Spotlight: The Phantom of New York by A.L. Janney

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'This is a story about vigilantes and magic.

About prophecy and hope.

About a boy and his hotel.

When twelve-year-old Peter Constantine wakes up in the Crown Hotel with a new identity, life is over as he knows it. But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing… 

A dangerous man Peter only knows as “The Client” is after his family, so they’ve relocated to New York City. With help from unlikely friends living at the glamorous hotel, including the ghost on the tenth floor, Peter's new life begins. Soon, however, he learns of a plot to destroy his new home, a plot only the Phantom can foil.

Peter and the Crown is the first book in the Phantom of New York series, an adventure for readers aged ten and up. If you like smart, funny characters and “can’t put it down” escapades, then you’ll love Alan Janney’s Phantom of New York series.'

Excerpt

Volume One

“Peter and the Crown”

Copyright © 2017 by Alan Janney

All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Part One

Chapter One - Peter’s New Home

       Peter Constantine did not know he was moving to the Crown Hotel, not even on the night his mother woke him from a sound sleep and told him they had to leave. He stumbled from his twin bed and rubbed his bleary eyes as his mother dropped a heavy backpack onto his shoulders. It couldn’t be morning yet—he was too exhausted. His mother and father loaded two yellow taxi cabs with a dozen suitcases and duffle bags and set Peter between themselves in the back seat. The over-burdened taxis pulled away from their home in New Jersey and Peter returned to sleep, unaware he’d never see his house again.

       He did not wake when, two hours later, his parents unloaded their luggage at a gas station and waited shivering until two police cars arrived. A kind officer carefully guided a sleepy Peter into the backseat. Again his mother and father loaded luggage and climbed in next to him, and off the police cars went, driving over the George Washington Bridge and plunging into the looming skyline of New York City.

       “It’s not fair,” Peter’s mother said. “He didn’t get to say goodbye to his friends.”

       “Nothing about this is fair.” Peter’s father yawned so big his jaw cracked. “But at least we’re safe.”

       His mother tried not to cry. Peter murmured in his sleep, something about Batman, and shifted into a more comfortable position.

       This late, the Crown Hotel was quiet. The two police cruisers parked under a vast red awning and the officers helped the Constantine family haul suitcases through the lobby, up one flight of stairs, and into a small apartment. Peter, who had never fully woken up, was placed onto a bed by his father and tucked in by his mother. The police officer shook his father’s hand and said, “They won’t find you here. Your family is safe.”

       “I think you’re right. At least for a while.”

       “Do you need anything else?” the officer asked.

       “No. Thank you. You’ve been very good.”

       “Are you sure? This is the last time you’ll see us.”

       “I know. It’s for the best. Goodnight, officers.” His father closed the door behind them and stayed there for a full sixty seconds, eyes shut, and that was how Peter’s new life at the Crown began.

       Peter woke the following morning and knew immediately something had changed. The pillow smelled funny and his cat Mr. Hippo wasn’t resting on his feet. He sat up and blinked. This room had no window. Where had his window gone? And his Justice League posters?

       “Mom?” Peter set his feet down on the cold floor, except it wasn’t cold. This floor was carpeted, thick luxurious stuff that swallowed his toes. “Wow, oh my gosh.”

       Peter’s mother, a pretty and dark-eyed woman named Jovanna, opened the door and hurried in. Her long brown hair was gathered into a bun.

       “Yes, sweetheart, I’m here. Everything is okay. Quite a shock, I know, because this isn’t your bedroom, is it.”

       “What’s going on? Where are we?” Peter asked curiously.

       “We’re at a hotel.”

       “At a hotel? We don’t go to hotels. Which hotel?”

       “This hotel is called the Crown,” she said. She fussed with his thick black hair, something she did which Peter didn’t like but he was too stunned to pull away. “We came here in the middle of the night.”

       “The middle of the night. Why?”

       Peter’s mother hesitated. Her face held a pained expression that Peter wasn’t used to, and it made him nervous. “Let’s eat breakfast first. And if your father hasn’t returned by then, I’ll explain.”

       “Where’d he go?”

       “To work.”

       Peter nodded. This piece of information, finally, made sense. His father always went to work in the morning, at the accounting firm. Peter found fresh socks in the duffle bag beside his bed and followed his mother into the kitchen. This was a clean hotel, much cleaner than his house which had cat hair and Star Wars action figures in every corner. The carpet felt spongy and the walls looked washed and the kitchen was a brilliant white color. He sat at the small table near the kitchen and his mother brought him pancakes and syrup and orange juice. She sat down, clutched her blue robe tight, and watched him eat.

       “Thank you,” Peter said.

       “Isn’t this a pleasant hotel room?”

       “I think this is the nicest place I’ve ever been! Look how shiny the refrigerator is.”

       Peter’s mother didn’t respond and she continued making the sad face.

       He asked, “Is there a window I can look out?”

       “No, sweetheart…well, there’s one window in our bedroom but it must remain closed except in the case of an emergency.  And it has no view, only of a wall.”

       “Are we on a vacation? What about school?”

       “I wish your father was here, so we could talk about this as a family,” she said. “But. I don’t know when he’ll return.”

       “Talk about what?” Peter’s enthusiasm over the fancy hotel room dimmed. He set down his fork because his appetite had suddenly vanished. “Mom. Tell me.”

       “Let’s wait.”

       “Now. Please?”

       “Your father got a new job. He started today.”

       “Oh. Okay, well, that’s not so bad. But why are we in a hotel?” Peter picked his fork up and ate another bite of pancake.

       Jovanna said, “Because he works here now.”

       “Dad works at a hotel? That’s so great!”

       “Do you think?” she asked. “I’m glad to hear it. It’s one of the nicest hotels in the city. Very prestigious.”

       “I can tell. That television is bigger than ours and even the bedrooms have carpet. Do we get cable?”

       “I believe so,” she said.

       “Wow! Cable television. We’ve never had cable.”

       A telephone rang in the kitchen. It sounded different than Peter’s old phone, which rang with harsh clanging. This telephone kind of beeped like a spaceship, and it had a shorter cord. Jovanna answered and said, “Hello? Yes.”  She paused to listen. “Oh goodness, I’m sorry to hear that. He’s not here right now, but I’m making a note and he’ll see it as soon as he returns. …Yes, he’s the new super. I’ve written your instructions down. …Yes, I promise he’ll see it. Thank you.” She hung up.

       “Who was that? And Dad is a super?” Peter asked, and his eyes boggled. He didn’t know what a super was, but it couldn’t be bad. Only good things started with the word super. Superman. Superhero. Supernatural. Super Bowl. “What’s a super?”

       “That was a lady who lives upstairs. She needs help with her sink. And the word super, in this case, is short for superintendent.”

       “What’s a superintendent?” Peter asked.

       “It means he helps the residents of the Crown if they need it. Like with sinks.”

       “Like a handyman?”

       “Yes.”

       “Dad can do that?” Peter finished the orange juice with a big gulp, and he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

       “Of course. Your father is very handy.”

       “But he’s a banker or something like that.”

       “Yes, um…” She clutched her robe again and sat down. “Yes. But. Not at the moment. He’s going to be a super for a while. And. Well. We’ll live here.”

       Peter gaped at his mom, bewildered. Those words didn’t make sense. People cannot live two places, everyone knew that. And Peter’s family already had a house, in a neighborhood with a playground.

       “I don’t understand,” he said suspiciously. “People don’t live at hotels.”

       “Some do.”

       “But not us! Who on earth lives in a hotel?”

       “This hotel is special. Some people who work at the Crown also live here. Like us. This entire floor of the hotel is full of live-in workers.”

       “We can’t live at a hotel. We have a house!”

       “Yes, but didn’t you think it was too small?”

       “So? It was ours!”

       “Look how perfect everything is, sweetheart. Don’t you just love the carpet? And the kitchen appliances are top shelf, believe me.”

       Peter felt as though a pressure was building inside of him, a ball of panic and anger. His mom made no sense. Where was his dad? He felt dizzy and the pancake inside his belly lurched. “What does the carpet have to do with it? We already have a place to live.”

       At last, Peter’s father arrived. Manos was a handsome man with olive skin and a thin face and wavy black hair. He had kind eyes, and at once he saw the look of distress on Peter’s face. They met and hugged in the hallway. After a moment Jovanna joined them, and together the family cried.

       “Peter, I’m gonna tell you the truth. It’s a little scary but you need to know. And you have a right to know, because you’re a member of this family.  We had to move suddenly and it’s not fair to anyone,” Manos said. The three of them sat at the little table and Jovanna brought Manos coffee.

       “Okay. Tell me. I’m not scared.”

       “I was an accountant at my old job and I handled money for people. One of my clients was a wealthy man, a treasure hunter. I found out a few days ago that he was taking things that didn’t belong to him. His business isn’t legal.”

       “Did you call the police?” Peter asked.

       “Not at first. I called the client and asked for details. I explained his business was breaking the law, and he got worried. And this is the scary part, okay?”

       “Okay.”

       Peter’s mother fidgeted at the table.

       “My client is a powerful man. And he decided to…get rid of me.”

       “What’s that mean? Like, kidnap you?”

       Manos nodded. “Maybe.”

       “Something worse than kidnap you?”

       “Maybe.”

       Jovanna said, “But we’re safe now.” She took Peter’s hand and squeezed. Peter didn’t notice — he pulled idly on his lip with the other hand and wondered how on earth anyone could want to hurt his dad.

       “Lucky for us, a friend of mine warned me. About the client and his plan. I alerted the police, and they helped us move to safety.” Manos took a long drink of his coffee and then sighed in the way he often did during breakfast. “I told the police yesterday. We moved last night, and that’s why you woke up in a hotel.”

       The Client, Peter thought. What a terrifying name. “Will the police capture The Client?”

       “It’s more complicated than that. They have to gather evidence to prove he was breaking the law.”

       “How far away did we move?”

       Peter’s mother and father shared a worried glance. “Three hours.”

       “Three hours! What about my school?”

       His parents didn’t respond.

       “What about my friends? My soccer team?”

       “Peter. I’m so sorry…” his dad said. “But—”

       “Where is Mr. Hippo?”

       “I left our cat with the neighbor,” replied Jovanna hesitantly.

       “Are we still in New Jersey?”

       “We’re in Manhattan.”

       “Manhattan. Where’s that?”

       His father answered, “New York City. Far away from my client. And we have to stay here a while.”

       The telephone rang suddenly and Peter was so startled he jumped. Manos stood to answer it. “Hello? Hello, Mrs. Trolley. …Yes I got your message.”

       Peter thought his head would explode. He ran into his room, which wasn’t really his room, and closed the door and got under the covers.

       The next three days were the darkest of Peter’s life. He didn’t leave his room for forty-eight hours, because his heart was too broken. He stared at the blank walls and read books and thought about his friends and his cat. A hotel. Nobody lives in a hotel. What kind of hotel didn’t have windows with a view? A bad hotel, that’s what kind. It even smelled funny, or at least it smelled different. Plus, their apartment wasn’t very big. A kitchen, an eating area, a couch with a television, and two bedrooms—that was it. Their old house had been twice this big, and it had a cat.

       Peter’s family had relocated once before, just before his fifth birthday, and that move had been sudden too. He’d been ready to start kindergarten with the kids from his pre-school class and then suddenly, poof, they were gone. The giant insurance company his father worked at closed unexpectedly and they’d moved to New Jersey. Now it had happened again.

       As a result, Peter felt a little homeless. And friendless. Like he didn’t belong anywhere. He knew that making a family leave in the middle of the night was wrong. But what could he do?

       Peter thought about the evil Client. His father Manos claimed he was a treasure hunter and scuba diver and explorer, but wouldn’t tell him what The Client did that was so awful, but Peter knew it must be terrible. He imagined The Client stealing cars and bullying children and robbing banks and laughing about it. Peter got so mad that his ears turned red.

       What he wanted most of all was to have a home and to stay there, and to have friends he wouldn’t worry about leaving.

       And to be Batman. He’d like to be Batman. That way, he thought, he could find The Client and throw him in jail personally.

       Overtime Peter became aware of new sounds from outside his wall, like whooshing water and soft voices. Sometimes it sounded as though he was in the belly of a whale under water. He placed his hand flat on the wall and noticed a subtle vibration, a faint humming, one which hadn’t been present at his old house, except maybe when the air conditioning had rattled to life. Secretly, he liked the humming. The hotel felt alive.

       His mother visited for the fifth time that day, bringing a sandwich.  Peter sat up in bed and asked, “What are the noises in the walls?”

       “We’re on the second floor of a twenty-story hotel. You’re hearing other people.”

       Peter gasped. “Twenty floors?”

       “I told you, sweetheart, the Crown is a special building.”

       “There are eighteen levels of people directly above our heads?”

       “That’s right. And a restaurant. Two, actually. And a library. And the Tea Room. And many other things.”

       “How many people?” Peter asked in amazement.

       “I don’t know. The Crown is divided between ritzy hotel rooms on the top floors, and private condominium units on the bottom. Over three hundred units total.”

       “What’s a private condominium unit?”

       “Like an apartment where people live permanently instead of staying as guests,” Jovanna said. She was playing with Peter’s hair. “We’re living in a private condominium unit. A small one.”

       Outside of Peter’s room, the telephone rang. Manos answered it, and immediately he left to fix a problem somewhere in the Crown. He was always leaving to fix things, even during the night. Peter’s father’s full name was Manos Ambrosia. He’d been raised in Greece, and he still had a faint Greek accent.

       “How did Dad get this job?” Peter asked.

       “His friend from college is one of the managers of the Crown. Your father called his friend Mr. Conrad and explained we needed a place to hide for a couple days. Mr. Conrad told him the hotel needed a new superintendent and he offered your father the job.”

       “Mr. Conrad sounds friendly.”

       “I wish you’d come outside. I want you to see the Crown. I just know you’ll like it after you’ve explored, Peter. This is a wonderful place. But, for it to be perfect, it needs you.”

       Peter rolled over in bed, once again desperately sad. He didn’t want to help the hotel be perfect. It’s hard moving to new places, and Peter had lived seven years at their old house. He didn’t even know they’d moved until he woke up, and his mind was having a hard time adjusting.

       On the third day, Peter came out of his room to watch television with his parents. They let Peter choose the show, but he’d never had cable before — he wanted to watch it all. He flipped back and forth between the Weather Channel and Scooby-Doo, eating Cheerios.  

       After several shows, his mother took the remote. “Peter. There are a few things we need to discuss.”

       Peter lowered his head onto his knees and scrunched his eyes. “Yes ma’am. About what?”

       “I start work tomorrow. Downstairs, in the Laundry.”

       “The Laundry? You mean, like, clothes?”

       “Yes. Dad’s job will pay for most of our bills, but not all. So I’m working part-time,” Jovanna said.

       “Whose clothes are you washing?”

       Manos laughed. “Everyone’s.”

       “A lot of people live at the Crown, and there are no washing machines. So the tenants send their dirty clothes to the Laundry and we return them clean and pressed.”

       This didn’t strike Peter as unusual. His dirty clothes always came back clean and pressed, and his mother was the one who cleaned and pressed them. “Sure, okay. What will I do?”

       “You can come with me,” Manos said. “I’m installing Mr. Banks’s new stove, and then working in the Mechanical Rooms in the basement.”

       “That doesn’t sound safe, Manos. He can stay here, or he can look around. He has to leave the apartment sometime. He’s a very trustworthy boy.”

       His father said, “Another thing, Peter. And this one is weird, buddy, okay? We’re changing our last name.”

       “Dad. Be serious. That’s not even possible.”

       “At our old home, I was known as Manos Ambrosia and you were Peter Ambrosia. If we keep those names then my client will find us. So we need a new last name. Make sense?”

       “None of this makes sense,” Peter said miserably. “What’s our new last name?”

       “I like Constantine,” he said. “Short for Constantinides, a good Greek name. What do you think?”

       Peter leaned against his mother and fought back tears. “I think this whole thing is awful.”

       Even though he couldn’t admit it to his parents, he secretly thought Peter Constantine sounded catchy.

Chapter Two - The Brown-Haired Baker Girl

       On the morning of his fourth day at the Crown, Peter realized with a shock that someone was banging on his bedroom wall. From the other side.

       Manos was working on Mr. Banks’s stove, and Jovanna had left for the Laundry, and Peter was lying in bed feeling sorry for himself when the soft banging began. Peter placed his ear against the wall.

       A voice on the other side said, “Boy? Boy! Are you still sad?”

       Peter jumped to his feet, standing on top of the bed. Unless this hotel was magical, walls didn’t talk. It had to be someone in another room. He pressed his face flat again to listen.

       “Are you ever gonna come out? What’s so great about your room?” the voice asked.

       Could this person be talking to Peter? It certainly seemed so because Peter was a boy and Peter had decided to never leave his room again. But who—

       There was a sharp WHACK on the wall.

       “Boy! Answer me!”

       Peter gave the wall a soft tap with his knuckles and held his breath.

       The wall answered him with a Knock Knock Knock.

       “Come outside, boy!”

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About the Author

a.l. janney.jpg

Winner of the 2016 National Indie Excellence Award!

You work hard.
I write adventures.
Let me entertain you.

My favorite adventurers: Ender, Frodo and Sam, Rand, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, Katniss, Spenser, Peter and Alicia and Amy (from The Passage), Jack Ryan, Dirk Pitt, and many others, including my two sons and my super hot wife.

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