Authors: Michael Murphy
Wings in the Dark
is a work of historical fiction, using well-known historical and public figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
An Alibi eBook Original
Copyright Â© 2015 by Michael Murphy
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Alibi, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
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colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
Cover art and design: Scott Biel
As the calendar turns to January 1935, millions remain out of work. Unemployment hovers near twenty percent, in spite of Roosevelt's New Deal. Less than a year earlier, the Dust Bowl caused major damage to the Great Plains states. The economic collapse around the world continues to bring uncertainty. Nations resort to desperate measures to gain advantage over one another. War clouds hover over Europe, and in Asia, Japan continues to expand its empire in Manchuria and eastern China.
Not all is bleak. Hollywood continues to churn out movies, and ticket prices are still affordable. Aviation has advanced from barnstorming days to passenger flights, and in Hawaii, Amelia Earhart readies a never-before-accomplished flight, a solo trip from the Islands to California.
Mystery writer Jake Donovan and actress Laura Wilson are also in Hawaii. They find themselves isolated from the chaos gripping the United States and the world. Both are prospering in their respective careers and basking in the glow of success, honeymooning on the south side of the main island in a secluded cabana. For the first time in nearly two years, they're relishing anonymity. Islanders are focusing on Amelia Earhart and her attempt to become the first solo pilot to cross the Pacific from Hawaii to the West Coast of the United States, a feat that's already claimed several lives.
ANUARY 8, 1935
I might have turned down the invitation of a tour of Oahu by air, even though it had come from Amelia Earhart. I wasn't crazy about airplanes and neither was Laura, but when she suggested the experience might help me write some future Blackie Doyle book, I had to agree.
Within minutes of takeoff, I'd forgotten about Blackie. Over the drone of the single engine, the wing above my head popped and cracked without provocation, probably rivets coming loose.
The only window on the side of the modified six-passenger plane was in a door several feet behind me, so we could see little except out the front of the cockpit. As we flew along the coast, the plane rose and dipped, allowing Amelia to point at some new island wonder out the front window. The flight had become a sixty-minute roller-coaster ride at Coney Island.
As we circled along the south coast, the plane banked. I braced my feet against the bottom of the plane and blinked as a shaft of midday sun shot through the cockpit window.
Seated beside me, Laura reached over and squeezed my hand. Laura appeared fascinated by the blue water and lush green of Hawaii, so different from Queens, where we both grew up. “Darling, isn't the view fabulous?”
It wasn't fear but anxiety. I'd faced fear in Europe during the Great War, on the streets of New York as a gumshoe, and in cities around the country as a Pinkerton. I'd taken a bullet in the leg two years ago. I could handle tough guys and rough situations, but an airplane was held up by air.
It helped little that in the pilot seat in front of me was the most famous woman in the world. Laura's friend, who barely paid attention to the controls or the dozen or so gauges, pointed out Hawaiian landscapes with the knowledge and enthusiasm of a sightseeing-tour guide. “Oahu is the third largest island in Hawaii but holds more than half of the population and the largest city, Honolulu.”
The outside of the plane was a bright red, the inside was steel gray. Mechanics had removed all nonessential weight, except the two seats Laura and I occupied behind Amelia (and they would be taken out after the flight)âanything to lighten the plane's weight in preparation for her historical flight across the Pacific to the West Coast in three days' time.
Laura had been chatting with the friend she'd met in New York since Amelia greeted us outside the hangar and escorted us to the plane. “This is so nice of you, to take us up like this.”
“Consider it a belated wedding present.”
I would have preferred a toaster.
Amelia glanced over her shoulder at Laura. “I had to take her up for a shakedown flight anyway. We've had a number of mechanical problems since we arrived in Hawaii back in December.”
Laura reached over and patted my hand. “Relax, darling.”
“There.” Amelia pointed out the window. I couldn't see until the plane dove and revealed a battleship the length of two football fields. “That's the closest we'll get to Pearl Harbor. The military doesn't like civilians encroaching on their airspace.”
Good. As if flying wasn't dangerous enough, we were one slipup from getting shot down.
“Beyond the white sand beach of Waikiki is Diamond Head.” The plane rose as Amelia pulled back on the yoke. “We'll get a better view if we climb to four thousand.”
When the plane leveled off, Amelia nudged the yoke forward. “From the air you can see Diamond Head is actually a crater formed hundreds of thousands of years ago.”
The plane shuddered and shook. Amelia offered a reassuring smile. “Updrafts are common around mountains.”
Then let's go around the damn mountain.
For a moment the flight smoothed out and I released a breath.
A sharp bang came from the back of the plane. I tried not to show my apprehension. I had a tough-guy image to uphold. “What was that?”
Amelia chuckled. “Nothing.”
Nothing! I held on to the strap.
Amelia let go of the yoke. The plane was flying itself!
“We're coming up on your hotel. Let's take a closer look.”
I gripped the edge of the seat as the plane descended rapidly.
“Don't get too close.”
Amelia chuckled. “Do you have a suite?”
Laura shook her head. “We have one of the original cabanas. It's small, but it's right on the ocean with a private cove.”
On the beach, people waved. We passed by our cabana and the beach we'd walked on nearly every day since our arrival after the New Year.
Laura checked her watch. “I hate to say this, but we need to be getting back.”
“Right, your interview.” Amelia pulled back on the yoke, and the plane began to climb. We headed toward Wheeler Field. I had never felt more relieved to have an upcoming meeting with a reporter.
Although the scheduled interview cut short the harrowing flight around the island, I hardly looked forward to the meeting. I'd never liked reporters. My dislike for the profession went back to my gumshoe days. They always managed to get in the way of a case, often got the facts wrong, and never gave a detective credit for solving a crime. Acknowledgment always went to the local cops.
Oh, sure, some I tolerated because they valued truth and integrity. A few actually became drinking buddies. I couldn't imagine tossing back a few with the smug son of a bitch sitting across from Laura and me on the deck of our Hawaiian honeymoon cabana.
Actors, agents, and studios placed a growing emphasis on press interviews, and studio bosses didn't like reading personal details of their actors' lives without having planted them.
Hunter Conway, in his late twenties, seemed polite and businesslike at first. He greeted us with a traditional aloha. Within minutes, however, he failed to conceal his resentment over an assignment to interview two people he characterized more than once as “a famous Hollywood couple.”
He proceeded to talk about himself. He said his normal duty was the
's crime desk, but Amelia Earhart's impending quest to cross the Pacific had stretched the paper's resources thin.
Perhaps it was the way he avoided looking at me, but something about his story didn't ring true.
Unlike me, Laura appeared to like the reporter's company, but, after all, she'd mastered the art of acting. I, on the other hand, could be a real chump around people I didn't respect.
Though I'd assured Laura I'd speak only when the reporter asked me a question, I didn't keep that promise long. The second time he referred to us as “a famous Hollywood couple,” I couldn't let the crack go unchallenged. “Laura and I are from New York, Mr. Conway. Queens, to be exact, not California.”
Laura's smile never wavered. Beneath the table she kicked my shin without so much as wrinkling the tablecloth. I knew she wasn't just trying to get the reporter to write a flattering interview. She was also trying to keep me from coming across as a real schmuck.
Conway checked an entry in his notebook. “Yet you're friends with William Powell and other actors and, according to Louella Parsons, who can't seem to say enough good things about both of you, you attend your share of Hollywood parties.”
“You say that as if those are bad things.”
“Just trying to get the facts right.” The reporter flashed an arrogant smile. “Let's hear about your life in Queens, then, before your wife became a star.”
I didn't want to let the guy know we'd lived together before we were married. Laura answered about our life in New York without mentioning our domestic arrangements.
While the interview went on, I gazed past our private cove surrounded by blooming red hibiscus. The blue sky merged with the water. Down the beach, a handful of surfers were catching a wave. Back in Queens, we'd been determined to make it out of the neighborhood, but I had never expected to see Hawaii.
“The readers will want to hear how you're enjoying your Hawaiian honeymoon.”
I bet they would.
Laura took my hand, squeezing firmly, as if warning me not to say anything bawdy. “We've enjoyed every minute from our ocean voyage to the first five days here. We've been able to get out and explore the island and meet people. We especially enjoy bike rides nearly every day, don't we, darling?”
I answered with a nod.
“Were you married here or before you left the West Coast?”
Laura flashed me a smile that could melt my belt buckle. “The ship's captain married us on board, beneath a full moon. The ceremony, the entire voyage, was like a fairy tale.”
The reporter studied me as if deciding whether I was capable of romance.
“I'm a romantic guy.”
“Sure you are.” Conway turned to a page in his notepad. “What's been your biggest accomplishment?”
“Yes. I mean, you've had two careers, a detective and a mystery writer.”
“My biggest accomplishmentâ¦marrying Laura. She's one special person. If you write that, don't make the words seem as sappy as they sound.”
For the first time, he shot me a look of envy before smiling at Laura. “Of that I have little doubt, Miss Wilsonâ¦I mean Mrs. Donovan.”
In spite of my good intentions, I jumped in again, bracing myself for another kick from Laura. “The marriage certificate says Donovan, but professionally she'll continue to be Laura Wilson.”
Conway raised an eyebrow. “You both agreed to this?”
“Of course. Wouldn't you?”
The rest of the interview went well because I didn't say another word.
When the reporter closed his notepad, Laura winked at me. Conway finished his coffee and pushed his chair away from the table. “Off the record, either of you ever feel guilty about your financial success with unemployment so high?”
“Jake has strong opinions about that, don't you, darling?”
Since she seemed to want me to answer, I did my best. “Every day we think about people out of work. Laura and I grew up in a neighborhood where getting to and from school without a black eye was considered a good day. It doesn't sound as tough as a carpenter not being able to find work, but plenty of Laura's actor friends, especially in New York, can't find roles because people can no longer afford to go to the theater.”
The plight of unemployed actors didn't seem to faze the guy.
Anger had taken over, and I didn't care if he saw it or not. I wasn't through. “This is a country I fought for. We'll get through this depression. Business will pick up, people will get back to work, and you'll probably find yourself back at the crime desk.”
“I meant no offense, Mr. Donovan. I'm just doing my job.”
Again he'd baited me into losing my temper. When did I become such a chump?
Conway rose and shook Laura's hand, then mine, and thanked us for our time.
We walked him to the edge of the deck. I hoped the reporter's feelings about me wouldn't show when he wrote the interview.
Conway glanced toward the four-story hotel tower a hundred yards away from our cabana. “When I heard you'd booked the Polynesian Hotel and Cabanas, I assumed you picked a suite in the tower. Though I love the private cove, your cabana appears too small and cramped for my taste.”
I wanted to make one more attempt to convey a positive image so I chuckled. “It's bigger than our first apartment in Queens.”
Conway raised a brow. “So you lived together before you moved to Hollywood?”
What had I done? How had I walked into that trap?
Laura's eyes widened at the reporter's reaction to my attempt at humor. “He meantâ¦heâ¦”
At least Conway didn't reopen his notepad.
Laura regained her composure. “Mr. Conway, I could explain, but you said the interview was over.”
I stayed where I was as Laura and the reporter left. They reached the gravel path to the hotel, and Laura shot me a glare I'd not soon forget. She walked with Conway, chatting away, while I searched for a hole to crawl into.