She lived two lives…
Five days a week Elizabeth Holloway crossed the Great Hall through its morning setting of dark-to-light-to-dark again. Its vaulted skylight, above the enormous wooden benches, illumined some people and cast others in shadow. She wondered about those she saw in the same seat every day. Did those who sat in darkness have things to hide—as she did? She led two lives; one in the light, one in the dark. They started and ended at Union Station.
It was 1943… dark times with a world at war…
It was the kind of murder police didn’t put more than a token effort into investigating.
When a friend is killed and Beth finds she’s next on the killer’s list she has to take things in her own hands. Despite the risk of her hidden life being revealed… she has to avenge her friend and defend herself.
EXCERPT FROM UNION STATION (available now)
To think it all had started with Peeping Tommy Smith and a Wonder Woman comic book:
Beth had heard the rustling that day a month or so ago—like knuckles knocking on wood—at the fence. She rose from sunbathing, remembering to hook her top in place first this time. The wall she had put up around her backyard was too high to see over, but she’d noticed some boards had been loosened creating gaps. On her feet, she moved toward the side that separated the Smith’s yard from hers. The sound had stopped. She bent down to look through the gap just in time to see Tommy running around the corner of his house pulling his pants up as he went.
He was home alone a lot, night and day, during the summer and she had to do something about him. She suspected he was outside the bathroom window from time to time, late at night, when she showered before bed. Maybe that was the trap to spring.
That night she had opened the window wide and turned on the radio she kept in the bathroom. She loved music—the echoing effect in her low-end concert hall—and turned it up. Music coming from that window would draw him like flies to sugar. She turned on the water. Soon the small room was hot, wet and steamy: just like a 16-year-old boy’s dream. The night breeze picked up, and the gauze drapes billowed in and retreated, the draft almost drawing them out of the window.
She stationed herself outside. Leaving the porch light off, she stood in the shadows wearing a black leotard and keeping her face tilted down. Her blonde hair wrapped in a dark scarf; eyes cast up that watched the fence closest to the corner and back wall of her house. Moonlight covered that patch, and she saw when a section of three of the wide, white, boards swung away still attached at the top leaving an opening at the bottom large enough for an average sized boy.
She saw him as he ducked through and straightened once inside her yard. He carried something in his right hand that hung at his side. He stopped at the bathroom window, and as he flipped it over on the ground, she saw the compartments inside and the letters, P E P… on the side. The rest were in the shadow. He stepped up on it, and that gave him an extra four or five inches and a good sight angle into the bathroom. As the drapes flowed in the wind, they almost touched his face. She watched as he popped the snaps of one strap of his overalls and slid his hand inside. The flap of material swung away and exposed the left cheek of his ass. The kid wasn’t wearing any underwear. That’s when she stepped forward and had at him with the broom. She had trimmed the rough straw down a bit that afternoon to give it a spiky presentation. By the yell Tommy cut loose with on contact, it got the job done. She got in another good swat as he shot through the opening in the fence. Calling after him, “You can pull on your pecker all you want on your side of the fence, Tommy Smith. Don’t do it in my yard.”
She walked back to the window and bent to pick up the bottle crate: PEPSI-COLA, she read in the light from the window. There was something else rolled up on the grass, and she grabbed it on her way inside. She set the crate by the pantry door and unrolled what she had picked up. It was a comic book: Wonder Woman Number One—Summer Issue. Well, if Tommy wanted it back, he’d have to ask. But she didn’t think he’d be brave enough for that for a few more years, maybe not even then. She looked at the woman with the colorful costume on the cover of the comic and brought it with her to take a real bath. Making sure she closed the window and curtains.
The next morning, she had thought about the comic book—and the story she’d read about this Wonder Woman. She liked that it was about a strong female character and so different from other comics and stories she saw on the news and magazine racks. She even looked like her, except her hair wasn’t black. She had an idea. What was it that Eddie at the club said, “Girls that make it—make enough moola to leave before they’re old and sagging—they have more than just big bazooms.” He was a small man from South Philadelphia who always wore a bowtie. His voice, deep and gravelly, was his only distinguishing feature, and he always referred to women’s breasts that way. “Ya got nice bazooms, Honey. But lotsa girls do. Ya got to put them with something else—a shtick—to be great.” He tapped his head… “And it ain’t all about whatcha got down there… ya got to have something up here, too.”
Maybe she could create a character; a mysterious woman, who was tough and sexy, for a stage act. A standup… standout woman who fought for what was right. She got the comic out and looked again at the woman on the cover. She could make something like that; she was good at design, sewing and creating in cloth. That she wanted to start her own clothing design studio was what all the extra money from dancing went toward. When she had enough saved, she was headed to Hollywood to set up shop. But she knew she couldn’t copy this Wonder Woman character exactly.
She put the comic on the kitchen table and next to it lay the newspaper and a magazine with an old article about Bundles for Britain. Though she barely noticed them; always there as she looked down at anything, were the mounds of her chest. Just over and below them on the table, the word GREAT BRITAIN stood out in large bold type with a Union Jack beside it. She had picked up the pad she sketched designs on, “What about…”
Eddie loved the idea.
“Here she is folks, new to The Marquis. A woman with the courage of Athena and the breasts of Aphrodite… Let me introduce to you, for the first time in the US of A… Lady—Great—Britton.”
The spotlight came on. She stood with bare shoulders squared, hands on her hips, legs spread just wider than her shoulders and looked at the crowd. The raucous chatter and noises faded as she scanned the room, eyes lingering on each table for a second. The gold lion’s paws, emblazoned on her red strapless shirt, cupped the curve of her breasts, pressing them together. The skirt, with its broad white, inner red, crossed and diagonal stripes created a center point on the second most viewed part of her anatomy which was so decorously covered. The heeled boots added three inches to her 5 foot 9 frame. She weighed 155 firmly molded and contoured, pounds. In costume, wearing a wig of luxuriant black hair, she exuded the sexuality of a strong, confident, woman. The persona, and that her set was more floorshow than just bump and grind made the crowd raise the roof when she ended. She closed each set by tossing her gold mask into the crowd. They loved her.
The beer belly laughs from the fat cop brought her back. He and the other policeman separated and went in opposite directions.
She looked around the station and realized she had a few more minutes. She picked a seat at one of the myriad borders where dark and light met. If she leaned her head one way you could see her face and the other way hid it. Wearing her hair in a tight bun, unfortunately, made the classic line of her sculpted cheeks, brow, firm chin and, perfect lips more prominent. When the light caught her face, it was striking. That was one reason she kept her face down most of the time and rarely made eye contact. She remembered what had happened yesterday afternoon at work:
“Beth, we must talk….” Mrs. Greenbaum was a large woman as tall as Beth when she straightened and much broader.
She walked behind her desk and sat. “Look at me.” Her head atop broad sloping shoulders had a face dominated by a large hooked nose—two large, dark, glittering eyes to either side. The look of a peregrine circling for prey.
“You asked to see me.” Beth knew why; she knew what was coming—it had happened before.
“We…” She paused to make sure Beth’s eyes were on hers. “I’ve asked you to stay late, to work after hours. When we…” Another pause. “When I need you to.” She waited. Beth knew she wanted her to speak. To make excuses but she was done with that. “But you won’t.” Beth’s silence drew her from behind the desk.
Irma Greenbaum ruled the office, the clerks and secretarial pool. Her mousy little husband was just a social convenience. She satisfied her personal needs by making or breaking young women—some barely out of their teens—who worked under her, which was also her favorite position. The subservient kept their jobs; some liked or needed to stay in their role and stuck around. Others when they saw the setup, moved on. Beth Holloway was a mystery to her. She wouldn’t give in and wouldn’t get out. She had become a challenge, a fixation. Someone, she wouldn’t just fire but must completely break.
At the front of her desk, she sat on the edge next to Beth’s chair. She had taken her shoes off. A stocking-clad foot swung and rubbed against Beth’s leg and the side of her thigh. “What do you do after work?” The foot rubbed in slow even strokes. Beth pushed it away and stood.
“If there’s nothing work-related to discuss than I need to get back to my desk.”
That memory twitched away with the first call for her train. She rose from the bench to head to her platform. Today was another day of typing and filing. Another lunch of doodling designs in her drawing notebook and daydreams when the work she hated and the pretending would end. Two maybe three more years to put up with it and adding another $10,000 in the bank would be enough to start her new life. And it would work. Surely, the war would be over in a few years, and that would be a new beginning for thousands of people. She was going to be one of them.
“Thanks, Honey.” Betty pirouetted, and the dark, red silk lined cape Beth had made for her swirled, lifting with a flash of naked, pale, flesh underneath for a quick peek before settling. Her ‘bazooms’ Eddie would say, made two large tents in front of her. If it weren’t for Betty’s jet black hair, they would look like sisters. She was a couple of inches shorter but stacked, too. Ready to go, they each went through their sets. Afterward, back in the common dressing room, they dressed in street clothes.
“Want to smoke one with me before you go?” Betty asked looking over her shoulder as she walked toward the back exit door. Beth nodded and followed. Since Charisse, ‘Cherry Bomb,’ Mayhew had nearly burned the place down Eddie made them smoke out back on the small landing where the backstage door exited into the alley. Beth didn’t smoke much but pulled out a Chesterfield and lit up. Betty was the closest thing to a friend she had, and she enjoyed chatting with her for a few minutes before heading to the station. Jacket off, she leaned back too tired to mind the wet, gritty, feel of the metal handrails slimed with condensation, soot and street dirt sucked into the alley.
“I think I got me a date…” Betty smiled around the white cylinder in her mouth. The butt end already red-smeared by the thick coating of lipstick she put on in the dressing room. “He had Eddie slip me this.” Reaching into her blouse, she took two $20s out of her bra. “Eddie kept the third… but I bet he’s got more.” She winked.
Beth didn’t approve of Betty’s kind of date. It wasn’t the way she was willing to go even to make more side money. “You need to be careful. One of these days you’ll…”
“I know… I know mama. Don’t worry, I can take care of myself.” She flashed the knife she carried. With a razorblade’s gleam, it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. “There he is.” Betty dropped the cigarette butt and squashed it out with her heel. Beth followed her eyes. It looked like an almost new Chevy, a two-door coupe. Its dark blue glinted as it slowly moved into the alley under the lights spaced every thirty feet or so. Betty tapped her hand. “He told me to be alone. Can you…” She flipped her hand at Beth in a fly shooing motion toward the door.
“Okay, I’ll scoot inside and leave when you’re gone.” She stepped in but kept the door cracked. Over the top of the car, she saw the man get out and take his hat off. His blond hair caught the light, but she couldn’t see his face because of the handrail. He called to Betty with a trace of an accent. “There’s my dark beauty. Tonight, I’ll show you a lovely time.”
Three Nights Later
“Has anyone heard from Betty yet?”