Excerpt from City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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City of Dragons

By Kelli Stanley

City of Dragons

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“That’s the problem. That’s why I want you to go home, and forget about this kid. Chalk him up to Nanking.”

Miranda stared at the clock above his head, minute hand sweeping the time away. No use trying to make it cleaner. Not in the Hall of Justice. Not with Phil.

“You mean because he got killed during the Rice Bowl Party we fucking forget about it? Just blame it on what made Nanking in the first place?”

He found a yellowed handkerchief in his pocket and wiped his forehead.

“Watch your mouth. You talk like a sailor, not a professor’s daughter.”

“Keep my father the hell out of it.”

Voices swirled around the room, staccato, sharp. Miranda was breathing hard, the cigarette burning between her fingers forgotten.

“You’re not even going to investigate this, are you? A few feeble courtesy calls on Filipino Charlie, who’ll have an alibi, and then you’ll forget about it, stick it in a drawer, because a Japanese kid had the bad luck to get plugged in Chinatown on a day when the Chinese are raising money to fight the Rising Sun. Happy, happy fucking New Year, Phil. Gon Hay Fat Choy to you, too.”

His eyes glittered, and he stood up, shoving the chair into the desk with a hard clatter.

“Save yourself for Sally and the mashers, honey, and spare me the soap­box. The Fair will reopen in a few months, and you’ll get by. You always do. There are always men willing to make a pitch at you and fat wives willing to pay you to do it. Or do they pay you?”

The minute hand ticked. Somebody coughed. The clatter of typewriters started up again, the sound of bored questions and shrill answers pounding out to an eight-bar beat.

Miranda calmly rubbed out the half-finished cigarette in the wood of the desk. Phil sank back into his chair, the map of broken veins in his cheeks and nose shining purple against the white.

She started to gather her things. Unhurriedly, carefully, last time. He watched her, lit a cigarette. She was putting on her hat when he said something, voice hoarse.

“Don’t do it. I’m not warning you, I’m telling you. We’ve got a new chief coming in, and nobody needs the trouble right now.”

She made her voice sweet and mellifluous, just like Dianne had taught her.

“I’m no trouble, sugar.”

She adjusted the hat, walked around to his side of the desk, slowly, as if she were at the Club Moderne and on a job. Stood in front of him, bent forward, made sure he couldn’t help looking. Then she put a hand on his upper thigh, and rubbed it a little. His mouth hung open, desperation and horror etched on his face.

“You’re a good Catholic boy, Phil. Even if you’re sixty. Do us both a favor and go to confession. You don’t want to be my uncle, and we both know it.”

She left him with his face in his hands, her breath ragged and trembling by the time she got to Kearny Street.

That night she dreamed of Spain and Johnny.

The fields were golden with yellowing grain and dotted with the wings of birds, black against the cloudless sky, and they walked on dirty red roads, past one-room houses of ancient stone, and smelled the grapes in the cellar and the olives in the press. There was that moment, that one flash of truth, when she turned to him and looked in his eyes and his soul answered and everything went away and she was blind, and knew only joy, and the feeling of being whole, complete, oneself and yet more than oneself.

Then the breeze from the coast brought the smell of petrol and sulfur. And the horizon was red, it was evening, and a drone, not a bee or a locust, grew louder. She tried to hold him, to hold him tight, and he fought her, overpowering her, bruising and hurting her until she had to let go, and she screamed, and she screamed, and she screamed.

Excerpted from City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley. Copyright © 2010 by Kelli Stanley. Published in February 2010 by Minotaur Books. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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