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By Carol Tibaldi
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The Roaring Twenties crumble into the Great Depression, but Virginia Kingsley, New York's toughest and most successful speakeasy owner, is doing just fine. Now that the world is falling apart, bootlegging is a flourishing business, and she's queen of that castle. Then her infant nephew is kidnapped. Her niece, Laura, and Laura's philandering movie star husband, are devastated. Only one reporter, Erich Muller, seems to care enough about the child's welfare and the parents' feelings to report the case responsibly. Over the course of the investigation, Erich Muller and Laura fall in love, but their relationship is doomed to failure since he suspects her beloved aunt Virginia is behind the kidnapping. But Virginia has figured out the truth and she pursues her own investigation, shaking down, threatening, and killing one petty crook after another during her search.
Laura Kingsley Austin was Jean Harlow beautiful.
Men first noticed the butterfly tattoo, its saucy wings peeking from her cleavage; it was quite the conversation piece. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what Laura had intended. It had first appeared one crazy night when she’d gone with some friends to Bacchanal, her aunt’s speakeasy, and had too much to drink. One of them dared her to get a tattoo, so she did. Ever since that night, she’d shied away from having too much booze.
Years later, everything in her life had changed. After separating from her husband three months earlier, Laura had moved into an apartment on Patchin Place in Greenwich Village. She loved the village and its diversity of people, and felt a kinship with the artists and writers living there.
Her whole apartment could have fit into one corner of Willow Pond, the huge colonial mansion she’d left, but it was all hers. She loved every cramped inch of it.
The front door of the apartment opened into a long hallway. To the left was a good sized living room, which she had decorated in the English country style. Her writing table sat in the northeast corner of that room, and it was there she often sat, surrounded by writing pads, pens, pencils and an old Remington.
Since she’d moved to the village, her life had changed more than she’d ever imagined it would. For the first time since her marriage, she felt her life was her own. She wasn’t being controlled by her husband or anyone else, and neither was her son, Todd. Like her, he smiled and laughed a lot more these days.
Each day she discovered new things about herself, both as a woman and as a mother. When she’d been living with Phillip, he’d always discouraged her desire to be a writer, saying she should spend her time and energy on more “important” things. Now she pursued her goal with zest; she’d already had a short article published in The Villager, a community newspaper. She felt as though she were coming awake after a long sleep.
The village offered excitement, with all its places to go and people to meet. Phillip had never encouraged her to make friends. He’d preferred to keep her to himself, though he’d never had trouble sharing himself with as many people as possible. Especially women. Laura had been afraid to confront him about that particular issue until the day she read about him and the actress with whom he was co-starring.
Almost from the beginning of their marriage, there had been rumors about Phillip with other women. She had tried to ignore them, tried to believe she could make her marriage work, but reading about his affair in the newspaper was just too much. She couldn’t ignore it anymore. She and Todd deserved better. The day after the article appeared in the newspaper, she went to see a lawyer.
“Are you going to leave me?” Phillip asked a few days later. He’d just gotten out of the tub and stood in the middle of the bedroom, tying the sash of his white terrycloth robe.
She glanced out the window, then returned her gaze to him. He stood absolutely still, waiting. She nodded. “I can’t live with myself any longer if I keep letting you treat me this way. Todd and I will be out of here by the end of the week.”
Phillip scowled, bringing a crease to his handsome brow. “I’ll never let you keep that boy from me. Do you understand?”
She sighed. “I would never do that to you or to him, Phillip. But tell me, just how much time do you spend with him now? He hardly knows he has a father.”
“We know whose fault that is, don’t we?”
Now Laura sat on the edge of her very own bed, weary of thinking about their petty arguments. She stretched her arms over her head, then smiled at the sound of tiny footsteps padding along the hallway. After a moment, Todd appeared in the doorway, clutching his favorite teddy bear in one hand and rubbing the sleep from his eyes with the other.
“How’s my big boy today?” Laura asked, holding out her arms.
The child toddled to his mother’s side, then climbed onto the bed and into her arms. She kissed both his cheeks, loving his little boy smell and the warm, reassuring feel of his body against hers. Todd was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She’d had no idea it was possible to love anyone as much as she loved this little bundle of boy. Now that his father was no longer a part of his life, Todd was blossoming like she’d always hoped he would. He hadn’t been able to before, because he’d been too afraid of his father.
“Up,” he said and tugged on her arm. “Me hungwy.”
“Mommy is very sleepy,” she teased, laying back down.
“No!” He peered down at her and very gently pulled the lid of one of her eyes back, then screamed when she popped up, saying, “Boo!” They both shrieked with laughter as they rolled around on the bed.
“Come on,” Laura said eventually, taking his hand. “What do you want for breakfast?”
They wandered into the kitchen and she smothered a chuckle. “You can’t have cake for breakfast, sweetie pie. How about cereal?”
He shook his head and pointed at one of the cabinets. “Me want cake.”
Laura frowned and opened the cabinet, then realized he wanted one of the blueberry muffins she’d bought at bakery a couple of days earlier. She took the box down and showed it to him.
“Is this what you want?” she asked.
He nodded. “Bippies.”
‘Bippies’ was his word for blueberries. She lifted him and squeezed him one more time before settling him in his high chair. She set the muffin front of him, then pulled his bottle from the refrigerator. He rewarded her with a sweet, blueberry-stained smile.
“Good?” Laura asked, sipping on her cup of coffee.
He smacked his lips. “More cake,” he said, and held up his sticky hands.
She was almost tempted, but not quite. “That’s enough for now,” she said.
When he stuck out his bottom lip she laughed, then handed him a small piece of the last muffin. After she drank her coffee and finished what was left of the muffin, she cleaned and dressed him, then dressed herself.
“Do you want to go to the park, Todd?”
He clapped his hands and headed right for his stroller. She caught up to him, helping him slip into a blue sweater with its matching cap. His little brow was tight with concentration as he climbed into the stroller by himself, and his expression made Laura think of his father. Occasionally she thought about Phillip and wondered if she’d done the right thing, taking Todd away. But all it took was one look to see how much happier their son was now. Even her aunt Virginia told her not to worry about Phillip.
“Go now!” he demanded, and she grinned. Every day he became more independent. She was torn between a mother’s pride and the grief at losing her baby.
She headed down Patchin Place slowly, enjoying the sense of freedom that had recently become so important to her. Washington Square Park was only a few blocks away from her apartment, and when she got there she let Todd out of his carriage so he could play, though she always kept a close eye on him. He toddled onto the grass and sat next to a little girl playing with a pail and two shovels. Without a word, she handed him the second shovel and the two began to happily bang on the pail.
The little girl’s mother sat next to Laura and introduced herself. “Isn’t it wonderful how easily they can amuse themselves?”
Laura smiled and agreed. The two mothers talked for some time, until Laura realized it was time to go home. Before she left, they agreed to meet in the park at the same time the following week. Laura left with a smile on her face, hoping she had made a new friend.
The phone was ringing when she walked in the door. Before she’d even taken Todd out of the carriage she picked up the receiver, and heard Phillip’s voice. She sighed. She refused to let him ruin what had so far been a wonderful day.
“Hold on a minute,” she said. “I have to take Todd out of the carriage.” She put the phone down on the table. Even when she was halfway across the room she could hear Phillip yelling about something.
“Out!” Todd demanded, holding out his arms.
Ignoring Phillip’s ranting, she lifted Todd out of the carriage, removed his hat and sweater, then gave him a couple of animal crackers to nibble on.
“What took you so long?” Phillip barked when she picked up the phone again.
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