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With Scott Slaven
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 3, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Coney Island, 1907
“Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to Steeplechase Park, where cares and woes vanish! Where the fleeting pleasure of the moment is all that matters! Where anything you can dream can be yours…and all for a nickel!”
The barker’s voice boomed but could barely be heard above the crowd’s din. A perfect early summer day had lured the masses from the nearby New York City boroughs to Coney Island. From families to felons, everyone came to see the wonders of the famed “poor man’s Riviera.”
Moving through the colorful and excited crowd, Jake Corrigan walked with his usual nonchalance. A tall man with sharp features and blue eyes that could go from sparkling to ice in the space of a wisecrack, he had the look of a guy who was always up to something. At the moment, he wore an expression of amusement; he never tired of seeing how much people enjoyed a day away from their usual routines. The beaming faces hungrily took in the park’s many attractions: the tunnel of love, the loop-the-loop, and the Tickler.
Though he moved slowly, Corrigan was stalking prey. Just ahead of him, a squat, nervous-looking guy sporting three days’ growth of beard and a soiled suit was moving at a good clip. And bizarrely, he was pushing a bright-pink baby carriage.
“Sharky Moon,” Corrigan muttered to himself. “Somehow I just don’t see you as father of the year.”
Stepping up his pace, Corrigan glanced to the side at three men huddled over a table near a refreshment counter. Keeping Moon within his line of sight, Corrigan made a quick detour to his right and kicked over the table, sending the players’ cards—and their ante—up and over the boardwalk.
“Against the law, gents,” Corrigan said, grinning and flashing his security badge. “Read the park rules.”
Ahead, Moon picked up his pace and wheeled the carriage around a stern-faced preacher who was trying to get the crowd’s attention.
“Go back! Turn away from this immorality! This place is Sodom by the Sea!”
“Why the hell you think we’re here, fodder?” Moon cracked. “’Scuse da language.”
Moon slowed down as he joined a crowd that had gathered at the foot of a wide pool. Everyone looked up at a huge wooden tower that sat in the water. From its top, four steep slides descended into the pool depths.
Corrigan slowed to take in the new attraction. Squinting upward, he spied a fair-haired woman inside the tower, looking down. She anxiously surveyed the crowd from above and then glanced at Corrigan.
“Hey, it’s that strawberry blonde I keep seein’! What’s she doing up there?” Corrigan mused to himself as he smoothed back his jet-black hair and gave his default wise-guy smile.
Rolling her eyes, the woman vanished back into the tower.
Corrigan shrugged. “May you one day be in distress, fair damsel.”
Glancing back around, he spotted Moon talking to an obviously well-to-do young couple, perfectly outfitted in parasols and patent leather. The woman was looking nervously down into the carriage.
“Gonna guess that Uncle Sharky ain’t the babysitter,” Corrigan muttered as he approached.
A trumpet suddenly pealed at the tower base and a top-hatted man stepped grandly out onto a raised platform. “Ladies and gentlemen! Didya know that the hot dog was invented right here at Coney Island?” he enthused. “It’s true! And didya know that Kid Lavigne and Gentleman Jim Corbett’ll both be fightin’ here tomorrow night? It’s true!”
The crowd clearly didn’t give a damn, so the barker tried again by gesturing to two well-dressed men who stood to the side. “And tonight, our beloved park owner, Mr. George Tilyou, and our manager, Mr. Nathan Caps, are presenting the greatest thrill yet seen in this or any park!”
Tilyou nervously patted his push broom mustache as he bowed to the crowd, and then turned and nodded toward Caps, an elegant-looking man with almost blindingly white hair.
“It’s a never-before-experienced spectacle, folks: the Water Chutes!”
The puzzled crowd glanced at the wooden slides down which steady streams of water were rushing. Corrigan looked around and smirked. “Unless Teddy Roosevelt himself comes shooting down that slide, this attraction is a bust.”
The barker dramatically played his last card: “If you stay to witness this terrifyingly dangerous feat, the management will not assume responsibility for your safety. If you have any fears, you have sixty seconds to exit.…”
The audience was baited but still undecided when suddenly an earsplitting cry pierced the afternoon air.
An instant hush fell. Everyone looked around, wondering where the sound had come from and just what the hell it was.
Once again, even louder, the cry rang out over the park—this time clearly from the top of the tower. It was followed by a thunderous stomping sound that shook the tower from top to bottom and caused a heavy plank to fall from above. It landed with a gigantic splash, dousing a good portion of the crowd.
“You now have twenty seconds to exit.…”
Atop the tower, Katie Silver nervously paced a darkened enclosure while an extremely tall black man watched her.
“It isn’t looking good, Africa. They just don’t know what’s in store for them.”
The solemn man nodded and said, “Bahati nzuri, miss.”
“If I can’t even pronounce your real name, Africa, how do you think I’m going to suddenly understand Swahili?” Katie asked irritably.
She anxiously looked down for a signal from the barker. Her bright-green eyes flashed with annoyance at the delay and she toyed with a button on her cropped jacket top. Her suit and long skirt were stylish yet suggested a woman who was too busy to worry much about how she looked—and attractive enough to not have to worry.
“Sorry, Africa. I’m beginning to think this idea of mine is as crazy as everyone said it was.…”
“You say this every time, Miss Silver,” said Africa, smiling. “But the people love your work best of all.”
“Not that they know it’s mine—or would even believe that a woman could design park attractions,” she sighed.
At that, the barker finally looked up at Katie and gave her a signal.
Katie smiled tightly at Africa and said, “It’s time for our girls. Good luck, ladies.…”
Down below, Corrigan moved through the now transfixed crowd toward Moon, who was speaking emphatically with the young couple.
Suddenly, the animal cry roared through the air once again…followed by utter silence. The audience held its breath for a beat and then gasped in amazement as four huge, lumbering elephants appeared at the top of the tower. They wavered a moment and then, following some firm nudging from Katie and Africa, stepped onto flat-bottomed boats that were poised on the slides.
Corrigan gaped along with the rest and then smiled. “Aha! I think I know who came up with the hotel idea! My strawberry blonde seems to have beauty and brains.”
The great beasts paused, clearly frightened. Then, in almost perfect unison, the boats began sliding down the chutes. The mammoth creatures reared their trunks in either joy or terror—or that mixture of the two that every child feels when they go on a ride.
The astonished crowd leapt back as the elephant-weighted boats splashed into the pool and sent sprays of water coursing in every direction. Thunderous applause rang through the audience, causing the elephants to once again utter piercing cries, this time in seeming celebration of their feat.
“It worked!” Katie jumped up and down. “They loved it, Africa. They loved it! Look at their faces.”
Africa gave Katie an amused nod. Tilyou and Caps both doffed their hats and waved them in Katie’s direction, to which she responded with a modest curtsy. Bursting with pride, she ran to look out again over the happy crowd. Still grinning up at her, Corrigan elaborately tipped his hat to her success. Buoyed by the crowd’s reaction, Katie gave him a daring wink and a shrug, as if to say, “Ah, it was nothing.” As Corrigan laughed appreciatively, she bolted back out of sight.
Suddenly remembering his mission, Corrigan put a hand on Moon’s shoulder, causing the grimy goon to jump out of his skin.
“Mr. Moon! Displaying a new diaper line for these fine people?”
The couple exchanged worried looks and backed away slightly.
“Corrigan! I ain’t doin’ nothing,” Moon said, tittering nervously. “Just here to meet wit’ my—my niece!”
Corrigan looked from him to the elegant young woman, and then down at the baby.
“Hmm. I’m not seeing any resemblance any way you look at this. Are you peddling that baby?”
Flushed, the husband stepped forward. “Look here. We didn’t buy anything. This—this is our baby.”
“No. It belongs to some poor mother in Hell’s Kitchen!” Corrigan all but shouted. “What did you think: that it just popped out of a baby hatchery in Pleasantville?”
The young woman paled. “We didn’t know! We just so badly want—”
As she burst into tears, her husband pulled her to him. Moon tried to use the distraction to start his getaway, but Corrigan grabbed him.
“No kinky moves, Moon. You run, I’ll catch you.”
Moon glanced over at the young couple and gave them a resigned look. Corrigan relaxed his grip and suddenly—as if on cue—Moon and the couple dashed off in opposite directions. Startled, Corrigan yanked out his gun and pointed it at Moon, but the squat man darted into the crowd.
Corrigan watched the young couple run for their lives until he could no longer see them. Then he looked down into the carriage. The baby opened its eyes and gave him a twinkling smile.
“Don’t,” Corrigan warned. “That doesn’t work on me.”
The baby laughed and reached for Corrigan’s hand, which was still holding the gun. Sighing deeply, Corrigan stashed the pistol and reached into the carriage.
“What are you so happy about? You’re an orphan now, alone in the world.”
The baby looked excitedly around the park.
Smiling, Corrigan turned the baby to face the glittering lights and bustling people and clanging rides.
“I know, I feel the same way. Steeplechase Park: where anything you can dream can be yours…and all for a nickel!” He turned the infant around carefully. “But watch yourself, kiddo. Dreams can turn into nightmares.…”
Coney Island, 2017
Katie Silver jolted
- On Sale
- Jul 3, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages