Vonnie awoke at 3 a.m. and quickly pulled the slop bucket from under her bed. She threw up and then rested her head against the bed. She had the flu, but her job was too important for her to miss a day, especially when there was so much to do. She mustn’t let anyone know she was sick.
She remembered times at the orphanage when she and other orphans had come down with the flu. It seldom lasted for more than a few days. She had been sick yesterday morning too, but the sickness had passed as the day wore on.
She and Lucinda were doing spring house cleaning, so there was lots of work to do. Thank heavens they had Jack for the heavy lifting.
With her stomach momentarily under control, she moved toward the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea. Camomile tea would taste great and make her feel better as it had yesterday.
As long as she was up, she might as well start on the cooking. She would make buttermilk pancakes. That was Jack and Lucinda’s favorite. Even Mr. Rinaldi who seldom admitted to liking much of anything confessed to liking her buttermilk pancakes.
She looked toward Jack’s window above the garage. He wouldn’t be up yet, and when he did awaken, the smell and the taste of breakfast would please him.
She felt a cramp in her stomach like something was turning over in there. She sat down for a minute. Perhaps she should try to rest more until this flu passed. She wished Lisa were here. Lucinda had written a letter to the orphanage and suggested that perhaps Lisa could finish her school studies here in Mountain Ridge.
The hours passed. The sun came up. Still there was no light in Jack’s window. Yvonne wondered if he had the flu too and was perhaps staying in bed a little later. But he would not want to miss a day of work. She would have to awaken him. She was sure Lucinda would let them slip in their chores, but not Mr. Rinaldi.
She put on her coat and started to go outside. It was light now. Still she was scared. Since that attack just a few weeks ago, she was terrified of being alone outside. She was getting to have as many fears as Lisa. She hesitated. When she heard noises coming from within the house, she went back inside.
Vonnie took off her coat and walked to the dining room where she started setting the table for breakfast.
The door to the dining room opened and Lucinda came in. “You’re up.” Lucinda seemed surprised.
Vonnie realized she was still in her nightgown, but she could quickly change. Despite the stomach ache she was glad for Lucinda’s company.
“I was just about to get dressed.” Vonnie said. “I’m sorry. I started making breakfast and…Well, I was just going to get Jack and then I’ll….” She noticed Lucinda had started crying. “What’s wrong?”
“Something dreadful has happened. I don’t know how to tell you.”
“He’s been arrested. Leo says he tried to rob a gas station last night.”
“He wouldn’t. Who’s Leo?” Then Vonnie remembered that Leo was the sheriff. He had been there that night her mother died, and her pa disappeared. “Jack wouldn’t,” Vonnie repeated.
“I know that.” Lucinda explained about the sheriff’s visit and then she said, “Vonnie, this is all my fault. I don’t know how to tell you.”
“Tell me what? How could this be your fault?” Vonnie was in full terror mode. She sat down and took a few deep breaths. She couldn’t be like Lisa and afraid of everyone and everything. And if Jack needed help, she would have to find a way to save him. “What do you have to tell me?”
Lucinda had been staring at her. “You’re sick.”
“No, Just….I don’t know. But what happened with Johnny?” She hadn’t called him Johnny since they were little kids. Now he was Johnny again. It seemed they were now helpless like children in so many ways.
“I need to tell you this.” Lucinda’s voice cracked. “But I don’t know how.” “Just tell me.” Whatever it was, she would have to face it. Was she fired? Surely Jack would lose his job now that he had been arrested.
Lucinda sat clutching a handkerchief “Jack and I have become very good friends.”
“You’ve been a wonderful employer and, yes, a friend. I thank you.”
“You don’t understand. I have a crush on your brother and he likes me too.”
“No, it never came to that. We know we can’t be lovers. Daddy’s very ambitious, and he wants me to marry Brad Davies. I don’t love him, but there are things about my family. We came from the South. We were dirt poor sharecroppers two generations ago. And Daddy wants us to have prestige. I will do the right thing. I’ll marry Brad. Jack has already decided to move on. He just wants to stay close enough to take care of you and your sister, Lisa.”
“But Jack was arrested. What does this have to do with you and Brad?”
“Please don’t think badly of me or my dad. I think my father arranged this to get Jack out of the way. He swears he had nothing to do with it, but I just don’t know what to believe.”
“No one would be so mean.” Vonnie was close to tears.
“I agreed to marry Brad. The weddings all planned or almost. I hoped that way Jack could stay on working here, but…”
“But what?” Vonnie asked. “We can’t let Jack go to prison.”
“Father has agreed to get the charges dropped. He knows the judge and the sheriff.
I would’ve had to marry Brad anyway. My father had it all arranged.”
Rose Almasy’s cold had turned into a flu. Doc Tracie had come and gone. He said he expected a full recovery. Jeff Hollander did not.
Rose was still adamant about leaving her estate to the church. Hollander wanted control for himself. He had spent the last ten years, nursing the old lady, and he wanted something for his efforts.
The doctor had left a sedative for Rose. Hollander gave her half of the dosage. “Where are my glasses,” she moaned. “I can’t read without them.”
“You need to rest now. I’ll get your glasses for you in the morning.” He had the papers all ready. “Just sign.”
“Are you sure I need to sign these? I already signed so many papers.” Her voice was a whine. How Hollander hated her whine.
“Leaving an estate this size to the church takes work. We want to make sure there are no loopholes.”
“Loopholes?” She said the word like she didn’t understand it. She stared at the papers, but Hollander knew she could not read them. Not without her glasses. She sighed and then said. “There are those children. You remember.”
“Yes, Rose. I presided over their mother’s funeral. The children are fine. The two oldest work for Enrico Rinaldi. The youngest is still in the orphanage. “You know what happened to their mother?”
“Yes.” He knew what had happened to their father as well, but the secret was safe.
“I have to take care of those children.”
“They will be taken care of. He knew the boy had been arrested and would be heading to prison. Rose didn’t need to know that. It would complicate things.
She lay quietly for a long time. She closed her eyes, and he thought she may have fallen asleep. Damn. He needed her to sign the papers now. Tomorrow she might be feeling better, and it might be a while before he could get the papers signed.
Then she opened her eyes, stared at the papers and obediently signed them.
“I’ll make you some hot cocoa,” he said.
“I don’t want any.”
“It’ll make you feel better.”
He went downstairs and carefully mixed the medication, the chocolate and the hot milk. He added the arsenic he had purchased at the drug store in Marquette. When he returned, she had fallen asleep. We can’t have that, he thought.
He gently shook her awake. “Here is your cocoa.”
“I don’t want that.” she said. “I think you are trying to poison me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Rose. Drink. There’s some medication in there from the doctor. You trust him don’t you.”
“I don’t trust anyone.”
“Please,” he said in his nicest voice.
She took the drink and slowly drank it all down.
He sat beside her bed and waited for her to stop breathing. She didn’t. She awoke and said she was much sicker. She ordered him to call the doctor. He said the doctor was out of town on an emergency.
He made her a second cup with more of the arsenic in it.
She wouldn’t drink it. He took a pillow and held it firmly over her face. She hardly struggled.
Finally she stopped breathing. He took the cup and saucer downstairs and carefully washed them. He disposed of the unused arsenic by dumping it in an outhouse.
Should he get Elaine to find the body when she came in to clean? No, he would place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on her door and leave instructions that Rose not be disturbed. He shut out the lights at Almasy House, took his papers and went to the church.
He had early mass to celebrate tomorrow.
The ladies began their bridge game.
“Rose Almasy died.”
“And left everything to Jeff Hollander.”
“He’s telling people she left it to the church.”
“Same thing. He’s a priest.”
“It is not the same thing.”
“Didn’t she have a daughter.”
“Before my time. But if she did, the girl is dead or gone.”
“Rosie had a right to leave her things to whomever she chose.”
“I think blood kin have got some rights.”
“Wonder what will happen if the girl shows up and demands her share of her mother’s estate.”
“There might be grandchildren.”
“Of course, I never approved of Mrs. Almasy. Making her living with gangsters and all.”
“I never approved of Prohibition.” Someone said. The ladies laughed.
“I like a drink now and then. I admit that. But I sure didn’t like my husband coming home drunk. I had a mind to turn her in myself.”
“When’s Lucinda Rinaldi getting married?” That was an abrupt change of subject, but it happened often. The ladies had only so much time to discuss important events.
“Next month, isn’t? I can’t wait to read about her dress, and the bridesmaids.”
“Her husband’s running for congress.”
“He’s as handsome as Clark Gable.”
“She’s sure a lot better off with him than with that other one.”
“What other one?”
“How a girl like that can have anything to do with such riffraff.”
“I can’t believe he was anything but a gardener to her.”
“I saw them together.”
“Well, he’s off to prison. That’s the last we’ll see of him.”
“Good riddance to bad rubbish. That’s what I always say.”
The mourners slowly began leaving the graveyard. A few reporters circulated amongst them.
“How did you know Rose Almasy?”
“What was she like?”
“How did you meet her?”
“I understand she left her money to her priest.”
The sheriff Leo Olson and his son Miles stayed away from the reporters. They had no comment.
Most of the other mourners were just the curious. Rose had been a recluse for the last years of her life, and saw no one except that priest. He saw a lot of her.
Leo and Miles watched. “The treasure seekers are going to be a problem,” Miles said.
The sheriff wasn’t that interested and didn’t consider it his problem. “It shouldn’t be too tough for Hollander to keep people off his property. He can afford to hire guards.”
“Phef! He ain’t interested in the property. He already cleaned out her bank accounts. But if there’s a treasure, it’s legally his. At least if it’s on his property.”
“There wasn’t much in those bank accounts, and everyone knows she had a fortune.”
“He’ll start by searching the house himself. He ain’t gonna let anyone else do it. And if he doesn’t find anything…” Miles didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t really know what the priest would do. He could keep searching himself or he could hire someone like Emil Mynter to go into the tunnels and search. “People think the treasure is buried in the old mine tunnels. They’re dangerous.”
His dad nodded.
Most of the mourners were gone now. Just Leo and Miles stood in the graveyard.
“Gotta block off those damn tunnels,” said Leo.
“Don’t know where they all start and end.”
“Damn it. Talk to Emil Mynter. He’s a mining engineer. He knows about the mining tunnels.”
“But does he know about Rose’s tunnels?”
“Rumor is he’s explored them.”
“And some of those tunnels dead end into the mines. Rinaldi and the other mine owners could make it their business.”
The reporters got what they could of the story. Rose Almasy had trusted no one. She hired different teams of workers to dig the tunnels.
She had made a fortune selling alcohol during Prohibition until that one night.
People weren’t willing to talk about what made her stop selling the booze. Those who knew what happened kept silent. Others speculated. Everyone knew something awful had happened.
There were rumors. But a town the size of Mountain Ridge had lots of rumors.
Leo and Miles continued to watch.
“I don’t see it as much of a problem.” Leo was saying. “Most people know more than to enter those tunnels. Those fool enough to do so, do so at their own risk.”
“You think she told the priest where her treasure is buried?” Miles asked.
His dad scoffed. “If there even is a treasure.”
“I’ll go in. Have a look around. I’ve been in the tunnels before.”
“For God’s sake, be careful. I don’t want you getting lost in there.”
“Like I said, I’ve been in there before.
Lisa was two months away from her 16th birthday. She would leave the orphanage then. Vonnie had promised to get her a job with the wealthy Rinaldi family. Lisa was anxious to get away. The nuns were mean. She was terrified of Father Hollander.
Even the other orphans called her a “Dirty Jew.” She wasn’t Jewish. She knew nothing about the Jewish religion, and her mother had been a Catholic girl. At least that is what Vonnie and Jack said.
Lisa knew she was in trouble when Father Hollander called her into the rectory. But she couldn’t figure out what she had done. The bedwetting had stopped and even before, it only happened when a dream was so bad, she lost control.
What happened to her on those nights? Sometimes she remembered pain, darkness, kicks, swear words. They were all part of the dream. A hanged man. Had there been a hanged man? Her pa…
She remembered the darkness that night she had been hurt as a child. She remembered the men who looked like ghosts. Their eyes were black sockets behind slits in pillowcases. She could still feel the punches, the kicks and the scratches as she crawled on the ground. She had wanted to get to her pa. What were those men doing to him?
She remembered her mother lying still in a box and that that she herself had broken ribs, bruises, and scratches. Her fingers were so cold. She remembered the old woman who told her not to tell anyone what happened that night. “You must never tell.”
The fear stayed with Lisa even after she woke up. She would be shivering even on the warmest nights. That long ago winter night would not leave.
Usually she had control though she was too afraid of the dark to get up by herself and go pee. There might be scary things in the shadows at the orphanage. And those scary things always seemed ready to swoop down on her.
Now Father Hollander wanted to see her. What was this about?
She knocked. No answer. Lisa knew Sr. Beatrice was angry about the nightmares. The nun said Lisa’s screams were worse than the devil himself calling.
Lisa knocked again and finally she heard the priest tell her to come inside. When she entered, he was reading a newspaper. She trembled as she waited for his words. Would he beat her again? What had she done now? Last night she had awakened scared, but she didn’t think she had screamed. She was sure she had not screamed. Had someone said she screamed?
Finally he looked up. “Your brother’s in trouble.” He pushed the newspaper toward her.
She read the headline and first paragraph. “Armed robbery,” the paper said. What could that have to do with her brother. Jack wouldn’t rob anyone. Then she read a little further. It said Jack Brianka had robbed a gas station.
“He wouldn’t,” she said.
“Obviously he did.” He waited for the information to sink in. “Your family is no good. Rotten to the core. I tried to help your brother.”
“You beat him.” Lisa said. She didn’t try to hide her anger. If she was going to be beaten anyway, what difference did it make what she said?
He glared at her for a moment. She could see the anger bubbling behind his eyes. Did he think he was somehow helping Johnny and helping her by beating them? Her body still hurt, and there were angry red slashes where his belt had broken her skin. Sr. Beatrice had given her some salve and told her to stop crying.
“Well you can’t stay here any longer. I’ve had enough of you Jewish vermin.”
“I don’t want to stay here. I wish they had never brought me here.”
“Ungrateful little brat. We made arrangements. Wait outside.” He spit the words out.
She ran outside. She was sitting on the church steps crying when Sr. Beatrice brought her a suitcase and her few belongings.
“Are you all right?” Beatrice asked.
“I won’t be waking you up anymore. I’m leaving.”
“I know. Do you need any money?”
“I just want to be away.”
“I am sorry. I know I’ve been cranky and…” She reached into her pocket gave Lisa five dollars. “You might need this.” Then the nun sat down beside the girl.
Lisa got up and would have started walking. She didn’t even know which way to go to Mountain Ridge.
“Please sit back down. Your sister will be here soon.”
The nun nodded.
As Lisa and Beatrice waited in silence, Lisa wondered how her sister would get to the orphanage, and how they would get to Mountain Ridge. Usually one of the nuns drove the orphans to the bus or train station. Lisa thought her sister would have to take the bus herself, walk to the orphanage and then walk back to the station with Lisa.
When a shiny red and silver car pulled up, Lisa thought maybe it belonged to a rich fancy priest like Father Hollander. It was a pretty car, and Lisa liked pretty things. She stared at the silver chrome. Lisa blinked and when she opened her eyes, her sister was sliding out from the driver’s door. Lisa ran into Yvonne’s arms.
“Ready to go to Mountain City and your brand new job?”
“Jack’s in trouble,” Lisa said.
“We’ll talk about that on the way back.”
The car attracted attention. Kids came out of the orphanage to gawk. Even Father Hollander who drove a nice car, but not one this shiny looked out the parsonage window.
“What a beautiful car,” Beatrice exclaimed.
“It’s brand new and a Rolls Royce.”
“Can I get in?” Lisa asked.
Yvonne walked around the car and opened the side door for her sister. Then she thanked Sr. Beatrice for waiting with Lisa. “I know she’s not easy.”
Lisa got out of the car and handed Beatrice back her five dollars. Vonnie hurried back behind the wheel and couldn’t resist waving at everyone. “They always thought we were trash. Well, watch this trash ride away in style.”
“Where did you get the car?” Lisa asked. “You didn’t steal it?”
“Of course, not. It belongs to Lucinda. Our employer. She’s very pretty, very nice and very rich.”
“What about Jack?”
“Jack is going to be okay. We just won’t be able to see him for awhile.”
“The newspaper said he robbed someone.”
“The charge is armed robbery of a gas station.”
“He didn’t do it.”
“No. But he will have to do some time.”
“Because. Lisa, we have to let this go. Jack is getting five years. For armed robbery he could get twenty years or more.”
“ “He didn’t do it.”
“He took a deal. He will go to prison for five years, and then he can’t come back to the Upper Peninsula.”
“Why?” Lisa whined.
“Just let it go.” Vonnie insisted.
Lisa was nervous about her new job as Vonnie drove into the Rinaldi estate. “What are those trees called? She asked Yvonne.
“Hosta plants, I think. When we write to Jack, we can ask him.”
“When can we see him?”
“We have to write to Johnny. We can’t go see him.” Jack had insisted that his sisters not visit him in prison. “Those are calla lilies,” Vonnie added pointing. She hoped changing the subject would help. Right now Lisa had lots to learn about being a maid because pretty soon she would have to take over all the duties. Jack wasn’t the only one who was in trouble.
Lisa looked around like she was in a great cathedral. She felt dwarfed by the size of the house. “Remember the house they took us to after…after we lost our parents.”
“That was Almasy House, and it’s just the other side of that bunch of trees there. It’s not a boarding house anymore. Mrs. Almasy died. Father Hollander owns the house now.”
“It was a spooky place.”
“It still is. Not that I’ve been inside since… well since the last time.”
They entered the house through the kitchen door. Lisa fell in love with the shiny steel cabinets, the huge stove, the ice box.
Vonnie had helped lug Lisa’s small suitcase inside, and she motioned for Lisa to stop admiring the kitchen and to come see their bedroom.
There was one big feather bed. “We sleep here.” Yvonne said. Lucinda just had the bigger bed brought down from one of the upstairs bedrooms, so there will be lots of room for both of us. The bed I was using is much smaller.”
Vonnie thought how Lisa would soon not need the big bed, and she wondered if Lisa could manage on her own. “Do you still have the nightmares? The nuns told me that you did.”
“You’re safe here.”
Lisa didn’t answer. How could she feel safe anywhere?
They heard the kitchen door open and shut. “Anybody here?” Lucinda called.
Vonnie pulled her sister back into the kitchen. There stood the prettiest girl Lisa had ever seen. Not even movie stars were as pretty as Lucinda Rinaldi. This woman was a queen. A goddess. But prettier.
“This is my sister, Lisa.” Vonnie said.
The pretty girl held out her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
Lisa shrank back. She could hardly look at such beauty, much less touch it. But Vonnie pulled her toward the goddess.
“I’m Lucinda. I’ve heard so much about you.”
Lisa wanted to cry, but she knew she shouldn’t. She blinked back the tears, but when she tried to say, “Thank you,” the words sounded chocked.
“I’m the one who should be thanking you.” Lucinda’s smile was like a light glowing in the room. She had a aura like saints in those pictures on church walls. “You’ll be very busy. Let me help Vonnie show you around.”
They went from room to room; Lisa was getting confused. So many rooms. This house was as big as the convent where the nuns lived.
They whizzed through the foyer, dining room, library, parlor and into Mr. Rinaldi’s study. The man seated there had black wavy hair streaked with white. He wore a grey suit with a vest and tie. She noticed his clothes were spotless and pressed. Who had ironed the suit? Yvonne? Lisa wondered if she would ever be able to press clothes so perfectly.
She didn’t know anyone who wore suits all the time. Even Father Hollander usually wore a sweater over his collar, and everybody knew he was wealthy. Did even President Roosevelt dress this elegantly?
The elegant man set his pen aside and stood to greet her. She thought she should bow and did so.
“We’re not royalty, so please don’t treat us like way. It just could go to Father’s head.” Lucinda laughed. Enrico Rinaldi smiled at his daughter and Lisa recognized real affection. Her pa used to smile at her and Vonnie that way.
Thinking of pa made her think about that night. She didn’t want to remember what happened. If she thought about it, she was sure to have nightmares, and what would these wonderful people think?
The women went up stairs, where there were half a dozen bedrooms. They went into a water closet. Vonnie showed her how the toilets flushed. There are two water closets, one upstairs, one downstairs.
Lisa had never seen a flush toilet before, and she asked if she could flush it. She did. She flushed it several times and giggled as the water rushed in and out of the bowl.
“I still use a slop bucket under my bed,” Vonnie confessed.
“Why?” Lucinda asked. “You’re perfectly welcome to use the water closets.”
“I usually do during the day. At night, I don’t want to disturb anyone.”
“Father and I get up in the night too, and nobody is disturbed.”
“Why so many bedrooms, just for the two of you?” Lisa asked. Then she wondered if her question was appropriate. Should she be questioning her employer?
“We have guests sometimes.” Lucinda explained. The beautiful girl acted like a friend, and Lisa was sure she had never met anyone so nice before.
TO BE CONTINUED: