The ashes of the cigarette struck the rocks with sparks and bloodred cinders. The wind beneath the bridge played with the wisps of smoke coming from the tip, making spidery webs in the air. The rising sun splashed a honey-colored glow on the buildings. From the shore, a trumpet, of all things, blew loud and clear like a call. The hooded head turned up abruptly, alert like a hunter on the prowl. Ready. At ease, knowing that it would come full circle. Destiny was working its odd magic. Like he said it would.
Something bright appeared at the edge of the bridge—halting, tipping, and then falling. The eyes beneath the dark hood followed it carefully, one corner of the mouth curving slightly into a gratified grin. The shining bit of destiny hit the shore just out of reach of the water on a small hill of gravel. The figure gracefully slunk across the shore, an arm slowly reaching out like a white snake about to grasp its prey. The coveted reward. The one he’d said was worth waiting for. The hand gripped the handle and tenderly pocketed the prize.
The cigarette was thrown to the ground, discarded. A lingering whistle echoed softly in the breeze as the hooded figure drifted up the shore into Manhattan.
My father was skating up ahead, faster, faster; my mother and I were laughing, joyously racing to catch up. Colors and sensations swirled like a dancer teasing the audience: the cold, gray day, the gentle snowflakes kissed my cheeks and coated my eyelashes, my mother’s blue scarf, my father’s scratchy red mittens. He was skating along the outside edges of the rink. We almost had him! A loud crack suddenly ripped through the air. A heart pang of panic, and my father’s fearful, wide eyes flashed back to us, arms reaching out. Then frigid, terrifying darkness. The intense cold made my bones and muscles ache to the point of cracking; then a slow, heavy, downward pull to blackness….
Three familiar images drifted into focus: the ugly grin of the lady in the green hat; the dark brown eyes intently staring, willing me to wake; and finally, the silver gun with the bloodred scroll on the handle.
I opened my eyes. A cool spring breeze ruffled the white drapes with the city’s fresh, energetic air. The familiar dark brown dresser with glass drawer knobs poking out and a charming porcelain pitcher and bowl on top looked steadfast and comfortable after the eerie dream. The cotton sheets in my smoky blue and white bed felt soft and reassuring as I rubbed them between my fingers. I stretched like a cat, and the only lingering remnant of the dream was those eyes. Those dark brown eyes.
I’m a big believer in dreams—well, at least some of them. A past I was still piecing together.
The piece I’d already figured out was the dark brown eyes. If this were a novel, those intense eyes might bring a sense of fear or unease. Perhaps they’d be a harbinger of my death and open up a vast mystery.
Surprisingly, those eyes were the only part of my dreams that absolutely brought me comfort. Were they the eyes of a long-lost love? No. Were they the sinister yet seductive eyes of a criminal? No. Tall, dark, and handsome stranger? Try squat, rather tubby Italian who never stopped moving and was, most of the time, bellowing. Which was actually occurring downstairs right this second.
I jumped out of bed, threw on my favorite black skirt and white blouse with the long, full sleeves, raced a washcloth around my face, brushed my dark brown hair, tossed on some mascara and bright red lipstick, slipped on my high-heeled red Mary Janes, and ran down the stairs to greet that bellower. Who just happened to my boss and a friend of the family.
He was also the ninety-ninth mayor of New York City: Fiorello LaGuardia.
“Good morning, Laney Lane, my girl!” boomed a voice loud enough to be worthy of a six-foot-eight giant versus this five-foot-two, rotund man.
“Grrrrr,” I replied. I only went by Lane. Lane Sanders. And I happened to take a perverse pleasure in never telling him, nor anyone, for that matter, whether Lane was my full name or a nickname. Plus, his voice was loud enough to be a giant’s but also very screechy, especially before breakfast.
“Good morning, Aunt Evelyn,” I said as I strode right past him, across the dining room, and gave my aunt a quick kiss on her soft cheek.
My Aunt Evelyn—Evelyn Thorne—was a marvelous mix of classy city lady and bohemian artist.
Her jet black hair was neatly pinned up, and she was sporting a crisp, navy blue pinstriped dress. I smiled to myself at the stark contrast of her attire this morning compared to her red skirt and her long hair trailing down her back while she was painting in her studio last night. Her childhood in France and Italy gave her a worldly and almost exotic air mixed with an earthy authenticity that loved to dare convention.
She smiled up at me from the breakfast table laden with scrumptious-smelling scones, eggs, and sausages. Her eyes crinkled with amusement at the exchange between Fiorello and me.
“I don’t have dark circles under my eyes, do I?” I asked as I contemplated running back upstairs for some face powder.
“Oh, no, not at all, Lane, not this morning. I can just tell,” she replied. I had no doubt about that. Aunt Evelyn’s intuition and attention to detail were uncanny at times.
I turned to the buzzing and humming human being I had swept past. Fiorello was in a consistent state of perpetual motion, but especially if he had not been greeted properly. Having had him suffer sufficiently, I rounded on him with a huge grin and cocked eyebrow. “And you, my cantankerous friend. How are you this morning?”
I heard his chuckle as I dove to the table, eating what I could as fast as human digestion and general dignity could handle, for I knew he would give me mere seconds to eat before we had to bolt out the door.
“All right,” he began, with eyes still smiling but with an air of getting down to business. “We have a lot to do today. I was just telling Evelyn that I have a meeting with my commissioners this morning.” He said this with a great roll of his eyes. Most of the time, his commissioners were the bane of his existence.
He continued, “…a meeting with Roger down at the docks to discuss the conditions at the dock houses and…” He went on and on about the day’s activities as I slurped down a cup of tea and loaded up a scone with homemade strawberry curd and butter.
Mr. Kirkland came in and scooped some scrambled eggs onto my plate. Even though I had lived with them for over thirteen years, John Kirkland was still a bit of a mystery to me. I would have thought that Aunt Evelyn would require a butler and cook who would be refined and stern in a European fashion. He was anything but that; Mr. Kirkland’s craggy face was weather-worn but appealing. I liked how his light gray hair was somewhat unfashionably long, touching his collar; how his eyes were tough, blue, and intelligent. He looked more suited to being captain of a sea vessel, barking orders to swarthy sea mates while battling hurricanes and pirates.
He had been with Aunt Evelyn since before I came to live with her when I was ten. He kept to himself and never really talked with me at great length, other than his usual muttering with the colorful language that also reminded one of seafaring life. And much to Aunt Evelyn’s chagrin, I couldn’t help but pick up a few of his more colorful words here and there.
As I ate my breakfast, last night’s dream kept tapping my shoulder like an insistent child trying to get my attention. So I began walking down the lane of the old memories it triggered.
It was the music I remembered most. The early Twenties was ripe with new sounds and new life. Our Victrola played them all: Paul Whiteman, Trixie Smith, Al Jolson. Songs like “” and “Three O’Clock in the Morning.” They were always the backdrop to every memory, every feeling. My parents owned a bookstore on Main Street in Rochester, Michigan, and our brown Tudor-style house had a lovely garden in the back.
My attention snapped back to the present as I heard Fiorello say, as he did every day, “We’ve got work to do!” He started to bolt out the door, which meant I’d better follow or be left behind.
“Bye, Aunt Evelyn! Bye, Mr. Kirkland!” I yelled as I grabbed my large purse with my two notebooks tucked inside.
One I always carried with me to take notes. The other was my prized possession: a deep red leather notebook with engraved curls and leaves around the edges. It was filled with notes and mementos from my parents and it never left my side. With my bag securely over my shoulder, I ran out the door after Fiorello.
His legs moved rapidly down 80th Street toward Lexington, where we’d pick up the subway at 77th. In my high heels, I was actually much taller than Fio, but his commanding presence more than made up for his height. I never felt taller than him. I had to fairly run (not an easy task, but damn, I loved those red shoes) to keep up with his pace. As he walked, he started to rapid-fire tasks for me to do for the day. I brought out my notepad and took down copious details.
We took a variety of routes to work every day, depending on Fio’s mood and whom he wanted to see on his way in. Sometimes we took one of the elevated trains down Second or Third Avenue, sometimes the subway down Lexington, or, once in a while, his car and driver would pick us up. When we came to Lexington and started south, we went past Butterfield Market with its heavenly aroma of baking bread wafting out. The many languages of the city rolled around us, making the energy and bustle of the thousands of people heading to work and school that day a physical force so palpable you could almost touch it. Packs of children were being walked to school while packs of dogs were being given their morning exercise. There was Murrey’s Jewelry store, which had just opened, with sparkling rings and bracelets in the window; the shoe store with its tantalizing new spring line; the dusty newspaper stands… I loved this city. It was challenging, stimulating, vibrant. A place of many layers and depth.
I was writing as fast as I could, fortunately using the shorthand I learned in high school. It looked like Sanskrit, but it was infinitely faster than longhand, especially when trying to keep up with the Little Flower—that’s what Fiorello means in Italian. He was only called that by people who loved him, but I never really could tell how he felt about that. His small stature seemed to haunt him. He acted like he was at least six-foot-four, but in actuality he was always looking up at people. He had a bust of Napoleon in his office.
Mr. LaGuardia was loud, abrasive, rude, purposeful, fast, incredibly intelligent, sometimes scary; did I mention loud? And yet he was also kind, generous, intuitive, and something I could never put my finger on…. Wary? Insecure? I don’t know. He was an enigma at the same time that his feelings were written all over his face.
I loved my job. I interviewed for the job right when Mr. LaGuardia took office two years ago, and after an hour of back-and-forth discussion (rather like a speed game of ping-pong), I was hired. I started in the secretary pool for over a year. Then, at the youthful age of twenty-three, I was recently promoted to Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s personal aide.
We clanked down the two flights of steps at 77th, and Mr. LaGuardia said, “Good morning” and, “How are ya?” to many people, interspersed with things like, “Tell that Fletcher guy I’m watching him!” and, “Hey, Micky, how ya doin’? Tell your pop I hope he’s feeling better.”
We stopped, finally, at the end of the platform. I pointed and flexed my foot, working out the usual high-heel cramps. I felt someone brush up against me from behind; it was a mother with two young boys pulling on her arms, both prattling on to her at the same time. She looked tired, but she was smiling.
My eyes flicked behind her, and my stomach lurched with a sickening drop. Standing there was one of the scariest men I’d ever seen in my life, which is saying a lot, since I worked in the mayor’s office. He was a grungy white man with a grungier brown hat smashed on top of his head, a stained white shirt, a grotesque stomach jutting out over wherever his belt would have been, and a slimy black cigar poking out of his mouth. All that was enough, but it was his face that sent a ripple of fear into me. His eyes were mean and flat but hinted that something was lurking back there. His nose encased a dense collection of black, bristly nose hairs poking out. He locked eyes with me for one second. I blinked and looked down as he gurgled a satisfied grunt at my unease. Just then, the train roared into the station.
Fio glared at me. “Lane? You with me? You okay?”
I looked at him and said, “Do you see that guy watching us?” I turned, but he was gone.
“What guy? Watching us?” he asked.
“He’s gone.” Before I could say more, the train stopped, the doors swung open, and a mass of humanity crushed its way onto the train. The train lurched downtown with all of us packed into place with someone’s elbow in my back and a corner of a briefcase poking my thigh. I couldn’t get that guy out of my mind.
In an effort to think of something else, I tried humming the new song by Bing Crosby, but all I could remember was the part that had the title of the song in it: “Benny’s from heaven….” We finally pulled into our station, Brooklyn Bridge–City Hall. We smashed our way back out of the train and up several flights of stairs, and burst out into the refreshing open air at city hall. I straightened my red pillbox hat, which had gotten jostled a bit, and began copying down the onslaught of instructions once more.
Fio went right to his office after greeting everyone by name. I got to my desk and immediately started organizing my schedule. There was already a lineup of petitioners to see the mayor. From the young man whose wife had gone into labor unexpectedly early and the closest hospital was an expensive one that they couldn’t afford—Fio was sure to get the fees reduced—to the pushcart peddler who had come in to complain that he couldn’t get his license renewed. Fio always listened to each and every person and did something about their problem.
I helped Fio get through the line of people, listening, directing, and taking down information. Stifling a yawn, I felt the need for coffee and walked over to the coffee room. Fiorello didn’t believe in coffee breaks, so I had to make it quick.
“Hey, Lane! How ya doin’?” exclaimed Ralph, one of the other aides in the office. Ralph’s curly dark hair fell over his brow, and his smile was wide as he talked at breakneck speed. He was a nice guy; however, he never let me finish a sentence.
Ralph always knew what was hot to do in town. I could never fathom how much he crammed into a weekend. “Hey, Ralph, what’s up t—” I asked. Before I could finish my greeting, he started in at a pace worthy of a Gilmore Special.
“There’s a bunch of us going out to Club Monaco tonight, want to come along? I hear there’s a great band, play all the new songs, too, not just the oldies. Hey! Great shoes, Lane. You should wear that red dress you wore last time we went to Wit’s End. You looked amazing. Do you think you could bring Annie?”
He looked at me expectantly. Ralph had a hopeless crush on Annie, a secretary downstairs. But then again, he had a hopeless crush on a dozen women a month. He was lucky he was so good-natured.
“Sure, I’ll see if she wants to c—” I tried to reply.
“Great! Save me a dance, Lane! Gotta run, Mr. Fitzgerald’s extra grouchy today, better get back before he realizes I’ve been ‘Gone too long, Popeye!’” He mimicked his surly boss perfectly and flew out the door, managing to throw his empty coffee cup into the garbage can with a very nice backhand. He really did resemble Popeye from the radio show and on the Wheatena box.
I walked back to my office with my creamy, sugary coffee and looked forward to going to the new Club Monaco. I got to work typing up notes for some points of contention Mr. LaGuardia had on the conditions of the housing organizations, adding up some numbers of the budget for this month, and transcribing my notes from the morning train ride.
The first meeting of the morning was a big one. It was a Boner Award day. Today’s winner of the monthly award—a sheep bone decorated with ribbons like a Christmas present—was Fire Commissioner McElligott. He burned himself with a firecracker while giving a presentation about the dangers of Fourth of July fireworks.
The day went along its merry way until after lunch, when stern voices (aka yelling) floated out from Fio’s office. I had learned to diagnose how important the yelling was. There were three categories. Category one: normal yelling that occurred on a daily basis, when Fio was only nominally annoyed at something, like at the Boner Award earlier. Category two: louder yelling accompanied by some desk-thumping and perhaps a pen whipped at the door out of frustration. This often led to a swift departure by the one being yelled at, brisk action taken by the mayor (more rapid-fire notes on my part), and a lot of activity all day long as we metaphorically put out fires to undo the damage that caused the yelling.
And then there was category three. Ooh, category three. There was usually one big outburst that contained an ominous tone, only one single, loud thump of an agitated fist hitting his desk, and then an eerie quiet that was like the calm before the storm. I usually walked away from my desk at that point, went to the ladies’ room, and basically hid for a few minutes to prepare for battle.
This event turned out to be a category one. I wrote out a quick note on a minuscule piece of paper that said C1 and went out to the main office toward Val’s desk to give her the alert.
The entire office full of secretaries and aides was abundantly aware of the categories of our Little Flower. Valerie was my closest friend, and we navigated the office politics together. There had been a bit of a territory war ever since Fio decided to have me, a woman, be an aide versus a secretary. As I walked out to Valerie, I was already receiving dirty looks from my least favorite people: Lizzie and Roxy.
Val looked over at me with her green eyes flashing. With her light brown hair and thousands of tiny freckles, she looked fantastic as she sported a sage green suit with large buttons and three-quarter-length sleeves.
Lizzie and Roxy were eyeing me with constipated snarls on their faces. I waved in their direction and smiled, tossing the note to Val. She made some cryptic hand signals, like a catcher to the pitcher, to George across the room, and he ran off to another part of the office to inform them that the yelling was a mere category one.
“Hey, Short ‘n’ Shorter are particularly snarly today. What’s going on?” I asked Val as I leaned up against her desk. Lizzie and Roxy were very tiny and they had an adorable aura around them that made me feel like a Clydesdale. I looked over at them, noticing how Roxy’s curly white-blond hair hugged her perfectly round face in the latest style. She was very attractive except for the fact that she looked like she was perpetually displeased, or smelled something rotten. Today she had on a gorgeous yellow scarf and matching yellow, curve-hugging sweater that perfectly highlighted her best assets.
“Oh, they just figured out that since you were made an aide, you actually outrank them in the office.”
“Just now? But I got that promotion six months ago,” I said, with a quizzical, cocked eyebrow.
“Yeah, well, they might type like lightning, but the rest of them isn’t so quick,” said Val.
I looked over at them as Lizzie whispered something to Roxy like a gossipy schoolgirl. Lizzie’s long red hair more than made up for her sort of mousy looks. She had a terrible squint, like she might need glasses, and her shoulders were the tiniest bit hunched (which made me constantly want to scold, Stand up straight!), but with her luxurious hair and wonderful figure, I’m pretty sure no one else noticed. Lizzie and Roxy were devious backstabbers. But they did type like lightning.
Since word traveled fast around there and I wanted to get back to my desk in case the C1 turned into something else, I said bye to Val and started to walk back. Just as I was getting to my desk, a lean, muscular man came barging out of Fio’s office, and we charged right into each other. He was obviously surprised and said with a soft and rather intoxicating British accent, “Sorry, love.” Before I could blink, he gently took my shoulders, set me aside, and in about three strides, was out the door of the office. The man was quick and efficient, yet I had time to glimpse dark eyes that sparked. And since I had literally run my face right into his collarbone, I also knew he smelled wonderful.
Just then Fio came out of his office with a crease furrowed between his brows, tapping his lips with his forefinger in thoughtful consideration.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“That man that you were yelling—I mean speaking—with just ran into me, and I didn’t get a chance to meet him,” I said, eyes squinting in assessment.
He hesitated, tapped his lips one final time, and replied, “Hmm.” Then Fio turned right around and went back into his office, closing the door behind him.
Copyright 2017 by LA Chandlar
Kensington Publishing Corp. 119 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018
L.A. Chandlar is the author of the Art Deco Mystery Series with Kensington Publishing featuring Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and a fresh take on the innovation and liveliness of 1930s New York City. Her debut novel, The Silver Gun released August 29, 2017 and the sequel, The Gold Pawn, will release September 2018. Laurie has been living and writing in New York City for 16 years and has been speaking for a wide variety of audiences for over 20 years including a women’s group with the United Nations. Her talks range from NYC history, the psychology of creativity, and the history of holiday traditions. Laurie has also worked in PR for General Motors, writes and fund-raises for a global nonprofit, is the mother of two boys, and has toured the nation managing a rock band.
Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCPXNEoE-5M
Social Media: http://www.lachandlar.com/social