Publication Date: 18th July 2018
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Page Length: 302 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Sometimes our biggest debts have nothing to do with money.
1926. When seventeen-year-old Sam Ackerman witnesses a mob hit, he is hustled out of New York under the protection of Moshe Toblinsky, A.K.A., the mob’s bookkeeper. Arriving in Miami with no money, no friends, and no place to hide, Sam’s only choice is to do as the gangster demands. Forced into bootlegging, Sam’s misery is compounded when he falls in love. Amazingly, the beautiful, devout Rebecca wants only him, but he cannot give her the life she deserves. When Prohibition ends, Sam begs the mobster to set him free. The price? A debt, as Toblinsky puts it, of friendship. A debt that will one day come due.
Present Day. History of American Crime professor Liz Reams has it all - early success, a tantalizing lead on new info about Moshe Toblinsky, and a wonderful man to love. Life is perfect. So what’s keeping her from accepting her guy’s marriage proposals? Confronting a long-standing personal debt sets her on a journey of self-discovery. While she delves ever deeper into Sam’s and Toblinsky’s relationship, her understanding of her own relationships increases as well, but the revelations come at a price. The emotional and physical dangers of her dual journeys may prove too big to handle.
May 18, 1926
105 South Street
New York City
Knocking - sharp, loud, rapid - echoed through the empty speakeasy. Sam froze, the notes of a tune stuck in the roof of his mouth. He glanced at the entrance and leaned the handle of his push broom against his shoulder. Puffs of dust settled on the floor boards around his feet while he remained motionless.
It was late, too late, to be admitting customers, even for the city’s illegal watering holes and gambling joints. Although a thick crossbar and several stout locks protected the heavy iron door, an uneasy feeling crawled down Sam’s spine. Growing tension over control of the Fulton Fish Market, in fact the entire South Street area, was making a lot of people jumpy, including him.
Several seconds passed without noise from the other side of the door. Sam let out his breath and laughed at himself. Working at the fish market in the afternoon then staying up half the night at the speakeasy didn’t leave much time for sleep. It kept him on edge. All the rumors and threats floating around these days weren’t helping either. Inclining his ear and hearing nothing, he relaxed and gave his broom a shove.
Bam, bam, bam.
Sam’s heart jumped into his throat.
“Open up, Monza. I know you’re in there.” The shout, colored by an Irish lilt, came from the second floor landing accompanied by renewed pounding. “I come to talk with ya. We need to settle this business. I got a proposition for ya.”
Sam’s breathing kicked up a notch as he looked over his shoulder toward the office. The boss didn’t like to be disturbed when he was meeting with his guys. The pounding from outside in the hall returned in earnest, but the office door remained fixed.
“You gonna open this damned door or do I break it down?” The door knob rattled and jerked.
Behind Sam, the office door clicked open an inch. He watched in the mirror over the bar as the muzzle of a .38 Special emerged from the opening, its nickel plated barrel glittering in the overhead lights. One of the gangsters stepped into the room, met Sam’s eye in the mirror, and jerked his head, then the room went dark. Sam dropped his broom and backed into an alcove next to the bar. The office door opened wider. Several shadows scurried across the floor. Metal locks and bolts snapped and clanked, then the entrance door swung inward.
“Hey, you guys forget to pay the bill? What’s with the dark?”
Sam couldn’t see the newcomer’s face, but given the guy’s size, backlit by the stairwell’s single bulb, and his accent, it must be William Mack, the labor organizer. Trying to push in on Tops Monza’s action at the market was a stupid move. The Irish were losing this war. Heck, they couldn’t even win a battle. The big Mick must have had enough. Sam shook his head. The goy had chutzpah coming here. You had to give him that.
Shoe soles scuffled on bare floorboards. The door slammed.
“Hey, what’re you guys doing? I come here in peace.” The Irishman’s voice boomed into the room followed by shoes dragging across the floor. “Monza, you chicken shit. Come out here and meet me like a man.”
The room filled with light again followed by groans and the sound of body blows coming from the area in front of the bar. Sam squinted against the glare and stepped from his alcove, his heart thumping in rhythm with the punches being administered to Mack. Two guys held the Irishman’s arms while he strained and pulled to get free. Another of Tops’s men, a former heavy weight boxer, jabbed and pummeled Mack’s head and mid-section. When his knees buckled, the boxer stepped back, making room for Tops, who strolled over to the bar from the office doorway.
Tops bent down so that he was eye level with Mack. “So, you gonna insult me and make demands now that we done kicked your sorry Irish asses? Ain’t nobody gonna set terms for Joseph Monza. Fulton is mine and it’s gonna stay mine.” Tops grabbed Mack’s shirtfront. “You got that, you dumb Mick son-of-a-bitch?”
From the slits of his swollen eyelids, Mack looked up sideways at Tops. He spat out a glob of blood. “People know I’m here. You ain’t gonna get away with this. You’re gonna pay.”
“And whose gonna make me? You?” The sound of Tops’s laughter rolled around the empty room.
Tops snatched the pistol from his henchman and took aim, firing once into Mack’s chest. Sam jumped at the pistol’s report. A soft groan floated from Mack as blood bubbled on his lips. Though Sam wanted desperately to look away, he couldn’t tear his gaze from the oozing red stream dribbling down the Irishman’s chin. Sam’s mouth went dry as though filled with cotton gauze.
Grabbing a fistful of the Irishman’s hair, Tops pulled back so that Mack had to look him full in the face. Setting the muzzle against Mack’s forehead, Tops grinned and counted to five, then pulled the trigger. Blood and brains splattered over the bar and floor. Tops let go and Mack’s lifeless form toppled over.
Sam’s stomach heaved. He gagged on the bile rising from his stomach and covered his mouth with a shaky hand.
“Get him out of here, boys.” Tops turned, his upper lip curled in a sneer. His gaze lit on Sam. “Let the busboy help. That’s about what the Mick was worth. Hey kid. Yeah you, Sammy. Come over here and grab the legs. It’ll be good for you. Toughen you up.”
Sam’s heart dropped to his soles as he shuffled across the floor toward his boss. Handling dead fish was one thing, but the thought of touching a dead person with a gaping hole in his forehead left Sam trembling. He stopped beside the Irishman’s body, fighting to keep his churning stomach from emptying at Sock’s feet. Although he had worked for the mobster since he was fifteen, nothing had prepared him for what he had seen tonight. Of course he’d heard the stories, but Sam had pushed those stories aside as mere rumors. In addition to Tops paying better than other jobs, Sam admired the boss. Tops was the smartest and strongest man Sam knew, but this was outright murder. The seventh Aseret ha-Dibrot in the Torah stated “you shall not murder.”
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I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother's porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the American South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.
As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, "Let's pretend."
I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband and one adorable, 105 pound German Shorthaired Pointer who is quite certain he’s a little boy.
"History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up." Voltaire
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx