Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chapter Twelve

Emil and his family packed several picnic baskets with food and then they piled into cars and a truck. When they got to the Cheney place, everyone grabbed a hamper or helped carry one.

There were eighteen Mountain Ridge Mynters including the grandchildren. Emil counted heads as Mary knocked on Ezekial’s door and waited. The women had been up since before dawn cooking.

They brought three cooked turkeys, platters of pork cooked three different ways, six roasted chickens, bowls of mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, corn and squash; four apple pies and a strawberry- rhubarb pie.

Vonnie opened the door and stepped aside. She looked at all the baskets of food. “What are we going to do with all this?” She exclaimed.

“Don’t worry. You’ll need every morsel. Most of the town will turn out for old Ezekial’s funeral. After all, he was the only Civil War veteran left in this town.”

“I don’t know how we can handle it.”

Emil nodded to Dylan. “We’ll set up a barbecue pit in the barn, and that should keep everyone warm out there. We can make serving tables from old boards, cover them with tablecloths.”

“I don’t have enough tablecloths,” Vonnie protested. “Where will I get the boards?”

“We brought all the supplies we’ll need.” Emil nodded to his sons, and they set to work. Emil then turned to Lisa. “You must be the sister-in-law.”

She nodded.

“You think you can help my kids get this show on the road? Dylan, find a chore for this pretty lady.”

Lisa blushed. She had never been called a pretty lady before. She didn’t think she was pretty, but she smoothed her dress and appreciated the compliment.

Emil glanced around and saw little Louis, Vonnie’s son, peaking nervously from beneath the kitchen table. “Who’s taking care of this young man? Dylan that would be you and the pretty lady.”

“My name’s Lisa” she said shyly. “I take care of Louis.”

“He looks like a real handful. Why don’t you let Dylan help you?” Emil walked away, and soon he and Vonnie were directing traffic and finding chores for everyone except Lisa and Dylan.

“Is Louis going to the funeral?” Dylan asked.

“Oh my Gosh, the funeral. I was just about to get ready.”

“Go on,” Dylan said. “I’ll watch Louis.”

“I have to get the him dressed too. Vonnie and I were about to do that.”

“I’ll dress him. Show me where you keep his clothes.”

Lisa led Dylan upstairs. As far as she knew no one had been up there before except family. “That was Ezekial’s bedroom” she said. “You can dress Louis in there. I’ll get some of his clothes.”

“My name is Louis.” The little boy said.

“I have a brother named Louis,” Dylan told him. “He’s outside setting up picnic tables.”

Lisa said, “That’s nice. I mean about you having a brother named Louis. I mean…” She felt frustrated, and she blushed. Dylan was very good looking, and she had been around few people her age since the orphanage. She backed away. “Are you coming to the funeral?” She asked Dylan.

“Dad is. The rest of us would go, but we have to stay here and set things up for a dinner afterward. Like dad said the whole town’ll be here. It’s not everyday we get to bury a Civil War hero.”

Ezekial’s funeral was the first Lisa had attended since her mother’s funeral. Back then she hadn’t understood that her mother was gone. And she had kept waiting for her pa to show up. She had been just a little bit older than little Louis back then.

She would miss Ezekiel. She sat beside Dennis with little Louis between her and Vonnie, and she listened as first the minister and then the mayor and then some state senator droned on and on about the courage of men like Ezekiel Cheney.

After the long services, the coffin was brought outside and lowered into the ground. Vonnie stood at the edge of the grave and wept. Lisa backed away until she stood at the edge of the cemetery. She looked around and noticed her mother’s headstone. She touched the rough granite. Was Martha Brianka’s ghost here watching the ceremony?

Beside Martha’s grave stood that of Louis Almasy.

She knew why they were buried here together slightly away from other graves. Martha had married a Jew; Louis had shot himself. Good Christians would not let such sinners be buried in their midst. Lisa knew that she herself was not a good Catholic. Despite the upbringing at the orphanage, she did not consider herself a Catholic at all.

Then Vonnie picked up little Louis, and they let Dennis drive them home.

As promised, the Mynters had the funeral feast ready. Mary had even brought a guest book for visitors to sign. Back at the farm house, Louis joined about a dozen other children in play. They chased each other around the chicken coup and played endless games of hide and seek. Lisa wanted to play with the children, but Louis seemed to have forgotten her as he laughed and lost his shyness in the presence of other little ones.

Lisa found a corner to be alone. Strangers buzzed around her. She didn’t know them, but they seemed to know about her family.

Bits and pieces of conversation drifted toward her.

“So you think the wife will inherit the farm?”

“Let’s hope not.”

“He was what? A hundred years old. No way did he father that little kid.” “Of course, not. But Louis is his heir. After all, he did marry the mother. Must have been drunk.”

“She probably got him drunk.”

“What gets into an old geezer? Marrying a young girl like that?”

“She’s a Brianka girl.”

“Didn’t they all get ridden out of town?”

 “Their pa did.”

“Should have been on a rail.”

“It was. At least that is what some people say. Some say the pa just high tailed it out of town. Didn’t want a bunch of brats.”

“I heard the pa got himself killed.”

“Should have run the whole lot out of the state.”

“Is the brother - what is his name? - still in prison?”

“He got out. Lord knows where he is now. But he won’t show his face here. That’s for sure.”

“Rinaldi would run him out of town.”

“Why would he care?”

“Brianka had some thing for Lucinda Rinaldi. They were close.”

“I don’t believe it. Not for one minute. What would the likes of Lucinda Rinaldi Davies want with someone like Jack Brianka?”

“Well, she’s married and living in Washington now. Her husband’s big shot senator from one of those fancy families out East. At least things worked out good for her.”

“No way was that girl involved with Jack Brianka.”

“Lucinda was always a sucker for taking in stray animals and giving out handouts to hoboes.” The woman who said that was shaking her head and looking like she just ate something distasteful.

Mary’s husband walked up to him. “What? You don’t like my wife’s cooking?”

Enrico Rinaldi had not gone to the church service, but he had sent flowers to the church. Vonnie hadn’t expected to see Lucinda, but late in the day as other guests were headed for home, Lucinda’s chauffeur drove her new Ford Opera Coupe into the farmyard. The chauffeur wore a beard, and his hat was pulled low, so no one could see much of his face. He opened the car door for his passenger and then stayed beside the car. Lucinda rushed to her friend’s arms.

She wore a black two piece suit with black pearls on the bodice and a kick pleat in front. “I’m so sorry,” she said as she hugged her dad’s maid.

Vonnie had tears in her eyes. “He was so good. He married me when I was pregnant. He never cared who the father was. He left the house to me. He never asked for anything but help with the chores.”

“Ezekiel was a good man,” Lucinda agreed. “None better.”

“Like your dad,” Vonnie said.

“And your brother.”

Vonnie turned away from her friend. How she missed Jack. She dried her eyes and then poured Lucinda a cup of coffee. When Vonnie looked out the window, she noticed one of the Mynter girls was serving the chauffeur lemonade. He kept his head down.

“How long are you in town? Lucinda, everyone has been so worried about you. I have to call your dad now.”

My father and I already talked. In fact, I just came from his house. I didn’t tell him everything, but enough. I’m not going back to Brad. My father has withdrawn all financial support from Brad’s reelection campaign, and he is supporting my decision to divorce Brad.”

“I know how awful he treated you, but he’s so powerful. Will he cause trouble?”

“He had better not.”

“What if he goes to the newspapers? What if he tells reporters that…”

“That I am a Negro. He won’t dare. He’s too afraid of my father and my father’s money. I’ve hired lawyers.”

Vonnie hoped her friend would be all right. She knew how racist people could be. People still sometimes referred to her and to Lisa as Jew brats. “Lucinda, please stay away from Jack. You can protect yourself. But he’s an ex con now.”

“Jack and I are seeing each other.”

“What about your father? He doesn’t want you married to Jack”

“He doesn’t know. I told Father I got a motel room after I left Brad and that I needed to be by myself to think things over.”

“If your dad finds out you were with Jack, he’ll kill Jack.”

“No, he won’t.”

Vonnie shook her head. Enrico Rinaldi certainly wouldn’t want Lucinda seeing his ex gardener. There was too much sadness to talk about Jack just then. “Come out to the barn,” she told Lucinda. “There’s enough food to feed an army. The Mynters brought most of it, but just about everyone brought something. We’ve got every kind of salad and side dish you can name.”

“Heavens, no. My stomach is queasy. It must be the stress of the last few days.”

“ How’s Lisa working out? She hasn’t burned your dad’s house down, has she?

 “She’s just so nervous about everything; she makes father nervous. How soon can you come back?”


When the back door opened, they both looked that way. The chauffeur took his hat off and Vonnie ran to her brother’s arms.

Jack and Vonnie walked along the gravel road that separated Dennis’s land from hers. Leafy trees provided shade. The sun seeping past the leaves created patterns on the road. A creek bubbled past them.

“Sorry, I couldn’t make the funeral.”

“You can’t be recognized,” Vonnie told him. “Would they throw you back in jail?”

“Most likely they would just escort me to the county line and tell me to keep moving. Unless the sheriff wants to set me up for some new crime. They haven’t caught the Michigan killer yet. Miles would love for it to be me.”

“Miles would shoot you. So would Lucinda’s dad. I’ve got my job to worry about.”

Jack gave a short laugh. “Are you more concerned with losing me or your job?”

“I don’t want to move. It would be hard on Lisa.”

“Stay here. You’ve got this land; you can help Lisa, and she can live here. Mr. Rinaldi won’t blame you for anything I do.”

They walked in silence for awhile.

“Lisa doin’ all right?” he asked.

“Yes, she’s fine.”

“What about the nightmares?”

“She’s better. But still scared.”

“Of what?”

 “Hanged men. Darkness. Do you think our pa was murdered that night?”

“He’s dead, Vonnie. I have it on good authority. A Detroit gang helped cover up the lynching.”

“Then maybe she did see him killed that night?”

He didn’t answer right away. “We can’t change the past,” he finally said.

“So what’s the future? Are you going to marry Lucinda? She loves you.”

“We can’t marry. Her dad is backing her decision to divorce Davies. But he doesn’t know about us.”

“He suspects,” Vonnie said. “You didn’t drive her right up to her father’s house, did you?”

“No. I got out of the car. She took over the wheel and went on alone. I sat at the Yorke cafe while she visited Enrico.”

“So what happens next for Lucinda? Another loveless marriage? She’s such a fine person.”

“Maybe her next husband will be worthy. I just know it can’t be me.”

A week later Vonnie was in the Rinaldi’s kitchen washing breakfast dishes, when Lucinda came in. The senator’s wife was still in her nightgown.

“You didn’t eat much’ Vonnie said. “You want me to make you something else?”

Lucinda shook her head. “I’m pregnant. It’s Jack’s baby. Brad never touched me. Jack was the only one.”

Vonnie hurriedly dried her hands and sat down beside her pretty employer. “What are you going to do?”

“Have the baby, of course, and force Brad to help support it.”

“He’ll know it isn’t his child. He’ll cause a scandal.”

“No, he won’t. Before I left, he told me his mistress was having a baby, and I was to raise it.” Lucinda laughed. “He said I was to be the mammy. He’s announced we are having a baby. The joke will be on him.”

“Maybe you can go to Europe and have the baby secretly, and then you can bring it back and claim it’s a cousin’s baby or that you adopted it. That way Jack stays out of this. No one will know the truth.”

“No one except us. We will know who the father is. And Jack. I can’t keep it a secret from him. He would know anyway. And Brad… And Brad…”

Vonnie took Lucinda’s hand. “Lucinda, I’m scared. This could get Jack killed. You know what happened to my pa.” Vonnie hardly dared think about what had happened to her dad.

“Jack told me,” Lucinda said simply.

The two women clung to each other.

Lucinda had told her dad that she and Brad had never had relations. That had been the truth. She didn’t want to lie to him now, but it was necessary. “There was one time. Just before I left. I guess he thought it would keep this Nigger in her place,” she said.

Enrico stared at her for a long time. She knew he didn’t believe her. “Lucinda, did he rape you?”


“Do you want to tell me where you were those weeks after you left Brad.”

She turned away. She didn’t answer. He knows, she thought.

After a long moment, he asked, “Do you want me to call the senator?”

“I’ll do it,” she said.

Lucinda and the senator had unfinished business. She bought a gun and went to Washington herself. She let herself into the spacious home that her dad had rented for them.

Brad would have to pick up the next year’s rent if he could afford it. Her father sure wasn’t paying the bills anymore. She went right to her bedroom where the closets were bare. A black maid followed her into the room. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Davies,” she said.

“What happened to my things?” asked Lucinda. “Do you know?”

“Senator Davies ordered them put out. He took your jewelry. I think he sold it.”

“Okay,” Lucinda said simply. She sat for a minute catching her breath. Then got up to go.

As she started down the stairs, the maid called after her. “Mrs. Davies, wait. Some of your things are still here. We took some of the dresses. They’re so pretty, and we wanted to remember you. I’ll get the dresses.”

“No,” Lucinda said. “Please. Keep them. I don’t want any reminders of my life here.” She hurried the rest of the way down the stairs and almost made it to the door when Brad Davies came home. He dismissed the maid.

“I was leaving, but as long as you’re here, we have business to discuss.”

“I have no business with Niggers,” he said. “Just get out.”

“Don’t you want to tell me about your mistress and the baby I was supposed to be mammy to.”

He didn’t answer. Shades of gray covered his face as if great anger descended on him.

She smiled. “Turns out, Brad. We’ll have a baby, after all. I’m pregnant.”

He gave a brief laugh. “It looks like you got something out of your visit to Jack Brianka. You think I didn’t have you followed? What will your father say? You little tramp.”

“The baby gets your name. Unless you want to tell people you were never a husband to me and why.”

“Just get out.”

“On my way.” she assured him. “I’m not asking for child support. Just the name, Senator.”

With that she hurried out the door. She didn’t feel safe until she was in the hired car and on her way to the airport. Thank heavens it wasn’t his baby that she was carrying.