Swirling gray clouds and distant thunder echoed the mood Lillian witnessed around her. The chance of rain was increasing, making her wish she had grabbed her umbrella. Her worn trench coat and tall boots would keep her dry enough until she reached her destination. It was March 18, 1930. The effects of the stock market crash just six months prior were disastrous, but Lillian wasn’t going to give up her mission.
As she walked down the street, her vibrant green eyes observed the devastation around her. Ragged people, innocent and homeless, lay in alleyways and along the Chicago roads, begging for food. Lillian avoided eye contact with a young girl and her mother as she passed. She wasn’t callous. There was nothing she could do. Her walk brought her to a small brick home. The first raindrops began to trickle from the sky as she walked up and peeked through the front window.
Two young boys were playing on the floor with two toy cars, making them crash into each other. Their dusty brown hair was very similar to Lillian’s, and their blue eyes still had a light of innocence as they played. An older man sat in a worn armchair by the tiny radio positioned on the single table in the room. He sat with his eyes half closed as he listened to the latest news broadcast. Lillian peered into part of the kitchen where several small plants were clinging to life in their sad, lonely pots. A woman bustled to-and-fro, stirring a pot on the stove.
Lillian watched them with a prick of guilt. The steady rainfall mirrored the tears that started to run down her face. She sniffed and wondered if she should go inside.
No. It was too risky.
She was already putting them all in danger by being here. She was about to turn away when a handsome young man entered the front room. The twins abandoned their cars and tackled the man to the floor. Lillian’s breath hitched. She ducked below the window, instinctively touching the ring on her left hand. She peeked back up and watched the boys tussle on the floor while her father laughed in his armchair. The young man said something to her father before glancing at the window. She ducked back down, hoping he didn’t see her. She hurried back to the sidewalk, stealing a glance at the home before walking away.
“Don’t turn around,” she told herself. “You have to protect them.”
She walked two blocks to her abode of crumbling red bricks with overgrown bushes and creeping vines. Margaret, Lillian’s best friend, had moved out to New York, leaving the house and her broken life behind. Margaret had offered Lillian the chance to join her, but Lily refused. She wasn’t going to run from her problems. She walked up to the front door, retrieving the hidden key from behind a loose brick. She unlocked the door and headed inside. She was met by a series of happy barks and knelt as her loyal companion bounded over to her.
“How’s my Chance?” she asked, rubbing his floppy ears.
Chance barked, wagging his brown and white tail happily. Lillian took her soaked coat off and hung it on the tall stand by the door. She turned on her gas lights, their sad glow flickering over her dismal home. She went back to her room to change out of her wet dress. Chance followed, jumping onto the bed.
She opened the tiny wardrobe. She found a fancy black flapper dress and touched the material gently, second-guessing her decision. Chance lifted his head and barked at her, snapping her out of her distant thoughts.
“You’re right, Chance. We need to stick to the plan,” she said, putting on the dress. Thirty minutes passed as she restyled her hair. The large curls fell in elegant rings down her back. She was just touching up her makeup when a knock came at the door.
Chance jumped from the bed, following her out of the room. Her strapped heels clicked on the hard floor as she went to answer. Chance stayed close. He positioned himself as protection between her and the door. Lillian cautiously reached for the doorknob and opened the door. Chance immediately relaxed, sitting down with his tongue lolling. Lillian stared at the young man on her doorstep. She felt her blood rush to her cheeks when he smiled at her.
“Hello, Lillian,” he said. “May I come in?”
He lowered his umbrella and shook the rain off before stepping in. The gel was losing its hold on his dark, side-swept hair. He brushed his fingers through his hair, which only made it worse. She laughed as she smoothed his hair away from his face. She tried to pull her hand away, but the man caught it and kept it against his cheek.
“I’ve missed you, Lily,” he said, gripping her hand warmly. He put his hand on her waist, pulling her toward him.
“I’ve missed you too, Edward,” she told him softly. “How did you find me?”
“I saw you outside the window.”
“You shouldn’t have followed me.”
“I needed to see you.”
“But I need to protect my family. If the Red Devils find out I’m tracking them, they’ll—” she paused. “Daddy isn’t as fit as he used to be, and Tobias and Caleb are only eight. Momma’s best defense is with a frying pan, but that wouldn’t be good enough against those thugs.”
She stopped, leaving her greatest fear unsaid.
“Then call off your research. You’re not a journalist anymore, Lillian.”
“Hogwash,” she interrupted.
“The paper took a hit after the crash. They had to let some people go."
“They didn’t fire me because of pay cuts. The last thing I wanted to write was a fluffy story about Miss Florine’s latest dresses that no one can afford.”
“But you don’t have to keep chasing this.”
“But I do. I promised that I would find out the truth, and William Florence has got something to do with the Red Devil gang. If I can just find proof—”
“The businessman on Fifty-First Avenue? How are you going to do that?” Edward interrupted a little sharply. Lillian winced, stepping away from him. Edward realized his tone and reached for her again, but she inched away. He dropped his hands. “You have a lead, don’t you?”
“Just before I was fired, I learned that William Florence is hosting a large party in an old part of town that he supposedly owns. I was talking with an informant, and he said Florence is doing better than most people since the market crash.”
“I’ll admit, that is strange,” Edward sighed, looking at her outfit again. “And you’re going to crash this party, I take it.”
“No. I was invited,” she replied with a cheeky smile, retrieving an invitation from the tall table by the door. Edward raised an eyebrow as he took the invitation from her.
“This is for Miss Mary Fillman,” he observed.
“And that’s me tonight,” Lillian said, taking the invitation back and sticking it in her black beaded handbag. She snapped it shut, and Edward gave her a familiar look.
“You’re just going to walk in there on your own? What if he finds out who you really are?”
“I’m taking Chance with me.”
“Nothing personal, boy.”
“Chance is a good dog, Edward. He looks out for me just like you do,” she said, wrapping her arms around Edward’s neck.
“Oh, I’m being compared to a dog now, am I?” he joked.
“A cute dog,” Lillian corrected with a smile.
“Flirting with me isn’t going to distract me.”
“Well, it was worth a try,” Lillian replied, batting her eyelashes at him. Edward gave her a serious look as he unwrapped her arms from his neck. He held her hands in front of his chest and looked deeply into her emerald eyes.
“Please be careful, love. I don’t think I could bear losing you before making you my wife.”
Lillian looked at him tenderly, gripping his hands with her own.
“I will,” she replied. She pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “I should get going. I don’t want to be late.”
Edward let her go reluctantly, reaching for his umbrella. He opened the door, and Lillian followed him out to the porch. He put up the umbrella and turned back to Lillian. He gazed at her lovingly. He kissed her cheek and walked back into the rain. Lillian waited in the doorway, longing to run after him. The desperation to leave this dreadful place and return home nearly broke her heart. Blinking back tears, she returned to the house and shut the door. She leaned against it, lifting her eyes to the ceiling to keep the tears from falling.
“I’ve already put them in danger once,” she whispered as Chance sat whimpering at her feet. “I can’t do that again.”
The forbidden memory rushed back so fast; Lillian shut her eyes. Gunshots and the shouts of the twins haunted her thoughts. The resurfaced memory wouldn’t flee. She recalled Edward barely dodging a fatal shot. All that pain was her fault.
“I won’t bring my family into danger again,” she vowed, sniffing. “That drug gang tracked me to my home. They took the twins, and we were almost too late, Edward. I can’t let that happen again,” she whispered, wishing she told him just moments ago. She took a deep breath and looked down at Chance. “Come on, boy. The sooner we crack this case, the easier I will sleep at night.”
Chance barked, his ears flopping as he tilted his head.
Lillian grabbed one of Margaret’s formal coats from the hall closet and checked her makeup one last time before retrieving her umbrella. She and Chance left the house through the back door and headed to a side street. A black Rolls Royce was waiting for her, and she knocked four times on the passenger door. An old man got out from behind the wheel and gave her a wide smile.
“I see you couldn’t stay away.”
“Good to see you too, Wallace,” Lillian told him as he walked around to open the door for her. “I’m glad you agreed to be my chauffeur.”
“I couldn’t let you show up to the party of the year unattended,” the man told her. He closed the door after Chance hopped in and hurried to get behind the wheel. “What’s the plan?”
“Just drop me off at the house and circle the block a few times,” Lillian instructed while Chance settled on her lap. She pulled a black silk ribbon from her handbag and tied it around Chance’s neck.
“You’re sure you won’t need any backup?”
“We stick to our normal plan. I need you ready just in case I need a quick getaway.”
“Of course, miss,” he nodded. They drove down the street, taking a left. Lillian looked out of the window to avoid further conversation.
“I noticed Edward stopped by,” her driver mentioned. Lillian glanced at the old gentleman. “You told me you weren’t seeing each other for a while.”
“That was more or less true.”
“Lily, darling. We’ve been working together for three years. You can tell me the truth.”
“I know. And I will.”
“But not till you’re ready,” he finished, his blue-gray eyes full of understanding. “That’s okay, dear. Just let your dad know how you’re doing. I’m tired of him calling me for weather updates, if you know what I mean,” he said in a teasing tone.
Lillian smiled and nodded slightly, returning her eyes to the scenery. They drove in silence for the next few minutes until they pulled into the driveway of a large house in a run-down part of town. The buildings around the mansion were all falling apart, while the venue for the party looked inviting. Well, as inviting as a potential mob boss’s house could be.
Wallace drove up to the front door and got out. He took the umbrella with him and walked around to Lillian’s side. He opened the door for her. She nodded her thanks and took the umbrella from him. Chance hopped out of the car, staying at Lillian’s side.
The pair walked up to the front door as Wallace got back into his Rolls Royce. Lillian stopped herself from watching the man leave, keeping her eyes on the front door. The door opened as she approached it, and a doorman dressed in a velvet suit nodded respectfully to her as he ushered her in. Closing the door, he offered to take her coat and umbrella.
“May I see your invitation?”
“Of course,” Lillian answered, fishing it out of her handbag. She handed it to him.
“Welcome, Miss Fillman,” he said, handing back the invitation. “If you could follow me to the drawing room.”
He paused when he spotted Chance at Lillian’s feet.
“Is this, um, companion with you?”
“Yes, and if you wouldn’t mind, please fetch a towel so I can dry him off. Unless you want him to shake out his coat on your boss’s lovely, flowered rug—”
“I will be right back,” he interrupted and hurried to find a towel. Lillian smiled as Chance looked up at her, his tongue lolling.
“Come on,” she said, waving her hand by her side. They walked through the front hall and peeked into the first room. It seemed to be a sitting room. The furniture was covered with large squares of white fabric, and dust lined the shelves. Maids bustled through the hall to her left, and she guessed that was where the kitchen was located. The fresh smell of baked bread confirmed her suspicions. She turned right, beckoning Chance to follow.
The next room was where a few others were gathered and chatting. The dense smell of the men’s cigars mixed with the ladies’ perfume created a choking haze that no one seemed to mind. Lillian walked into the room, hoping to go unnoticed.
She walked around the outer edge of the room, but Chance attracted a young lady’s attention. She wore a short flapper dress that was dark red and quite low. She approached Lillian with a spring in her step that drew the eyes of many in the room. Lillian gave a believable smile.
“I couldn’t help but notice your handsome companion.”
“Chance does have his way with the ladies.” Lillian smiled.
“Chance. What a handsome boy you are. What breed is he?” the lady cooed as a young man walked over.
“Half Jack Russell, half beagle.”
“Well, he certainly is adorable.”
“I hope your head hasn’t turned for another, Evelyn,” the man said.
“Of course not, Geoffrey.” The lady shook her head with a tinkling laugh that sounded forced. Lillian felt her cheeks grow warm as the handsome man’s eyes seemed to sweep over her, taking her in. “Then again, maybe it has,” Evelyn added, noticing the look in his eyes. Geoffrey didn’t seem to hear her.
“A pleasure to make the acquaintance of such a lovely flower. What, pray tell, is your name?”
“Mary Fillman,” Lillian answered as smoothly as she could.
“Mary,” the man repeated. Lillian instinctively stepped back from him, and Chance sat directly between them. He looked up at Geoffrey, growling low.
“It seems you have a fierce protector, Miss Fillman,” Evelyn observed. “Good,” she added pointedly, shooting a look at Geoffrey, who didn’t seem fazed at all.
“He’ll warm up to me,” he said, crouching to Chance’s level. The Jackabee continued to growl and showed his teeth in warning. Geoffrey tried scratching his ears, but Chance snapped his jaws at the man’s hand. Geoffrey jumped back up, snatching his hand back before the dog’s teeth could grab hold. “My word! What a ferocious ruffian! I demand this mutt be kicked out!”
“Enough, Geoffrey,” a new man said, entering the room. “You can’t blame the dog for smelling a shark. Now get away from the lady before I throw you out.”
Geoffrey stepped away from Lillian and glared at Chance before stalking off with Evelyn on his arm. The gentleman who had interfered stepped up to Lillian and gave her a kind smile, but there was darkness in his gaze. She tensed but gave him a grateful smile.
“Good evening, Miss Fillman, wasn’t it?”
“Please, call me William,” he corrected, flashing her a smile. “You are my guest, after all. I am so pleased that you could make it.”
“It is my pleasure to attend, Mr. William.”
“You are a lovely sight for me. I’ve tired of seeing the same boring faces at these events. How did you ever sneak in?”
“Oh, you know. I charmed the doorman,” she said, playing along. He laughed.
“Mr. Florence! I’m surprised to see you mingling so soon,” a lady mentioned, approaching. “You don’t normally join us until after the appetizers.”
“Well, Elizabeth, I simply couldn’t keep myself away this time,” he said, giving Lillian a sweeping gaze.
“I’m sure Miss Fillman is certainly a lovely face to behold up close as well as from afar,” Elizabeth mentioned, earning a smile from Mr. Florence.
“Is that jealousy I hear?”
Elizabeth grew red, but from anger or embarrassment, Lillian couldn’t tell. She guessed it was both. Several of the men chuckled.
“She’s used to being the center of your attention, William,” one said, laughing heartily.
Lillian took another look around the room, growing more uncomfortable as the seconds passed. She cleared her throat, grabbing William’s attention.
“As much as your company is appreciated, I must excuse myself. Is there a washroom I can use?”
“Of course. I’d be more than happy to show you the way.”
“No, that’s okay,” Lillian cut him off a little sharply. She swallowed hard as his smile vanished. “I don’t want to take you from your guests.”
“Beautiful and thoughtful,” Mr. Florence praised, forgetting her tone. “You could stand to learn something, Elizabeth,” he added. The woman put her nose in the air and turned away from him. “The washroom is to your left and down the hall toward the kitchen,” he said.
“I await anxiously for your return, Miss Fillman,” he called as she left the room with Chance on her heels.
Lillian followed his directions to the washroom, although she had no intention of using it. Upon arriving, she shut the door and searched the cabinets. There were only two, which held nothing of significance. She waited a couple more moments before leaving the room, heading in the opposite direction she came.
The hall ended with two doors on either side. The one on the right revealed a back staircase. She glanced around and ushered Chance ahead before shutting the door. Chance was waiting on the landing for her, and she stroked his ears before resting her hand on the handle of the door to her left.
She opened it, venturing into the second story hallway. Chance stayed by her as they walked down the hall, peering into every room they passed. None seemed significant. The last door Lillian tried was locked.
Opening her beaded clutch, she rummaged through to find a pin. She crouched to be eye level to the lock and whispered to Chance.
“Be my lookout,” she said.
The Jackabee sat taller, turning his eyes to the hallway. Lillian slipped the pin into the keyhole, listening intently as she performed the well-practiced skill. A moment later the lock clicked, and the door swung open. Lillian put the pin back in her bag and entered the study. Chance padded in behind her, and she shut the door.
Resting her back against the door, she calmed her heart while her eyes swept over the room. Her attention was drawn to the large mahogany desk in the center of the study. Bookshelves lined the walls except for the east wall, which opened into an intricate fireplace. A small, dying flame rippled among the ashes. Lillian straightened. Approaching the desk, she opened the first drawer only to find blank stationery. She took out a piece, examining the watermark in the bottom right corner of the page, which looked familiar. Setting the paper on the desk, she continued her search. The drawers were well organized, so she was careful to put everything back where she found it. As she pushed the last drawer, it didn’t close completely. She nudged it a couple times.
“There’s something back here,” she said to Chance, who whined in return. The Jackabee trotted over to her and sat underneath the desk, straining his neck to watch her. She pulled the drawer back out and put it on top of the empty desk. Crouching, she reached into the opening. Her fingers closed around a bundle of papers. She could barely keep her hands from shaking as she untied the twine around the stack of letters. She opened the first envelope and noticed the same watermark. She scanned the contents, recognizing the signature at the bottom.
“Mark Delvan,” she read. “This is it, Chance. This is the proof we needed! Florence was partners with Delvan, who was arrested last month.”
She put the letters in her handbag, clipping it shut just as she heard footsteps. The handle of the door moved, and her blood froze. She put the drawer back into place and grabbed the blank sheet of paper she’d left on the desk. She crouched under the desk, bringing Chance close. Muffled voices grew faintly louder as the door started to creak open. Lillian gave Chance the command to stay.
“This couldn’t wait, Harlan?” Mr. Florence’s irritated tone addressed the man entering the room with him. Lillian hugged her legs, taking note that the door had not closed behind them. She motioned to Chance, who cocked his head while she held up her handbag. The Jackabee gently took the handbag in his jaws. He inched farther under the desk, and Lillian held her breath as the men continued their conversation.
“The boss is waiting for your answer, William,” Harlan replied shortly. “You’re out of time.”
“Al does not own me or my time,” William snapped. “Delvan has been in jail for less than a month, and I have no intention of joining him. If you don’t want to end up in the cell next to him, keep your threats to yourself. If Al has a problem with my timetable, then he can come to me himself. I don’t answer to messenger boys.”
Tense silence filled the room like a choking fog. Lillian’s heart pounded, and nothing could calm her fears of discovery.
“But since you asked so nicely,” William continued, sarcasm dripping from his tongue, “I’ll send my reply.” He started to walk around the desk, and Lillian knew she would be discovered. She shoved Chance forward, who let out a muffled bark. William and Harlan jumped back in surprise.
Chance sprinted from the room with Lillian’s purse safe in his jaws. She scrambled out from her hiding place and made a move for the door. But Harlan grabbed her arm, yanking her away from freedom. She stumbled, but his iron grip kept her from falling. He kicked the door shut and dragged Lillian to the center of the room, his eyes trained on Florence.
William didn’t look the least bit surprised.
“Miss Fillman,” he said with a chuckle. “Lose your way to the washroom?”
“Something like that,” Lillian replied sharply, tugging her arm, but Harlan’s grip remained secure.
“I’m impressed you were able to unlock the door.”
“Oh, it’s just one of my many talents.”
“William, stop flirting with the spy and do something! She’s heard too much.”
“And what, pray tell, do we do with her?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“You’re the one so keen on getting rid of her.”
“But I didn’t say I had any ideas.”
“It depends on how much she knows,” William said, stepping closer. He stopped directly in front of Lillian, who glared spitefully at him. “I don’t believe your name is Mary Fillman.”
Lillian stayed silent, confirming his suspicions.
“You were a wonderful actress, love. You’ve come the closest to infiltrating this covert operation. You managed to break into my personal study in less than an hour after your arrival. That’s quite an accomplishment.”
“Don’t compliment her!”
“And why not? A woman who gets past several layers of security deserves a little praise before her demise, don’t you think?”
Lillian swallowed hard.
“So, who are you? A spy? Actress? Housewife?”
“Your long-lost sister, actually.”
William’s amused grin vanished. He grabbed her arm, yanking her away from Harlan. He gripped both of Lillian’s forearms so hard they hurt.
“It doesn’t matter what you found. Your discovery will never leave this room.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
William tightened his grip, a look of realization crossing his face. He shoved Lillian aside and pointed Harlan toward the door.
“Find that mutt!” he exclaimed.
“The dog? You can’t be serious.”
“It had something in its mouth when it ran out.”
The mob boss walked briskly around his desk, removing the top drawer. He reached back, only to bring his hand back empty. His face grew red with rage, and Lillian cowered as he stomped over to her.
“The letters,” he ordered. Lillian didn’t reply. “Give me the letters!”
“I don’t have them.”
William seethed, his face turning an even brighter shade of red.
“Harlan! Find that mutt and get those letters back at once!”
“Like I’m going to obey a sniveling—”
“If those letters get in the wrong hands, our whole operation is over!”
Harlan gritted his teeth, turning his own shade of red as he stomped out of the room. He slammed the door behind him, his monstrous feet pounding as he sprinted down the hall in search of Chance. Lillian scrambled to her feet, cursing her heels as she stumbled toward the door. Mr. Florence reached forward, grabbing a fistful of her hair. She fell back into him, and he held her in a choke hold.
“You’re a resilient one, I’ll give you that,” he hissed in her ear. “I might regret ending your life, but you know how it is. I can’t have any witnesses.”
Lillian pulled down on his arm, gasping for breath. She moved her foot, feeling for the man’s shoe. She stomped her heel onto his toes. He grunted in surprise and tightened his vice-like grip. Lillian gasped, the world spinning around her. Her knees buckled, but Mr. Florence kept her upright as he continued to squeeze her life from her.
As she was about to lose consciousness, Lillian thought she heard voices faintly calling her name. The door was kicked open, and William stepped back with her still in his grasp.
“Sir, put the lady down immediately,” an officer commanded. His gun was trained on the mob boss, who hesitated to obey. “I’m warning you, sir. I have officers surrounding this house. It would be in your best interest if you let the lady go.”
William threw her to the ground, submitting himself to surrender. Lillian gasped, coughing as her eyes focused on the man who rushed to her aid.
“Edward?” she wheezed.
Her fiancé gave her a relieved smile, bringing her close as she continued to cough.
“What are you doing here?”
“I followed you,” he admitted. “But not without backup,” he added, sending a grateful nod in the officer’s direction. “Lucky for you, you still have a good reputation among the officers.”
“Your help is much appreciated, Miss Lillian,” the officer told her as one of his partners clamped handcuffs on Mr. Florence’s wrists. “But perhaps clue us in on your plans before rushing into danger.”
Lillian nodded, collapsing into Edward’s arms. She rested against his chest, closing her eyes while relief washed over her. Edward helped her to her feet, and they all headed downstairs. Officers roamed the area, searching the scene for any evidence. Once Mr. Florence was tossed into the back of one of the waiting police cars, the officer returned to Lillian.
“Did you locate anything of value to this investigation?” he asked. Lillian smiled, lifting her fingers to her lips. She whistled.
Chance bounded out of the bushes with her handbag still secure in his jaws. He dropped it at her feet, his tongue lolling. She reached down to get the bag, picking the dog up as well. She handed the bag to the officer, who looked inside.
“Those are letters from Delvan to Florence dating back to three months ago. They outline specific plans and drop points, as well as name more men involved in the mob. I trust that they are enough to lock Mr. Florence up for a long time.”
The officer looked impressed as he flipped through the letters.
“Well done, Lillian,” he said, nodding appreciatively. “Go home. You’ve been through enough tonight.”
He left to assist his men.
“Please, Lily. Come home,” Edward said, holding her close.
Lillian surveyed the area. All her fears melted away. Her time of resistance was over. She looked back up into Edward’s pleading eyes and gave him a soft smile.
“Okay,” she agreed quietly. “Let’s go home.”