Well, that may be from Mame, but hey, it's still true! Sometimes you need a little Christmas, even in the middle of summer. So how fortuitous that Michael Mandrake, aka my friend Sharita, is having a backlist bloghop! For my part, I'm offering a copy of A Special Christmas. Let me tell you a little bit about it...
On January 16, 1920, over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson, an exercise in futility became law when the 18th Amendment, commonly known as the Volstead Act, took effect in the United States. It prohibited the sale and manufacture of intoxicating alcoholic beverages. The Webb-Kellogg Act, which came later, prevented its transportation. Interestingly, the actual use of alcohol was not prevented. Referred to by some as the Noble Experiment, this era is commonly known simply as Prohibition.
Immediately after Prohibition began, the criminal element saw a way of making a great deal of money from the new law by supplying a demand which had not disappeared simply because it was now illegal. The country's major gangsters, such as Tom Dennison in Omaha and Al Capone in Chicago, not only grew wealthy from bootlegging, but gained the admiration of many people, both locally and nationally, acquiring the status of heroes.
Ordinary citizens wanting to drink, despite the prohibition of said drinking, went to secret establishments known as speakeasies; they were also called blind pigs. Those in higher socio-economic circles held cocktail parties. By 1926, more and more people were sympathetic to the bootleggers and their cause — the population wanted their liquor back.
In 1926, interesting things were happening in the world — Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel; Hirohito was crowned Emperor of Japan; Benito Mussolini gained control of Italy; US Route 66 was created, which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles; and Henry Ford announced the forty-hour work week.
Also, as the year drew to a close, and Christmas approached, two young men who lived near Chicago —Florian Donati and Nick Giannakopoulos— were about to meet, and their lives would never be the same again.
Christmas is coming to Prohibition era Chicago, and two young immigrants are about to have their world rocked. When Florian and Nick meet by chance in a speakeasy in Romeoville, their worlds will never be the same. Is it Chance, or has Destiny brought them together?
Florian Donati could charm any woman with a single glance. One flutter of his fabulous baby blues was enough to induce cardiac arrest among the strongest females. One warm glance could halt all traffic within a thirty yard radius, never mind that disarming smile. His lips alone could make a nun regret her vows of chastity. Black wavy hair, free from artificial intervention, and a dimpled chin completed the perfection that was the twenty-year old Florian.
Florian remained blissfully unaware of his charms, for he was possessed of an almost child-like innocence, set within the body of a god. He was graced with a sweet and generous disposition, and the patience of a saint. As well as an undying love for the greatest singer who'd ever lived — the late Enrico Caruso.
When Caruso died, in August of 1921, the sixteen-year-old Florian had been devastated. He'd wanted to attend the funeral, in order to pay his respects. But that was logistically impossible, as services had been held in Naples, in the old country, home to his family for many generations. So Florian had to content himself with holding a private memorial service at the dry cleaners which his family owned and where he worked, in Cicero, Illinois. The only other person in attendance also worked there — his co-worker and friend, Loria.
The Donati family were long-time friends of Johnny Torrio — and in Cicero, that meant a great deal. The crime lord had been instrumental in their being in the dry cleaning business. He had brought them from New York with him where he had given them the funds for their first store —Donati's Dry Cleaning Emporium, on South Whicker— and they were very grateful to him. He helped them to buy the store in Cicero, and recommended the establishment to all of his colleagues. When circumstances forced Torrio into taking early retirement in 1925 (after nearly being killed by a would-be assassin, he decided that Florida possessed a certain charm), his business interests became the domain of his associate, the amiable and well-dressed Alphonse Capone. And just as Capone inherited Torrio's territory, so did the Donatis inherit Capone's dry cleaning.
The silver bell attached to the shop door tinkled whenever it was opened, signaling the advent of a customer. During the summer, the front door, as well as the back, remained open, mostly due to the heat from the equipment in the back room where the actual cleaning and pressing was done. This heat would build up until it virtually flooded every nook and cranny of the emporium with an intense warmth that was almost infernal. But during the winter, the store provided a welcome respite from the fierce Midwestern cold without.
Florian did not work the equipment, although he'd been around it all of his life. That was Loria's job. She also waited on the customers who came into the store, took their clothes and tagged them, checking them carefully for rips and tears, loose buttons that might otherwise meet an untimely end if not taken care of, and she supervised the dry cleaning that was actually going on in the back. She retrieved the clean clothes for returning customers, and she took their money. Florian's job was to keep the floor swept and the windows clean, keep fresh flowers upon the counter, and to help Loria with heavy lifting should she require his assistance. But his primary duty was to radiate sunshine, to make the customers feel at home — and to sing. Although he was no Caruso, and he had no desire to follow in his idol's illustrious footsteps, he had a sweet untrained voice, somewhere in the baritone range, and he was the delight of everyone that stepped foot inside Donati's.
Loria had been bugging him all morning about his singing. Not that she disliked it, far from it. She loved to hear her friend sing, she would listen to him twenty-four hours a day if she could. No, it was nothing against his ability to carry a tune; it was his choice of material. For here it was, almost Christmas, and he refused to sing any Christmas carols, preferring instead to favor her either with selections from his favorite operas, or with the Italian melodies he had grown up with.
"Uccello," she protested, leaning against the counter, watching him sweep the already immaculate floor. He was such a perfectionist. Uccello was the nickname he had acquired as a young child, when first he began to sing. Uccello canterino bello. Pretty songbird. "Uccello, just a little something for Christmas, for me?" The thirty-something blonde reached out as he came within reach and punched his shoulder lightly, in her typical Loria manner.
Florian was an accommodating guy, but he also had a bit of a mischievous streak in him. In fact, he was a very playful fellow. Pausing in his work, he wound his arms about the broom, as if it were a lover, and began to serenade her in his native tongue.
"Sul mare luccica, l'astro d'argento," he crooned, his beautiful blue eyes so expressive that Loria seemed about to cry. He sang to her of the sea, and the wind, and a silver star. By the time he got to the chorus, his heartfelt "Santa Lucia" did indeed bring tears to her eyes. She wiped at them unabashedly with the corner of her work apron. This was the nature of their relationship — nothing romantic, simple friendship. At times, Loria was like a second mother to Florian, having known him since he was just a boy.
The shop bell tinkled, but Florian continued to sing. He was used to an audience, and most of the customers were used to his singing, never interrupting his arias for something so crass as business. They invariably preferred that he finish before they proceeded. This customer was no exception.
Only when the last note was reverberating through the cozy shop, did he turn to find himself the object of admiration of a swarthy, elegantly dressed man. This man was flanked by two others in dark suits, obviously subordinates. Their professional glance never stopped moving about the shop, as if they were anticipating an ambush. The jagged scar, which cut diagonally across the first man's cheek, made his identity a surety.
Two lucky commenters will win a copy of A Special Christmas! Just be sure to comment by the end of this weekend. Because of the Labor day Holiday, that will be Monday night!
Now, go check out the other participants in this Blog Hop!
Until next time, take care!