Lisa screamed. Vonnie reached for the phone; the line was dead. “Someone must have cut the lines,” she lowered the dead phone.
Lisa whirled toward the window as another hooded figure carrying a flashlight rushed by. Lucinda put her arm around Lisa and tried to quiet her, but Lisa screamed and punched Lucinda.
“No,” Vonnie rushed to help Lucinda quiet the frightened girl.
Another rock sailed through a window.
A gruff voice came from outside. “You, Niggers, get out of there.”
“No,” Lisa cried. “They’’ll hang us if we go outside.”
“Honey, no. Just be quiet. They’ll go away.” Lucinda smoothed Lisa’s hair.
Lisa tried to push her away.
“Hush,” Vonnie told her.
Lisa whimpered and settled to the floor with the other two women holding her between them.
Moments passed. Quiet. “Maybe they went away,” Lucinda whispered.
They all heard a loud crash as a bottle with a lit rag sailed through the window nearest them. It landed at their feet.
Lucinda and Vonnie each grabbed a rug and began slapping at the flames. Lisa cowered, too scared to move. More bottles crashed through the windows.
The three women ran almost blindly to the door. It was the only place to go. They ran into the street. Their clothing was light and hardly thick enough to protect them from the cold night air. Their feet bare. They ran past hooded Klansmen who ignored them but tossed more bottles half filled with amber liquid and stuffed with rags that they had set afire.
Explosions shook the night air. The women huddled at the far side of the street.
“Lucinda, your beautiful house.” Vonnie didn’t know if she said it out loud or not. She thought of all the beautiful treasures still inside that house. Lucinda had pre packed only few things and sent them south.
The women hovered in the shadows behind the line of white sheeted men. They didn’t know what else to do. Where could they go? Lucinda’s and Vonnie’s cars were in the driveway close to the house. One of them was already burning.
Lisa stopped trembling. Then she turned to Lucinda and began pummeling her with her fists. “You brought this on us. You brought this on us.” she screamed.
Vonnie tried to pull her away. “No,” Lisa screamed. “She’s a Negro. We have to protect ourselves. She turned. She wanted to run away, but Leo Olson was there. He caught her by her wrists and held her despite her screams and kicks. “What have we got here?” he asked. “A wild animal.” He pushed her toward a deputy and ordered him to cuff her.
Lisa spent the night in jail. The charge was disturbing the peace. Leo insisted that her screams and disorderly conduct kept him from catching the hooded figures. Most townspeople knew he had probably been one of the hooded figures himself.
Lucinda called an attorney; the Mynters bailed Lisa out.
“What a disgrace,” Mary said when she got into the car with her husband Urban. “She’ll be Dylan’s wife later today.”
Urban had been amused by the story. “Give her a little credit,” he said. “She was attacked. If a bunch of hoodlums start throwing homemade bombs at me, I’m liable to start screaming myself.”
Mary smiled at her husband who had fought in Italy during the war. She knew he had seen some terrible fighting. But this was different. “Those men weren’t going to hurt her.” Mary insisted.
“We don’t know that. Lisa didn’t know that. And they burned the Rinaldi house to the ground. I don’t blame her for screaming.” Urban backed out of the highway.
“Leo should have been more interested in catching the Klansmen.”
Urban nodded agreement. “He says the house burned down when a candle overturned, and the three women were drunk.”
“Well I don’t know what happened there last night,” Mary said to herself as much as to her husband. “I don’t hold with prejudice. You know that. The Rinaldis have done more to help this town than anyone. Any time the historical society needs money, Lucinda writes a check. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Lisa Brianka gave the sheriff reason to arrest her.
Urban smiled. “Let’s go welcome the little jailbird to the family.”
Lucinda spent the night at Vonnie’s farmhouse. The two women sat together sipping coffee.
“I wish you’d change your mind and come to the wedding.”
“I’m leaving town today. Even if…if what happened last night hadn’t happened, I’m leaving.”
“I’m so sorry for the things Lisa said,” Vonnie was near tears.
“She was scared.”
“That doesn’t mean she can scream out anything she wants.”
“That poor child has been through so much. We can’t blame her for…well, anything.”
“She does the strangest things. I sometimes just don’t know. And how will Dylan cope with her. Jack and I can barely do it.” Vonnie took a few deep breaths and stared out the window. “And after last night, and your pretty house…”
“The house is nothing. I don’t know if I could have sold it. Leo might be doing me a favor by writing this off as an accident. Now I get insurance money.”
“Accident? Leo will never get my vote for sheriff. Lisa says she saw him leading the Klan the night our mother died.”
“You know she could have imagined that. She was only five years old.”
“She saw something awful, and I don’t think she makes it up.”
The two women watched the sunrise, and spoke only sparingly.
“At least I won’t have any luggage to cart with me.”
“I have so many of those beautiful dresses you gave me, Lucinda. And no place to wear them. Please take some of them back.”
“I want to go shopping tomorrow. I’ll get everything new. A new life and new clothes. And a new house.”
“You mean Jack’s house?”
“I have my own house in Detroit. I don’t know if I want Jack to take on the two babies. He would, but I won’t ask him.” She sipped coffee from an old cracked cup that Ezekiel had in the house before he married Vonnie. “I broke up with Jack.”
“They don’t look happy,” Mary whispered to Elsie.
“They’re nervous,” Elsie whispered back.
“And that awful green dress,” Alice said. “Where did she get that dress?”
“Shh,” Mary hushed her.
Lillian, Abe’s wife leaned over and whispered. “I offered to make her a nice white dress.”
“She likes the green one.”
“I understand she got it from Lucinda Rinaldi. I mean Mrs. Davies.”
“Mrs. Davies could carry off a dress like that. It just doesn’t work on Lisa. It looks like someone put a fancy dress on a corn cob doll.”
Lisa overheard the Mynter’s conversation, but decided to ignore it. She hated Dylan’s family. Let’s get this wedding over, she thought.
She didn’t want to marry Dylan, but she had no other options. She had no money and now no job; Vonnie was furious with her. She no job now that Lucinda was moving away. She had no money. She couldn’t go to Los Angeles to meet and marry Jon Hall. People thought Dylan was too good for her. She heard lots of whispers. Despite their kindness, the Mynters didn’t like her. They didn’t want Dylan marrying her.
Dylan’s first wife had been that awful Elaine who had worked at the Rinaldi House for awhile. Lisa knew what happened between Dylan and his first wife. Elaine had brought a man home from some tavern. Dylan had caught them in bed together. Elaine was evil.
She had spied and stolen documents from the Rinaldi house, and she had sold the Rinaldi family’s secret.
Elaine was despicable. But Elaine had style. Surely the Mynters didn’t want Elaine back in the family. They didn’t want Lisa in the family either.
Lisa clutched a fist full of wild flowers that one of the Mynters had collected from some vacant lot. She sat in the back of the hall and waited for Dylan.
Dylan smoked a last cigarette before his wedding. From time to time, his dad or one or more of his brothers would come out and chat briefly. Of course, they wondered what was taking him so long.
“Just enjoying the day,” he said.
Emil put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “You can still call this thing off.”
Dylan shook his head no. “That would embarrass Lisa.”
“It might be better than spending the rest of your life with her.”
“I gotta move on with my life,” Dylan said. “Lisa’s a good person.”
“She’s mentality ill,” Emil said. “Are you sure you want to take that on?”
Dylan nodded, tossed the rest of his cigarette aside and turned to walk inside. He had promised to marry this odd, fragile girl, and that is what he would do.
Mary Mynter Smith sat across from me in the Almasy House restaurant. “We knew Dylan’s marriage was going to be a disaster. We just didn’t know how to stop it. It was like watching an accident happen in slow motion.”
“Was it really all Lisa’s fault?” I asked.
“You know how crazy she is.”
“She needed someone,” I said. “She always needed someone.”
“She’s your problem now,” Mrs. Smith said. True.
It didn’t take Lisa long to move into Emil’s house with Dylan. She had few possessions.
“When are we going to have a house of our own?” she asked.
“This is it,“ Dylan smiled. He was happy he could provide his bride with one of the nicest houses in town “ It’s not a mansion like the Rinaldi’s house was,” he explained. “But it is large. My dad raised ten kids in this house.”
“I was hoping we could move into something smaller. I’m tired of cleaning big houses.”
“Pa and I are pretty neat,” Dylan said. “And Mary comes in from time to time to tidy things up. She doesn’t mind helping us out.”
“I don’t want your sister doing my housework,“ Lisa said.
“Pa and I will keep up our half. Like I said, we’re neat.”
“Does your dad have to live here?”
“Lisa, it’s his house.”
“We should have a house of our own.”
“I can’t afford a house right now. And this house is wonderful. I grew up here.”
“I thought you said you bought this house.”
“I paid my dad a dollar, and he put my name on the lease. It was with the understanding he would live here with us.”
“Maybe your pa could get an apartment.”
“Lisa, this is his house. He owns it.”
“You paid him for it.”
“That dollar was a formality. I can’t ask him to leave.”
“He’s my dad.”
“I don’t like him.”
Dylan worked nights to earn more money. He knew his dad would help him out, but he thought it was generous of Emil to sign the house over to him; Emil didn’t have to to do that.
Emil had bought the other kids their homes, but it had caused gossip. Where was Emil getting all this money? Anyway Lisa was so fragile; Dylan and his family all felt it would be better if she had Emil now retired to keep an eye on her while Dylan worked.
When Emil made ham and cheese sandwiches with extra mustard and potato salad, Lisa refused to help clean up the kitchen.
“I’m not cleaning up after the old man,“ she told Dylan.
So Dylan helped his pa with the clean up. Mary came over in the evenings and she did some of the cleaning too.
“Where’s that wife of yours?” she asked.
Mary snapped a dish towel. “She doesn’t mind eating Pa’s cooking. Mine either. She just doesn’t like cleaning up.”
“She’s actually a good housekeeper,” Emil stood up for his daughter-in-law. “She has some of these downstairs rooms spic and span.”
“Doing a dish every once in awhile wouldn’t kill her,” Mary said. “The kitchen is where the real clean up work begins.”
Emil wore an apron. “I want to do more cooking now that I’m retired. You know I make a mean meat loaf. And my mashed potatoes are next to none.”
“That doesn’t mean she can’t help in the kitchen especially doing the clean up.”
“Leave it be,“ Emil warned his daughter.
When college let out for the summer Bill and Ken, Dylan’s younger brothers had jobs at the Ford plant waiting for them. Dylan had arranged the jobs. The problem was they needed a place to stay.
“They’ll stay here, of course.” Dylan said. “It’s their home.”
“And I’m not sending them away,” Emil agreed. “What does your wife say about them staying here?”
“She doesn’t like it.” Dylan confessed. “She thought once they went to college, they would be on their own, and that when we moved in here it would be our house.”
Emil had considered confiding in Dylan about his fortune. But he had hesitated. Mary and Elsie and their spouses knew, but his other children thought he saved and invested. They had no idea how much money Emil had.
“I’ll buy you and Lisa a home,“ he said.
“Pa, I want to stay here. You need someone to take care of you.”
“I can do pretty well on my own.”
“Who’s going to do your housework?”
“Me. Look Dylan, I paid for each of your brothers to go to college, Tuition, room and board. I paid for all the weddings. You and Lisa were the only ones who didn’t have big wedding.”
“Pa, you’ve been too generous. You need to save some money for old age. I haven’t finished paying you back for the house…” He couldn’t finish the sentence. It was the house he had given Elaine in the divorce settlement. It was the price of being rid of her, but he hadn’t really wanted to be rid of her.
“I have enough for my old age. Now the Brandt house is for sale. I’ll buy it. It’s just down the street.”
Dylan told Lisa his dad was buying the Brandt house for them.
“It’s small; it’s dinky. I want to stay here.”
“This is pa’s house.”
“You paid him that dollar. He put your name on the deed. It’s our house now.”
“He wants to live out his remaining years here.”
“He can’t have that long. Dylan he’s what seventy-something.”
“He’s my dad,“ Dylan often felt anger boil up in him when Lisa made cruel remarks. He tried to be patient with her, but now she was talking about waiting for his father to die. “You didn’t mean that. Not the way it sounded.”
Lisa turned away. She pouted.
“What about Ken and Bill?” Dylan asked.
“Do I have a choice? They’re coming.”
“Would you help Pa get a couple extra bedrooms ready?”
“I guess I’m still a maid,”
Ken and Bill didn’t stay with Dylan and Emil. They rented an apartment with some college friends.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Dylan told them.
“We’re okay. We can drink all the beer we want and party until dawn. Pa would never let us do that.”
Dylan left at 10:30 for the midnight shift. Lisa left a night light on in the hall and Emil let her do this. He knew she feared the dark.
He enjoyed staying up late with a book. The latest John Byrne book had arrived from his book club, and he was half way through it. Byrnes’ Detroit private detective was as hard-boiled as any tough guy character.
Emil liked the twists and turns of Byrnes novels. As he read, the main detective character stalked a killer and the killer stalked the detective. In his imagination, he followed the detective into a dark house where the stairs creaked and shadows lingered.
Creak. The noise jolted Emil from his novel. He was often nervous at night because of the fortune in old coins and jewelry he still had locked in a room downstairs. Town gossips whispered that Emil was wealthy, so he suspected he would make a great target for a robber.
Creak. The noise came again.
Emil quietly got up and reached into his desk for his revolver.
The house was dark except for his study and the hall light upstairs. Lisa kept a second light on in the bedroom. Those lights should alert any intruder that someone was awake in the house.
Creak. The noise came from the up stairs. Someone was descending. Emil slipped out of his study and aimed the gun at the top of the stairs.
Emil tensed with the gun in his fist. Who was up there? What did they want?
A shadow fell on the stairwell, and slowly made its way down one stair at a time.
Lisa slowly descended. She wore only a short thin slip. Her bare legs revealed most of the thigh and the nudity underneath.
She walked down the steps like a Las Vegas show girl. Her head held high like it balanced a crown. Emil let the hand that held the gun fall to his side. He breathed a sigh of relief.
That small sigh awakened Lisa. She saw him standing below her where she imagined he could look up her slip.
A look of pure hatred came over Lisa’s features.
“You filthy old man,” she spit the words out and hurried back up the stairs to her bedroom. Emil heard the lock on her bedroom door slide into place.
He poured himself a scotch and sat at his desk. What should he tell Dylan? Emil had not slept nor had he read anymore that night. He made himself a pot of coffee, and then he ignored the coffee and poured himself some more scotch.
Dylan was not surprised to see his dad waiting for him. Emil often made breakfast for his son and his wife.
“The coffee’s cold,” Emil said, “But I’ll make some more.”
“Pa, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Sit down, son. There is something I have to tell you.”
“Is Lisa all right?”
“I don’t think so.”
When Dylan walked upstairs, he found the bedroom door locked. “Lisa open up,” he called.
He waited and called her name again. Finally he heard her footsteps, and he heard the key turning in the lock. He waited a heartbeat and then opened the door. His wife wore a plain green checkered house dress from the Sears catalog.
“What happened? Pa says you had some kind of a nightmare.”
“It wasn’t a nightmare,” she said with anger.
“What happened?” he repeated.
“I don’t know. I think he drugged me.
“What? Who drugged you?”
“Your dad. He must have put something in my food last night.”
“Lisa, do you know how ridiculous that sounds?”
“I came awake on the stairs. I was wearing my slip. That’s all. Just my slip and he was staring up at me.”
“You’ve walked in your sleep before.”
“Not anymore. It’s been a long time.”
“Lisa, my dad would never do anything to hurt you.”
“That filthy old man was staring up my slip.”
“He heard you on the stairs. He thought you might be a burglar ”
“I’ll kill him if he does that again.”
Dylan wanted to slap her. Instead, he said. “We’ll move.”
“Make him move. He’s the problem,”
“I am not kicking him out of his house. I’ll see if I can swing buying the Brandt house myself.”
“I don’t want to live there.” She folded her arms and sat down on the bed.
“We don’t have a lot of choices,” Dylan told her.