Venus

Grace Brosnan, Creative Writing Editor

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Venus was under a laundromat.

Hidden in the heart of Times Square, the speakeasy blended in with all the commotion in 1923, New York City. Taxi horns covered up the jazz music that was at full volume. Billboards brought attention to its advertisements rather than flashes of light that came from under Rosie’s Laundromat. And crowds banned together to fill up the streets kept the police patrolling from noticing a select few slipping from under their noses to a whole other world underground.

Grayson was not in her element. The dress she borrowed from her local thrift shop clung to her curves so tightly, it felt like the material was sucking her soul from her body. But as much as the dress made her uncomfortable, she knew it emphasized the things that Grayson had going for her. It was the perfect weapon to getting the job done.

The dress was a light lavender that blended into a deep shade of violet towards the bottom frails. The material ended just below her knees, allowing the breeze that flew through the air vents to chill her lower legs. It had a beautiful design of grey glimmer that flowed into her chest to emphasize a bright diamond just above where her belly button would be. It was cut as a low v-neck that hugged her hips and then flowed freely at the bottom.

But as dazzling as she shined, Grayson still felt so invisible.

Venus was screaming in color. Everywhere you looked there was another shade of something new to make the seating area pop or the bar area dazzle. People were dressed in so many different hues of colors to make their statement noted, whatever it may have been. The band that played on the stage bounced along to their rhythm, the singer sang a little out of tune, men were grossly trying to catch a little eye candy, and drinks were being poured everywhere you turned.

A handsome waiter had offered Grayson a glass of sparkling champagne but she turned him down. She was here for one thing tonight and a little bubbly wasn’t going to distract her.

Grayson’s brother had disappeared two months ago. He was just gone without a trace or letter and she’s been looking for him ever since. She tried asking some of his friends she knew from college but not one of them knew a thing. She questioned his past girlfriends, but they couldn’t give her an answer. She even went as far as asking her parents but her dad was too busy to answer the phone and her mom just shrugged her off and took another sip of her burban.

But Grayson had heard of something when she was trying to get information on her brother. A group called The Vetitum that ran the Black Market. The Black Market was everything under New York City in 1923. It was the place to go if you needed a bar opened, to run away from your husband, or just buy a little wine to calm the nerves. They were the definition of illegal and they basically ran the city.

Whispers pointed her towards Venus as their base of operations. Maybe they knew what happened to Claude. If anyone knew where he could have been it probably would be them. Except you can’t just go up to their office and ask for their help. You need a bargaining chip and an  appointment and Grayson didn’t have either. She was hoping maybe this dress could help her out a little.

But thinking about the dress made her remember how irritating it was. She grasped the ends of the cheap fabric and tried to shimmy it down to cover more of her legs.

“Little uncomfortable there, Miss?”

Grayson jumped backwards, startled by the familiar voice. Her dress hiked back up her leg. “I-I- No.” She brushed off her dress, trying to calm her nerves. “I’m perfectly comfortable, thank you very much.”

The boy with radiant baby blue eyes furrowed his eyebrow, scanning her appearance while having a devilishly handsome grin sprawled out across his perfectly framed face. Grayson felt a chill of history and flashes of old memories spike up her spine. “Hi, Grayson. It’s been a while.”

She hiked her chin up to try and evoke some sort of confidence. “Hi, Leo. It hasn’t been long enough.” She lifted her silver sparkly heels and tried to stalk away from him but she could feel his presence behind her. She spun around, now catching him off guard. “Can I help you?”

He stumbled back a few steps, his light eyebrows raised and eyes wide but still kept his appearance solid. “It’s just this isn’t really your element, Gray. Just surprised that’s all.”

Grayson zeroed her eyes up towards him, trying to keep her lips pursed and her irises dark. “Well things change when you haven’t seen a person in two months, Leo.”

Leo shook his head, not buying her act, “No, I know you Grayson. No one can change from being a book nook to stumbling into Venus in the matter of two months.”

Grayson kept her glare, “Well then obviously you don’t know me that much because here I am.” She whipped her coiled golden curls around hoping they would smack his perfect cheekbones and once again tried to be rid of him. She didn’t need her ex-boyfriend to get in the way of her night.

But as her arm swung in the opposite way of Leo, she felt a warm palm grab her wrist, stopping her from taking another step. Grayson tried her best to collect herself before having to face him. Why was this happening tonight? She didn’t want to talk to him. Not yet. Then all of a sudden the feeling that overcame her body two months ago when he decided to shatter her heart in a million pieces after he ended their engagement flowed through her veins once again. She didn’t have to turn around to face him. She wasn’t in the wrong. Why did she have this sudden urge to apologize to him?

“Gray,” As soft as he spoke, she still heard him above the overbearing music surrounding them. He was the quiet in the storm. “Gray, please turn around.”

Grayson swallowed harshly, snapped her hand from his grasp and decided something she never thought she would. She stormed away from him and back into the haunting crowd in front of her.

How did the universe know that he was the only thing that could get in her way from finding her brother? But she deeply tried not to let it get to her. And seeing the bold man before her, she pushed Leo’s dreamy blue eyes and platinum blonde curls as far away from her memory as possible.

Grayson didn’t know the man with abnormally large biceps standing in front of the red velvet rope at the end of the speakeasy, but she did know he was her ticket to meeting Mr. Vex. Mr. Vex was the big boss of The Vetitum. Every transaction, brewing bar, and person that traveled through The Black Market always went through him. Grayson used to hear her father mention his name when she and her brother would spy on him when he was on office calls. If her brother had a connection to the Black Market, Mr. Vex would know.

Grayson approached the titanic sized man with as much confidence as she could, even though her knees were shaking with every click of her heels. She hoped her emerald green eyes and scarlet red lipstick would dazzle the fellow.

“Hi–”

“Name.” The bouncer began bluntly. He had a clipboard sunk into his side and a pen in his other hand. He didn’t even look up to glance at Grayson.

“Pardon, sir? I don’t–”

“Just need a name, Miss.” He looked up to catch Grayson’s eye but the cold shoulder that she was attaining was not softened by the look of Grayson’s apparence. “Then I can let you through or not.”

Grayson had to play along, “Er, Grayson Elliott.”

The bouncer gave her a curt nod and started to scan his list. Nerves started to petuate Grayson’s skin as she watched him try and look for a name that was not there. She only had a little bit of time to think of what to say when he would question her once again but her mind was going blank. Maybe if she spent more time outside her apartment, she would be good at this.

“I’m sorry, Miss Elliott, but I don’t see your name on the list.”

“Are you sure?” Grayson asked lightly, a little laugh escaping her lips. “I was sure my father got me in to see Mr. Vex.” She thought maybe if the bouncer knew what she was getting herself into, he would let her through.

Grayson gave the bouncer a hopeful grin. He just stared back as cold as ice, “Not on the list, can’t cross the line.”

“But please, I won’t be long I just–”

“Not on the list, can’t cross the line,” he repeated sterner.

Grayson didn’t have much dignity to evoke so she gave it all her might, “Please sir. I just–”

Not on the list–”

“Hastings!” Shouted a promiscuous voice behind her, “My good friend!” Leo came from behind Grayson with a drink in one hand and a loose smile plastered across his face. “Is my fiance here trying to see Mr. Vex?”

The bouncer–Hastings–took a double take on Leo and Grayson, his eyebrow quirking upwards. “Fiance?” He asked. “I thought you–”

“Mr. Vex made an exception. Actually that’s what Miss Elliott was going to talk to him about tonight. Our upcoming marriage!” Grayson gave Leo a side glance completely confused as to what was going on. “I just must have forgotten to give Vex her name. I’m always so forgetful, right, darling?”

Leo snaked his arm around Grayson’s shoulder and squeezed her hard enough to let her know to play along but vaguely enough that Hastings wouldn’t catch on. Grayson swallowed a sea of nerves, “Right honey,” she said. “To discuss our marriage.”

Once again, Hastings looked from Grayson to Leo with caution. He squinted at the both of them, analyzing their lie but then went to unattach the rope from its doings. The leather fell from its captive and Hastings stepped aside. “Will you be joining her, Mr. Davis?” Hastings asked Leo.

Leo disconnected his arm from Grayson’s shoulder and stated calmly, “No, sir. Grayson must do this on her own.”

Hastings nodded and then clasped his arms together in front of his chest. He seemed to lose his regard for Grayson and Leo as his attention drifted towards the obnoxious crowd in front of him. Grayson took this as an opportunity to thank Leo. She circled away from the red rope and wrapped her arms around him, giving him a hug she knew he probably didn’t want but she needed. It felt like a door from her past was finally closing and a new one was ajar.

“Thank you,” she whispered softly into his ear. She felt his arms start to clasp behind her as he hugged her back in a familiar way that made Grayson’s heart flutter.

“I know how you can,” he answered. Grayson did not expect him to answer and while he did, she was lost on his response.

She held him close, “What?” She asked, genuinely confused.

Leo released her and stepped back from her embrace. He quickly glanced at Hastings behind him before facing her once more, “I’ll see you in a bit, honey.” He then leaned in and gave Grayson the most odd kiss on the cheek she had ever received from a man. It was more of his lips moving than a kiss on the cheek. Leo returned back in front of her and motioned her to go inside.

Grayson collected her thoughts and quickly stepped into Mr. Vex’s quarters. But as she was walking away, the kiss that Leo had given her became more clear to her. It wasn’t a kiss. It was a message.

And his lips read, “Help me.”

***

Mr. Vex was a scary man.

Cobwebs and cobblestone enchanted Grayson’s way down the long darkened corridor that led to Mr. Vex’s quarters. With each step she took, the heel that was connected to her shoes shook with fear. Grayson hadn’t expected to actually get past the bouncer. She hadn’t planned this far. Yes, she wanted to be able to meet Mr. Vex and ask him her questions but she always thought it was a long shot. She didn’t have the courage to stand up to this powerful figure. She was just a city girl. She wasn’t raised to handle this much confrontation.

The light at the end of the tunnel became brighter to Grayson and what was waiting for her was a figure that sat behind a large desk. The first thing she noticed about him was the glaring veins that were popping up the side of both his abnormally large arms. His bushy dark eyebrows were furrowed as he stared down at something he was fiercely writing. Light bounced off his smooth shaven head as his dark brown eyes were focused on his task at hand. He looked like a giant hunched over his desk, immediately intimidating Grayson. She wanted to turn and bolt. She didn’t have the valiance for this.

But then he spoke and the the hair on Grayson’s neck shot up, “Who are you?”

The air surrounding her grew thin, “W-What? I-”

Mr. Vex slammed his quill on the wooden desk and shot her a ferocious glare, “Your name, sweetpea.”

Grayson gulped, “G-Grayson Elliott.”

His expression completely shifted at the sound of her name. His ears perked up and his eyes softened as his lips almost formed a devilish grin. He folded his biceps across his chest and leaned back in his black chair. “Grayson Elliott.” He repeated. Her name sounded like iron rolling off his tongue. “And what can I do for you, Miss Elliott.”

Grayson tucked a loose curl behind her and rolled her shoulders back. She could do this, “I’ve heard whispers about your… cooperation and I thought maybe you could help me.”

Mr. Vex quirked up an eyebrow, “I can help you? And how can I do that?”

“My brother has been missing for a while.”

Mr. Vex released his arms and stood up from his chair. Grayson felt a whirl of nerves hit her suddenly, almost forcing her to stumble back but she held her ground. He circled around his desk and leaned against the front of the ledge, incredibly close to Grayson. She could spot a birthmark on the right side of his neck and a bullet wound through his left bicep. “And what is his name, may I ask?”

“Claude Elliott.”

Mr. Vex nodded, smiling towards himself small enough that Grayson almost didn’t catch it. He leaned back against the desk and pushed himself to sit on top of a few of his files. “Claude Elliott. Doesn’t ring a bell but maybe I can get a few of my associates to help you. Do you happen to know a Leo Davis?”

Every nerve in her body tightened. Every bone became ice. Her throat ached and her stomach flipped upside down. Grayson was so focused on getting inside that she didn’t question Leo as to how he got past Hastings. Her mind was boggled with questions. How did Mr. Vex know Leo? How did Leo know Mr. Vex? Why did Leo ask for help? All these questions but nothing to puzzle them together with.

“Um yes,” Grayson gulped. “I do know him.”

Mr. Vex smiled mischievously, “Wonderful man he is, don’t you think. One of my most trusted advisors.”

“H–He works for you?” Grayson squeaked.

“Oh yes,” Mr. Vex confirmed. “About two months now officially but a year off the books. His father and I go way back.”

Two months. He’s worked for The Vetitum for two months. One piece started to fit together. It’s been two months since he called off the engagement.

“And you think he knows where my brother is?” Grayson asked, trying to change the subject.

Mr. Vex shrugged his large shoulders, “Maybe. But I know he could definitely help you try and find him. If that will make you happy.”

“I–”

There was a loud knock at Mr. Vex’s door, startling Grayson. She didn’t dare turn around. “Sir, he’s back and would like to speak with you.” Hastings voice was vibrating throughout the corridor.

Mr. Vex kept his sly grin plastered on his face, “Send him in.”

Footsteps echoed from behind Grayson as curiosity struck her. Slowly she turned around to face the ominous “he” and as soon as the figure emerged from the dim light, Grayson’s heart dropped to her stomach.

A boy with golden hair and bright green eyes stared back at her like she was reflecting herself from a mirror. He was wearing a navy blue spotless suit with black pointed shoes to match. His eyes were frigid and his lips formed a thin line that read inexpressive. He looked like a cold stone soldier. His cheek had a scar that was unfamiliar to Grayson but the crescent shaped birthmark on the right side of his neck proved to her exactly who he was.

“Claude?”

Mr. Vex snickered behind her, “Oh I’m sorry, Miss Elliot. Is this your brother?” Grayson ignored his spiteful comment and just kept her eyes zeroed in on Claude. She couldn’t believe this ugly truth. This had to be some sort of a sick, twisted joke.

She had found her brother.

But he was a complete stranger.

 

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