Satire Fiction posted May 13, 2022


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The satire of trashy fiction continues.

DESPERATE PEOPLE, chapter 3

by jeffbaer

"E
nough already!" Karen yelled as she trudged through her apartment to answer the door. "Ohâ?"hi, Richard. I guess ringing the doorbell once at eight in the morning doesn't make your point, huh?"
"You were always a heavy sleeper," Richard said as he entered.
"Nice suit," she said. "Or are those your pajamas?"
Richard smirked while closing the door behind him. "I like to look presentable outside my apartment. I picked up on that from our father."
"I forgot about that." She rolled her eyes on the way to the kitchen. "You want coffee?"
"No, thanks. I'm fully awake," he said proudly, sitting at his sister's dinette set.
"So what couldn't wait until I got up?" Karen asked while watching the coffee drip.
"Do I need a reason? Can't I drop by to say 'hello?'"
"We both know you showed up because you want something." She poured herself a mug of coffee after the machine finished and sat down adjacent to her brother. "And here's a hint: it's a piece of real estate."
After a pause, Richard asked, "Why must you link everything to Father's last will?"
Karen almost spit out her first sip. "Why can't you call him 'Dad'?"
"Because 'Father' shows respect," Richard declared, "something you lacked when you turned his life's work into a shell of itself."
"I did no such thing."
"I beg to differ."
"Did not!"
"Did too!"
Karen caught her breath before carrying on with their childish exchange. "You know," she said, "if you set footâ?""
"Don't invite me to that house of ill repute you call a nightclub."
Karen looked shocked, then laughed. "Sounds like someone hung around the red-light district a little too long." She took another sip.
"You can't write this off," Richard replied. "Don't you pay attention to the world around you? Don't you tick off the number of closed clubs on your walls?"
"You're begging me to throw this in your face," Karen said, holding up her mug.
"Here's another thing you probably didn't consider," Richard said. "What will you do when this fad fades away? Will you change with the times the way Father did? Because if you do, we have a good idea how that'll turn out."
Karen bowed her head. "Don't ask me to explain why Fatherâ?"I mean, Dad chose that route. He was his own man, and he did what he thought was best." She took another sip. "Now as I was saying, if you set foot in Haven, you'd understand why it's so popular. Half the neighborhood knocks down the doors to dance Friday and Saturday nights away. It's not about 'brainwashing,' as the faultfinders like to call it. It's about showing people an enjoyable time twice a week. Is that a terrible thing?"
Richard shifted in the chair, his eyes darting around the apartment.
"Now here's a doozy," she went on. "When was the last time you gave of yourself and felt a sense of accomplishment? I don't even know what you do for a living as it is."
Richard's eyes fell to the table. He knew it was a matter of time before someone blew the lid off his source of income. "All right," he said. "Now lemme ask you something else. Why was Tony Vigliotti at your place last week?"
Karen's eyes bulged in the middle of another sip.
"Before you ask how I found out, New York is a small city."
"What rock did you just crawl out from under?" Karen shrieked.
"Don't dodge the question," Richard drilled. "I'm not as naive as you think."
"You're right. You're more so than I think."
"No, I'm not."
"Are too!"
"Am not!" Now Richard heard how juvenile he sounded. "So why was he there?"
"He had the urge to shimmy to 'Disco Duck'," Karen snapped.
"Look," Richard said after another pause. "I don't mean to be a pain in the ass. Believe it or not, I worry about you. I love you like any good brother loves his sister."
Karen's head stopped spinning. She and her brother were all they each had for certain. She couldn't escape the notion she'd need him one day, even if she didn't know for what. "I love you too," she sighed. "Now listen up. It doesn't matter. I threw his stupid ass out."
Richard sat up ramrod straight and shaded his face. "The man is a criminal!"
"Was he arrested for something only you know about?" Karen asked.
"Okay, fine. He's the son of a criminal. And since you won't tell me why he showed his stupid face, I can only wonder. Actually, I have a few good guesses."
"Ughâ?"we're back to that again. Why can't I get through to you?"
"Father's place wasn't just a club, it was a sanctuary," Richard said. "Back then people had plenty to worry about since the war was barely over. It was a scary world, especially when Mother abandoned us. We could go with him to the club knowing nothing could touch us. And everyone knew better than to demand 'a piece of the action' from him.
"It's not that way anymore," he went on. "Organized crime is everywhere. They even muscled in on the Sanitation Department. I guess extortion doesn't pay the bills like it used to."
"I'll sleep better knowing no one will mess with my garbage," Karen said.
Richard slumped in the chair.
"You left out one detail," she continued. "I'm two years older, and hence wiser, than you. While you were off doing God-knows-what, I watched Dad run his club and learned a few things from himâ?"things that contradict every word out of your mouth. But most important, I learned how the club was an extension of himself. That's why he was so successful, and as the old saying goes, you can't argue with success. So if you wanna ask me to give up this extension of myself, don't waste your breath."
Richard wasn't surprised to hear his sister talk that way, but he was always amazed at her tenacity. "Fine," he said, "but one day you'll see some truth in my words." He got up and poked around the living room. "Mind if I ask what's on your schedule today?"
Karen stared into the mug. "Take a shower, hit the gym, then off to work. And you?"
"I have stuff to take care of, places to visit, people to doâ?"uh, I mean, see..."
As he always says. "Listen, Richard," she said, rising from the chair, "I know you're a good guy at heart. I just wish you'd keep an open mind about Havenâ?"and me."
Richard nodded. "See you around, Sis." He headed out the door.
Karen put her mug in the sink and went to shower. "I hate it when he calls me that..."

Karen climbed out of the subway station at Union Square, still aching from the day's drills at the health club near her home. She was often so exhausted, she feared she'd tumble backwards down the stairs and back into the station. The January winds pierced her fur coat as she crossed the street while staring at the building reaching for the sky over Union Square.
Karen inherited the property from her father Wallace, who opened Bixler's in 1945, two months after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He hoped to make the most of the optimism stemming from the war's end, and he did something right because New Yorkers flocked to his club in throngs to dance to the day's swing music. The papers raved about Bixler's, and the days' best-known singers supposedly drew numbers to perform there.
But despite the club's popularity, one person never shared in the buoyant atmosphereâ?"Karen and Richard's mother Delia. For days after the club opened, articles by the dozens detailed Delia's reaction to her husband's new business venture, mostly the feeble smiles and the sad, conflicted look in her eyes. That grief spilled over into the home life, but only Karen was astute enough to see her parents' bond falling apart. She lost count of the times she pressed her face into her mother's downcast gaze, as well as the times Delia struggled to use the word "Daddy" whenever she spoke to her children about him.
From the start Wallace strove to be a good family man, being available for his wife and children whenever possible. But no matter what he did, Delia felt the club replaced her in the family circle. Wallace was baffled, since there were no rumors of him carrying on like the city's biggest party animal, no stories of him drinking too much or chasing too many other women. But he couldn't prevent Delia from becoming detached from the family until a spring day in 1955 when, without even leaving a note, she drove off. Days later her car and lifeless body were found in Lake Champlain, near the border between New York and Quebec.
The surviving family members received tremendous support from Wallace's patrons and employees. They joined him and his children at the funeral, where he barely stayed composed, comforting Karen and Richard while they wept. But after he took time off to mourn his wife, he returned to his namesake club, running it at the same level as when he opened it.
Wallace also devoted the same energy to raising his children, sometimes bringing them to Bixler's during off-hours. Karen was awed at how her father focused on his job despite a tragic loss, and one day she shared confidence with him about doing something similar with her life.
Bixler's remained popular with Wallace's generation until the Vietnam War dominated headlines. With help from his employees, he recast Bixler's for a new generation, still bringing in the crowds and making money. But the buzz around town was that the original club couldn't compare with the new one, and Wallace lost customers as the next decade approached.
By 1972 local journalists thought Wallace wore himself out trying to change with the times, but he never took them seriously. He converted his club into a roller rink, hoping to benefit from the latest craze. Teenagers and young adults flocked to the location, but older citizens ignored it since it was no longer the focus of nightlife from the Fabulous Forties.
Every Manhattan business struggled as residents moved to Long Island and Westchester, and by 1974 Wallace helplessly watched his hometown verge on bankruptcy. Then in October, the stress finally caught up to him in the form of a heart attack. He spent two weeks in the hospital recovering, but he mysteriously fell into a coma the day before his discharge. A year later, on the day the Daily News headline roared FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, he was gone.
Karen always knew the club was more trouble for Wallace and Delia than either of them might have imagined, and she sometimes wondered if Richard inherited his distaste for the disco culture from their mother. But Karen promised herself to avoid her father's mistakes and use her energy to make Haven the best club possible, even at the expense of vacations, relationships, or hope of marriage and family. Karen cherished how Wallace showed her the way someone can improve life in even the smallest parts of the world. She would not rest until she knew she made him proud while hoping Delia might offer a sign that she realized what Bixler's was meant to be.
That meant Karen had to rule over Manhattan, not just Union Square.
"Get outta the middle of the street, lady!" a cabbie yelled over a chorus of car horns.
Karen scurried onto the sidewalk as another driver gunned his engine. She unlocked and opened the side entrance, sensing something was wrong as she walked inside. Then strangely, she rushed up the stairs to the second floor and down the hallway, finding a fair-haired man in a suit wandering around in her office. "Excuse me? Who are you?" she asked.
"Miss Bixler?" the man barked, drawing closer. "Michael Sedgwick, FBâ?"OOF!"
Karen knocked Michael backwards with a haymaker. He lugged himself off the floor with a hand on his jaw. "Assaulting a federal agent is a felony!"
She stuck out her wrists. "Cuff me."
Michael was stunned as he got to his feet and cleaned off his suit. "Yeah, well...that kinky stuff will have to wait. We have more important things to focus on."
"Okayâ?"before we do anything, answer me this. Who let you in here?"
Michael pulled out his badge. "Don't do my job for me. Now I understand Tony Vigliotti came here a few nights ago?"
Maybe my brother was right about New York being a small city. "And you know that how?" she asked.
"We met with some important people at headquarters yesterday, one of whom said he found out about your guest of honor."
Not Richard, Karen thought. The man avoids Union Square like it was quicksand.
"What did he want?" Michael asked pointedly.
Karen shook her head. "He wanted to store tomato source in my basement."
"Tomato sauce...?" Michael repeated softly
"I know I didn't stutter..."
Michael's face swelled with disbelief. "Did he say he'll pay youâ?""
"Of course," Karen interrupted.
"How much?" he asked, walking toward Karen's desk.
"We didn't talk about numbers," Karen said. "He only told me he'd 'pay me for my services.' But I run a kosher business with no room for dirty money, so I booted him out."
Michael propped himself on Karen's chair, shaking his head and clicking his teeth. "Big mistake, Miss Bixler. You shouldn't have done that."
"Oh, really? I should've let him stay so he could shake me down?"
"You ought to be grateful there's no law for sarcasm, Miss Bixler, or we'd be all over this place like green on grass."
"Excuse me. This is my club, and I decide who visits. Too bad I didn't see you break in."
Michael scanned her desk and plucked a small card off the blotter. "Well, what do you know--Vigliotti's Restaurant. You're aware Mr. Vigliotti owns it?"
"No, I always thought Mayor Koch owned it." Karen rolled her eyes again.
"We think he came here looking for a front for his drug deals. And given your reputation, this would be the perfect place for it."
"I figured that out already, Mr. FBI."
"That's Sedgwick, if you don't mindâ?""
"You damn right I mind!" Karen blared. "I mind you showing up without a phone call, I mind you shoving your attitude in my face, and I mind you kicking me around in my own club!"
Michael was briefly mesmerized by this beautiful, passionate woman, but he offered no other sign. "Miss Bixler," he said softly, "we need to put this man behind bars where he belongs, and we couldn't wait for your personally engraved invitation. But if you want to do this the hard way, I can accommodate you." He pointed the card at her between two fingers. "Call him."
Karen was aghast. "I will not!"
"Call him now!" Michael shouted, closing in on her.
Karen flinched at a glimpse of Michael's hazel eyes and almost fell back in her high heels. She snatched the card, sat at her desk, punched the buttons cautiously, and put the receiver to her mouth. "Hi, this is Karen Bixler at Haven. Is Mr. Vigliotti there? Well, he was here a few nights ago about aâ?"a business proposal...Two-one-two, five-five-five, four three hundred...I'll be here most of the day...Thank you." She hung up and glared at Michael. "Satisfied?"
"Yeah, for the moment." He sat on the desk. "Now here's what'll happen. I'll be back in a few days with several agents, and you'll give us a guided tour of this place. You'll show us every nook and cranny of this club. You'll show us every button, every switch, and every light bulb. You'll acquaint us with your staff. You'll show us your books so we know your dollars are legitimate." He leaned closer. "I want to know everything, and I mean 'everything.'"
"Does that include flushing the restroom toilets?"
"Don't get smart with me." He leaned in even closer. "From then on, this place belongs to me. And when I say 'jump,' you don't waste time asking how high. Is that clear?"
Karen cringed and suppressed a cough after smelling Michael's awful breath. "Yes, it is. And the first thing I'll show you is the exit."
Unlike three nights earlier, when she threw Tony out without a second thought, Karen fought the urge to look over her shoulder while Michael followed her. She detected his eyes boring into her very fiber. She couldn't decide whether it was a chilling or fiery sensation, but either way, her soul trembled in response.
"Ms. B?" Reon called.
"Ohâ?"hi there, Reon," Karen replied calmly. "I didn't think you'd be here today."
"Well, I was here yesterday for a change," he answered. "Something's up with the glitter ball, and I wanted to make sure it was nothing serious. Who's our visitor?"
"This is Michael Sedgwick with the FBI," Karen said, rotating in place. "Mr. Sedgwick, this is Reon Perry. He's been with me longer than any other employee."
"FBI, huh?" Reon shook Michael's hand vigorously. "I'm grateful to y'all for cooling off that Cuban missile thing. Scary school day, man."
"That was the CIA," Michael said, shaking his own hand as if it were soaked.
Karen covered her mouth and nose and giggled.
"Well, give 'em the message, thanks. So what brings you 'round here?" Reon asked.
"He's checking on us," Karen broke in sharply, glaring at Michael.. "He's making sure Haven is still a happy place people can visit. New York City still needs a social life, of course."
"Well, don't worry about anything, fella," Reon said to Michael. "Ms. B got the best piece of social life in the greatest city in the world."
"So I heard," Michael muttered.
"That reminds me," Karen said, "any luck with the Village People?"
"I knew you'd ask, Ms. B.," Reon said as Michael grimaced at the vocal group's name.
"You didn't contact their managers yet?" She tilted her head down while looking at him.
"I'm afraid not, Ms. B, but I'll get on it."
"It's okay, Reon. We'll have to wait behind American Bandstand and Soap Factory Disco anyway. Just don't give up. Let 'em know we mean business."
"Sure thing, Ms. B. Nice meeting ya, fella." He climbed the stairs to his booth.
"What does he do here?" Michael asked Karen.
"Spins the music, books talent, and makes sure the club is in good shape," she replied.
"The guy looks like an oversized microphone."
"Get used to it," Karen said. "You said you want to know everything about this place."
Michael suddenly remembered the treehouse his father built for him when he was six. When the air seemed clogged with unhappy news, and the other kids snubbed him as if he were new in town, he scrambled up the ladder into his hiding place. He was glad to be there, to look down on the street below, and know nothing could harm him. But there was no treehouse for him now, and he had to face the world's troubles head-on. Still, he felt a pang of regret for being hostile to places like Haven, which offered the same protection he relished as a child. But nobody, especially the lovely woman in charge, had to hear him discuss it.
As they walked to the side entrance, Michael said, "Miss Bixler, I realizeâ?""
Karen twirled in place, letting her black hair fly like a model revealing her come-hither look. Michael swallowed his words and raised his eyebrows.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
He shook his head and sucked in his breath. "We didn't get off to a great start. But maybe as we work together, you might show me your smile under less urgent conditions."
Karen winced to hear the intruder soften his tongue. "Don't bet on it," she said.
"I can understand that."
"There's more to it than you understand," Karen said. "This is a cutthroat business."
"Cutthroat?" Michael asked. "With people dancing like there's no world outside?"
"There areâ?"or wereâ?"more clubs around here than you can count. You never know who'll steal your customers with a clever stunt, especially after they replaced the competition. And if you so much as smile in public, you're asking those upstarts to run you out of town."
"I don't know much about the industry, but I wonder if you're overstating things."
Karen's facial expression said otherwise.
"Well, good day, Miss Bixler," Michael said, and walked down the short flight of stairs.
Karen watched him disappear into the crowd heading down Union Square East. Without realizing it she cooed, "Call me..."




I keep forgetting some readers on FanStory jump into this novel at the most recent chapter I posted. As a result some people are confused about the point I'm trying to make if they haven't read what came before. I don't know if the site allows visitors to read previous chapters, but if not, I'm happy to answer any questions. All I ask is that you be diplomatic about it.
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