Solange - The Red Sail
They overrun the garden like dandelions, weeds disguised as pretty little flowers.
Chitchat was had, pheasants were picked at, drinks were filled, jackets were fitted, and an excuse was made.
A chill hit Solange as she exited the Faded Lantern and saw the red-tinted lanterns posted beside the entryway to the Red Sail Brothel looming nearby. It was difficult to say if it was the cool summer breeze sweeping in from the night sea or unchecked nerves about being questioned regarding her whereabouts that caused her spine to tingle, but whatever it was it made her hesitate on the corner. The street was lined with revelers getting an early start to the Festival of the Crescents, bottles trading hands as a few sailors danced with ladies to an out of tune fiddle. Solange knew a few of the girls from the brothel, likely trying to entice the men inside with promises to fulfill their fantasies while draining their purses.
Solange didn’t immediately head towards the brothel. Instead, she walked away from the busy intersection, a careful eye observing the ground for any mother-crippling cracks. She cut through an alleyway, paid little mind to the independent contractor shrieking at her to find her own spot, turned upon the next main thoroughfare, loosened a few strings on her bodice, and approached the brothel as if she’d been at the markets serving as a lure. Solange waved a few fingers at the girls that thought she was their friend and ignored the glares from the couple of them clever enough to know she thought herself their better.
Before she had a chance to avoid it a bottle had been placed in one hand and a drunken sailor had grabbed her by another to lead her in a stumbling waltz. He was young and still unbroken by the sea, with a big smile, deep dimples, and a clear first attempt at a mustache. Solange knew instantly he was the kind of boy whose month’s salary she could siphon completely given the proper amount of time to allow for her nails to sink in, but such paltry sums were beneath her now that she had a treasure to acquire. Still might’ve been a bit of good fun, but tonight wasn’t one for distractions. She slipped the bottle into his back pocket and then took the lead of the dance as quick as a whip before cracking him towards the nearest open painted woman, who graciously caught him in her web.
The bouncer Kline, a quiet, bald, pockmarked man with arms the size of ham hocks that Solange had once thought of as terrifying until she discovered that slipping him the occasional pastry would transform him into the biggest softie, gave her a nod and welcomed her back. He called her Ms. Belgard, as it was his habit to refer to all of the working girls as if they were proper ladies. That strange bit of professionalism and respectfulness earned him more points in Solange’s lodger, and it was why she still supplied him with sweets even after they were chums. His eyes brightened like a baby doe as she palmed him a scone wrapped in parchment that she’d taken from Vargas’s feast, pressed two fingers against her lips, and sent a kiss swirling through the air towards him.
“From the market, love. Where I have been all evening drawing this crowd before you, as you know,” said Solange.
“Oh but of course, Ms. Belgard. As you mentioned earlier,” said Kline knowingly.
Solange smiled, happy to hear that the only man of Fontaine’s who had seen her enter the Faded Lantern was on her side as long as the sugar kept flowing. Kline opened the door for her and she passed through the threshold, parting a sheer red drape as she entered the brothel. The bar was as raucous as ever with constant chatter and live music playing along to a free burlesque show that men cheered to, loud enough to thankfully drown out the theatrics going on behind closed doors upstairs. Solange preferred the noisy nights over the quiet evenings. It was easier to ignore the constant drone of debauchery than it was to try not to critique someone’s hammed-up bedroom performance like they were a theater starlet (and she a world-renowned theater critic) instead of them being a harlot and she one as well.
Not the case anymore, if all goes well. Her hand racked the wood on the bartop, inadvertently getting the attention of the bartender who regarded her with a familiarity that was chiller than the breeze from outdoors before turning back to chat up the men before her. Solange kept moving through the dimly lit room, lights flickering behind red-stained glass and red and pink lace draped over everything to add a false layer of warmth to an environment that was expertly calculated to drain men of their cold, hard cash. She passed the two bouncers at the stairs up to the private chambers, unsure if she was more thankful or nervous to have not bumped into Fontaine’s lapdog yet. Perhaps the awful woman had the night off. Perhaps the monster had caught a knife in the belly and Solange and the whole world had been given a favor. She doubted she’d have such luck. Better to ask.
“Darlings, have you seen ol’ Prue anywhere? I caught a free bird trying to hook a couple of worms in one of the nearby alleys, and she didn’t have much kind words to say about the Madame when I told her Fontaine didn’t like to share,” asked Solange, taking one step back from the curtain to better see the bouncer.
“Can’t say that I have. You?”
”Not since shift change.”
“Well then, sounds like it would be a good night for all of us then, doesn’t it?” said Solange.
Smirks were shared as she dipped back through the drapes, ascended the stairs, and made for her room. She had much she needed to pack and prepare for her voyage, and she had her doubts that she’d get much of any sleep thanks to the excitement. Solange paused momentarily at her sister’s door, and then decided better to just leave a letter. She fished her key out from her pocket and unlocked the door to her own room. It was crowded but organized, with sheets draped over bookshelves and a desk stacked with journals. A few plants lined the windowsill, nestled alongside a few bottles of ointments. Something felt off the moment Solange stepped into her room. Where was her desk chair? The door closed behind her. Her heart leapt into her throat. A woman spoke.
“Tell me what’s going on.”