Lisa felt the snow hit her face; ice cut her fingers. Someone kicked her. She looked up at her pa. A rope tightened around his neck.
“Don’t let her see.” Pa begged.
A ladder tumbled from beneath his feet. “Pa!”
She screamed and tried to run, but her feet caught in the blanket, and she fell on the hardwood floor.
The room was dark, but she heard footsteps and a candle floated toward her.
Lisa was disoriented. Where was she? Somewhere in the back of her mind, an angry old lady told her she must never tell. The lady told her that her pa had gone away, that he didn’t want his three children. Her mother was dead and her pa had left. That was what the lady said had happened.
Had Lisa really imagined the cold, the hooded figures, the torches, the rope?
She dreamed about it, and it seemed so real. Why did they tell her it didn’t happen? When was her pa coming back?
She looked around at the orphanage dormitory. The other girls had awakened and some were rubbing their eyes. Most were staring. She wasn’t flailing in the snowbank; she wasn’t at the creepy old house with the fancy lady.
Footsteps pounded down the hallway. The nuns were coming, and that could mean a beating. Lisa knew she had to stop trembling, but instead the trembling became worse. Sister Beatrice rushed at her, picked her up by the material of her nightgown and shoved her back in the bed.
“Go back to sleep. Stop this screaming.” Sister Beatrice shook her finger. “If you wake everyone up again, so help me, I will lock you in the stable.”
“Do it,” Lisa yelled . “You think I want to be in here.”
Beatrice grabbed Lisa and pulled her off the bed, down the hall and outside. The late March night was cold and Lisa wore only a thin nightgown. Just like that other night. Lisa felt she was back in the nightmare. Instead of a white sheet, the nun wore black, but her robes flowed in much the same way that those sheets had flowed that other night.
Lights from inside the orphanage gave off a glow, not unlike the torches had on that long ago night. Lisa screamed again in terror and pain.
Then a man was there. He stood in the shadows. It took Lisa a minute to recognize Father Jeffrey Hollander.
He took off his belt.
Enrico Rinaldi watched his daughter Lucinda as she embroidered scarf. She expertly moved the brightly colored threads over her fingers, and as he watched, a pattern of blue flowers and green leaves emerged. Lucinda kept each hair perfectly coiffed and her olive skin was smooth as velvet. Her black eyes were like pools of coffee.
While he would hate to lose her, he wanted her to make the best possible marriage. Lucinda was too great an asset to waste, and Brad Davies had shown a keen interest.
Enrico had made discrete inquiries; Brad’s family’s fortune should equal his own, except the Davies had been plagued with gambling debts and poor investments. Rinaldi suspected that Davies might be courting Lucinda for her money, but the Davies name could open opportunities for him and for Lucinda.
Besides that Davies was ambitious. At 32, he was already a state senator and probably headed for Washington and perhaps even the White House. Lucinda would make a great hostess and First Lady, he decided. He wanted to dance with her at the inaugural ball.
Enrico and his daughter had the dark complexions of eastern Europeans like the Italians, and Enrico had even taken an Italian name. The family had been passing for white since after the Civil War. He wanted to chuckle.
He gave Lucinda what he hoped was good news. “Brad says he can spend a few weekends here in Mountain Ridge. I told him he was welcome.”
“Of course, Father.”
“How are the wedding plans coming?”
“Okay; There are a million details. Florist; dressmaker, reception hall. That wedding planner from Lansing is doing a great job.”
“Shouldn’t you be there organizing Brad’s home?”
“We’ll be moving to Washington right away, and Brad hired an interior designer to plan that home.”
“Honey, you don’t seem very happy.”
“I like it here in Mountain Ridge,” she said gently.
“You can have the whole world, Lucinda. New York. Paris. Washington. Brad will show you things you never imagined.”
“Are you coming with us, Father?”
“I have the mine to take care of.”
“And I have you to take care of. I like Mountain Ridge.”
“Don’t you want to go to balls and wear Paris originals”
“I have Paris originals in my closet and I don’t wear them.”
“Brad likes you a lot, Lucinda, and if you go with him, you will have places to wear them.”
“What if they find out the truth about us, Father?”
His dream was to see her dance with kings and presidents. She understood how important it was to him.
“Brad must know the truth about us.”
“No,” he shouted. “You won’t tell him, not before or after the marriage.”
“You mustn’t ever tell anyone.”
Elaine was almost 17 years old and her mother thought she was an old maid. Shouldn’t the prettiest girl in town be the first married? Elaine said she was waiting for the right man to come along. That’s what she told her girl friends and anyone else who asked. What she never told anyone, was that the right man, in her opinion, he had already come. She had a crush on Father Jeffrey Hollander.
Elaine was not religious, but she went to church every Sunday, and she would have gone to mass every morning if her mother let her get out of her chores.
She had even confessed her love or almost.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” she had said in the confessional. “I am in love with a man that I can’t have.”
“Is that man married?” he had asked.”
“No, but he is unavailable.”
He paused, and she was sure he understood what she was saying.
“Have you acted on your love for this man.”
“Not yet, but I will if he asks me.”
She imagined him smiling at the other side of the grail.
“This calls for a special penance,” he had said. “You may come to Almasy House tomorrow morning. Mrs. Almasy needs a new maid. The work will do you good.”
She knew there would be something else there for her. Father Hollander stayed at Almasy House now.
“Our Father who art in heaven.” Sister Beatrice was having a difficult time keeping her mind on her morning prayers. The nuns were in the chapel. Today officiating was the old priest, Father Victor. That nice handsome young Father Hollander had driven back to Mountain Ridge. Sister Beatrice could not understand why he came north to check on that Jew brat. She shouldn’t even be here at a Catholic orphanage.
Father Victor’s voice droned on in monotone. “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Beatrice often had difficulty concentrating. There was so much to think about.
The child’s nightmares were so bad, the nuns could not get a night’s sleep, what with those awful screams.
Her thoughts went on and on; she became more and more frustrated. and then she became angry. They had to get rid of that child. Instead of reciting the rosary, Beatrice recited a list of the child’s faults.
She had hit the child again and she knew if the Brianka girl stayed in the orphanage that she would hit her again.
She didn’t want to hit the child, but somehow she couldn’t help herself.
Father Hollander hit Lisa. Mostly when Lisa’s brother Johnny was here, Hollander had beat on him. Beatrice didn’t like the boy anymore than she liked Lisa, but despite his Jewishness and his smugness in the classroom, she had found no excuse to hit the boy, who had quickly grown bigger than she.
Father Hollander hit Johnny and Lisa to get the heathen out of them.
There had never been reason to hit Yvonne who was quiet, and except for her brother and sister stayed to herself. Yvonne was good in school. She did her chores without complaint, and she didn’t have nightmares. Yvonne could be made into a good Christian girl.
Lisa’s nightmares had not been as much of a problem when her siblings were here. When the sister crawled into bed with her, she’d be okay. The orphanage had allowed it even as the siblings grew older. Anything to keep the little one’s nightmares away.
But now Johnny and Yvonne were gone; the nightmares came almost every night.
Was there no way to stop to the nightmares?
She couldn’t stand another night of those screams.
Sometimes Beatrice heard her own screams, when the child screamed. Beatrice had grown up on the frontier. She had seen Indians who were as dark and heathen as the Brianka kids. She had heard stories about scalpings, rapes, murders, cannibalism. A family she knew when she was growing up had been killed by Indians. They had…
Startled by the thought, she inhaled deeply and too loudly.
“Are you all right?” Sr. Zita asked.
“Yes. Yes. I-I’m fine.”
She tried to concentrate on the prayers.
She herself had had nightmares when she was growing up. Her dad had tried to stop the nightmares by hitting her. The nightmares didn’t stop, but her screaming did. If Beatrice, could stop herself from screaming when thoughts and even dreams came of murdering Indians, then Lisa could stop her screaming too.
All Beatrice wanted was for Lisa to stop screaming, so she wouldn’t remind her of that other time. So she wouldn’t think Indians were coming for her.
Beatrice closed her eyes for a long time and when she opened them she looked across the church at Lisa who sat quietly.
The beatings weren’t wrong. Father Victor might be too old, too frail, and too soft- hearted to beat an out-of-control girl, but Father Hollander took a strong hand.
Beatrice had heard that a rich lady in Mountain Ridge took an interest in the Brianka brats. That was all very confusing. Mrs. Almasy had paid good money, so those Brianka kids could stay at the orphanage. Now what was a good Catholic lady like Rose Almasy doing helping Jew brats? Another rich lady, Lucinda Rinaldi, had hired both Vonnie and Jack. Why would these wealthy people show an interest in these wayward orphans?
Sister Beatrice shook her head. Those kids were being taken in like stay animals and Jew brats were no good. Everyone knew that. Surely the Briankas would bite the hands that reached to help them.
Meanwhile the orphanage was saddled with that Lisa. The child’s nightmares had increased. Every night the screams seemed to get louder.
Anyway the child would be gone soon, and then good riddance to bad rubbish.
Brad Davies had hired three musicians to play violins for Lucinda. He knew she loved music and had a natural talent for it. Her father had told him, Lucinda was a fine piano player, but she seldom played for an audience other than her maid, that shy dark girl whose name Brad didn’t remember.
Would he have to take Lucinda’s servant along with her? Surely his family had enough servants, though some had been laid off. That dark girl who worked for Lucinda was not someone he wanted working in his home. He took a sip of his wine; he had more pressing problems than Lucinda and her servants.
The stock market crash had hurt his family. Not so badly they wouldn’t come back. After all both he and his dad had their law licenses, and he had his salary from the state. But household staff had been laid off.
His mother had suggested giving some of the older employees pensions. Brad and his father had disagreed. These are hard times. Regrouping the family fortune would take a while as it was.
He needed money to win political office. He had powerful backers, but he mustn’t let them see that he had such a desperate need for money.
Actually he wouldn’t have that need much longer. Lucinda Rinaldi came from an enormous fortune. She looked like that young actress, Elizabeth Taylor with black eyes instead of the violet eyes and Lucinda had a figure that was just as stunning as that of the actress. She turned heads in every room she entered. Men responded to her with romantic or lustful thoughts; women responded with emotions that ranged from envy to hostility.
The Rinaldi fortune and Lucinda’s beauty could bring him to the White House, and what a joke that would be on the country.
At first he wasn’t entirely sure he could keep the Rinaldi’s secret from his political enemies.
But her family had covered their roots well. Whatever revulsion about marrying a Negress he felt was more than squelched by her fortune.
Lucinda smiled at the musicians; as she sipped her champaign. Her green velvet gown clung like seaweed to the delicate young body.
A diamond engagement ring sparkled on her finger. The ring had belonged to his great-grandmother and probably should have been sold to help pay for his fall campaign. But he needed her father as a contributor. This sealed their alliance.
She stared into the candle light and sighed. She did not seem happy. Brad wondered if her thoughts were on that gardener, Jack Brianka. It was time to get rid of him anyway.
Jack loved to walk at night when he could observe the stages of the moon and enjoy the company of the pines and birches that lined his path. It gave him a chance to think about his family and about the girl with whom he had fallen in love. Lucinda was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was prettier than any movie star. He could not continue to live near her, to work for her dad and to pretend he didn’t care. She wasn’t his girl and never would be except in his daydreams.
He had to get away from Lucinda.
But he had other worries too.
Lisa, his younger sister, was unhappy at the orphanage. She needed him or Vonnie there to reassure her. Lisa had deep seated fears and the nightmares came more often now. The orphanage had sent him letters. Lisa needed to go someplace else. She needed to get away form that orphanage.
Lucinda had already agreed to hire Lisa. He worried about his sisters. Vonnie had taken some kind of a beating recently, but neither she nor Lucinda would give him any details. They just said that Vonnie fell. How could he help her, if he didn’t know the truth?
He had to leave Mountain Ridge. Staying would jeopardize his sisters’ jobs. But he also knew he had to stay and protect them.
Lisa was delicate and needed him as much as she needed Vonnie. Since they had lost their parents, he had been more than a big brother to both of them.
The problem was that he was in love with Lucinda Rinaldi. She loved him back, and that could be an even bigger problem for both of them. Lucinda hadn’t told her dad yet, but if he stayed, she would have to tell Enrico. If he stayed, he would be fired. Vonnie would be fired too, and they had to get Lisa out of that orphanage. In a few months, Lisa would be sixteen and she could leave, but she would need the job Lucinda had promised. Lucinda had even tried to get Lisa out of the orphanage earlier.
Jack needed for his sisters to keep their jobs. Despite the best efforts of the president, this economic depression wasn’t getting any better, not for the millions of people still out of work.
He would tell them all his goodbyes. It would be hardest with Lisa. She had already lost both parents and she had been so tiny then. As hard as it had been for him and for Vonnie, he knew it had been harder for Lisa. His youngest sister had never completely recovered from that awful night. He only hoped her nightmares and daytime hangups would not interfere with her job.
He went to the bar on Stephenson and had a beer. The cold drink on a cold night sharpened his senses. But it gave him courage too. He would write letters to his sisters. He thought about moving to Green Bay, Wisconsin. He would not be far away if they needed him.
A radio above the bar played Benny Goodman. Shadow couples moved on the dance floor. Jack finished his beer and walked back into the cold night. He turned on Dickinson Street and started back toward his room above the garage at the Rinaldi’s. It would not take him long to pack.
As he passed the dark gas station on 4th Street, he heard noises coming from within. There shouldn’t be anyone inside this time of night. He moved toward the back door and inched around to the only window. Jack thought he might be preventing a robbery. Another noise caught his attention. This noise came from behind him. Then he heard a sound like a bat being swung. Something hard hit him. He fell to his knees and cracked his head against the cement when he hit the ground. He was dazed and tried to get up. The swishing sound of a baton came again, and he went down again.
The last thing he heard as he lost consciousness was a police whistle. This sound came from too close not to be coming from practically on top of him.
Rose lit a lantern and opened the cellar door. She entered the tunnel and left the door unlocked behind her. Usually she would have closed it firmly and locked it. She turned to the right and moved slowly. She had memorized these passages long ago. When she felt she had gone far enough she set the lantern down, watched as it created patterns on the walls. She sat down waiting.
Jeff Hollander didn’t have a lantern. He didn’t want Rose to know he followed her into the tunnel. He moved slowly and carefully. The darkness didn’t scare him, but he new he could easily trip over a loose rock. The sides of the cave might give way to an abyss. He could experience a nasty fall in here. He had to move noiselessly. He tried to remember twists and turns. He might have to reenter the tunnels later on his own.
Her lantern had stopped moving. Good. She was near the treasure then. She stepped forward. and then stopped. He could see the lantern, but he himself was still in the shadows. He saw her sitting there as if she was waiting for something. The lantern lay in front of her.
Then he saw what was in her hand. A gun.
“You might as well come forward,” she said softly. “I know you’re there. If I fire without knowing exactly where you are, the bullet will ricochet. It might kills us both.”
He hesitated. Then he moved into the light.
“Rose, I was worried about you.”
“No, you weren’t. You were hoping I would show you to my treasure.”
“Nothing of the kind.”
“Turn around and go back.”
“What about you? Will you be okay?”
In answer, she cocked the gun.
He turned around and left.
TO BE CONTINUED...