New York City, 1896. As the temperatures rise, so does the crime rate. At the peak of this sizzling heat wave, police inspector Hank Brandt is called to investigate the scandalous murder of a male prostitute. His colleagues think he should drop the case, but Hank’s interest is piqued, especially when he meets the intriguing key witness: a beautiful female impersonator named Nicholas Sharp.
As a nightclub performer living on the fringes of society, Nicky is reluctant to place his trust in a cop—even one as handsome as Hank. With Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt cracking down on vice in the city, Nicky’s afraid that getting involved could end his career. But when he realizes his life is in danger—and Hank is his strongest ally—the two men hit the streets together to solve the crime. From the tawdry tenements of the Lower East Side to the moneyed mansions of Fifth Avenue, Nicky and Hank are determined to uncover the truth. But when things start heating up between them, it’s not just their lives on the line. It’s their love…
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About the Author
When she’s not writing, Kate works as a nonfiction editor. She also reads a lot, plays the violin, knits and crochets, and drools over expensive handbags. She’s a tiny bit obsessed with baseball and lives in Brooklyn, NY, with a pesky cat. Readers can find her online at www.katemcmurray.com.
Read an Excerpt
Ten Days in August
By Kate McMurray
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Kate McMurray
All rights reserved.
A small black dog with wild eyes ran up Broadway, snapping and snarling at passersby. As women shrieked and men hopped out of the way, a cry of "Mad dog!" echoed through the crowds out strolling, trying to find relief on a hot day.
The saloonkeepers and police officers from City Hall to Houston Street knew Jerry the dog; he would wag his tail and beg for scraps and get a head pat before jogging from one saloon to the next. Most considered him a harmless little tramp. But today, something was wrong. He ran for the open front door of a bank, alternately panting and growling. When the attendant tried to kick Jerry out of the way, Jerry bit his foot and ran inside. Someone said, "Look out, Mac! He may be mad!"
The panic inside the bank caught the attention of bulky Officer Giblin, who hauled out his gun and eyed the little dog. Jerry's gaze darted around the room as he slobbered all over the floor.
Officer Giblin brandished his gun, but didn't want to do anything rash. He poked at the dog with his nightstick, trying to ascertain if he really was mad. The dog snapped and lunged for the nightstick. That was all the evidence Giblin needed. He aimed his gun.
"Not in here!" one of the clerks shouted. "Think of the ladies present!"
Giblin nodded. "All right, you mangy rascal." He chased Jerry out of the bank. Once they reached the street, Giblin aimed his gun and fired. The little dog rolled over dead instantly. The crowd cheered.
Hank Brandt watched from a few feet away with some amusement as Officer Lewis ran across the street. He fired his own gun into the dog's head.
"Thank you, Lewis," said Hank, pulling off his hat and wiping the sweat from his brow with his handkerchief. "He was just as dead before you fired, but we appreciate your attention to detail."
Lewis thrust out his chest. "I just dispatched with a mad dog in my precinct."
"So you did." Hank wasn't completely convinced the little dog was mad so much as suffering from the effects of the day's extreme heat, even more relentless than it had been the day before. "Congratulations, Lewis. You killed a dead dog."
Lewis muttered an oath and walked away from Hank, so Hank decided to continue on his way to the precinct house.
"Extra, extra! Heat wave taking over the city!" crowed a newsboy, thrusting a paper at Hank.
"I'm living it, kid," Hank said. Still, he tossed a nickel at the newsie and took a paper. The unbearable heat dominated the headlines, although a story below the fold complained about Police Commissioner Roosevelt blustering about saloons being open on Sundays again and gave an update on the trial of a woman accused of chopping her husband into bits before dumping the remains in the East River. The World had no qualms about declaring her guilty.
Hank had some doubts, given that he'd worked the case. He still suspected her lover, a married man who delivered ice. Maybe the city had decided the ice was too valuable to spare him for trial.
Hank was sympathetic. Dear Lord, it was hot. The air around him was thick and rancid. Simply being outside was like walking around with eight blankets draped over his shoulders. The street smelled of rotting food and horse manure.
Ah, New York in the summer.
He arrived at the precinct house on East Fifth Street, where the whir of the overhead electric fans drowned out all other noise, and still the fans weren't doing much beyond blowing papers around. It smelled slightly better inside, but it wasn't any cooler.
Hank wasn't even at his desk yet and already someone was trying to get his attention.
He sighed and turned his attention toward his colleague and sometime partner, Stephens, who stood there with his arms crossed.
"Would you like for Roosevelt to give you a lecture?" said Stephens, glaring at Hank's bare forearms.
Hank had forsaken a jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves in an attempt to escape the oppressive heat. Not that it worked. Stephens, of course, wore his full uniform. The collar of his coat was soaked with sweat. Hank wondered what Stephens hoped to achieve by suffocating under all that wool.
"It's amusing to me that Commissioner Roosevelt thinks any man could wear a coat in this weather. If he wants to discuss proper attire, he can do so when the weather cools off." Hank pulled his handkerchief out of his pockets and mopped his brow again.
Stephens balked, but recovered quickly and said, "We have a new investigation. That is, now that you've decided to grace us with your presence."
"It is too hot for sarcasm, Stephens. What is the case?"
Stephens puffed out his chest and made a show of pulling a wad of crumpled paper from his jacket pocket. He consulted his notes. "Murder at a resort on the Bowery."
Hank glanced back toward the front entrance to the precinct house. Taking on a case would mean investigating, which meant going back outside. The last thing Hank wanted to do was go outside. Not that the precinct house was cool and comfortable as such, but Hank reasoned if he sat very still, he might be all right. He turned back to Stephens. "Which resort?"
Stephens looked at his tattered papers. "Club Bulgaria."
Hank schooled his features. He wondered if Stephens knew of the reputation of this particular club. Not that Hank had ever been there. He'd merely been tempted.
"Any other information?" Hank asked.
"Not much. Officers who arrived at the scene first talked to the club owner briefly, but he didn't seem to know anything. The body is still there. A few of the staff from the club have been made to wait there for our arrival."
Hank could only imagine how putrid the body must smell in this heat. "Well," he said. "No sense standing around here dripping. Let's go."
Nicholas Sharp — stage name Paulina Clodhopper — stood outside Club Bulgaria in his street clothes, smoking the last of a cigarillo. It was doing nothing to calm his nerves. He tossed the butt of it toward the street and rearranged the red scarf draped around his neck. It was too hot for such frippery, but he had an image to maintain, and besides, the police were on their way. He wanted to look somewhat respectable. Really, though, Nicky would have much preferred a long soak in an ice bath while wearing nothing at all.
The sun blared down on the Bowery and it smelled like someone had died — which, Nicky acknowledged, had happened in truth — and it was nearly unbearable, but he couldn't stand inside any longer. Not with Edward laid out on the floor like ... well. Nicky didn't want to think of it.
A man in rolled-up shirtsleeves and an ugly brown waistcoat, his hands shoved in his pockets, walked down the street toward Nicky. The man beside him must have been boiling inside his crisp police uniform.
The man in uniform looked Nicky up and down with an expression of deep skepticism on his face. "Are you Mr. Juel?" His tone indicated his real question was, Are you even a real man?
Nicky bristled. "No, darling. He's inside."
The man in shirtsleeves said, "You work here?"
This man was really quite attractive, in a sweaty, disheveled way, although Nicky supposed there was no way around that in this weather. The man pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and then pulled the dusty bowler hat off his head, revealing dark brown hair, cut short. He wiped his whole face from his damp forehead to his thick mustache before he dropped the hat back on his head. There seemed to be a strong body under the wrinkled clothing, but it was hard to tell. Still, this man intrigued Nicky. His companion in the uniform was blond and bearded and looked considerably more polished, but in a bland way. The disheveled man was far more interesting.
"I'll take you in to see Mr. Juel," Nicky said. "That is, if I could have your names."
"I'm Detective Stephens," said the uniformed man briskly.
"Hank Brandt," said the man in shirtsleeves.
"Acting Inspector Henry Brandt," Stephens said. "Honestly, Brandt, there are protocols."
Brandt grunted and waved his hand dismissively at Stephens. To Nicky, he said, "And you are?"
"Nicholas Sharp. Come with me." He led the police officers inside.
Julie waited in front of the door to the ballroom. He stepped forward and introduced himself, standing tall but fussing a bit more than necessary — "This is such a terrible tragedy, nothing like this has ever happened here before, I am still in such a state of shock!" — his voice growing increasingly shrill as he spoke. Nicky might have believed him if this had been the first act of violence perpetrated at Club Bulgaria.
"Can you tell us what transpired, Mr. Juel?" asked Detective Stephens, the picture of proper politeness, although it was Brandt who pulled a pad of paper and a pencil from his pocket.
"I did not know the fate of poor Edward until I arrived this morning."
Nicky glanced at Brandt to ascertain his reaction. Julie was lying just as sure as he had a receding hairline; he rarely left the club. Nicky knew for a fact Julie had been sleeping in his office at the back of the club for nearly a week, ever since his lover had thrown him out of their Greenwich Village apartment. Nicky didn't know for certain, but he also suspected poor Edward had been lying on the floor of the ballroom for some time before Julie had deigned to notice him.
"And where were you through all this, Mr. Sharp?" asked Brandt.
Nicky adjusted his scarf. "I went home just after midnight last night. I arrived back at the club about an hour ago, where Mr. Juel confronted me with the news that poor Edward had departed the earth."
Brandt nodded. "What exactly is your occupation here?"
"I entertain the guests."
Brandt pursed his lips. "You entertain them."
"I sing," said Nicky.
Brandt's eyebrows shot up. "Right. So. This Edward, is he a friend of yours?"
Nicky kept hoping Julie would intervene, but he stayed resolutely quiet. Nicky wasn't quite sure what the best answer to these questions would be or how much information he should give away willingly. He said, "He also entertained the guests. In a somewhat different capacity."
Brandt turned toward Stephens and said, "Would you go take a look at the ballroom? I'll follow along in a moment."
Stephens nodded and proceeded into the ballroom. Julie trailed after him.
Nicky shivered, alarmed now that he was alone with Mr. Brandt, who removed his hat and took a step closer to Nicky.
"Tell me honestly," said Brandt. "Edward was a working boy."
Nicky sucked in a breath. Brandt stood close enough for Nicky to smell him, a sour, earthy scent, the fragrance of someone who had spent too much time stewing in his own sweat on a hot day.
"Yes," Nicky whispered.
"And you are as well?"
"No. I only sing."
Brandt grunted. "I'm not here from the vice squad. I do not wish to toss anyone in jail unless they killed your friend Edward. Do you understand me?"
"Yes. And I am being honest. Edward was a working boy. I sing on stage a few times a week." Nicky pointed toward the ballroom. "That's all."
"Yes. And to answer your next question, last I saw Edward was last night. He was entertaining a guest. They went to the back. I do not know what happened after."
Brandt must have been astute enough to discern Nicky's meaning, because he jotted something down on his pad. "What did this guest look like?"
Nicky closed his eyes to try to picture him. "He had dark hair. He was quite tall. Thick mustache. A very fine suit of clothes, much nicer than the sort the guests here usually wear."
Brandt scribbled in his notes. He said, "Would you recognize this man if you saw him again?"
"Yes, I believe so."
"They went to the back and never returned?"
Nicky didn't quite know what to make of these questions. Clearly, Brandt was worldly enough to know how a club like this worked, so he must have known the back rooms behind the ballroom at Club Bulgaria were where men went to have sex with each other. Edward would have sidled up to a man like the one Nicky had seen him with last night and seen the money dancing before his eyes. He would have taken the man in back for a ... financial transaction. And then?
"I'll be honest and tell you I didn't think much about Edward hanging on the arm of some man from uptown. This fancy dressed man was slumming, which is hardly a novel occurrence. Usually the bourgeoisie come down here to gawk and feel superior, but occasionally one of the boys here does get his claws in one. It wasn't strange enough for me to take notice."
"Except for his clothes."
"Yes, well. I quite liked the cut of the man's jacket and spent a brief, wondrous moment imagining I could afford to purchase such a thing."
Brandt nodded. "In other words, Edward may just have emerged from the back room unscathed after entertaining this man, but if he did, you did not see it." He stepped toward the ballroom. "Come with me."
"Oh, no, darling. I couldn't possibly. I've spent far too much time with poor Edward today as it is."
"Fine. Stay here, then. Don't leave. I'm not done talking to you."
"Your wish is my command."
Brandt narrowed his eyes. He probably didn't appreciate Nicky acting flippant, but Nicky knew of no other way to manage such a situation.
Nicky watched Brandt walk into the ballroom. When the voices of the men inside rose, Nicky found a spare chair to sit in. There was nothing to do but wait.
For nearly a year, Police Commissioner Roosevelt had been trying to cure the city of vice. Standing in the middle of a tawdry ballroom, Hank could see his point. There was something particularly sad about this room. Hank glanced toward Stephens, who he knew thought cleaning up the city was a worthy goal, and maybe it was. Hank did not believe it was an achievable one. The city was too far gone, perhaps. And its residents liked their vices.
Hank imagined this ballroom had once been grand. There were the remnants of a forgotten era everywhere: sculptural touches carved into the ceiling and a series of murals painted on two of the walls. On the other hand, the murals were somewhat vulgar and depicted men in various states of undress lounging about in parks or, in the case of one of them, in the ruins of Ancient Rome. Hank supposed the murals were supposed to be titillating, but there was something strange about them. Hank was no art scholar, but these were not quite right, as if they were a parody of art and not art itself.
Artistry and architecture aside, though, the ballroom inside Club Bulgaria was worn and filthy. The wooden floor was stained and scratched, the stage curtains were threadbare, and the sculptures were chipped or broken.
Stephens stood frowning as he took in the room. They hadn't discussed it on the walk over to the club, but Stephens was no greenhorn. He had to have known to expect a dance hall or brothel at least — the residents of New York did not come to this neighborhood to see Shakespeare — but he might not have known that this was a fairy resort. This was precisely the sort of place that would send him into fits. If Stephens was trying to hide his revulsion, he failed badly.
Hank knelt and took a closer look at the body. There was something vulgar about the dead man, too, something that made him blend in with his sordid surroundings, and not just because he was dead. Hank recorded every visible detail in his notes. The dead man wore a stained shirt and black trousers. A smudge of some kind of grime stained his cheek. His hair was unruly. There was powder on his face and some sort of rouge on his cheeks, which kept the paleness of death at bay.
Not to mention, there was a knife wound in his chest.
Hank turned to Mr. Juel. "Mr. Sharp mentioned seeing this Edward go off with a wealthy-looking man. Did you happen to see this man?" Juel shook his head. "No, Inspector. I wish I had. Do you know what it will do to my business if word gets out this kind of violence could be perpetrated at my club? If that man is responsible for this, I want him caught! I want —"
"No need for theatrics," said Hank.
"No need? Why, just three weeks past, a man was killed outside Paresis, and what did the police do? Nothing. One more dead prostitute, eh? The working boys who walk along the Bowery at night are inverted and less than human, are they not? Why should the police bother to investigate?"
Excerpted from Ten Days in August by Kate McMurray. Copyright © 2016 Kate McMurray. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As those who follow my reviews will know, I am a HUGE historical buff and love historical fiction, so when Ten Days in August caught my eye it was a no brainer that I would give it a try. I am so glad I did because it is an amazing read, the characters, the mystery, the romance, and the attention to historical detail, well any one of them would have had me hooked but when you have them all it's a spectacular ride to Reader Heaven. The connection between Nicky and Hank may be instantaneous but that doesn't mean it will be easy, add in a killer and the heat wave, it will most definitely not be easy. As a Wisconsinite from a small farming community, I understand and respect the power of Mother Nature, but to find her the main character in a book added to the authenticity of the era and trust me, the heat wave is a huge factor here because the heat can grind on you and make a tense situation volatile. I always love discovering a new author, I look forward to checking out Kate McMurray's backlist.