The Diviners (Diviners Series #1)by Libba Bray
Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York Cityand she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will,… See more details below
Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York Cityand she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occultalso known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killerif he doesn't catch her first.
A School Library Journal Editor's Choice
A Kirkus Best YA Book of the Year
A Top Ten Amazon Best Book of the Year for Teens
A Library Journal Best YA Book for Adults
An Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist"
The Diviners delivers an addictive and terrifying story of young New Yorkers investigating a rash of occult-based murders. Bray sustains a breathless energy throughout this ambitious series-starter, deftly evoking the exuberance of 1920s city life and the evil lurking beneath it."Entertainment Weekly
* "1920s New York thrums with giddy life in this gripping first in a new [series] from Printz winner Bray...The intricate plot and magnificently imagined details of character, dialogue and setting take hold and don't let go. Not to be missed."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
* "The compelling and dramatic supernatural plot explores self-actualization, predestination, the secrets everyone hides, and, of course, good versus evil. An absolutely terrific read and, thankfully, the first in a planned series."School Library Journal (starred review)
* "The book is big and wants to be the kind of thing you can lose yourself in. Does it succeed? It's jake, baby."Booklist (starred review)
*Everyday moments and a romance or two help lighten the mood of this creepy, dark, twisted tale of things that go bump in the night."VOYA (starred review)
* "The book is engrossing, spooky, and thought-provoking."Library Media Connection (starred review)"
[A] lavish supernatural thriller...Wisecracking Evie is a likable heroine, and all signs point to intriguing complications and more malevolent spirits on the rise in succeeding books."The Horn Book
" [A] lavish supernatural thriller...Wisecracking Evie is a likable heroine, and all signs point to intriguing complications and more malevolent spirits on the rise in succeeding books."
Read an Excerpt
By Libba Bray
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2012 Libba Bray
All right reserved.
A LATE-SUMMER EVENING
In a town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, every lamp blazes. There’s a party going on—the last of the summer. Out on the terrace overlooking Manhattan’s incandescent skyline, the orchestra takes a much-needed break. It’s ten thirty. The party has been on since eight o’clock, and already the guests are bored. Fashionable debutantes in pastel chiffon party dresses wilt into leather club chairs like frosted petits fours melting under the July sun. A cocky Princeton sophomore wants his friends to head down to Greenwich Village with him, to a speakeasy he heard about from a friend of a friend.
The hostess, a pretty and spoiled young thing, notes her guests’ restlessness with a sense of alarm. It is her eighteenth birthday, and if she doesn’t do something to raise this party from the dead, it will be the talk for days to come that her gathering was as dull as a church social.
Raising from the dead.
The weekend before, she’d been forced to go antiquing upstate with her mother—an absolutely hideous chore, until they came upon an old Ouija board. Ouija boards are all the rage; psychics have claimed to receive messages and warnings from the other side using Mr. Fuld’s “talking board.” The antiques dealer fed her mother a line about how it had come to him under mysterious circumstances.
“They say it’s still haunted by restless spirits. But perhaps you and your sister could tame it?” he’d said with over-the-top flattery; naturally, her mother lapped it up, which resulted in her paying too much for the thing. Well, she’d make her mother’s mistake pay off for her now.
The hostess races for the hall closet and signals to the maid. “Do be a darling and get that down for me.”
The maid retrieves the board with a shake of her head. “You oughtn’t to be messing with this board, Miss.”
“Don’t be silly. That’s primitive.”
With a zippy twirl worthy of Clara Bow, the hostess bursts into the formal living room holding the Ouija board. “Who wants to commune with the spirits?” She giggles to show that she doesn’t take it seriously in the least. After all, she’s a thoroughly modern girl—a flapper, through and through.
The wilted girls spring up from their club chairs. “What’ve you got there? Is that a wee-gee board?” one of them asks.
“Isn’t it darling? Mother bought it for me. It’s supposed to be haunted,” the hostess says and laughs. “Well, I don’t believe that, naturally.” The hostess places the heart-shaped planchette in the middle of the board. “Let’s conjure up some fun, shall we?”
Everyone gathers ’round. George angles himself into the spot beside her. He’s a Yale man and a junior. Many nights, she’s lain awake in her bedroom, imagining her future with him. “Who wants to start?” she asks, positioning her fingers close to his.
“I will,” a boy in a ridiculous fez announces. She can’t remember his name, but she’s heard he has a habit of inviting girls into his rumble seat for a petting party. He closes his eyes and places his fingers on the scryer. “A question for the ages: Is the lady to my right madly in love with me?”
The girls squeal and the boys laugh as the planchette slowly spells out Y-E-S.
“Liar!” the lady in question scolds the heart-shaped scrying piece with its clear glass oracle.
“Don’t fight it, darling. I could be yours on the cheap,” the boy says.
Now spirits are high; the questions grow bolder. They’re drunk on gin and good times and the silly distraction of the fortune-telling. Every mornin’, every evenin’, ain’t we got fun?
“Say, let’s summon a real spirit,” George challenges.
A knot of excitement and unease twists in the hostess’s gut. The antiques dealer had cautioned against doing just this. He warned that spirits called forth must also be put back to rest by breaking the connection, saying good-bye. But he was out to make a buck with a story, and besides, it’s 1926—who believes in haunts and hobgoblins when there are motorcars and aeroplanes and the Cotton Club and men like Jake Marlowe making America first through industry?
“Don’t tell me you’re scared.” George smirks. He has a cruel mouth. It makes him all the more desirable.
“Scared of what?”
“That we’ll run out of gin!” the boy in the fez jokes, and everyone laughs.
George whispers low in her ear, “I’ll keep you safe.” His hand is on her back.
Oh, surely this is the most glorious night in existence!
“We summon now the spirit of this board to heed our call and tell us our fortunes true!” the hostess says with great intonation broken by giggles. “You must obey, spirit!”
There is a moment’s pause, and then the planchette begins its slow migration across the scarred board’s gothic black alphabet, spelling out a word.
“That’s the spirit,” someone quips.
“What is your name, o great spirit?” the hostess insists.
The planchette moves quickly.
George raises an eyebrow mischievously. “Say, I like the sound of that. What makes you so naughty, old sport?”
“See what? What are you up to, o naughty one?”
“I want to dance! Let’s go uptown to the Moonglow,” one of the girls, a pouty drunk, slurs. “When’s the band comin’ back, anyway?”
“In a minute. Don’t have kittens,” the hostess says with a smile and a laugh, but there’s warning in both. “Let’s try another question. Do you have any prophecy for us, Naughty John? Any fortune-telling?” She casts a sly glance at George.
The scryer remains still.
“Do tell us something else, won’t you?”
Finally, there is movement on the board. “I… will… teach… you… fear,” the hostess reads aloud.
“Sounds like the headmaster at Choate,” the boy in the fez teases. “How will you do that, old sport?”
“What does that mean?” the drunken girl whispers. She backs away slightly.
“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s gibberish.” The hostess scolds her guest, but she feels afraid. She turns on the boy with the reputation for trouble. “You’re making it say that!”
“I didn’t. I swear!” he says, crossing his heart with his index finger.
“Why are you here, old sport?” George asks the board.
The planchette moves so quickly they can barely keep up.
“Stop it this instant!” the hostess shouts.
W-H-O-R-E-W-H-O-R-E-W-H-O-R-E the piece repeats. The bright young things remove their fingers, but the piece continues to move.
“Make it stop, make it stop!” one girl screeches, and even the jaded boys pale and move back.
“Stop, spirit! I said stop!” the hostess shouts.
The planchette falls still. The party guests glance at one another with wild eyes. In the other room, the band members return to their instruments and strike up a hot dance number.
“Oh, hallelujah! Come on, baby. I’ll teach you to dance the Black Bottom.” The drunken girl struggles to her feet and pulls the boy in the fez after her.
“Wait! We have to spell out good-bye on the board! That’s the proper ritual!” the hostess pleads as her guests desert her.
George slips his arm around her waist. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of Naughty John.”
“You know it was the old boy,” he says, his breath tickling her ear sweetly. “He has his tricks. You know how that sort is.”
She does know how that sort is. It was probably that wretched boy all along, playing them for fools. Well, she is nobody’s fool. She is eighteen now. Life will be an endless swirl of parties and dances. Night or daytime, it’s all playtime. Ain’t we got fun? Her earlier fears have been put to bed. Her party looks like it will rage into the night. The carpets have been rolled up, and her guests dance full out. Long strands of pearls bounce against drop-waist dresses. Spats strike defiantly at the wood floors. Arms thrust out, pushing against the air—all of it like some feverish Dadaist painting come to life.
The hostess stashes the board in the cupboard, where it will soon be forgotten, and races toward the parlor with its bright electric lights—Mr. Edison’s modern marvel—and joins the last party of the summer without a care.
Outside, the wind lingers for a moment at those lighted windows; then, with a gusty burst of energy, it takes its leave and scuttles down the sidewalks. It twines itself briefly around the cloche hats of two fashionable young ladies gossiping about the tragic death of Rudolph Valentino as they walk a poodle along the East River. It moves on, down neon-drenched canyons, over the elevated train as it rattles above Second Avenue, shaking the windows of the poor souls trying to sleep before morning comes—morning with its taxi horns, trolley cars, and trains; the bootblacks buffing the wingtips of businessmen in Union Square; the newsies hawking the day’s headlines in Times Square; the telephone operators gazing longingly at the new shawl-collar coats tempting them from store windows; the majestic skyscrapers rising over it all like gleaming steel, brick, and glass gods.
The wind idles briefly before a jazz club, listening to this new music punctuating the night. It thrills to the bleat of horns, the percussive piano strides born of blues and ragtime, the syncopated rhythms that echo the jagged excitement of the city’s skyline.
On the Bowery, in the ornate carcass of a formerly grand vaudeville theater, a dance marathon limps along. The contestants, young girls and their fellas, hold one another up, determined to make their mark, to bite back at the dreams sold to them in newspaper advertisements and on the radio. They have sores on their feet but stars in their eyes. Farther uptown, the Great White Way, named for the blinding incandescence of its theater lights, empties of its patrons. Some stage-door Johnnies wait in the alleys, hoping for a glimpse of the glamorous chorus girls or for a chance at an autograph from one of Broadway’s many stars. It is a time of celebrity, of fame and fortune and grasping, and the young burn with secret ambition.
The wind takes it all in with indifference. It is only the wind. It will not become a radio star or a captain of industry. It will not run for office or fall in love with Douglas Fairbanks or sing the songs of Tin Pan Alley, songs of longing and regret and good times (ain’t we got fun?). And so it travels on, past the slaughterhouses on Fourteenth Street, past the unfortunates selling themselves in darkened alleys. Nearby, Lady Liberty hoists her torch in the harbor, a beacon to all who come to these shores to escape persecution or famine or hopelessness. For this is the land of dreams.
The wind swoops over the tenements on Orchard Street, where some of those starry-eyed dreams have died and yet other dreams are being born into squalor and poverty, an uphill climb. It gives a slap to the laundry stretched on lines between tenements, over dirty, broken streets where, even at this hour, hungry children scour the bins for food. The wind has existed forever. It has seen much in this country of dreams and soap ads, old horrors and bloodshed. It has played mute witness to its burning witches, and has walked along a Trail of Tears; it has seen the slave ships release their human cargo, blinking and afraid, into the ports, their only possession a grief they can never lose. The wind was there when President Lincoln fell to an assassin’s bullet. It smelled of gunpowder at Antietam. It ran with the buffalo and touched tentative fingers to the tall black hats of Puritans. It has carried shouts of love, and it has dried tears to salt tracks on more faces than it can number.
The wind skitters down the Bowery and swoops up the West Side, home of Irish gangs like the Dummy Boys, who ride horseback along Ninth Avenue to warn the bootleggers. It swoops along the mighty Hudson River, past the vibrant nightlife of Harlem with its great thinkers, writers, and musicians, until it comes to rest outside the ruin of an old mansion. Moldering boards cover the broken windows. Rubbish clogs the gutter out front. Once upon a time, the house was home to an unspeakable evil. Now it is a relic of a bygone era, forgotten in the shadow of the city’s growth and prosperity.
The door creaks on its hinges. The wind enters cautiously. It creeps down narrow hallways that twist and turn in dizzying fashion. Diseased rooms, rotted with neglect, branch off left and right. Doors open onto brick walls. A trapdoor gives way to a chute that empties into a vast subterranean chamber of horrors and an even more terrifying room. It stinks still: of blood, urine, evil, and a fear so dark it has become as much a part of the house as the wood and nails and rot.
Something stirs in the deep shadows, something terrible, and the wind, which knows evil well, shrinks from this place. It flees toward the safety of those magnificent tall buildings that promise the blue skies, nothing but blue skies, of the future, of industry and prosperity; the future, which does not believe in the evil of the past. If the wind were a sentinel, it would send up the alarm. It would cry out a warning of terrors to come. But it is only the wind, and it knows well that no one listens to its cries.
Deep in the cellar of the dilapidated house, a furnace comes to life with a death rattle like the last bitter cough of a dying man laughing contemptuously at his fate. A faint glow emanates from that dark, foul-smelling earthen tomb. Yes, something moves again in the shadows. A harbinger of much greater evil to come. Naughty John has come home. And he has work to do.
EVIE O’NEILL, ZENITH, OHIO
Evie O’Neill pressed the sagging ice bag to her throbbing forehead and cursed the hour. It was noon, but it might as well be six in the morning for the pounding in her skull. For the past twenty minutes, her father had been beating his gums at her about last night’s party at the Zenith Hotel. Her drinking had been mentioned several times, along with the unfortunate frolic in the town fountain. And the trouble that came between, of course. It was gonna be a real beast of a day, and how. Her head beat out requirements: Water. Aspirin. Please stop talking.
“Your mother and I do not approve of drinking. Have you not heard of the Eighteenth Amendment?”
“Prohibition? I drink to its health whenever I can.”
“Evangeline Mary O’Neill!” her mother snapped.
“Your mother is secretary of the Zenith Women’s Temperance Society. Did you think about that? Did you think about how it might look if her daughter were found carousing drunk in the streets?”
Evie slid her bruised eyeballs in her mother’s direction. Her mother sat stiff-backed and thin-lipped, her long hair coiled at the nape of her neck. A pair of spectacles—“cheaters,” the flappers called them—sat at the end of her nose. The Fitzgerald women were all petite, blue-eyed, blond, and hopelessly nearsighted.
“Well?” her father thundered. “Do you have something to say?”
“Gee, I hope I won’t need cheaters someday,” Evie muttered.
Evie’s mother responded with a weary sigh. She’d grown smaller and more worn since James’s death, as if that long-ago telegram from the war office had stolen her soul the moment she had opened it.
“You young people seem to treat everything like a joke, don’t you?” Her father was off and running—responsibility, civic duty, acting your age, thinking beyond tomorrow. She knew the refrain well. What Evie needed was a little hair of the dog, but her parents had confiscated her hip flask. It was a swell flask, too—silver, with the initials of Charles Warren etched into it. Good old Charlie, the dear. She’d promised to be his girl. That lasted a week. Charlie was a darling, but also a thudding bore. His idea of petting was to place a hand stiffly on a girl’s chest like a starched doily on some maiden aunt’s side table while pecking, birdlike, at her mouth. Quelle tragédie.
“Evie, are you listening to me?” Her father’s face was grim.
She managed a smile. “Always, Daddy.”
“Why did you say those terrible things about Harold Brodie?”
For the first time, Evie frowned. “He had it coming.”
“You accused him of… of…” Her father’s face colored as he stammered.
“Of knocking up that poor girl?”
“Evangeline!” Her mother gasped.
“Pardon me. ‘Of taking advantage of her and leaving her in the family way.’ ”
“Why couldn’t you be more like…” Her mother trailed off, but Evie could finish the sentence: Why couldn’t you be more like James?
“You mean, dead?” she shot back.
Her mother’s face crumpled, and in that moment, Evie hated herself a little.
“That’s enough, Evangeline,” her father warned.
Evie bowed her throbbing head. “I’m sorry.”
“I think you should know that unless you offer a public apology, the Brodies have threatened to sue for slander.”
“What? I will not apologize!” She stood so quickly that her head doubled its pounding and she had to sit again. “I told the truth.”
“You were playing a game—”
“It wasn’t a game!”
“A game that has gotten you into trouble—”
“Harold Brodie is a louse and a lothario who cheats at cards and has a different girl in his rumble seat every week. That coupe of his is pos-i-tute-ly a petting palace. And he’s a terrible kisser to boot.”
Evie’s parents stared in stunned silence.
“Or so I’ve heard.”
“Can you prove your accusations?” her father pressed.
She couldn’t. Not without telling them her secret, and she couldn’t risk that. “I will not apologize.”
Evie’s mother cleared her throat. “There is another option.”
Evie glanced from her mother to her father and back. “I won’t breeze to military school, either.”
“No military school would have you,” her father muttered. “How would you like to go to New York for a bit, to stay with your Uncle Will?”
“I… ah… as in, Manhattan?”
“We assumed you’d say no to the apology,” her mother said, getting in her last dig. “I spoke to my brother this morning. He would take you.”
He would take you. A burden lifted. An act of charity. Uncle Will must have been defenseless against her mother’s guilt-ladling.
“Just for a few months,” her father continued. “Until this whole situation has sorted itself out.”
New York City. Speakeasies and shopping. Broadway plays and movie palaces. At night, she’d dance at the Cotton Club. Days she’d spend with Mabel Rose, dear old Mabesie, who lived in her uncle Will’s building. She and Evie had met when they were nine and Evie and her mother had gone to New York for a few days. Ever since, the girls had been pen pals. In the last year, Evie’s correspondence had dwindled to a note here and there, though Mabel continued to send letters consistently, mostly about Uncle Will’s handsome assistant, Jericho, who was alternately “painted by the brushstrokes of angels” and “a distant shore upon which I hope to land.” Yes, Mabel needed her. And Evie needed New York. In New York, she could reinvent herself. She could be somebody.
She was tempted to blurt out a hasty yes, but she knew her mother well. If Evie didn’t make it seem like a punishment to be endured, like she had “learned her lesson well,” she’d be stuck in Zenith, apologizing to Harold Brodie after all.
She sighed and worked up just the right amount of tears—too much and they might relent. “I suppose that would be a sensible course. Though I don’t know what I’ll do in Manhattan with an old bachelor uncle as chaperone and all my dear friends back here in Zenith.”
“You should have thought of that before,” her mother said, her mouth set in a gloating smile of moral triumph.
Evie suppressed a grin. Like shooting fish in a barrel, she thought.
Her father checked his watch. “There’s a train at five o’clock. I expect you’d better start packing.”
Evie and her father rode to the station in silence. Normally, riding in her father’s Lincoln Boattail Roadster was a point of pride. It was the only convertible in Zenith, the pick of the lot at her father’s motorcar dealership. But today she didn’t want to be seen. She wished she were as inconsequential as the ghosts in her dreams. Sometimes, after drinking, she felt this way—the shame over her latest stunt twining with the clamped-down anger at the way these petty, small-town people always made her feel: “Oh, Evie, you’re just too much,” they’d say with a polite smile. It was not a compliment.
She was too much—for Zenith, Ohio. She’d tried at times to make herself smaller, to fit neatly into the ordered lines of expectation. But somehow, she always managed to say or do something outrageous—she’d accept a dare to climb a flagpole, or make a slightly risqué joke, or go riding in cars with boys—and suddenly she was “that awful O’Neill girl” all over again.
Instinctively, her fingers wandered to the coin around her neck. It was a half-dollar her brother had sent from “over there” during the war, a gift for her ninth birthday, the day he’d died. She remembered the telegram from the war department, delivered by poor Mr. Smith from the telegram office, who mumbled an apology as he handed it over. She remembered her mother uttering the smallest strangled cry as she sank to the floor, still clutching the yellowed paper with the heartless black type. She remembered her father sitting in his study in the dark long after he should have been in bed, a forbidden bottle of Scotch open on his desk. Evie had read the telegram later: REGRET TO INFORM YOU… PRIVATE JAMES XAVIER O’NEILL… KILLED IN ACTION IN GERMANY… SUDDEN ATTACK AT DAWN… GAVE HIS LIFE IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY… SECRETARY OF WAR ASKS THAT I CONVEY HIS DEEPEST SYMPATHIES ON THE LOSS OF YOUR SON….
They passed a horse and buggy on its way to one of the farms just outside town. It seemed quaint and out of place. Or maybe she was the thing that was out of place here.
“Evie,” her father said in his soft voice. “What happened at the party, pet?”
The party. It had been swell at first. She and Louise and Dottie in their finery. Dottie had lent Evie her rhinestone headache band, and it looked so spiffy resting across Evie’s soft curls. They’d enjoyed a spirited but meaningless debate about the trial of Mr. Scopes in Tennessee the year before and the whole idea that the lot of humanity was descended from apes. “I don’t find it hard to believe in the slightest,” Evie had said, cutting her eyes flirtatiously at the college boys who’d just sung a rousing twelfth round of “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.” Everyone was drunk and happy. And Harold came around with his flattery.
“Hello, ma baby; hello, ma honey; hello ma Evie gal,” he sang and bowed at her feet.
Harry was handsome and terribly charming and, despite what she’d said earlier, a swell kisser. If Harry liked a girl, that girl got noticed. Evie liked being noticed, especially when she was drinking. Harry was engaged-to-be-engaged to Norma Wallingford. He wasn’t in love with Norma—Evie knew that—but he was in love with her bank account, and everyone knew they’d marry when he graduated from college. Still, he wasn’t married yet.
“Did I tell you that I have special powers?” Evie had asked after her third drink.
Harry smiled. “I can see that.”
“I am quite serious,” she slurred, too tipsy not to take his dare. “I can tell your secrets simply by holding an object dear to you and concentrating on it.” There were polite chuckles among the partygoers. Evie fixed them with a defiant stare, her blue eyes glittering under heavily kohled lashes. “I am pos-i-tute-ly serious.”
“You’re pos-i-tute-ly lit, is what you are, Evie O’Neill,” Dottie shouted.
“I’ll prove it. Norma, give me something—scarf, hat pin, glove.”
“I’m not giving you anything. I might not get it back.” Norma laughed.
Evie narrowed her eyes. “Yes, how smart you are, Norma. I am starting a collection of only right-hand gloves. It’s ever so bourgeois to have two.”
“Well, you certainly wouldn’t want to do anything ordinary, would you, Evie?” Norma said, showing her teeth. Everyone laughed, and Evie’s cheeks went hot.
“No, I leave that to you, Norma.” Evie brushed her hair away from her face, but it sprang back into her eyes. “Come to think of it, your secrets would probably put us to sleep.”
“Fine,” Harold had said before things could get really heated. “Here’s my class ring. Tell me my deep, dark secrets, Madame O’Neill.”
“Brave man, giving a girl like Evie your ring-ski,” someone shouted.
“Quiet, s’il vous plaît-ski!” Evie commanded with a dramatic flair to her voice. She concentrated, waiting for the object to warm in her hands. Sometimes it happened and sometimes it did not, and she hoped on the soul of Rudolph Valentino that this would be one of those times it took. Later, she’d have a headache from the effort—that was the downside to her little gift—but that’s what gin was for. She’d numbed herself a bit already, anyway. Evie opened one eye a slit. They were all watching her. They were watching, and nothing was happening.
Chuckling, Harry reached for his ring. “All right, old girl. You’ve had your fun. Time for a little sobering up.”
She wrenched her hands away. “I will uncover your secrets—just you wait and see!” There were few things worse than being ordinary, in Evie’s opinion. Ordinary was for suckers. Evie wanted to be special. A bright star. She didn’t care if she got the most awful headache in the history of skull-bangers. Shutting her eyes tightly, she pressed the ring against her palms. It grew much warmer, unlocking its secrets for her. Her smile spread. She opened her eyes.
“Harry, you naughty boy…”
Everyone pressed closer, interested.
Harold laughed uncomfortably. “What do you mean?”
“Room twenty-two at the hotel. That pretty chambermaid… L… El… Ella! Ella! You gave her a big wad of kale and told her to take care of it.”
Norma moved closer. “What’s this about, Harry?”
Harry’s mouth was tight. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Evangeline. Show’s over. I’ll have my ring back now.”
If Evie had been sober, she might have stopped. But the gin made her foolishly brave. She tsk-tsked him with her fingers. “You knocked her up, you bad boy.”
“Harold, is that true?”
Harold Brodie’s face was red. “That’s enough, Evie! This isn’t funny any longer.”
“Harold?” Norma Wallingford.
“She’s lying, sweetheart.” Harold, reassuring.
Evie stood and did a little Charleston on the table. “That’s not what your ring says, pal.”
Harold grabbed for Evie and she squeaked out of reach, grabbing a tumbler from someone’s hand. “Holy moly! It’s a raid! A Harold Brodie raid! Run for your lives!”
Dottie had grabbed the ring and given it back to Harry. Then she and Louise had practically dragged Evie outside. “Sister, you are blotto. Let’s go.”
“I remain unflapper-able in the face of advuss… advarse… trouble. Oh, we’re moving. Wheee! Where are we going?”
“To sober you up,” Dottie said, tossing Evie into the freezing fountain.
Later, after several cups of coffee, Evie lay shivering in her wet party dress under a blanket in a darkened corner of the ladies’ lounge. Dottie and Louise had gone to find her some aspirin, and, alone and hidden, she eavesdropped as two girls stood before the gilt-framed mirrors gossiping about the row Harold and Norma had gotten into.
“It’s all that awful Evie O’Neill’s fault. You know how she is.”
“She never knows when to let well enough alone.”
“Well, she’s really done it this time. She’s finished in this town. Norma will see to that.”
Evie waited till she heard them leave, then moved to the mirror. Her mascara had left big black splotches under her eyes, and her damp curls drooped. Her wretched headache was really kicking up its heels in earnest. She looked as messy as she felt. She wished she could cry, but crying wouldn’t help anything.
Harold burst in, closing the door behind him and holding it shut. “How did you find out?” he growled, grabbing her arm.
“I t-told you. I g-got it from your—”
His hand tightened around her arm. “Stop fooling around and tell me how you know! Norma’s threatening to leave me thanks to your little party trick. I demand a public apology to clear my name.”
She felt woozy and sick, the aftereffects of her object reading. It was like a mean drunk followed by the worst hangover you could imagine. Harold Brodie wasn’t a charming, good-time playboy, she now realized. He was a cad and a coward. The last thing she was going to do was apologize to somebody like that.
“G-go chase yourself, Harry.”
Dottie and Louise pounded on the door from the other side. “Evie? Evie! Open up!”
Harold let go of her arm. Evie could feel a bruise starting. “This isn’t over, Evangeline. Your father owes his business to my father. You might want to reconsider that apology.”
Evie threw up all over Harold Brodie.
“Evie?” her father prompted now, bringing her back to the moment.
She rubbed her aching head. “It was nothing, Pop. I’m sorry you caught hell for it.”
He didn’t take her to task for saying hell.
At the station, her father left the engine idling long enough to see her to the platform. He tipped the porter to take her trunks, and made sure they would be delivered to her uncle’s apartment in New York. Evie carried only her small plaid valise and a beaded handbag.
“Well,” her father said, glancing down at the idling convertible. He passed her a ten-spot, which Evie tucked into the ribbon of her gray felt cloche. “Just a little pin money.”
“I’m no good with good-byes. You know that.”
Evie forced a devil-may-care smile. “Sure. It’s jake, Pop. I’m seventeen, not seven. I’ll be just fine.”
They stood awkwardly on the wooden platform.
“Better not let the breezer leave without you,” she said, nodding toward the convertible.
Her father kissed her lightly on the forehead and, with a final admonishment to the porter, drove away. As the Lincoln shrank to a point down the road, Evie felt a pang of sadness, and something else. Dread. That was the word. Some unknowable, unnameable fear. She’d been feeling it for months, ever since the dreams began.
“Man, I got those heebie jeebie blues,” Evie said softly and shivered.
A pair of Blue Noses on the next bench glared their disapproval at Evie’s knee-length dress. Evie decided to give them a real show. She hiked her skirt and, humming jauntily, rolled down her stockings, exposing her legs. It had the desired effect on the Blue Noses, who moved down the platform, clucking about the “disgrace of the young.” She would not miss this place.
A cream coupe swerved dangerously up the road and came to a stop below, just narrowly missing the platform. Two smartly dressed girls stepped out. Evie grinned and waved wildly. “Dottie! Louise!”
“We heard you were leaving and wanted to come see you off,” Louise said, climbing over the railing.
“Good news travels fast.”
“In this town? Like lightning.”
“It’s swell. I’m too big for Zenith, Ohio, anyway. In New York, they’ll understand me. I’m going to be written up in all the papers and get invited to the Fitzgeralds’ flat for cocktails. After all, my mother’s a Fitzgerald. We must be related somewhere.”
“Speaking of cocktails…” Grinning, Dottie retrieved what looked like an innocent aspirin bottle from her pocketbook. It was half-filled with clear liquid. “Here. Just a little giggle water to see you through. Sorry it couldn’t be more, but my father marks the bottles now.”
“Oh, and a copy of Photoplay from the beauty parlor. Aunt Mildred won’t miss it,” Louise added.
Evie’s eyes pricked with tears. “You don’t mind being seen with the town pariah?”
Louise and Dottie managed weak smiles—confirmation that Evie was the town pariah, but still, they’d come.
“You are absolute angels of the first order. If I were Pope, I’d canonize you.”
“The Pope would probably love to turn a cannon on you!”
“New York City!” Louise twirled her long rope of beads. “Norma Wallingford will eat herself to bits with envy. She’s sore as hell about your little stunt.” Dottie giggled. “Spill: How’d you really find out about Harold and the chambermaid?”
Evie’s smile faltered for a moment. “Just a lucky guess.”
“Oh, look! Here comes the train,” Evie said, cutting off any further inquiry. She hugged them tightly, grateful for this last kindness. “Next time you see me, I’ll be famous! And I’ll drive you all over Zenith in my chauffeured sedan.”
“Next time we see you, you’ll be on trial for some ingenious crime!” Dottie said with a laugh.
Evie grinned. “Just as long as they know my name.”
A blue-uniformed porter hurried people aboard. Evie settled into her compartment. It was stuffy, and she stood on the seat in her green silk-satin Mary Janes to open the window.
“Help you with that, Miss?” another porter, a younger man, offered.
Evie looked up at him through lashes she had tinted with cake mascara that morning and offered him the full power of her Coty-red smile. “Oh, would you, honey? That’d be swell.”
“You heading to New York, Miss?”
“Mm-hmm, that’s right. I won a Miss Bathing Beauty contest, and now I’m going to New York to be photographed for Vanity Fair.”
“Isn’t that something?”
“Isn’t it, just?” Evie fluttered her eyelashes. “The window?”
The young man released the latches and slid the window down easily. “There you are!”
“Why, thank you,” Evie purred. She was on her way. In New York, she could be anyone she chose to be. It was a big city—just the place for big dreamers who needed to shine brightly.
Evie angled her head out the train window and waved to Louise and Dottie. Her bobbed curls blew about her face as the sleepy town slowly moved behind her. For a second, she wished she could run back to the safety of her parents’ house. But that was like the fog of her dreams. It was a dead house—had been for years. No. She wouldn’t be sad. She would be grand and glittering. A real star. A bright light of New York. “See you soon-ski!” she yelled.
Her friends were shrinking to small dots of color in the smoke-hazed distance. Evie blew kisses and tried not to cry. She waved slowly to the passing rooftops of Zenith, Ohio, where people liked to feel safe and snug and smug, where they handled objects every day in the most ordinary of ways and never once caught glimpses into other people’s secrets that should not be known or had terrible nightmares of dead brothers. She envied them just a bit.
“You gonna stay up there the whole ride, Miss?” the porter asked.
“Just wanna say a proper good-bye,” Evie answered. She turned her hand in a last benediction, waving to the houses like a queen. “So long, suckers! You’re all wet!”
MEMPHIS CAMPBELL, HARLEM, NEW YORK CITY
It was morning in Harlem, and mornings belonged to the numbers runners. From 130th Street north to 160th Street, from Amsterdam Avenue on the West Side clear over to Park Avenue on the east, scores of runners staked out their turf, ready to write out slips for their customers and race those hopeful number combinations back to their bankers, operating from the back rooms of cigar stores and barbershops, speakeasies and brownstone basements. It all had to happen before ten AM, when the clearinghouse down on Wall Street published the daily financial number, and somebody beat the thousand-to-one odds and struck it big or, more likely, struck out. It rarely worked out in Harlem’s favor, but they played the game anyway, on the chance that someday their luck would change.
Memphis Campbell, seventeen, perched beneath the street lamp in his spot on the corner of Lenox Avenue and 135th Street, near the subway entrance, catching his customers as they headed off to work. He kept an eye out for cops as he wrote out slip after slip: “Yes, Miss Jackson, fifteen cents on the washerwoman’s gig.” “Forty-four, eleven, twenty-two. Got it.” “A dollar on the death gig, though I’m sorry to hear that your aunt’s cousin passed.” “Well, if you saw it in a dream, you’d be a fool not to play that number, sir.”
The numbers were all around them, patterns waiting to be discovered and turned into riches, luck pulled from thin air—from hymnals, billboards, weddings, funerals, births, boxing matches, horse races, trains, professions, fraternal orders, and dreams. Especially dreams.
Memphis didn’t like thinking about his dreams. Not lately.
When the work rush cleared, he took orders in apartment-building lobbies, stuffing the slips into a leather pouch he kept in his sock in case he got shaken down. He stopped in at the DeLuxe Beauty Shop, which was doing a brisk business in hair and gossip.
“So I told her, I may be a scalp specialist, but I am no miracle worker!” the owner, Mrs. Jordan, regaled the chuckling women in the shop. “Hey there, Memphis. How you?”
The ladies sat up straighter.
“Lord, that boy is handsome as Pharaoh,” one of the young women clucked, fanning herself with a magazine. “Honey, you got yourself a girl?”
“On every block!” Mrs. Jordan laughed.
Memphis knew he was handsome. He was six feet tall and broad-shouldered, with high cheekbones thanks to some Taino blood down the line. Floyd at Floyd’s Barbershop kept Memphis’s hair close-cropped and oiled sweet, and Mr. Levine, the tailor, made sure his suits were sharp. But it was Memphis’s smile everyone noticed first. When Memphis Campbell decided to turn on the full power of his charm, it always started with the smile: shy at first, then wide and blindingly bright, accompanied by a puppy-dog look that got even his aunt Octavia to relent sometimes.
Memphis employed the smile now. “Getting late, ladies.”
“So it is.” Mrs. Jordan kept her hot comb working, straightening the hair of the woman in her chair. “Put me down for my usual gig. Got those numbers from Aunt Sally’s Policy Players Dream Book. Gonna make me rich someday.”
“Gonna make you broke someday,” a large woman reading a copy of the New Amsterdam News announced with a snort.
Mrs. Jordan pointed the hot comb at her. “It’s going to pay off. You’ll see. Right, Memphis?”
Memphis nodded. “Just last week, I heard of a man playing the same gig for a year. Won big,” he said. Memphis thought again of his disquieting dream. Maybe it meant something after all. Maybe it was a portent of good luck, not bad. “Say, Mrs. Jordan, does Aunt Sally’s book say anything about a crossroads or a storm?”
“Oh, a storm means money coming in, I think. Storm is fifty-four.”
“Is not, either! A storm means a death coming. And it’s eleven you play for that.”
The ladies set to squabbling about the various interpretations of dreams and possible number combinations. No one could ever agree on any one right answer. That’s part of what made the game so exciting—all those possibilities.
“What about an eye with a lightning bolt underneath?” Memphis asked.
Mrs. Jordan paused, the hot comb still in her customer’s hair. “I don’t rightly know. But somebody else might could tell you. Why you ask, honey?”
Memphis realized he was frowning. He relaxed again into that charming smile people had come to expect from him. “Oh, just something I saw in a dream is all.”
The customer in the chair bristled. “Ow! Fifi, you about to burn my scalp off with that hot comb!”
“I am not! You’re just too tender-headed is your trouble.”
“Good day to you, ladies. I hope your number comes in,” Memphis said and beat a hasty retreat.
Above Harlem, the morning’s gray clouds frayed into thin wisps, revealing a perfect blue sky as Memphis passed the Lenox Drugstore, where he and his little brother, Isaiah, liked to stop in for hamburgers and talk with the owner, Mr. Reggie. He crossed the street to avoid the Merrick Funeral Home, but he could not sweep away the memory. It crept up from deep inside, still with the power to squeeze the breath out of him:
His mother lying up front in the open casket covered with lily of the valley, her hands crossed over her chest. Isaiah asking, “When Mama’s gonna wake up, Memphis? She’s missing the party, and all these people here to see her, too.” His father sitting on the cane-back chair, staring down into his big, trumpet-playing hands while mourners cried and hollered and somebody sang, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” The feel of the dirt in Memphis’s fingers as he dropped clods of it onto the grave. The soft thud as it hit the top of the coffin, the finality of the sound. He remembered his father packing up their apartment off 145th Street and sending Memphis and Isaiah to share the cramped back room of Aunt Octavia’s place a few blocks farther uptown while he went off to Chicago to look for work. He’d promised to send for them when he was settled. That had been two years, ten months, and fifteen days ago, and they were still sharing the back room at Octavia’s.
Memphis swiped a milk bottle from a stoop and took a big swig, as if he could chase away the past. His skin itched with restlessness, a feeling that the world was about to be ripped wide open. And he was sure it had to do with the dream.
For two weeks running, it had been the same: The crossroads. The crow flying to him from the field. The darkening sky, and the dust clouds rising on the road just ahead of whatever was coming. And the symbol—always the symbol. It was getting to where he was afraid to sleep.
A phrase came to him quickly. Memphis knew that if he didn’t write it down, it would be gone later, when he was ready to write. So he stopped and jotted this new bit of poetry in his head onto two blank numbers slips, then shoved them into a different pocket. Later, when he could head up to the graveyard, where he liked to write, he’d copy them into the brown leather notebook that held his poems and stories.
Memphis turned the corner. Blind Bill Johnson sat on a stoop with his guitar. His upturned hat lay at his feet, a collection of small change scattered across the hat’s worn lining. “Met a man on a dark road, he had a mark upon his hand,” the bluesman sang in his gravelly whisper of a voice. “Met a man on a dark road, he had a mark upon his hand. Said the storm’s a-comin’, rain down hard upon the land.” As Memphis passed, Blind Bill called, “Mr. Campbell! Mr. Campbell! ’Zat you?”
“Yes, sir. How’d you know?”
The old man wrinkled up his nose. “Floyd’s good with the scissors, but that oil he use could wake a dead man.” He broke into a hard, raspy laugh. His fingers sought the collection of change in the hat, touching each coin until he had two dimes. “Put twenty cents on my number, Mr. Campbell. One, seven, nine. Go on now, and put that in. Put it in for old Blind Bill,” he said with urgency.
Memphis wanted to tell him he should save his money for other things. Everybody knew Bill lived over in the Salvation Army mission, and sometimes on the streets, when the weather was decent. But it wasn’t his place to say anything, so he pocketed the coins and wrote out a slip. “Yes, sir. I’ll put it in.”
“I just need a change of luck is all.”
“Don’t we all,” Memphis said and moved on.
Behind him, the bluesman took up his guitar again, singing about shadowy men on dark roads and bargains struck under moonless skies, and though they were in the heart of the city with its rumbling trains and bustling sidewalks, Memphis felt a strange twisting in his gut.
“Memphis!” another runner called from down the street. “You better get to it! It’s almost ten o’clock!”
Memphis forgot about his bad dreams. He tossed the empty milk bottle into a rubbish bin, shouldered his knapsack, and ran down the street toward the Hotsy Totsy to wait for the day’s number to come in.
On a street lamp, a crow cawed. Blind Bill stopped his song and tensed, listening. The bird cawed once more. Then it flapped its shiny wings and shadowed Memphis Campbell’s steps.
THE MUSEUM OF THE CREEPY CRAWLIES
Evie disembarked from the train with a wave to the porters and conductors with whom she had played poker from Pittsburgh to Pennsylvania Station. She was now in possession of twenty dollars, three new addresses in her brown leather journal, and a porter’s hat, which she wore upon her golden head at a rakish angle.
“So long, fellas! It’s been swell.”
The conductor, a young man of twenty-two, leaned out from the train’s stairwell. “You’ll be sure to write me, won’t ya, sweetheart?”
“And how. Just as soon as I practice my penmanship,” Evie lied. “My aunt will be waiting. She’s legally blind, so I’d better fly to her side. Poor dear Aunt Martha.”
“I thought her name was Gertrude.”
“Gertrude and Martha. They’re twins, and both blind, the poor, poor dears. Farewell!” Her heart thumping, Evie rushed up the stairs from the platform. New York City—at last!
Uncle Will’s telegram had been quite specific: She was to hail a taxi outside Pennsylvania Station on Eighth Avenue and tell the driver to take her to the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult on Sixty-eighth Street, off Central Park West. She had been sure it would be no trouble at all. Now, in the hubbub of Pennsylvania Station, she felt more than a little lost. She went the wrong way twice and finally found herself in the enormous main room, with its floor-to-ceiling arched windows and the giant, center-placed clock whose filigreed arms reminded passengers that time was fleeting—as were trains.
Nearby, a very glamorous woman wearing a full-length Russian sable despite the heat was drawing an ever-thickening crowd of followers and shutterbugs. “Who is that?” Evie whispered urgently to one of the admirers.
He shrugged. “Don’t know. But her press agent paid me a dollar to stand around and gape like she was Gloria Swanson. Easiest buck I ever made.”
Evie scurried to keep up with the hustle and bustle of the crowd and nearly wiped out a newsboy hawking the Daily News. “Valentino poisoned? Read all about it! Anarchists’ bomb plot goes bust! Teacher goes ape for evolution! All the news right here, right here! Only two cents! Paper, Miss?”
“No, thank you.”
“Nice topper.” He winked and Evie remembered the porter’s hat.
A mirror hung in the window of a druggist’s shop, and Evie stopped to fix her hair and replace the porter’s hat with her own brimless gray cloche, turning her head left and right to make sure she was at her best. She took the twenty-dollar bill she’d won playing poker and, after a moment of deliberation, stuffed it into the pocket of her red, summer-weight traveling coat.
“I can’t say I blame you for taking in the view. I’ve been looking for a while.”
The voice was male, and a little gravelly. Evie caught his reflection in the mirror. Thick, dark hair with a longer piece in front that refused to stay swept back. Amber eyes and dark brows. His smile could only be described as wolfish.
Evie turned slowly. “Do I know you?”
“Not yet. But I hope to remedy that.” He stuck out a hand. “Sam Lloyd.”
Evie curtsied. “Miss Evangeline O’Neill of the Zenith O’Neills.”
“The Zenith O’Neills? Now I feel underdressed. Let me just get my dinner jacket.” He grinned again, and Evie felt a little off balance. He was of medium height and compact build. His shirtsleeves had been rolled to his elbows; his trousers were worn at the knees. Faint black smudges stained the tips of his fingers, as if he’d been shining shoes. A pair of aviator’s goggles hung around his neck. Her first New York admirer was a bit rough around the edges.
“Well, it was nice to meet you, Mr. Lloyd, but I’d better—”
“Sam.” He picked up her case so quickly she didn’t even see his hand move. “Let me carry that for you.”
“Really. I can—” She made a swipe for her case but he held it up.
“I insist. My mother would skin me for being so unchivalrous.”
“Well”—Evie looked around nervously—“just as far as the door, then.”
“Where ya headed?”
“My, you ask a lot of questions.”
“Let me guess: You’re a Ziegfeld girl?”
Evie shook her head.
“Model? Actress? Princess? You’re too pretty to be just anybody.”
“Are you on the level?”
“Me? I’m so on the level I can’t get off it.”
He was flattering her, but she was enjoying it. She loved attention. It was like a glass of the best champagne—bubbly and intoxicating—and as with champagne, she always wanted more of it. Still, she didn’t want to seem like an easy mark.
“If you must know, I’ve come to join a convent,” Evie said, testing him.
Sam Lloyd looked her over and shook his head. “Seems a waste to me. Pretty girl like you.”
“Serving our lord is never a waste.”
“Oh, sure. Of course, they say now that we’ve got Freud and the motorcar, God is dead.”
“He’s not dead; just very tired.”
The corners of his mouth twitched in amusement, and Evie felt the warmth bubble up again. He thought her clever, this Sam Lloyd with his knowing grin.
“Well, it’s a big job,” he shot back. “All that smiting and begetting. Say, which convent you heading to?”
“The one with all the ladies in black and white.”
“What’s the name? Maybe I know it.” Sam bowed his head. “I’m very devout.”
Evie held back a small ha! “It’s… St. Mary’s.”
“Of course. Which St. Mary’s?”
“The absolute most St. Mary’s you can think of.”
“Listen, before you commit your life to Christ, maybe you’d let me show you around the city? I know all the hot spots. I’m a swell tour guide.” He took her hand in his, and Evie felt both excited and unnerved. She hadn’t been in the city for even five minutes, and already some young man—some admittedly quite attractive young man—was trying to get her to go off alone with him. It was thrilling. And a little terrifying.
“Listen, I have to tell you a secret”—he looked around—“I am a scout for some of the biggest names in this town. Ziegfeld. The Shuberts. Mr. White. I know ’em all. They would string me up if I didn’t introduce a talent like you.”
“You think I’m talented?”
“I know you are. I can tell. I have a sense about these things.”
Evie raised one eyebrow. “I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I can’t act.”
“See? A real triple threat.” He grinned. “Well, there goes the St. Mary’s talent show.”
Evie laughed in spite of herself. “All right, then. You with your keen observations—what, exactly, do you find special about me?” she asked coyly, glancing up at him through her lashes the way she’d seen Colleen Moore do in We Moderns.
“There’s just something about you,” he said without really saying anything at all, which disappointed her. Sam rested his hand on the wall above her head, leaning closer. Evie’s stomach fluttered. It wasn’t that she didn’t know her way around the fellas, but this was a New York City fella. She didn’t want to make a scene and come off as a complete rube. She was a girl who could take care of herself. Besides, if her parents heard about this, they’d yank her straight back to Ohio.
Instead, Evie looped under the handsome Sam Lloyd’s arm and snatched her valise back. “I’m afraid I have to go now. I believe I see the, um, top nun going into the ladies’ lounge.”
“Top nun? Do you mean the Mother Superior?”
“And how! Sister… Sister, um…”
“Sister Benito Mussolini Fascisti?”
Sam Lloyd smirked. “Benito Mussolini is prime minister of Italy. And a fascist.”
“I knew that,” Evie said, her cheeks flushing.
“Of course you did.”
“Well…” Evie stood uncertainly for a few seconds. She stuck out her hand for a shake. With a smirk, Sam Lloyd drew her to him and kissed her hard on the mouth. She heard the shoe-shine men chuckling as she pulled away, red-faced and disoriented. Should she slap him? He deserved a slap. But was that what sophisticated Manhattan moderns did? Or did they shrug it off like an old joke they were too tired to laugh at?
“You can’t blame a fella for kissing the prettiest girl in New York, can you, sister?” Sam’s grin was anything but apologetic.
Evie brought up her knee quickly and decisively, and he dropped to the floor like a grain sack. “You can’t blame a girl for her quick reflexes now, can you, pal?”
She turned and hurried toward the exit. In a pained voice, Sam Lloyd called after her: “Best of luck to the nuns. The good sisters of St. Mary’s don’t know what they’re in for!”
Evie wiped the kiss from her mouth with the back of her hand and pushed her way out onto Eighth Avenue, but when she saw the majesty of the city, all thoughts of Sam Lloyd were forgotten. A trolley jostled down the center of the avenue on steel tracks. Motorcars swerved around the throngs of people and one another with the furious grace of a corps de ballet. She craned her neck to take in the full view. Far above the busy streets, men balanced daringly on beams of steel, erecting new buildings like the ones whose tops already pierced the clouds, as if even the sky couldn’t hold back the ambition of their spires. A sleek dirigible sailed past, a smear of silver in the blue. It was like a dreamscape that could change in the blink of an eye. A taxi careened to the corner and Evie got inside.
“Where to, Miss?” the cabbie asked, flipping his meter on.
“The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, please.”
“Oh. The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.” The cabbie chuckled. “Good thing you’re goin’ to see it while you can.”
“What do you mean?”
“They say the place is in arrears on its taxes. The city’s had its sights set on that spot for years. They want to put some apartment buildings there.”
“Oh, dear.” Evie examined the photograph her mother had given her. It was a picture of Uncle Will—tall, lanky, fair-haired—standing in front of the museum, a grand Victorian mansion complete with turrets and stained-glass windows and bordered by a wrought-iron fence.
“Can’t happen soon enough, if you ask me. That place makes people uncomfortable—all those crazy objects s’posed to be fulla hocus-pocus.”
Objects. Magic. Evie drummed her fingers against the door.
“You know about the fella that runs the place, don’t ya?”
Evie stopped drumming. “What do you mean?”
“Odd fella. He was a conscie.”
“Conscientious objector,” the cabbie said, spitting the words out like poison. “During the war. Refused to fight.” He shook his head. “I hear he might be one of them Bolsheviks, too.”
“Well, if so, he never mentioned it to me,” Evie said, pulling the wrinkles from her glove.
The cabbie caught her eye in the mirror. “You know him? What’s a nice girl like you doing with a fella like that?”
“He’s my uncle.”
At that, the cabbie fell blessedly quiet.
At last the taxi turned onto a side street near Central Park and pulled up to the museum. Tucked away among the grit and steel of Manhattan, the museum itself seemed a relic, a building out of time and place, its limestone facade long since grimed by age, soot, and vines. Evie glanced from the sad, dingy shadow before her to the beautiful house in her photograph. “You sure this is the joint?”
“This is the place. Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. That’ll be one dollar and ten cents.”
Evie reached into her pocket and pulled out nothing but the lining. With mounting alarm, she searched all her pockets.
“Whatsa matter?” The cabbie eyed her suspiciously.
“My money! It’s gone! I had twenty dollars right in this pocket and… and it’s gone!”
He shook his head. “Mighta known. Probably a Bolshevik, like your uncle. Well, little lady, I’ve had three fare jumpers in the past week. Not this time. You owe me one dollar and ten cents, or you can tell your story to a cop.” The cabbie signaled to a policeman on horseback down the block.
Evie closed her eyes and retraced her steps: The tracks. The druggist’s window. Sam Lloyd. Sam… Lloyd. Evie’s eyes snapped open as she recalled his sudden passionate kiss. There’s just something about you…. There sure was—twenty dollars. Not an hour in the city and already she’d been taken for a ride.
“That son of a…” Evie swore hard and fast, stunning the cabbie into silence. Furious, she pulled her emergency ten-dollar bill from her cloche, waited for the change, and then slammed the taxi door behind her.
“Hey,” the cabbie yelled. “How’s about a tip?”
“You bet-ski,” Evie said, heading toward the old Victorian mansion, her long silk scarf trailing behind her. “Don’t kiss strange men in Penn Station.”
Evie rapped the brass eagle’s-head door knocker and waited. A plaque beside the museum’s massive oak doors read HERE BE THE HOPES AND DREAMS OF A NATION, BUILT UPON THE BACKS OF MEN AND LIFTED BY THE WINGS OF ANGELS. But neither men nor angels answered her knock, so she let herself in. The entry was ornate: black-and-white marble floors, wood-paneled walls dimly lit by gilded sconces. High above, the pale blue ceiling boasted a mural of angels watching over a field of Revolutionary soldiers. The building smelled of dust and age. Evie’s heels echoed on the marble as she made her way down the long hall. “Hello?” she called. “Uncle Will?”
A wide, elaborately carved staircase wound up to a second-floor landing lit by a large stained-glass window, and then curved out of sight. To Evie’s left was a gloomy sitting room with its drapes drawn. To her right, pocket doors opened onto a musty dining hall whose long wooden table and thirteen damask-covered chairs looked as if they hadn’t been used in years.
“Holy smokes. Who died?” Evie muttered. She wandered till she came to a long room that housed a collection of objects displayed behind glass.
“ ‘The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies,’ I presume.”
Evie passed from display to display, reading the typewritten cards placed beneath:
GRIS GRIS BAG AND VOUDON DOLL,
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
BONE FRAGMENT FROM CHINESE RAILROAD
WORKER AND REPUTED CONJURER,
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, GOLD RUSH PERIOD
CRYSTAL BALL USED IN SÉANCES OF
MRS. BERNICE FOXWORTHY DURING
AMERICAN SPIRITUALISM PERIOD, C. 1848,
TROY, NEW YORK
OJIBWAY TALISMAN OF PROTECTION,
GREAT LAKES REGION
ROOT WORKER’S CUTTINGS,
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA
FREEMASON’S TOOLS AND BOOKS, C. 1776,
There was a series of spirit photographs populated with faint figures, gauzy as lace curtains in a wind. Poppet dolls. A ventriloquist’s dummy. A leather-bound grimoire. Books on alchemy, astrology, numerology, root workers, voudon, spirit mediums, and healers, and several volumes of accounts of ghostly sightings in the Americas starting in the 1600s.
The Diary of a Mercy Prowd lay open on a table. Evie turned her head sideways, trying to make sense of the seventeenth-century handwriting. “I see spirits of the dead. For this they hath branded me a witch….”
“They hanged her. She was only seventeen.”
Evie turned, startled. The speaker stepped from the shadows. He was tall and broad-shouldered and had ash-blond hair. For a moment, with the light from the old chandelier shining down on him, he seemed like some severe angel from a Renaissance painting, come to life.
“What crime did she commit?” Evie said, finding her voice again. “Did she turn the gin to water?”
“She was different. That was her sin.” He offered his hand for a quick shake. “I’m Jericho Jones. I work for your uncle. He asked me if I could keep you company while he teaches his class.”
So this was the famous Jericho with whom Mabel was so besotted. “Why, I’ve heard so much about you!” Evie blurted out. Mabel would kill her for being so indiscreet. “That is, I hear Uncle Will would be lost without… whatever it is that you do.”
Jericho looked away. “I highly doubt that. Would you like to see the museum?”
“That’d be swell,” Evie lied.
Jericho led her up and down staircases and into preserved, musty rooms holding more collections of dull, dusty relics, while Evie fought to keep a polite smile.
“Last but not least, here is the place where we spend most of our time: the library.” Jericho opened a set of mahogany pocket doors, and Evie let out a whistle. She’d never seen such a room. It was as if it had been transported here from some spooky fairy-tale castle. An enormous limestone fireplace took up the whole of the far wall. The furnishings weren’t much—brown leather club chairs worn to stuffing in places, a dotting of old wooden tables, bankers’ lamps dimmed to a faint green glow at each. A second-floor gallery crammed with bookcases circled the entire room. Evie craned her head to take in the full view. The ceiling had to be twenty feet high, and what a ceiling it was! Spread across its expanse was a panorama of American history: Black-hatted Puritans condemning a cluster of women. An Indian shaman staring into a fire. A healer grasping snakes in one hand while placing the other on the forehead of a sick man. Gray-wigged founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence. A slave woman holding a mandrake root aloft. Painted angels and demons hovered above the historical scene, watching. Waiting.
“What do you think?” Jericho asked.
“I think he should have fired his decorator.” Evie plopped into one of the chairs and adjusted a seam on her stockings. She was itching to get out and see Mabel and explore the city. “Will Unc be long?”
Jericho shrugged. He sat at the long table and retrieved a book from a tall stack. “This is an excellent history of eighteenth-century mysticism in the colonies if you’d care to pass the time with a book.”
“No, thanks,” Evie said, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes. She didn’t know what Mabel saw in this fella. He was going to take work; that was for sure. “Say”—Evie lowered her voice—“I don’t suppose you have any giggle water on you?”
“Giggle water?” Jericho repeated.
“You know, coffin varnish? Panther sweat? Hooch?” Evie tried. “Gin?”
“I’m not particular. Bourbon’ll do just as well.”
“I don’t drink.”
“You must get awfully thirsty then.” Evie laughed. Jericho did not.
“Well, I should get back to the museum,” he said, walking quickly toward the doors. “Make yourself comfortable. Your uncle should be with you shortly.”
Evie turned to the stuffed grizzly looming beside the fireplace. “I don’t suppose you’ve got any hooch? No? Maybe later.”
Other than Jericho, she hadn’t seen a single soul in the museum. She was hungry and thirsty and a little put out that she’d been left all on her own without so much as a hello from her uncle. If she was going to live in New York, she’d have to start fending for herself.
Evie patted the bear’s matted fur. “Sorry, old sport, you’re on your own,” she said, and left the library in search of food. She heard male voices and followed the sound to a large room in the back of the museum where Uncle Will, in gray trousers, waistcoat, and blue tie, his shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows, stood lecturing. His hair had darkened to a dirty blond over the years, and he sported a trim mustache.
“The presence of evil is a conundrum that has taxed the minds of philosophers and theologians alike….” he was saying.
Evie peeked around the corner to take in the whole of the room. A class of college boys sat taking notes on Will’s lecture.
“Now we’re cookin’,” Evie whispered. “Sorry I’m late!” she called as she breezed into the room. The college boys’ heads swiveled in Evie’s direction as she scraped a chair across the floor to join them. Uncle Will regarded her over the tops of his round tortoiseshell glasses.
“Go on, Uncle Will. Don’t mind me.” Evie perched on the edge of the chair beside one of the College Joes and did her best to look interested.
“Yes…” For a moment, Uncle Will’s bewildered expression threatened to become permanent. But then he found his stride again and began pacing the room with his hands behind his back. “As I said, how does one explain the presence of evil?”
The boys all looked to one another to see who would answer.
“Man makes evil through his choices,” someone said.
“It’s God and the Devil, fighting it out. That’s what the Bible says, at least,” another boy argued.
“How can there be a Devil if there is a God?” a boy in golf knickers asked. “I’ve always wondered that.”
Uncle Will waved a finger, making a point. “Ah. Theodicy.”
“Is that a cross between theology and idiocy?”
Will allowed a small smile. “Not exactly. Theodicy is a branch of theology concerned with the defense of God in the face of the existence of evil. It brings about a conundrum: If God is an all-knowing, all-powerful deity, how can he allow evil to exist? Either he is not the omnipotent god we’ve been told, or he is all-powerful and all-knowing, and also cruel, because he allows evil to exist and does nothing to stop it.”
“Well, that certainly explains Prohibition,” Evie quipped.
The college boys laughed appreciatively. Again Uncle Will looked at Evie as if she were a subject he had yet to classify.
“Any good world would allow for us to have free will, yes?” he continued. “Can we agree to this point? But once human beings have free will, they also have the ability to make choices—and commit evil. Thus, this very good thing, free will, allows the possibility of evil into our fine world.” The room was silent. “One to ponder. But, if I may continue with our earlier discussion…”
The boys sat up straight, ready to take notes as Will paced and talked. “America has a rich history of beliefs, a tapestry woven together by threads from different cultures. Our history is rife with the supernatural, the unexplained, the mystical. The earliest settlers came here for religious freedom. The immigrants who followed introduced their hopes and haunts, from the vampire legend of Eastern Europe to the ‘hungry ghosts’ of China. The original Americans believed in shamans and spirits. The slaves of West Africa and the Caribbean, stripped of all they had, still carried with them their customs and beliefs. We are not only a melting pot of cultures, but also of spirits and superstitions. Yes?”
A boy in a navy blazer raised his hand. “Do you believe in the supernatural, Dr. Fitzgerald?”
“Ah. It would seem illogical, wouldn’t it? After all, we live in the modern age. It’s difficult enough to get people even to believe in Methodism.” Will smiled as the boys chuckled. “And yet, there are mysteries. How does one explain the stories of people who exhibit unusual powers?”
Evie felt a tingle down her spine.
“Powers?” a boy repeated in a skeptical tone bordering on contempt.
“People who claim to be able to speak to the dead, such as psychics or spiritual mediums. People who say they have been healed by the laying on of hands. Who can see glimpses of the future or know a card before it is played. The early records of the Americas talk of Indian spirit walkers. The Puritans knew of cunning folk. And during the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin wrote of prophetic dreams that influenced the course of the war and shaped the nation. What do you say to that?”
“Those people need the services of a psychiatrist—though I’ll make an exception for Mr. Franklin.”
Another round of chuckles followed, and Evie joined in, though she was still discomfited. Uncle Will waited for the laughing to subside.
“This very museum, as you may know, was constructed by Cornelius Rathbone, who amassed his fortune building railroads. How did he know that the age of steel was coming?” Will paused at the lectern and waited. When no one answered, he continued pacing, his hands behind his back. “He claimed he knew because of the prophetic visions of his sister, Liberty Anne. When Cornelius and Liberty were young, they spent hours in the woods playing at all sorts of games. One day, Liberty went into the forest and was lost for two full days. The men of the town searched but could find no trace of her. When she emerged at last, her hair had gone completely white. She was only eleven. Liberty Anne claimed she had met a man there, ‘a strange, tall man, skinny as a scarecrow, in a stovepipe hat and whose coat opened to show the wonders and frights of the world.’ She fell ill with a fever. The doctor was sent for, but there was nothing he could do. For the next month, she lay in a dream trance, spouting prophecy, which her worried brother transcribed in his diary. These prophecies were astonishing in their accuracy. She claimed to see ‘the great man from Illinois taken from us while visiting our American cousin’—a reference to the assassination of President Lincoln in the balcony of Ford’s Theatre while he watched a production of the play Our American Cousin. She spoke of ‘a great steel dragon criss-crossing the land, belching black smoke,’ which most interpret to mean the Transcontinental Railroad. She predicted the Emancipation Proclamation, the Great War, the Bolshevik revolution, and the invention of the motorcar and the aeroplane. She even spoke of the fall of our banks and the subsequent collapse of our economy.”
“Clearly, she couldn’t see everything,” the boy in the golf trousers said. “That will never happen.”
Will rapped his knuckles on the desk. “Knock wood, as they say.” Will grinned and the College Joes laughed at his superstitious joke. He fidgeted with a silver lighter, turning it end over end, occasionally flicking his thumb across the flint wheel so that it sparked. “Liberty Anne died a month to the day after she emerged from the woods. Toward the end, her prophecies became quite dark. She talked of ‘a coming storm,’ a treacherous time when the Diviners would be needed.”
“Diviners?” Evie repeated.
“That was her name for people with powers like her own.”
“And what would these Diviners do?” the boy in the golf pants asked.
Will shrugged. “If she knew, she didn’t say. She died shortly after making the prophecy, leaving her brother, Cornelius, bereft. He became obsessed with good and evil, and with the idea that this was a country haunted by ghosts. That there was something beyond what we see. He spent his life—and his fortune—trying to prove it.”
The boys fell into heated discussion until one of them shouted over the others. “Yes, but Professor, do you yourself actually believe that there is another world beyond this one, and that the entities from that world can act to help or hurt us? Do you believe that our actions here—good or bad—can create an external evil? Do you believe there are ghosts and demons and Diviners among us?”
Uncle Will took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the lenses of his spectacles. “ ‘There are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’ ” Will said, hooking the spectacles over his ears again. “That quote is from William Shakespeare, who seemed to know a thing or two about both humanity and the supernatural. But for your examinations, you will need to know the following concrete information….”
The boys groaned as Will fired off a dizzying plethora of information and their pencils struggled to keep up.
Evie slipped out and went to wait for Will in his office. The steady click of the mantel clock kept her company as she took a look around. His desktop was awash in newspaper clippings and perilous-looking stacks of books. Bored, Evie leafed through the newspaper clippings. They were reports from towns across the country of ghost sightings, hauntings, and such strange goings-on as dead relatives appearing for seconds in a favorite chair and red-eyed “demon” dogs who frightened the caretaker of a junkyard in upstate New York. Some of the clippings were two or three years old, but most were recent—from the past year. Evie started reading an article about a girl who claimed to be able to speak to the dead and who had been warned by “kind spirits” of trouble to come. She’d just gotten to the part about the girl’s sudden disappearance when Uncle Will announced his presence with a soft clearing of his throat.
Evie shuffled the clippings to one side. “Hello, Unc.”
“That’s my desk.”
“So it is,” Evie said brightly. “And a tidy one it is, too.”
“Yes. Well. I suppose it’s fine this time,” Uncle Will murmured. He took a cigarette from a small silver case in his breast pocket. “You’re looking well.” Will lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply. “Did Jericho show you the museum?”
“Yes, he did. It’s very… interesting.”
“Was your trip comfortable?”
“Swell, although I was pickpocketed at Penn Station,” Evie said, and then wished she hadn’t. What if Will decided she couldn’t look after herself and sent her back to Ohio?
Uncle Will raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“A hideous young man named Sam Lloyd. Well, that was the name he gave me before he kissed me and stole my twenty dollars.”
Will squinted. “He what?”
“But don’t worry. I can take care of myself. If I ever see that fella again, he’ll wish he’d never tangled with me,” Evie said.
Will blew out a plume of smoke. It hung thickly in the air. “Your mother has told me that you were in a spot of trouble back home. A prank of some sort.”
“A prank,” Evie muttered.
“And you’re to stay until October?”
“December, if possible. Until the coast is clear back home.”
“Hmm.” Will’s expression darkened. “Your mother has petitioned for you to attend the Sarah Snidewell School for Girls. They are overburdened at present, so your schooling, it would appear, falls to me. I’ll provide you with books, and, of course, you are free to attend my lectures. I suggest you make use of our many fine museums and lectures through the Society for Ethical Culture and whatnot.”
It dawned on Evie that she was free from the tedium of school. The day just kept getting better.
Uncle Will thumbed absently through a book. “You’re seventeen, is it?”
“According to my last birthday.”
“Well. Seventeen’s certainly old enough to do mostly as you please. I won’t keep you on a leash as long as you keep out of trouble. Do we have a deal?”
“Deal,” Evie said, astonished. “Are you sure you’re related to my mother? There wasn’t a mix-up in the nursery?”
Will’s smile flickered for a second and disappeared. “Your mother has never quite recovered from your brother’s death.”
“She’s not the only one who misses James.”
“It’s different for her.”
“So they say.” Evie swallowed down her anger. “That bit you were talking about back there—people who could see the future or…” She took a breath. “Read objects. Diviners. Do you know anyone like that?”
“Not personally, no. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” Evie said quickly. “I suppose if there were Diviners, they’d be all over the papers and radio, wouldn’t they?”
“Or, if history is any indication, they’d be burned at the stake.” Will gestured to the many bookcases surrounding them. “We’ve an entire library devoted to such stories if you’d like to read more about America’s supernatural beliefs.” He stubbed out his cigarette in an overflowing ashtray. “I’m afraid I’m running a bit behind, and I’m sure you’d like to unpack and freshen up. The Bennington isn’t far from here—ten blocks. Shall I have Jericho walk you over?”
“No,” Evie said. Even a ten-block walk with stoic Jericho would probably be painfully dull. “I’ll be jake on my own.”
“Jake. Swell. Um, fine. I’ll be fine. I’ll go find Mabel. You remember Mabel Rose? My pen pal?”
“Mmm,” Will said, distracted by another book. “Very well. Here is your key. There’s a dining room just off the Bennington’s lobby. Help yourself to something to eat, and ask them to put it on my bill. Jericho and I should be home by half past six at the latest.”
Evie slipped the key into her handbag. She hadn’t had a key back in Zenith; her every move had been monitored by her parents. Things would be different here. Things would be perfect. She went to hug Uncle Will, who stuck out his hand for a shake.
“Welcome to New York, Evie.”
IT’S JUST THE BENNINGTON, DEAR
“Mabel!” Evie embraced her friend and waltzed her around the lobby of the Bennington, drawing stares from the denizens of the apartment building. “Oh, I’m so happy to see you!”
“Golly, you’ve changed,” Mabel said, taking in Evie’s stylishly curled short hairdo and her flapper fashion—the drop-waisted nautical dress and red coat with its poppy-embroidered capelet at the back.
“You haven’t. Still the same old Mabel. Let me look at you!” With a dramatic flair, Evie stepped back to take in the sight of Mabel’s drab, ill-fitting dress with a hemline that landed well below her knees. It was funereal. Actually, it was a dress that needed a good burial. “Mabel, you still haven’t bobbed your hair?”
Mabel ran a hand over her long, thick, auburn curls, which were softly coiled and pinned at the back of her neck. “I am exercising my individualism.”
“You certainly are. And so is the good old Bennington.” Evie let out a low whistle, startling a man retrieving his mail from the brass mailboxes set into the wall. The Bennington had the shabby beauty of a formerly fashionable address. The marble floors had chipped corners, the furniture was worn, and the paint was dingy, but to Evie, these quirks only made it all the more charming.
“Be it ever so humble,” Mabel said.
“Can you believe it? You and me and Manhattan? We’ll be the queens of the city!”
As Evie began to lay out their plans, starting with a shopping trip to Bergdorf’s, an absolutely stunning girl strode into the lobby. She wore men’s pajamas under a man’s blue silk bathrobe, and her jet-black hair had been cut into a Louise Brooks shingle bob with bangs. Her dark eyes were smeared with traces of the previous night’s mascara and kohl. A silk sleep mask had been pushed down around her neck.
“Who is that?” Evie whispered.
“That is Theta Knight. She’s a Ziegfeld girl.”
“Holy smokes. A friend of yours?”
Mabel shook her head. “She terrifies me. I’ve never worked up the nerve to say more than hello and ‘Isn’t it a nice day?’ She lives here with her brother.” Mabel pursed her lips knowingly. “Well, she says he’s her brother. They don’t look a thing alike.”
“Her lover?” Evie whispered, excited.
Mabel shrugged. “How should I know?”
“These came for you, Miss Knight.” The doorman handed over a dozen long-stemmed red roses. Theta stifled a yawn as she ripped open the envelope on the card.
“ ‘A rose for a rose. With my dearest affections, Clarence M. Potts.’ Oh, brother!” Theta shoved the flowers back at him. “Give these to your girl, Eddie. Just toss the card first, or you’ll be in hot water.”
“Oh, you can’t throw those roses away. They’re the bee’s knees!” Evie blurted.
Theta squinted at her. “These stems? They’re from creepy Mr. Potts. He’s forty-eight, and he’s had four wives. I’m only seventeen, and I’m not looking to walk the middle aisle and be wife number five. I know plenty of chorus girls who’re regular gold diggers, but not me, sister. I got plans.” She nodded to Mabel. “Heya. Madge, right?”
“Mabel. Mabel Rose.”
“Nice to meet ya, Mabel.” Theta fixed her liquid gaze on Evie. “And you are?”
“Evangeline O’Neill. But everyone calls me Evie.”
“Theta Knight. You can call me anything—just not before noon.” She produced a cigarette from her pajama pocket and waited for the doorman to light it, which he did. “Thanks, Eddie.”
“Evie’s staying with her uncle, Mr. Fitzgerald,” Mabel explained. “She’s from Ohio.”
“Sorry,” Theta deadpanned.
“You said it—and how! Are you from New York?”
Theta arched a thread-thin eyebrow. “Everybody in New York’s from someplace else.”
Evie decided she liked Theta. It was hard not to be taken by her glamour. She’d never known anyone in Ohio who lived on her own terms, wore silk men’s pajamas into a public lobby, and could toss a dozen roses like they were a cup of Automat coffee. “Are you really a Ziegfeld girl?”
“That must be terribly exciting!”
“It’s a living,” Theta said on a stream of smoke. “You should come to the show some night.”
Evie thrilled at the thought. A Ziegfeld show! “I’d love to.”
“Swell. Name your night and I’ll leave a coupla tickets for you both. Well, I’d love to stay and beat my gums, but if I’m gonna hit on all sixes later, I gotta grab my beauty sleep. Swell to meet ya, Evil.”
“Not anymore,” Theta called over her shoulder as she disappeared into the elevator.
“I can’t believe you’re really here,” Mabel said. She and Evie were seated in the Bennington’s down-at-heel dining room having a couple of club sandwiches and Coca-Colas. “What did you do to get drummed out of Ohio so quickly?”
Evie toyed with the ice in her glass. “Remember that little trick I told you about a few months ago? Well…” Evie told Mabel the story of Harold Brodie’s ring. “And the terrible thing is that I’m right, and he comes off looking like the wronged party, the hypocrite!”
“Gee whiz,” Mabel said.
Evie studied Mabel’s face carefully. “Oh, Mabesie. You believe me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
“And you don’t think I’m some sort of sideshow act?”
“Never.” Mabel swirled the ice in her glass, thinking. “But I wonder why you’re suddenly able to do it. You didn’t fall and hit your head or something, did you?”
Evie arched a brow. “Thank you.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it! I just thought there might be a medical reason. A scientific reason,” Mabel said hastily. “Did you tell your uncle about it?”
Evie shook her head emphatically. “I’m not rocking the boat. Everything’s copacetic with Unc right now, and I want it to stay that way.”
Mabel bit her lip. “And did you meet Jericho?”
“I did indeed,” Evie said, finishing her Coca-Cola.
“What did you think?” Mabel asked, leaning in.
Mabel let out a small squeak. “Isn’t he beautiful?”
Evie thought about the Jericho she’d just met—quiet, serious, sober Jericho. There was nothing remotely seductive about him. “He is to you, and that’s what matters. So what have you done about this situation?”
“Well… last Friday, when we were both standing at the mailboxes?”
“Yes?” Evie wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
“I stood very close to him….”
“And I said, just like this, ‘Nice day, isn’t it?’ ”
“And that was it. Well, he said yes. So we were both in agreement about the weather.”
Evie collapsed against the banquette. “Holy smokes. It’s like a party without any confetti. What we need is a plan, old girl. A romantic assault of epic proportions. We will shake the walls of Jericho! That boy won’t know what hit him.”
Mabel perked up. “Swell! What’s the plan?”
Evie shrugged. “Beats me. I just know we need one.”
“Oh,” Mabel said.
“Oh, Mabesie, sugar. Don’t worry about that. I’ll think of something. In the meantime, we’ll visit the shops, go see Theta in ‘No Foolin’ ’ at the Follies—I’ll bet she knows all the hot spots—Charleston till we drop. We are going to live, kiddo! I intend to make this the most exciting four months of our lives. And, if I play my cards right, I’ll stay on.” Evie danced in her seat. “So where are your folks tonight?”
Mabel flushed. “Oh. There’s a rally for the appeal of Sacco and Vanzetti downtown. My mother and father are representing The Proletariat,” she said, reminding Evie of the name of the socialist newspaper Mabel’s parents operated and distributed. “I’d be there but, well, I couldn’t not see you on your first night in town!”
“Well, I suppose I’ll see them tomorrow.”
Mabel’s face clouded. She shook her head. “My mother will be speaking to the women’s garment workers union. And Papa’s got the newspaper to see to. They do so much for so many.”
Mabel’s letters were filled with stories of her parents’ crusading efforts in the city. It was clear that she was very proud of them. It was also clear that their causes left them with little time or energy for their daughter.
Evie patted Mabel’s hand. “It’s just as well. Parents get in the way. My mother is impossible since she caught the disease.”
Mabel looked stricken. “Oh, dear. What’s she got?”
A slow smile stretched the corners of Evie’s lips. “Temperance. In the extreme.”
Their laughter was interrupted by the approach of two elderly ladies. “That is not how young ladies behave in the social sphere, Miss Rose. This carrying-on is most unseemly.”
“Yes, Miss Proctor,” Mabel said, chastened. Evie made a face that only Mabel could see, and Mabel had to bite her lip to keep from laughing again. “Miss Lillian, Miss Adelaide, may I present Miss Evie O’Neill. Miss O’Neill is staying with her uncle, Mr. Fitzgerald, for a time.” Under the table, Mabel’s foot pressed Evie’s in warning.
Miss Lillian smiled. “Oh, how lovely. And what a sweet face. Doesn’t she have a sweet face, Addie?”
“Very sweet, indeed.”
The Misses Proctor wore their long gray hair curled like turn-of-the-century schoolgirls. The effect was odd and disconcerting, like porcelain dolls who had aged and wrinkled.
Excerpted from The Diviners by Libba Bray Copyright © 2012 by Libba Bray. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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