Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award Nominee
November 1936. Mayor La Guardia’s political future buckles under a missing persons case in New York City. Simultaneously, Lane unravels devastating secrets in the outskirts of Detroit. As two crimes converge, judging friends from enemies can be a dangerous game . . .
Finally summoning the courage to face the past, Lane Sanders breaks away from her busy job at City Hall to confront childhood nightmares in Rochester, Michigan. An unknown assailant left Lane with scattered memories after viciously murdering her parents. However, one memory of a dazzling solid gold pawn piece remains—and with it lies a startling connection between the midwestern tragedy and a current mystery haunting the Big Apple . . .
Meanwhile, fears climb in Manhattan after the disappearance of a respected banker and family friend threatens the crippled financial industry and the pristine reputation of Lane’s virtuous boss, Mayor Fiorello “Fio” La Guardia. Fio’s fight to restore order leads him into more trouble as he meets a familiar foe intent on ending his mayoral term—and his life . . .
Guided by overseas telegrams from the man she loves and painful memories, only Lane can silence old ghosts and derail present-day schemes. But when the investigation awakens a darker side of her own nature, will she and New York City’s most prominent movers and shakers still forge ahead into a prosperous new age . . . or is history doomed to repeat itself?
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The images twirled and flashed like they always did. Red mittens, a blue scarf, my laughing parents. This time the dream skipped over the detailed parts that were the most fear-filled, as if my subconscious had much work to do and needed to get down to business.
I strolled along the front yard of my childhood home. The petunias, the little fountain, my purple maple tree ... filled me with an old and familiar sadness. I walked in the front door and the stairs leading up to my father's library were before me. I touched the railing, caressing its smooth, cool banister as I stepped up and up. Leading to what? I opened the door to my father's personal sanctuary. Thousands of books lined the shelves, the dark green walls and oak furniture radiated masculine comfort. My eyes shifted to a wall safe, my hand clutched a cold key, and I slowly drew near. I wanted to reach out and stop my own hand, but I couldn't. It was imperative that I open it.
I reached for the handle, turned the key, and within were three things: the lethal silver gun with the red scroll on the handle, a gold chess piece, and lastly ... I jumped back, surprised at what I was seeing and more than a little nervous. I gathered myself to take a closer look. It was a photograph of a ghostly gray hand languidly pointing to the right.
* * *
My eyes fluttered open, my heart thumping in my chest. The curtains slightly ruffled from a soft morning breeze, making little hushes against the windowpane. My eyes ran over the pleasing, smoky blue walls of my room, the comfy white and blue down quilt over my bed, the white chair in the corner by the window, the dark brown dresser with the glass knobs ... and Ripley. I started abruptly as his earnest furry face was only a few inches from my own, staring at me with his very concerned and furrowed German shepherd brow. His hot breath puffed indignantly into my face. Not exactly a pleasing scent to wake up to.
I laughed, "Hey, boy! What are you doing up here so early?"
He muttered a deep, "Roaw." Suddenly I heard a bellowing human storm coming from downstairs and I knew why Ripley had come up here. I was late for work, damn it! And you can't keep the mayor of New York City waiting. Especially if that mayor happens to be Fiorello La Guardia, close family friend, boss, and world renowned bellower.
I bounded out of bed, threw on my favorite deep blue-green dress suit with three-quarter-length sleeves, brushed my dark brown hair, and pinned into place a pillbox hat. I brushed on some mascara and eyeliner, and threw on a coat of light pink lipstick.
I raced down the stairs in record time, smelling the heavenly aroma of breakfast. Scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits, and steaming hot black tea.
"Good morning, Fio!" I said as I sailed past him to my breakfast plate. He ate as fast as he did everything else — faster than the Duesenberg J with its 320 horsepower and cranberry red paint job. Fio never gave me much time before we headed to work, so I followed suit and ate quickly.
"Good morning, Laney Lane, my girl!"
"Grrrrrr," I replied. This was our customary morning ritual. And I went by Lane. Just Lane. He knew that.
Aunt Evelyn greeted me with an amused smile. "Good morning, dear. Sleep well?"
"Mm ..." I said uncertainly. "Pretty well. Had another dream. Can't quite figure out what it means yet."
Mr. Kirkland entered the dining room. His tall, slightly stooped frame with craggy good looks reminded me of a deep-sea fisherman yet he incongruously laid a fresh plate of homemade biscuits down at the table. He'd been Aunt Evelyn's close friend for years. But well before I came to live with her thirteen years ago after my parents died, he had been established as her housekeeper and butler. He was the antithesis of a butler. He was swarthy and was a casual sort of man versus a stiff and polished servant. But it worked for them. I smiled up at his deeply lined face with the halo of gray, longish hair.
I occasionally amused myself as I inquired about the possibility of deeper emotions between Evelyn and Kirkland and then would sit back to enjoy the great show of colors play out on one or both of their blushing faces as they avoided my questions.
I hadn't been listening to anyone as I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast, but suddenly got the feeling I should have been paying attention. I sensed a certain tension in the air. As Fio paused to take a quick breath, I broke into the discussion with my usual subtle and graceful ease. "So! What are you talking about?"
Mr. Kirkland gave me a wry look as he patted Ripley, who was standing guard next to his chair. Fio shook his head. "I'll fill you in on the way to work. We have to get going. We have work to do!"
With that daily exclamation, I knew my breakfast had officially drawn to a close. I took one last drink of my tea, swooped up my large handbag with my ever-present notebook and office essentials, said a quick good-bye to everyone, and hustled out the door.
Today Fio had his car. "Hi, Ray!" I exclaimed to Fio's driver. He was a wary fellow and continually on the lookout as the mayor's driver and self- proclaimed bodyguard. Unless there were dire circumstances making security an even higher priority than usual, Fio didn't employ detectives or official bodyguards. Instead, his main idea to "save the city money" was to have the New York Fire Department install two compartments in his car. For pistols. One for him and one for Ray, both of whom had gun permits. Fio fought in the Great War, was a bomber pilot actually, so he was no stranger to guns. At heart, he was a gun-slinging cowboy and knight in shining armor. He was practical and efficient to the extreme. And yet, he was also a big romantic. Art was deeply rooted in his heart. He felt that music and beauty were essential to the city. It was more than just adornment, it was like the heartbeat of the people. Without it, it wouldn't be life. He often stopped in to the High School of Music and Art that he opened earlier in the year to check on his dream school and the dreams of the students and staff.
I looked over at Fio, already working hard at his desk that he had installed in his car. Fiorello was five-foot-two-inches tall but radiated energy and power that made you think he was well over six feet (not to mention he had staggering talents in the yelling and temper departments that added to that impression). He was fearless, taking on the gangsters as well as the corrupt political institutions. Such as Tammany Hall, who had a stranglehold on the Democratic Party and who backed former mayor Jimmy Walker.
I was just graduating high school the final year of that crazy era. What a time! If you looked at any other decade, you wouldn't see so much change as you did in the Twenties. Even our clothing showed it. After the Great War ended in 1918, we all reveled in modern life. It felt fresh and new. We were done with long skirts, big hats, waist-length hair, old and trapped ways of thinking and living. We longed for change after those aching years of trench warfare — you could feel it in the air. Just like we wanted to get the men home and out of that mud, we mirrored that same desire for change in radical new ways. Skyscrapers were built, formal dinner parties went out and cocktail parties came in (in secret, of course, because Prohibition also came in), and women finally got the vote. I can't even begin to express all the cheers and tears from Aunt Evelyn and her friends who had helped lead that cause for so long. She had been blessed with a family that made sure she could be a woman of independent means. But so many friends of hers had been trapped in all kinds of terrible situations from their lack of equality. Her fiery eyes held a fierce look of determination upon that victory. It took my breath away.
Just then, our car passed the Chrysler Building with its Art Deco doors and famous triangular windows at the top. I loved that building like an old friend, even though it was only five years old. Art Deco was the most beautiful and inspiring art form for me. It had sharp geometric angles that mingled with natural elements like leaves and flowers. Even the elevator doors of the Chrysler Building were a work of art. How symbolic. How did all that beauty come out of the horrors of the war? And then there was the Depression we were just beginning to get out of ... Whenever I looked at the Chrysler Building, I would always think of just what this era meant to us all. Where we'd come from.
Fio finished arranging his accoutrements in the car and began barking out orders and duties for me to add to my never-ending list in my notebook. I began scribbling furiously as he shot through the day's schedule.
Finally, as the onslaught of information ebbed and he took a deep breath, I broke in. "So, what were you all talking about at breakfast? Is there something going on?" I tried to sound light, like I had just wanted an inconsequential piece of information. But Fio, as always, could see right through my feigned subtlety.
"God, Lane. I'm sorry," he said, adjusting his fedora to a slightly more rakish angle. "I should have said something sooner. Finn is fine. It's not about him," he said in a big hurry, flapping an arm dismissively, trying to dispel the anxiety that was probably written all over my face.
I exhaled and said with a much happier and curious tone, "So what's up? What's going on then?"
"Well, we're not sure. It's not in the papers yet, but it will be by the end of the day. Mr. Hambro — do you remember him? He's an old friend of mine since before the war. I've known Ted and his family for years."
I nodded my head as I recalled the tall bank president, with the charming look of a dignified professor masking a witty rascal beneath. When he and Fio had coffee or drinks, they would often put their heads together in solemn, urgent conversation with the air of dealing with important states of affair, then let out an ear-splitting peal of laughter that made it absolutely obvious they'd actually been sharing an uproariously funny joke — probably dirty. Where Fio was rotund and short, Hambro was skinny and tall. Where Fio was black-haired, clean-shaven, and almost always favored a hat, Hambro had smoky gray-and-white hair, a rich goatee, and went against convention going hatless much of the time. But that was on the outside. On the inside, they were very similar men and shared a deep bond of friendship.
"Sure, what about him?" I asked.
He took another deep breath and tilted his hat up in a baffled gesture. "He's completely vanished."CHAPTER 2
We arrived at City Hall, Fio having filled me in on Mr. Hambro's disappearance as we climbed the steps. He had been at work in the afternoon with nothing exceptional happening in any way. But by the end of the workday, his desk was empty and he never showed up at home nor anywhere else. His wife had no idea what had become of him. The Manhattan Trust Bank didn't seem to have any issues going on that could have caused him to leave of his own accord, which was a pretty frequent occurrence these days. Since the devastating crash seven years ago, businessmen from all spheres had found themselves in hopeless positions and many just walked away and disappeared ... or they took the permanent way out. At some of the major hotels, it became a dark joke that when a businessman went to the front desk to book a room, he was regularly asked, "To sleep or leap?"
That just didn't seem like Mr. Hambro. Mrs. Hambro had notified the police and they were following up, but there really wasn't anything substantial to go on. On top of worrying about the man himself, word was leaking out that he had disappeared and there were legitimate concerns that the investors at his bank would start to get nervous and pull their money. Too many people had seen things like this happen before.
Fio asked me to go along with him to see Mrs. Hambro. I agreed and we made plans to pay her a visit in the late afternoon.
I got into the office, dropped off my things, and headed to the coffee room as I was mulling over the items we had discussed in the car. I waved to Val as she sat at her desk typing at a furious pace. She raised her honey- brown head and gave a big smile in greeting, not missing a beat on the typewriter.
In the coffee room, I came across someone else.
"Morning, Lane," said Roxy as she put out the stub of her cigarette.
"Morning, Roxy," I returned. Roxy and I had a tricky past, but the truce we struck continued in peace. She recently cut her glorious white blond hair into a short, trendy do, with glossy waves hugging her cute little head. And I have to say, I didn't think it was possible, but the shorter hairdo accentuated her perfectly curvy figure. Today she had on a tight (as always) light blue sweater highlighting her favorite assets.
I exhaled wistfully, "You look great, Roxy. I love your new haircut."
She smiled. "Thanks, Lane."
We had both learned a lot of surprising things about each other. Things that we had never spoken of, but we held a mutual understanding that there was much beneath the surface to us both and a grudging respect had emerged.
Just as I was about to ask her if she had any plans this weekend, in swept Ralph, the office chatterbox and flirt. His dark curly hair had also been cut recently, so the lock that used to fall over his eyes was a little too short for his taste and he self-consciously pulled at it all day long, willing it to grow back. His forehead had a network of creases and his looks weren't traditionally handsome, but he had a wide, contagious grin. Roxy locked eyes with me, a wicked gleam in her eye and a smirk to her lips. I nodded once.
Ralph started in at top speed, "Hey, gals! How's it going? Did you hear about the new band playing at the Orchard Club tonight?"
Roxy quickly started to say, "Yeah, we were think — "
"You should come!" he interrupted, speaking so fast it was hard to keep up. "It's gonna be great, they're playing all the good stuff and they redid the inside of the club, so it should be the cat's pajamas. How about you, Lane?"
Ready to cram in as many words as I could, I only got as far as, "Sounds gr — "
"Fantastic! Bring your friends. I told Val about it, how about Dorothy from accounting? You should bring her, too, she's really cute. Okay! I gotta run. See you girls later!" He raced out of the coffee room, completing a backhanded throw of his napkin into the garbage can.
"Damn. Thought I had you," I said as I handed Roxy her dollar. "You win. You got out four words. I only got out one and a half."
"Thanks!" she said with a knowing grin, tucking her winnings of our ongoing bet into her ample cleavage. I'd be lucky to hide a dime.
"I'll work on it. I'll get my dollar back next time."
"You got it, Lane." We clinked our coffee cups sealing the deal and she chuckled as she walked out.
The rest of the morning carried on as usual, Val and I deciding to have lunch outside in the park even though it was brisk. We bought a couple of sandwiches and Coca-Colas, and walked to a little table. There were several other brave souls outside, too. Even though it was about fifty degrees, there were several of us eating in the park. We could feel the inevitability of winter coming, so we just had to get in another lunch outdoors.
My fingers made circles on the metal table, feeling the texture of smooth holes in the cold surface. The earthy scent of fallen leaves surrounded us along with the cheerful murmuring from the other lunchers as we soaked up the sunshine on our faces while enduring the stiff fall breeze.
"Are we still on for tonight, to go to the club Ralph was telling us about?" I asked Val.
"Sounds great. I think Pete and some of his buddies are going," she said.
She and Pete were an on-again, off-again couple. They were both very tall, which was a treat for Val. Val was almost six feet tall, which made it difficult to wear the fun shoes she loved and yet still be able to look up at a date.
Val had delightful, sparkling green eyes and they held a look of mischief today.
I narrowed my eyes and said, "What are you up to, Val?"
"Well ... I had something funny happen today. I've been dying to tell you about it," she said with a sardonic smile, her freckles making her pretty face seem more mischievous than she actually was. I think her share of mischief fell on me. She continued as I leaned in closer. "You know how you have that fantasy of falling and then suddenly a handsome stranger appears out of nowhere and catches you?"
"Val!" I whined exasperatedly. "You said you wouldn't speak of that again!" I said in mock anger.
She laughed. I rolled my eyes. It's true, I had fantasized about that. I watched a lot of movies and read a lot of novels. Obviously.
"Let me tell ya, Lane. It's not nearly as romantic as you might think."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Gold Pawn"
Copyright © 2018 LA Chandlar.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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