Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places, or occurrences, is purely coincidental. .
Chapter One “Brrrr….” A gust of frigid air swirled around Laney Taylor’s legs, making her teeth chatter. Glancing at the clock tower on the bank across the street, she realized the antique shop would only be open another half hour. People hurried along, occasionally someone bumped into her, but no one really noticed Laney in the bustling holiday crowd. Glancing inside Rosner’s Restaurant, she stopped and pressed her face against the warm windowpane. Standing on tiptoes, Laney viewed the busy, crowded restaurant. Everyone stopped in at Rosner’s for they made the best potato latkes around, serving them to hungry diners during the Hanukkah holiday—the ‘festival of lights.’ Laney’s mouth watered, her stomach rumbling when she saw a woman place a mouthful of latke in her mouth, but Laney resumed her trek to the antique shop. She whispered against the wind. “You’d be turning over in your grave right now, Bubbee , if you knew what I was going to do with this bowl.” The last piece of her Grandmother’s china that she’d sold netted her ninety dollars. She hoped that this time, the man in the antique shop would give her at least a hundred dollars for this bowl, trimmed in gold, with its beautiful floral pattern. That money could feed many hungry people. Laney knew how to make her dollars stretch at the local ‘Dollar Mart’ store. She could buy canned goods for a dollar or seventy-nine cents each, and some treats for the children. The homeless inhabitants residing in their cars, in what the wealthy town of Greenview now dubbed as ‘Chrome City,’ were always grateful for Laney’s help. Anger surged through her as she remembered the housing commissioner, Michael London, ignoring her requests to find decent housing for the inhabitants of Chrome City. The only thing Laney received from him was empty promises. .
Her feet almost flew out from beneath her on the slippery sidewalk, jarring her from her thoughts. Laney felt a drop of snow on the tip of her nose. She brushed it away, intent on making it to the antique shop before it closed. She took another step in the direction of the antique shop when she noticed a shingle coming loose from a nearby roof. It swirled through the air, carried by a fierce gust of wind. Something hard hit the right side of her head. She felt a stinging sensation, then her vision blurred. She reached up and touched her head, noticing a red smear on the inside of her palm, and the miscreant, blood-tinged roof shingle lying on the sidewalk by her feet. Her body hit the pavement, where she slipped into a cold, black void. * * * * “I’m sick and tired of that son-of-a-bitch Mike London and his goddamned zoning board.” Josh Goldman stabbed his fork into a piece of brisket. He looked down on the perfectly cooked piece of meat, nestled in a bed of savory gravy, but he suddenly had no appetite. Zach Brenner regarded his business partner and long-time friend over the rim of his coffee mug. “We could hire a lawyer. Force Mike London’s hand. We’ve met all the codes on those homes we’ve built.” Josh ran a hand through his hair and flopped back in his chair. “You know that Mike London knows we can’t afford to do that. He’ll make sure the case drags on for months while he drums up some other crap to throw in our paths, like some obscure building code he’ll claim we’re violating.” “Then we’ll just have to wait him out.” Josh sighed. “But for how long? The houses we’ve built here in Greenview have been vacant for months.” Zach frowned. “Every second that passes, we’re losing money.” “While Mike London,” Josh jabbed another piece of meat onto his fork, looked at it, then put it down, “gets rich accepting bribes from everyone else.” Zach gave Josh a searching look. “Are you suggesting we pay off London?” “No. I’m suggesting we kick London’s ass from here to Montauk Point.” .
Zach grinned. “I’d gladly do it if it would solve anything.” Josh rose to his feet and threw some money down on the table. “Someone’s gotta do something about London and his corrupt zoning board.” Zach pushed back his chair and stood. “Every dog has their day, Josh. We just have to wait this out. Right is on our side.” They walked out of Rosner’s Restaurant into the crisp evening air. Zach shoved his hands in his pockets while they walked along Main Street. “What we need to do is catch Mike London in the act of accepting one of those bribes.” Josh glanced at Zach. “Yeah, but how?” Zach shook his head. “I don’t have a clue.” “Hey! Remember that lawyer, Lewis Stone? He was good at this type of stuff.” Josh shrugged. “I haven’t seen Lewis Stone around town for years.” He glanced at Zach. “Have you?” Zach removed his hands from his pockets and blew on them to warm his chilled skin. “I heard he fell on hard times. His wife got real sick, then his business slacked off.” “He was a damned fine lawyer.” Zach nodded. “Maybe there’s someone else we could use.” Josh shook his head. “No lawyer I know would dare go up against the zoning board. In fact, I think the lawyer they’ve gotten on the board is as crooked as the rest of them.” Snow fell, coating their shoulders. Josh took a step to the right, the tip of his work boot hooking on something. He glanced down to see someone huddled against the antique store. “What the hell?” Zach’s eyes widened. He squatted next to the body on the ground. “I don’t believe it.” He glanced up and met Josh’s concerned gaze. Josh squatted on his haunches. “Is she breathing?” Zach frowned. “I-I’m not sure.” He raised the young woman’s arm, placing two fingers against her wrist. “She has a pulse.” Josh leaned forward and touched her head. His hand came away bearing a red smear. “She’s bleeding!” .
Zach rose to his feet and whipped out his cell phone. “I’m calling an ambulance.” Ten minutes later, the young woman was bundled onto a stretcher and placed in an ambulance, with Josh and Zach following behind in Josh’s SUV. * * * * “Good morning, starshine!” Laney’s eyes fluttered open at the sound of a cheery voice. “Come on, wake up, I brought you some breakfast.” Laney heard the sound of metal scraping then a delicious odor of cinnamon drifted by her nose. She opened her eyes and glanced to the right to see a woman dressed in blue scrubs standing by her bed… Her bed? “How’s the head today?” She frowned, but the act of drawing her brows together hurt. The woman nodded. “You got a few stitches up there.” Laney’s stomach growled when she smelled the odor of coffee. “Think you want to eat some of this?” The woman gave her a small smile, gesturing at the food-laden tray. “I gave you some of everything off the breakfast menu.” “Where am I?” Laney glanced around. “Greenview Hospital emergency. They brought you in last night.” The woman angled her head. “You don’t remember?” Laney shook her head. “You had a nasty bump on the head.” She leaned over and patted Laney’s shoulder. “I’m sure everything else will come back to you.” Laney glanced at the name badge on the woman’s blue scrubs. “Are you a nurse, Ethel?” “I’m an aide,” Ethel replied, a grin on her face. She adjusted Laney’s bed so that Laney’s head rose a bit higher on the pillow. Then she wheeled the tray table so that it spanned across the bed. “Think you could eat by yourself, or do you need help?” “I-I can manage.” “Good. The doctor should be in soon to have a look at your head.” .
Ethel walked out, leaving Laney alone with the tray of food. She ate quickly, savoring each bite of the fluffy scrambled eggs and the delicious, creamy farina laced with cinnamon, her mind filled with a jumble of wild thoughts… She remembered walking along Main Street, a bowl in her hands. “Oh, no…no….no!” Laney cried. She couldn’t remember what had happened to her Grandmother’s antique Bavarian porcelain china bowl. If she had collapsed, it must have smashed against the pavement. Laney groaned. How would she feed all those people in Chrome City now? She pushed the tray table away, disgusted with herself and her circumstances. In the last year, nothing had gone right. Now, her efforts to help the homeless in Chrome City shattered into a thousand tiny pieces, like her Grandmother’s exquisite porcelain. Tears filled her eyes. She swiped them away, reminding herself that crying didn’t help anything. She rose from the bed, dizziness washing over her. She gripped the bed rail for a few seconds. When the woozy feeling subsided, Laney walked over to the closet on the other side of the room. She opened it, relief washing over her when she saw her clothes. She grabbed them then walked inside the bathroom. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror, wincing when she saw her pale face, the dark circles under her eyes, and the bandage on the side of her head. But, there was no time to wallow over her haggard appearance. She had to get another piece of her grandmother’s china to sell! If she didn’t, those people would surely starve… Dressing quickly, she exited the bathroom, shrugging into her jacket. Ethel walked into the room. “What are you doing?” She narrowed her eyes. “The doctor didn’t release you, did she?” Laney angled her chin. “I’m releasing myself.” Ethel shook her head. “Don’t be foolish, girl. Look at that weather outside.” Laney glanced out the room’s only window to see snow falling. .
“I hear we’re getting hit with the worst blizzard Long Island’s seen in years.” Laney started to walk by Ethel, but the aide grabbed her upper arm. “You’re lucky. Your two good Samaritans stayed by your side all night.” Laney’s fuzzy brain registered a vague recollection of a familiar-looking man with dark hair and dark eyes… and one the complete opposite—fair haired and light- eyed. “Two guys found you passed out on the sidewalk in town. Lucky they did, otherwise, you’d have frozen to death.” Ethel let go of Laney’s arm. “They took turns, stayin’ by your bed all night, makin’ sure you woke up every half hour like Dr. Stevens said.” Ethel’s eyes twinkled. “They were mighty good-looking, too. Seems as if you got yourself a couple of hunky good Samaritans, if you ask me.” She placed her hands on her hips. “They seemed to know you, too. Said something about goin’ to school with you here in Greenview.” Laney stepped away from Ethel and made her way to the door, fear clogging her throat. She didn’t need this complication in her already screwed-up life. “How long you think your luck’s gonna hold out?” Ethel’s words were the last thing Laney heard as she hurried out of the room. * * * * Laney rushed through the lobby, glancing at the snow falling outside. How would she get to Chrome City now? There had to be at least a foot of snow on the ground… Filled with despair, she took another step toward the lobby doors when she collided with another person. “I’m sorry, I—” She glanced up into a familiar face. Josh Goldman drew his dark brows together. “Laney?” His frown changed into a scowl. “What in the hell are you doing?” Her traitorous hormones leapt into overdrive. A musky male odor wafted by her nose, her fuzzy brain remembering the crush she had on him and his buddy, Zach Brenner, waaaaaaaaaay back in high school. Fool that she was. .
A fat girl like her had no business having crushes on two gorgeous hunks like Josh and Zach. Lately, that crush had returned full force, turning into a dark fantasy of her and the two of them making love… She glanced down and watched, mesmerized, as two large hands gripped her shoulders. Laney pulled out of Josh’s grasp. “Where are you going?” His dark eyes settled on face. “I, uh, I’m…” “Laney!” She turned at the sound of another familiar voice, groaning inwardly when she noticed Zach Brenner charging through the lobby. She plopped down into a chair. Her pulse skittered out of control when Josh lifted her chin with the tip of his index finger. For just a second, his handsome, chiseled face swam before her eyes then her vision cleared. A lock of jet-black, wavy hair fell across his forehead. His dark, almost black eyes bored into hers. She met his look boldly, hoping to calm the racing beat of her heart… and the dull ache in her head. “What in God’s name do you think you’re doing?” Not quite the fantasy she always dreamt about… “I-I was just visiting a sick friend.” He blinked once, releasing her chin. “Huh?” “She must still be woozy.” Zach took a seat next to her. “It’s good you found her.” Josh folded his arms across his broad chest. “What’s all this about a sick friend?” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re the one who’s sick, and right now, you belong back in that hospital bed so—” “I’m not staying. I-I have an appointment.” She hoped God didn’t strike her dead for the lie she just told. Josh glanced at Zach. “I hate hospitals,” she told them, knowing at least that wasn’t a lie. .