Historical Mysteries set in the 1930’s

Inspired by The Thin Man movies

Inspired by The Thin Man movies

Even before the release of my Prohibition-era historical mystery, The Yankee Club, several readers asked why I’d set a mystery in the 1930’s. There are five major reasons I chose to set my Jake and Laura mystery series in the 1930’s, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The Golden Age of Mysteries.

The 1920’s and the 30’s are considered the Golden Age of Mysteries. Famous authors who wrote during this era include. Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout and Dorothy L. Sayers to name a few. With my Jake and Laura series, I have my own style of writing. I’m trying not to copy them, but to pay tribute to the timeless classics they wrote.

The comparisons between the thirties and the world today.

The thirties brought the world a devastating economic disaster, the Great Depression. Banks closed, homes were repossessed, millions lost their jobs and the gap between the haves and have nots increased. In the early part of this century were flirted with another Depression, banks closed, homes were repossessed, unemployment reached post-Depression highs and the gap has widened between the haves and have nots. The Jake and Laura series is a mystery series, not a political statement, but readers can’t escape the comparisons between then and now.

Intriguing Historical figures.

The thirties brought fascinating historical figures in politics, entertainment, sports and yes, crime. With Laura, a famous Broadway actress and Jake a successful mystery writer, they interact from time to time with friends from these fields and they drop by from time to time enhancing scenes and the stories; Cole Porter, Babe Ruth, Louella Parsons, to name a few. As a writer it was fun and a challenge to determine which of these characters are inherent to the stories.

The Influence of The Thin Man Movies.

William Powell, Myrna Loy, Asta

William Powell, Myrna Loy, Asta

I loved Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, but it’s William Powell and Myrna Loy who inspired me to create a couple in love and investigating crime. I hope my series contains a smattering of sophistication, suspense and humor.

Noir Fiction. I’m a fan of hard-boiled detective novels and noir films and novels. I love heroes like Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. The Jake and Laura novels are not classic, there’s too much humor and romance to fit that mold, but that was my intent, noir with a few laughs thrown in.

Whether you’ve read The Yankee Club, or plan to read All That Glitters, I hope this has helped explain how writing these novels came about.

Another Jake and Laura mystery

Another Jake and Laura mystery

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The Publishing Cycle

Inspired by The Thin Man movies

Inspired by The Thin Man movies

I have to admit, sometimes the publishing cycle can seem overwhelming. Random House Alibi released the first Jake and Laura novel, The Yankee Club, on August 12 and I’m thrilled by all the terrific reviews it’s received. Of course marketing and promotion began long before August and continued with a blog tour in September and posting reviews in social media as they show up in Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, etc.

September also saw the cover reveal for the second in the series, All That Glitters.

Another Jake and Laura mystery

Another Jake and Laura mystery

During all this I’ve been working on book three in the series, Wings in the Dark, that takes place in Hawaii. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually travel to Hawaii for research. I’m still working away on the manuscript, but I can’t neglect The Yankee Club and all the great reviews reader continues to post.

Nor can I ignore the advance buzz staring about All That Glitters. October saw the book being available for pre-order for the January 6 release. It’s now available through NetGalley.

It’s an exciting time balancing writing and promotion involving three books in a series. For all you authors out there, you know what I’m talking about.

Pre-order All That Glitters at:

The Kindle Store             Nook Store             Kobo Books

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Television interview

It was my pleasure recently to be interviewed by Sandy Moss, host of the Morning Scramble in Prescott, Arizona. We chatted about my recent trip back to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and my Woodstock novel, Goodbye Emily. We also chatted about my current novel, The Yankee Club and All That Glitters that comes out in January. Thought I’d share our chat.

 

 

 

 

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The Yankee Club Reviewers

It’s always humbling when someone purchases one of my books and even more so when I see that someone’s taken the time to read and review my book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads or various blogs. Here’s just a few snippets of reviews from The Yankee Club.

“Jump on the incredible page turner set in 1933 in the middle of the Great Depression – you won’t regret it.” Reviewer Bill Baker

“This is a highly entertaining novel, very skillfully written. Murphy has done a great job of creating a story that reads like it could have been written by one of the greats of noir fiction. I highly recommend it.” Goodreads reviewer Scott Parsons

“The Yankee Club was a fantastic mystery read!! Shady characters, corruption, romance, mystery and suspense and not once did any of these factors overthrow the plot.” Bookish Wanderlove Blog

“The Yankee Club by Michael Murphy is a hard-boiled historical romp that is inspired genius, peppered with great characters.” Looking for a Good Book Blog.

“The Yankee Club is a compelling mystery, meticulously crafted, and filled with humor and witty dialogue.” Author Peg Glover

“The Yankee Club is a fun read from start to finish.” Blogger Peter Faur

Thanks to everyone who’s read and reviewed The Yankee Club.

 

 

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Thanks to Everyone for my book release

A book release is an exciting time for an author and it was for me when The Yankee Club was released Tuesday, August 12. I have so many people to thank for helping me launch the book. First off, thank you to my agent Dawn Dowdle and to my fellow authors at Blue Ridge Literary Agency, for offering support, encouragement, and suggestions to spread the word.

I’ll always be grateful to Dana, Kimberly, April, Heidi, Katie and so many others at Random House Alibi who helped edit, produce a dynamite cover and brought their expertise to the effort to release The Yankee Club and to offer such a terrific special price reduction.

And thanks to all of you who’ve downloaded the book at The Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble Nook Store, Google Play, which is a great place to download ebooks on any android devices, or any of the other sites where ebooks are sold.

Thanks to everyone who’s downloaded the book and a special thanks to those who’ve taken the time to post reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. Your time and effort to post a review is especially appreciated.

Inspired by The Thin Man movies

Inspired by The Thin Man movies

January 6, the second in the Jake and Laura series will be released. You’ll probably want to read The Yankee Club first so you can find out why Jake and Laura travel to Hollywood during Tinseltown’s naughtiest, bawdiest year to date.

Another Jake and Laura mystery

Another Jake and Laura mystery

 

 

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The Yankee Club is here!

Today marks the official release of The Yankee Club by Random House Alibi. I have so many people to thank for making this day possible; my agent, Dawn Dowdle, the editors at Alibi and my critique group, Toby Heathcotte, Beth Blake and Cherie Lee.

Now you can order the ebook for just $2.99!

Amazon Kindle    Barnes & Noble Nook

Books-A-Million   eBooks.com   Google Play Store

iBooks   Kobo

The Yankee Club is already generating a buzz. Here’s what some of the best book bloggers around are saying:

The Bookbinder’s Daughter book blog.

Bibliotica book blog because books are portable magic.

Reading Reality blog by Marlene Harris.

The Incredible Librarian Book Blog

Michelle’s Bookshelf by Michelle Mallette

Brandon Sears’s Read Everything Blog

Savage Reads book blog

The Sweetest Place is Home book blog

Mustard Seeds blog

If you’re still not sure The Yankee Club is the book for you, here’s a brief synopsis:

In Michael Murphy’s action-packed Prohibition-era novel of suspense, a mystery writer returns to the bright lights and dark alleys of New York City—uncovering a criminal conspiracy of terrifying proportions.
 
In 1933, America is at a crossroads: Prohibition will soon be history, organized crime is rampant, and President Roosevelt promises to combat the Great Depression with a New Deal. In these uncertain times, former-Pinkerton-detective-turned-bestselling-author Jake Donovan is beckoned home to Manhattan. He has made good money as the creator of dashing gumshoe Blackie Doyle, but the price of success was Laura Wilson, the woman he left behind. Now a Broadway star, Laura is engaged to a millionaire banker—and waltzing into a dangerous trap.
 
Before Jake can win Laura back, he’s nearly killed—and his former partner is shot dead—after a visit to the Yankee Club, a speakeasy dive in their old Queens neighborhood. Suddenly Jake and Laura are plunged into a conspiracy that runs afoul of gangsters, sweeping from New York’s private clubs to the halls of corporate power and to the White House itself. Brushing shoulders with the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Cole Porter, and Babe Ruth, Jake struggles to expose an inconspicuous organization hidden in plain sight, one determined to undermine the president and change the country forever.

I hope you enjoy The Yankee Club. The best way to let me know  what you think is to post a review of your own on Goodreads. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or where ever you ordered the ebook.

Michael Murphy

Inspired by The Thin Man movies

Inspired by The Thin Man movies

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One more excerpt from The Yankee Club

Yankee Club with the rose crop 4The Yankee Club will be released on August 12, so here’s one more excerpt. Still in the hospital, Jake is visited by two cops, his editor, Mildred and the owner of The Yankee Club, Gino, who thinks it’s time for Jake to leave. 

The Yankee Club

Chapter 3 (continued)

I made it back down the hallway on the crutches. I nodded to the cop outside my door and entered the room. The nurses had changed more than the sheets. The drab hospital room resembled a cheery hotel suite.

The new bed had a thick wide mattress with crisp ironed sheets whiter than snow and a soft-looking pillow. In the corner they’d placed a chair and desk with an Underwood typewriter, a stack of paper, and a crystal vase with yellow carnations. The nurse smiled and held out a thick blue robe.

Except for the typewriter, I hadn’t asked for any of this. “You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble.”

“Any friend of Spencer Dalrymple’s—”

“He’s not my friend.”

The nurse smirked and laid the robe on the bed. “I see.”

Maybe she’d seen something between Laura and me. For Laura’s sake I had to do a better job of hiding my feelings about her.

I propped the crutches against the side of the bed. Balancing on one leg, I slipped into the robe and cinched it around my waist.

“Jake Donovan.” A broad-shouldered man in a three-piece suit and polished shoes entered and removed his hat. “Apparently you’re well enough . . . and comfortable enough to tell us what happened last night. I’m Detective Hawkins, and this is Inspector Stone.”

His partner stood behind him, and both men flashed NYPD badges. I recognized Stone’s hawklike nose and perpetual scowl. Officer Stone had walked a beat with Mickey for two years. He never liked me, and things got worse when Mickey quit the force and we opened our detective agency.

Stone shook his head in disgust and gestured toward the pillow. “Where’s the mint?”

When the nurse left, Stone looked me straight in the eye like I was a suspect, not a victim. “Four years ago I got plugged in the shoulder. I was in the hospital for two weeks. They stuck me in a ward with a dozen guys who had serious intestinal problems, if you know what I mean.”

I sat on the edge of the bed. “I’m quite well, Inspector. Thanks for asking.”

Hawkins gave his partner a look and set his hat on the coatrack. He took out a small notebook and pencil from his suit coat pocket. “Why don’t you start with when you left The Yankee Club.”

Stone dropped his hat beside the typewriter, plopped down at the desk, and drummed his fingers on the paper.

I told them about the visit to Mickey’s office with Frankie Malzone. I left out meeting Belle Starr. I didn’t want these guys to give her the business until I’d talked to her. In my gumshoe days streetwalkers often spilled information to me they kept from cops.

While Hawkins made notes, Stone grabbed a sheet of typing paper and rolled it into the Underwood. He began to type as I spoke.

The man needed a sock in the nose. I would’ve obliged if I wasn’t such a nice guy and hadn’t taken a bullet to the leg.

I described the black sedan, the shooting, and Frankie blasting out the car’s rear window. I left out Mickey’s last words about the key in the ashtray. For now, Belle and the key were mine.

Hawkins studied his notes. “How soon after Frankie lit the cigarette did the car approach through the fog?”

The question smacked me in the gut. Was there a connection? “You think Frankie sent some kind of signal?”

“Naah.” Hawkins stuffed the notebook into his pocket. “Seems pretty cut and dried to me. We find the black sedan with the windshield shot out, we find Jimmy Vales.”

“That’s your theory?”

“An hour after Vales threatened to kill you in The Yankee Club—we got a dozen witnesses—you and Mickey O’Brien were gunned down. You think that’s just a coincidence?”

Hawkins might have been right, but I intended to find out. “We’re finished.” I gestured toward the door.

“For now.”

Stone ripped the paper from the typewriter. “There once was a man from Nantucket—”

“That’s enough,” Hawkins shouted.

Stone laid the crude limerick beside the typewriter. He grabbed his hat and left the room.

Hawkins set his hat on his head. “I know you were a gumshoe and Mickey was a friend of yours, but I don’t want you nosing around like this is some chapter in one of your novels. You get in our way, you’ll be typing from a jail cell.” He turned on his heel and left the room.

I rubbed my throbbing leg and pictured Frankie lighting the cigarette and Belle Starr disappearing into the fog. I needed to discover why Mickey was hesitant to discuss the case he was working. I had to check every angle to see whether Mickey had been the target.

Inspector Stone returned and pointed a finger at me. “Mickey’s dead ’cause of you. He’d still be on the force if you hadn’t talked him into becoming a dick.”

“Mickey came to me about becoming a detective.”

Spit flew from his mouth. “You breeze into the city and three hours later Mickey shows up on a slab in the morgue with a tag on his toe. I hope you can sleep nights.”

I wasn’t going to take his crap any longer. I climbed out of bed to take a sock at the bum. A jolt of pain shot through my injured leg, and I crumpled to the floor.

Stone barked a satisfied chuckle and left.

I winced, pulled myself up, and leaned against the bed. I couldn’t imagine Hawkins and Stone finding Mickey’s killer. I just hoped they didn’t get in my way when I left the hospital to investigate.

I didn’t have bourbon to take my mind off Laura and Mickey, but I had my typewriter. Grabbing a crutch, I made it to the table. I dropped into the chair and rolled a sheet of paper into the Underwood and began to type the rewrite of my final chapter.

Halfway through the rewrite an aide delivered dinner—bland-looking rice and a slimy fish fillet. I ignored the meal and finished typing an hour later, satisfied Mildred would be pleased. Now I could focus on more important matters.

I left the chapter beside the typewriter and returned to the bed. It wasn’t long until the doctor entered and removed the bandage from my leg. He examined the wound and nodded approval. No infection. If I didn’t have any complications in the next twenty-four hours, he’d discharge me. Okay, he said a day or two, but I was a quick healer, especially when I had something important to do.

After he left, I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep. I dreamed about standing on a street corner in my old neighborhood. A white ambulance drove past, and the driver shot at me. I dropped to the sidewalk as he sped away. I checked myself over, but the shooter had missed. Sweat slid down my face as I lay on my back on the cement. I was all right but couldn’t escape the impression of someone watching me.

I awoke and stared into the green eyes of Mildred, less than a foot from my face.

“Holy crap!” My editor stumbled backward and fell into the chair beside the bed. She patted her chest. “I thought . . . I thought you were . . . never mind what I thought. I never should’ve hired that driver!”

“Frankie?”

“Don’t worry, I fired him.”

I had my doubts about Frankie, but I wouldn’t share them with Mildred. “Frankie Malzone probably saved my life when he tied his belt around my leg.”

“I should’ve met you at the train. Instead I hire some hoodlum and you end up drinking at a speakeasy and getting shot. I’ll never forgive myself.” She offered no condolences over the loss of a friend. Mildred paced the room and continued to rant as I’d seen her do dozens of times.

When she finally took a breath, I pointed to the twenty pages. “I finished the chapter.”

Mildred stopped pacing and grinned. “You’re the cat’s meow!” She picked up a sheet of paper beside the typewriter. “There once was a man from Nantucket. Jake Donovan!”

“No, the stack of papers on the other side of the typewriter.”

She grabbed the pages and plopped down in the chair. Ten minutes later, a smile swept across her face. “Perfect.”

“Unless you’re Blackie Doyle.”

She clutched the chapter to her chest and approached the bed. “Some people aren’t meant to be married.” Her face reddened, and she covered her mouth with one hand. “I’m so sorry. That was a terrible thing to say.”

“It’s okay.”

Mildred flashed a sheepish smile and grabbed her purse. “I’d like to stay and chat . . . ”

“You don’t chat. You talk. People listen.”

“Was that nice? You’ve got a few more days at the Carlyle Hotel to heal up before you head back to Tampa. You could use a vacation.”

I had no intention of holing up in a hotel. “That would be swell, especially since Empire Press is footing the bill.” I’d developed a knack of smiling with sincerity when I lied.

She kissed my cheek. “Call me when you get out of here. We can talk about your next book over lunch.”

After she left, the nurse came in with a sleeping pill. I welcomed the medication and soon fell asleep. This time: no dreams.

Early the next morning, a hand shook me awake. “Up and at ’em, sunshine. It’s Gino.”

I ran a hand over my face and checked the wall clock. “Seven. Visiting hours aren’t until—”

“I don’t pay attention to stuff like visiting hours.” He pointed to the empty chair outside the open door. “I figured they’d stick a cop outside your door.”

“Guess the detectives I talked to don’t think I need protecting now that they’re on the case.”

Gino checked out the room and nodded approval. “Very nice. Remind me if I get shot to come here.” He glanced around as if someone might be watching then handed me something wrapped in white paper. “Ma baked you a calzone.”

“Thanks.” I unwrapped the prize I remembered as a kid and offered Gino a bite.

“Too early for breakfast.” He slipped a flask from his suit coat and took a sip.

While I ate, Gino grew serious. “Too bad about, Mickey. Funeral is Monday at St. Tim’s.”

“What day is this?”

“You kidding me? It’s Friday . . . May fifth. Sheesh, we need to get you out of here before you go crazy. Anyways, I’m taking care of the arrangements. Mickey didn’t have nobody, except you and me.”

“And Laura.”

He cocked his head. “I don’t like that look on your mug when you said Laura. You’ll probably give me a sock in the jaw, but I gotta say it. You was always too protective of her.”

What? Of course I wanted to protect her. I’d started with keeping her safe from her old man. “You’re right. I should sock you in the jaw, but I still love her.”

“Let’s talk about something else besides feelings, okay, nancy?” He pulled up a chair. “Me and Danny done some snooping around. No one’s seen Jimmy Vales. The cops think he might’ve taken a crack at you, but I don’t know. Jimmy’s no brain surgeon, but he’s not so stupid as to threaten someone in front of a hundred witnesses then plug ’em an hour later. Am I right?”

“You’re preaching to the choir.” I finished the calzone and brushed crumbs from my gown.

“What do you say? Let’s spring you from this joint, choir boy.”

Now? “The doctor didn’t say when I could leave.”

Gino held out both hands. “You waiting for a permission slip? You’re old enough to not have to follow stupid rules. Come on. It’s your leg. You look good. How you feeling?”

“I’m a little stiff.”

“Happens to me every morning.” Gino snorted. “Let’s go. Unless you like the food and lying in bed watching your leg heal.” He set an overnight bag on the bed. “I took the liberty of stopping by your hotel and picking up some of your stuff. Frankie got you checked in.”

“How’d you get in the room?”

“I know the front desk girl . . . intimately.”

Most solved murders were cracked within forty-eight hours. After that, memories faded, clues vanished, and trails grew cold. “I wouldn’t want the hospital to think I skipped out of paying my bill.”

“So you leave ’em a note.” He held up a black lacquered cane with a silver handle in the shape of a bloodhound. “I got you something else. Check this out.” He twisted the handle and pulled. Attached to the handle was an eight-inch dagger that fit into the hollow opening of the cane. “I saw something like this in a movie once. I heard you got shot in the leg and thought you should be gimping around in style. Try it.”

I slid the dagger into the cane. I turned the handle and locked the blade inside. “Nice.”

“So we gonna do this or what?”

Before I could change my mind, I changed into slacks and a sweater. I left a note on the desk to send the bill to the Carlyle.

Gino poked his head out the door. “Coast is clear.”

I kept weight off my leg with the cane and followed him to the elevator, hoping we wouldn’t run into my doc.

Gino stabbed the down button and clapped me on the back. “Relax. You look like we just knocked off a bank.”

The elevator creaked to the lobby. In the morning haze, Gino hailed a cab while I leaned against the cane. I made a mental list of places to check and people to talk to.

Gino held the door open while I climbed into the back of the cab. Yesterday I was just a hack writer finishing a novel. To solve Mickey O’Brien’s murder I’d have to become what I’d been most of my so-called adult life. My fist tightened around the cane’s silver handle. Until I found Mickey’s killer, I was a detective.

Pre-order now and The Yankee Club will download August 12

Amazon Kindle    Barnes & Nobel Nook  

Books-A-Million    eBooks.com    Google Play

iBooks    Kobo

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All That Glitters

While the first Jake and Laura mystery is less than two weeks away, the cover for the second in the series, All That Glitters has just been revealed. Thought you might want to be one of the first to see it.

Another Jake and Laura mystery

Another Jake and Laura mystery

Here’s what Random House Alibi says about the novel:

“In Michael Murphy’s rollicking new Jake & Laura mystery, the hard-boiled writer and the aspiring movie star head for sun-drenched Los Angeles, where a cold-blooded murderer lurks behind the scenes.
 
Just arrived from New York, Broadway actress Laura Wilson is slated to star in Hollywood’s newest screwball comedy. At her side, of course, is Jake Donovan, under pressure to write his next mystery novel. But peace and quiet are not to be had when an all-too-real murder plot intrudes: After a glitzy party, the son of a studio honcho is discovered dead from a gunshot wound. And since Jake exchanged words with the hothead just hours before his death, the bestselling author becomes the LAPD’s prime suspect.
 
In 1930s Tinseltown, anything goes. Proving his innocence won’t be easy in a town where sex, seduction, and naked power run rampant. With gossip columnist Louella Parsons dead-set on publicizing the charges against him, Jake has no choice but to do what everyone else does in the City of Angels: act like someone else. Blackie Doyle, the tough-talking, fist-swinging, womanizing hero from Jake’s novels wouldn’t pull any punches until he exposed the real killer—nor will Jake, to keep the role of a lifetime from being his last.”

All That Glitters will be released January 6. If you pre-order The Yankee Club now, it will download August 12.  Pre-order from:

Amazon Kindle    Barnes & Noble Nook

Books-A-Million    eBooks.com    Google Play

iBooks    Kobo


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The Yankee Club Excerpt Week 3

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

Chapter 3

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?”

I nodded.

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. “The New York Times.”

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 Night Whispers. Afterward, I’m hosting the cast party at the estate. We’d love for you to come, wouldn’t we, darling?”

One more darling 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 friend,and she’d become Dalrymple’s darling.

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.”

Imagine that.

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?”

You 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 The Birth of a Nation,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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The Yankee Club Excerpt Chapter 2

In Michael Murphy’s action packed Prohibition-era novel of suspense, a mystery writer returns to the bright lights and dark alleys of New York City-uncovering a criminal conspiracy of terrifying proportions.

The Yankee Club

Chapter 2

The Lone Ranger

While Bridgette sang another jazzy number, Danny returned to our table and straightened his suit. “I gave Jimmy the bum’s rush, right on his can.” He studied my face until his lip curled in a sneer. “Now I remember you. You’re Jake, from school. You stole my bike.”

Gino chuckled. “That was a long time ago.”

“We gave it back.” I nodded toward Gino. “Besides, it was his idea.”

Danny’s face puffed up like an overripe tomato. His eyes turned into BBs as he glared at Gino. “That right?”

“I’ll buy you a new one.” Gino grabbed the scotch. He filled a glass and held it out to Danny. “I’ll throw in a bell.”

Danny tossed an empty chair against the wall and stomped off.

“Thanks a lot.” Gino downed the scotch and crushed out his cigarette. “Muscle I can trust don’t grow on trees, you know.”

I finished my drink and got up to leave. “Sorry I disturbed your guests.”

“No trouble. It happens.” Gino gave me a hug and walked Frankie and me toward the front door. “Don’t go back to Florida without stopping by. I’ll have the chef fix you a good Italian dinner.”

“You have a chef?”

“Hey, this ain’t no clip joint. If they repeal Prohibition like the scuttlebutt says, I’ll reopen The Yankee Club as an Italian restaurant with the best cook anywhere. Probably have to change the name to something Italian.”

“How about Gino’s?”

“Gino’s. Sure.”

He pulled me aside and lowered his voice. “I didn’t want to say nothin’ before, but Jimmy’s been in before talking about how he’ll take care of you if you ever show your face. Be careful while you’re in town.”

I nodded toward Frankie who smiled. “I got Frankie. Besides, I don’t plan to get into any trouble.”

“Any more trouble.” Gino shrugged. “Watch your back is all I’m saying.”

Outside The Yankee Club a soft evening fog had settled over the streets. Frankie surveyed the block and lit a cigarette. The glow from his match illuminated his worried brow. “It wouldn’t hurt to be careful the next few days.”

Frankie had consumed a couple more scotches than a driver should, so I suggested a walk. I checked my watch. We were two blocks from Mickey’s office, and knowing him, he’d probably be asleep on the couch.

I straightened my hat, and we headed down the sidewalk. Frankie took a deep breath and let out a retching cough. “Nothing like the air in Queens.”

“Nice move carrying a gun inside The Yankee Club. I could have sworn I saw you stuff the piece under the front seat.”

“You did.” He stuck a toothpick in his mouth. “I always carry two.”

“Where’d you learn that trick?” I stepped around the feet of a man sleeping beneath a sidewalk bench.

“I spent a couple months as a . . . security guard.”

Sure you did. I had to find out more about Frankie before I could trust him. “What’s with the toothpicks?”

“Edith’s been nagging me to quit smoking. Helps me cut down, you know?”

The fog thickened as we made our way down the sidewalk. Our footsteps echoed along the nearly deserted path. A dog barked in the distance, a siren wailed from a couple blocks over, and a man yelled at his wife through the open window of a nearby house. My neighborhood hadn’t changed at all. Had I?

Less than a block from Mickey’s office, Frankie and I stood on the corner and waited for the streetlight to change. A flashy young woman stepped from an apartment building wearing the fog like an overcoat draped around her shoulders. She wore a tight-fitting, low-cut satin dress in a shade of red that matched her full lips. Smoke curled from a cigarette that dangled from one hand. “Frankie? Frankie Malzone?”

Her Jean Harlow–like platinum hair shimmered beneath the streetlight. She smacked his chest with one hand. “It is you, Snuggle Pup. Whatcha doin’ this side of town?”

Snuggle pup? Frankie?

“Belle.” Frankie ran a finger around the collar of his shirt. “Long time.”

“Too long.” She kissed his cheek then gave me the once-over. “Who’s your tall, good-looking friend?”

“Jake Donovan.” He nudged me with his elbow. “You’ve probably heard of him. He’s a famous novelist.”

Belle took a drag on her cigarette and blew a puff of smoke into the fog. “Sorry. I ain’t never heard the name. I’m behind in my book reading.” She ran a hand along the lapel of my suit. “Hey, Daddy, you’re kind of cute.”

“Hands off the merchandise, Belle. Jake here’s a regular Joe.”

“Oh and I guess I’m a regular stinker.”

“I’m just saying . . . ”

I always felt compassion toward women when desperation drove them to work the streets. Everyone had a right to make a living. In her twenties and attractive, this doll had a well-built chassis her customers no doubt appreciated.

Belle dropped her lipstick-smeared cigarette butt in front of Frankie. “You still tied down to Edith?”

Like a dance step in a movie, Frankie crushed her cigarette. “Last time I checked.”

“Then quit checking.” She patted his cheek. “Call me when you wise up, baby. You always were my favorite.”

“Sure I was.” Frankie shot me a look and flicked his cigarette into the gutter.

Her cheek dimpled as she flashed me a playful smile. “We ain’t been properly introduced. I’m Belle. Belle Starr.”

I chuckled. “Like the Wild West outlaw who hung out with Jesse James and the Younger brothers?”

“Yeah.” Belle grinned proudly. “My kind of gal.”

Frankie let out a bark of laughter. “Your parents named you after an outlaw?”

“Naah. Before we met I heard the name in a movie. I liked it better than the one my old lady hung on me.”

Frankie scratched the side of his head. “So what’s your real name?”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s Belle Starr, now clam up about it.”

I made a slight bow. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Starr.”

“Charmed.”

Down the block a sedan parked along the curb, its engine running. Belle squinted into the haze. “Since you two look like you’re going somewheres, I think I’ve spotted a customer. Give me a jingle sometime, Frankie.” She winked at me. “Nice meeting you.” Her shapely hips swayed as she crossed the street and disappeared into the fog.

Frankie followed me toward Mickey’s office building. “Me and Belle go way back, before Edith.”

“No need to explain.” I couldn’t help but smile. “You’re her favorite, Snuggle Pup.”

We reached the familiar four-story brownstone office building. Across the street a tin can clattered down the foggy alley next to the Reed Hotel.

Frankie drew his pistol from the back of his trousers, spun, and aimed the barrel toward the sound.

“Nice quick draw.” Would make the real Belle Starr proud.

“Like I said before, this neighborhood gives me the heebie-jeebies.” Frankie stuffed the gun behind his back. “One can’t be too careful around these parts, Mr. Donovan.”

“Jake.”

We climbed the stairs to the second floor. In the darkened corridor I inhaled the familiar odor of cigarette smoke, old carpet, and desperate lives.

We stopped in front of the familiar office with O’Brien Detective Agency etched into the frosted glass door. Muffled voices came from inside.

I tried the door. Locked. I slid my hand along the top of the dusty door frame and grabbed the key.

I unlocked the door and entered the dark outer office. From a radio on the secretary’s desk came the announcer’s fervent voice: “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty—” I clicked off the radio.

“Hi-yo, Silver. The Lone Ranger. I love that show.” Frankie’s gaze swept the room lit only by the dim corridor light. “No one’s home, kemo sabe.”

Mickey wouldn’t go off and leave the radio on. I flipped on a desk lamp, and the phone rang. It rang a second time. I answered, “O’Brien Detective Agency.”

No one spoke. Only shallow breathing.

“O’Brien Detective Agency.”

“Who’s this?” An unfamiliar man’s voice, but I noticed a faint Boston accent.

“Jake Donovan.” Did I detect a note of surprise in the man’s voice that Mickey hadn’t answered, or was I being overly suspicious?

The line went dead.

I hung up the receiver and opened the door to Mickey’s office. The room was dark except for when the red neon Reed Hotel sign across the street blinked through the partially open blinds.

Mickey sat slumped over on the wooden desk. Except for his face flat against the green desk blotter, the desktop was organized as usual, a notepad beside the phone, a bottle of Canadian whiskey, an empty glass, and a brass ashtray overflowing with Lucky Strike butts.

Even in a wrinkled gray suit and in need of a shave, with his slicked-back black hair, he resembled the actor Lyle Talbot. Although not quite the ladies’ man he professed to be, my former partner was tough, resourceful, and fearless. Only Mickey knew he was the inspiration for Blackie Doyle, a fact that would no doubt surprise the fan I met on the train, Dorothy Greenwoody.

Mickey had changed the office: one desk instead of two. He wasn’t as tidy as I’d been. File folders and tattered telephone books from a dozen cities lay scattered on a corner table. A four-bladed fan on a metal filing cabinet stirred the office air, lifting the corner of The New York Times scattered at Mickey’s feet.

Frankie peered over my shoulder into the room. “Maybe he’s dead.”

Dead drunk. I flipped on the light, walked to the desk, and shook Mickey’s shoulder.

The newspaper lay open to the society page. A photo of Laura caught my eye. I snatched the paper off the floor and read the caption.

Engagement? The word leaped from the page and socked me in the gut like a Jack Dempsey punch. I slumped down in a chair in front of Mickey’s desk too stunned to get angry.

Laura stood arm in arm with some fancy Dan with a pencil-thin mustache and narrow birdlike eyes. The caption made me question everything I knew about her. How could this be? I loosened the tie around my neck and sucked in a gulp of air.

“You okay?” Frankie turned the fan toward me.

I reached across the desk and shook Mickey again.

“What . . . what’s going on?” Mickey sat up and nearly toppled from the chair. He braced himself and gave Frankie the once-over. “Who are you?”

“A friend of a friend.” Frankie pointed to me.

Mickey ran a hand over his face and focused bloodshot eyes. “Jake?”

I slapped the Times in front of him. “When did this happen?”

“Nice to see you again, too.”

“Laura’s engaged!”

Mickey reached for the bottle. “Guess I thought you knew. It’s not a secret if it’s in the papers.”

“The news didn’t reach Florida.” I crumpled the newspaper and tossed it in the corner. “You should’ve called me.”

Mickey poured a shot and gulped it down. “So you could do what?”

“I don’t know.” So I could blame myself for walking out on her.

For a moment, the only sound in the room was a slight wobble of the fan. Finally, Mickey nodded toward Frankie. “Who’s your pal?”

Frankie held out his hand to Mickey. “Frankie Malzone. If you don’t mind me saying so, you don’t look so good.”

Mickey shook Frankie’s hand. “I feel worse.”

Trying to keep my guts from boiling over, I walked to the window and peered through the blinds. Cars drove slowly through the fog. Headlights illuminated two people standing beside a black sedan parked in front of the hotel. A man leaned against the car. His hat hid his face from view as he negotiated with Belle Starr.

I clamped my eyes shut, picturing Laura marrying some guy I’d never met. Life had a way of kicking my teeth in when I least expected it, like my father getting sick before I made it big.

My need to finish the novel seemed unimportant now. Writing made-up stories about a fictional detective never felt so insignificant. I faced Mickey. “You want to tell me about Laura?”

“What’s to tell?” Mickey poured himself another drink.

The office walls closed in. “I’m thinking we could both use some fresh air.”

“Let me wash my hands.” Mickey swallowed the whiskey, pushed the chair back, and went into the bathroom off the office.

Frankie retrieved the crumpled newspaper and smoothed it out. He studied the photo that caught my eye. “This Laura you two talked about is the dame on the billboard?”

I shouted, “She’s no dame.”

Frankie dropped the newspaper. “No offense, Jake.”

I grabbed the bottle and poured myself a drink. I threw down the whiskey in one gulp. Laura had a temper, focused on her acting more than her real life at times, but she was never a dame.

Frankie studied the framed photographs on the wall across from Mickey’s desk. The first—Mickey and I in our uniforms at a sidewalk café in France during the Great War. I’d snapped the next picture, Mickey proudly grinning in his NYPD uniform when he became a patrol officer. Laura took the third photo eight years ago, Mickey and I smiling in front of the office building the day we opened Donovan and O’Brien Detective Agency.

Where was the fourth picture, the one of Laura? The perfectly lit publicity photo had always been Mickey’s favorite, because it displayed her soft skin, dark eyes, and flawless features. The quiet, gap-toothed tomboy I knew in school had blossomed into one of New York’s most beautiful women.

Why didn’t Mickey have his favorite photo on the wall?

“All set.” Mickey grabbed his hat from the coatrack. He unlocked a small cabinet in the closet. He retrieved a revolver and slipped it into a holster inside his suit coat. “Can’t be too careful.”

Outside, the fog had thinned enough to see across the street. Mickey almost looked like his old self, but I hadn’t recovered from finding out about Laura’s engagement. I’d spent more than half my life wanting what was best for Laura. I could take the gut punch of her marrying this guy if it made her happy, but it still hurt.

“Where’s Laura’s photo?” I asked Mickey.

Frankie nodded toward a bench across the street. “Maybe I should go have a smoke while you two catch up.” He crossed the street into the misty fog.

Mickey lit a cigarette and tossed the match into the gutter. “I guess I moved on like you. Laura has a new life. Maybe it’s best we both let her go.”

“I had to let her go. You didn’t. Christ, she was the sister you never had.”

“Life changes.” Mickey took a long puff. “What brings you back?”

I explained about Mildred talking me into returning to finalize the novel. The news about Laura had resolved one of my problems, my novel’s ending. Blackie didn’t need to live happily ever after.

Across the street Frankie lit a cigarette and sat on the bench staring at his shoes.

“What do you know about this guy?” Mickey nodded toward Frankie.

“We met when I stepped off the train. Mildred hired him.”

“You’re too trusting. Always were.”

“I trust Mildred. Besides, he helped when I tussled with Jimmy Vales at The Yankee Club earlier.”

“Jimmy’s out? That ain’t good.”

For a moment, neither of us spoke while Mickey smoked, his expression a million miles away.

“Laura’s found some big cheese?”

“Name’s Spencer Dalrymple. The third. You know, the Long Island Dalrymples. Old money. He produced Laura’s last two plays.”

The Laura I knew used to make fun of stuffed shirts like Dalrymple. The family went back more than a hundred years—powerful bankers and influential politicians. Nothing happened in New York without them opposing or backing a project.

I felt better thinking maybe Laura might be marrying this schmuck for money, but that didn’t sound like her either. “That all you know about him?”

“There’s more, but what’s the point?” He stared at his cigarette. “You should talk to Laura. I can’t say anything else.”

Mickey’s face hid something about her engagement. “Can’t, or won’t? This is Jake Donovan you’re talking to.”

“I thought maybe that’s why you came into town, to talk her out of marrying the guy.”

“She never listened when I talked marriage before, why would she now?”

“She listened.” Mickey ran a hand over the stubble on his chin. “But when you moved out of the apartment and ran off to Florida—’’

“I didn’t run off.”

“Sure you didn’t. Anyways, what was Laura supposed to do, become a nun?”

I managed to smile. “That was my hope.”

Mickey laughed and clapped a hand on my shoulder. “My advice? Return to Tampa and let this thing with Dalrymple play out.”

Play out? “What are you saying?”

Mickey blew a soft plume of smoke into the night air. “Nothing, Jake. Nothing.”

I couldn’t talk about Laura anymore. I had to make sure Mickey wasn’t in some kind of trouble. “Gino says you haven’t been in for a while. You haven’t written me in months.”

Mickey raised an eyebrow. “What are you getting at?”

“Heard you’re working on a big case.”

He dropped his cigarette and crushed the butt beneath his shoe. “It’s . . . confidential.”

“Even to me?”

He kept important things to himself, first about Laura, now a case. That wasn’t like the man I’d gone to war with, my partner for eight years.

Mickey scuffed the sole of his shoe against the sidewalk. “You ain’t a dick anymore.”

“I’m still your friend. If you need anything—”

“I don’t need your help. Go back to Florida.”

Why did Mickey want to get rid of me?

Through the haze, a car skidded around the corner. I glanced over Mickey’s shoulder. A gun barrel stuck out the passenger window of the black sedan bearing down on us. “Get down.” I shoved him to the sidewalk.

The rat-a-tat of a tommy gun sprayed bullets. I hit the ground. Searing pain shot through my thigh. A burning sting hit my forehead.

As if in slow motion, Mickey rolled to his side. He drew his revolver. Before he squeezed off a shot, another hail of bullets. His body jerked as bullets slammed into his chest.

“No!” I tried to crawl to help, dragging my throbbing leg. I made it to his side.

Blood dribbled from his mouth. His eyes glazed over. I’d seen men shot before, and Mickey was hurt bad.

Across the street, Frankie crouched behind the bench. Images returned to normal speed as he fired at the fleeing car. Three shots hit the trunk of the sedan. The rear windshield shattered. Tires squealed as the car turned the corner and sped away into the fog.

Mickey moaned and clutched his chest. His hand touched my face and his lips moved, but I couldn’t hear the words.

I edged closer, wincing from the pain in my leg.

He spoke in a whisper. “Ashtray . . . the key.”

“What?” I leaned close to Mickey.

“The key. The key . . . it’s . . . in the ashtray.”

“The key to what, Mickey?”

Frankie dashed from across the street and skidded to a stop.

Mickey didn’t answer. His eyes stared vacantly, and his head fell to the side.

“Jesus, he’s dead.” Frankie knelt beside me and covered his mouth. “I’m gonna be sick.”

He couldn’t be gone. Not Mickey. He was the toughest guy I’d ever met. I shook his shoulder, but his blank stare didn’t change. I put my ear to his mouth. He wasn’t breathing.

“He’s gone.” I wiped my blood out of my eyes.

Frankie dry-retched into the gutter. He took a deep breath and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. He wiped blood from my face. “You’re hurt. Jesus, your leg.” His hands shook as he removed his belt and cinched it around my thigh. He eased me onto my back.

I felt light-headed as a siren wailed in the distance. “Did you recognize anyone in the car?”

“Didn’t get a good look, just the shattered back windshield as they drove away.” Frankie mumbled something as a wave of dizziness swept over me.

I clamped my eyes shut to keep from passing out. “What did you say?”

“I said, I wonder who they was gunning for, you or Mickey.”

I had to focus before I blacked out. Me or Mickey. Was the shooter Jimmy Vales or someone wanting to silence Mickey?

I opened my eyes. Movement across the street caught my attention. My vision blurred then refocused on the platinum hair of Belle Starr as she emerged from the foggy alley, ran in the opposite direction, and disappeared. “She must’ve seen something.”

“Who?”

I tried to point, but my arm felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. Before I could speculate whether Belle could finger the gunmen in the sedan, I blacked out.

I forced my heavy eyelids open. A young doctor in white stood at the foot of the bed, writing on a chart.

He glanced up and smiled. “Mr. Donovan, how are you doing?”

“How am I doing, Doc?” I touched a bandage on my left leg, so thick beneath the sheet it looked as if someone had wrapped an inner tube around my thigh.

“A bullet passed through your left leg.”

“How bad is it?”

“Fortunately it missed your femur, but you lost a lot of blood. There’s considerable muscle damage that will take a few weeks to heal.” He touched a bandage above my eyebrow. “The wound to the forehead came from a bullet chipping the sidewalk. A half-dozen stitches might leave a slight scar, but an inch lower and you would have lost your eye. You’re a lucky man.”

Lucky? The night’s events crept into view. I was lucky. Mickey was dead.

Crutches leaned against the wall in the corner. “I won’t be able to walk without help?”

“We don’t want you to put weight on that leg for a day or two, but you’ll be able to get around on crutches then a cane for a few days. Definitely no driving.”

I had a driver.

He hung the chart at the end of the bed. “Now get some rest. The police said they want to take a statement in the morning about what happened.”

What could I tell the cops? I had no idea whether the shooter was gunning for Mickey or me. If Jimmy Vales shot Mickey, intending to plug me, I’d never forgive myself.

The doctor opened the door to leave and turned off the light. As he left, I spotted a cop seated on a chair outside my room reading a newspaper.

I wanted to spill my guts about my guilt over Mickey’s death, but who could I tell? My father died of TB six years earlier. My mother in the plague of ’08 when I was just a kid. I’d lost touch with my sisters after they married twins who talked them into moving to Canada. And I’d yet to recover from the most painful loss when Laura dropped out of my life. Okay, maybe I gave her a nudge. Now Mickey was gone.

Mickey had survived trench warfare in France and the tough New York streets as a beat cop then a gumshoe, but he hadn’t survived my brief return to the city.

I gritted my teeth. I could feel sorry for myself, or I could find out what happened, why Mickey died and who was responsible. I reflected on my last image of Belle Starr. From the desperate way she fled the scene of the shooting, she’d seen something. I had to find out what, and a bullet in the leg wouldn’t stop me.

I struggled to concentrate against the drugs they’d given me. Mickey had been evasive about Laura and his current case. We’d never kept secrets from each other. I tried to remember his last words to me. Something about a key in an ashtray. Key to what?

The door eased open. A sliver of light slid across the tile floor. A woman stood in the doorway, her face hidden in the shadows. The door opened wider. This was no nurse.

In the doorway, her white chiffon dress was backlit by the bright lights above the nurse’s station. I recognized her long shapely legs even before her face came into focus and she muttered, “Oh, Jake . . . ”

Fighting the drugs and the pain in my thigh, I struggled to sit up. She entered the room and turned on the light, and my throat went dry. I couldn’t speak. Even if I could, I wouldn’t know what to say. She took two hesitant steps into the room.

I held out my arms, and she rushed to me. I touched the soft skin of her cheek and wiped away a tear. Hoping this wasn’t a dream, I managed to whisper, “Laura.”

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Inspired by The Thin Man movies

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