Rose paced the foyer at Almasy House. Martha had been her maid. She and the children could stay here; eventually they would understand that it was best that John was gone. He would be tarred and feathered and taken out of town. Perhaps they would not even use the tar or feathers. He would be warned not to come back. Martha would mourn for awhile, but she would get over it. Martha had been such a good Catholic girl.
The sheriff entered carrying a small bundle wrapped in what Rose recognized as one of Martha’s ragged blankets, a cast off from the boarding house.
“Quickly,” he shouted, nodding toward the the fireplace. “Get a fire going. I need more blankets now.” Some of the lady prostitutes had been sitting around resting, reading or waiting for customers. They hurried to do the sheriff’s bidding. “Quickly,” he repeated.
He laid the bundle on the couch. Rose recognized the child. It was Lisa, Martha’s youngest. “She’s a baby,” one of the prostitute ladies said.
“The doctor’s on his way,” Leo pulled his badge from his pocket and placed it back on his chest.
“Where’s her mother? Why didn’t you leave her with her mother?” Rose sat across from the child while the sheriff rubbed the child’s cold hands and tried to bring some warmth into them. Soon the doctor rushed into the room.
Rose pulled the sheriff away from the others. “What went wrong?” she asked.
When Miles arrived back in town, a deputy drove him to the courthouse. “How’s the prisoner?” Miles asked.
“Got her in isolation. She don’t say nothing. Don’t eat.”
“I’ll talk to doc about force feeding.”
“You sure we should be holdin’ her. She should be in a hospital.”
“Shut up and watch the road,” Miles snapped. “I ain’t letting this prisoner go.”
Rose assured her husband Louis that things would be taken care of. “What do you mean by things?” Louis asked. “Martha’s funeral will be here. Father Hollander has agreed to officiate even though she certainly wasn’t a Catholic in the last years of her life. He will also petition Rome to allow her soul back into the Church. Our lord is good and will forgive her for her sins.”
“Will He forgive us?” Louis asked.
“We have done nothing wrong,” Rose insisted.
“What happened to John? Where is he?”
“He left town.” It was a lie that she was not yet ready to give up. She never would. She certainly wouldn’t tell her husband the truth. It was bad enough he knew Martha was dead.
“John didn’t stay for his wife’s funeral?” Louis knew his wife was keeping a lot of the story to herself.
“She wasn’t his wife. Not in the eyes of the Church.”
“I don’t give a damn for the eyes of the church. What happened to John?”
“I told you.”
“He wouldn’t leave her. He wouldn’t leave his children.”
“He was persuaded.”
“Rose, the little girl was almost killed. How did that happen?”
She didn’t answer. But when she turned to face him, she saw that he was cleaning his gun. She hadn’t seen that gun in years. What had made him bring it out? For the first time, she was afraid of what her husband might know and of what he might do.
He placed the gun on the table beside him. “What happens to Martha’s children?” he asked.
“Father Hollander will take them to the orphanage. They’ll get a good Christian upbringing. I made a large donation.” She hurried from the room, afraid he would use that gun on her.
There was one more thing she needed to arrange. Rose had to make sure the children never talked. She was sure the two older ones knew nothing. From reports they had been hiding in the cellar when their mother’s body was found. Most likely they had not seen what happened to their father.
John’s body had been moved and hidden before the children were taken from the house. At least that stupid sheriff had gotten that part right.
But what about the child called Lisa? What had she seen? What did she know?
Louis had always considered himself a good man. He loved his wife and he had sometimes even been proud of her as she ran the boarding house and made it much more profitable than he would have done on his own. He didn’t like that she allowed ladies of the evening to stay on the top floor and to use the house to entertain their customers. He didn’t like the illegal booze that Rose ran even though the profits were more than he ever imagined.
Her vast illegal enterprises scared him as did the men who came from Detroit and Chicago. He knew they were gangsters.
But now he thought about Martha’s death. He thought about the Klan whom he disliked even though he knew they met in the house every Thursday and sometimes maybe even more often. He thought about John’ Brianka’s disappearance. He should have stopped his wife before he let it all end like this. His Smith and Wesson was cleaned and fully loaded.
His confession had been written and mailed to Father Hollander along with instructions to bring in the authorities for a full investigation of John’s so-called disappearance. Had he left his last letter at the house, Rose would have found it and destroyed it. Louis trusted the new priest, Father Hollander. So he had gotten the letter out of the house and into a mail box.
He returned to his room.
Across the hall, a music box played. He didn’t recognize the tune, but it tickled the air like cowbells. He took a deep breath, placed the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
The room where Louis Almasy committed suicide is now the maid’s break room. Dark brown smudges mark the walls. Some people say it’s his blood, but the room has been painted, wall papered, stripped and painted again since that time. The floor is varnished every year. No trace of Louis Almasy remains or if it does, it’s covered by layers of paint and whitewash.
The old timer I had just interviewed for an oral history had not mentioned what happened here in this town so long ago. No one now admits to having belonged to the Klan. No one admits riding with them that night.
There’s a gorgeous portrait of Rose Almasy in the foyer. Some people say she came from a rich European family; some say she was royalty. Some say she was a gypsy fortune teller when she met Louis Almasy. He bought the house for her to run as a boarding house. It kept getting bigger and bigger as she added rooms. She had grown up near a large castle. She wanted the house to look like a castle. It resembles instead a poorly constructed old house. Its unusualness makes it a tourist attraction.
Rose added a restaurant. Miners had to eat and Rose managed to serve them breakfast, lunch and supper at reasonable prices. The kitchen she added to the house is still there, but today all the appliances are state of the art. We even have a chef.
Rose opened a tavern and kept it running even during Prohibition. She had tunnels built all around the house and some connected to the iron mines. She ran booze in and out of the house through those tunnels and associated with known gangsters from Detroit, Chicago and New York.
The town loves her now that she’s been dead for over thirty years.
Prohibition ended when Franklin Roosevelt became president. The mines that once supported this town are all closed now.
All of this has little or nothing to do with Lisa Mentor or her arrest.
Okay, it has a lot to do with Lisa’s arrest. I am just trying to figure out how to connect some of the dots.
When I went to pour myself a cup of coffee, Jack Brianka came in and sat at the break table.
“Lisa is asking for you,” he told me.
“Are they allowing her visitors?”
“Family. Vonnie and I got in. Danni got in, she helped Dr. Tracie do the medical evaluation.”
“Is that necessary? Everyone in town knows she’s crazy.”
“What do you think?” Jack asked me.
I didn’t answer. I really didn’t know what I think.
Almasy House 1925
Lisa was a strange child. That first night that her mother’s body lay in the parlor for view, she had crawled in the casket with her dead mother. The ladies who used the parlor to entertain gentlemen even when there was a funeral had pulled the child out of the casket and had sat with her until Rose came to take the child upstairs.
After that, Rose locked the three children in a room. She brought them their meals, took them down to see their mother’s body and gave them bathroom breaks.
One night Rose had the two older children taken downstairs to dinner. She sat down beside the small child. Lisa at first tried to pull away. She would not look at the fancy lady. “I want my daddy,” she said.
Rose sighed. Perhaps the child did not remember or perhaps she had not even seen what happened.
“You know your daddy went away,”
No answer. Lisa stared at the floor.
“Your daddy got on a train and he went away. He went to San Francisco and when he gets to San Francisco, he will get on a big boat and go all the way to China. He wasn’t a good daddy.”
Lisa continued to stare at the floor.
“Lisa, if you think you saw anything else happen to your daddy, you are wrong. Do you understand?”
The child made no answer. Instead she jumped off the sofa and tried to flee. But Rose caught her and pulled her back. Lisa could offer little more resistance than a kitten.
“You don’t want people to think you’re a liar, now do you?” Rose wasn’t even sure that the child heard her. She would get Father Hollander and the nuns at the orphanage to work with Lisa. “I think you had a very bad dream the night your mother died. But remember what really happened. Your mother went to heaven and your daddy went to China.”
She repeated it. “Your mother went to heaven, and your daddy went to China.”
Rose felt she should hug the child. But she couldn’t bring herself to get that close to a dirty little Jew. It was enough that she had to clutch the child to keep her from running away.
The little girl’s brown eyes held some emotion. Fear? Anger? Hatred? Sorrow? Rose thought she saw all that in this little one. She had done her Christian duty. Martha’s bastards would go the orphanage and be raised as good Catholics. Jesus would be proud of her charity.
She had just finished explaining things to the child when she heard the gunshot that killed her husband.
The tunnels under Almasy House wound this way and that and back again. They had been built back when Rose Almasy and her husband owned the house. Rose hired foreign laborers to build the tunnels. When they were finished those laborers were transported back to their native land.
One rumor said she murdered them and their bodies are still there in one of the tunnels.
Another rumor says she has a fortune in gold and jewels buried some place in one of the tunnels. Those tunnels are barricaded off now. They are too dangerous for recreational fortune hunters.
Emil Mynter a mining engineer, explored some and maybe all of the tunnels. There were probably a few others who know their way around down there.
The sheriff, Miles Olson has gone into the tunnels to rescue people who got lost. He found some of them usually with help from Emil Mynter. I wondered how Miles found his way around down there. He was never a miner or a mining engineer like Mynter. But then I ask too many questions.
Thinking of the sheriff brought me back to the present and Lisa’s problems. After I left Vonnie’s office where Jack, Vonnie and I discussed Lisa’s case, I tried to avoid talking to anyone. Reporters knew I spent time with Vonnie and Jack. They must be wondering about my connection to the case. I hurried through the atrium.
I wasn’t fast enough. “Excuse me,” one of the reporters called. “I understand you’re an amateur historian here.”
“Not really.” Usually my title is called local snoop.
“I was wondering about Jeff Hollander.”
“What about him?” I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Not much about him here at Almasy house or at the museum.”
“Why should there be?” It was my turn to ask a question.
“Mrs. Smith can help you find some articles in the old newspapers. We have microfilm readers.” Mary Mynter Smith, daughter of the old mining engineer, was the president of the historical society and my boss.
The reporter grinned, “Like I said, I was just asking.”
As he walked away I thought, you’ll never know the truth. It’s too well hidden.
The town was not quite sure what to make of Father Thomas Hollander. He was as young as the century, just 25 years old. He was movie star handsome, and according to some of the young women in town who were infatuated by his blue eyes and blond hair, he was even handsomer than Francis X. Bushman whom he somewhat resembled. Church attendance was up among the young girls in town and also among their mothers.
There had been a rush on confessions among the men lately. A miner had been lynched. The men in confession spoke of watching, horrified. None confessed to the actual crime. Who had put the rope around the miner’s neck? Who forced him up the ladder? Who kicked the ladder away? If Hollander was shocked, he did not show it.
He had been too young to serve in the Great War, but an older brother had served and suffered a kind of exhaustion. He knew his brother had seen death, and had even participated in the battles. Things like that broke some men. These miners seemed remorseful, but not broken.
For his part, Hollander did not know what to make of Mountain Ridge, a town unlike any other town he had ever lived in. It consisted of the very wealthy like the summer vacationers who came north to enjoy the lakes and trees. Usually they had cottages outside of town. Some wealthy mine owners had houses within the town. Enrico Rinaldi was building a new home. If only he were Catholic. Not that Rinaldi wasn’t generous. He had donated a thousand dollars to the church charity fund.
Rose Almasy ran a very successful boarding house and restaurant. She also ran booze. Everyone in town knew where they could get a drink.
Rose was a good Catholic who attended mass every morning.
Hollander often took his meals at Almasy House, but didn’t know if he had ever met Rose’s husband, who always stayed in the background like a potted plant. The Almasys made monthly and yearly donations to the church that were very generous.
A few parishioners had speculated that Rose and her husband would leave all their possessions to the church when they died. As far as Jeff Hollander knew, they had no one else to leave their possessions to. He had heard gossip about a daughter, but he could gather few details. He knew her first name, and year of christening, but beyond that the girl was a mystery. Was she still living? Where? Had she ever married? Would she visit Mountain Ridge some day? Hollander tried to get information on this daughter, but had been unsuccessful. Some people said they didn’t know; a few shook their heads and said it was a sad thing. When he pressed for details, all anyone told him was that the girl was gone.
Hollander was unprepared for the events of January 1925.
First there was that young wife, Martha who had died of a heart attack. She had left the Catholic faith and married a Jewish man. Hollander explained that a Christian burial was out of the question, but after Rose Almasy pushed an envelope stuffed with money into his hands, he agreed to conduct a funeral ceremony at Almasy House where the body lay in state. Burial was possible, he decided accepting a second envelop of money. The body could be entered near the edge of the churchyard. Surprisingly none of the towns people objected to this unchristian woman lying among them.
On the contrary, many women had thanked him, saying Martha was a good Christian woman who had been led astray by the Jew. Look how quickly he had left town and abandoned those children. Shameful.
Of course, Hollander knew the truth from the confessions he heard. Martha’s husband had been lynched.
Rose made another large donation and he agreed to take the children to the Catholic orphanage.
Martha had not been such a pretty woman. He had seen pictures of her. He had looked upon her body lying in the casket. The townspeople loved her and hated the man she chose over them and over the true religion. Was it more than John’s religion that damned him in the eye of this pious town? He was a foreigner. Some people hated foreigners. John Brianka had had been lynched. There was no doubt in his mind that each man present at the killing was guilty of the murder.
Hollander had given those men who came to him absolution. He would have done the same for Rose, had she asked for it. She seldom came to confession. But she must have known what happened that night.
No one seemed to know what had happened to the body of John Brianka. One of the men said he thought one of Rose’s henchmen “took care of it.” She had connections with gangsters; at least that is what some people said. Another penitent said the sheriff had removed the body.
Then Louis, Rose’s husband, committed suicide. Rose wanted him buried in the churchyard, and she wanted a church funeral. Hollander explained that suicides like non believers should not be buried in consecrated ground, but Rose had shoved yet another envelope of money at him. Another funeral was held at Almasy House and then Louis went in the ground beside Martha at the edge of the churchyard.
Again no one complained.
Then came the letter. It was Louis’ suicide note sent through the mail just before he shot himself.
It told of how Rose had loved Martha. How upset she had been when Martha had married. It told why Rose carried a vendetta against John, and what she had gained or rather lost by causing John’s death.
Rose hadn’t meant for John to die. She just wanted him ridden out of town. Rose had indirectly caused Martha’s death too.
If the letter were sent to the authorities, Rose might even go to prison. Indeed Louis expected the priest to contact the authorities, and present evidence.
But, Hollander decided it was a confession and confidential. He would keep Rose’s secrets. He would keep the town’s secrets.
Father Jeffrey Hollander began taking all of his meals at Almasy House. He proved a fascinating conversationalist. Soon he was invited upstairs where he ate in Rose’s private quarters. She was 57 and he was in his mid to late 20’s. But he hungered for her money and decided he would do whatever was necessary to help the poor widow who was now alone.
His charm would do more than help the church. It would also make him a rich man.
TO BE CONTINUED…