"A well-written, cautionary story...."

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Leila Kahn is a beautiful, enterprising immigrant, struggling to find her purpose in a tumultuous America. Her Wall Street diner job introduces her to banker, Roderick Morgan – a haunted alcoholic controlled by his ruthless uncle, bank mogul Jack Morgan. As Leila and Roderick’s flirtations deepen into an illicit affair, Leila becomes a marked woman in more ways than one. She uncovers dark, dangerous secrets about Jack’s business deals, and Roderick’s role in them.

When a body plunges from the top of the Morgan Bank, Leila’s world comes crashing down around her. Trying to balance an allegiance to her family and a fierce need for the truth, Leila delves into a shadowy world of wealth and corruption. In the process she discovers startling facts about both the Wall Street Empire and herself. Her dilemma is timeless, asking the questions - who are we as individuals and as a nation? What is it we finally want to become?

Black Tuesday Excerpt: Wall Street: October 29, 1929

Leila’s nerves bristled at the sound of shouting men. Their voices seeped through the diner’s bay windows.

Raspy voices. Fearful voices. Angry voices. They transported her back to the time in her childhood when the strains of men yelling meant brutality and death. An image of her grade-school teacher stricken by the swords of Cossacks, followed by one of her brother being beaten to death and her mother’s bruised face, bombarded her mind. She winced at the memory. She had come so far, to a new world and a fresh life, but the violence of her past lingered, impervious to the passage of time or change in geography.

The floor rumbled as the men stomped by, as if at any moment it would give way and pull her down beneath it. Her eyes darted around the tiny diner. Customers consumed their evening coffee, nailed to their seats with the sluggishness and desperation of men drinking their final cups. Their hesitation confounded her. Usually, their bravado filled her diner. But tonight, in contrast to the commotion outside, they sat silent and scared. Not of the kind of violence that men could unleash on each other; but of the amount of money they had lost, and could still lose.

The stock market crash had killed their confidence. Money was as treacherous a weapon as a shotgun, or a sword.

“Okay, boys. It’s six o’clock. Closing time!” she announced for the second time. She considered pushing them out, despite her diminutive frame. But reluctantly, they began to move, grumbling as they gathered their derbies and coats. “What’ll I tell my wife?” “How will I face my family?” “Is everything gone?”

She had no response for them. She could tell them that anything could change in an instant, but it didn’t seem like something they’d want to hear.

She thought about her behavior less than twenty-four hours ago. The passion she had never felt with her boyfriend, Nelson, had flowed so easily in her union with Roderick, a man who would never – could never – be hers. How can you want someone so much, and hate him so much at the same time? Damn you, Roderick. Last night played tricks with her heart; the moments that had transpired in the diner teased her. She didn’t feel safe here anymore.

“Wish me luck, Leila,” said a night watchman. “It’s a goddamn mess out there.”

You don’t know the half of it, she thought. She nodded and sent a quick smile his way, then cleared the last of the china plates from the countertop. Before she could stop it, a coffee mug flew from her grasp. It shattered in bone-white fragments across the tiled floor. That tiled floor. She bent to her knees to scoop up the shards. Don’t think about that now, she chastised herself. Do what you should have done last night. Go home. Help your uncle. Leave before things get worse.

Quickly finishing up, she grabbed her woolen wrap and stepped outside. She grazed the pavement, caught off-balance by a flock of men oblivious to

anyone in their path. The stock market had made fools of them all, and they only had themselves to blame. No, she realized, that wasn’t exactly true. The thought ignited a flicker of loneliness, which was odd because she would have expected anger instead.

She bolted the door shut, then smoothed her skirt, tucked some loose strands of her raven-hair behind her ear, and faced the seething street.

“Banks run out of dough! Get your paper!” cried Peter, the paperboy, in his high-pitched alto. He was poised beneath the diner’s red-and-white checkered awning waving papers about. Coins from the gloved hands of pale-faced men pelted his tin pail like hail.

Leila emitted a tense yawn. She had woken up well before dawn, but the questions in her head drained her more than the lack of sleep. Why had she been so eager to betray Nelson? Why hadn’t she warned her uncle with what she knew? Why had Roderick left so abruptly last night? When would she see him again?

The stench of sweat, cigars, and autumn’s damp chill stuck in her nostrils. Her ever-present impulse to run was blocked as she waded through crumpled newspapers and hills of discarded ticker tape. The sharp edges of anonymous briefcases speared her stockings.

I need to get out of here.

Before her, the street was triangulated amongst the New York Stock Exchange – marked by majestic limestone pillars and a crown of Grecian sculptures, the Federal Hall – guarded by a statue of George Washington, and the three-story beige façade of the Morgan Bank. Waves of men surged onto the front steps of the Exchange, their bowler hats thumping and their fists pumping. They were shouting, “Thieves! Bastards! Give us our money!”

The topmost windows of the Morgan bank seemed to twinkle brighter than usual in contrast to the stark fortress beneath them. Several guards defended the bank’s revolving doors from livid shareholders. Leila thought about Roderick’s confession as she watched them rush the guards, and wondered what would happen if they were not held back. What if they had pistols or knives? What were they capable of doing in their moment of anguish and blame seeking? She wondered what the Morgan partners were doing inside.

From the corner of her eye, Leila saw a dark form plunge from the top of the bank. It took a split second for her to register that the form was a body. It crashed onto the roof of a black Cadillac Coupe, scarcely ten feet in front of her, with a hollow crunch; its limbs splayed out in four different directions. The windshield glass sprayed onto the sidewalk like a cascade of water. Too late, someone yelled, “Watch out!”

Almost instantly, the crowd spread away from the car. Gravity pulled the body from the sloped roof and it smacked onto the sidewalk. Leila stood paralyzed, her gaze transfixed to the landing spot. Her feet were stone; her breath lodged in her throat.

On the lamp-lit corner of Wall Street, with the buzz of the shareholders emanating from the steps of the New York Stock Exchange across the street, Leila clutched at the nausea careening through her stomach. Her eyes gradually moved to the inert body, while her ears captured questions flying around her.

“Did you see that?” cried a heavily bearded man.

“Who is he?” a lone female voice rang out.

“Is he still alive?” a man shouted from behind her.

A trickle of crimson seeped from beneath the head of the sandy-brown- haired man. He had landed facedown without the courtesy of a hat to mask the carnage, or perhaps it had flown away during the drop. Leila trembled at the thought of what the crash must have done to this poor man’s features. Part of her wanted to flee; part of her wanted to help.

The trail of fresh blood gathered force, streaming towards the gutter, soaking the sheets of newspaper and smothering the feverish black headlines. More onlookers gathered, bumping Leila aside. A handful of guards who had been stationed by the Morgan doors erupted onto the scene. A group of Wall Street policemen streaked past her to join them.

“Give him room!” yelled a stout officer, as his partners pushed the crowd away with their batons. “Move back! Everyone. Move... back!”

A taller officer brushed away pieces of sparkling glass with his boot. He knelt by the body, fingers to the man’s throat, feeling for a pulse. Another policeman knelt down and traced a heavy, white chalk outline a few inches from the body.

From out of nowhere, two Packard ambulances barreled down the street, their engines roaring and siren bells blaring in two-tone spurts. Emergency medical workers leapt from one ambulance, peeled open its back doors, and extracted a stretcher. The portly police officer stopped them a few feet shy of the man.

Leila strained to hear him say, “There’s nothing you can do for him now.” The finality in his voice made her want to assist. Maybe there was something she could do. She inched closer.

“We need to see,” argued one of the medical attendants.

“There isn’t anything to see here,” said another police officer.

What an absurd thing to say, thought Leila.

Leila caught snippets of voices from people hungry for gossip. She heard someone say, “I hope it’s not Andrew. I’d jump too if I lost as much as he did today.” She hoped so, too. Andrew was a trader at Morgan, a sweet boy who came to work on Wall Street to help his family keep their farm.

As employees streamed from the doors of the bank, Leila got the impression that the news had taken almost no time to spread inside. She wondered if they already knew who he was. One of the officers dug into the man’s breast pocket fumbling for a wallet, but there was none. Whoever he was, he had left his credentials behind.

“It’s like the bomb! The Morgan bomb in 1920!” cackled a toothless fruit vendor.

A stocky officer with thick arms and even thicker eyebrows scanned the crowd, using his nightstick as a guide. “Did anyone see which window he jumped from?” he asked.

His gaze fell upon Leila. She stepped another foot closer to the body.

“You, Miss. Did you see which window he came from?” the officer asked Leila.

“No,” she trembled, “I saw a shadow and then he... he was on the car, and then the ground.”

“Anyone else? Anyone?“ the policeman called out. “Did anyone see anything?”

Leila stared at the blank faces around her. No. No one had looked up. No one cared. They were all consumed with their own problems. Not just bankers, but tailors, cabbies, and tradesmen had lost their fortunes and futures, and they had no idea why.

Leila let herself glance more directly at the body. His clothes were well pressed, the seams finely tailored, and his shoes... his tan English-imported shoes. Her heart skipped a beat.

Wait a minute. She knew those shoes. No. No. No! No! Dizziness filled her head as she swayed from the impact. She took two steps backwards and tripped over her own feet.

“Watch it lady!” a young man exclaimed.

“Oh my God!” Leila cried out. She slammed to her knees and covered her mouth with shaking hands. Her fingertips lost all sensation.

No, no. It can’t be!

She knew exactly who that man was.

 

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