Elaine knew she had made a mistake. Everyone said Emil Mynter had money-lots of it. Hadn’t he given his two oldest daughters huge weddings that reportedly rivaled the wedding of Lucinda Rinaldi to Senator Davies? The local newspaper may have been exaggerating, but the Mynter girls wore gorgeous dresses from a Detroit bridal shop, and the weddings were catered by the finest chef in Upper Michigan.
Emil paid for everything his kids needed. The two oldest sons were studying engineering at Michigan Tech. Mary and Elsie had new homes and their husbands were starting new businesses. Emil’s younger sons, those old enough to drive, had cars, and they would soon be on their way to college. Dylan didn’t want to go to college. Shouldn’t he have had a bigger house?
“Then I have to pay more in taxes on it,” Dylan had said.
“So get your pa to help,” Elaine had insisted.
Dylan never asked for money from his dad. “My dad isn’t a millionaire,” he had said.
“Tell your brothers and sisters that. They go with their hands out. At least we could have gotten a decent wedding . Dylan and Elaine had been married by a justice of the peace and then they had been served dinner prepared by Dylan’s sisters, Mary and Elsie. It just wasn’t fair. Emil had said he was paying for the college educations on installments and that Alice was paying for her big upcoming wedding with own money. There was some nonsense about a distant aunt leaving Alice some money. Elaine knew it was all lies.
Just where did the Mynter money come from anyway? How could he afford these things unless Mrs. Almasy really had a fortune in those tunnels and Dylan’s dad had found it.
It was hers then. Mrs. Almasy had left everything to Jeff. Jeff would have wanted her to have it.
Now Dylan who was as boring as his lunch bucket, was working nights at one of the Rinaldi mines to earn extra money. Elaine was raising chickens for the egg money, and they were counting pennies to make the rent and the groceries.
Elaine was even expected to keep a garden.
She called her mother.
“Darling, what is it? Is something wrong?” Mrs. Dabb asked.
“I wanted to talk.”
“Honey. it’s 11 p.m.”
“Dylan’s working midnights, and I’m bored.”
“Read a book.”
“I don’t want to read a book! Mama, we’re broke. We’re always broke.”
“Just for now. Dylan’s a hard worker and…”
“Dylan’s a lamp post. He doesn’t have anything to talk about. He comes home and just goes to bed. He’s no fun. He’s boring. I wish I’d never married him.”
“Honey, you’re lucky you have him. He has a job and with this Depression that makes him lucky. Your daddy was out of work. Remember Emil Mynter got your daddy a job at the Rinaldi’s mine.”
“Mama, I want to wear pretty dresses. I want to live in a nice house.”
“That will come in time. You know old Emil’s a rich man.”
“He’s broke just like us. At least he always says he is.”
Mrs. Dabb knew her daughter had to stay with Dylan. It was the only way to eventually tab into Emil’s accounts. “I’ve got a friend who works at the bank. Emil makes huge deposits every month. He says he’s selling some old family jewelry. What family jewelry? When his wife was still living, she never even wore earrings.”
“If he’s got money, it’s for his other kids. He doesn’t give Dylan anything.”
“Nonsense. Everyone knows Dylan’s his favorite. He’s doted on that boy since Dylan was a child. Dylan is special. Not retarded, but he is slow, and he feels things deeper than others. I think Emil and the others try to protect Dylan. He’s very sensitive.”
“Don’t bet on him not being retarded. Look, Mama, I gotta go. I’m feeling tired.”
As soon as she hung up, Elaine went t her closet. She had a pair of slacks she had made out of a couple yards of black cloth. They looked really sexy on her, and she loved the way Claudette Colbert and Katherine Hepburn looked in black slacks in the picture shows. It was too late to catch a movie, but there was a bar down the street. She could walk down there.
Lucinda wore a white dress, pink hat and matching pink handbag and shoes to her first White House reception. She had shopped carefully as she always did for clothes. She hated that one dress could cost more than a miner’s pay for a year. That seemed very wrong, but she knew that as a senator’s wife, and she must make a good impression.
Mrs. Roosevelt greeted her kindly. The First Lady’s handshake was strong. Mrs. Roosevelt was tall like a statue, and she wore a flowered dress that Lucinda really liked. The first lady was not pretty, but intelligence and kindness danced like partners in the president’s wife’s eyes. Lucinda wanted to tell her how she and her father had voted for the president, but now she was a Republican senator’s wife. She could not confess to voting for a Democrat for president.
There were those who believed that her own husband would be president someday. She looked about and wondered what if would be like to live here in the White House. She decided that she would not like it. How much longer could she endure this sham of her marriage to Brad?
“Mrs. Davies. Mrs. Davies.” someone called. Lucinda still thought of herself as Lucinda Rinaldi. She hardly recognized the name. Mrs. Davies was her mother-in-law, whom she had met only a few times, and who was clearly not impressed with her son’s wife.
Then she felt an arm on her elbow. The woman who faced her was around fifty with perfectly styled white hair. She looked lovely despite her age, but Lucinda noticed there were no smile lines on her face. This woman lacked Mrs. Roosevelt’s warmth. Lucinda could see that lack of warmth right away. “Mrs. Davies, I’m Amanda Merriman of the Philadelphia Merrimans. I do not believe we have been introduced.”
Lucinda started to introduce herself.
“I know who you are. The entire town is buzzing about Brad Davies’ lovely wife. I believe your family is in mining. They must be making a fortune. Lend Lease and all those automobiles coming out of Detroit. They need the iron ore.”
Lucinda didn’t know what to say.
“What organizations do you belong to, dear.” Mrs. Merriman asked.
“I’m a member of the Baptist church.”
“Dear, you have such a sense of humor. There are must-belong clubs here in Washington. And if your qualify, well, of course, you’ll qualify.”
Lucinda took a step backward; she would not be invited to join anything if these people knew she was a Negro. She took another step back and bumped into a pretty dark haired lady wearing a blue dress. Both the lady and Lucinda apologized.
Mrs. Merriman sighed. “What is that dreadful woman doing here?”
“Who?” Lucinda really didn’t know anyone and felt slightly lost.
“Mrs. Kennedy. The woman you just bumped into. Her husband is some kind of a movie producer, and they must have at least a dozen kids.”
Lucinda changed to subject. “I love movies. Perhaps later I’ll talk to her.” She knew she was supposed to slight the dark haired woman, but she wouldn’t.
“No. No. No. You don’t want to associate with shanty Irish. That is almost as bad as being a Negro.” Mrs. Merriman pronounced it, Knee-Grow.
The word shook Lucinda. “I I didn’t…” Lucinda backed another step away. She disliked the Merriman lady intensely.
“Now. Now, dear, you are new to Washington. How are you to know who is whom? But that woman’s husband thinks he will be president some day. He wants to be the first Irish Catholic president or he wants his oldest son Joe to be president. Imagine. We might as well elect a Negro.”
Lucinda wondered how she could escape.
Mrs. Merriman kept talking. “Speaking of Negros, we have a chapter of the Klan here in Washington and some women do belong.”
“No.” Lucinda said.
“It’s very respectful. No sheets or hoods. It is just about keeping those people in their places, but I quite understand if you don’t want to join. The Klan is so-so middle class, but I do know some very influential members. Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding were members, you know.”
Lucinda found herself bumping against a wall. She could back up no further.
“Have any of your ancestors served in the military?” Mrs. Merman asked.
Lucinda should have known enough to lie or to at least to have been vague, but she didn’t know what to say, and she wanted to say something positive about her family. They might be Negroes, but they had served this country. She spoke truthfully. “Civil War, American Revolution.” Her dad had served in the Spanish American War.
“My dear, that is wonderful. I have the paperwork here. You can join the Daughters of the American Revolution. Of course, you have to document…” the woman rambled on and on as she reached into her bag for some membership papers. “You just fill those out and then send them back to me.”
When Brad came home, Lucinda was almost through packing her suitcase. She was surprised that he even came into her bedroom. She was accustomed to being ignored except when it was time to ask her father for more money.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m going home for a few days.”
“Just as well,” he answered. “Stay out of sight for a few months.”
She kept packing.
“Lucinda, we need to start thinking about having a baby.”
“That’s going to be difficult, isn’t it? You haven’t touched me since we got married. And I don’t want you touching me.”
“A friend has agreed to bear our child. In fact, she’s already pregnant. When the child is born, we’ll say it is ours.”
Lucinda dropped the scarf she was packing and whirled to face him. “A friend?”
“You know I can’t have a child of Negro blood.”
“But you can take Negro money. Brad, you’re broke and your family is broke.”
“Shut up, Lucinda,” He advanced toward her like he was going to hit her. “You think I like our current arrangement?”
“I know I don’t like it. I’m going to talk to one of my father’s lawyers.”
“You’re what?” He shouted and then more calmly, he said, “I won’t let you.”
“Nothing says my father has to support us or your political career. When he cuts off the money, you’ll willingly divorce me.”
“You forget how important this marriage is to your father. He wants to see his little Black girl in the White House pretending she is good enough to be First Lady.”
“My father doesn’t know what a monster you are.”
“He doesn’t want to find out. Now you play the nice little White wife with a child or I divorce you, divulge your dark little secret, and you and your father won’t show your faces in polite society again.” He paused for effect. “It sure won’t be good for his business. I don’t care how much iron ore is needed. White people don’t do business with Niggers.”
She caught her breath. Her father did want to belong. But these people were such snobs. After a moment, he said, “Now go have your little visit. Make it a long one. Nine months should be about right. When you come back, you can be a nice little mammy.”
As he started toward the door, he noticed the paperwork from the Daughters of the American Revolution. Lucinda had not filled it out. “Wishful thinking, Lucinda.”
“Blacks served honorably in all our wars. Crispus Attucks …”
“Died in the Boston Massacre. You aren’t related to him.”
“No, But my great-grandfather served in the….”
“Who cares? The DAR checks the background of all applicants. They wouldn’t even let Marian Anderson sing for them. You should be cleaning their toilets.”
An impromptu band played at the Four Corners Bar. Elaine sat down and ordered a rum and Coca-Cola. She took a few sips and then she let the music and the booze move her. She walked out on the dance floor and wiggled her butt seductively.
One of the men at the bar eyed her appreciatively. “You look like a boy in those slacks,” he said.
“I ain’t no boy.” She could see her reflection in the mirror. The perfectly arched eyebrows; the painted red lips, the earrings and strand of imitation pearls that her mother had given her. Her breasts were noticeable under the thin fabric of her blouse. She was sure the stranger at the bar could see her small waistline and full hips.
“No,” he agreed, “You ain’t no boy. Buy you a drink?”
She walked toward him and nodded toward her own glass. “It’s already paid for. Conversation costs ten bucks.”
He laughed. “Ain’t you heard? There’s a Depression going on.”
She shrugged and turned away.
“How about a dollar?” He asked.
She ignored him. In the mirror she saw him fumble with his wallet. He pulled out a ten and placed it beside her glass. “This better be good,” he said. “You don’t look like the talking type.” She turned and faced him.
“What if we make it a down payment on something more?”
“How much more you got on you?”
Plus the ten made thirty bucks. But he might be holding out on her. “Got any more?”
He reached to take the ten back. But she beat him to it. “I’ll take that other twenty.“ she said.
The bar in Detroit where Jack sipped a cold beer was larger, noisier and busier than the one where Elaine flirted with the redneck.
“We got us a killer.” Ben Fuller the state police captain told Jack. “We got missing women. Some of them have shown up on the roads to the north.”
“What do you want?”Jack asked.
“To catch the guy.”
“You think it’s me?”
“I don’t even think you robbed that gas station. The one you got sent to prison for.”
“Maybe we should form a club,”
The trooper pushed his glass aside. He wasn’t much for drinking, but he had wanted to establish some trust with Brianka. “This is what we got. Fifteen known victims from before you got sent to prison on 1936. The killings seemed to stop; we don’t think they did.”
“What makes you think the killer was busy even while I was in prison?”
“We got disappearances. Lots of places in the Upper Peninsula to hide bodies.”
“But now they’re getting found again?” Jack asked.
“Some of ‘em. There could be a whole lot more we don’t know about.”
“Maybe there’s more than one killer,” Jack suggested. “Seems there’s been a whole lot of victims.”
“He could have an accomplice. Or maybe somebody copying the killer’s work. But if there is a copy cat, he knows a damn lot about the killings. There are similarities. Details we never released to the public.”
“So why you talking to me?”
“I got a hunch you’re in this someplace.”
Jack smiled. “So you do think I am the killer. ” “I think the killer knows you, hates you and wants us to think you’re the killer.”
“Now you’re scaring me. I’ve got two sisters living in Mountain Ridge. They’re…”
“They’re vulnerable.” Fuller said. “Both are the killer’s type. Young, pretty, dark hair. Some of the victims resemble your sisters.”
Jack put his glass down. It felt like his heart and everything else in his entire being had stopped. He had never thought about the killer targeting women just because they bore some resemblance to Vonnie and Lisa. “That’s silly.” He said after a moment. “There are thousands of dark-haired, pretty women in Michigan.”
“Why’s this hick deputy so set on getting you put out of the way?”
“It wasn’t just the deputy. My ex employer. Let’s just say he had reasons for wanting me to leave.” Now Jack thought about another pretty, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl. Lucinda. “That had nothing to do with the killings,” Jack said after a minute. “That was different.”
“So what was it?” The cop wanted all the answers, but Jack wouldn’t give him this one.
“Personal,” Jack said after a minute.
“The Mountain Ridge cops must have it in for you too.”
“The cops always have it in for guys like me.” He swallowed the last of his beer and walked hurriedly from the bar.
Five hundred miles away in Mountain Ridge, Dylan Mynter opened the door to his home. He was surprised to find the kitchen light on. Elaine was usually in bed with all the lights off when he came home. He set his dinner pail down on the table and sat down heavily in a chair.
Mine work was mostly digging and despite his strength, he came home with every muscle aching. After a second, he heaved himself to his feet and began slowly walking toward the bedroom. He had just entered the hall when he heard her giggle. So Elaine was still awake. Perhaps she was reading one of those ladies magazines she loved so much.
Tonight he was home early. He had a flu and just couldn’t endure being sick so deep in the mines. He needed the money and tried to stay, but the foreman had sent him home.
He took another step and thought he heard another voice. This voice was much lower. A man’s voice. Was she listening to the radio?
Dylan kept walking. When he opened the bedroom door, it was very dark. His eyes started to adjust.
Two bodies hurriedly separated from each other. They moved off the bed like shadows move in a dark movie theater.
He turned on the light. A naked man struggled to find his clothes.
“Who the hell are you?” The man asked.
“My husband,” Elaine said.
Half asleep Jack opened the door to his apartment; there stood Lucinda. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Jack. I just don't know.”
Vonnie had made Mr. Rinaldi blueberry pancakes with fresh butter and maple sugar from the Cheney farm. He seemed distracted during breakfast and then went to his study.
She had just started the dishes when he came into the kitchen. “Can I sit down?” he asked.
She nodded. It was, after all, his home.
“I was going to a ask you to come to my study, but that seemed too formal for this conversation.”
“What can I do for you, sir?” She dried her hands and sat down at the table opposite him.
“Have you heard from Lucinda?”
“Not for several days. She likes to call and talk. You’ve probably seen the phone bills,” she paused. “She calls collect. I hope you aren’t upset.”
“No. No. I want my daughter calling. Keep her on the phone. Keep her talking.”
There was silence for a minute. Vonnie was unsure where Mr Rinaldi was going. Was he aware of how unhappy Lucinda was in her marriage? She did not want to tell him what Lucinda said in confidence. Lucinda was far above Vonnie in class, but they enjoyed a warm friendship and shared confidences. Lucinda had no one else to turn to.
Mr. Rinaldi cleared his throat and then began speaking. “Brad called several times because Lucinda took off. She said she was coming here to visits me. Wouldn’t she have told you if she was coming? Wouldn’t she have told me?”
Of course, Lucinda would let her know to have her old room ready. “I’ll make a few phone calls.” Vonnie said. “I’ll try to find out where she is.”
“I’ll be going for a walk,” he said. This let her know she could make a private call from the house.
He knew she would be calling Jack.
Vonnie watched as he left. Though his coat and hat could not be that heavy, his shoulders sagged under their weight.
When he was out of sight, she picked up the phone and asked for long distance.
“What do you want to do?” Emil asked. He and Dylan were seated at Emil’s table, having morning coffee.
Dylan didn’t answer.
“I know you love her,” Emil said as gently as he could.
“I don’t want her back,“ Dylan said as tears spilled into his coffee. He had never hurt another human being before in his life, but he had just put a man in the hospital. The man would survive a concussion and a few broken bones. Dylan had wanted to kill the man. Had the stranger known Elaine was married? It was her Dylan should have punched. But he could never do that. Not to Elaine. Not to any woman.
“We’ll fight her. Infidelity.” Emil promised. “There aren’t any children. You’ll get the house.”
“She can have it.”
“You can’t do that, Dylan. You need to make her pay.”
Dylan just shook his head. “Dad, I know you paid cash for the house. I’ll pay you back.”
Emil was grateful that Elaine had no idea how much money the family really had. They would play Dylan up for a pauper. Elaine was lucky she was getting the house. He would see that was all she got.
“Low sperm count or something, “ Elaine told her beautician. “He just can’t keep it up, if you know what I mean.”
“So you’re divorcing him?”
“You sure you don’t want to hang in there for the money?”
“What money? They’re always telling me how poor they are.”
“Everyone knows there’s money. New cars. Nice houses. College educations for the boys. The Mynters pay cash for houses and aways have money for anything else they want.”
“Yeah, there’s money,” Elaine agreed. “Too bad I don’t know how to shake it loose.”
The morning came when Vonnie woke up and Ezekial didn’t. She knew a little about first aid, and tried to revive him. Then she called Dennis and Leo for assistance. Dennis sped right over.
Lisa nervously made coffee. “Are you sure he's dead?” she asked Vonnie. “What do we do?”
Vonnie sat down and cried.
Mr. Rinaldi called at ten. “I heard,” he said simply.
“I’ll send Lisa over to make your breakfast.”
“Don’t worry. Take the day off. I’m capable of making my own coffee. I can manage until you’re ready to come back. You are coming back?”
“Yes, of course. And thank you.”
Miles and Leo arrived about two hours later with the coroner, who wrote out a death certificate that said Ezekial had died of natural causes.
“You’re going to be a rich widow.” Miles said.
“How do you figure that?” Vonnie asked. She sipped her black coffee and didn’t offer the deputy any. She wanted him to leave.
“Old Ezekiel had what close to a hundred acres, maybe more.”
“The land mostly belongs to Dennis,” Vonnie said simply. “Ezekial was so proud of this land.” Vonnie nodded toward Ezekial’s nephew who sat at the table.
“Nifty,” Mills smiled and winked in a way that let Vonnie and Dennis know the Deputy suspected they were having sexual relations. She didn’t care for the implication. Dennis’ girl friend, Danni stopped wiping down the counter and glared at the deputy.
“There’s a will,” Dennis said when Miles and most of the others had left. Lisa had gone off to the Rinaldi mansion where she was doing the chores Vonnie usually performed.
“He told me,” Vonnie said. She knew about the will. Ezekial had explained it to her. Ezekial had been like a beloved father to Vonnie. Having lost her own father so long ago, this relationship was something she needed and that she depended on. Still Ezekial had been one hundred years old. It was time for his spirit to move on. She dabbed a tear from her eye.
Dennis was still talking.“You keep the house and about five acres. I can let you have more if you want.”
Vonnie shook her head. The house was more than enough. Ezekial had given her so much.
“You’ll get a widow’s pension.”
She nodded. “That’s more than I deserve from him.”
“Actually it’s from the government, and you will need it with a baby to care for.”
Vonnie was making plans. She would keep the chickens and the cow. She would continue to work for Mr. Rinaldi. She would plant a small garden and maybe sell some of the vegetables and eggs. She had Lisa to help her.
TO BE CONTINUED