Friday, July 13th, 1923
The woman approached me at the counter, keeping her eyes low. “A quart of maple syrup,” she said, her voice hushed.
I didn’t recognize her. “What kind?”
“Canadian.” Clutching her purse to her stomach, she peeked at me from beneath the brim of her hat.
“What are you making?”
I nodded. If she’d answered waffles, or even pancakes, I’d have directed her to the east wall of the store, where tin cans of actual maple syrup were stacked three high on a shelf. But since she knew the password, I named our price and took down the order and her address. She’d get her whisky in a day or so.
Bootlegging was that simple for a small operation like ours. The customers were loyal, the neighborhood grocery store was a legitimate cover, and thanks to the narrow waterway separating Detroit from Canada and its distilleries, our whisky supply seemed endless. Timely payoffs assured us of little trouble from city officials, and the local cops were some of our best customers. So when the bell over Jefferson Market’s front door jangled again that afternoon, I greeted the customer with a smile. But as the well-dressed man removed his light gray fedora and walked toward me at the back of the store, the air took on a strange charge. Gooseflesh rippled across my skin.
It was him. The sheik.
He’d been in twice in the last week. Each time, he’d said practically nothing, bought one pack of Fatima cigarettes, and paid with a fifty-dollar bill. I thought of him as the sheik because he reminded me of a movie star: dark, silent, and handsome in that delighted-villain sort of way, as if he’d just tied a girl to the train tracks and now it was time for a cocktail and a smoke.
“Good afternoon.” His voice was deep and smooth, just how I imagined a screen idol’s should be. “Are you Miss O’Mara?”
I blinked. He knows my name. “Yes. Can I help you?”
“Give this to your father.” He pulled an envelope from his coat and laid it on the counter, next to the cash register. When I reached for it, he placed his hand over mine, pinning it to the cool marble. A buzz swept up my arm as our eyes met. His were so dark they appeared black, and a small scar rested at the top of one cheekbone. “Tell him to answer by tonight.”
It took me a moment to find my voice. “All right.”
Replacing his hat on top of his slick dark hair, he walked out without looking back. The bell jangled once more, and I released the breath I’d been holding, leaning on the counter for support. I jumped when I heard a voice behind me.
“Tiny?” My older sister Bridget poked her head in from the stockroom, her long brown hair coming loose from its knot at her nape. “Daddy’s ready for you to make deliveries.”
Quickly I swiped the envelope into the front pocket of my middy blouse.
“Just let me put the bread in the oven,” Bridget said, disappearing into the stockroom again. She and her children lived in the apartment over the store. At almost twenty-one, I was more than ready to move out of our father’s house and get my own apartment, but it would have to wait. There were two more daughters after me who needed tending, and with our mother gone and Bridget widowed with three young boys, I wasn’t going anywhere soon.
While I waited, I fingered the envelope in my pocket. The sheik said Daddy had to answer by tonight, but what was the question? Was he a bootlegger too? He looked a little older than me, but still in his twenties, and wealthy, if his clothing was any indication. He wore exquisite three-piece suits. First black, then blue, and today, gray. I looked at the back of my hand, where he’d touched me, then brought it to my lips.
“What are you doing?” Bridget’s voice startled me again, and she laughed.
Cheeks burning, I tucked my hand into my pocket. “Nothing. Can I go?”
She nodded. “I’ll bring the grocery sacks out to you in the alley.”
I exited through the stock room into the wet heat of a Michigan summer afternoon. In the alley, I pulled the envelope from my pocket and looked at it. Jack O’Mara was written on its ivory face in black ink, the cursive letters small and lean. The seal was tight. No way to tell what its contents were, no clue as to who the sheik might be or whom he worked for.
Not that I much cared about his occupation.
If he comes in again, I’ll say hello first, I thought, recalling those dark eyes that smoldered like Valentino’s. “Hi, there,” I said, practicing. No, too girlish. I cleared my throat and tried again, imagining how a sultry screen vamp like Theda Bara would greet a man like the sheik. “Hello.” Yes, that was better. Deeper, more mature.
Next, I tried to even out my walk so that I could slink into a room, cigarette holder in one hand, highball in the other. But slinking was a bit difficult for me because one of my legs is shorter than the other, not that either of them is what you’d call long. My mother was so small she had difficult births, and my hip broke as I was being born. It hadn’t healed right, resulting in a one-inch difference, and I have to concentrate if I don’t want to limp, especially if I’m tired. But if I smoothed out my gait, kept my weight back and my chin down, bent my knees a little…
Damn. Slinking was harder than it looked.
Giving up, I jogged the rest of the way down the alley and pushed open the door to the garage. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw Daddy taking apart the back end of a Cadillac hearse.
Officially, he was an auto repairman, but his real talent was rebuilding cars—creating hidden compartments, phony gas tanks, false floorboards. It was amazing how many bottles of booze could be stashed in the unseen lining of an automobile. Hearses were especially popular with bootleggers because they had wide back ends, but I stuck with my Model T. Those hearses were creepy.
“I’m here!” I called over the banging of his hammer.
The noise stopped and he straightened halfway, bracing his hands on the hearse’s frame and tilting his chin toward me over one shoulder. His profile revealed the crooked line of his nose, which had been broken several times. “It’s over there. Can you load it?” He jerked his head toward two large boxes labeled Royal Baking Powder sitting on the cement floor near the door.
“Fifteen per bottle, and don’t take less.”
“I won’t. This came for you.” I moved closer to him and held out the envelope. “The man who brought it said you should answer by tonight.”
He took it from me, barely glancing at it before shoving it into the front pocket of his work overalls.
“To hell with that. I don’t answer to him or anybody else.”
“What’s this about?”
“It’s nothing. Now go on, I’ll meet you at the boathouse at six sharp. I want to get the whole place cleared out, bring it all here.”
I nodded. That could take a while. We had a lot of booze stashed in that boathouse, probably enough to—
“What the hell do you want, a police escort?” He waved his hammer toward the door. “Get moving!”
“OK, OK. Jeez,” I muttered, hurrying over to the boxes loaded with whisky bottles. Daddy had a quick temper, but he wasn’t usually so short with me. Either it was something about the letter, or he owed money to his bookie. His business ventures made enough to house, clothe, and feed us, but every extra dime fed his ravenous betting habit. Every man has his temptations, I supposed, slipping my fingers underneath a box. And every woman too. I could still hear the sheik’s low, velvety voice in my head. My stomach tightened as I imagined getting him out of that buttoned-up three- piece suit, removing that crisp white collar, slipping the crimson tie from around his neck. A sweat broke out on my back.
I lugged the boxes just outside the door, then left them sitting there while I retrieved the car. Daddy and I shared a 1921 Model T Sedan he’d rigged with hidden compartments and a trunk with a false floor. Jefferson Market was painted on the side in cheerful white letters, and I always had bags of groceries in the back seat, just in case I got stopped. After pulling alongside the garage door, I turned off the motor and jumped out. I was leaning into the back lifting up the bench seat when I heard a deep voice behind me.
My head snapped up, my heart hammering as I backed out. Please don’t be a fed. I turned around and sucked in my breath.
The sheik was leaning against the brown brick wall, barely three feet from me.
“What are you doing back here?” Definitely not the sultry greeting I’d rehearsed.
“Looking for you.” He lit one of his Fatimas and held it between long fingers, the smoke curling above his head.
“I’m wondering if you can help me out. I need some whisky.”
A trickle of sweat made its way down my chest. “What makes you think I can help you?”
He put the Fatima to his mouth, inhaling and exhaling in no particular hurry. I stared at his lips as they closed and opened around the cigarette. “I listen carefully in a crowd.”
I looked him over, trying to read his eyes, which were shadowed by the brim of his hat. “How much?”
“Maybe ten cases. That too much for you?”
I lifted my chin. “No.”
“How much do you charge?”
“Two hundred a case,” I said, quickly raising my
“And how soon can I get it?”
“As soon as you want it.”
He lifted his brow. “Impressive. You bring it over
in the car?”
“Leave the details to me. You’ll get what you want.”
One side of his mouth hooked up. “I always do.”
He came off the wall, and I backed into the Ford to steady myself. I wished I hadn’t chosen my shabbiest blouse this morning. It used to be red but had faded to a mealy-tomato color. When his feet reached mine, he swayed forward, placing his hands on the car’s roof, one on either side of my head. The air hummed between us, and every inch of my skin tingled with awareness of him. I let my lips fall open.
His smile deepened. “I’ll be in touch, Miss O’Mara.” He straightened up, and with a tip of his hat, walked away.
“Just a moment!” Think of something—quick! “May I have a cigarette?”
Retracing his steps, he took a gold case from his coat pocket, opened it, and offered me a Fatima. I put it to my mouth. His fingers have touched this. His eyes held mine captive as he pulled out a lighter, and I jumped when the flame burst from its tip. Once the cigarette was lit, I took what I hoped looked like a deep and sultry drag.
With a nod, he walked away again, and I could think of nothing to make him come back. Nothing smart and sophisticated, anyway.
“Wait!” I called, shading my eyes from the sun. “What’s your name?”
He looked at me over his shoulder, but only smiled with closed lips before disappearing around the corner.
“Shit,” I said, kicking the tire of my car. I’d admitted too much for nothing in return. And he knows my name. What the hell? For all I knew he was going to sell my information to a prohi around the corner. I stared at the cigarette he’d given me, dragged on it, and swore again. “Shit, shit, shit.”
“She smokes and she curses,” said a voice behind me. “Should I bring you a spittoon too?”
I whipped around and saw Joey Lupo standing there with two grocery sacks in his arms and an irritating grin on his face. Joey was my age, some kind of cousin of Bridget’s late husband, Vince, and one of those guys whose big mouth is always trying to make up for his short stature. He once stole a pair of underwear from my dresser and charged the neighborhood boys a penny for a peek. Five years had passed, but I still hadn’t forgiven him.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded. “I thought you went to Chicago.”
“I’m back. You miss me?”
I sucked on my cigarette and blew the smoke at him.
His grin widened. “Still sugar-sweet. Some things never change.” He set the grocery sacks down and reached for a box. “Come on, Little Tomato, I’ll help you load.”
“Don’t call me that.” I was just about to tell him I didn’t need his help when Daddy came out the garage door. Throwing the cigarette to the ground, I tried to fan away the smoke but wasn’t quick enough. Daddy let me work for his bootlegging operation but he was strangely old-fashioned about lipstick and smoking, and I didn’t want a lecture in front of Joey.
“Frances Kathleen O’Mara, I told you no smoking and I meant it,” Daddy growled. “Your mother is turning in her grave, God rest her soul.” He crossed himself and looked skyward. “You see what these girls do to me, Mary?”
I rolled my eyes, ignoring Joey’s infuriating chuckle. “I’m twenty years old, Daddy, not ten.”
He glared at me, pointed a knobby finger at my chest. “You live under my roof, you follow my rules.”
How badly I wanted to say, To hell with your roof and your rules—I’m done with them! But I couldn’t. I chewed my bottom lip instead, my fists tight with frustration.
“And Christ almighty, get going already. Here’s the orders.” Daddy dug a folded piece of paper from his pocket and shoved it at me before stalking back into the garage.
“Still living at home, huh?” Joey didn’t even try to hide his amusement.
“Shut up. If you came here to help, then get to it.” I picked up the second box, and we put the booze into the compartment beneath the rear seat, placing the grocery sacks on top. I started the car and looked at the list.
“Where you headed?” Joey asked.
“Smith, side door. Hix, back alley. Then Koehler. Last is Henshaw, and the housekeeper wants the delivery by four.” I wrinkled my nose and shoved the list back in my pocket. “The housekeeper. There goes my tip.”
Joey laughed, dug in one pocket of his grubby black pants, and tossed me a candy bar. “Here—here’s a tip for you. EAT. You haven’t grown an inch in three years—in any direction!”
Grimacing, I put the car in gear and moved forward, hoping I might run over his foot. Who the hell was Joey to talk? Maybe he’d filled out some since the last time I’d seen him, but he wasn’t that much taller than me. Four inches, tops. And that mop of mangy brown hair on his head made him look bigger than he was.
As I turned out of the alley and headed north on Jefferson into Grosse Pointe, my unease about the conversation with the sheik returned. It was the same creepy-crawly feeling I get when I enter a room and just know there’s a spider in it somewhere, watching me. But I sold whisky almost every day of the year. Why should it be any different just because the customer was a little mysterious and a lot gorgeous? Still, I found myself glancing over my shoulder more than usual as I unloaded and collected payment.
At the Smith and Hix houses I made a few dollars in tips, but Mrs. Koehler was five dollars short on her standing order. “Just bring it to the store as soon as you can, Mrs. Koehler,” I told her. She was a good customer, and we hated to lose anyone’s business. Some other bootlegger could come along tomorrow and undercut us.
By four o’clock I was headed for the Henshaw estate, and the twitchy feeling was still with me, like an itch that refuses to go away even after it’s been scratched. But when you’re breaking the law on a daily basis, perhaps a bit of anxiety should come with the territory. Daddy always says good instincts are more important than good friends in our business.
Rather than the stingy housekeeper, it was Mrs. Schmidt, the cook, who answered my knock at the kitchen door of the Henshaws’ lakefront mansion. When I greeted her, she welcomed me with a hug. Mrs. Schmidt had been close to my mother, who’d been a housemaid for the Henshaws before marrying my father. For a year after our mother died in childbirth with Mary Grace, Mrs. Schmidt brought meals to our house and spent her days off teaching Bridget and me to cook. As my sisters will attest, Bridget was the superior student.
“How are you today, Mrs. Schmidt?”
“Oh, I don’t like to complain,” she said, releasing me and rubbing the considerable width of her lower back. “But since you asked…”
I hid a smile as she ran through a list of ailments, nodding and clucking my tongue in sympathy. Finally she paused to draw breath, and I put the grocery bags on the butcher block and carried in the last of the whisky, setting the box on the black and white tiled floor.
“Thanks, love.” She brushed my hair off my face when I straightened. “Such a gorgeous color, this hair. Like sunlight through garnet. Why did you ever cut it off?”
“Just easier this way. Less fuss.”
“Your mother never minded the fuss of long hair.” Mrs. Schmidt crossed her arms. “And I don’t mind saying she wouldn’t have liked you cutting yours off.”
“Yes, you’ve mentioned that.” About a million times. I nodded my head of improperly bobbed hair toward the whisky. “Shall I move it to the cellar for you?”
“Leave it be, I’ll have the boy do it.” She paid me for the groceries, but Mr. Henshaw got his booze for free in exchange for allowing Daddy to use an old dock and boathouse at the edge of his property. “And before you go…” From a canister on a pantry shelf she took a bill and tucked it into my palm. “Mr. Henshaw said to give this to you.”
When I saw it was a fifty, I gasped. “He did? Why?”
“I may have let it slip about your paying your way through nursing school.”
“Oh, Mrs. Schmidt, thank you!” I threw my arms around her globe-shaped middle and practically squeezed the life from her.
“You’re welcome, girl. Now scoot, I’ve got the groceries to put away.” Laughing, she shooed me out the back door, and I skipped to my car.
Fifty dollars! That would go a long way toward tuition and books. Classes would begin again in August, and they weren’t cheap. Daddy didn’t mind my going to nursing school as long as I kept the house running and my sisters in line, but he couldn’t be counted on to pay for anything. He claimed there was no money for it, but I suspected he didn’t offer much because the sooner I had my degree, the sooner he’d be on his own with the house and the girls. It took every ounce of restraint I had not to ask him about all the cash that ended up lining Ralph the Bookie’s pocket.
Sitting behind the wheel, I looked at the crisp fifty in triumph before tucking it into my pocket along with the wrinkly dollars and spare change the other customers had given me. But as I drove back to the store, I began thinking of all the things I could buy with that much money—a smart new dress, something with beading or fringe. A darling little cloche or headband. A pair of satin shoes for dancing.
And how many months’ rent would fifty bucks pay? I clenched my teeth. I didn’t need much—just a studio apartment with a little bath. My own space, in which I would do as I pleased, with no rules. I thought about the sheik, and the way he paid for his cigarettes with fifty-dollar bills. My pulse raced when I recalled how he’d leaned close to me, near enough for me to smell the smoke on his breath.
After parking in the alley behind the store, I peeked into the front but saw Joey at the register, so I headed up the steps to Bridget’s apartment. The smell of fresh-baked bread hit me in the stairwell and my stomach growled when I saw the two loaves on the kitchen counter. “Bread’s done, help yourself,” Bridget called from the front room, where the radio played “I’m Nobody’s Baby.” Humming along, I cut two thick slices and slathered them with butter. Bridget’s cooking and baking skills trumped mine by a mile, and I nearly moaned as I sank my teeth into the doughy white softness. She wandered in a minute later with two-year old Eddie on her hip. “Oh, it’s you,” she said. “I thought it was Joey.”
“Does that mean I have to put the bread back?” I mumbled, my mouth full.
She smiled, which always changed her face from plain to pretty. “No, you can have some. Do you want some cold meat for a sandwich? Joey brought some ham from Eastern Market.”
I shook my head and polished off the first slice. “I saw him downstairs. I thought he moved to Chicago.”
She set Eddie on the yellow linoleum floor and sliced a piece of bread for him. “He did, but his mother took ill, and he’s worried about her. Wants to stay closer to home for a while. I know he’s not your favorite, but try to be nice. He’s family.”
“He’s not my family.”
“He’s a good guy.”
“He’s a pain in the ass.”
She pursed her lips as she handed Eddie the bread, and I decided to switch topics.
“Look at this.” I licked my fingers and pulled the fifty-dollar bill from my pocket.
Bridget wiped her hands on her stained apron and took the bill. “Jaypers cripes! Where’d you get that?”
“From Mr. Henshaw, as a tip.” I picked up my second slice of bread and sank my teeth in. “But don’t tell Daddy.”
Our eyes met, and I knew she understood. Bridget kept my tips for me, stashing them in a big yellow envelope underneath her mattress. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Daddy, but I felt safer with my tips out of the house. “Want me to put it with the rest?”
I hesitated, the image of myself in a beaded dress and satin shoes vanishing in a puff of smoke. “I guess so.” Slumping into a chair at the round kitchen table, I dropped my chin into my hand. “But boy, I wish I could be spending some of that money on something else. Like a new dress. Or shoes. Or rent.”
She patted my shoulder before going into her bedroom, which was off the kitchen. “Is Daddy giving you a rough time?” she asked when she returned.
I shrugged. “I’m twenty years old. I’m just tired of living with my father and having two little sisters underfoot all the time.”
Bridget went to the stove and stirred something in a large copper pot. “You’ve got your own bedroom. That’s more than I had when I lived at home.”
“So what? The only thing I do in it is read and sleep. And I can hardly even do that without one of the girls barging in on me.” I sat up straight and mimicked our sisters’ high-pitched voices. “Tiny, can you mend this blouse? Will you make my lunch? Can I wear your blue sweater? She’s bothering me! She’s following me! She hit me!”
“Well, cheer up.” Bridget clacked the spoon on the edge of the pot and set it aside. “Molly will be done with school in three years, and by then Mary Grace will be old enough to look after herself. You’ll be free to do as you please.” She turned and waggled her brows at me. “Inside your bedroom and out.”
“But that’s years away! I want a little excitement in my life now.” I thumped the table for emphasis.
“Take it from me—a little excitement goes a long way,” said Bridget, gesturing toward the front room, where I could hear her two older boys playing. “You don’t want to do what I did.”
That was true. Bridget had gotten pregnant before her wedding and Daddy had been furious. But still. “For cripes sake, Bridget, when would I have the opportunity? I haven’t even kissed anyone in months!”
“So kiss somebody.” Bridget grinned and dropped into the chair across from me. “Then give me all the saucy details.”
“It’s more than that,” I insisted. “In the morning I want to get up and go to work without cleaning up a big mess after breakfast. At night, instead of washing all the dinner dishes and making sure everyone has clean clothes for the next day, I want to go dancing and drink champagne. I want to wear a short dress and red lipstick without my father scolding me. I want to hit the best nightclubs with a dashing swain at my side to light my cigarettes. Like the Arrow Shirt man,” I said wistfully. “Or the sheik.”
Bridget laughed. “The sheik?”
“That guy who comes in for the Fatimas. He was in again today looking for Daddy.” I touched my buttery mouth, picturing the sheik’s lips on his cigarette.
The light in Bridget’s eyes went out. “Oh.”
“Any idea who he is?”
She jumped up, grabbed the broom from the
corner and swept the floor with angry strokes, shooing Eddie into the front room. “No. But I don’t like the looks of him.”
“Since when? The other day we were both swooning over him like he was Valentino.”
Bridget seemed to struggle with words. “I don’t know…It’s only…Something about the way he keeps showing up gives me a bad feeling.” She swept harder, not meeting my eyes, and her voice grew quieter. “He reminds me of those guys who used to come around for Vince.”
My twitchy feeling returned. I knew the kind of men she was talking about. The day Vince was murdered two years ago, he was picking up a mobster named Big Leo Scarfone from the police station. He’d been shot right there on the sidewalk.
I swallowed. “You think he’s connected to Vince’s…to what happened to Vince?”
“I don’t know, Tiny. I don’t recognize him. I just suddenly got a bad feeling, that’s all.” Finally, she stopped sweeping and looked at me, tears in her eyes. “You need to be careful. A little excitement is one thing, but I don’t want to be up at night worrying about you. Understand?”
I nodded, deciding not to mention the episode in the alley. She put the broom away and returned to the stove as I recalled getting the news about Vince, delivered by a Detroit police officer at the store. Three other men were killed that day, including Big Leo and Joey’s father. The third guy lived just long enough to break the code of silence and reveal the names of the gunmen, members of a rival crime family. They were arrested and charged with murder, but Bridget said they’d never go to jail, and she was right. It took the jury less than fifty minutes to find them innocent.
So I was hoping her instincts about the sheik were off. Because I wanted to see him again.
I wanted to do more than that.
The boathouse was a bootlegger’s dream.
Sitting right at the edge of Lake St. Clair, it was accessible only by a bumpy dirt path off Jefferson Avenue that was so overgrown it was nearly invisible. Daddy hadn’t arrived yet, so after parking beneath a huge weeping willow, I wandered onto the dock. A light breeze ruffled my hair as I looked across the water to Canada, its tree line clearly visible on the opposite shore. The lake appeared unusually calm. We should have made a run this afternoon. I glanced at our motorboat bobbing in the water before turning toward the boathouse door. It was partway open, the rusty padlock unlatched and dangling.
Confused, I looked around, but mine was the only car in sight. Daddy must have taken a streetcar then, I thought, stepping inside. Despite the hot day, the interior of the boathouse was shadowy and dank, empty but for the sacks of whisky and crates of scotch at the back. I was heading for them when I heard footsteps behind me.
“I made the deliveries,” I said, picking up a burlap sack of Canadian Club by its bunny ears. “Mrs. Koehler was a little short.”
“I’m not sure you should be calling anyone short.”
I spun around as someone stepped from the shadows into a narrow beam of sunlight slanting through a high window.
My breath hitched. “How did you get in here?”
The sheik smiled, hands in his pockets, coat unbuttoned. “I have a talent for lock and key.”
“How did you find this place?”
“I followed you.”
The gooseflesh returned. Was Bridget right about him? “Why?”
“I was curious.” He approached me slowly. “And I wanted to see you again.”
I glanced at the open door. “You shouldn’t be here. If it’s whisky you want, I’ll bring it to you.”
He took the sack from my hands and set it on the floor. “What if I want something besides whisky?” His dark eyes were beautiful, but it was his mouth that fascinated me. My breath came faster as I stared at the sharp peaks of his upper lip.
He tipped up my chin, but went no further, his mouth so close I could feel his breath. His slow smile sent my pulse skittering out of control.
I was done waiting for it. I grabbed his head and pulled his mouth down to mine.
His arms snaked around my back, the heat of his body enveloping me. When he opened his mouth, I did the same, my entire body humming like a swarm of bees was under my skin. I’m kissing the sheik! I don’t even know his name! Daddy could walk in here any second! Damn, he smells good—like aftershave and tobacco. My breasts tingled and I rose up on tiptoe, trying to press closer. Wishing his skin was bare, I ran my hands down his vest and twined my arms around his taut waist. My fingers hit a hard object, and I froze.
He has a gun.
I pulled my hands back as if they had been burned. “We have to stop,” I said against his mouth.
He lifted his head and loosened his grip a little. “Why’s that?”
My blood was pumping way too fast, shock and desire battling inside my veins. Because you’ve got a gun in your trousers. “Because…my father is going to be here any minute.” I put my hands on his chest and pushed him away. Some instinct told me not to acknowledge the weapon. Willing my heart rate to return to normal, I tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear. “What’s your name, anyway?”
He began buttoning his coat. “Enzo DiFiore.”
“I’d tell you mine, but you already know it.”
He smiled as he adjusted his cuffs, and I twisted my hands together to keep from launching myself at him and tearing the clothes from his body.
“Well, Mr. DiFiore, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, but I really have to ask you to leave now. My father will not take kindly to a stranger alone in the boathouse with me. Or his liquor.” I turned around to pick up the whisky sack, and by the time I straightened and faced him again, he was gone.
I moved to the doorway and looked out.
Nobody. The air was hot and still and silent. What the hell?
Dazed, I walked from the boathouse to my car, opened the trunk, and placed the sack inside it. Staring at the burlap, I brought my hands to my face, my belly tightening at the memory of the sheik’s mouth on mine. Enzo DiFiore. I thought about his arms around me, the commanding way he’d slanted his open mouth over mine, and the contraction moved lower in my body. Bridget had joked about spilling the details of my next kiss, but I could never tell her about this.
I wandered back into the boathouse, but instead of grabbing another sack, I plunked down on a crate of scotch and stared in disbelief at the pool of sunlight where we’d stood.
“Enzo DiFiore,” I whispered. Who was he? All I knew about him was his name. And that he was a good kisser with a talent for lock and key. A laugh bubbled up in me. After all, if he’d wanted to steal from us or harm me in some way, he could have done it. But all he’d done was follow me. Watch me. Kiss me.
My insides trembled with excitement. Would he seek me out again? At the sound of a car sputtering to a stop outside, I stood and smoothed my clothing before heading out to meet Daddy.
My rosy spirits withered when I saw Joey unloading the whisky I’d just put into the trunk. “Why are you doing that?” I snapped, marching toward him.
“Because this is the biggest space you have and we need it for the crates. The sacks should go under the back seat.”
He was right, which annoyed me. I yanked the whisky from his arms.
“Got your mind on something else?” Joey opened the back door and lifted the seat.
“Like what?” I shouldered him aside and dropped the sack in.
“You tell me. I saw you talking to a guy in the alley earlier. Who was it?”
I turned to him, hands on my hips. “None of your beeswax.”
He smiled at getting a rise out of me, his brown eyes lighting up. “Come on, Tiny, a guy like that, in a suit that fancy?” He looked me up and down. “You’re not his type.”
I lunged for him, giving him a hard shove with both hands to the chest. Joey wasn’t tall but he was solid, so I was surprised when he went over backward. Since I’d thrown all my weight into the push, I went over too, and we landed in a heap of tangled limbs on the dirt. To my chagrin, my body betrayed me by tingling at the feel of our torsos pressed together. For one awkward moment, we paused, our faces inches apart.
“Kiss me, you fool,” he said, but then he burst out laughing.
“Go to hell.” I rolled off him and stood, brushing the dust off my skirt.
Joey popped up on his feet, still chuckling. “Good hit. Caught me off guard.”
“Did I hurt you?” I asked hopefully.
“With what—a pebble to the backside?” He readjusted his floppy cap.
I was tempted to keep sparring with him since I was so worked up, but just then Daddy arrived. We got to work emptying the boathouse into our cars, and then drove back to the garage, where we unloaded the booze into the hidden rooms in the basement. No one spoke more than one-word commands or responses, and Daddy looked over his shoulder more than usual. Not that I blamed him—the events of this afternoon had me on edge too.
By the time we were through, I was sticky and tired and my left hip ached. While Daddy went over the day’s take in the office, I sat on the stained cement floor and watched Joey bring in the last of the booze. His black pants hugged his butt as he moved, and a surprising little flutter swept through my belly. He set the whisky down and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his wrist. It left a trail of dirt smudged against his olive skin, but I had to admit he’d gotten better looking in the last couple years, sort of grown into his strong nose and wide mouth.
He caught me staring. “See something you like?”
I made a disgusted noise at the back of my throat, as if he hadn’t just read my mind. “No.”
“Joe,” called Daddy. “Come in here a minute.” When Joey stepped into the office, I hopped to my feet, counted to five and followed, stopping just out of sight of the open door.
“Just keep your ears open,” Daddy was saying. “And let me know what you hear.”
Hear about what? I wondered. Did this have anything to do with the letter from Enzo?
Daddy dropped his voice. “And keep an eye on Tiny, too. She needs it.”
I made a face. Like hell I do. Especially that eye.
Joey came out of the office, giving me a slug on the shoulder as he headed for the back door. “See you around, Little Tomato.”
I ignored him. “Daddy,” I said loudly, drawing him out of the office. “What’s going on?”
He was still shuffling through the stack of bills and didn’t meet my eye. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
“What was in that letter? The one I gave you earlier.”
He didn’t even lift his head. “Nothing to worry about.”
He was lying, but Daddy was stubborn as a one-eyed mule. If he didn’t want me to know what was going on, I wasn’t going to get it out of him. Maybe I could snoop around for the letter tomorrow. “I guess I’ll walk home then, see what the girls have cooked up.”
“A heap of trouble, no doubt.” He flashed a quick smile in my direction, but it didn’t reach his eyes.
Later that night—after making supper, washing the dishes, breaking up a fight between my sisters over whose turn it was to dry them, running the carpet sweeper, and putting out the trash—I took a cool bath, put on my nightgown, and flopped facedown onto my bed. Our home wasn’t large by any means, but keeping it clean and running smoothly was exhausting, not to mention keeping two younger sisters fed, clothed, and out of trouble. Daddy did what he could, willing to cook the occasional pot of soup or scrub the tub from time to time, but as the oldest daughter at home, I had the most responsibility. Sometimes the weight of it all threatened to drag me under.
It was probably crazy to attempt nursing school too, but my mother had always talked about how she’d have liked to be a nurse if only she’d had the opportunity. She was a poor Irish girl who grew up on a farm—she hadn’t even finished the eighth grade, let alone high school. I felt closer to her, knowing that I was fulfilling a dream she’d had for herself. Plus, a nursing degree would allow me to get a good job and make my own money. My first plan was to get an apartment, but after that I wanted to go places, and I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone else to take me.
From my nightstand, I picked up a dog-eared Photoplay magazine. I’d already finished reading it, but I loved looking at the advertisements boasting of grand hotels, luxury rail lines, and exotic locales. Too hot for covers, I flipped to my back and lay atop the sheet, thumbing through the tattered pages, grateful for a moment of peace.
It didn’t last long.
“Tiny!” Mary Grace burst into my room without knocking. “Molly’s going to Electric Park tomorrow, but she says I can’t go along. Tell her she has to take me too!”
Sighing, I tossed the magazine back onto the nightstand and braced for an argument.
“I won’t take her,” said Molly from the doorway, arms crossed. “Last time she embarrassed me terribly by telling my friends I wet the bed until I was eight.”
“Well, you did,” insisted Mary Grace, chin jerking. “I can’t help it if that’s the truth.” She looked at me and pouted. “She just doesn’t want me there because boys are coming.”
“You be quiet,” snapped Molly, leaning in to slap Mary Grace on the shoulder.
“Girls.” I got off the bed to separate them. “It’s late, and I’m tired. We’ll talk about this tomorrow. Now go to bed before I find some chore that needs to be done yet tonight.”
“OUT!” I shoved them both through the door and shut it behind them. Half-expecting them to bang on it again, I waited a moment before switching off the light and crawling under the covers.
Certain they were scared off by the threat of more housework, I closed my eyes. Enzo’s face appeared. Breathing deeply, I replayed the scene in the boathouse in my head. When I got to the part where he first touched me, I slowed down to savor every delicious morsel—his fingers under my chin, his smoky breath, his lips on mine, our chests pressed together. Even the memory of discovering the gun gave me a peculiar kick that radiated from my stomach throughout my limbs.
Like the buzz from a cocktail mixed with equal parts fear and fascination.
Several hours later, the ringing telephone jarred me awake. I stumbled down the stairs and into the darkened hallway to answer it.
“Tiny,” a male voice rasped. I thought it might be Daddy, but he’d spoken so softly I couldn’t tell for sure.
“Daddy? I can’t hear you. Hello?”
“The garage,” said a smooth new voice. “Come alone. And bring the money or he’s dead.”
“Who is this?” The phone went dead before I could get an answer, and my stomach turned over. Trembling, I set the receiver back on the switch hook. What money? Or who’s dead—Daddy? Racing up the steps up two at a time, I opened his bedroom door. The moonlight streaming through the window illuminated an empty bed.
I dashed back into my room to dress without turning on any lights. The first outfit I got my hands on was the red blouse and black skirt I’d worn today, which I threw on over my chemise while questions pummeled my brain. Who was that? Should I really go alone? Should I call the police? Is this about a gambling debt? Does it have something to do with the letter?
Damn it, Daddy! What have you done?
I didn’t have any money at the house, and my tip envelope was at Bridget’s. The last thing I wanted to do was to alarm her or put the kids in danger—I’d have to see who it was and find out what they wanted first. If I ignored the instructions and involved the police, I might put Daddy in more danger than he was already in.
I shoved my bare feet into shoes and moved quietly down the stairs. As I let myself out the front door into the warm night, I tried to place the voice I’d heard. Daddy’s usual bookmaker was a cock-eyed sleaze called Ralph the Bookie, but he had a distinctive nasally whine. This voice was deep and smooth, with a slight accent. Was it Italian?
My stomach churned. The cops found unidentified bodies in the Detroit River all the time these days. Almost nightly, said the papers. Guys who’d been shot, beaten, drowned. I fought off the nausea by quickening my pace.
As I ran past darkened houses, a memory surfaced without warning—Daddy surprising me with a new Hawthorne bicycle on my ninth birthday and teaching me how to ride it. Running alongside me down this very street shouting encouragement. Clenching my fists, I dug my nails into my palms as I reached the end of the block and stopped to catch my breath.
Then, with fear lodged like a hatchet in my chest, I turned the corner and inched through the alley toward the garage, my feet crunching on the gravel. At the back door, I closed my right hand around the handle and twisted—unlocked. I pushed it open and stepped in, hearing nothing but my own quick breaths. Seconds ticked by.
I was beginning to wonder if it was all a joke when I heard a rusty voice behind me. “Glad you could make it.”
The door slammed and a meaty hand clamped over my mouth. A thick arm snared my waist. Cackling, the man walked me deeper into the garage, pushing my legs with his own. Too terrified to resist, I moved forward like a rag doll in his grip.
When we reached the office door, he kicked out a leg and it creaked open.
I was struggling to make sense of the shadowy shapes in front of me when someone switched on the lamp—I gasped behind the sweaty, smothering palm.
On the chair was my father, slouched and bloody. At his temple, the barrel of a gun.
Arms like thick iron chains held me fast when I struggled to get to Daddy. I whimpered against the hand over my mouth.
“Well. No one told me you were so lovely,” said the man holding the weapon. Even in the low light I could tell he hadn’t been the one to deliver the beating. Daddy’s face was a swollen red and purple mess, but not a speck of blood marred this man’s white shirt. Not a black hair was out of place.
He nodded to my captor, who released me. I rushed over to my father and put a hand on his neck. His skin was warm, but I couldn’t find a pulse. “Is he dead?”
“Looks that way, don’t it?” snapped the voice behind me. Over my shoulder, I glared at him. He was younger and stockier than the well-dressed man, and his jaw was shadowed by whiskers where the older man’s was clean-shaven. His wrinkled blue shirt stained with blood, making my stomach heave.
“Now, now.” The well-dressed man spoke very gently for someone holding a gun to a person’s head. “He isn’t dead yet. No need to be cruel.”
My fingers finally located a pulse. Thank God. “What do you want?” I asked, my voice trembling.
“Is she armed, Raymond?”
Raymond started to grope me from behind. “Stop it! I’m not armed!” I shook him off. “Please! Why have you done this?”
The older man put the gun down and picked up his black suit coat from the desk, brushing it off before slipping into it. “Your father has refused to acknowledge my offer of protection.” He adjusted his cuffs. “He’s testing my patience.”
“That’s right,” put in Raymond.
“Raymond, please.” The man tucked the gun inside his coat.
“Protection…protection from what?” My mind reeled.
“From anyone who might wish to harm him or his business, of course. These days it could be anything —bombing, arson, the murder or kidnapping of a family member.” He listed these things as if he were reciting the menu at a roadhouse diner. I shivered, even though I was sweating.
“I don’t understand. Why would anyone want to harm us or the business?”
“It’s nothing personal, piccolina. In fact, it’s a compliment. Your father is a small fish, but he runs such a good operation, he’s caught the attention of bigger fish.”
“Sharks,” said Raymond.
“Exactly,” agreed the man. “And sharks, when they see the fine meal of a small fish, they get greedy. They get hungry. They want a piece of the meal for themselves.”
“And you’re the shark?”
He laughed, revealing straight white teeth. “Of course not. I’m here to protect you from the sharks. I have offered this protection to Jack several times already, but each time, he has ignored my request to meet and discuss it. That’s dangerous.” His eyes slid sideways to my father.
I swallowed, understanding sinking in. “How much for this…protection?”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
My mouth gaped open. “Ten thousand dollars!”
“To let him live tonight, I will accept half.”
“I don’t have five thousand dollars,” I said, my eyes filling.
“That’s unfortunate.” He reached inside his coat, and I put my hands out. Daddy was going to die if I didn’t think of something—fast.
“Wait! Just wait. Maybe I can get it.”
“That’s a good girl.” He took his hand from his coat, empty.
My mind groped for a solution. Was today’s take still here in the office? If it was, they’d probably already stolen it. Daddy kept no spare cash at the garage, I knew that much, but we did have booze. Yes, the booze—whiskey as currency. “OK. This afternoon my father and I brought at least twenty cases of whisky here. They’re in the basement, hidden in some rooms beyond the south wall. You can have them all.”
“That ain’t five thousand bucks,” spat Raymond.
“We also have at least two cases of scotch.”
“What kind of scotch?” the man asked.
“Good stuff. Imported from Europe and smuggled through Canada by rail. Expensive—we sell it for one twenty-five per bottle.” I’d just offered all our stock; it had to be worth five thousand, probably more, but I wasn’t capable of arithmetic just then.
The man thought for a moment, his eyes on me. “I’ll accept this offer. On one condition.”
“You bring me ten thousand dollars in cash this week.”
“Ten minus five is only another five!”
He shrugged. “Those are my terms. And my final offer to let him live tonight.”
My guts churned—there was no way we could come up with ten grand in a week—but what choice did I have? “Deal. Now will you let us go?”
“I’ll let you go. He stays with me until I have the money.” A smile crept onto his lips. “Why don’t you come down to my club tomorrow night, piccolina? We’ll discuss the details of this arrangement in a more civilized manner, and you’ll bring me one hundred dollars as a sign of good faith.”
I twisted my clammy hands together. “Where are you taking him?”
“Never mind about that. I won’t kill him if you keep your word.” Then, as casually as if he were brandishing a stick of chewing gum, he pulled the gun from his coat and aimed it at my chest. “But I won’t think twice about killing both of you if you don’t.”
Fear gashed my heart so sharply I thought he might have pulled the trigger. “I’ll be there.”
“Splendid.” The corners of his mouth tipped up. He looked vaguely familiar in that moment, but I couldn’t place his face. He was about Daddy’s age, but taller, leaner through the middle. His hair was so dark it appeared black, and his features were narrow and even—no scars or evidence of a broken nose or jaw. “I confess, I didn’t like the idea of doing business with a girl,” he continued, “but this has been almost enjoyable. I feel certain once your father comes to, he will be more willing to negotiate with me. Now, how do we access those rooms?” The gun was still pointed at me, and I could hardly think. My teeth chattered.
“You—you’ll have to move the m-middle cabinet on the west wall first. Then open the phony icebox in the left corner—it has no back—and you’ll see a latch. Pull it. It releases the d-door behind the cabinet.”
He looked impressed as he slid the gun back inside his coat. “Quite an operation. I can see why the sharks are circling.”
They left Daddy and me alone in the office, and I heard my instructions repeated in the garage. I wasn’t sure how many men were out there, but I knew the chances for escape were next to nothing. Even if I made a run for it, and I wasn’t much of a runner, that left Daddy sitting here alone, his hands tied to the chair. I looked him over, checking for the worst of the injuries. His face was almost unrecognizable—eyes bruised and squeezed shut from the swelling, nose broken again, cheeks and chin nicked with cuts—but I saw no evidence of a mortal wound. I brushed a matted lock of dark hair from his forehead, relieved to see a spot of unbloodied skin.
“My God, Daddy,” I whispered. I felt sorry for him, but a little angry too. Why had he ignored this man? Had he thought the threats were idle? For Christ’s sake, he read the papers —and look at what had happened to Vince! He knew what these men were capable of; extortion was their least worrisome crime. I sank to my knees again and clutched his limp arm. “What if I can’t save you?” I whimpered before his battered form went blurry beyond my tears.
While I wept, the men emptied the basement of all our stock. Everything we had would be gone—and now they knew our hiding spot too. I scrambled to my feet when two goons lumbered in, and watched helplessly as they untied Daddy and carried him out by his arms and legs. When they exited into the alley, I leaned against the office doorframe for support.
The older man appeared to my left. “Miss O’Mara. You’ll find me at Club 23 tomorrow night.” His eyes dropped to my disheveled clothing. “Wear something pretty.” Placing a black fedora on his head, he followed the others out the door, shutting it behind him.
I rushed over to lock it, but when I turned around, my skin prickled with the awareness of someone watching me.
I wasn’t alone.
Knees trembling, I searched the shadows of the silent garage, gasping when I saw a slender man in a dark suit standing about ten feet away, perfectly still.
I clenched my jaw. “Go to hell.”
He moved closer, and the sight of his handsome face both thrilled and appalled me. I stiffened when he stopped right in front of me and smiled. “Tell them Angel sent you.”
As soon as Enzo was gone, I locked the back door and returned to the office. Sinking into the chair, I put my hands to my head and tugged on my hair. Where were they taking Daddy? And how on earth was I going to come up with ten thousand dollars this week? I had no booze to sell, no talent for rebuilding hearses, and no emergency payoff cash tucked away.
But I had to get it somehow. They knew who I was and how to find me. And if they could find me, they could find my sisters. My nephews. They could bomb not only the garage but the house or the store.
Bridget had been right about Enzo.
Burning with anger, I realized he had to have known about the kidnapping plot when he kissed me in the boathouse. Bastard! Why didn’t he say something then? He could have warned me, but instead he’d let me walk right into this trap. Maybe I’d even been part of the trap—he’d asked questions, followed me, discovered the boathouse. Damn him. I should have known he was trouble. But I’d never been good at resisting temptation. It wasn’t in my blood.
I chewed my thumbnail. Ten goddamn grand. I only knew one way to make that kind of cash, and since I’d just given away all our stock, the only resource I’d have to start with was my envelope full of tips. My tuition money. Crossing my arms over my belly, I lay my forehead on the desk in defeat.
Within seconds, a pounding on the back door had me bolting upright. My heart hammered wildly as I switched off the lamp and waited. More pounding, then the thumping of bodyweight being thrown into the door. Move, you idiot!
I ran out into the garage and frantically searched for somewhere to hide. My eyes roved right and left—I couldn’t open the roll-up door fast enough to escape onto Jefferson, and the only other hiding spots were the basement or—gulp—a hearse. When a gunshot blasted through the back door, busting the lock, I squeaked in terror and took a running dive into the hearse with no back end. I yanked on a curtain from the window and the whole rod came down. Burrowing underneath the black velvet and curling into a ball, I was starting a Hail Mary when I heard slow footsteps. Then creak of the office door.
When the footsteps started up again, they seemed to be coming toward me. I curled tighter into myself, my body stiff with terror. The intruder came closer. I stopped breathing.
Then, for five agonizing seconds—nothing.
Finally, I could stand it no longer. I opened my eyes and peeked out.
Joey stood at the back of the hearse, aiming a pistol at me.
“Tiny?” He dropped the gun and gawked. “What the hell are you doing?”
“It’s a long story,” I said. “Which I might tell you, if I can ever breathe normally again.” I hoped I hadn’t wet myself. Why the hell did everybody have a gun all of a sudden?
Joey tucked his into the back of his waistband and reached for me. “Well, I’m glad you’re not dead. I’m staying at Bridget’s tonight and when I heard noise down here, I looked out the window and saw a body being carried out and put into the back seat of a sedan.”
I let him drag me to the edge of the hearse by my forearms and pull me out. My rubbery legs threatened to buckle. “Yeah, that was Daddy. He’s not dead though. Yet.” I put both hands on my stomach, which was still pitching.
“What?” His voice cracked on the word.
I took a breath and explained, starting with the phone call and ending with my swan dive into the back of the hearse.
“Jesus. Your dad mentioned there might be some trouble.” He scratched his head. “How many guys? Did you recognize them?”
“There were five at least. The older one who did the talking was well dressed and maybe in his forties. Dark hair. Didn’t look like the type to do his own dirty work. Two younger guys were with him, and a couple goons.” I decided not to tell him that one of the younger guys was the fancy suit I’d been talking to in the alley.
“Did you get names?”
I hesitated. Naming names was against the rules; it got people into trouble. But I thought I could trust Joey. “One of them might be called Angel.”
“Angel DiFiore, that son of a bitch.” Joey nodded in recognition. “That’s the older one. The younger two were probably his sons, Enzo and Raymond.”
My mouth fell open. Enzo was Angel’s son?
“Angel is an associate of Tony Provenzano,” Joey went on, “and Provenzano is the bastard who put the hit on Big Leo Scarfone and got my father killed.”
I sucked in my breath. “Was Angel involved in those murders?”
“He wasn’t put on trial, but that don’t mean he wasn’t.” Even in the dark, I saw the fury in Joey’s stance. “He came from Brooklyn a while back, and his operation was on the west side of Detroit, but now he’s over here with his sons, muscling in on the east side rackets. He’s pissing some people off.”
“How do you know so much?”
He shrugged. “I got ears.”
“Is he a bootlegger?”
Joey shook his head. “Not that I know of. He runs a club, lottery, races, and a bunch of other things you don’t want to know about.”
A series of clanks from the alley made us both jump. “Let’s get out of here.” I grabbed his arm. “Can you come home with me?”
“Been waiting years for you to ask me that.”
I almost choked. “Please.”
We walked back at a fast clip, and I jumped at every cricket chirp and cat yowl. I checked on my sisters the minute we got in, relieved to see them both sound asleep. Mary Grace clutched a small stuffed bear she claimed she didn’t like anymore. I brushed the strawberry hair off her pale forehead and tiptoed out, shutting the door behind me.
Joey was in the kitchen. “You got anything to eat?”
“Are you kidding? How can you think about food?”
“A guy can always think about food.” He shot me a look over his shoulder. “Among other things.”
I gave him a flat look. “Well, all I can think about is that ten thousand dollars.” I sat down at the kitchen table with a stubby pencil and piece of paper while Joey foraged for a snack. Some quick math told me I’d have to move about fifty-six cases of whisky to clear ten grand. Scribbling more numbers, I figured I had at least enough in my shoebox to buy twelve cases after taking out the hundred I had to give Angel tomorrow night. If I sold them all, I’d have just over two thousand bucks —a far cry from ten. But maybe it would be enough to buy me some time.
“So. What’s your plan?” Joey munched on some Uneeda Biscuits right from the box and straddled the chair across from me.
“My plan is to get the damn money. What choice do I have?”
He was silent a few seconds, then spoke low. “You don’t want to go to the cops, do you?”
“Are you kidding me? I know better than that,” I scoffed. “Angel’d kill him. And I don’t want to tell Bridget about this yet, either. She’ll panic.”
“Do you think she has the money, though? Maybe she’d give it to you.”
I shook my head. “She’s on her own with three boys, and she has Martin to pay too.”
“Who the hell is Martin?”
“The assistant manager she hired after you left for Chicago. Anyway, after what happened to Vince, I don’t want Bridget involved at all.”
Joey frowned. “OK, but she’s gonna notice your pop’s missing.”
I thought for a moment. “I’ll tell her he went down to Cleveland to deliver a car to somebody. He’s done that before.”
Joey shoved one last cracker into his mouth and brushed off his hands. “I’m coming with you tomorrow night.”
“That’s a terrible idea. You might run your mouth and cause trouble. Besides, what harm can they do at a crowded club?”
“You don’t want me to answer that question. I’m going, and that’s that.”
I thought about arguing, but realized it might be smarter to have someone with me, even if it was big-mouth Joey. “OK, fine.”
“Now let’s talk about getting those ten G’s,” he said. “That’s a lotta dough.”
“I need to make a run as soon as possible.”
Joey rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Tiny, I think you need…some friends in this.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’re a girl alone trying to defend yourself against guys who hustle people for a living, and that’s putting it nicely. You need allies.”
I blinked at him. “Like who?”
“Well, I got some friends I know from when I was at the Bishop school. They used to be with Big Leo, but they’re kinda doing their own thing now. They call themselves the River Gang, and—”
I put my hands up. “No. No way. I’m not getting involved in any Italian gang wars, Joey. All I want is to pay off Angel DiFiore and get Daddy released.”
“But DiFiore’s not just going to go away. Even your dad is going to need allies after this.”
“That’ll be his problem, then. I’m not interested in revenge or power or allies or anything else—I just want my father back so I get get on with my life. Now are you going to help me or not?”
Joey exhaled and scratched his head. “We’ll need dark. Tomorrow night’s out. How about Sunday?”
“Do you have the money to buy with?”
I swallowed. “Yes.”
“What about a distributor?”
“I’ll call our usual guy, Blaise. I just hope he doesn’t get prickly about selling to me without Daddy there.” My stomach turned over. “And I hope the boat has enough gasoline.”
“Leave that to me.” He swung his leg over the top of the chair and picked up his cap from the table. “I better go. Delivery truck’s coming early in the morning and I told Bridget I’d help unload.”
“What time will we meet tomorrow night?” I whispered, following him to the front door. “And should we meet at the club?”
“No. I’ll pick you up at nine.” He paused, glancing over my shoulder up the stairs. “Do you want me to stay tonight?”
Yes. The word popped into my mind before I had a chance to think about it.
Joey noticed my hesitation. “I don’t mind staying here, if it will make you feel safer.” His voice was soft and low, and it was the first time I’d ever heard him say something like that without joking. Standing there in the dark, I was tempted to tell him to stay. With his full, familiar lips so close, I was tempted to do more than that.
What the hell is with you today? Say goodnight!
“No,” I said, stepping back. “You can go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
After he left, I locked the door, crept into my room, and undressed. Wearily I climbed back into bed and lay there, my body numb with fatigue but my brain buzzing with questions. Where were they keeping Daddy? Would they hurt him again? Were we safe here? I chewed on the edge of the sheet. Now that I knew a locked door was no match for Enzo DiFiore, I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel safe again. What was his role in all this? And why had he kissed me like that?
My eyes slammed shut. Jesus, you couldn’t trust anybody. Not even men with movie star faces whose kisses felt like fire in your veins.
Rolling to my side, I crooked one elbow underneath my head. I’m a horrible person. How can I even think about kissing Enzo with Daddy being held hostage? What was the matter with me? And had I really been tempted to kiss Joey at the door? That boy had been nothing but trouble my entire life, and now it looked he’d make a career out of it. Was he working for the River Gang? It was hard to believe he’d want the same kind of life his father had—or the same kind of death. But he sure had a lot of information. Could I trust him?
I wanted to trust him.
But I also wanted a gun.
After settling the argument between my sisters— Molly lost, I said she had to take Mary Grace to Electric Park—I told them Daddy had gone to Cleveland for a few days, and if they stayed out of trouble while he was gone, they could each pick out a new skirt or blouse from the Sears Roebuck catalog. Then I broke up the fight that ensued when Mary Grace said Molly was hogging the catalog behind the locked bathroom door, which is where she insists she has to go if she wants any privacy at all.
I spent the rest of Saturday morning stocking shelves at the store, jumping out of my skin every time the bell over the door rang, and wiping my sweaty palms on my skirt. I managed to avoid Bridget, who said she needed some fresh produce and took the kids down to Eastern Market. Since Martin was minding the store in her absence, I went over to the garage, where it looked like Joey had attempted to repair the busted lock but hadn’t finished the job. Inside the office, I dug Daddy’s directory out of the desk and called Blaise at the Cloverly Inn, a Windsor roadhouse near the docks.
“Yeah?” barked a gruff voice.
I cleared my throat. “I’m calling for Jack O’Mara.”
“Uh, I need to make a pickup. Twelve cases. Tomorrow night, if possible.”
“Can I make the pickup after nine?”
“Thirty-five per. I’ll meet you at the docks.”
There, I thought, allowing myself a sliver of triumph as I hung up. But when I replaced the directory, I noticed someone had been in the secret compartment at the back of Daddy’s bottom desk drawer, the one where he kept the ledgers. I reached in and felt around.
“Damn it,” I whispered. Money slipped through Daddy’s fingers like water but he kept meticulous records of what we sold and to whom. Angel had probably taken them, but why? My blood iced over as I thought about where those ledgers might be —and worse, where they might end up. Daddy was sunk if Angel turned them over to the Prohibition Bureau.
He could go to jail. And I’d be on my own with the girls for years.
Shoving that predicament from my mind, I walked back to the store, focusing on a more immediate problem: I had nothing to wear to a place like Club 23. Two Sunday dresses hung in my closet, but neither was what you’d call smart, and I certainly didn’t want to walk in there looking like a girl on her way to Mass. I also didn’t want Enzo to think he’d bested me—he’d taken me by surprise, of course, but I wanted him to know I couldn’t be broken so easily. The right clothing was essential.
Later that afternoon I approached Bridget as she rang up a purchase for a customer. Behind her, the boys were stacking empty boxes in the stock room and then knocking down their cardboard tower with glee.
“Would it be all right if I left a bit early today?” I asked when the customer had gone.
“Sure, I have Martin here.” She smiled at me. “Go do something fun. It’s Saturday.”
Right. “Uh, I need a little bit of money from my tip envelope. Is your door open?”
“Should be. How much do you need?” She glanced behind her. “Thomas! Don’t shut Eddie in that box, he’ll suffocate!” While she rescued her youngest child from his brothers, I snuck up the stairs before I had to explain why I was taking every penny I had.
My closest girlfriend was Evelyn LaChance. She still lived with her parents too, and their house was only a couple blocks from ours. Evelyn attended nursing school with me, but during the summer she helped out at her family’s bakery. On Saturdays, she only worked mornings, so I walked to her house and found her in the bedroom she shared with her twin sister Rosie, folding laundry and stacking it in neat piles on her bed.
“Hey, I was just thinking about you,” she said. “Want to go to the movies tonight?”
I perched on the edge of the dresser. “I would, but I actually have plans.”
Her plump mouth formed on O. “A date? With who? Where?”
I winced. “Don’t call it a date. With Joey. To a place called Club 23.” I wondered how much was wise to tell her. I was dying to divulge the entire story about kissing Enzo in the boathouse, but I didn’t see how I could without revealing the rest. “It’s for my father… he has business there.”
She hugged a folded pair of white bloomers to her chest. “God, you’re lucky. Joey’s so handsome.”
“You think so? He drives me crazy with his big mouth.”
“Mmm, that mouth drives me crazy too.”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not what I meant. I’ll put in a word for you, but right now I need you to help me find something to wear.”
She tossed the bloomers aside. “Let’s go to Hudson’s. Rosie’s working.”
We walked to the streetcar stop and caught a crowded car heading downtown. I kept my purse clutched tight to my side, since I’d stuffed the entire envelope, fat with small bills and change, inside it.
Rosie worked at the cosmetics counter at J.L. Hudson’s department store on Woodward. Even at four in the afternoon, her face was painted-on pretty, crowned by curly locks of golden blond hair cut fashionably short. They were twins, but it always struck me how different they were—in both looks and demeanor. Where Rosie was long-legged and slender, Evelyn was almost as short as me, with a rounder face and thicker middle. She wasn’t unattractive, just plain—but any girl could look plain next to Rosie, who was as tart as she was beautiful.
“Tiny has a date tonight,” Evelyn announced breathlessly. “With Joey Lupo, going dancing at Club 23. She needs help finding something to wear.”
“No kidding.” Rosie tilted her head, like she might be seeing me in a new light. “Club 23, huh?” Glancing at the huge clock on the wall, she nodded. “I’ll take my break now and help you out. God knows you’ll need it.”
She accompanied us to the dress department on the sixth floor, where she began pulling dresses off the rack for me to try on. “Lord, Tiny, you’re so short I don’t know what will fit,” she complained. “But you are nice and skinny. Let’s try these.”
“Isn’t that a little flimsy?” Evelyn asked when I had the first one on.
I knew what she meant, but I liked it. It was slate blue satin underneath and had a sheer chiffon overlay in the same color. It had a V neck and no sleeves—a first for me—and hung straight to my hips where its satin sash was tied in an intricate knot on the left. The skirt hung in fluttery panels with a zigzag effect. Glancing at my purse in Evelyn’s hands, I wondered how much it cost—I’d already be down a hundred bucks tonight, and I needed four hundred twenty to buy whisky with tomorrow. Since I was usually so frugal, even the nicest dress in my closet cost less than ten dollars. Something told me this one would be considerably more. “How much is this?”
“Hmm.” Rosie stood back and pursed her lips. “Good color for you, matches your eyes.” She circled me like a vulture.
“What does it cost?”
“Around twenty, I think. Maybe closer to thirty.”
My heart plummeted. But then I imagined someone like Rosie in the club wearing something like this blue number, while I stood next to her in my green-checkered church dress. To hell with the cost. “I’ll take it.”
“Good.” She nodded. “You’ll need new stockings —sheer black,” she said, scrutinizing my lower legs. “With roll garters. Then new shoes, with higher heels.”
“And a lipstick,” I added.
Rosie pointed at me. “Now you’re talkin.”
When I boarded the streetcar for home, I carried bags that held the dress, a pair of black stockings and satin-covered roll garters, black satin t-straps with high heels, a tiny silver mesh evening bag, and a pale peach lace-edged step-in—which Rosie had assured me was all I needed to wear under my dress. She also helped me choose a tube of lipstick called Red Velvet and told me she’d be home at seven if I wanted her to help me get ready. My envelope had taken a huge hit, but I still had enough to pay Angel tonight and buy twelve cases tomorrow.
Back at my house, I prepared supper—scrambled eggs and bacon, the one meal I didn’t habitually screw up—and gave the girls permission to go to the movies. I told them I was going out and wouldn’t be home until late, but I warned them to observe their regular curfew or else. Molly’s eyes lit up, and I figured she’d be tempted to take advantage of my absence, but I also knew Mary Grace would tattle on her first chance she got. After doing the dishes, I drove over to the LaChance house, my purchases in the back seat.
I felt like a doll as they worked on me up in their room, fastening my dress and fussing over my hair and makeup. “You’re so lucky to have this naturally wavy hair,” Rosie said, curling it around her fingers. “And such a perfect little body, straight up and down. I know girls who’d kill for that figure. It’s just right for all the new dresses.”
“I could never wear this.” Evelyn fingered the soft chiffon.
“Ya got that right,” said Rosie with a snort. “OK, now the powder and rouge.” Her fingers fluttered and smudged across my face while I tried to hold still. “There. Now, when you get home, rinse your mouth out with Listerine and then put on the lipstick, like this.” She took my new lipstick and put it on her own lips. “Try to make a little bow on the top, like I did.” She puckered and preened in the mirror over their dresser.
“Got it.” I stood to look at my own reflection. My hair was styled neatly around my made-up face, and Rosie had lent me a black beaded headband, which hid half my forehead. The blue of the dress brought out the color of my eyes, and I loved the way the sheer black stockings peeked out from under the zig-zag hem. Even more, I adored what I couldn’t see —the way the stockings were rolled to just above my knee and held there by the garters, the decadent feel of satin against my unbound breasts, the looseness of the step-in compared to the usual body-binding corselette.
“You look like a million bucks,” Rosie said, a rare compliment from her.
“Thanks. I owe you.”
“Can you get me into Club 23?” One penciled brow peaked above her hopeful eyes.
“Maybe next time,” I told her, although the last thing I wanted to do was make an entrance into a club next to Rosie.
Back at home, I brushed my teeth and did some final primping in my bedroom mirror, thankful for the privacy while I practiced walking in my new heels. It took me a few tries to get the bow lips right, but I thought I had a reasonable imitation by the time I heard a knock on the front door.
When he saw me, Joey’s eyebrows shot up. “Damn, Tiny. If I didn’t know it was you, I’d say you were beautiful.” He was wearing a dark brown suit, white shirt open at the collar, no tie or hat. The suit looked a bit worse for wear, but he’d tamed his hair and shaved, revealing clear skin and a strong jaw. My insides performed a funny little flip.
“You’re a riot. But I’ll thank you to just keep quiet tonight.” I pulled the door shut behind me and walked to his car, a black Ford much like mine.
“Don’t you want me to get the door for you?”
Was he joking? I waved him off. “This isn’t a date, Joey. Just get in and drive. Do you know where we’re going?”
“Yeah.” He slid into the driver’s seat, stealing a glance at my legs before starting the car. I smoothed the dress over my thighs and pressed my knees together.
Neither of us spoke on the way downtown.
The block he parked on looked perfectly ordinary, lined with darkened sandwich and coffee shops, a florist, a shoe store, and a photography studio. Steam rose from grates on the cement, and the electric streetlights cast a yellowish glow.
“Where’s the club?” I asked as we got out of the car.
“Right over there, I think.” We walked down the street and he pointed to the florist’s door, which had the number 23 painted on it. “See that opening in the sidewalk? That’s a stairwell to the cellar, where the entrance is.”
We descended the cement steps. At the foot of the staircase was a massive metal door, which Joey knocked on.
He pounded a little harder.
I was about to tell him to forget it, this couldn’t be the place, when we heard a few clicking sounds, like the door was being unlocked from inside. I pushed it open, and we stepped inside a dark, closet-like space with a second door ahead of us.
“That wasn’t so hard,” I said. But when the big metal door slammed behind us, we were trapped in blackness. Immediately my heart began thudding, but within seconds, a tiny slot at eye level—well, more Joey’s eye level than mine—opened up.
A pair of eyes appeared. “Yeah?”
“Is this Club 23?” Joey asked.
“Get lost.” The slot closed.
“Angel sent me,” I said loudly.
The slot opened again. “Who said that?”
“Me. Down here.”
The eyes found me and the voice attached to them laughed.
“Listen, can we come in or not?” I asked irritably.
“Sure, you can come in,” the voice said. “If Angel sent you, you’re in.” The door opened, and we were directed down a dark, low-ceilinged hallway with a red-tiled floor and black-painted cement walls toward the club’s main room. The music grew louder as we approached. At the end of the hall were two red velvet curtains, tied back on either side.
My heart raced as I took in the club’s cozy underground opulence. The front third of the room was dominated by an elevated stage, where a dozen musicians shook the walls with a hard-driving rhythm. The rectangular dance floor in front of it was two tiers lower than where I was standing and packed with dancers. Cocktail tables edged the floor, and crescent- shaped booths with plush red velvet seating rimmed the next two tiers. The walls were also lined with a few intimate, red-curtained booths, and the room was crowded with elegantly dressed men and women, many of them dancing or smoking, all of them drinking. The dark wood bar ran the length of the back wall, and the cocktails were served in real glasses, not mugs or teacups like I’d seen in other joints. White linen dressed the tables, and the waiters wore tuxedoes.
A hostess seated us at a small cocktail table near the dance floor. Joey ordered a whisky and asked if I wanted one. “I’ll have Canadian Club. With ice.” In speakeasies it was important to order your poison by name—otherwise you couldn’t be sure what was in it. The hostess disappeared and we sat listening to the music for a few minutes, my eyes scanning the room for Angel or one of his sons.
Our drinks arrived, and Joey handed the waitress some cash. She winked at him, and I didn’t blame her, which irked me.
I sipped my whisky. “Swell suit. Too bad you couldn’t afford a tie.”
He took two big swallows and set down the glass with a clunk. “I don’t prefer neckties. And now, hard as it may be, I think you should tear your eyes from me and look over your shoulder. Is that Angel DiFiore watching you?”
A spidery chill crawled up my back. I turned in my chair, and there he was, in a black tuxedo, raising a glass to me in a silent toast. He drank, set the glass down, and headed my way.
I took a gulp of whisky. “Yes. That’s him.”
Joey watched him approach with his chin lifted, eyes sharp.
In a moment, Angel appeared at my side. “Miss O’Mara. What a pleasure to see you again, and how beautiful you look.” He offered his hand and I saw no choice but to take it. Turning to Joey, he said, “Angel DiFiore.”
Angel held out his hand again but cocked his head at hearing Joey’s name. Did he recognize it? “Perhaps you will enjoy a cigar in the lounge behind that curtain, Mr. Lupo.” He took a cigar from inside his coat and handed it to Joey. “The Miss Detroit is excellent.” He signaled a goon on the room’s periphery. The goon nodded and pulled a black curtain aside, revealing a room beyond it from which pale blue smoke billowed.
Joey took the cigar from Angel and looked at me. “You all right?”
“Sure.” I swallowed my fear along with another mouthful of whisky. At least we were surrounded by a crowd.
Joey stood, adjusted his coat, and disappeared behind the curtain. Angel gestured toward his seat. “May I?”
“It’s your club.”
“It is, indeed. But manners are manners.” While I marveled at his concern for ettiquette in this situation, he lowered himself into the chair, pulling a cigarette from a small gold case. A girl in a short- skirted Club 23 uniform rushed to light it. “Grazie. Allora, Signorina O’Mara,” he began, exhaling smoke. “Your coming here tonight tells me you are cooperative as well as lovely. A nice combination, I think.” His black eyes shone as he looked over my hair and clothing.
I met his gaze but said nothing.
“Did you bring the money?”
Keeping my purse on my lap, I opened it up and removed the bills. Then I placed them on the table, covered them with my hand, and pushed them toward him.
“Splendid,” he said, pocketing weeks of my hard work within seconds. “I should have come to you in the first place.” He tapped ashes from his cigarette into the small tray on the table. “So let’s talk business. I want five thousand dollars by Tuesday night.”
My heart plummeted to my heels, and took my cool demeanor with it. “Tuesday night! That’s in three days—that’s impossible!”
“Nothing is impossible.”
I clutched my purse tight. “I need more time.”
“You don’t have it. Now, you can bring the cash here, or leave it up to me to find you.” He smiled as he stood. “But I believe you’ll prefer the first option. Until then, Miss O’Mara. I do hope you enjoy yourself this evening.” Placing the cigarette between his lips, he offered me his hand again.
I felt like spitting on it and bolting, but one glance beyond him reminded me of the men stationed at every doorway. When he was gone, I sat stiffly, unblinking. Hearing neither the crowd nor the music.
Five grand. By Tuesday night.
I closed my eyes.
Deadline—the word took on a whole new meaning.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to find Enzo beside me, a drink in his hand. My traitorous heart thumped double time at the sight of him.
“Good evening.” He sat in the chair his father had just vacated—without asking—and I stared coldly, angry that his good looks were matched by his duplicity. He wore his usual three-piece suit. Dark blue tonight, with a light blue shirt and a deep red tie. His hair was brilliantined to a shine. Taking several swallows of whisky, I wondered about the scar on his cheekbone and hoped some girl had scratched him trying to gouge his eyeballs out.
“How are you tonight, Miss O’Mara?”
“As if you care.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
The gall of this man. “You pretended to be a customer, you spied on me, you followed me, and you broke into our boathouse.” Fuming, I leaned forward. “You kissed me.”
“You kissed me, actually.”
Heat flooded my face. “That’s not the point. You knew the whole time what your father was planning to do. It was a dirty trick.”
He drank, looking at me over the rim of the glass, and set the glass down. “It’s a dirty business we’re in.”
I put my hands on the table. “Listen, I’m no crook. I make an honest dollar supplying a harmless demand. What you’re doing is called extortion.”
“Every racket’s legit when it’s all illegal. Don’t kid yourself that you’re above it.” My blood boiled harder as he took a Fatima from his case. “You’re a bootlegger, Tiny. You work the black market, and the black market has its own rules.” Pulling a silver lighter from his breast pocket, he lit the cigarette between his lips. “You follow them, no harm comes.”
I raised my eyebrows. “No harm? That’s not what it looked like last night.”
“Well, your father didn’t follow the rules, did he?” He took the Fatima from his mouth and exhaled. “But you’re a smart girl. You do what you’re supposed to, and I promise—no harm comes.”
He promises. Ha. Just watching the smoke slip from his lips was enough to do me harm.
“You don’t believe me.”
I sat back. “No. I don’t.”
“What can I do to convince you?”
“I want to see my father.”
“Then let me talk to him.”
He looked at me a moment before speaking. “Are you alone tonight?”
Heat pooled in my lower body. “Does it matter?”
“If we’re going to use the telephone, you’ll have to come upstairs with me. Alone.”
At first, I wanted to tell him I wasn’t dumb enough to go anywhere alone with him. But then I remembered something my mother used to say: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If my goal was to get them to give me more time to come up with the money, then perhaps I should play nice.
But I should also play smart.
“Just let me tell my friend where I’m going.” As I stood, Enzo’s hand shot out, gripping my forearm.
“I’ll take care of that.” Without letting go, he got up and steered me toward the bar. When we reached the long counter running the back of the room, he released me. “Wait here.”
As he walked away, I looked down at my arm— his fingers had left red marks that wound around my pale wrist like rope.
It should have frightened me.
For several minutes, I waited alone at the bar, shifting my weight from one foot to the other and rubbing my lips together. Was I screwy to go somewhere alone with Enzo? What would he say to Joey? How did he even know who Joey was? Had he been watching us?
“Can I buy you a drink, doll?” said a voice to my left. The guy was blond, round-shouldered and burly, with pink pimply skin.
“No, thanks. I’m waiting for someone.”
“Just leave me alone.” I turned away from him.
“You can’t come to Club 23 and be alone. At least let me get you a drink.”
“Fine,” I said, mostly to get rid of him. He snapped to get the bartender’s attention while I kept my eyes on the crowd, watching for Enzo.
In a moment, my pimply admirer tapped my shoulder and handed me an ominously clear martini. “Here ya go. Best juice in the house.”
“Thanks.” I took it from him but didn’t drink.
He lit a cigarette. “Your fella didn’t show yet, huh? He shouldn’t leave a pretty young thing like you unattended.” Leaning toward me, he exhaled in my face.
I coughed and fanned the air between us. “Listen. I don’t want to be rude, but I’ve told you already to leave me alone.”
He laughed again, an annoying little heh-heh- heh that sounded like my car when it wouldn’t start. “Why don’t ya get to know me before you give me the boot? Name’s Harry.”
“Now I know you. I still want you to beat it.”
“Not too friendly, are ya, kid?” Harry reached out and traced a line from my neck down one shoulder.
Recoiling with a scowl, I threw my drink in his face. While he sputtered in shock, a hand came down on his arm and spun him around.
“Get the fuck out of here,” Enzo growled.
Harry mopped his face with his sleeve. “Enzo. I didn’t realize.” He scowled at me before backing up and losing himself in the crowd.
Enzo took the empty glass from my hand. “Can I get you another drink?”
“No, thank you.” Between the whisky I’d imbibed at the table and the difficulty I had walking in these high heels, I was impaired enough. Not to mention the way Enzo’s dark eyes and slow smiles threw me off balance. I leaned against the bar for support. “Did you speak to my friend?”
“It’s all taken care of.”
I found it hard to believe Joey had let him off so easily. And a little disappointing, frankly. “What did he say?”
“Oh, he threatened my general well-being, as well as some specific body parts, if any harm should come to you.” He took my arm, more gently this time, and led me around the bar. “I promised to return you to him in twenty minutes, unmolested.”
I was beginning to regret turning down a drink.
He pushed open a door behind the bar, and we entered a room filled with crates, boxes and sacks of alcohol. “Is all this yours?” I asked, impressed.
“Yes.” He guided me to the back and opened another door.
I hesitated before entering the dark, narrow space. “What’s this?”
“It’s the quickest way to the office.”
“Will he be there too?”
Enzo looked at me sideways. “I’m a grown man, Tiny. My father doesn’t need to know everything I do.” He pulled me into the tunnel, closing the door behind us. Gasping at the complete darkness, I grabbed his arm.
He laughed, and a second later, I heard the flick of his lighter. The little flame created a small sphere of light, illuminating his sculpted features from below. “Better?”
No. You’re too handsome. And too close. “Yes.” I released his arm. Stepping gingerly on the balls of my feet, I walked beside him down the long, narrow passageway. The walls were raw planks of wood, and the ground was hard-packed dirt. Our footsteps made no sound. No one knows where I am.
“So what’s your real name, anyway?” His tone was friendly and curious, as if we were out for an evening stroll in the park and not sneaking through a subterranean passage beneath an illegal club.
“Uh, it’s Frances, but I’ve always been called Tiny.” Pay attention to your surroundings. Keep it friendly. “When I was born, I was so small I fit into a cigar box.”
He chuckled again, chipping away at my antagonism. “Really?”
I nodded as we veered left; another tunnel snaked to the right. They must run beneath the entire building. “These tunnels must come in handy.”
“Always good to have more than one way out these days. Do you supply any clubs?”
“A few. Mostly Al Murphy’s places. But his speaks don’t have this kind of hidden access. I wish they did. It would make deliveries a lot easier.”
“I imagine so. Watch your step here.” Enzo’s voice was steady as he took my arm, guiding me through a door into a narrow stairwell. From there I followed him up rough-hewn steps on shaky legs, wishing there was a rail to hold onto.
At the top of the stairs we emerged into a dimly lit wood-paneled hallway. “This way.” Enzo tugged my arm to the right. A quick look behind me revealed that the door we’d come through blended into the wall so well, I wasn’t sure I could find it again. At the end of the hall, Enzo unlocked a door and stood back so I could enter. He locked it again behind us, and my skin tingled when he brushed by me. A moment later, he switched on a lamp across the room.
The office looked like any businessman’s—a large mahogany desk with two red leather chairs in front of it, thick gold velvet curtains over the windows, and a sideboard along the back wall functioning as a bar.
“We’d best be quick about this.” He picked up the telephone on the desk.
To my dismay, he spoke in Italian when the call was put through. I caught only a few words—ragazza, padre, parlare. When Vince was alive, he’d tried to teach me a few things, but I hadn’t paid close attention, a fact I now regretted.
“Tiny?” Enzo held the phone out to me.
My stomach tightened as I took the earpiece from him. I laid my purse on the desk and picked up the candlestick base. “Hello?”
“Tiny. Is that you?” It was Daddy’s voice. I was sure of it, although it was weak and raw.
“Yes, it’s me.” Willing myself not to dissolve into tears, I asked, “Are you all right?”
Silence. “Yes. I’m sorry, Tiny—”
“I’m taking care of everything, Daddy. I—”
“Enough!” barked a new voice in my ear.
“No! Put him back on,” I begged. I looked helplessly at Enzo, who took the phone and finished up the call in Italian.
“Satisfied?” He set the phone down and raised his eyebrows at me.
“I guess.” At least I knew Daddy was still alive, and conscious enough to speak on the phone. My job now was to get the money. But even if I sold the twelve cases I’d pick up tomorrow night, I’d need to sell seventeen more to come up with five grand by Tuesday. It couldn’t be done—I needed more time. But what leverage did I have to bargain with?
I looked at Enzo, my mind and heart racing.
No. You can’t.
“We should go. I promised to return you within twenty minutes.” Enzo gave me that slow smile, which made my belly go hollow. “And I do rather value those body parts your friend threatened.”
“Right.” I licked my lips as I walked to the door, and Enzo waited until I reached it before turning off the lamp. His silhouette came closer in the darkness, and my insides tightened.
Oh yes, I can.
“If you’ll move, I’ll unlock the door,” he said.
Fear and some other untamable feeling buzzed through me. “No.”
“We still have five minutes.” I rushed forward and threw my arms around his neck, crushing my lips to his. For a moment he was stunned; I heard his keys hit the floor. Then strong arms locked around my back, and his mouth opened wide over mine, his tongue lashing inside with deep, demanding strokes. My body ignited in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Keep your senses. This is just a ploy. You’re angry with him. Our mouths battled each other with such ferocity I couldn’t breathe, and I imagined the fire between us consuming all the oxygen in the room. He tasted like temptation— whisky and smoke.
Pressing my forearms against his shoulders, I jumped up and wrapped my legs around his waist. Enzo pushed my back up against the door, his hands slipping beneath my dress to the undersides of my legs, his fingers gripping the bare skin above my stockings. Gasping, I squeezed his torso between my thighs as his mouth traveled across my face and down my neck. His fingers edged inside the lace of my step- in, teasing the soft pink folds at my center while his tongue lingered in the hollow at the base of my throat.
Something deep and powerful surged within me. Threading my fingers through his dark hair, I pulled his head back and we stared hard at each other before our mouths slammed together once more. He shifted my weight under one arm and found the side fasteners of my dress with the other.
Somehow, he undid seven hooks and eyes with one hand.
His fingers slipped inside my dress and pressed against the bare skin on my lower back. Then he swung me away from the door and moved to the desk, setting me on its edge with my dress bunched up around my hips. Standing between my knees, he ran his hands up my pale white thighs, which glowed in the dark above my stockings. My chest heaved with ragged breaths as he shrugged off his coat and loosened his tie. My hands itched to touch him, to travel under starched cotton and over hot skin, to reach low and feel exactly how he wanted me. To know for certain what he could to do to me, if I let him. For a moment, I forgot every circumstance that brought me here and nearly reached for the buttons on his trousers.
But only for a moment.
“Enzo,” I whispered instead, gripping the edge of the desk. “We can’t.”
He put his hands on my buttocks and pulled me flush against him. “You said we had five minutes.” He pressed the hard length of his cock between my legs.
Oh God, that feels so good. I struggled for control. “It’s been five minutes. And neither of us wants to get caught here.”
He paused. “You’re right. Besides, what I’d like to do to you takes more than five minutes.”
My heart thumped wildly as he backed off. I brought my knees together and tried to gather my wits. Ask him. Now. I took a deep breath. “I need more time too.”
“Oh?” He sounded amused as he picked up his coat and slipped it back on, as if he thought I’d been referring to sex.
Dropping to my feet, I fastened my dress with trembling fingers. “Yes. More time to come up with the first five grand.”
He froze for a second before adjusting his collar. “Is that what we’re doing here?”
“Couldn’t you intervene for me? Ask for more time?”
“Why would I do that?” His words were cool and even.
My spine stiffened. “I thought you liked me.”
He didn’t answer right away. “I’ll admit there’s something I find hard to resist about you,” he finally said, pulling a handkerchief from a pocket inside his coat. He wiped the lipstick off his mouth before handing it to me. “So I’ll tell you that as long as you do what’s asked of you, no one gets hurt.” The look in his eyes was razor-sharp. “But don’t mistake attraction for affection.”
His words infuriated me, but fear tempered my reaction. “What if I can’t do what’s asked of me?”
He walked away, picked up his keys from where they’d dropped and unlocked the door. When he pulled it open, the light from the hallway spilled in, washing him in gold. He watched as I quickly wiped my mouth and smoothed my hair, uncomfortable under his scrutiny. “Don’t underestimate yourself, Tiny. Nobody else is.”
Joey was waiting for me near the club entrance. Chin jutted. Eyebrows furrowed. At the sight of us, he released his crossed arms and puffed up his chest a bit, but relief eased his features.
“I see that your date is glad to have you back in one piece,” said Enzo from behind me. Since I’d asked for more time, his disposition had been all business. No wink-and-smile banter, no flirty innuendo, and no touching. Was he actually angry, thinking I’d kissed him under false pretenses? Maybe he did like me—at least more than he was willing to admit.
I glanced over my shoulder. “I never said he was my date.”
“In any case, I’ve returned you as promised, and —”
“Not exactly.” I turned and walked backward a few steps. “I believe you promised to return me unmolested.” The barest flicker of fire crossed his face.
“You ready to go, Tiny?” Joey did his best to stand tall, although Enzo had a couple inches on him. In a fight, though, I might bet on Joey. He just looked hungrier.
“Yes.” I locked eyes with Enzo. “We’re through. For tonight anyway.”
“Enjoy the rest of your evening.” Enzo nodded at us before turning on his heel and striding away.
“What the hell was that about?” Joey demanded.
“Just business.” I watched Enzo go behind the bar, pour himself two fingers of whisky and down it. Then he poured another.
Ha, so I did get to you.
He looked over at me then, and when our eyes met, I vividly recalled his fingers on my bare legs, sliding higher. My thighs clenched involuntarily, and I sucked in my breath.
“Doesn’t look that way to me.” Joey grabbed my elbow. “Let’s get out of here. Now.” He was rough, tugging me toward the exit as if I were an unruly child.
I jerked my arm from his. “Quit it! I said I was ready to go, you don’t have to grab me.”
Joey’s lower jaw slid forward but he said nothing—not a word until we were halfway home. “So are you going to tell me what he said or not?”
“What who said?”
“Angel!” Joey thumped the steering wheel with the heel of his hand.
“Oh. Right.” With difficulty I shoved the memory of Enzo’s torso between my legs from my mind. “Uh, he said I have three days to bring him five thousand dollars.”
“What? That’s crazy.”
“I know it’s crazy,” I snapped. “That’s why I was trying to play nice with Enzo.”
“Ha.” He turned the car so abruptly I had to grab the dash to stay upright.
“It is! He let me speak with Daddy on the telephone. Then I asked him if he would intervene for me with his father, ask for more time.”
“Why would he do that?”
I bristled. “Maybe he likes me.”
Joey snorted. “Sure he does. So will he do it? Intervene, I mean?”
I turned my face to the window.
“That’s what I thought.”
Somehow I was as angry with Joey for saying that as I was with Enzo for denying my request. I tried to think up a sharp remark but failed.
Joey turned onto my street. “Did you talk to Blaise?”
“Yes. Twelve cases, after dark tomorrow night.” “And you’ve got the money?”
“Yes. It’s everything I’ve made this summer so far.” The words tasted bitter in my mouth.
“I’ll meet you at the docks at nine thirty.” He pulled into my driveway, and I faced him.
“I don’t need you, you know. I can do this myself,” I lied.
“I said, I’ll meet you at nine.” He stared straight ahead.
“Good night, then!” I opened the door and slid out. I was about to slam it shut when he looked over at me.
“You can’t trust him.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “This from the boy who stole my underwear for profit.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Yeah, well, I have a good memory.”
Joey focused his attention out the front window again.
I slammed the car door and went inside.
After checking on the girls, I undressed and washed off my makeup. When I was in my nightgown and under the covers, I lay awake, staring at the ceiling. Angel’s deadline loomed above me like the blade of a guillotine. And Enzo’s refusal to intercede on my behalf cut deep, especially after what had happened between us.
Don’t trust him, Joey said. And I didn’t, not one bit. But I couldn’t stop thinking about him.
I didn’t even try.