I went to the library today! Well, actually, I went to two different libraries today and did some writing at both of them! Not as much as I would have liked but I’m getting back into the swing of things so I am happy.
I also hit up a local grocery store and got some delicious roast turkey and a kaiser roll for lunch. Made an impromptu turkey sandwich in my car and munched on it while I watched the rain.
One thing I can say about Midwestern weather — don’t like it, you just have to wait for it to change. Last Saturday, we had six inches of snow, Sunday and Monday we had single-digit/sub-zero temperatures with high winds, Tuesday we had temperatures in the 30s, with a bit of rain and today we had rain and temperatures got into the high 40s/low 50s. Almost all the snow we had is now gone.
We’re not supposed to get more snow this weekend (I don’t think) but it’s going to get cold again. Yayyyyy. Then again, I have friends in Duluth who are seeing temps in the negative 30s so, I will not complain if I have to wear an extra sweatshirt this weekend.
One day, if he was very lucky, Louis Zane would meet Al Jolson and punch the Jazz Singer right square in the snoot. Maybe that would make them even for the fact Louis had had “April Showers” stuck in his head all evening.
The logical part of his mind conceded that this was as unlikely while his well-brought up side noted it was unfair. His pedantic nature wanted it noted that Al Jolson only sang the song – if anyone should get punched, it should be the guy who wrote it. Which set his curiosity to wondering who exactly that was?
One thing that the entire committee agreed on was this: punching Jolson, even in a fantasy, was still a better option than pasting one on his boss, who’d put the damn fool song in his head in the first place.
Either way, April could take its showers and the flowers that bloomed in May and shove them wherever it was that the moon went in June.
It didn’t help that his lower back was starting to join in the griping, adding its complaints about his decision to come traipsing out on a cold and drizzling April night, wasting his night off to come stare at what his strict Norwegian grandmother would have described as “a bunch of gruesomely heathenish gewgaws.” After all, he could have been back home in his apartment, nestled in his favorite chair, listening to The Rudy Vallée Show and rereading Thank You, Jeeves while getting on the outside of some decent scotch.
But instead, a pair of golden-brown eyes that were the polar opposite of roguish had asked him to come and he’d been powerless to say no to them.
“Lou? Are you all right?” said the thief who’d stolen Louis’s poor heart – and his night off – clean away. Oscar Miller looked over at Louis from where he’d been sketching one of the exhibition’s more heathenish treasures: a six-foot high pentagonal granite pillar carved with runes and designs. “Is it your leg? Zeeskeit I told you not to wear those new shoes tonight. Do you need to sit down? There’s a bench around here some place.”
“No, it’s not my leg. My shoes are fine. I don’t need to sit down.” Louis wasn’t entirely lying. His leg wasn’t bothering him, not any more than it usually did and while he probably was going to regret wearing his new Oxfords, he didn’t need to sit down. “Remember, I grew up in the sticks. I used to walk five miles to school, one way, in snow up to my waist. Standing around the Shikagou Art Institute waiting for a lecture to start isn’t going to kill me.”
Oscar’s concern melted into a grin that could have made the May flowers bloom even without April showers. “It was three miles last time,” he said. “Uphill. Though the snow was only up to your knees.”
Louis returned Oscar’s grin, though his was the moon to Oscar’s sun. “Yeah, well, not all of us grew up soft like you, city boy,” he said. “Seriously, I’m fine. We’ll be sitting soon enough. Don’t worry about me, I’m just still peeved at Wallace. The man’s a blister.”
Oscar’s smile dimmed, the sun going behind a cloud. “He’s still after you to do that interview with Goltz, isn’t he?” he asked. “It stinks that he’s not even giving you a choice.”
Louis shrugged. “Oh, he gave me a choice,” he said. “I can do the interview or I can clear out my desk. So, I’ll be doing the interview tomorrow evening. It’s going to be a slog, but I’ll pick up an extra bar of Lifebuoy and scrub myself extra hard afterwards.”
Oscar looked pained. “I’m sorry, Lou,” he said. “You could still tell him no—”
“—if I wanted my career to be as crippled as my leg is, sure,” Louis said, then sighed. “Which, believe me, I’ve considered, especially since listening to Goltz rattle on about how wonderful ‘der Furher’ is and how his German-American Peace Alliance is just a social club and not a bunch of Nazi boosters like the Silver Shirts or the Bund is going to seriously test my ability not to deck the fascist prick.”
Oscar chuckled. “Have I told you lately that I’m proud of you?” he said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Louis said. ““I’m just blowing off steam. I’m a big boy, if I didn’t want to talk to lame-brains and crackpots, I’d have stayed the hell out of journalism. I’d be back on the dairy farm, staring at a cow’s backside instead of talking to a horse’s ass. Enough about me; go back to enjoying the art.”
“You’re sure?” Oscar asked and for a brief, reckless moment, Louis considered ducking in to give Oscar a quick peck on the cheek. Instead, he went with the better part of valor and smiled at him.
“Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll be fine.” Louis gestured at the pillar in front of them. “What’s the deal with this thing?”
Oscar’s enthusiasm crept back into his voice. “I’m really glad I brought my sketchbook. Some of these carvings are just incredible! You’d think they’d just been carved.”
“Really?” Louis edged closer to Oscar, leaning in to look more closely at the pillar. “You can tell just by looking?”
Oscar proceeded to point out various motifs and portions of the carving, gushing all the while about the use of line and form. Louis didn’t understand half of it – his appreciation for art didn’t extend much further than a deep-seated admiration for the illustrations in the Arrow Collar ads – but Oscar’s enjoyment was contagious. Especially when he shifted from discussing the art of the pillar to how he was planning on incorporating some of the designs into his latest comic strip.
“See, these look just like Martian hieroglyphics,” Oscar said, pointing at a group of runic carvings running up one face of the pillar.
“Speaking from experience, are you?” asked a voice that was as rich as cream and confident as Lou Gehrig playing stickball against a kindergarten class. Oscar’s eyes went wide and Louis turned to see what had stunned his companion to awestruck silence.
Grant Godiva would have turned heads even if he hadn’t been as rich as Masa Musa, even after the Crash of ’29. While he was touted in the press as a self-made millionaire, he’d started off with generous support from his inventor father, who’d turned a patent for a newfangled drill bit for oil fields into a lucrative business by leasing the part, rather than selling it. After his parents’ deaths, Godiva – then only a lad of seventeen – had gone on to sell the Godiva Tool and Die Company and used the money to found Magnum Enterprises, a holding company with interests in motion pictures, aeronautics, medical research, radio, newspapers and just about anything else that caught Godiva’s interest for more than five minutes. There were those who said the young man had really just created a way to print his own money, which seemed borne out by the fact that Godiva had brushed off the worst of the market crash like a bull brushing away a pesky fly. Louis fought against his own impulse to gape like a hick just in from the sticks and turned his attention to the woman on Godiva’s arm.
Josephine Maxwell was the granddaughter of former slaves who’d become millionaires after achieving their freedom. Her parents had both been born into wealthy families and had passed along not only that wealth but also a family tradition of hard work and social reform along with a not-inconsiderable fortune. Her father, Caleb Maxwell, held various business interests in Shikagou and throughout the rest of the United American States. Her mother, Martha, on the other hand, stuck closer to home, organizing various improving committees from the family’s Bronzeville neighborhood home while also finding time to run the Shikagou Crusader. Josephine didn’t have a real job – instead, she did odd jobs for both of her parents, assisting them in various aspects of their financial and social obligations.
In addition to now being the second richest person Louis had ever met, Josephine Maxwell was also a tireless crusader for social justice and reform. While she’d always been involved in various causes, from women’s suffrage to the plight of the worker to racial equality, Josephine didn’t just march and hang up banners. Under her nom du masque, Belladonna, she fought crime and corruption on a much more direct level.
And over the last year or so, she’d roped Oscar and Louis – though not necessarily in that order — into her crusades as well. Louis helped mostly by funneling information her way – which had more to do with why he’d agreed to do the Goltz interview than his editor’s threats – while Oscar was serving as something between a partner and a protégé, working under the alias of The Green Carnation.
Tonight, all three of them were in civilian drag, having opted for a night at the museum to both enjoy the exhibition of Grant Godiva’s Britannic treasures and allow Josephine and Oscar to take a much-needed break from Oscar’s training. For his part, Louis was simply glad to have the opportunity to spend time with Oscar even if the venue wasn’t his first choice. Still, there was always the chance for a late-night supper at Hott Pepper’s Steak House over in Towertown.
“Hello, Maxwell,” Louis said, giving Josephine a friendly, if somewhat curt nod. “I was wondering where you got off to. Didn’t know you ran in such exalted company. I’d have dressed better.”
Truth be told, Louis did feel more than a little shabby next to Josephine and Godiva – especially Godiva who was dressed to the nines and as handsome as a Michelangelo painting. If, say, Adam had climbed down from his fresco and climbed into a midnight blue suit pinstriped with gold thread, slicked back his hair and persuaded Mikey to sketch in a pencil-thin mustache.
Like Godiva, Josephine was dressed to impress in the height of fashion, but she drew the eye more because of how understated she was. Unlike Godiva’s top-dollar pin-striped suit, Josephine wore a simple tailored suit that was well-made but not flashy. The black-olive wool of the skirt and jacket contrasted well against both her chestnut brown skin and the tawny lion-yellow silk of her shirt. While she wasn’t what Louis would have called classically beautiful, her features were strong in ways that would have been harsh on a woman with less presence.