Less than 24 hours after arriving in Queens, Jake finds himself in a hospital bed with a bullet wound in his thigh and Laura in his arms.
The Yankee Club
A Detective Again
Holding Laura in my arms again after two years, I set aside my guilt over Mickey’s death for a moment. To me we weren’t in some hospital bed. We were holding each other in our comfy Queens apartment, and I’d never left.
We gazed at each other like we always had, as if I never forced the issue about marriage and children. Her soft face and supple lips were inches from mine. I kissed her.
Laura welcomed the embrace then gently pushed me away. With a wistful expression, she sat on the edge of the bed and stared into the distance. The last two years had happened. I had forced the issue. I’d left. Laura was engaged to another man, and I had no one to blame but myself.
The cop rose from his chair outside the room. He closed the door and left us alone. Apparently he’d been in love before.
At least Laura had come alone. Maybe we could talk about things the way we should have before I left. Besides, I didn’t feel up to meeting the man who’d stolen her heart.
She touched the bandage on my forehead. Even with melancholy, tear-filled eyes she looked more beautiful than her billboard picture—short black hair, Grecian nose that hadn’t changed since we were kids, dark haunting eyes that always saw through me.
“I found out you were shot, and I . . . I pictured life without you.” She tilted her head, appearing to search for the right words or hoping to avoid the wrong ones that might make us both uncomfortable. “Then I realized you weren’t in my life, haven’t been for two years.”
The pain on her face made me accept I hadn’t moved to Florida to focus on my career. I’d run away from Laura. When had I become a full-time coward?
She held a handkerchief balled in her fist and dabbed her eyes. “Mickey’s dead?”
Laura retrieved a chair from the corner. She set it beside the bed and held my hand. Her fingers intertwined with mine, as soft and comfortable now as back in the day when she was Becky Thatcher and I was Tom Sawyer.
While I caressed her cheek with my hand, she pressed her face against my palm and closed her eyes. “I didn’t even know you’d come back.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat over what might have been and took my hand away. “I’m not back. I’m on . . . it started as a business trip.”
Laura stiffened in the chair. “Did you plan to see me, or were you going to take care of business and run back to Florida?”
“I just got in a few hours ago.”
She let go of my hand. “That’s not an answer.”
It was a better answer than the truth. I hadn’t gotten over the shock of her photo in the paper. “Congratulations on your engagement.” Immediately I regretted the words.
Guilt swept across her face. “Jake, I . . . I planned to write and explain. I didn’t want you to read about it in the papers. Who told you?”
I waited a beat. “.”
She winced and stared at her hands a moment then gathered her composure. “Spencer’s waiting in the lobby. He wanted to give me time alone with you. That’s the kind of guy he is. I think you’d—”
“Don’t.” I clamped my eyes shut. “Don’t say you think I’d like him, that you could picture us as friends.”
“I wasn’t going to say those things. Honest I wasn’t.” Her eyes glistened. She blinked away the tears.
“But you’re going to marry him.”
She clamped her eyes shut a moment then held my hand again. “Jake, do you love me?”
Why did she ask that?
The door opened, and Laura dropped my hand. Spencer Dalrymple III entered the room like he owned the place. With his dough and influence, he probably did.
Laura’s loving expression vanished, replaced by nurselike concern. The transformation smooth and seamless. She was an actress after all, and a damn good one. I couldn’t tell whether the act was for him, or me.
The man wore a tailored double-breasted gray silk suit, matching fedora, and Italian shoes. He cast an adoring smile at Laura that would leave a permanent scar on my heart.
He hung his hat on a coatrack beside the door and shook my hand like I was a returning war hero. “Jake Donovan. Laura’s told me so much about you. I really should tackle one of your novels, but I rarely have time for fiction these days.”
I couldn’t look Laura in the eye. I’m sure she hadn’t told him everything about me, about us. “Ordinarily I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dalrymple, but under the circumstances . . . ”
“Call me Spencer. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. What was his name, darling?” He turned to Laura.
“Mickey O’Brien.” Laura smiled, but her eyes failed to hide her discomfort in the presence of her fiancé.
Dalrymple smoothed his thin mustache and sat at the foot of the bed like we were family. “How morbidly ironic for a man who writes about murder to be shot a few hours after setting foot in my city. Perhaps President Roosevelt will put a stop to the organized crime that’s gotten completely out of hand.”
“It wasn’t an organized-crime hit, Spencer,” Laura said.
“Yes, darling, of course.” He gazed around the room as if conducting an inspection for his bank. “I’m on the board of this hospital. I’ll make sure you have everything you need during your stay. Hopefully your visit to our institution will be brief.”
“The wound isn’t serious. I hope to be out in a couple of days.”
“Splendid! Saturday is Laura’s closing of . Afterward, I’m hosting the cast party at the estate. We’d love for you to come, wouldn’t we, darling?”
One more and I’d grab the crutches from the corner and smack him upside the head.
Laura’s face brightened. “Oh, do come, Jake. Many of your writer friends will be at the party, Dashiell and Lillian.”
I’d enjoy seeing my two best writer friends. I chuckled. “Make sure you order plenty of booze.”
She laughed and rattled off several other names while I tried to understand the change in her. Although she liked Dash and Lillian, she hated society parties, at least she used to.
I couldn’t think of a gracious way out. “Of course I’ll be there.”
“Splendid.” Spencer clapped his hands together.
“Congratulations on your engagement.”
A proud smile swept across his face. “I’m a lucky man.”
“Yes you are.”
After an awkward silence, a nurse came in with a stern look. She started to speak; then her face blanched. “Mr. Dalrymple.”
He grabbed his hat. “I bet the nurse needs to stick you with a needle. Perhaps we should let her tend to her business.” Spencer held his hand toward Laura. “Darling, I’m sure your friend needs his rest.”
Friend. I’d become Laura’s and she’d become Dalrymple’s
Laura patted my hand like my sisters used to. “I look forward to seeing you again at the party so we can get caught up.”
Maybe it was the tone of her voice or the tilt of her head when she asked if I still loved her. Maybe I wanted to read something into what wasn’t there, but I suspected she wanted to talk about something important—alone.
Her fiancé didn’t appear to notice, or he chose to ignore it. He held out a ten-dollar bill to the nurse. “Make sure Mr. Donovan gets anything he needs.”
The nurse stared at the sawbuck. “We . . . I can’t . . . a tip?”
“Of course you can.” Displaying his power more than his generosity, he added another sawbuck and stuffed the bills into her hand.
Laura managed an uncomfortable smile at the gesture. At the door her fiancé placed a possessive hand in the center of her back. Then they were gone.
I blew out a long breath and tried to erase the vision of his hand on her back.
The nurse glanced at the wall clock and wrote in my chart. Beside me, she checked my pulse. “Your heart rate is a bit rapid.”
She wrote in my chart. “Anything I can get you?”
I had a lot to accomplish in the next few days—finalize my chapter to Mildred’s approval, dig into what Mickey had uncovered in his investigation, and now I had a fancy society party to attend. Like my father taught me, one thing at a time. “A typewriter and a shot of bourbon.” We compromised. She’d find me a typewriter.
Sleep came in bits and pieces. In the morning, my mind raced between guilt over Mickey’s death and what I could do about it and images of Laura and her fiancé. Drugs dulled the ache from the wound in my leg. They couldn’t give me anything for the painful thoughts of seeing Laura again, meeting her fiancé, and my regret over running away from a problem instead of facing it like a man.
After breakfast, the nurse handed me the crutches. I staggered around the bed without falling. She led me outside the room and pointed down a long hallway and asked me to give her a half hour while she and another nurse changed the sheets.
The cop outside the door set the newspaper beside the chair and rose.
“Finish your paper.” I made sure I cinched the hospital gown in the back and took a few hesitant steps down the hall. Pain shot through my wounded leg with each step. The rubber crutch tips slipped across the tile, but I soon got the hang of it and made it to the end of the corridor.
I balanced on the crutches and peered through the second-story window at the busy morning rush below. A young couple sat on a bench in a park across the street, holding hands. The man brushed a shock of hair from the girl’s eyes like I’d done when Laura and I dated.
Laura came to school one early spring day with her hair brushed over half her face. She avoided me all morning. At lunch I sat across from her and tried to make her laugh by making a goofy face. She wouldn’t look at me.
I leaned over the table and brushed her hair aside, revealing a fist-sized bruise on the side of her cheek. “What happened?”
She still didn’t look me in the eye. “I tripped and fell.”
I didn’t believe her explanation for a minute. “Was that before or after your old man smacked you?”
Tears welled in her eyes. She brushed the hair over the bruise. “He was drunk.”
What an idiot I’d been. I thought about other bruises I’d seen in the four years I’d known her. Falls she’d laughed off, and I’d chalked up to her tomboy behavior.
The truth she’d kept from me couldn’t hide behind a wisp of hair. Laura’s father beat her, and he hit hard.
Anger stewed all afternoon. I wanted to kill her old man, but teaching him a lesson would be better for Laura. By the final bell, I had a plan.
Gino, Danny, and I waited until after dark, a block from Laura’s, in front of a house with a porch light on. Her old man turned the corner as he came home from work. I stepped forward and blocked his path.
The drunken bully outweighed me by a hundred pounds, but most of it was fat around his belly. I could take him. I learned to fight from boxing lessons my father gave me.
Laura’s old man’s face twisted into a sneer. “You got a problem, pretty boy?”
“ have the problem. I’m going to kick your ass.”
A bead of sweat trickled down his face. It wasn’t a hot night. He let out a ragged laugh. “If this is about Laura, she doesn’t listen when I’m talking, like her mama didn’t. She had it coming.”
“No woman has it coming.” He needed to feel pain like he inflicted on Laura. I clenched both fists.
“I want first crack at him,” Gino said behind me.
I shook my head. “Wait your turn.”
“You’re just kids.” Laura’s old man laughed but cast a wary eye at Danny who pounded his fist into his hand.
I faked a kick to the man’s crotch and threw a sharp left jab that cracked against his chin.
He rubbed his jaw. Anger turned his brown eyes even darker. “If that’s the way you want it.” He swung.
I took a slide step, slipped the punch, and smashed a left-right to his face. He stumbled backward, and I smacked him again.
Gino and Danny cheered me on as I circled to my left. I kept my distance and peppered his fleshy face with stiff jabs and bone-jarring hooks. He tired quickly. The few punches he threw missed.
The screen door squeaked open and a woman’s voice called, “What’s going on?”
Laura’s father swung and landed a lucky punch above my right eye, slicing my brow.
Gino stepped toward the house. “Go back inside, Mrs. Goldstein. This don’t concern you.”
The screen door shut. The porch light blinked off.
I wiped blood from my brow and regained my composure. I bloodied his nose with a left hook. Minutes later, I finished him off. He crumpled to the sidewalk, bleeding from his mouth, nose, and one eye. My buddies never got their turns.
My breathing returned to normal as I stood over him. Blood dripped from the cut above my eye and landed on the man’s shirt.
I waited until his eyes focused and I knew he could understand my words. I pointed my finger like the barrel of a gun, my voice calm. “If you ever touch Laura again, I’ll let my friends have their turn. They’re tougher than me. You understand?”
“And we don’t fight fair.” Gino pumped his fist while Danny grinned in silence.
When Laura’s old man didn’t answer, Gino kicked him in the ribs. “Answer the question, lard-ass.”
Laura’s father gulped and nodded.
Laura and I never spoke about what happened, but her life got better from that day forward. At lunch the next day I hid my bruised knuckles and wore a bandage over the cut on my eyebrow. I told her I’d received it playing football.
She never questioned the bandage or asked about the origin of the scar left from the lucky blow. She told me her father came home after getting into a barroom brawl and apologized for striking her. He even gave her money to see a movie.
Laura and I went on our first date a few days later to the Grand Theatre and watched courtesy of her old man’s dough. Through most of the movie she held my arm and rested her head on my shoulder. I walked her home. On her doorstep, we kissed for the first time since our Tom Sawyer play.
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