Hamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square. When he meets his cousin's “right hand man,” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand.
Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo nightclub.
When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build.
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Heartbeat, Hamish. Assess your surroundings. Acknowledge the trigger point. Assure a corner for quick retreat before the symptoms draw attention.
When he could finally blink his surroundings into focus, all he saw were dozens of perplexed eyes studying him concernedly. Others coughed and turned away. The courtroom seemed smaller, suffocating. He loosened his tie with one hand, feeling his heart's rhythm with the other. But it was too late. He was supposed to take preventative measures.
As long as he could remember, and often without rhyme or reason, he would have an episode of nerves. According to his doctor in Toronto, "nerves" accounted for his bouts of panic, tremors, shortness of breath, and a myriad of other things. The doctor had heard of relaxation treatments prescribed to patients who shared Hamish's symptoms. Other doctors had more advanced treatments, some more drastic than others, including frontal lobe surgery or the shock treatment he had read about in studies reported by the Telegraph. He didn't belong in one of the asylums he read so much about by the light of a torch under his quilt when he was a kid, spending a night wide-eyed in terror that he would be locked away. Yet something caused his fingers to tremble and his heart to speed up and his words to trip over themselves — sometimes for no reason at all. Something that turned his first real court case into a waking nightmare. In that moment of humiliation, he would have done anything to get away. But he saw it through: tripping through an apology and sitting back down, the world closing in around him as he studied his shoes, the air so heavy he finally rose and rushed out of the double oak doors, their broad weight slamming behind him.
It would have been all right, of course. He could explain momentary panic and fall back on his proficiency. Most of the time, no one knew. He kept it well hidden.
In chambers, one of the two Winslows (Hamish had trouble telling them apart) stabbed him with the words that set his life in motion: "I hired you as a favor to your father." Of course he could have been angry, but it was the terse inaction that instead startled Hamish. He would have rather been yelled at. The slightly checked anger made Hamish think that he was getting some kind of special treatment.
Hamish barely caught the gulps of breath that had driven him from the floor after the sentence had been read. And that was what clinched it. Hamish's father had gotten him his first real position.
"Cat got your tongue, DeLuca?" said one of the interchangeable Winslows with a snarl.
Hamish thought he had done it on his own. He was top of his class at Osgoode Law School. His grades were impeccable. He was well rounded in everything but sports. When you hid away a lot, you had ample opportunity to refine skills like playing chess and solving math problems. And it still wasn't enough. He hadn't gotten into one of Toronto's top legal firms on his own. His editor father had paved the way.
He went back to the office on nearby Yonge Street and, ignoring the secretary's chipper greeting, wandered in a daze into Mr. Winslow's office on the second f loor. No doubt the reporters were having a field day, scratching in shorthand about the young lawyer who froze and panicked in the middle of a case.
But he wasn't fired. Mr. Winslow wasn't even angry. Well, not angry enough anyway. "It's all right, DeLuca. Everyone has a moment."
Hamish didn't remember if he gave his leave or mumbled anything politely before hurrying down the corridor of City Hall and into the sticky June air. The Toronto Telegraph office was a quick stretch from the offices on Yonge to King Street West.
As he was more prone to nerves than anger, the heat crawling beneath his collar was an unfamiliar sensation. He gave his father's name and lied that he was expected. As the elevator girl adjusted her small hat and stepped to the side of the sliding door, Hamish's mind buzzed with what he would say the moment he crossed into his father's window-side office.
The chime announcing his arrival at the thirtieth f loor came much too early for Hamish's liking. He gave an absent thank-you to the elevator girl, failing to notice how she watched after his mumbling.
Hamish passed reporters, their desks strewn with folders and papers. It was a chaotic space. A noisy one. One that made Hamish tense up, his shoulders rise a little in the direction of his ears, even as he smiled and acknowledged a few hellos from people who recognized him. A constant tapping from a telegraph machine accompanied the rest of his journey.
"I thought I had done something on my own!" Hamish's voice creaked a little on the ascent when he told his father why he was there. "Without anyone. That I had finally conquered enough of ... enough of ..." He spread his hands, unable to think of how to describe what startled him from his sleep and hiccupped his voice in anxious moments. That forced him to double over sometimes, trying to catch his breath, trying to focus his eyes on a corner of the wall until his head stopped rushing and the air returned to his lungs.
"I will do something on my own," he vowed. "And I will be good at it. I will prove it! I don't need you to open doors for me. I will rise above this ..." He raised his still shaking hand. "And I will be exceptional at something."
"Hamish, calm down. I'll get you a glass of water."
"I am not a child." Hamish hated how he stuttered on a statement he hoped would be liberating.
"Don't throw away a good opportunity," Ray DeLuca said. "You're smart. You were top of your class. You can still prove yourself. You still will prove yourself. You had one setback. I am sure that they would have hired you anyway — or you would have found an equally prominent firm. There is nothing wrong with accepting a little assistance. You just have to believe in yourself the way that I —"
"The way that you believe in me?" Hamish shook his head. "If you believed in me, you would have trusted me to find my own way without interfering."
"Jobs aren't falling from the sky like rain, Hamish. You have to think rationally."
"I have thought rationally my entire life. I have never once stepped out of line. I still adhere to the curfew you gave me when I was sixteen years old. What kind of life is that? And now I find out that the one stride I made toward independence — well, that was you at the oar, wasn't it?"
He slammed the door of his father's office and cycled home at a furious pace, wondering if he would have been so upset had he not been so humiliated. He threw his beloved copy of Hunchback of Notre-Dame amidst clothes and shoes and left a note for his mother, who was visiting a friend.
So he ran away.
Hamish had a pretty good idea when people were lying. It snagged in his chest the same way the signs of a panic episode did. No, if he had been truly angry and not just miffed, Hamish might have been able to weather it. He might not have tossed all of his clothes in a canvas bag and booked a train ticket to Boston and Luca Valari.
Living in the back of his parents' two-story Victorian on College Street saved money and space. He even had a separate entrance from the backyard. Toronto's boarding houses and bachelor apartments were overrun with men and women funneling into the city to find work that was scarce in rural towns in 1937.
When people had pennies to scrape together, they allotted some for the purchase of the Telegraph, maybe to compare their situation with those less fortunate, perhaps to hold on to hope's slippery slope, even as tensions on the other side of the world boiled and brewed. Ray DeLuca, chief editor, was certain that bad news sold as well as good. And so Hamish enjoyed what so many others did not — a safe environment, a roof, a table full of food, and now a train ticket to see his cousin.
Now, staring out the train window at the whir of green speeding him far away from Toronto and home, he waited for his pulse to slow. It would — eventually. Though he had never done anything so drastic as storm out of his father's office at the Toronto Telegraph and cycle at two times his normal speed home to make a long-distance call to Chicago — only to be told that his cousin, Luca — the closest family he had beyond his parents — had relocated to Boston. He frantically stumbled through a few sentences with the operator in hopes of finally reaching his cousin before his mother returned home. Staticky seconds later, Hamish was patched through.
"Cicero!" exclaimed the voice on the other end. Luca was seven years Hamish's senior, but looked — and sounded — younger, especially when he used the old nickname. He didn't seem fazed when Hamish spilled everything. The court case. His father. "You're twenty-five years old. It's about time you ran away from home. What have I always told you? You have to be the hero of your own story! And you will be. Come to Boston. I'm opening a new club. Stay as long as you want."
Hamish rationalized he was merely going to spend some time with his cousin, but he knew it was his pride — and his disappointment that he had failed to live up to expectations. It humiliated him into adventure.
Hamish could be anything as long as he wore a disguise. As if he were in a carnival of people — as exposed as Quasimodo on the Feast of Fools, a hunchback mistaken for wearing a mask even when it was just the vulnerable ugliness he wore. The court had seen the real Hamish then, under the bright lights, the clock above the jury's box ticking loudly and matching the thud of his heart.
In the end it was the feeling of hopeless humiliation that drove him to Luca. Humiliation at a courtroom of his peers and Toronto's legal masterminds seeing him at his weakest when he most wanted to seize the day, like Quasimodo stepping out of the cathedral and into the sun. Humiliation at realizing that his firm had taken pity on him and that everyone knew — that everyone saw — no matter how he tried to iron out his voice, often taking a few ticks before speaking on anxious days, working it into an art so people assumed he was just thoughtful about what he was going to say. No matter how he hid his hand behind his back and monitored his heartbeat as his father had taught him when he was a child. Humiliation at not even being able to get his own foot through the first wide-open door of his life.
He reached into his bag and extracted The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, rolling the pages between his fingers.
The book knew where to open as Hamish reached for it, its pages transparent with wear, its words imprinted inside him. He nudged his black-rimmed glasses higher on his nose.
Beside it lay a pair of bellows no less dusty, the upper side of which bore this inscription incrusted in copper letters: SPIR A SPER A.
When the bells in his mind clanged. When his heartbeat wasn't tempered no matter how often he counted, when he looked out the window for hours, unsure of how to step out into the sun, he would conjure the words and tremulously repeat them. From one of the many chapters in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame tattooed on his brain, for when his father compelled him to hide his hand behind his back or excuse himself before his chest pains overtook him and a sheen of perspiration crossed his brow. As long as no one saw. As long as no one knew ...
He pushed his hair back. "Sometimes stories are in the people whose life's pages no one thinks of turning," his father once told him. Maybe it was time to land straight in the middle of the adventure. Not just peer through a glass and count his heartbeat.
If he didn't take a massive step now, he never would.
Hamish retreated to the lavatory and splashed cold water over his cheeks. He combed down his black hair and met his eyes in the gold-plated mirror. He adjusted the buckles on his braces and attempted to smooth out the creases in his shirt. Never possessing anything close to vanity, he studied his visage in the harsh light of the upscale lighting, his hands splayed steadily over the marble counter, lips tightened and accentuating the comma of a dimple inherited from his mother set firmly in his left cheek. Unremarkable blue eyes magnified by his thick glasses.
Would he ever reconcile the Hamish he saw with the Hamish he was trying to be? Luca could help. His cousin had always boasted that under his tutelage, Hamish could have the world — and women — lining up at his door. Hamish wasn't as preoccupied with world domination as he was the potential of life with an easy confidence. He supposed that girls would follow after.
If he stayed with Luca (who always had the world bowing at his feet), maybe some of his cousin's impenetrable belief in himself and his life would brush off on him. Maybe he would become who he was meant to be.CHAPTER 2
Boston Three months e arlier
Life wasn't like the pictures. With the panache of Irene Dunne, Reggie Van Buren should have been able to merely throw her suitcase out the window and scurry down an old oak after it and into her life of adventure, leaving her would-be fiancé Vaughan Vanderlaan nursing a too-sweet chardonnay miles behind her. But that was the problem with pictures. They never showed what happened en route to the adventure. They only showed what happened when the heroine arrived in the middle of the adventure. And the camera lens never panned to routine duties like fixing a clogged sink in the communal water closet or changing a lightbulb in one's new boarding house.
A New Haven Van Buren was not expected to know how to change a lightbulb. Subsequently, every fizzle and snap of the socket forced her into a quick retreat. More than once she almost fell backward over the chair she had scraped across the rickety floorboards to reach the dangling light. She looked at the bulb and sighed, stepping off the chair, and again considered asking the porter in the office on the main floor of Miss Clara's Boarding House for assistance. But every time she considered taking the two strides toward her bedroom door, her stubbornness reined her in. Regina Van Buren would prove herself capable of anything — from recklessly leaving the comfort of her wealthy life to making the bulb stick in its finicky socket. She took a deep breath, stepped back on the chair, squinted her eyes shut, and twisted the bulb in, flinching as it buzzed, not daring to open her eyes until the room radiated and she could see clearly even as dusk fell outside.
"Ha!" she said proudly, wiping her hands on her trousers. Another accomplishment to scratch off in her Journal of Independence. Reggie picked up said journal from the side table and opened it to a creased page, crossing through Change lightbulb. Another victory, though not as grand as the one she had crossed off a week previously — Find gainful employment. The moment the train screeched into South Station in Boston the week before, Reggie circled three prospective ads in the Herald, determined to lug her suitcase across the city until she found a means to put bread on her table and a roof over her head.
Boarding houses advertised as clean and respectable were listed by the dozen, and Reggie secured a room in one across the Charles River in Boston-adjacent Charlestown on Pleasant Street, near a tavern with wooden walls just down from Bunker Hill once frequented by the Sons of Liberty. She'd be able to take a quick elevated ride to Boston's North End if she was in a hurry or a brisk twenty-minute walk if she had time to spare. She emptied bills from a candy tin she had swiped from her dressing table at home. When the landlady pressed as to her being alone and unaccompanied by a male chaperone as reference, she peeled another bill off the wedge and explained her family had fallen on hard times. Her falsehood was thus overlooked and the room secured thereafter, Reggie having shrugged out of pretension and her allowance until all she had left were a few pieces of jewelry she intended to sell should her employment train not screech into the station.
She hadn't supposed her high breeding would be a detriment, but it was. Drat the years of diction lessons. The dancing. The tea parties elongating her spine and teaching her to speak with crisp, clipped consonants. Potential employers assumed a woman of her pedigree must be in some sort of trouble to be circling potential jobs in the classifieds. And not an acceptable manner of trouble either.
The first advertisement led her to an address on Washington Street and into the bustle of newspaper offices and theaters, cafés spilling onto the street, automobiles jamming along in the summer sun. She turned just before a jaunty alley through which she could make out the Common's spurt of green. Inside, she was met by a man on the wrong side of portly, folding in and out of his skin like poorly bound bales of cotton.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder at the Flamingo"
Copyright © 2018 Rachel McMillan.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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