Roaring Twenties - 2
This book is dedicated to ten-year-old Me, who decided that her early Nursing ambitions didn’t jibe with her aversion to the sight of blood, and therefore being an Egyptologist was the next logical career dream; I think she’d be happy I finally settled on Writer.
Much love and gratitude goes out to my wonderful agent, Laura Bradford, and to my lovely editor, Leis Pederson. Thanks also to my awesome publicist, Jessica Brock, and to Aleta Rafton for the beautiful cover—and the Berkley art department for the gorgeous layout.
A lot of research went into this humble tale, and I could not have written it without the help of the following people and institutions: San Francisco Chronicle, the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, the British Museum in London, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkley, Mark Bittner (who wrote the fascinating book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill), the San Francisco Cable Car Museum, the Jewish Home of San Francisco, Alioto’s Italian Seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf, the James Leary Flood Mansion, the CinemaTour project, the Shaping San Francisco community project, and the Western Neighborhoods Project of San Francisco.
Thanks to my brilliant husband for not only tolerating my Authorial Angst but also aiding and abetting it. Lastly, a big thanks to my readers for following me off the beaten path and into the secret garden of Unusual Historical Romances. This book was an absolute pleasure to write. If it gives you even half as much pleasure to read, consider me a happy writer!
LOWE MAGNUSSON SCANNED THE desolate Union Pacific Depot lobby. A young couple he recognized from the train was spending the brief early evening stop flipping through magazines at the newsstand. A handful of other travelers loitered on benches. No sign of the two thugs, but it was only a matter of time. Easier to kill him in the dark corner of a rural station than in the middle of a crowded smoking car.
Satisfied he was at least temporarily safe, Lowe slid a bill through the ticket booth window. Not a large bill, but large enough to sway a hayseed Salt Lake City ticket agent. Surely.
“Look,” he said in a much calmer voice. “You and I both know you have first-class tickets left on the second train bound for San Francisco. It departs at eight. If we wait for your manager to return from his dinner break, I’ll have missed it. It’s not like I’m asking for a new ticket. I just want to be moved from one train to another.”
The young attendant exhaled heavily. “I’m sorry, sir. Like I said, I don’t have authorization to exchange tickets. Why can’t you just wait for your current train to depart? An hour really isn’t that much of a difference in the long run. It might even leave sooner if they get the supplies loaded quickly, and aside from a couple of extra stops, they’re both going to the same place.”
Yes, but the other train didn’t have thugs with guns on it.
When he first noticed the men shadowing him, he thought sleep deprivation had gotten the best of him. After all, he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since Cairo. Food poisoning had made the usually tolerable Mediterranean crossing from Alexandria to Athens a waking nightmare. But just when he thought he was out of the woods, he spent the storm-cursed weeklong voyage from England to Baltimore hugging both the toilet and his pillow in turns, praying for death.
But God wasn’t done punishing him, apparently. Now that he’d endured three nights of restless sleep on the worst train trip of his life and was less than a day’s ride away from home, armed men were stalking him.
Where the hell had all his good luck gone?
Right now, all he wanted was to kiss solid ground in San Francisco, fall into his ridiculously luxurious feather bed—courtesy of his brother’s ever-increasing bootlegging fortune—and sleep for a week. Some clam chowder would be nice. A two-hour hot bath. Maybe a small harem of nubile women to warm his sheets—dream big, he always said. But if he could manage to avoid getting shot and robbed during the last hours of this hellish trip home, he’d settle for ten hours of uninterrupted sleep and a home-cooked meal.
The attendant eyed Lowe’s loosened necktie and three-day-old whiskers. “We wouldn’t even have time to find your luggage and transfer it before departure, sir.”
“Just forward it to my San Francisco address.” Lowe begrudgingly placed another bill atop the first. Dammit. Only forty dollars left in his wallet. Ludicrous, really. A priceless artifact was in the satchel hanging across his chest, guarded with his damned life for the last two months, and all he had was forty dollars to his name.
Not to mention the massive debt hanging over his head after the botched deal with Monk.
The attendant shook his head. “I’m not supposed to accept tips, sir.”
Lowe changed tactics, lowering his voice as he leaned on the counter. “Can I tell you something, just between you and me? I’m on a very important, very secret government assignment.” He wasn’t. “League of Nations business. Health committee,” Lowe elaborated nonsensically.
“Health committee,” the attendant repeated dryly. He couldn’t have cared less.
“I wasn’t aware the U.S. had joined the League,” a voice called out.
Lowe looked up from the window to locate the voice’s owner: a woman, standing a few yards away. She was long and thin, wearing a black dress with a black coat draped over one arm. Black gloves. Black shoes. Black hair bobbed below her chin. So much black. A walking funeral home, blocking his view of the platform entrance.
And she was staring at him with the intensity of a one-person firing squad.
“I did say it was a secret assignment,” he called back. “In case you missed that part of my private conversation.”
“Yes, I heard,” she said in an upper-crust transatlantic accent, as if it were perfectly polite and normal for her to comment. No remorse whatsoever for butting into his business.
“Excuse me.” And please leave me alone, he thought as he turned back to the ticket window. Concocting a believable story on no sleep wasn’t the easiest task.
But she wasn’t done. “Can I have a word, Mr. Magnusson?”
Had she heard him giving his name to the agent, too? Ears of an owl, apparently.
Lowe’s attention snapped back to the agent. “Look, just get me the ticket before the train leaves. Have a porter deliver my steamer trunk to my address. I’ll be back in a minute.”
He stepped away from the counter and strode toward the woman.
“Yes,” he said irritably. “We’ve established you know who I am.”
Her brow tightened. “You were to meet me.” When he gave her a blank stare, she added, “My father cabled you when you arrived in Baltimore.”
In his haste to change trains, he’d forgotten about meeting up with Archibald Bacall’s daughter, the oddball museum curator.
Not that she was unappealing, now that he was seeing her up close. Not plain, either. To complement her owl-sharp hearing, she had an angular face that reminded him of a bird of prey. Long face, long arms, and nice, long legs. Tall for a woman, too. The top of her narrow-brimmed hat might fit under his chin, so he guessed her height to be five foot ten. But her boyish, slender body made her seem smaller.
And the all-black widow’s weeds buttoned up to her throat didn’t do her any favors.
“Hadley Bacall.” She stuck out a hand sheathed in a leather glove trimmed in black fur. More fur circled the collar of the coat draped on her arm. The Bacalls had money. Old San Francisco money, from the gold rush days—her deceased mother’s fortune, if he wasn’t mistaken. The Bacalls also had significant influence in the art museum at Golden Gate Park. Her father ran the Egyptian Antiquities wing and sat on the board of trustees; he’d been a field archaeologist when he was younger.
Not that Lowe had ever hobnobbed with the man. Without the amulet carefully tucked in Lowe’s satchel, Dr. Archibald Bacall and his daughter would not be extending high-class handshakes in Lowe’s direction. Hell, they wouldn’t even give him the time of day.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “Hadley, that’s right.”
Her grip was surprisingly evasive for someone whose arm was propping up a thousand dollars worth of fur and an aloof attitude to match. She tried to end the handshake as quickly as she’d offered it, but he held on. Just for a second. She glanced down at his hand, as if it were a misbehaving child. He reluctantly let go.
“You did get my father’s telegram, did you not?” she asked.
“Sure.” He’d received a lot of telegrams from the man after the photograph of Lowe and his uncle standing in front of the Philae excavation site circulated in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic—a photograph that had been reprinted a month later in National Geographic.
“Why were you lying to the ticket agent?” she asked.
He coughed into his fist. “Ah, well. It’s a long story, and one I’m afraid I don’t have time to share. I’m switching trains, you see. So I won’t be able to meet with you after all.”
One slim brow arched. She was almost attractive when she was frustrated, very glacial and austere. The corners of her eyes tilted up in an appealing manner, and her gaze didn’t waver. He liked that.