The year is 1919. Men are returning from the “War to End All Wars.” Women are still fighting the war for equality in the voting booths. A handful of Western states allow women the vote; Utah and Wyoming among them. But on a national scale, Suffragettes, as they call themselves, are staging events in hopes of convincing their biggest naysayer, President Woodrow Wilson, to get behind their movement.
Meanwhile, a wannabe journalist, a Suffragette leader, and a broken leg combine to draw businesswoman Katie Novak into the mix.
This fast-paced story keeps readers flipping pages to discover machinations of suicide, gender-bending, conspiracy, success, mystery, love, mistrust, murder, infidelity, and more.
Katie’s Ladies, by Andrew R. Nixon, a sequel to the gripping novel, Three Lives of Peter Novak. are both now available at this website in paperback (author-signed or unsigned), e-book, and Kindle editions.
We share the book’s Prologue with you:
Prologue – Tainted
“It is best not to exist at all.” H P Lovecraft
Autumn 1919. The usually nattily-dressed Albert stumbled numbly out of the stinking jailhouse into the crisp night atmosphere, leaving behind several friends still wallowing in the stinking, urine-splattered box that had been his hell for what seemed like forever. His once expertly-pressed, midnight blue suit hung on him, crumpled in disarray. Blood from his puffy lip caked on his face and clothing. Soft Argentine leather scuffed, untied shoes graced his feet. Laces had been removed by jailers, socks went missing. Friends from the underground community had put up his bail, but not before he was raped, sodomized, and beaten in the dank, overcrowded, holding cell.
Sunday night had begun with a promise of good times, another night of drinking, dancing, and fun, but in the blink of an eye, a heavy knock on the rustic mahogany front door turned Albert Lhormer’s life upside down, his future inside out. In a heartbeat, that night became the death knell he always feared. Monday’s Pittsburgh Daily Post newspaper would shout the scandalous breakup of a homosexual dating ring.
He sucked in the black, putrid Pittsburgh air until his lungs burned. His arms gesticulated to hail a Pullman taxi.
“Drive me to Clairton.”
The middle-aged driver chewed for a moment, then spat a wad of tar-colored tobacco juice onto the brick street. Using the back of his hand, he wiped away a trickle of dark spittle that ran down his chin as he coaxed the filthy sedan’s engine to life. “Gonna cost ya’, Buster, ta’ go way the hell out there. With all the rain this week, that River Road is a bitch, then I gotta come back wit’ no fare.”
The salty taste of tears dampened Albert’s cheeks and touched his tongue as he slid onto the well-used upholstered rear seat of the Model-T Ford. Inside the hack the misty night air turned to a musty smell of a wet towel that had dried a large dog. He gagged, but managed to utter, “Don’t worry about the fare, Sir, just get me to Clairton.” The exhausted passenger did not want to return to his residence in Pittsburgh. He knew reporters would be waiting for him there, hungry to hear salacious details.
Albert shivered in the back seat of the unheated hack, contemplating his possibilities for the future. Pulling the overcoat tightly around his slight frame, he peered out the partially open window at the low-hanging clouds, knowing the fate awaiting him.
The blackness hovered, a silky mixture of soot, smoke, and rainclouds. Street lamps cast a thick, gray, gloomy bubble around the cab. A light drizzle gave the lamps an aura that might have seemed beautiful on any other evening, but this night would end badly. Of that Albert was certain.
Upon arrival at his destination Albert paid the cabbie the hefty fare, plus a generous tip. He did not look after the car as it made a U-turn in the middle of the empty street, splashed puddles, chugging away into blackness. The hack rumbled down the St. Clair Avenue grade toward State Street and the rutted River Road that led back to Pittsburgh.
Albert fished keys from the pocket of his overcoat, unlocked the door of the Clairton Savings and Loan, and trudged up to his office. Not bothering to light a fire for warmth, he instead lit the kerosene lamp on his desk, pulled out pen and paper and began to write his last confession. Had his eyes held any tears, they surely would have fallen to dampen the parchment, but he had nothing left to weep.
It took over an hour to compose the letter. Finally finished, he lifted his favorite book from the desk shelf. The Children of the Night, by Edgar Arlington Robinson, dog-eared and well-read, spoke to him. He felt a kinship with the subject of the poem. Tucking his own composition inside the book alongside his favorite verse, he silently recited the poem to himself:
Whenever Richard Corey went downtown,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored and imperially slim.
Without looking down, the beleaguered businessman retrieved a pistol from the top desk drawer.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked,
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good Morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
Placing a cartridge in each of the chambers of the gun, he smiled wryly, realizing he only needed one bullet to complete the task. With a single puff of breath, he snuffed the flame in the lamp, closed his eyes, and lifted the pistol.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine we thought he had everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
The steel revolver rose slowly until, clamped in his trembling hand, the icy cold barrel’s tip imprinted against the warm flesh of his temple. All the courage needed to complete the task emanated from within as he summoned his index finger to complete the contract he’d made with himself.
So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.
At precisely 3:30 that morning, his finger squeezed the trigger as his last words, “Forgive me, Katie,” evaporated into a deafening roar that split the late-night stillness, followed by a ghastly silence.