Vonnie hemmed Lisa’s wedding dress. Lisa had admired the green silk gown in Lucinda’s closet and Lucinda had given Lisa the dress. Silver sequins shimmered on the bodice. Maybe Lisa should have worn a white dress for her wedding. Vonnie had offered to buy her a dress, but Lisa wanted to wear this one.
Lucinda was several inches taller than Lisa, so the green dress had to be carefully hemmed.
“Affair in Washington,” Lisa repeated the phrase. Then she giggled, “That’s where Miss. Lucinda wore this dress. To an affair in Washington. Not to be confused with the other kind of affair.”
“It certainly wasn’t that kind of an affair. Watch what you say, Silly.
“My name isn’t Silly.””
“Don’t even mention that “‘affair’ word in this house,” Vonnie warned her.
“You mean because Jack is seeing Lucinda?”
“Just button your lip.
“And he is not supposed to.” Lisa savored a secret. She would not even tell Dylan.
“I said, Button your lip,” Vonnie repeated. “It wasn’t that kind of an affair. Lucinda wore this dress to a party.”
“I know. I’m just having fun.”
Vonnie had almost finished the stitching when she noticed a few beads loose.
“I’m going to take this home with me and finish it there,” Vonnie said.
The doorbell rang.
Lucinda had told the sisters she would answer the door that day because they were busy with the dress. She swung the door open, and to her surprise over a dozen reporters stood there. “Comment on the Washington Times article,” one of them asked her. A microphone swung over, and it almost hit her in the face. Flashbulbs popped.
Lucinda’s smile disappeared. “What?”
“The Times claims you’re a Negro.”
She slammed the door. A moment later when Vonnie and Lisa hurried into the room, they found Lucinda on the floor trembling.
Lisa made Lucinda some camomile tea while Vonnie called Jack?
Enrico hurried into the room. His secretary had just called with the news of the Times article. He glanced at Vonnie. “Who is she calling?” He asked Lucinda.
“A friend,” Lucinda answered. This was not the time to get into an argument with her dad about her friendship with Jack Brianka. “He should be in his office now. I’m calling the Penobscot,“ Vonnie reported.
Enrico looked confused. “You’re calling Jack Brianka?”
“Who else is going to help us now?” Lucinda asked.
Vonnie was on hold, “He sent someone down to get a copy of the Times,“ she reported.
Lisa brought in the tea. “Should I stay?” she asked.
“Yes,” Lucinda said, but please bring in a few more cups, so you and Vonnie and dad can have tea with me.”
“There’s cookies in the kitchen,“ Lisa said as she hurried away. I made some lemon cookies.”
“Yes,” Vonnie said as Jack came back on the phone. She told her companions, “He has the paper; he’s looking through it.” Then back to Jack, “Yes.” She listened for awhile. She blinked away the tears. Then. “I want you to read the article to Mr. Rinaldi. He’s here.” Vonnie handed the phone to Mr. Rinaldi.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Jack said when his former employer came on the line.
“Just read the article,” Enrico ordered. Jack read the headline:
“The Negress Who Could Have Been First Lady”
The article continued:
When handsome Bradley Davies brought his young bride to
Washington in 1936, many political pundits thought this was a
couple headed for the White House. The Republican Senator
and the heiress Lucinda Rinaldi Davies had everything; money,
intelligence, beauty and ambition.
Her father owned one of the largest mining empires in America,
and had financed Davies’ senatorial campaigns. She attended all
the Washington parties where her beauty was legendary. The most
powerful men in the country paid attention to Lucinda Rinaldi Davies.
She possessed a dark haired beauty that many people believed was
part of an Italian heritage.
But recently documents surfaced revealing that the Rinaldi family
is really the Reynolds family, freed blacks who wandered west after
the Civil War and struck it rich at a silver mine in Nevada. The family
name changed, so they could pass as Italians. They purchased other
properties and made a second fortune in iron ore.
According to Elaine Dabb Mynter, a former maid in the Rinaldi
household, Senator Davies had been unaware of his wife’s race
at the time that he married the beautiful heiress. As soon as he
found out, he quickly divorced her.
After Jack stopped reading: he promised he would look further into the source of the newspaper article and get back to Vonnie.
“What’s to look into?” Enrico shouted. “Elaine Mynter is the source.”
“She had to have proof. Otherwise the papers would not have published…”
“Thank you,” Enrico said and handed the phone back to Vonnie.
Lucinda stared looked into the pea-green liquid of her teacup like someone reading the leaves. “How could Elaine have known?”
Enrico sighed, ”She was a snoop. I caught her going through my papers a couple of times.”
“But the kind of papers that would give away our race…” Lucinda said.
“They were in the safe and a couple of times, I left the door open.”
“Father, how could you? We can trust Vonnie and Lisa, but you knew Elaine was after your money. You knew her reputation.”
“And you hired her, Lucinda.” When he raised his voice at Lucinda, he startled all three of the women. They had never heard him raise his voice to his daughter before. They had never seen him this angry.
“I’m sorry, father. With the two girls and this big house, we needed help. I just didn’t see that she could do any harm.”
“Why should it matter?” Lisa asked.
Vonnie patted her on the arm. “It does. It just does.”
“It shouldn’t matter,” Lisa insisted. She bit her lip. She didn’t want the others to see her fear. Would it help Lucinda? She doubted it.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Lucinda said.
“Well, it should,” her father barked at her. “Whitney will never marry you now.”
“I don’t want to marry Whitney. I didn’t want to marry Brad, and look what a disaster that turned out to be. Whitney might be different. I don’t know if he is racist or not, but I don’t love him.”
“Think about your daughters,” her father yelled at her.
“They’ll marry for love.”
“And what if either one of them loves a White man? Will he want her? Even Carol with her one hundred percent Anglo Saxon blood is tainted now.”
“Tainted? Father, is that is what you think of our race? It’s not what I think. Maybe I’m proud to be a Negro.”
“Proud that your great grandfather was a slave.”
“Better than being a slave owner,” Lisa almost whispered.
The others turned toward her, surprised that she had again spoken.
“Yes,” Lucinda said. She wanted to go over and hug her crazy maid.
“You can’t toss away your future.” Enrico said.
“Father, you probably suspected I’ve been seeing Jack Brianka in secret.”
“And in defiance of my wishes. You can still get a rich man, Lucinda. You’re beautiful. There are wealthy men who will gladly court you.”
“Father, Jack isn’t a poor man. I think you had him checked out.”
“Yes, when he refused my offer, $100,000 to never see you again. I didn’t see how he could refuse.”
“But he did. Father, he isn’t Mafia connected like some people say. He makes his money…”
“I know how he makes his money.” Enrico started to raise from the overstuffed green chair where he had been sitting. He got halfway to a sitting position and fell back down. His face turned purple; he struggled to catch his breath.
Lucinda screamed as she rushed to her father.
Vonnie jumped to her feet. “Hurry, Lisa, run and get Dr. Tracie.”
Lisa ran out the door, collided with a reporter who tried to grab her.
“What gives, little girl?”
“The White maids are deserting the Black ship,” someone laughed. Lisa collided with another reported reporter and fell to the sidewalk. Someone snapped her picture laying on the sidewalk. “Do you suppose the Niggers kicked her out?”
“What’s with the green dress, little girl?” Lisa was on her feet in seconds and running.
Vonnie didn’t realize her sister’s peril. She was busy cradling the phone. Where was the operator? There were so many calls trying to get through that she could not get an outside line.
Elaine had a new dress including shoes and a purse. Her lipstick was the same shade Katherine Hepburn wore in “Without Love.” Her story had sold for $5,000. Perhaps she could write a book, “I was a servant to a Nigger family.” She was sure it would sell millions.
She would be as popular as - well she could only think of a few fiction authors, John Byrnes, Agatha Christie, Zane Gray. Elaine was not much of a reader, but she had seen books by these authors around. The Rinaldis were readers as were those dreadful Brianka girls.
Whitney Cummings stayed at the hotel, and she knew exactly what time he came down for dinner. She tipped the waiter to seat her opposite him. She sipped an expensive wine and waited.
Dr. Tracie with Lisa right behind him had to push his way through a crowd of reporters. When he entered the house and hurried to the study, he found Vonnie weeping on the couch. Lucinda held her father in her arms, and she rocked him gently back and forth. She slowly eased him to the floor when she noticed the doctor.
Tracie checked for a pulse and listened for a heartbeat that was no longer there. “He’s dead,” the doctor said.
Lucinda already knew.
After Whitney Cummings was seated and had ordered his dinner, Elaine approached him.
“Mr. Cummings, I don’t think we have been introduced. I’m Elaine Mynter.”
“I know who you are, Mrs. Mynter.“
“It’s Miss Mynter. I’ve been divorced for several years now.”
“What can I do for you, Miss Mynter?”
“Perhaps I can join you for dinner.” She gave him her prettiest smile, and adjusted the fur wrap she wore.
“I’ll be dining alone. “ he said simply.
She had been a maid long enough to know she was being dismissed. Still she paused. There had to be way. “I thought you would want to thank me. You wouldn’t want to end up married to Lucinda Rinaldi. The tramp has a boyfriend…”
“Enough,” he said and motioned to a man at the bar who hurried over and gently took Elaine’s arm to led her away.
She sighed. There were other rich men.
A massive layoff followed the mine sale.
Rumor had it that the new owner would employ the miners in new jobs.
But the new owner disappeared. People speculated on what happened to him as they drank their coffee at the Yorkie cafe.
“He’s been dating that Lucinda Rinaldi.”
“He ain’t dating her no more.”
“He sure ain’t gonna marry a Nigger.”
“I saw him talking to that Dabb girl, Elaine. The one who was married to Emil Mynter’s son.”
“What do we do for jobs? Damn the Rinaldis.”
Whatever plans Whiney Cummings may have mentioned to the Rinaldis dissolved. Hundreds of unemployed miners applied for unemployment benefits in Mountain Ridge.
Whitney had been right about tourism. People took to the highways in record numbers; cars had more popularity than ever. But Michigan was not the usual destination. Popular highway routes missed Michigan and wound to the south.
Sure, Michigan had waterways and wild game, but other states offered more warmth and better recreational opportunities.
Cummings decided his investment was a loss. He could not continue to court that beautiful Lucinda Rinaldi, though he would have liked to. A successful white businessman could not have a Negro wife.
Chapin Pit would never have a fountain; Almasy House would not be restored.
Bitterness flared against the Rinaldis. Hate and fear ruled the city as it always did when jobs were lost.
The funeral of Enrico Rinaldi, the man who had once been the largest employer in town, was small.
Lucinda was there with her little daughters and her maids, Vonnie and Lisa; the Mynter clan came as did a strange man who pulled his cap low over his eyes, and wore what looked like a fake beard.
As usual Mary and Elsie cooked and baked and brought over as much food as their cars could carry. The Mynter sons served as pallbearers. Dylan felt honored to carry Enrico Rinaldi’s coffin, though he blinked tears from his eyes. He had liked Mr. Rinaldi.
Lucinda made plans to move to Detroit. She and Vonnie began closing down the house. Lisa’s pretty green dress was brought to the farm for more repairs.
Lisa wasn’t sure, she wanted to get married.
“Of course, you do, honey,” Vonnie told her. “Dylan will take care of you. You need someone to take care of you.”
“I guess,” Lisa said. “What’s going to happen to you?”
“I have a house, five acres is enough to put in a decent crop. Dennis will sell me a few chickens; there’s a barn for a cow or two.”
“You’re going to be a farmer,” Lisa paused. “On just five acres of land.”
“I have a widow’s pension.”
“You can’t move to Detroit with Lucinda?”
“She asked me, but Mountain Ridge is my home.”
“It’s her home too.”
“Not anymore,” Vonnie said.
Carol Ann and Starr were sent south after Enrico’s funeral. Lucinda had a friend in Detroit who would care for them until her home was ready. Not even Vonnie knew the name of that friend. A woman met Lucinda at the train station. The children cried and even screamed as they were pulled away from her. Lucinda promised to be with them soon.
Carol Ann had already lost one mother and a grandfather. Lucinda would not let her lose another one. “I’ll join you. Don’t worry. I just have to close the house.”
Vonnie opened the pantry door and sighed. “What are we going to do with all this food?”
“The Mynters brought so much to my father’s funeral. Do you think they’ll take some of it back?” Lucinda asked.
“Are you kidding. Mary and Elsie are preparing for Lisa’s wedding, and they aren’t using left overs. Dennis tells me they make regular trips to the farm.”
“Well, we have to do something with it. How about giving it to Lisa and Dylan.”
“They’re moving in with Emil. I don’t think he needs supplies. Not with his daughters cooking for him.” Vonnie sighed. “There’s a hobo camp up the road. We could get some of those men to come in and take the canned goods.”
“I don’t think hoboes use flour and baking soda.”
“But they’ll like soup. I’ll cook some things for them.”
Lucinda and Vonnie both wore black slacks and gray blouses. They were as slender as Lana Turner and Katherine Hepburn. Each had her hair tied back in bandana.”
“What about the furniture?” Vonnie asked.
“You take it.”
“I’ve got furniture.”
“Ancient furniture,” Lucinda said.
“I don’t think a velvet couch would look right in the old farmhouse.”
“Maybe you could have a sale,” Lucinda suggested.
“The farm will keep me busy enough. Where am I going to have time for a garage sale?”
“Maybe Lisa and Dylan will take some of it.”
“They’re living with his dad. At least for awhile.”
“Well, who says Emil can’t use some great furniture.”
The two women sat in silence for awhile. “I’ll make some tea,” Vonnie said.
When Vonnie went outside, she noticed that the house had been egged. Someone had tossed at least a dozen eggs at the front porch.
She walked around the side of the house. Someone had painted “NIGGER” there in bold red letters.
Lucinda followed her outside. “I thought the people in this town were my friends,” she said.
“We need to call the sheriff,” Vonnie said.
“Leo Olson?” Lucinda shook her head. “I hear he’s head of the local Klan.”
“He’s also the sheriff. We can’t let people get away with this.”
“They already have,” Lucinda said. “Come on. Let’s make lunch. We have lots of packing to do.”
“I want to clean this up,” Vonnie said.
“After we eat,” Lucinda gently tugged at her arm, and together the two women went inside.
The theater was a long single-story building. Hollywood movies came to town and played three, four, five or sometimes six evenings. The weekends had kiddie matinees starring the cowboy heroes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
Dylan walked Lisa over to the candy selection where she could choose her snack for during the film. Lisa always ordered the gum balls; Dylan ordered two popcorns, one for himself and one for Lisa, and two Coca Cola beverages.
Lisa saw every new picture show that came to town. Vonnie used to go with her more often. Of course, Dylan liked to take her to see the movies. But she preferred to go to the show alone. Not that she got to do so very often. Usually Dylan insisted on coming along. And both Dylan and Vonnie made a fuss if she went out alone.
A killer stalked women in the Upper Peninsula. Everyone knew that from time to time bodies showed up, and there were probably more bodies that had never been found. At least that’s what some people speculated. Dylan always warned her about going anyplace alone at night or even during the day.
They watched “Men in Her Diary” with Jon Hall and Peggie Ryan.
Lisa loved Jon Hall. She supposed some people would call it a crush. She wanted to go to Hollywood and meet him. She wanted him to fall in love with her.
Lisa didn’t love Dylan, and she didn’t want to marry him, but no one else had ever courted her. No one else had ever asked her. Was it because they believed she was crazy?
Would she keep going to movies after she got married? Would she always have to bring Dylan along? Lisa nibbled on her gum balls as the newsreel showed President Truman talking to workers in Florida.
How could she get out of this marriage?
The wedding would be small. Just family would attend. Mostly his family. Jack couldn’t attend. He had sent a nice gift of a thousand dollars.
Dylan accepted this gift. She was afraid the rest of his family would want him to refuse. Some of them, she was sure, believed Jack was a Mafia killer.
They would be living with Emil. Dylan said he purchased Emil’s house, but that Emil would stay there. Lisa didn’t want to live with the old man. He was scary like Mr. Rinaldi. People who were too smart, too pretty or too rich scared her. They were more like employers, than friends or family. She had told Dylan she didn’t want to live with Emil, but Dylan had said what a great house it was.
Dylan’s youngest brothers Ken and Bill had moved out. They were both in college now and soon they would be getting married and having families of their own. Emil had that big house, and it just made sense to everyone else that she and Dylan would move in there.
Lisa wanted to go to Hollywood instead and marry Jon Hall. She sighed when the actor came on the screen.
When I walked past the museum, Mary Mynter Smith was putting her coat on.
“Penny, we miss you. We could really use the extra help.”
“Thanks.” I was ready to get away from Lisa and her problems, but I just couldn’t walk away. Mrs. Mynter and I walked toward the foyer. “Did you guys know how Jack Brianka got to be such a rich man? I mean back then when Dylan married Lisa,” I asked.
“We knew very little truth about the Briankas. We still don’t know much about them..”
“What do you want to know?” I asked. “You’d tell me? Penny, I know you’re friends with them.”
“No,” I corrected her. “I’m just the hired hand.”
“You’re more than that. You know it.”
I nodded. Explaining why I hung around would be difficult. I wasn’t sure myself.
“But you knew Jack wasn’t mobbed up.” “We had, of course, heard that rumor. What else could we think? He was wealthy, and he didn’t work. I suppose some people suspected his wealth had something to do with Lucinda Rinaldi.”
“But it didn’t.” I reminded her. “Sure they were…” I paused unsure how to phrase that relationship. “more than friends, but she wasn’t supporting him.”
“Even his sisters didn’t know how he made his living.”
“They knew,” I said. “He told Lisa when she was visiting him down state, and Vonnie probably knew before that.” I smiled though I wasn’t sure what the joke was. “It was a family secret.”
On Lucinda’s last night in Mountain Ridge, she and Vonnie popped popcorn. Then they sat on a velvet couch in the living room. Blue shadows fell around them, so they looked like actresses on a black and white movie screen. Each woman held a steaming cup of tea. The steam rose about them giving the room an unreal quality.
“The dresses I don’t bring with me, I want you to have,” Lucinda said.
“Where would I wear fancy dresses?”
“Throw some parties out at the farm.”
“Sure, just me and the cows.”
“I understand Dennis Cheney is marrying that pretty Indian girl.”
“Dancing Bear? Dr. Tracie offered to take her into his practice. She’s an M.D. you know.” Vonnie liked the idea of an educated woman. She wished she could have gone on to college. Jack was doing okay as a consultant, despite not having graduated from college, but it would probably be harder for her, a woman with just housekeeping experience behind her, to find a professional-level job. Lucinda was talking about Danni.
“I remember getting herbs from her when she was a teenager. She sold some herbal medicine. And they worked.” Lucinda stared at her cup for awhile “She was wonderful when she helped Dr. Tracie deliver Starr.”
“She graduated at the head of her class.” Vonnie stroked the sides of her china cup. “But people probably won’t go to her,” She sipped her tea.
“Dr. Tracie’ son will be coming to town to practice. We might have three doctors. But then Old Dr. Tracie is probably anxious to retire. And Danni won’t be able to practice.”
Lucinda nodded. Both women knew how unfair racism could be. They were silent for a few minutes, as if breathing in the pain of their thoughts.
The subject had to be changed.
Lucinda said, “And Lisa is marrying a Mynter. How many of the Mynters are there?”
“Ten I think. Seven boys and three girls. I don’t know how many grandchildren Emil has. Lisa can stay busy learning all their names. Old Emil must really be getting up in age.”
“He’s been retired for a few years. My father really missed him when he left,” Lucinda said. Silence lay between the women for awhile. Then Lucinda said. “You need to keep an eye on her, Vonnie. She’s fragile..”
Vonnie knew Lucinda was talking about her sister. “She’s moving into Emil Mynter’s big house.”
They drank more camomile tea and hoped it would make them less sad. They heard the front door open and close as Lisa came back from the movies.
“Where’s Dylan?” Lucinda asked. “You should have invited him in.”
Lisa shrugged. She didn’t want Dylan in her life anymore than he needed to be. She had told him she had a headache. Really she wanted to daydream about Jon Hall for awhile. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Come, join us,” Vonnie said.
Lucinda put her tea cup aside and got up off the sofa. She opened a bottle of wine. “We have to celebrate,“ she said.
“I am going to miss you too much to celebrate your leaving,” Vonnie said. Still she went over to the liquor cabinet and took out three glasses.
“We’ll celebrate Lisa’s wedding,” Lucinda said. “Dylan’s a great guy. I would marry him myself.”
“Why don’t you?” Lisa asked innocently. Then she was embarrassed. No one knew that she didn’t really want to marry Dylan. It sounded like she was insulting Lucinda because the dark girl had just lost a suitor probably due to her race. Would Vonnie and Lucinda be angry at her? Soon the three women were on their second and third glasses of wine.
They sipped, giggled and talked. Lucinda took off her shoes and the sisters after a moment did the same.
They were quietly talking when the first rock came through the window.
A hooded figure rose out of the darkness outside.