It was six o'clock in the morning when Sol finished his book, and although Mr Debogorski wouldn't be there to open up for another hour, it was time to depart. He slipped his copy of The Invisible Man back into its place between War of the Worlds and The Island of Dr Moreau, then picked up his case and crept silently to the back of the store.
Neither the sun nor moon were anywhere to be seen as he emerged into the alley. Under cover of darkness, he locked the door and stalked back to the gate where he climbed over and returned to the street.
As he turned the corner, a gust of wind greeted him and prompted him to turn his collar up as he headed north along Fourth Avenue. It would take him over half-an-hour to make it to Forty-second Street and he already knew it would most likely be a wasted trip, but he had to try.
After ten minutes, Sol decided to take a detour and turned west along Twenty-third Street, crossing the width of Madison Square Park to where the wedge-like structure that was the Flatiron building pointed him north along Fifth Avenue. It was still early enough in the morning that the roads were clear of traffic, so a little way along he stepped off the pavement to walk along the middle of the road. As he did, he looked up and imagined he could see a majestic victory arch towering over him. It was as tall as some of the neighbouring buildings and beautifully ornate, and although it had been torn down a decade before, Sol's memory of it had not faded. He could recall it in such detail that he could almost reach out and touch its walls as he strolled beneath it.
When he began to hear the ghostly sound of drums and trumpets, Sol lowered his gaze to discover the night had suddenly turned to day. Not only that, but thousands-upon-thousands of people suddenly lined both sides of the street, stretching all the way to the smoke-filled horizon. They were cheering and waving flags while others threw coins and flowers and the odd cigarette at his feet.
Suddenly, Sol's saxophone was no longer in its case but held to his lips. He straightened his back and raised his chin high with pride, and when he looked beside him, he saw that he was no longer alone; hundreds of men walked with him, in front and behind, all of them black, their formation filling the entire width of the street. They all wore identical metal hats and smart green uniforms. Some had medals pinned on their chests.
New York had never seen anything like it.
While the crowd on the street was immense enough, thousands more watched from the windows of the adjacent buildings. Sol looked up at a fourth-floor window which was wide open and spotted a young girl with curly blonde hair and a doll under one arm. She was waving at the marching men, but then her mother appeared and pulled her away with a scowl as she closed the window.
Sol was enjoying the music so much that he wanted to grab the nearest girl and dance with her right there on the street, but then his saxophone suddenly fell out of harmony with the rest of the band and became a long and loud drone.
In an instant, day returned to night as a car thundered past Sol, its horn blaring, sending him stumbling for the pavement. He watched the noisy vehicle as it raced off into the night, chasing his past into the distance where the streets were once again empty.
His memories faded, Sol tightened his grip on his saxophone case and continued north to Forty-second Street where his destination finally came into sight.
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* Next chapter this weekend * Manhattan, 1929. The City is on its knees following a devastating crash in the stock market. Thanks to the Prohibition, criminals are making a killing off illegal bars while thousands of honest labourers can't find a si...