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Stella Rising

Stella Rising

edition:eBook
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Easy Street

Easy Street

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Age of Unreason
Excerpt

Chapter 1

The words contained in the police report were leaked everywhere. They were on the front page of every newspaper.

The yellow Ford truck had quietly pulled up to the curb around 8:20 a.m. on Monday, April 13, 1981. It slid into a spot just a little bit past the entrance to 70 Forest Avenue in Portland, Maine. Back in the 1920s, someone had carved the words “YOUNG MEN’S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION” into the grey foundation stones. But the old building was now home to the YWCA — the men had moved to a much more modern space down the road.

The old building was a bit of a dump, and it creaked and wheezed like an old man. Its best feature was the main doors, positioned as they were beneath a spectacular archway, which architects called a lunette. This area was decorated with lovely leaded glass, which shimmered when the sun caught it.

Most weekdays it was pretty challenging to find a parking spot so close to the main doors. But not that day. The driver of the yellow truck had no difficulty finding a space. He’d been watching the place for weeks, the police figured, and he knew how busy it could be early in the morning.

The staff greeted one another as they arrived for work. It was an unusually warm spring day, and some of them were smiling and chattering about their weekends. Some paused to hold the door open for harried-looking parents dropping off their kids at the Y’s daycare.

The truck, it was later discovered, was the legal property of Roger Rentals of Boston, Massachusetts, but it had been assigned to a rental company — Macmillan’s Body Shop — way up in Newport, Vermont, near the Canadian border. A pair of bewildered employees at Macmillan’s would tell a small army of FBI agents that the truck had been driven off the lot a few days before the bombing, rented by a clean-cut young man who identified himself as Thomas M. Jones from Pulaski, Tennessee. Mr. Jones had told them he was helping a friend move. Thomas M. Jones was, in fact, the name of a long-dead lawyer, in whose offices the Ku Klux Klan was formed in Pulaski back in 1865. Jones had started the Klan along with some fellow former Confederate soldiers, mainly as a lark.

This modern-day Thomas M. Jones was a slender young man with a crew cut. When he smiled — which he apparently didn’t do a lot when he was at Macmillan’s — he had a broad, toothy grin that made him look like a teenager.

The five-story YWCA building had an ancient gym located on the main floor along with the daycare center. The administration and membership offices were housed on the second. On the upper floors were offices supporting an array of programs from summer camps to healthy living to veterans outreach. There were also a couple of converted classrooms, where the YWCA and YMCA did a booming business offering ESL classes for a modest fee. The women’s health and well-being offices were up there, too. They offered women and girls advice on reproductive health.

The investigators discovered that for the four days prior to the bombing, Thomas M. Jones had been renting a room at the Holiday Inn across the road from the Maine Mall in South Portland. He’d parked the yellow rental truck in the lot out back, in a spot that could be readily seen from his room. On the inn’s register, he had used the long-dead Klansman’s name, but it turned out he had entered a real mailing address in the registry: a P.O. box in Mobile, Alabama. The FBI would quickly determine, however, that the P.O. box was registered to the United Klans of America. The man had paid cash for his room and didn’t leave behind a single fingerprint or anything else that gave any hint to his true identity.

That Monday morning, the man everyone would soon know as Thomas M. Jones drove the yellow rental truck downtown and parked it on Forest Avenue. He then hopped out of the truck, locked the door, and walked west.

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Excerpt

Chapter 1
Dizzy

I slid the record out of the sleeve. The pressed plastic flashed like an oil slick. I’d been around records my whole fifteen and a half years, but I still loved the satiny shine of them. I held the unmarked record up when Dad came into the office. “Do you know who this is?” I asked him. Our record store, The Vinyl Trap, was slow for a Saturday. I’d retreated to the office at the back of the store looking for something to listen to.

Dad shrugged and nodded at the turntable on his desk. “Put it on. Let’s find out.” The couch springs creaked when he sat down and propped his black motorcycle boots up on the coffee table. I dropped the record over the pin in the centre of the turntable. With the flick of a switch, it started to spin and I dropped the needle. Seconds later, a sultry powerhouse of a voice filled the room. I peeked at Dad. His eyes were closed and his head swayed with the emotion of the song. It was bare bones, just a piano and the singer.

The voice was familiar. It would have been to anyone who heard it. Georgia Waters, the world’s most famous singer.

And my mother.

The huskiness of her voice was like sandpaper and honey, every note filled with emotion. I watched Dad lose himself in the song. She didn’t need any accompaniment. She had one of those voices that hit, right in your gut, and made you ache along with her.

“Man, that woman can sing.” Dad sighed when the song ended.

“Yeah,” I agreed quietly and lifted the needle off the record.

“I think she was pregnant with you when she recorded that song.”

“Why’d you hide it away?” I stood up and dug through his desk drawer until I found a marker. In block letters, I wrote GEORGIA WATERS on the sleeve.

“Wasn’t hiding it, just forgot I had it.” Dad’s gravelly voice sounded like his mind was somewhere else. With greying hair, left long and shaggy, and the chunky silver rings that covered his fingers, it was obvious he wasn’t the khaki-button-down-briefcase kind of dad other kids had. One arm was covered in tattoos: a saxophone, some music notes, my brother’s name and mine swirled up his ropy-veined forearm, just above a stack of braided leather bracelets. Georgia’s name had been there, too, once upon a time. Now it was covered with a band of music notes.

I looked at him reproachfully. I was never sure where his feelings for her lay. He probably wasn’t, either. The bell over the door chimed, announcing a customer, and Dad stood up. He looked relieved at the interruption. “Hey there,” he called out. “Can I help you?”

I heard the customer tell Dad that he was looking for a specific record but couldn’t remember the name of the artist or the title of the album. I rolled my eyes at the impossibility of the request, but Dad loved the needle-in-a-haystack hunts: I heard it in a New York City jazz bar in 1996 and have been looking for it ever since. My brother, Lou, and I didn’t have the patience to work with a customer for two hours until the exact record was identified, but Dad did.

I held Georgia’s record in my hand and glanced at the shelves. Were more of them hidden in Dad’s private collection? Since we were kids, Dad had sworn us to secrecy about who our mom was. He’d explained that if anyone found out, we’d get hounded, like other celebrities’ children. Photographers would hide in bushes and kids at school would want to be our friends just because we were related to Georgia Waters. Keeping it a secret was easy; it wasn’t like Georgia came around very often. I’d only seen her once in the last fourteen years. She’d visited when I was six, and even though Dad told us not to say anything, I’d blurted it out at recess the next day. The girls had laughed at me and called me a liar. I remember getting red in the face and stamping my feet, insisting that it was the truth. They’d started calling me Deliar, instead of Delilah.

By the time I got to middle school, everyone had forgotten my claim on Georgia. Now that I was in high school, I was just a kid with no mom. Always had been. I’d stopped trying to explain it.

The ironic part of being abandoned by a famous singer is that she never really went away. All it took was a Google search of her name and I got two million hits. I knew where she’d had dinner last night, who she had it with, and what time she left the restaurant because the photographs were plastered all over the internet. I could follow her vacationing on a yacht and see pictures in magazines of her arriving at late-night talk shows. She might have escaped us, but we couldn’t escape her.

I put the record back and made a mental note of its location on the shelf in case I wanted to listen to it again.

Or not. Maybe it would just sit there, forgotten. Like we were.

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