Their artist-model gigs were enough to pay the March rent, but Libby and Will were still mostly living on ladies-night drinks and happy-hour snacks.
Libby did get a few nude modeling gigs with photographers. She always took Will along to make sure they hadn’t gotten the wrong I idea about her.
One photographer asked Libby to come to Theodore Roosevelt Island, in the very early morning on a misty day, and to assume various poses among the still-bare trees and Potomac River marshes in a way that would suggest a wood nymph. “Oh, artsy-fartsy!” she joked, but agreed it would make a good poster.
Another photographer hired her to come to the Washington Monument grounds at the crack of dawn on a cold but sunny Saturday morning, wearing nothing but sandals and an overcoat. At his signal she dropped her coat and struck a pose – with legs wide and arms uplifted, like a big “X” – then quickly put the coat back on because he didn’t want any trouble with the police. He’d set up the shot so the obelisk in the distance would appear to be rising between her legs. Yeah, yeah, I get it, she thought, but kept it to herself.
* * *
One late afternoon Libby and Will were hanging out on the Circle like they often did, passing joints around with the other hippies, and listing to the Latino guys play congos. They were killing time before happy hour, when they could eat.
A distinguished looking middle-aged man presented himself to them with a slight bow and politely asked, “Young lady? Young gentleman? May I offer you both a drink at my club?”
Libby and Will looked at each other to see if maybe the other had met the man: Apparently not.
“You may call me Jack,” he said. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Jack sounded like silk, and looked like Satan: neatly trimmed goatee, flashy smile that did not reach his yellow eyes, one diamond earring on milk chocolate skin, a well-tailored suit, and a voice like a Lou Rawls song.
The invitation did not surprise Libby or Will, perhaps because they were used to attention from businessmen in bars. Or maybe it was because they were hungry and hoped that the drinks would come with dinner.
Still, after the gentleman had taken his leave, Libby couldn’t help commenting, “’Jack’? Why does he have to be ‘Jack’? He’s only the second Jack I’ve met in my entire life and you-know-who was the first. Maybe it’s a bad sign.”
Will simply shrugged. He didn’t question these things or think about them too much. After all, “take it light” was his motto.
They met Jack a couple of hours later at the North East D.C. address he had given them. It wasn’t one of their usual places. It had a full bar but it was set up like a restaurant, with no jukebox and no dance floor. Everyone else besides Libby and Will wore dressy clothes, and everyone else was black. Libby noticed that she was the only woman there, and wondered if everyone was staring at her because women didn’t usually come there.
When Jack ordered a “Jack Daniel’s with milk” Libby and Will knew without even glancing at each other that he would henceforth be known to them as “Jack Daniels.”
“And what will my guests have?” Jack Daniels asked in his warm-honey voice.
“A milkshake, please,” answered Libby. Turning to the waiter she explained, “That’s crème de cacao and cream, on ice. Do you have it?” The waiter stared at her for a moment but didn’t answer, just turned to Will.
“Same,” said Will, slightly embarrassed.
They sipped their drinks, listening to Jack Daniels make polite conversation, and doing their best to respond appropriately to his many questions: He was from Memphis; did he not divine that they had southern roots as well? … He enjoyed a good steak, and lobster; what did they enjoy? … He thought it was important for young people to have spending money; what did they think? … What was Libby’s favorite boutique in Georgetown; oh, she couldn’t afford to shop there? … His family had all stayed in Tennessee; were Libby and Will in close touch with their families? …
After the second drink, Jack Daniels nodded for the waiter to come, and asked what “the lady and her friend” would like for dinner. Libby and Will didn’t know what to say because they had no idea what would be on the menu in a place like that, so Jack Daniels said, “My guests and I will have steak. Rare.”
* * *
This became almost routine, over the next couple of weeks: Jack Daniels would just happen to see Libby and Will at the Circle, and would invite them to be his guests for drinks and dinner. Afterwards, he would bid them a polite good-night. Libby decided she shouldn’t hold his name against him.
One afternoon when Will came home from doing a sign for a shop in Georgetown, Libby saw that he was wearing a new purple-velvet jacket.
“Wow, sexy!” Libby always liked the way Will looked in clothes. And out of them. “And you got your hair cut! You look just like Rod Stewart!”
“Jack Daniels bought this for me.” Will spun around, then struck a rock-star pose for full effect. “Actually, this jacket is exactly like one Rod Stewart wears.”
“But how did you happen to run into Jack Daniels? And why did…”
“Oh, you know, I told him I was painting that sign – remember when we told him? – and he happened to come by there, and … Well, you know how generous that man is! Anyway, I’m glad you like it!”
“Yeah, it’s great.” But Libby felt … doubtful? This was strange and confusing. Libby lived her life in the confident expectation that good tidings and great joy would continue to fall like manna from heaven. Sure, she had experienced grief and disappointment – terrible hurts, and worst of all, knowing that she had hurt others – when everything would go dark. But soon the sun would shine brighter, and the dark fell away. Libby trusted the universe, and everybody in it. But now, whispering suspicions made her uneasy, though she could not have explained why.
One night after their steak dinner, as Jack Daniels was getting into the cab that would take him wherever it was he went, he handed Will a business card with an address on it. Will recognized the location: It was an expensive high-rise apartment building just off Dupont Circle. Will was instructed to meet him at the indicated address the following evening, and to bring Libby.
* * *
Will wore his new velvet jacket. Libby didn’t know where they were going or why, and Will had just shrugged it off when she asked. But she said yes.
When Will knocked on the door, they heard Jack Daniels shout, “The door is open.” As they entered the foyer they heard him call from another room, “Lock the door behind you.” So Will did.
They walked down the short hall, turned into the living room, and –
It was a scene from “Wild Kingdom”: A lion readied to leap at a terrified gazelle, to tear her to pieces.
Jack Daniels bared his teeth in a vicious smile, his predatory eyes locked on a teenage black girl.
His prey did not move. She seemed not to breathe. She had leaned away from him, even though he was not within arm’s length. She faced away, her wide eyes straining to see behind her in case he should come.
He feigned a move, and she jumped. This made him laugh.
“Oh, you gonna try to run, bitch?” he scoffed. “You gonna try to run?”
She gave the smallest twitch of her head, too petrified to say the word “no.”
“Go ahead, try to run,” he said evenly. “Try it, and I’ll kill you.”
Libby had not moved or spoken since entering the scene. Will had stayed behind her, gasping and fidgeting by the doorway, a twittering bird in the tree above the plain.
Finally, Libby heard a woman’s voice – “I’m going now” – and realized it was herself.
“We’re all going now,” Jack Daniels said smoothly, not taking his eyes off his prey.
With slow, quiet, carefully deliberate movements, they all left the apartment and moved down the hall toward the elevator. The gazelle kept Libby between herself and the lion.
Libby envisioned how she and Will would run when they had the chance. When they were outside.
They all got on the elevator, the girl still cowering behind Libby.
The second the door closed, Jack Daniels pounced.
His closed-fisted punch landed on the girl’s face; her blood spurted everywhere.
Libby screamed, and so did Will.
The girl sank to the floor, putting her arms up in an attempt protect her head.
Jack Daniels kicked her, hard.
“Is that what you want, bitch? Is that what you want?” he shouted as he continued the attack.
“Stop it!” screeched Libby. “Stop it!”
Jack Daniels turned on Will and slapped his face, knocking his glasses off. “Shut her up, Mary,” he growled, “or I’ll get her too.”
Just then the elevator opened on the lobby.
Libby ran screaming toward the concierge desk: “Call the police! Call the police! He’s attacking her!”
The concierge did not pick up the phone. He did not move. He only glanced nervously between Libby and the alleged attacker, who was approaching.
Jack Daniels, gripping the bleeding girl tightly by her arm, spoke softly, calmly, almost gently. “It’s all right,” he said. “We’ve just had a little disagreement.”
Caught momentarily between fight and flight – “That’s not true! He tried to kill her! Call the police!” – Libby turned and ran.
She heard Will running behind her but did not stop or look back until they were home.
Note: Chapter title taken from “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner
© August 24, 2018 [draft]