April 21, 2013

First Look:  Secrets & Sins

I'm working diligently trying to get Love Will Follow ready for publication next month and don't want to reveal the twist in the story by giving a lot of excerpts (what the hell, there's already a free download of the action preceding it, as well as the first two chapters, of it here), but since it's Sneak Peek Sunday I figured I'd give a preview of the project I'll be working on once Love Will Follow is in the can (target publication date:  late summer/early fall).  This is women's fiction and is different for me in that it contains flashbacks to Chicago in the 1950s.  I'd love to know what you think...
Stony Island Avenue was fairly quiet on this early November night. The recent time change meant the sky got dark during rush hour. Like the rest of the businesses on the block except for bars, restaurants, and a stray store here and there, the law offices of Roscoe Scott were closed, but Julia knew he would be there. He’d promised to wait here for her when she left Lorraine’s hospital room, and he would bring her home. Julia had been staying with him at his home on Pill Hill since she’d been attending Chicago State University, because it was easier to get to her classes from here in the city than from her mother’s apartment on the grounds of her employer’s estate in the monied suburb of Winnetka. Julia wished she could see her boyfriend, Melvin, tonight, but she knew her father would never permit him to call on her after nine o’clock at night. She truly loved Melvin, but right now she needed her father more.

She paid the cab driver, then slipped into the stairwell leading to her father’s second floor offices above a bank. She heard voices from her father’s inner office and called out to him. The tall frame of Roscoe Scott quickly appeared in the doorway, closing the door behind him. Julia, in need of comforting, ran toward him, letting her tears fall freely. Miss Trudy had been right about one thing: She was damn lucky to have her father in her life.

“Oh, Daddy, I feel so bad,” she sobbed. “Not only did Lorraine lose her baby, but the doctors told her she won’t be able to have any more children. Something about the way she fell and the damage to her insides.”

“I know, baby. I’m so sorry,” Roscoe soothed, his hands rubbing her back. “I visited Lorraine this morning. She’s become like another daughter to me, between her working in my office and spending so much time at the house with you.” For a few moments they just stood, the only sound Julia’s muffled sobs. “I know it’s awful, Julia,” he added, “but I’ll tell you the same thing I told her: She’s a wonderful girl with a lot to offer any man. She’ll get through this, and she’ll find love again. With a better man than Vernon Pace,” he added gruffly.

“Is anything going to happen to him, Daddy? This is all his fault. He’s the one who pushed her. All right, so we all know he didn’t mean for her to lose her balance and fall down the stairs, but if he had kept his hands off of her she wouldn’t have taken that fall. Lorraine said he was drunk.” Julia’s lower lip protruded, and her hostility showed in the hardening of her features. “He hasn’t even been to the hospital to see her. I wonder if he even knows what happened. He actually left her lying on the floor last night and just went to bed.” A fresh wave of tears poured from her eyes. It made her physically ill to think of her friend lying at the foot of the stairs, bleeding and wracked with pain, finally managing to get up and call for help. Vernon probably wasn’t even aware of what happened. Julia imagined him sleeping it off, then getting cleaned up, polishing those damn wing tips he always wore, combing his wavy hair, and, after preening like a peacock, going out for yet another night of drinking and carousing, ending up in bed with yet another of Chicago’s prettiest young girls. 

Roscoe shrugged. “I’m afraid nothing will happen unless Lorraine tells the police what really happened, but she just told them it was an accident. At this point she just wants him out of her life. She’s not interested in getting revenge.”

“But Daddy, it’s not fair for Vernon to go about his business like nothing happened. Lorraine’s life is changed forever. She can’t ever have any children. Even once she’s single again, what man is going to want to marry her?”

“Julia, there are plenty of people, men and women alike, who aren’t able to reproduce.” The stern tone of Roscoe’s voice reminded Julia that his own late wife had been too sickly to carry a baby. She opened her mouth to say she didn’t mean anything against Vivian, who passed shortly before Julia graduated high school, but her father continued talking.

“Lorraine is a beautiful young lady, inside and out,” he said. “I’m sure she’ll find another husband before too long. In the meantime...well, she’ll go on, that’s all. Just because she has to.”

“Do you really think it’s all right for Vernon to get off scot-free? His parents visited Lorraine while I was there. They say they haven’t been able to find him.”

“Maybe he went someplace to sober up. I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about Vernon, Julia. The guilty usually get punished, one way or another.”

Julia began to feel better. Her father was so wise. She decided to share her latest worry with him. “Daddy, Miss Trudy is expecting Lorraine to go back to Winnetka with her when she’s discharged from the hospital, but I don’t think she wants to go. She likes it here in the city. Besides, those people her mother works for won’t let a grown woman live on their property unless she works for them, too.” She chewed on her lower lip. Maybe her father could help. He always had…

He didn’t let her down. “She doesn’t have to go to Winnetka. She can stay right here in Chicago. She still has a job in this office, and if the family she boarded with before she got married doesn’t have a room for her, she can move in with us. In fact, it might be better for her to be with us while she recovers from—” his voice grew tight—“her hysterectomy. There’s plenty of room at the house, and I can arrange with Mrs. Walker next door to have the housekeeper look in on her a couple of times a day and see that she eats breakfast and lunch. So don’t you worry, Julia.”

She let out a relieved breath. “Thanks, Daddy. You always take care of everything.” She looked at him questioningly at the sound of a thudding noise coming from inside his office.

He glanced at the closed office door. “Uh, look, sweetheart, I’m with a client right now. Why don’t you just sit out here and read a magazine, and I’ll be with you in a few minutes to run you home.”

“All right, Daddy.”

Julia glimpsed through an issue of Jet magazine, which featured ongoing coverage of that horrifying Emmett Till murder three months ago in Mississippi. Her father, who ranked among the most prominent colored attorneys in Chicago, had served as an advisor to Mamie Bradley, young Emmett’s grieving mother, whose murder in the Delta town of Money occurred just a few counties away from Roscoe’s own hometown of Eighty-Eight, near Greenville.

Julia hadn’t been kidding when she told her father that he took care of everything. He was really her hero. It made her proud to say she was Roscoe Scott’s daughter. He easily could’ve abandoned her and her mother, Miriam, to whom he’d never been married. He’d been the son of one of the better-off families in their hometown, while she’d been a penniless deaf mute with good looks and an hourglass figure her only assets. Eventually Roscoe had married someone else, the daughter of his mentor. Vivian Scott didn’t possess a lot of physical strength—she had a heart condition—but she had the ability to give wonderful dinner parties at their home on Pill Hill, as well known as much for interesting mix of guests as they were for the wonderful food. Miriam Dunstan—she informally adopted the surname Scott and maintained the fiction that she and Roscoe were divorced—could never have managed to entertain the most prominent colored people and wealthy white liberals among Chicago’s population. In spite of extraordinary beauty, a deaf woman had few prospects, whether in Eighty-Eight, Mississippi, or in Chicago. But Roscoe had taken care of them. He’d graduated from the Howard University School of Law and moved to Chicago to start his career, handling criminal cases and doing pro bono work for the NAACP. Through his work he met a wealthy couple from Winnetka whose adolescent son was deaf, and he arranged for a housekeeping job for Miriam. Mother and daughter left Eighty-Eight for Chicago in Nineteen Forty-One, when Julia was just seven years old. 

From that point on, Julia had become a “daddy’s girl.” Roscoe had taken an interest in her grades, brought her to his home for weekends, brought her to the circus and live plays, enrolled her in Mrs. Arnella Hunter Walker’s famous charm school for young ladies, and always assured her that she would go to college. Julia knew she had been blessed. Maybe if Lorraine had had a father to look out for her, she wouldn’t be lying in that hospital room right now. 
Lorraine had had so much to deal with since her marriage to Vernon Pace...happiness at being a bride, then sadness at the realization that her husband continued to see other women...back to happiness at becoming pregnant...and now devastation at the loss of her unborn child, barely two weeks after the baby shower Julia had given for her. Lorraine had so looked forward to having her baby. Julia, deeply in love with Melvin Cheeks and with dreams of getting married herself, was equally excited about being a godmother.

It seemed to Julia as though she sat there for an eternity, lost in the world of ‘If only…’ Then she heard muffled voices and dragging sounds coming from her father’s office, as if he had someone in there helping him rearrange the furniture. She put the sound of the noise out of her mind, thinking about how she and Lorraine had planned to take their children to the park together, and how their offspring would also be best friends.  Of course, Lorraine’s baby would be older than Julia’s, but they joked that Lorraine would have a boy. By the time she had a girl, Julia—or so she hoped—would be married to her boyfriend, Melvin Cheeks, and they would have a baby girl around the same time Lorraine and Vernon had theirs. Now that would never be.

A new wave of tears overtook her as she struggled to cope with how Lorraine’s entire future had changed. Her nose became congested, and she got up and went into the bathroom for a tissue to blow her nose. The toilet roll was empty, nor were there any of those hard brown paper towels kept in a basket on top of the toilet tank. Julia hated to intrude on her father’s meeting, but she had no choice. One of her nostrils had already closed up; if the other did the same she’d be unable to breathe.

She knocked on her father’s door, then entered without waiting for a response as she wiped her eyes. “Daddy—”

“Julia, don’t come in here!” her father shouted.

She stared unbelievingly at the scene in front of her. A mop in a bucket of water leaned against the side of her father’s desk. On the edge of the desk sat a kitchen knife stained with blood, and her father and a man she didn’t recognize were bent over a rolled-up rug on the side of the desk, from which two shoe-clad feet protruded.

Men’s shoes. Brown wing tips, polished to the nines, worn with argyle socks. 

The type Vernon Pace always wore.

She turned wide, questioning eyes to her father, who hastily grabbed his coat and ushered her out of the office. “I’m taking you home right now.”

“My God, Daddy, what—?”

“No questions,” he said roughly, practically pushing her out the door. “I want you to forget you were ever here tonight. And I certainly want you to forget what you saw.”

She nodded, still dazed. Amazingly, her nasal passages had cleared, probably from shock. Those feet belonged to a dead body, but this wasn’t The Wizard of Oz, and those feet didn’t belong to the Wicked Witch of the North. This was horrifyingly real, and instinctively she knew those feet belonged to Vernon Pace.

Her best friend’s husband was lying dead in her father’s law office. How had he gotten there?

Julia descended the stairs as if in a trance. The brief ride to the house was accomplished in silence. Her father went back out immediately after dropping her off, and the next morning acted as though nothing happened. 

Julia dared not ask any questions, but inside she felt numb. She kept remembering how her father had given Lorraine away at her wedding, kept hearing his toast at the wedding supper, when he warned Vernon that if he ever hurt Lorraine he’d have to answer to him. Everyone had laughed, thinking it was a cute. But it wasn’t cute anymore, for Vernon had hurt Lorraine, and now he was dead. Her father was, after all, a criminal attorney. He knew a lot of criminals, and that man helping to clean up looked like he could snuff out someone’s life in a heartbeat. 

At the hospital this morning, with both her and Trudy sitting by Lorraine's bedside, her father promised Lorraine he'd take care of the divorce for her. Had he lured Vernon here by promising not to press charges in exchange for a quick divorce? Was this other man lurking in the shadows with knife in hand, waiting to pounce?

She’d always known her father to be an honorable man, but it looked like he’d made good on his threat regarding Vernon. The knife suggested that Vernon had been alive when he came to the office. Surely it was no coincidence that he ended up dead. If her father had conspired with the other man to have Vernon killed, that made him an accomplice, and just as guilty as the one who’d stabbed him. 

And now that she knew about it, she’d just become an accomplice herself.  ###