With a sputter, the truck backs out of the warehouse and down the road. The sun is shining like there’s never been a cloud in the sky, and the sidewalk is thick with people bustling this way and that. Dames in floral dresses and long scarves, and gents in spats and bowler hats. Signs hang on shingles outside office doors and motor cars are parked along the boulevard. A bright green trolley passes us, its bell ringing, as we turn onto Fifth Avenue. A copper on a motorbike passes us as we head down, swerving to avoid the occasional cab. When we turn down Broadway, a billboard sits above the Capital Theater depicting a mysterious man walking through the sewer. It proclaims in massive golden letters—Lon Cheney in The Phantom of the Opera.
This street is even more packed with people, in cars and on foot as they make their way down to the theaters and spill out into Times Square. We fight the crowds until finally parking outside The Green Door, Dutch Shultz’s nightclub and speakeasy.
I’ve never been here before. Most of my deliveries go to warehouses across the city, but today’s delivery is for the club itself. I open the back of the truck as Dickey taps on the locked door, waiting for someone to let us in since the place is shut during daylight hours. A short redheaded fella props the door open with a brick and waves us in.
Taking off my jacket and rolling up my sleeves as Dickey suggested, I heft the first crate off the stack and carry it inside. I follow the man through the empty room, across the dance floor, through another door, and down a set of stairs to the speakeasy below.
“You can just stack them there,” he says in a thick Irish accent, pointing to the corner of the bar.
“Yes, sir,” I say, doing as I’m told.
It’s only walking back to the truck that I really have a chance to take in my surroundings. The ceiling is tin tiles, the tabletops covered in crisp, red linens, and the walls are papered in swirling velvet shapes. The dance floor is pale wood, while a massive brass-and-crystal chandelier hangs from above. In the periphery of the room, there are long bench seats with tables and high-backed chairs. An elevated stage sits off to one side. It’s empty now, save for the drapes of crimson curtains in the back and a single copper microphone in a stand in the very center.
There’s a stillness to the room, as if it’s keeping a tight-lipped secret. I can almost feel it in my mind—the pulsing music, the heat building as people dance their cares away, the electric buzz as they sip their illegal liquor from pearl teacups. It’s a spider web, waiting for and anticipating its prey. It will lure them in by the dozens, with its bright lights and melodic sounds, then capture and enrapture them.
It’s as if the room itself is calling to me, a promise of wonder and excitement. Come and lose yourself. The bar is dark oak and shining brass, lit from above by lights dangling on chains. Behind it, there’s a shelf and a row of mirrors stretching almost to the tin-tile ceiling. As I watch, a man tips a beer tap and the glass slides back, exposing bottles of booze in compartments below.
I’m so distracted I don’t see the three men walk in the door until they take a seat at one of the empty tables. I recognize only one, JD, in a white suit and straw boater hat. He looks tidy, as always, like he’d spent the morning lounging in the sun to flush his complexion.
By contrast, the other two men wear sharp blue wool suits and swagger hats. They speak in hushed tones, one snapping his fingers at the Irishman, who vanishes behind the bar only to pop back into sight with three short glasses of brown liquor.
Turning away from them, I continue about my work, careful to keep my eyes cast downward. I focus my thoughts on the task at hand to keep from accidentally eavesdropping. We are closing the truck when the three gentlemen exit the club behind us. The street crowds have thinned and only a handful of folks still mill about, most oblivious to everyone and everything around them.
The truck door slams shut as Dickey cranks the engine. I’m latching the rear when I hear it…the familiar sound of tires screeching across pavement. My head snaps up, my eyes darting back and forth down the street.
I spot the oncoming car a moment too late. Too late to listen to my father’s ever-warning voice in my mind telling me to keep my head down. Too late to shout a warning to Dickey sitting in the front seat. Too late to do anything but react on instinct.
From the corner of my eye, I see JD react, but in that moment between heartbeats, I know he’s moving too slowly. I lunge to my left, my intention being to take him to the ground with me.
The first bullet rips through me. The pain is blinding. My ears ring with the sound of brass casings hitting the street, rubber tires digging into the firm roadbed, and my own frantic pulse filling my ears.
The force slamming into my body is enough to push me backward and on top of the man behind me just in time for another bullet to graze me. I don’t feel that one as much as the first, which spreads pain like wildfire through my chest and up my neck in waves, stealing the air from my lungs.
Dickey shouts my name.
Around me, the daylight fades as I surrender to the fire, closing my eyes and drawing in a shallow, shaky breath before everything else slips away.