mickey, is just as difficult, but the thing about Mickey is that what you see is what you get. Dickie, he says one thing, and does another, he vouches for you one second, and stabs you in the back the next. Schemes. Lies. That’s the foundation which rules every aspect of his life.
Tired of living in his father’s shadow, not willing to take up the KMDM legacy, Dickie wishes to make a name for himself. How? By starting a radio station of his own. The issue then falls on one thing: money. The answer? Adam. Founder and engineer of the Bosch mobile, Adam has the means of launching Dickie’s business.
Mickey will know, Adam thinks as he runs a frazzled hand across his slicked black hair, picturing all the ways Dickie’s father would kill him.
“He won’t have to know,” Dickie insists, as if he has the means of reading Adam’s mind. Dickie places a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Old daddy-o will be mad at me, sure, he’ll seek out the perpetrator that led his lamb astray, sure, but, and I say this for the first time in my life, I will keep your name out of it if you cooperate fully and if you support me whenever I need it.”
Rolling his eyes, Dickie catches a glimpse of the Russian singer across Nadia’s. Led by two bodyguards at her side, men from behind worshipping the floor her divine feet have touched, she sits at a red booth with a stranger, her cigarette lit the moment she retrieves one. She listens to her acquaintance’s every word, but her eyes focus on what’s ahead.
Dickie pats him like an eager child. “Adam, look, look, look, look, she’s set her eyes on you.”
Adam doesn’t believe it. “She has not—Holy shit, she has.”
“I told you.”
Adam’s palms begin to sweat, his mind begins to swirl. Though she’s a great distance away, her presence, her gaze, makes him feel the same way he’s made so many women feel. Exposed. Vulnerable. The dance he’s about to take is one he will not lead.
Dickie leans in for a whisper. “Quite something, ain’t she?”
Adam’s mouth grows dry. “Yeah.”
Adam swallows his fear. “Yes.”
“But like Helen of Troy, she’s worth the war that awaits.”
Adam gives in and asks, “What do I do?”
Grinning, Dickie wraps one arm around him like a brother. “Hey, don’t you worry about that now, buddy boy, you’ve a dame to tame! I’ll contact you.”
“Don’t worry about it! In the meantime . . .” he takes out a doll from the pocket of his coat and hands it to Adam.
“What’s this?” he asks, studying the nesting doll, no bigger than a fist.
“It’s a Matryoshka doll. It’s what’ll get you to her without having your skull bashed in.”
Adam’s heart skips a beat. “What?”
“Antonia’s her name, she’s—” The brutish bartender clears his throat, as if warning Dickie not to utter another word. He doesn’t. Dickie flicks his eyes to where the bartender is making a show of polishing the glasses and lowers his voice. “You have her name, you have your admission ticket, the rest is up to you, buddy boy.” Dickie sets his empty glass on the counter, pays his tab and Adam’s, and makes his departure. “Dasvidaniya!” he calls out as he puts out his cigarette in an ashtray, disappearing into a dark hallway.
Were this any other woman, Adam would have rushed to her table without a second thought and worked his magic, but Antonia is not like any other woman. What’s wrong with me? he asks himself as he continues to study the Matryoshka doll. Half-German, half-Mexican, his mixed blood has made him a strong advocate for foreign affairs; he’s meddled and plundered the lands of nearly every country in the world. Every country but the cold and hostile terrain of Mother Russia. Unaware of their culture and customs, the only rumor that has stuck with him is of their women. Beautiful. Intelligent. Dangerous. Taking a deep breath, he rids himself of the mask that has taken hold of him, one of insecurity and weakness, and bears the confident and extraordinary one the world has come to know before he approaches Antonia’s table, oblivious to what awaits him.
“Tri dnya,” Antonia says in Russian to the man sitting opposite her, a blond priest with a Glasgow smile on his left cheek, as she exhales the vapor out her mouth. “You have three days.”
“Three days?” objects the priest with a closed fist. About forty years old, Mikkel Petrov, the eldest and exiled son of a powerful family that’s unwilling to change and unwilling to bow to Antonia’s family, clenches his teeth. “That’s not enough time, Antonia, you have—”
“Call me Seranov.” She cuts him off with a deadly stare. “You’ve lost your right to call me by my first name.”
“My right?!” He raises his voice and rises from his seat, slamming a fist on the table which gathers the attention of all the club’s patrons and prompts her two bodyguards to ready themselves for the next strike. “Right? Do you know who I am? Do you know who you’re speaking to?”
Antonia does not bat an eye. “Two days,” she checks the time on a golden antique watch. “Do you want to make it one?”
He grows silent and mutters. “No. No, no, no, no, no. I’ll do as you said, but... how the hell am I going to get you what you need in two days? There’s hardly any in the world.”
She takes a deep breath in. “It’s right here, in the city.”
He takes a seat. “You’re sure?” Dead silence. Antonia’s not the type to say something without certainty. “Where is it?”
Snapping her fingers, a bodyguard hands her a pocket-sized journal. “It’s all in here.” She offers it to him, and at the last second, snatches it away from his grasp. “Two days. Succeed, your debt is cleared. Fail…”
She raises an eyebrow as a silence lingers between them. With one last puff, she hands him the journal, watches him stand and bid farewell, and allows him to take three steps away from the booth before she stops him. “Mikkel.” He doesn’t turn around. “Make another scene like that again and I’ll ruin you in ways you never thought possible.”
Leaning against a pillar, waiting his turn whilst denying the advances of many beautiful prospects, Adam approaches Antonia’s booth when the priest walks away. Adam holds a fresh cigarette in one hand and his admission ticket in the other. As expected, the two bodyguards get in the way. Not to worry, that’s what the Matryoshka doll is for, he thinks. When Adam presents it to them, the two guards mutter words in their language before they await a response from their leader.
Nothing. Not a word, not a glance, not even a gesture. After what seems like an eternity, Antonia stands, picks up the doll, brushes past the young millionaire as if he were nothing more than a bus boy, and commences towards a mahogany staircase. From there, she whispers to the bodyguard by the flight of steps, a woman the size of an adolescent boy with a shaved head, half her face burnt, and a scar on her left eye. With a bow, the bodyguard allows Antonia up the stairway.
Left dumbfounded and speechless, Adam questions what went wrong. What did she— Why did she—Dickie! He lied to me! The doll, it must have offended her, it’s an insult. Maybe, or maybe, maybe I’ve lost my touch. NO. No. Don’t you dare start thinking like that. Think. What went wrong, what did I do? Am I overreacting?
The last woman that left him feeling this frantic and out of control was a girl he’d met in high school when he was fourteen. It was before he garnered the fame, glory and wealth he has today, back when the name Adam Bosch was unrecognized by the world. Ava, as beautiful as her name, able to get any boy to do anything she desired. Ava. Aside from the tragedy that struck him as a child, she was the force that prompted Adam to accomplish all he did. Tragedy affected his profession. Ava affected his relationships.
Dressed like a gentlemen by his father, prepped on love and girls by his mother, he burst out the front door with a huge smile on his face one morning because of the amazing news he’d received the previous day. He was going to the dance with Ava. It was going to be the day he was going to do what he’d been longing to. Confess. Confess his love for her. In the courtyard at lunch, a bouquet of flowers in hand, he never got the chance to do so. She never showed up. Two days later, he caught her with another boy, her next victim. Running home, chest crushing his lungs, mind swirling like a whirlwind with questions: Why did she do that? What did I do wrong? His heart bled with an agony he swore he’d never feel again.
He’s feeling it again now.
Relieved from the prison within his mind, he spots multiple hand gestures from the bodyguard by the staircase. No, not hand gestures, sign language that he cannot understand—directed at the Russian men beside him. “Go,” translates one of the Russian men. “Follow."
His companion, with a stronger accent, repeats the word. “FOLLOW.”
Adam releases a breath of air, relieved that there is still more to this dance. Confidence back, he strides over to the staircase until the woman guardian it stops him and signals him to turn around and raise his hands.
When he does, she frisks him in a manner that would traumatize even the strongest of souls, hands invading every part of his flesh, gripping, tightening, squeezing. She starts from his chest and works her way down. Hand just above his crotch, she skips the main course, touches his heels, and works her way up, this time in a manner that ought to be shared with a lover.
“Hey,” he objects, her hands almost at his crotch. “Wait a minute—” She slaps the back of his head with a force surprising for a woman her size, nearly ruining his slicked hair. Hands in between his thighs, he objects once more, heart pounding, palms sweating, losing hold of his cigarette as he repeats, “Wait a minute—” He’s supposed to be the one in charge, he’s supposed to be the one making her feel like this.
She slaps him again, and with the speed and force of a Siberian tiger, pushes him against the wall and holds his left arm behind his back as she frisks his most sensitive areas, glutes, groin, squeezing, tightening. When she finishes, she lets go, retrieves a cigarette from her back pocket, and offers it to Adam, a slight smirk escaping. Always one to accept a smoke after strenuous sexual labor, he rejects his first then and there. Shrugging, she lights it for herself, and gestures him up the staircase.
She hates to see them go, but she loves to watch them leave, Adam thinks when he glimpses back at his molester, still smiling.
No time to rest. No time to react. Led through a door by another employee, he enters a hallway lit by tungsten lights and sees a black door ahead guarded by two men and a woman much different than the last. Not a Russian but an American with a small frame, black hair, and red lips. A woman with a poker face who looks like the identical twin of Lilian Gish, the actress responsible for turning film acting into an art form. She scans the young millionaire from head to toe and lets out a disappointed groan. When Adam tries to take a step forward, she stops him.
“Stay,” she orders.
Like a good boy, he abides. Observing him as if he were up for auction, she rotates him once, twice, letting out more unsatisfied groans. “No,” she mutters, disapproving of the grey three-piece suit he wears. “No, this will not do.” She sighs. “Take it off.”
“Did I stutter? Take. It. Off.”
Adam scoffs. “You can’t be serious.”
Her gaze lets him know otherwise, a gaze that would make any Russian proud. No wonder they accepted her as their own.
First the frisking and now this? He could leave—he should. He’s the one who gives the orders, he’s the one to sit back and watch as his dame of the night undresses before him. But then again… he’s never been treated like this before, never been on the opposite end, never ventured deep into the dark side of LA. Too curious for his own good, too lustful to say no, he unfastens his tie and dress shirt, picturing him and Antonia at a hotel he owns, his best suite, his lips kissing hers, his hands grabbing hold of her full and voluptuous body, his mouth stripping her nude and working its way down. She’s worth the war that awaits.
When he’s down to his trousers and socks, the woman groans again. “All of it.”
He blushes for a moment, not because of her, but because of the men. “But—”
She clears her throat. He has no say in the matter, no voice, her superior claimed his soul the second he walked into her establishment.
His trousers are first to go, followed swiftly by his socks. The two Russians exchange a glance, a laugh, and a few words. “I told you,” claims one. “All bark, no bite.”
The second man scoffs. “Americans.”
“Zat-KNEES!” shouts Aubrey with a fluent Russian tongue, silencing the men as she inspects Adam one last time. She lays a hand on his bare chest. “Forty, correct?”
“Chest measurement. Forty?”
“How do you—”
“Yes or no?”
Standing from behind, she grazes his neck. “Fifteen?” He nods. Next are his shoulders, his sleeves, outseam—the outer length of the pants—and finally his waist. “Thirty-two?” she asks, her lips much too close to his, her hands hovering above his crotch.
He exhales a breath of air, battering away any lustful thoughts of them together and replacing it with big, sweaty, Russian men. “Yes.”
“Perfect. Dmitri.” The bodyguard opens the wardrobe in the hallway and fetches the custom-sized suit, a slim fit with a vest, all black except for the salmon-colored silk shirt, and hands her the pair of socks and undergarments.
She doesn’t offer them to Adam.
“What you see will remain here,” she warns without averting her gaze. “What you hear will remain here, who you meet is not who you know, who you know is not who they are. Whisper any of this out there, she will know. If you wish to leave, this is your only chance to do so. Nod once and you may never return. But… if you wish to enter, there’s no going back. Nod twice and you swear to become deaf, dumb, and blind.”
Like a moth to the flame.
He nods twice.