New York City, 1952
It begins like any other day in my life of crime; breakfast at Pete’s Luncheonette, a countertop joint where Doris—the waitress who’s been there as long as the linoleum—pours the best cuppa coffee in New York. We make a little small talk, she teases me, as always, for my romantic preference for women and for wearing men’s suits instead of dresses or skirts: “You tryin’ to hide knobby knees?” she says through a smirk that’s still friendly despite distortions from the five-and-dime-store-red lipstick seeping into the lines around her mouth. I tease her back, tell her my knees aren’t knobby, I just like to keep the draft off my ankles. That makes her laugh. I like making Doris laugh. I owe her a joke now and then in return for the ear she lends me when the world—or the Law—presses me too hard. I don’t tell her the dark details of my criminal life, though. I’m sure she’s wise, but what she doesn’t know for fact, the cops can’t sweat her for. Her ignorance really is bliss, for both of us.
After a second cuppa coffee and a pinch of Doris’s cheek, I’m off to my office, my hideaway along the West Side docks, where a basement vault hides some of the fanciest contraband in the world: paintings, sculptures, jewels and other treasures waiting for delivery to people who pay me wads of cash to risk my life to steal the stuff from fancy houses or museum basements and smuggle it through the Port of New York. Rosie Bliss, a jaw droppingly beautiful cab driver whose blonde hair is like a swirl of mist, and whose body fills her cabby’s rough clothes in a way that makes me want to take them off, slowly, is waiting for me at my office. Rosie drives me around in her cab sometimes, when I don’t want my Buick in the crosshairs of cops or other dangerous parties too nosy for my good. Rosie is also in love with me, a love I don’t deserve, a love I can’t return because my heart and soul belong to someone else. They belong to Sophie de la Luna y Sol, kidnapped off the street, swallowed by the night. I’ve been searching for her ever since, calling in favors from every pair of eyes and ears in the streets and along the docks. I’ll find her someday, or die trying.
Rosie’s here to ferry me to a rendezvous with a collector of ancient Roman portrait busts who’s hired me to smuggle one in from a shady dealer in Venice. The guy wants this particular sculpture because he thinks the portrait looks like him, which I suppose it does, around the eyes anyway: cold, hard stone. The guy poses as a high society type, always arriving at the fanciest nightspot with the latest lovely on his arm. Truth is, he’s a gangster, as tough as they come. Cross him, and you’ll end up among his other collection: dozens of dead bodies in a swamp in New Jersey.
So I never cross him, I just deliver his goods and take his money, which is how it goes today: I give him the bust of one Ludovicus Stultis, he gives me an envelope stuffed with cash.
There’s a message for another job waiting for me when I get back to my office, this time in cahoots with Esther “Mom” Sheinbaum, a doyenne of crime, the town’s most successful mover of hot goods. She’s been at it since New York’s gaslight days, mentored a lotta young light-fingers, including me. She used to like me, or so I thought, but I learned some time ago that her motherly warmth was all sham. She thinks I’m filth, sneers at my preference for women. But business is business, and in the underworld we both live in, money soothes even the deepest revulsion. It even soothes the deepest pain, like the pain of hearing from Mom’s own mouth exactly what she thinks of me.
Well, maybe not the deepest pain, the pain of losing Sophie. It’s like a knife in my heart that just keeps stabbing. Until I find her, nothing will ever soothe that.
You can read more about Cantor in Genuine Gold, the third book in the “Cantor Gold” crime series.
New York, 1952. From the shadowy docks of Athens, Greece, to the elegance of a Fifth Avenue penthouse, to the neon glare of Coney Island, art smuggler Cantor Gold must track down an ancient artifact, elude thugs and killers, protect a beautiful woman who caters to Cantor’s deepest desires, and confront the honky-tonk past which formed her. Memories, murder, passion, and the terrible longing for her stolen love tangle in Cantor’s soul, threatening to tear her apart.
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Meet the author
Lammy and Goldie winner, native New Yorker Ann Aptaker’s first book, Criminal Gold, was a Golden Crown Literary Society’s Goldie Award finalist. Her next book, Tarnished Gold (Book Two in the Cantor Gold Crime Series), was honored with a Lambda Literary Award and a Goldie Award. The third book in the series, Genuine Gold, was released this January. Told from the point of view of a dapper, custom-tailored Lesbian art thief and smuggler, and set in mid-20th century New York, the Cantor Gold series resurrects the outlaw spirit of Lesbian life, its daring and sensuality.
Ann’s short stories have appeared in two editions of the crime anthology Fedora, edited by the noted crime author Michael Bracken. Her flash fiction story, “A Night In Town,” appeared in the online zine Punk Soul Poet, and another flash fiction story has been accepted into the upcoming anthology edited by Lee Lynch and Renée Bess, “Happy Hours: Our Lives in Gay Bars.” Ann still occasionally curates and designs art exhibitions, is an art writer for various New York clients, a contributing writer to the children’s science television show “Space Racers,” and an adjunct professor of art and art history at the New York Institute of Technology. Connect with Ann on Facebook and on Twitter.
All comments are welcomed.
Genuine Gold is available at retail and online booksellers.