Today's Reading

PROLOGUE

* * *

Washington, DC, 1956

"Don't make jokes."

It was the first and last thing the lawyer instructed. No one was allowed to laugh at the proceedings. Especially a woman.

As she looked up at the panel of men seated at the high table, glaring down at her, she thought she'd never felt less amused. She couldn't even comfort herself that the accused women in Salem had faced worse. She didn't want to go to prison.

It was like a television play. A script she'd tried to write and then discarded as too absurd. But this was all too real.

The gavel banged, the room fell silent, and the interrogator locked eyes with her.

"Phoebe Berneice Adler. Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?"

It didn't matter that they already knew the answer was no. That wasn't the point. It never was. The hearing was just for show. Pure theater. And she had to play her part.

She clenched her hands together to keep from wiping them on her skirt. She took a deep breath, and leaned toward the microphone.


CHAPTER ONE

* * *

Greenwich Village, New York City, Spring 1955

THE GANGSTER CORNERS MOLLY IN THE ALLEY.

GANGSTER:
Give it up, sister, you're through.

MOLLY:
You ain't got me yet.

MOLLY SCRAMBLES UP THE FIRE ESCAPE. SHE'S FAST, BUT HE'S GAINING.

SHE TAKES OFF A SHOE AND FLINGS IT AT HIM, HITTING HIM IN THE FACE. IT ONLY BUYS HER A FEW SECONDS. HER OTHER SHOE FALLS OFF AND HE CATCHES IT, TAKING NOTE OF THE POINTY HEEL.

HE SMILES AS HE CLIMBS STEADILY, ABOUT TO REACH HER AS SHE'S WRIGGLING INTO AN OPEN WINDOW.


Phoebe slammed the typewriter carriage back and pulled out the page. She read the scene several times, trying to view it through Hank's eyes. He was a discerning story editor with a heavy hand. Phoebe grudgingly conceded that his edits improved her scripts, but she always strove to have fewer edits each time, and she was gaining on him as readily as this murderer was gaining on his victim. She needed Hank to see her as his best writer. He was going places. Phoebe wanted to go there too.

She added the page to the pile and took several deep breaths. She always needed a break before writing the final scenes. The final murder, the final arrest, the final quip. Goodness and decency prevailing. A sameness she had to make different every time she wrote it. Television—or, at least, the fourth-rate detective show she wrote for—followed a rigid formula. There were better shows, though, with opportunities for real invention, and Phoebe was clawing her way to a spot on one of them. It didn't matter how many ridiculous murders she had to write to get there.

She leaned back, giving herself over to ambient sounds. The grunt of the wooden chair's spine. The faint hum of Anne's radio in the apartment across the hall. A news program. Phoebe thought she could hear the announcer saying something about Communists and the Soviets. She couldn't remember the last time a news broadcast didn't talk about the "Communist threat" and the "Red Scare" and the efforts of the House Un-American Activities Committee and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI to keep America safe from Red Russia and the Reds that were assumed to be crawling all over the country, especially in Hollywood and unions and wherever Negroes were organizing. The House committee was in the news so often, it was referred to by one and all as HUAC. Phoebe wondered how Anne could concentrate with such accompaniment, but Anne said the best artists kept up with current events.

"How the heck is it current?" Phoebe demanded once, when Anne was listening, enthralled, to Senator McCarthy's yowls. "Those HUAC hearings started in 1947, for crying out loud!"

"And now it's in the Senate, too, isn't it?" Anne answered. Though McCarthy himself actually had gone away, censured and disgraced after the Army-McCarthy hearings. People still used the term "McCarthyism," but only because it was a useful shorthand, with more zip than "HUACism."
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