This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Based on the television series Route 66 created by Herbert B. Leonard and Stirling Silliphant.

© Copyright: 2018. Lisa Philbrick

Route 66:
The Light on the Dark Side of Me
By: Lisa Philbrick

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. - Helen Keller

 

 

Atlanta, GA – July 1962

The blue open top 1960 Corvette moved with the flow of Atlanta’s commuters as the July sun blazed in the morning sky. Behind the wheel, blond freckle-faced Tod Stiles glanced to his buddy in the passenger seat, the dark haired, dark eyed and, this morning at least, dark brooding Buz Murdock. They were heading west of the city, to Inman Freight Yard where the boys had been working for only four days at this point.

“There’s no other way is there?” Tod asked.

“Nope. I got no choice. For four days I’ve tried to be reasonable, respectful, but the yard crew won’t accept me as long as Vern Tate doesn’t accept me.”

“Then why isn’t he freight master?”

“He doesn’t want the job. Believe me, I asked that. Thing is, he could do the job easy enough, he’d been doing it because apparently the last guy that was the freight master had no idea what he was doing and it was Vern that kept operations from grinding to a halt. Now they got somebody who knows how to do the job, namely me, but they won’t give me a chance to prove it. There’s only one way to settle this with Vern and that’s to fight him for it.”

Tod grinned. “Reminds me of a rich kid from Yale who showed up on the docks in New York one day to work for his father’s company—“

Buz laughed. “—and proceeded to clear the place when he got into a pier brawl with the loading supervisor who didn’t think he could do the work.  But that’s just it, Tod. I gotta prove myself to Vern the same way you proved yourself to me. Otherwise, this yard is never going to run right.”

The Corvette crossed the bridge that spanned the tracks of the freight yard. A number of acres of track spread out in both directions of Inman Yard, with locomotives, box cars and fuel tank cars lined along the tracks in various states of transport. One locomotive, with what looked like a mile long train of box cars, was slowly pulling along on a track beneath the bridge, making its way south to deliver coal to a power plant in Florida.

Tod parked the Corvette in the dirt lot where other employees parked and he and Buz walked toward the yard. Before they went their separate ways to different parts of the yard, Tod looked to his friend.

“Good luck.”

“Yeah. Listen, if this doesn’t work out and I get us fired I apologize in advance. Just come down to the yard and pick up whatever pieces are left of me at the end of the day ok?”

Todd gave a snort.

They parted ways and Buz headed toward the cargo loading area, where tractor trailer trucks came to pick up containers that had arrived, keeping his head high. Having been baptized by fire in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York, Atlanta’s early morning heat – and the unruly sneers he got from the yard workers as he passed – hardly bothered him.

“Hey New Yorkie, ya gotta hair outta place…”

“Here comes the pretty boy…”

“Pretty Boy looks mad this mornin’…”

Buz glared at those who spoke but otherwise didn’t reply to the comments. He’d been harassed about his New York accent, and his “pretty boy” appearance, for four days. But he showed nothing “pretty” this morning. The set of his jaw and the dark eyed glare was sending a clear message.

Buz arrived at the shanty that served as the “office” and radio hut for the cargo operations. Vern Tate was already there, having parked himself on the stool and three other workers were gathered around in conversation. The talking stopped as Buz approached and the men sensed the challenge that was soon to come. Nobody moved but the three workers all glanced at Vern. 

Vernon Tate could have easily been the guy Jimmy Dean was singing about in the song “Big Bad John.” Dark haired and blue eyed, he stood six foot four, was broad shouldered from the many years of working the freight yard and one truly did not give the man any lip. He was a hell bent Southern boy and was someone many of the other freight yard workers respected.

Back in Buz’s old neighborhood, Vernon Tate would have made a hell of a Vice President or even a War Counselor – the guy that made the decision to fight and threw the first punch. The organizational structure of a street gang was like any other organization, there were leaders and there were followers.  Vern was part of the leadership structure amongst the men in the yard, even though he had no formal title within the freight company. Although Vern had no ambition to be in the position Buz was in many in the yard felt he should have been, and for him to be passed over for a Yank was more or less insulting.

“Little early for a coffee break,” Buz barked.

“We were waitin’ fer you fearless leader,” Vern said.

“Oh? Need somebody to tell you what do to? Where to go? How to do your job?”

Vern scowled. “We know how to do our job,” he replied, standing up from the stool. “It’s you we ain’t so sure about.”

“Really. You know how to do the job? Coulda fooled me! For four days I’ve had nothing but smart mouths and goofballs working this yard and if I could, I’d fire every single one of you!”

Vern snorted. “And what, load the containers all by yourself?”

“Why not? Probably get it done faster than you clowns do.”

Vern laughed and looked at the handful of other yard workers who had gathered around. “Didja hear that y’all? Pretty Boy here’s gonna run the whole yard all by hisself!”

The workers laughed and heckled Buz. Buz showed no reaction, keeping a steady gaze on Vern.

“Listen,” Vern said to Buz. “I spent the past two years keepin’ this yard runnin’ right because of the last moron we had for a freight master. Far as I’m concerned you can just head on back to New York because we don’t need another one.” Vern brushed past Buz, who reached out and grabbed Vern’s arm, spun him and unloaded a shotgun blast of a right cross to the big man’s jaw.

The blow caused Vern to stumble a little, but didn’t take him down. He caught his footing and brought a hand to his jaw to rub it, looking at Buz with some surprise.

The gathered yard workers were startled too. Several of them backed away from the two men giving them plenty of room.

“No,” Buz said evenly to Vern. “See, I spent four years busting tail on the docks in New York, so I’m not the moron when it comes to this job, you are. You could have taken this job yourself but you didn’t yet you still want to be the big man in the yard. You can’t have it both ways, so there’s only one way we’re going to settle this, Vern. One way.”

Vern snorted. “You ain’t…got the guts.” Some of the grit in the words were lost when Vern met Buz’s hardened gaze. Next thing he knew, the ‘pretty boy’ was charging at him like a bull.

Both went down to the ground and the two men tussled in the dusty grey dirt, rolling around and wrestling for an advantage. The gathered yard workers watched and shouted, cheering on the fight. Buz scrambled away and sprung back to his feet and stayed on the offensive, barrel loading a punch to Vern’s midsection as soon as the man stood up. Vern bent from the blow but managed to raise an arm to block another hit from Buz and returned fire with a direct hit to the face. The blow sent Buz stumbling back and Vern charged at him, pushing him up against the container car that was on the track.

The first tractor trailer truck of the day to pick up a container was pulling up but could go no further with the gathered yard workers blocking the way. From the cab of the truck, the driver could see the fight in progress.

Buz didn’t remain up against the container car for long, ducking a punch from Vern that went into the side of the container instead. With Vern stunned by the blow to his hand, Buz went back on the offensive, landing a couple of good punches to Vern’s gut again. The fight moved away from the container and back to the middle of yard where Buz continued to soften Vern up with punches and then hit him with a sharp upper cut.

Vern’s head whipped back and the big man stumbled to the ground. The gathered yard workers suddenly became quiet with all eyes looking from Vern to the “pretty boy” who stood now victoriously, touching a cut on his face with the back of his hand. Although there was some disappointment showing on the men’s faces, they began to look at the dust covered, bruised and bloodied Buz with a new found respect.  They slowly moved closer to the two fighters to see what the final verdict was.

Vern got to his knees and shook his head, gathering back his bearings again. He stood up from the ground, brushed himself off and looked at Buz as he flexed his hand that had punched the cargo container. “Where th’ hell did you learn to fight like that?”

“Hell’s Kitchen,” Buz answered, breathing hard. “In New York.”

“Never heard of it. But do me a favor will ya?”

“What?”

“Don’t bring any of your friends from there down here awright?” Vern extend a respectful handshake to the new freight master. “Mistah Murdock.”

Buz smiled and returned the handshake. “You got it. Let’s get to work, Vern.”

Vern turned to the gathered workers. “You heard da man! Let’s go!”  

The men dispersed back to their locations and the tractor trailer driver waited to be directed to move forward. He looked at his watch.

Buz was aware of the time too. He grabbed his hard hat from the shanty and put it on. He waved to the crane operator to get moving. The crane lumbered forward while Vern and three other yard workers climbed up to the top of the cargo container.

Buz pulled his hard hat down to shield his dark eyes from the sun and looked up to watch. On top of the container, Vern waved the crane forward then grabbed hold of the hooks and chains as the crane lowered them down. The four men each took a hook and went to the four corners of the container to secure them. Vern then secured the main hook line to the crane and the four men climbed down from the container. When everyone was clear, Vern signaled to the crane operator and the crane lifted the rust red cargo container off the freight car.  The crane then backed away from the train and Buz waved the tractor truck forward.

When the truck was lined up with the suspended cargo container, Buz held his hand up for the driver to stop. He then stepped up to the driver window where the driver greeted him good morning and handed him his manifest.

“What the heck was the fight all about?” the driver asked.

“Staff meeting,” Buz said, not missing a beat. He checked the number on the cargo container, then to his list on a clipboard he held, then to the manifest from the driver. Everything matched up and he signed off on the manifest and handed it back. “You’re all set,” he said, “Sorry for the delay.” He signaled to the crane operator. “Go ahead!”

The crane operator waved and the cargo container began to descend down to the tractor chassis. Yard workers guided it down to line up and to secure it to the chassis. The truck driver stepped from the cab of his truck to hook up the electrical for the container lights to work, while Vern and three other men climbed up to the top of the container to unhook it from the crane.

When everything was set the driver waved thanks to the yard workers and climbed back into the cab of his truck. A moment later the truck rumbled away.

Meanwhile, in the dispatch office, Tod Stiles was on the phone with someone from one of the trucking companies that was supposed to have a truck there to pick up a cargo. The blond, freckle-faced young man listened and nodded.

“Tomorrow? Ok, we’ll have the container set aside. We’ll need an ETA as soon as you can…. Ok, thanks.” Tod hung up and lifted the dispatch radio mike for the cargo delivery and pick up section of the yard. “Dispatch to pickup.”

Buz barely heard Tod’s voice over the radio from the shanty as the crane was moving into position to lift the next cargo container. He walked to the communications hut and stepped inside, lifting the radio mike. “Go ahead.”

“Have you pulled container 1561 yet?”

Buz looked at his list. “No, it’s coming up soon though.”

“You have to put it aside. The tractor that was coming for it won’t be here, they had an accident on the way from Montgomery last night. They’re sending another tractor but it won’t be here until sometime very late tonight, they’ll do the pickup sometime in the morning. I’ve asked for an ETA.”

“Ok. Hang on.”

In the dispatch center, the head of cargo operations, Mr. Roche, over heard the radio chatter and he looked over at Tod. He waited, listening for Buz to come back to confirm he had a spot in the yard for the container to be held.

“No problem, I got a spot here. 4458 is supposed to be picked up early tomorrow, I can slide it in behind that.”

“Roger. I’ll update the stacking sheet.”

“Ok.”

“Hey, everything ok down there?”

Buz’s chuckle came through the receiver. “Yeah, we had a very productive staff meeting this morning.”

Tod grinned. “Good.” He clicked off the radio and made the necessary manual edit to the stacking sheet, the running list of cargo being held pending various reasons – delayed pickup, inspection, processing, whathaveyou – and the anticipated pickup times for the containers.

Mr. Roche looked pleased. “Well, Mr. Stiles I must say you and your friend sure know how to coordinate incoming and outgoing cargo. You’ve been here four days and it’s like you’ve been doing this for years.”

Tod smiled. “Thanks, Mr. Roche. Like I told Mr. Preston when he hired us, Buz and I worked the barges and loading docks for my father’s shipping company in New York, so keeping track of cargo coming and going is almost second nature to us.”

“Yes, Mr. Preston spoke highly of the both of you and I’m glad he was right. Keep up the good work, Mr. Stiles.”

Tod nodded. “Yes, sir.”

That evening, the boys returned to the boarding house they were staying at. Mrs. Gebhardt, a widow whose children were grown and on their own, leaving her with a house with more rooms than she knew what to do with, was in the kitchen fixing dinner.

Tod and Buz could smell the food as they came in and they called out to her to let her know they were there. She came to the kitchen doorway, a heavier set woman in her late 50s with a pleasant expression, and smiled at the boys as she wiped her hands on her apron.

“There ya are,” she said, her European accent obvious. “Dinner will be ready shortly – Buz, what happened to you?”

“Oh, it’s nothing Mrs. Gebhardt—“

“That is bad cut!” She gently touched his chin to turn his face so she could see the cut on his cheek in the light. “You were in a fight?”

“Staff meeting.”

“What? Oh now you being silly! You come with me, we get that cleaned up. You have handsome face and that cut does you nothing…” She took Buz by the arm and led him to the bathroom at the backside of the house.

Were it not for the boarders she took in, Mrs. Gebhardt wouldn’t have found much else to do with herself. Forever a mother, she watched over her boarders, particularly any youngsters who stayed with her, making sure they ate, that they had clean linens and, in the case of Buz, medical attention.

Tod watched with a grin from the bathroom door way as Mrs. Gebhardt fussed over Buz.

“Really, Mrs. Gebhardt, it’s no big deal.” Buz looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Look, it’s all scabbed over.”

“But it wasn’t tended to properly. When did this happen?”

“This morning.”

“This morning? And you’ve gone all day like this? Working that dusty freight yard?” She shook her head. “Boys…”  

Although if the roles were reversed, Tod knew he would be getting the same treatment but he couldn’t resist a tease. “She’s right Buz. I can’t take you to the nice places if you insist on looking like that.”

“Ah, you boys going out gallivanting tonight, ja?”

Although she respected people’s privacy, she showed a genuine interest in the lives and stories of the people who stayed with her. Tod and Buz had especially fascinated her with their stories of places they’d been all over the country so far. The yin and yang of the two boys also fascinated her. Buz, the outgoing New Yorker, had a gift of gab and was quite the talker. Tod, the more reserved New Englander, took a little bit to engage but once talking you almost couldn’t shut him up.

“That’s the plan,” Buz said. He flinched a little as she applied a dab of peroxide to the cut. “Only tell me, Tod, we’re not going to that hillybilly hoedown place again tonight?”

“No. I found another place called The King. Supposed to be a jazz club.”

“Good.”

“You don’t like the country music?” Mrs. Gebhardt asked.

“I got nothing against country music,” Buz said. “But I don’t think the old Confederates liked us.”

Tod pulled the Corvette into the parking lot of The King nightclub and the two friends looked at the neon sign that beckoned them.

“Jazz club?” Buz asked.

“Jazz club,” Tod replied.

Buz popped open the passenger door and got out of the car.

Tod grinned as he stepped from the car. “You know, not all the old Confederates disliked us. I seem to recall one little honkytonk angel thought you were just… ”

Buz shot back a look as he crossed the front of the car. “Angel? Surely, you jest.”

The display poster outside the front entrance of The King nightclub advertised that night’s entertainment. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, The King’s own Diane Lovely live… with the Sam Chambers Quintet…

The lady in the photo that greeted the line of patrons coming in was, indeed, lovely, the singer an alluring blonde with a pleasant smile and sophisticated look.

Buz gestured to the poster. “Now there’s an angel.” The two headed inside.

The King nightclub had existed in various styles and names in Atlanta since the 1930s. Now under the ownership of Silas Doyle, an ex-moonshine driver turned business entrepreneur, the club had been reincarnated five years earlier, ditching its previous Victorian royalty inspired décor for modern mid-twentieth century vibe.

The only “royal” thing the club maintained was the color, royal blue. The cocktail tables were marbleized blue and grey, each surrounded by a set of plush, high-backed chairs. The lounge area faced a small, platform stage where deep royal blue curtains framed the backdrop and sides. The dim, recessed lighting in the lounge contrasted with the brighter, colored lights of the stage, giving the whole place an intimate atmosphere.

Tod and Buz found a table, just off to the side of the stage and took their seats. Buz bobbed his head to the beat of the band, liking what he heard. A cocktail waitress dressed in a royal blue form fitting dress with a very short skirt and black sheer nylons came over and took their order for drinks.

A few minutes later, at 8pm, the house lights darkened and the stage became the main focus under a spotlight. Diane Lovely emerged into the light, wearing a black strapless dress, her blonde hair swept up in a French twist, and smiled to the audience as they applauded enthusiastically.

“Good evening,” she said into the microphone. “Thank you…”

Then the music started and she began to sing and Tod and Buz soon understood the crowd’s enthusiasm. She captivated the entire room, singing sultry songs with a smoky voice. The real highlight of the night was when she stepped down from the stage during songs like I’ve Got a Crush on You, singing directly to any of the men sitting at the tables near the front of the lounge as if the song were just for him. Tod and Buz got this same treatment as she sang to both of them, but seemed to linger on Tod a little longer.

After she finished her set and appeared at the bar later both friends approached, both friends approached her, along with half the rest of the males in the lounge. Most merely sought an autograph, others brazenly asked for a date. Tod held himself in reserve while Buz, the self-proclaimed jazz music aficionado, attempted to woo Diane with his knowledge and appreciation of the genre. 

Diane was polite enough to Buz but couldn’t have cared less. She signed autographs and endured Buz’s carrying on, smiling and replying to him here and there but then she politely excused herself from the bar. She looked at Tod as she was about to pass and smiled at him.

He smiled back. “Good show tonight, Miss Lovely.”

“Thank you.” She continued on, heading back to her dressing room.

Good natured competition between the friends ensued after that to win Diane’s attention. But it was becoming apparent after visiting the club again on Friday and Saturday, that Tod might be winning. She again lingered longer on him when she sang a song directly to audience members during her show. Tod, meanwhile, was becoming completely enamored but had no further opportunity to approach her, as she didn’t come out to the bar after her set on Friday night and so far on this Saturday night, it didn’t look like she was coming out either.

Their waitress came over with another round of drinks and picked up their empty glasses.

“Do you know if Diane might be coming out to the bar later?” Tod asked.

“Probably not,” the girl replied. “If she’s not out here by now, she probably won’t be. She doesn’t come after every show.”

Tod nodded. “Thanks.”

“Sure thing.” She picked up the empties and left.

“Aw, tough luck tiger,” Buz said.

“I just wanted to make sure you didn’t scare her off.”

“Funny. I was just thinking the same thing about you.”

Stuart Ryan walked casually through the dark parking lot of The King, cigarette in hand. The dark haired 30-year-old car thief looked at the vehicles parked in the lot with a keen eye, the music from the jazz band drifting out from the front door when it opened, but he had no concern of who was coming or going. His boss, Silas Doyle, never permitted customers cars to be stolen right out of the parking lot. That would have been bad for business.

So instead Stuart checked out the vehicles, in particular looking for repeat visitors to the club. Of course, only particular cars were noted. And a Corvette was one of those particular cars. This was the third night Stuart had noticed the drop top roadster in the parking lot.

He didn’t linger near it long, just enough to note the New York license plate, and then he stepped back toward the front entrance, lingering at the end of the club’s canopy awning, the car still in view. He took a drag on his cigarette as the front door opened again and Tod and Buz walked by him. He glanced at them as they headed toward the Corvette. After the car exited the parking lot, Stuart dropped his cigarette to the asphalt and crushed it with his foot. He then turned and went inside the club.

Stuart maneuvered through the lounge and passed the bar to get to the door of his boss’s office. The door was marked PRIVATE and he knocked first. Given permission to enter, he opened the door and went in.

Forty-year-old Silas Doyle sat at an antique roll top desk writing entries into a ledger book. Although well dressed in a suit and tie, the ex-moonshine driver had that perpetual greasy look about him. He was handsome, with the creases of age starting to show at the corners of his blue eyes, and his dark brown hair not yet showing one speck of grey.

On the wall that faced him were several framed photos of race cars, sports cars, noted friends, politicians and celebrities that had passed through The King nightclub over the past five years. A series of shelves on another wall held an old fashioned liquor jug, various shot glasses, racing trophies, awards and framed civic accolades. Books were bookended by two small wooden busts of a king, leftovers from the club’s previous incarnation. Another wall had a large advertising poster from when Silas open his third auto dealership in Atlanta just about a year ago.

Silas looked up as Stuart entered. The door was closed before he spoke.

“Might have a Corvette for you,” Stuart said.

“A new one?”

Stuart shook his head. “At least two years old.”

Silas nodded. “Still worth it. Local?”

“Not sure. It’s got a New York plate on it. Might be tourists but it’s been here three nights this week.”

Silas nodded. “Check on it anyway. Market’s always good for Vettes.” He smiled.

Stuart nodded and turned, leaving the office.

The following Thursday night, the Corvette returned to The King. Upon seeing Tod and Buz shown to a table near the stage, Stuart Ryan slipped out a side door and found the Corvette in the parking lot. He paused as other customers were passing by the open top car and when they were out of sight, he approached.

He reached in from the passenger side and opened the glove box, finding the registration paper. He looked at it quickly, noting the name and address on it, before tucking it back into the glove box and closing it again.

Tod Stiles. New York.

He would have his work cut out for him on this one, trying to figure out if Mr. Stiles and his friend were visiting Atlanta or were new residents. He returned inside the club.

A short haired brunette waitress, wearing the nightclub’s signature royal blue form fitting dress with a very short skirt and black sheer nylons came over to Tod and Buz’s table.

“Hey fellas, you’re getting to be regulars around here,” she drawled pleasantly, recognizing the boys. She paused a moment, looking at Buz. “Buz…,” she said and then pointed to Tod. “…and Tod.”

“And you’re Vicky,” Buz said with a smile.

“I am!” She smiled back and laid down cocktail napkins on their table. “What can I get you fellas…?”

After Vicky took their orders, Buz watched her go and smiled to himself. Tod may have gained Diane’s attention, but the nightclub offered plenty of feminine charms to appreciate.

The lights went down at 8 and once again Diane was received with very appreciative applause. There was no mistaking when she came around the tables singing, and she lingered longer on Tod again, as to who was winning her attention.

Buz was disappointed but he grinned seeing the goofy expression on Tod’s face.

When she finished her set she disappeared off the stage and the house lights came up. The band took a break and piped in music eventually filled the lounge. Every few minutes Tod turned in his seat to look toward the bar to see if Diane was there yet.

“Eh, she’s probably not coming out,” Tod said, turning again back to his drink.

From his seat, Buz had the better view of the bar. “Tod…” Buz nodded toward the bar.

Tod turned in his seat and looked. Diane was walking to the bar, where a small handful of men soon gathered around her.

“Lookit those good-for-nothings,” Buz said. He looked at Tod, waiting for him to get up and go over. For some reason Tod was hesitating, which wasn’t typical of him. “Well, don’t just sit there!” Buz hissed. “Go on! Save the lady from the riff raff. Or do I have to?”

“And watch you woo her with the history of jazz?” Tod shook his head and stood up, heading for the bar.

“…that’s very sweet of you, thank you…” Diane was saying. She was signing a magazine photo for one of the young men and she handed it back with a smile. The young man remained as another stepped up and presented a photo for an autograph.

“I’m surprised you haven’t had your license suspended Miss Lovely,” another man said, the drink he held in his hand sloshing around a little.

“Suspended for what?” she asked, not looking up from her autograph signing.

“For driving all these guys crazy.”

The small group of men chuckled. Even Diane smiled politely, despite having heard lines like this just about all her life. She handed the photo back to the autograph seeker who thanked her.

“Yes, Miss Lovely,” the man with the drink continued, “if you were words on a page, you’d be fiiine print.”

Diane more or less ignored the man. The two autograph seekers departed and an older couple stepped up to speak to her briefly.

Tod bided his time and kept an eye on the man with the drink. It seemed he’d had a few drinks already and whether the alcohol had diminished his social graces or he simply just didn’t have any was anybody’s guess. The man paused until the couple moved on.

“Are you from Tennessee Miss Lovely?”

“Um, no…”

“You sure? Because you’re the only ten I see in this place! How about raisins, do you like raisins? How about a date?”

Tod rolled his eyes at this point. “Ok,” he said, “I’ve been standing here about five minutes now and not one of these slobs has offered to buy you a drink. May I?”

Diane looked up and recognized Tod. “Well,” she said with a smile. “That’s the best offer I’ve had all night.”

The other men that were around all looked at Tod as the tall blond stepped through the crowd and up to the bar. “Bartender, whatever the lady wants.”

“Scotch and water, Jerry,” Diane said.

It obvious that Tod had become the pick of the evening, the other men started to melt away. Tod sat down on the bar stool next to Diane, who couldn’t help but grin at this wholesome looking young man.

“Always nice to have a breath of fresh air once in a while,” she said. “I love my audience and my fans, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I just want to be able to sit at the bar and have a drink and not have to hide in my dressing room.” She glanced across the lounge to where Buz was still at the table, talking to the brunette waitress who had served them drinks earlier. “Did you abandon your friend?” she asked Tod.

Tod looked. “Oh give him a few minutes. I think he’s about to abandon me.”

“I’m sorry he won’t get far. Management doesn’t allow the girls to fraternize with the customers.”

Tod smirked. “That won’t stop Buz.” He looked at Diane. “Does that rule apply to you?”

Diane smiled. “No. One of the perks of being the star attraction.”

Jerry the bartender arrived with Diane’s drink.

“Well, you’re certainly that,” Tod said. “All joking aside, Miss Lovely, you’re a great singer. Buz and I enjoy your show.”

“Thank you.” She paused to take a drink. “Yes, your friend seems quite the jazz enthusiast. Are you?”

Tod shook his head. “I like to listen. But Buz, he can tell you every jazz trumpeter and every record they ever played on.”

“I’ve seen you two in here a couple of times now. You’re new faces though.”

“Yeah. First time was a whim. Buz and I were just looking for a place to hang out here in Atlanta. We’ve only been here for a couple weeks.”

“I didn’t think you sounded like a local,” Diane said with a knowing smile. She glanced toward Buz as he showed a charming smile while chatting with the waitress. “So he’s Buz. What’s your name?”

“Tod. Tod Stiles.”

“Well, Tod, if nobody’s said this to you yet, ‘welcome to Atlanta.’”

Tod smiled. “Thanks.”

Diane couldn’t help but chuckle. The young man was handsome but had such an innocent looking face. He barely looked old enough to drink, but she had seen him hold a martini glass at his table with a comfortable poise and a sophisticated polish, like he’d been drinking the stuff for years.

Across the lounge, Stuart watched Diane from the shadows. He smiled. Short of Diane charming the keys to the Corvette right out of Tod Stiles’ possession, this couldn’t be working any better. He watched them as they talked for a few more minutes and then Diane took her leave.

As she walked toward the back hall way near the stage to return to her dressing room, she was still smiling from the young man’s happy-go-lucky demeanor.

Stuart noticed this and slid up to her easily. “Potential?” he asked slyly.

Diane’s smile faded now. She figured Stuart was looking to talk business, which was all they ever talked about. She shrugged. “Seems like a nice guy.”

“Nice guy, is that all?” They stopped walking half way down the hall way and Stuart turned to her. “My dear, the young man drives a Corvette. Don’t you recognize potential when you see it?”

Diane was surprised. “Corvette?”

“Corvette.”

“He said he works at the freight yard with his friend, how does he afford a Corvette?

“The freight yard?”

“That’s what he said.”

Stuart figured his job just got a little easier. “Well, who cares how he could afford it? He’s got one and Silas wants it. So you just keep on being nice to him, work your charms and we’ll set him up like we have the others.”

Diane looked mildly disappointed but she nodded. “For my usual cut?”

“Of course,” Stuart replied with a smile. “Can’t do it without you.” He leaned to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek before walking away.

Diane paused in the hall for a moment and briefly felt bad for Tod. He did seem like a nice kid. She shrugged to herself, her moment of sympathy passed, and continued on to her dressing room. It was just another car, just another man…

…and just another lie.

Chapter 2