A Fair to Remember
Buffalo, New York, Pan-American Exposition
Clara Lambert thought being a Kodak girl at the World’s Fair would an adventure–but she never expected to end up photographing the attempted assassination of President McKinley.
James Brinton, a disgraced police officer now working as a security officer for the Expo, hopes to redeem his good name. And perhaps, if luck is on his side, gain a job with the president’s security agency.
When Clara is accused of being involved in the assassination attempt, James is already falling in love with her. Now he must work to prove her innocence. But when she’s arrested, he has to do the one thing he promised her he’d never do.
James and Clara must each learn about forgiveness before they can find their way back to each other.
Forrest Gump was known for saying that life was like a box of chocolates. You never knew what you were going to get.
Buffalo, New York
September 6, 1901
Joy sprang through Clara Lambert’s veins like an exuberant child, out-rivaling even the most excited of voices shouting to be heard just outside the doors of the Temple of Music.
Like every other building and structure at the Pan-American Exposition, the Temple of Music was a carefully designed architectural work of art, teeming with color and light. Not the least of which rose overhead in a magnificent dome of stained glass. Backlit by the remainder of the day’s sunshine, the shades of blue and yellow sparkled brilliantly. Clara marveled that mere men were capable of creating such beauty.
The camera she clutched under her arm would certainly never replicate what the naked eye could behold, and it definitely couldn’t capture the color. But it would be a lovely reminder.
With both hands, she positioned the rectangular wooden box toward the dome. Angled such as it was, she was unable to look through the viewfinder. She’d just have to trust the photograph would record the image in a way that would do justice to the beauty overhead.
When she pressed the button, the now familiar whir and click of the camera indicated it had indeed performed its job with all of the ease her boss, Mr. Eastman, promised. Once processed, the film inside the camera would produce a permanent reminder of this most special of days.
The day she would meet President William McKinley. Not only was she, Clara Lambert, standing right next to the platform where President McKinley would officially greet the men and women waiting to fill the giant auditorium, she would be one of the first to shake his hand. The opportunity to meet him before taking photographs as he shook hands with the public had been pre-arranged by Mr. Eastman.
She needed to be careful not to waste her film. Each spool held six exposures, and she only had one other unused spool in her bag. The others must have spilled out of her bag when she replaced the film in the camera after her visit to Niagara Falls. This was either the second or third photograph she’d taken on this spool. That left only a few for the president before she had to change the film—if she had the opportunity to sit down and do so. Not that she could do anything about it now. She glanced around the huge room. Once the auditorium filled up, there may not be a spot for her to reload the camera. The police officer who’d escorted her inside told her there were hundreds of people waiting in the heat so they could shake hands with the president. She’d been ever so fortunate not to be one of them.
Why had she been foolish enough to snap photos before she met the president? In case she couldn’t change the film, she’d have to take extra care when she photographed him to ensure the pictures wouldn’t be blurry.
Once again, like earlier today, Clara could scarcely believe her good fortune. This was most definitely a day to remember. Though she didn’t get the opportunity then to meet him as she would this evening, Clara did get to photograph President McKinley and his wife earlier today as they took in the sights at Niagara Falls. Like many Buffalo residents who’d wanted to be at the Falls at the same time as the president, Clara had taken the train in hopes of seeing the president and Ida McKinley. They hadn’t posed, and likely didn’t even know she’d taken their photo. She’d definitely been blessed to have the opportunity to take more than one photograph of the couple who were so obviously devoted to each other.
Of the four photographers led inside the great room by one of Buffalo’s police officers, Clara was the only female. She stood where instructed, just to the left of center stage, which wasn’t actually the stage in this enormous building. The elaborate stage was really in back of her. The entire middle section of seating had been removed, effectively creating a large center aisle, and at the back of the room was a slightly elevated platform draped with patriotic bunting. This struck her as odd since the music room’s fancified stage was one of the most intricate she’d ever seen.
A small group of crisply-suited officers filed in. They wore uniforms that were specially designed for the Pan—the shortened nickname local people gave the Pan-American Exposition. Though their features were schooled to appear stern and official, she could tell by a faint lift to most of their mouths that they were proud to wear the uniform and to be here in this room while the public greeted the president. Clara wished she could spare the film to snap their photographs. Each man took a spot along the floor at the bottom of the platform and established themselves in pairs—six on each side.
One of the men, the one closest to her, glanced her way and her pulse sped up. From beneath the gold trimmed bill of his snug fitting black cap, the dark, inky depths of his eyes drew her gaze, and she couldn’t look away. It had to be the excitement of the afternoon. Nothing more. Still Clara offered him a smile, shy at best, meant only to assure herself that the increase of her heartbeat was simply in response to the knowledge that the president was about to walk in.
When the officer didn’t return Clara’s smile, her heart pounded harder, its sound flooding her ears.
Drawing in a quick breath, she hoped the other photographers hadn’t noticed. He might not put forth the friendliest demeanor, but the men protecting the president had to remain focused. True, the president wasn’t in the room yet, but diligence was a must. She grew up hearing about President Lincoln and how devastated the country was by his assassination. Something like that could never be allowed to happen again.
Footsteps sounded behind her, and Clara turned. Three men were making their way toward the platform.
The president wasn’t a tall man. But the way he carried himself, the way he squared his broad shoulders as he walked forward, gave off an air of confidence—not in an imposing manner, though. At least not when he was greeting the public. Even now as he continued down the aisle with the organist playing “The Star Spangled Banner,”President McKinley smiled with genuine warmth as he nodded to those inside the auditorium who stood at attention.
The two men flanking the president stopped as they neared the platform. The president stepped up, then turned and stepped back down.
“I’ll just stand here. It’s friendlier.” He was closer now, and beneath his bushy eyebrows Clara could see joy radiating from his blue eyes. He truly enjoyed meeting people.
As his men stepped off to one side, they effectively edged aside the closest police officers. This seemed to cause upset among the officers as they looked at one another and whispered among themselves.
Finally, the president spoke up. “Gentlemen, don’t be so concerned. There’s no one here who wants to hurt me.”
After a few more whispers, they finally stood silent.
The officer with the dark brown eyes had his lips pressed together. Annoyed? Concerned? Clara couldn’t tell. But while she was watching him, he met her gaze once again.
Noise abruptly filled the auditorium then, as people began to stream from the four entrances of the Temple of Music. Thankfully that attracted the officer’s attention, and he glanced at the president, then out toward the crowd. Fanning from either side of the platform, they were all corralled into a line that eventually wended its way down the center aisle, their backs to the beautiful stage, facing the president. The line stopped about twelve feet from where he stood. He merely stood there, seemingly unconcerned, hands clasped in front of him, smiling out at the people.
Clara rather liked that about him. From all she’d read about him, he had a true servant’s heart. She considered it an honor to represent Mr. Eastman as she shook the president’s hand and took an official photograph.
The president looked to the officer closest to him, the man with the brown eyes, and nodded.
The officer stepped toward Clara, never taking his eyes off her. Her pulse quickened as he stopped in front of her and held out his arm.
Now would be a good time for one of those souvenir fans she used to sell when she worked in one of the Pan’s many gift stores. She fluttered her hand in front of her face, wishing it were possible to wave calmness into one’s essence.
“Are you all right?”
“Just a little nervous,” she whispered.
The officer bent close. “There’s no need. I had the opportunity to meet him earlier. He really is the kindest of men.”
One hand gripping the officer’s elbow, the other clasping her camera close to her side, Clara stepped forward. When they stopped in front of President McKinley and the officer stepped away, her knees wobbled.
Should she curtsey? She hadn’t given it much thought before now. How did one greet the president of the United States?
“Good afternoon, young lady.” The president held out his hand to shake hers.
Instead of a quick handshake, as she’d expected, Mr. McKinley clasped her hand in both of his and covered it in warmth.
“Mr. President. It is such an honor to meet you.” Nerves made her voice crack.
“Thank you, my dear. It is my own privilege and honor to be here.” He tilted his head toward her camera. “And you’re here to take my photo as well? A lady photographer. I simply love it.”
In spite of her nerves, she managed to tell him the reason she was photographing him. “Yes, sir. I’m a Kodak Girl. We take snapshots at different fairs and events for Mr. Eastman. He wanted me to be certain to take one of you.”
“I would be delighted.” The president stepped back and posed for her. At first his expression was stern, but then he raised the corners of his lips into a barely perceptible smile that softened his features. It was perfect.
Steadying her hands, Clara held the box at her waist and looked down at the viewfinder. She adjusted the height of the camera until she could clearly see Mr. McKinley. Then she pressed the button, comforted by the sound of the gears as they turned inside the camera box.
“Thank you, sir.” She smiled at him and stepped back toward her designated spot so she could snap a couple more photos as he shook hands.
By now, people packed the enormous room. The line was long, winding all the way out the main doors, but no one made use of the seats. She would undoubtedly be able to sit down to change the film. She chided herself for her earlier worry. Her mother had always told her things had a way of working out.
After taking a couple more photographs, the counter on the top of the camera turned red. She sat down in one of the nearby aisle seats and slid the thin wooden plate off the back of the camera, revealing the inner workings. She carefully lifted out the wooden spool of wound film and placed it inside her bag. Then she threaded the sharp end of the smooth and shiny new film through the mechanism before replacing the cover.
She stood and brushed out the folds of her skirt. After straightening her hat, she adjusted the camera at her waist and stepped forward.
President McKinley was greeting a young gentleman with brown hair whose left hand was wrapped in some sort of bandage. As he reached out to shake the man’s hand, the man shoved his injured hand toward the president.
A loud crack sounded in the air and the president’s smile faded. He glanced around at the people nearby, seemingly bewildered.
Another crack filled the air, and this time the president staggered.
Officers from all directions sprang into motion, running toward the president at the same moment the man turned toward the crowd. Weak-kneed with horror, Clara realized his hand wasn’t injured after all. He was using the bandage to hide a gun.
Several men from the crowd rushed forward and knocked the gunman to the ground. They jumped on top of him, shouting and pummeling their fists in an effort to actually strike the man. Women screamed as people rushed toward the exit doors only to find them blocked by armed officers and soldiers who had taken immediate action to secure the building.
Not far from where she stood, officers had helped the president to the ground. He lay with a folded jacket under his head, cushioning him from the hard floor. Several men were bent over him, and in one horrible moment, Clara knew at least one of the gunman’s bullets had found its mark.
“Don’t hurt him.” The president’s tone was weak, but Clara stood close enough to hear his voice as it drifted near. Was he actually begging mercy for the man who’d just shot him? Instead of worrying about himself? This was the kind of caring attitude that separated good men from great men. President McKinley was one of the great ones.
“Please, God, please let him be all right.” Unable to look away as the men tended to him, she whispered the prayer over and over.
Finally a group of men rushed toward the president. Between them, they carried a white litter. Before long, they had President McKinley bundled on to it. With a swift gentleness, they lifted him from the floor.
He looked over at one of the men and reached out for his hand. “Be careful how you tell my wife.”
Tears filled Clara’s eyes. She quickly dashed them away with the back of her hand, her heart aching for Ida McKinley and the news she was about to receive. But he was alive, and talking, and filled with concern for his wife. That had to be a good sign.
With expert care and practiced efficiency, the men hurried past dozens of armed men and through the doors as if they carried precious cargo. Once the president was on his way to a hospital, the soldiers, in uniforms of various styles and colors, no doubt representing different services, continued to block the exits. Stepping back toward the outer aisle of seats, she was struck with an overwhelming desire to collapse into a chair and process what she’d just witnessed.
Instead she did what Mr. Eastman hired her to do.
She took pictures.
“Please, everyone. Stay calm.”
Clara had her camera aimed at the men piled haphazardly on top of the man who’d shot President McKinley. She was in the process of framing their image in the viewfinder for what would be her final photograph. Instead, she turned toward the platform, and to the man calling for attention.
It was him. The officer with the brown eyes. And he was slipping his arms into the sleeves of his jacket.
So he’d been the one to place his jacket on the floor for the president. In spite of the situation, her heart warmed as she watched him smooth his hands over the front of his jacket before fastening each shiny brass button.
“Gentlemen.” The handsome officer’s glance focused on Clara. “And ladies.” His tone brought a sudden heat to her cheeks. “My name is James Brinton. I’m an officer with the Buffalo Police Department. We need you to be calm. The president is alive and, as you’ve just seen, has been taken to the hospital.”
While he spoke he tugged on a pair of white gloves, taking great care to make sure the cuffs were tucked under the sleeves of his jacket. “We need your prayers for his recovery. But we also need to ask each of you some questions. So for now, no one can leave.”
Much of the crowd groaned, but he ignored them, his gaze staying with Clara. “We just need to know what you saw and when you saw it, as well as if you are familiar with the man who shot the president. Do you know him? Do you recognize him?”
Clara looked over at the angry mob of men still piled on top of one another, their fists still hammering at whatever they met—usually each other since the man with the gun was underneath them all. More than one of them would come out of this with blackened eyes. Several policemen, all dressed in the same resplendent uniform as Officer Brinton, were in the process of pulling men out of the way in order to get to the man who shot the president.
“Please, gentlemen. Let us do our job. There’s no need for more than one man to end up in jail tonight.” Some of the men backed off, and Officer Brinton tipped his cap toward them in thanks. He started to step off the platform but stopped and turned back, his gaze sweeping over Clara once again.
“We’ll try to be as fast and orderly as possible. After we’ve talked with you, you’ll be free to go. Until then, please remain here in the auditorium. There are plenty of seats for the ladies among you.”
He motioned to the rows of seats filling each aisle to the side of the platform. And as he did, dozens of women made their way in that direction.
“Thank you.” Officer Brinton turned and left the podium. He headed toward one of several small groups of officers clustered about the room. Unlike the crowd, these men were calm as they spoke to one another, likely coming up with their plan to question the unruly men and women who shouted and tried to force their way past the military soldiers who lined the walls and barred the exits with their rifles.
So many men to watch over one president, and still someone managed to shoot him.
Clara’s heart sank and once again she whispered a prayer for President McKinley and his wife. Yesterday, after they’d toured the fair and the president had given a speech to thousands of the men and women eager to hear him, the first lady had been overcome with the heat. And again this morning, after their excursion to Niagara Falls, she’d been overcome and was unable to be here for the reception.
A blessing in disguise, perhaps?
It would be devastating for the frail woman to receive such news about her husband, but probably worse had she actually been witness to it. Thankfully he was alive and speaking, and Mrs. McKinley would be able to sit by his bedside as he recovered—instead of burying him.
The seats around her rapidly filled with women, many of them appearing faint. Either from the heat or the shock of what they’d just witnessed. Clara stepped back to be seated herself. She had yet to make eye contact with any other officer, so she sincerely hoped Officer Brinton would be the one to ask her questions.
Because the seats faced the elaborate stage at the front of the auditorium, Clara found herself turned sideways in her seat so she could watch the proceedings as the officers wrestled the shooter to his feet and hauled him toward the door. She stood, once again, and aimed her camera. As officers escorted him through the exit angry men struck out from all sides, pummeling him about the head and shoulders. They kicked at his legs, hitting more than one policeman in the process. When they were finally able to get the man through a wall of armed guards and out of the building, his ears burned a bright shade of red. Really, he would be lucky if that was the least that happened to him as a result of his despicable actions.
Satisfied that she’d captured the event for her final photograph, Clara sat back down. Around her, the women’s conversations were filled with idle gossip and chit-chat. It seemed so out of place under these circumstances. She thought again of the first lady and the message she was about to receive. It should be delivered gently. Was it even possible to tell such news in a gentle manner?
Who was this man who’d shot the president? He looked young, about her age. What kind of anger would prompt him to perform such an evil act? It was hard to fathom. President McKinley was wildly popular, as evidenced by the number of people in this auditorium. One of the things that made people love him so much was his manner with the public. It was the way he would greet them, and go out of his way to shake hands and listen to what people had to say. He cared. He truly cared. And above it all, the gregarious, ever smiling man always tended lovingly to his wife. And after he was shot, his first concern was for his wife and how she would receive this news. Clara prayed Ida McKinley would not be stricken ill when she heard of the attack on her husband.
Vaguely, she became aware of someone standing in front of her. She blinked and shifted her focus to Officer Brinton. “I’m sorry.” Clara looked up at him. Seated as she was, he towered over her. But his expression was gentle. “Did you say something?”
“I asked if you were all right.”
Biting down on her lower lip, Clara nodded. “Thank you. Yes. I’m just—” She broke off and shook her head. “It’s so sad. I don’t understand why someone would do this.”
Officer Brinton tipped his head, as if he agreed. As he did so, the cap he wore hid his brown eyes. “May I get you anything?”
“No. Thank you. But do you know how long it will be before I can leave?”
“We’re conducting interviews as quickly as possible. In the meantime please let one of us know if you need anything.”
Before Clara could thank him, he walked away.
Too late, she knew there was indeed something she needed.
“Excuse me, Officer Brinton?” She called out to him, but he continued to walk away, obviously having not heard her.
She sat for another minute, trying to appear calm on the outside. But the inside was a different matter altogether.
Why had she stopped by the refreshment stand on the Midway? Why had she been tempted by the icy cold bottle of Coca-Cola? After walking around in the hot sun, it had seemed like the perfect idea.
Now, though, it was becoming a problem.
Finally, Clara stood and headed toward the exit of the auditorium, where both soldiers and policemen attempted to control a crowd of traumatized people who’d come to see the president. Instead they’d witnessed the unthinkable. Now they just wanted to leave. Beyond them, just outside of the auditorium, on the wall in the lobby of the Temple of Music, she saw what she was looking for.
A crush of people managed to force their way through the exit door on her right. And while the officers were duly distracted, Clara headed into the lobby and toward the sign depicting an arrow with three very simple, but relieving words:
Where does a twenty-something go when she’s lost faith not only in God, but in mankind?
“I’m sorry, miss. No one gets back inside.”
In one swift move, two soldiers dropped their rifles and extended them toward each other like an iron bar that would keep her from passing through. Did she really appear as a threat?
“I was in there waiting to be questioned, but I needed to…” She tipped her head back toward the sign on the wall so they’d understand where she’d been without having to actually say it. Heat climbed up her neck as they glanced at the sign.
The older of the two men looked back to her through narrowed eyes, the lines of his face hard. “It doesn’t matter where you went. You weren’t supposed to leave the auditorium. No one gets back in.”
“But Officer Brinton said—”
“You’ll have to wait here in the lobby.”
There were a few benches, but they were already filled with men in suits and women in fancy afternoon dresses fanning themselves against the stuffiness of the air. In fact, men and women were seated on every available surface—including the window sills.
“But he won’t know I’m out here.”
The guard gave her a look of disdain then turned to the younger man. “Keep her out here. I’ll see if I can find Brinton.”
Once the gruff man disappeared inside the auditorium the young soldier turned to Clara. “He probably won’t be long, miss.”
“Thank you.” Clara offered the man a smile. He didn’t seem old enough to be a soldier in the army. She peered at his uniform. At least, she thought it was an army uniform. But it really could belong to some other service she didn’t recognize.
The officer nodded then glanced around. “I’m sorry there’s nowhere for you to sit while you wait.” He looked pointedly at two gentlemen seated on a nearby bench.
Uncomfortable with the thought that he was about to shame the men into giving up their seat, Clara stepped toward the exit—which was also being protected by men in uniform. Soldiers, policemen, private guards. It was difficult to keep them all straight. She moved toward a tall, narrow window that had no ledge and leaned against it. “I’m happy to wait here.”
“Very well. I’m sure your officer will be here as soon as possible.”
Clara flushed at the implication. “No he’s just—”
Intent on controlling passage between the auditorium and lobby, the man was no longer listening. His gaze continuously shifted from the auditorium to the lobby and back to Clara. She turned back to the window, hoping no one around her was paying attention to the exchange.
Though it was growing late into the evening, tens of thousands of bulbs illuminated the buildings and walkways outside. It was bright enough to fool people into thinking it was daylight, were it not for the colors of the bulbs themselves. The ones shining down from the Temple of Music bathed the grounds below in a bright shade of yellow that couldn’t begin to match the golden rays of the sun.
Lights of varying colors shined from all directions, the brightest coming from farther down the esplanade. Clara craned her head so she could see part of the Electric Tower. It rose beyond the scope of this tall window. But the light coming off it was brilliant, piercing, and one that was said could be seen all the way from Canada. She knew it was probably true, because she could see it from her bedroom window all the way across town. The newspaper said its nearly fifty-thousand lights paled in comparison to the tower’s crowning masterpiece—an enormous searchlight.
The lights and color of the fair were specifically designed by the Pan-American Exposition’s Board of Architects. Where the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was known as the White City because of its stucco buildings and electric lights, the Buffalo group wanted the buildings and grounds of the 1901 Expo bathed in exquisite color and to be known as the Rainbow City.
It was beautiful, that much was certain.
As Clara stared out the window, trying to identify which buildings were lit up with which color, a boy of ten or so tried to spill through the door from outside. He was stopped of course, by armed men.
“Sorry, son, you can’t come in here.”
“But the lady—” He shouted and squirmed against their resistance. “There’s a man outside who wants to talk to her.”
Clara turned to stare. Surely he didn’t mean her?
Before she could ask, one of the men bent toward the boy. “You can give me the message and I’ll tell her.”
Sighing, the boy nodded. “Tell her Officer Brinton is out there waiting to talk to her.”
Certain now that he did mean her, Clara stepped away from the window and closer to the doorway where the boy stood. “He’s outside? Where?”
“Over there.” The boy pointed and Clara stepped past the guards to get a better look. Air that was cooler than the stagnant discomfort of the music building brushed against her neck. Now that she was outside, she wouldn’t be able to go back in.
However, once she spoke to Officer Brinton and he asked her his questions, there would be no need.
“Where is he?”
“Over there.” The boy pointed toward one of the bandstands near the entrance of the esplanade.
A man stood off to the side of the bandstand. It wasn’t Officer Brinton. He wasn’t wearing a police uniform, or a uniform of any type. He wore a dark colored suit and a bowler hat. “That’s not him.”
“No.” The boy shook his head. “He’s the man who said you were looking for Officer Brinton. He said he knows where he is.”
“Thank you. But I think I’ll wait here.”
“He said you’d say that.”
“Did he?” That was a curious thing to say. And one that gave her caution. “Even so, I’m still waiting here.”
The boy shrugged. “I gotta go find my parents.” He turned and ran in the direction of the Electric Tower, which Clara knew was also the direction of the Midway where there were plenty of attractions for a young boy and his family.
People milled in every direction, and Clara watched as the boy disappeared into their midst. It was all very odd, and she couldn’t help but wonder how the man knew she was looking for Officer Brinton. And why did he even care? No one patrolled the perimeter, so it made no sense for an officer to be outside when police were questioning people inside. Unless someone left before they were questioned. Considering how easily she’d slipped from the chaos of the auditorium, it could have happened. She leaned against the coolness of the building’s outer wall, debating whether to try and convince the guards to let her back inside.
Unease gnawed at her when her gaze wandered back toward the man at the bandstand. If Officer Brinton wanted to talk to her, why would a different man send a boy to fetch her? This couldn’t be right. She inched toward the door. If she told them she was concerned about a man outside, surely they would they let her back in. It couldn’t hurt to try.
Even though they agreed that the situation was strange, they wouldn’t let her back inside. But she did finally convince them to let Officer Brinton know she was outside. If he didn’t come soon, she’d just leave. No one would know she hadn’t answered any questions. They wouldn’t even know her name unless they checked the list of photographers who had met the president prior to the reception.
Officer Brinton could track her down that way if he had any questions.
Before she started walking, she assured herself that her camera was secure inside the leather bag she held close to her side. As she looked up from securing the strap, a movement caught her eye.
The man in the bowler hat was waving at her. She furrowed her brow. Though she couldn’t quite see his face, his size and stance didn’t match anyone she knew. Prickles rose across the back of her neck.
She needed to leave.
Only one other time in his life had James Brinton felt this gut-twisting mixture of sorrow, horror, and guilt. If he didn’t have an investigation to conduct, a crowd to control, the hollow numbness likely would have driven him to his knees.
“Brinton, there’s a woman looking for you.”
James looked up as one of the president’s secret service agents approached. A woman? For some reason, he thought of the pretty photographer. He squeezed his eyes closed and huffed out a breath, wishing the action would dispel his guilt.
If only it were that easy. He lifted his cap and pushed a hand through his hair.
“Thank you, Agent Ireland. Did she say what she wanted?”
“No. She was trying to get back in from the lobby, and when we wouldn’t let her through she asked for you. Said she stepped out there for something before she could be interviewed.” Ireland shrugged as if he couldn’t understand.
“Thanks. I’ll go find her.” James peered toward the lobby that teemed with people—men and women alike. “What did she look like?”
“Oh—you know her. That woman with the camera. The one who took the picture of the president.”
Since he could so easily picture reddish-brown hair spilling out from under a tasteful but obviously expensive white hat, he didn’t bother correcting Ireland’s statement that he knew her. He didn’t, of course, but he couldn’t seem to get her off his mind. And he did know her name. Clara Lambert. Her name was the only female on the official list of those allowed to photograph the president this evening.
If he hadn’t been watching her, he might have noticed that the man approaching the president wasn’t really injured. If only. . . .
He shook his head. Now wasn’t the time for if only and what if.
There was an investigation to conduct. Way too many people to interview, which was the reason he hadn’t seen Miss Lambert again.
Not that he’d been looking for her.
“Thanks again, Ireland.” James clapped the president’s agent on the shoulder before he left. Of all of the men on the force, Ireland was the only one who regarded him with normalcy—as if nothing had ever happened to cost him the respect of his fellow officers.
Before he even approached the lobby, James was looking ahead, trying to spot a glimpse of her tasteful but obviously expensive white hat. He spotted several hats adorned with feathers, dead birds, and fur. But none were pure white with pearls and lace.
He approached the young army soldier who was standing watch at the entryway between the auditorium and the lobby. Some of his fellow officers resented the presence of army soldiers and guardsmen, but with nearly a hundred thousand people attending the fair each day, it was a necessity. They’d had to hire extra police officers as well. If not for the Pan, he probably wouldn’t even have his job back.
“There’s a woman waiting to talk to me. She has brown hair.” He closed his eyes and tried to recall something more than her comely face. “She’s wearing a white dress with pale blue pinstripes.”
“I know the one you mean, sir. She was waiting right here for you.”
“I don’t see her.”
“Yes, I know. She was waiting here until a boy told her you were outside waiting to speak to her.”
“Are you sure?” It had to be a mistake. It didn’t even make sense. Why would someone tell her that?
“I’m sure, sir. I heard it myself.”
James rubbed at the whisper of discomfort that brushed along the back of his neck. “Did you see which way she went?”
The kid shook his head. “She was out by the big window for a little while, but then the next time I looked, she was gone.”
Wherever she went, he would find her. These entire circumstances left him unsettled.
There wasn’t very much about this night that made sense, but he couldn’t help but believe the president being shot and someone pretending to be James were somehow connected.
Whether they were or not, what could the man possibly want with Miss Lambert?
Which way should she go? Trying to remain as unnoticeable as possible, Clara quickly took in her surroundings. She could step out onto the walkway and head toward the Electric Tower as the boy had. Or she could go straight ahead toward a large area of fountains. Either way, she’d eventually get to the train terminal at the opposite end of the fairground. And either way, the man at the bandstand would see the direction she went.
At the edge of the Temple of Music, flush with the building, was a colonnade that led to the Machinery and Transportation Building—an enormous building, at least three times the size of any other building at the Pan. If she could inch her way to the columns, she could slip through to the gardens behind the building and make her way to the Midway. Once she was there, even if the man happened to follow her for some reason, she could disappear in the throng of people and come out at the entrance of the train terminal.
A strong urge to hurry set her feet into motion even as logic told her she was being silly.
But was she really? This evening had been far from ordinary. The proof of that was the president who now lay in a hospital somewhere, quite possibly—most likely—fighting for his life. Simply walking away wouldn’t be good enough.
With her camera bag tucked close to her side with one arm and her hat held firmly atop her head with the other, Clara increased her steps and began to run. Immediately, she stopped short. The flowing skirt of her afternoon dress wrapped about her legs in a weighty tangle. But if she lifted it while she ran, she’d lose her hat. She took the hat off and tucked it under her arm, resting it gently atop her bag. If she was careful, she wouldn’t crush it.
“Miss! Wait!” The man in the bowler was shouting at her, waving, running toward her.
She raced toward the shadows of the colonnade.
“I said stop! In the name of the president, I order you to stop!”
Clara kept running. The man didn’t work for the president. Of that much she was certain. If he did, he wasn’t dressed like any of the other men she’d seen today. She’d had ample time this evening to study the different officers, soldiers, and guards. If he belonged to one of these services, wouldn’t he be wearing a uniform? Believing as her mother did that one’s instincts came from God and they came for a reason, she lifted the hem of her skirt even higher above her ankles and obeyed the urge to keep moving. As she grew closer to the colonnade, she drew on everything deep within her to go even faster. She needed to get to the Midway.
Though she was new to her job as a Kodak Girl, demonstrating how easy it was to take photographs—or snapshots, as Mr. Eastman liked to refer to them—Clara had spent the last few days familiarizing herself with the fairgrounds. Certainly she could disappear among the myriad of buildings and gardens. And if not, then in the midst of all the people who still wandered about in spite of the fact that the president had just been shot. How could they carry on as if nothing had happened? Was it possible they didn’t know? Surely if they did, they would head home out of respect for their president. It struck her as obscene—not only that they were still here, but that she hoped to use their presence to her advantage.
“Miss, I said to wait!”
Bathed in the reflection of light from the surrounding buildings, Clara realized the colonnade wasn’t as shadowy as she’d first thought. She wasn’t sure how she could possibly hide, but still she ducked between the columns.
Hedges lined the gardens and were used artistically to create a courtyard effect. Clara dropped to her knees behind those closest to the back of the Machinery Building.
Footsteps drew closer.
Would this be the first place he’d look?
Scooting deeper into the shrubbery, she prayed the leaves wouldn’t rustle enough to catch the man’s notice. Lights weren’t used in the gardens, so they could appear in their natural beauty. Clara considered this a blessing. Hopefully she was far enough back that after a cursory glance, he’d just move on.
Scarcely allowing herself to breathe, she listened for the sound of footsteps moving closer. Instead, sounds from all directions of the fairgrounds assaulted her ears. Shrieks of delight, music, barkers calling out to passersby. In stark contrast, the fresh scent of grass mingled with the fragrance of flowers and the dirt beneath her knees.
Closing her eyes, she breathed slowly in through her nose and tried to block out the periphery so she could focus only on what was nearby.
At the slight movement of nearby leaves brushing together, Clara held her breath and wished she could shrink farther back. She willed the man to give up and turn away. Between the branches, she could see him standing near the row of hedges. In the shadows, the tall, gaunt man appeared to have olive skin. It was difficult to be sure with the bowler hat casting his face in deeper shadows, but his eyes looked dark and close-set. His lips, pressed together as they were, formed an angry slash that marred a too-thin face.
After a moment where Clara feared her heart would beat out of her chest, the man turned and crossed back through the colonnade where he stood glancing in every direction. The lights from the Temple of Music emphasized a rage that seemed to radiate from his tense stare and clenched fists. Her decision to hide had been the right one.
When the man finally turned and headed toward the Electric Tower, Clara remained where she was until he disappeared from sight. Then she waited another few minutes that seemed an eternity to the cramping muscles in her legs. Finally she stood and brushed dirt and leaves from the front of her dress before scooping it up so she could run through the spongy grass. She didn’t stop until she reached the opposite side of the gardens and a second colonnade that faced the canal and nearby Japanese Village. Only after she stood flush against the last column did she dare look over her shoulder to see if she’d been followed. Thankfully, the man was nowhere in sight. But to be certain, she stood statue-still for a moment longer.
The canal in front of her ran from the Fore Court of the esplanade, down the length of the fairgrounds, and to the Electric Tower. Both were widely visible, so taking a gondola wasn’t an option. Her best bet would be to make her way along the Midway and eventually to the exit gate near the railroad platform where she could hopefully catch a streetcar across town.
Taking care that the man hadn’t doubled back, Clara stepped out between the columns and ran toward a small bridge. Her footsteps echoed the pounding rhythm of her heart as she followed the bridge across the canal, where it opened into a garden that radiated an immediate sense of hushed peace.
Though she couldn’t spare a moment to stop, she did look from left to right and took note of several hanging lanterns that cast a soft glow over perfectly pruned trees that struck her as dainty, lush grass, a waterfall, and flowering plants with delicate white blossoms. Somewhere nearby, someone played a soft tune on a flute. Women in pale pink kimonos served tea to a group of elegantly dressed women who barely glanced up as she ran past them.
Ahead of her, the lights were bright and the Midway swelled with crowds of people clamoring about, talking and shouting as they took in the many rides and attractions. She tried to adjust her pace to the people around her and willed herself not to panic at the assault on her senses. Surely she would draw more attention if she tried to shove past people. Hopefully there was some truth to getting lost in a crowd.
Though the sounds here were far louder than when she hid behind the hedges, her ears didn’t take long to adjust. The aroma of sizzling meat reminded her that she’d missed her evening meal with the Martins. Eulalie Martin would forgive her, she knew, but Clara hated disappointing the older woman.
Keeping a watchful eye out for the man in the bowler, she wondered again why he was chasing her. And what did it have to do with Officer Brinton? She’d done absolutely nothing that would cause someone to track her down. Surely he’d mistaken her for someone else? Someone who’d obviously made him angry.
She could only hope that after tonight he wouldn’t come back to the fair, since this was where she’d be spending most of her days. Other than the few mornings a week spent cleaning rooms at Nowak’s Hotel, Clara would be here at the Pan taking pictures and demonstrating the camera for anyone interested. Mr. Eastman held to the belief that if women knew how easy it was to use his camera, they’d delight in taking snapshots to record memories for their families.
Glancing down to adjust the camera bag against her side, a sick realization enveloped her.
Her hat was gone.
She drew to a stop in spite of the crowd shuffling around her. Should she retrace her steps?
No. He might be waiting.
Not even the disappointment of losing something so precious would stop her. Above all, she had to get away from here and make her way to the railroad terminal. Later, when she was safely home, she could mourn the loss of her hat and all it meant to her.
as Clara stepped forward, a strong arm snaked around her waist. Before she
could react or even scream, a rough sweaty hand clapped across her mouth. Alarm
jolted her, and the smell of dirty skin made her gag.