Behind the Sun is a forthcoming novel by Julie Lindow, copyright 2017.
In 1942 San Francisco, Lucy Loy receives a message from her childhood sweetheart M. that he is not missing in action, but on a secret mission, and he needs her help. Thrown into the social chaos of WWII, Lucy ends up helping to save an ancient Greek statue, The Eyes of the Sun, from the Nazis, but in the process she is accused of being a murderer and a spy. On a quest to prove her innocence, Lucy learns about an unbelievable horror. She is determined to warn the world, but how do you convince the press and the public of the unbelievable?
An excerpt from Behind the Sun
Lucy Loy’s pumps were stuck to the floor by soda pop sap and unmentionables. Slowly she lifted each shoe so as not to disturb her neighbor, a delicate man in tweed. The newsreel had made its trip around the world twice. Guns, smoke, tanks, and boys, all those boys, charging into the unknown: black and white faces the size of gods, streaked with sweat, eyes in anguish, intent on aiming a gun. Then no more, just silence, bodies facedown in the sand. And no sign of M.
As Lucy stepped heavily onto Market Street, she paused to catch herself by touching the stuffed Polar Bear in front of the Telenews. Blinded, she took a few moments to suss out whether the sun was still glaring or not. No, just the neon. Shameless but true reds, blues, and white. Adjusting her hat over dark honey waves, yanking gloves onto slim hands, looking up and down Market Street with watchful eyes, she clicked her heels a few storefronts west for her next escape.
A siren blared, “This is a test, only a test of the emergency war time response system. In the case of an actual bombing, you will be instructed to take shelter.”
If she could not find him, then at least she could forget him for an hour or two. Looking up, the marquee flashed on and off “Maltese Falcon, Last Week!” The razor sign spelled out “P-A-R-A-M-O-U-N-T” in a slow tease. She had seen it a dozen times already but that was not the point. A sudden “C” note horn honk bounced off the glass and concrete, echoing down the street. Phillis, the girl on display in the ticket booth, took her money and commented, “The lights are back on but only until midnight, in case the Japs bomb,” and smiled knowingly with cherry lips and a flick of lashes.
An usher escorted Lucy, blinded again by the sudden change back to dark, to a seat, mid-section, aisle. Wafts of hot popcorn and cigarette smoke rose and fell. The feature was just starting. Good. The glorious glow wrapped around her for a moment before she sunk into her dark seat. She tried to focus on the light, on the screen, but her mind drifted toward M., “M-I-A.” M. Missing. Missing-in-action. A weight pushed while her heart resisted. She slipped a slim lady-size flask out of her handbag and let Four Roses fall through her lips. The heat filled her marrow; she rubbed her arms. A voice in her mind kept chanting so she changed the words to “Please-keep-him-safe, please-keep-him-safe,” and every once in a while she heard her mind say, “dear God,” but, despite years of comfort given to her by old Greek women at the Orthodox Church, she did not really believe in “A God,” who would answer her. Rather she thought, they were like light, separate particles yet interconnected waves. Each in their own seat yet connected through their eyes, through the light of the film. She focused on Humphrey Bogart’s eyes, so large on the screen, god-size. His voice fell in sync with the chant, like her father’s voice she thought, with his low grumble and curt confidence. But her father’s voice was not much comfort. Finally the voice in her mind quieted enough for her to drift into the screen.
It was some time into the film, a good twenty minutes, when Lucy felt someone looking at her. Her eyes had adjusted and she turned ever so slightly, just to shift her hips it appeared, so that out of the corner of her eye, she could see the delicate man in tweed across the aisle. He must have arrived after her.
Bogart made a good Sam Spade, she thought for the one-hundredth time. He is not exactly Hammett’s Spade. But Bogart kept her attention. He worked. His confidence held her. She met his eyes. Clung to his arm. Felt safe. She was there, in her city, in San Francisco, but enjoying it much more in black and white than in sunlight.
Gun shots caused a stir in the house. Lucy’s body jumped and gasped, but her mind remained focused on the flickering light. She thought about her next escape; she was to meet the girls at the Castro Theater that evening. Confined by her skirt, she shifted in her seat again, and as she turned, she noticed the man in tweed was gone. What a relief. A sailor and his girl a few rows in front of her started to kiss as if the world was about end. A lone soldier a few seats to her right held his popcorn between his knees and solemnly, with his only hand, he ate each kernel, each little explosion, one by one.
Though her arms and neck were chilled, her palms sweated. She rubbed them vigorously and held her own hand, in her own hand for a few moments. Then she fumbled in her pocketbook for her mother’s komboloi beads, Greek worry beads. Their smooth glass surface was cold but they quickly warmed in her fingers bringing a bit of calm that was quickly interrupted by a delicious whiff of warm popcorn triggering a loud stomach grumble. And suddenly a gentle but disembodied hand rested on her shoulder making her quietly gasp.
His breath was steamy on her ear. He whispered with a British accent, “Sssshhh. There, there. I have some information for you. Please do not turn around. I tried to tell you earlier at the news show but you left rather abruptly.”
She paused, trying to think but just reeling, hoping a few Bogart lines, click click click, would buy her mind time. Should she run? Spin around and confront this man face to face? Call the usher? No. His touch was so gentle. “Can I help you?” Lucy asked in a low hush without moving her head. “I have a message from M.”