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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Working on two (yes two) novels at the same time

I've already posted an excerpt of my time-travel novel taking my heroine back to Nazi Germany. This, of course, will entail some research for historical accuracy.

So being the masochist that I am, I also started working on a shelved story, expanding it out. This, too, takes place in the 1930s but this time the location is stateside, Joplin, Missouri to be exact. And it will feature some historical figures famous (or rather infamous) during that time, include Bonnie and Clyde. I'm posting a couple of chapters below. This is a first draft with no beta reader at this time, so bear with me.


Joplin, Missouri, 1933

Teddy stared at the menacing rifle barrow pointed at the store owner. Mr. Wilmer's rodent features were frozen with fear, his balding head beaded with sweat - whether from the heat of the day or from pure terror, it didn't matter. Having a rifle pointed at you was bound to make a body perspire.

"Now, we're not going to have any problems here, are we?" the robber asked.

Teddy took stock of him. He wasn't that much taller than Mr. Wilmer. He was a sight more cooler than the shop owner, though, that was for sure. Not a bead of sweat on his forehead. Dark haired with funny ears, he might have been a laughable figure. But not with that gun in his hand.

Mr. Wilmer shook his head in answer to the robber's question.

"Good then. Now what I need for you to do is fill this here bag with all of the money from your till. And don't think you can hold anything back now. That wouldn't be very smart, now would it?"

Again, the shop owner shook his head as he took the proffered bag and stepped behind the register, opened it and began filling the bag with the several bills and coins.

There was only one other customer in Wilmer's Five and Dime at the moment, a blond middle-aged woman with a tattered tan hat and sagging breasts accentuated by a drab brown shapeless dress. The customer stood on the opposite side of the store, her hand covering her mouth, maybe trying to prevent herself from crying out and calling attention to herself.

But unfortunately the robber did notice her. Once he was given the bag full of money, he pointed the barrel toward her - or rather at the black patent-leather purse hanging from her arm.

"I'm so sorry to have to do this, but I need you to hand me that purse, dahlin'. Would you be a good soul and do that for me?"

Her hand still covering her mouth, the frightened woman slid the purse off the other arm and quickly handed it to the man.

"That was very decent of you," the robber said with a nod. "And now..."

He finally turned his sights on Teddy. The shotgun followed suit. Teddy's breath caught in her throat and would go no further. She wondered if he'd shoot her if she suddenly fainted.

"Well, well, not used to seeing a fine lookin' nigger in these parts. But I believe in treating everyone the same. Money is money no matter who owns it. So if you'd be a good soul and hand me your purse..."

Hearing that word...a word that always got her dander up...put some steel in her backbone. No, she'd be damned if she fainted now, even if he threatened to fill her full of lead.

"I'm sorry, but I need my purse. I'm here to purchase some flour. Baking a pecan pie tonight."

The man looked at her with a raised eyebrow, incredulous at her gumption...then broke out in a full laugh. Then the laughter cut short.

"I bet you make a good pecan pie, too and I want you alive to do just that. So again, I'm not asking this time..." his expression hardened... "hand over the damn purse."

Teddy sized up that look, a look she'd seen before. He would shoot her dead without a blink of an eye. And she wasn't about dying...not today. So she reluctantly handed over the purse, cursing her luck to come here at the very hour a robber would have to hold up the convenience store.

With his booty in hand, the robber barreled out the store with a slight limp, the little bell above the door tinkling in his wake.

"Oh dear Jesus!" the other woman cried out, clutching her chest, looking near about to faint. Teddy hurried over to her.

"Are you all right, ma'am?" Teddy asked.

The older woman nodded, but her skin was paler than it'd been a few moments ago.

In the meantime, Mr. Wilmer had rushed to the wall phone just past the register counter. He muttered expletives the few seconds it took for him to dial the operator and for her to answer.

"Marge! This is Wilmer over at the five and dime! Git me Sheriff Yates! I've just been robbed.. Wha'? What do you mean by who?! How the fuck do I know by who!? It's not like he introduced himself! Just get me the damn sheriff now!"

He slammed the phone on its cradle and turned to his stricken customers.

"Mrs. Cullough, I apologize for what you just went through. Rest assured the sheriff is on his way over. I'd appreciate it if you stayed to give your account of the robbery."

"What about me?" Teddy asked. "Do you need an account from me. After all, I was robbed, too."

The rodent-visaged store owner turned distracted eyes on Teddy.

"You can do what you want but I'm sure Mrs. Cullough's word is more than enough for the Sheriff."

"I'm sure my word is just as good..."

"Girl, I didn't say your word wasn't no good. Jus' that I don't need no other account but Mrs. Cullough's. Now did you need to get somethin' here or what?"

Teddy's necked stiffened.

"How am I to gonna buy anything with no money? Unless you're willing to extend me some credit."

"'Fraid I can't do that."

"Yeah, sure you can't" Teddy said with sugar in her voice. Sugar that had an edge to it, a tartness that spoke to an anger simmering just beneath the surface. Now here she was offering her help in getting all of their money back, and this fool was dismissing her as though she was some dog poop beneath his shoe.

She started to speak her mind but thought better of it. No use building bad blood, especially as Mr. Wilmer's store was the nearest in walking distance. Not too many offerings for foodstuff and miscellany.

Teddy took a deep breath, turned her back on Mr. Wilmer who was still offering solicitude to his other customer...his white customer...and walked out of the store. The sound of the tinkling bell followed her out the door.

The sun's heat hit her hard immediately after the cool shade of the store's interior. Felt like it could get up to over a hundred today. She thought regretfully about her zinnias back at the house. They'd be wilting soon. Distressed, she instinctively reached for a purse that was no longer there, thought about the twenty-something dollars that had taken a week to earn, now forever gone, as well as the pecan pie that wouldn't be made anytime soon. After all, she had no flour to make a crust. She did have milk, butter, baking powder and a whole bag of newly shelled pecans...but no flour.

She walked the edge of the road heading home as she fought tears of frustration. The unseasonably hot March air stifled her breath, sapped at her strength. Her legs were leaden, her body ready to drop, beads of sweat dotting her forehead. Still she walked, counting each step...ten, eleven...twenty-two...forty-seven. Just over a half-hour and one-hundred-and-two steps later she stood in front of a yellow three-story house with a white trim and wilting green and yellow zinnias lining the walkway leading to four white-painted stone stairs.These led up to a porch with a white painted swing.

It was her haven, this home. As she stood there, she felt a little bit of verve return to her. This house was hers, all hers, passed down from a father to his only child. Hard won and held on to despite the machinations of a city council that had been affronted decades ago by the very idea of such a prime realty belonging to a Negro man. There were acreage all around and the nearest neighbors were a mile and half in any direction.

The house consisted of three bedrooms, a parlor, a full dining room, a large kitchen - more than enough room for one body and a few more. At times she rented out one of the bedrooms when someone was passing through town. Even without a boarding sign up, folk knew her name, had put the word out.

Her main pride in addition to her home was being able to provide a meal worthy of any diner she'd ever eaten in. She had hoped to take the pecan pie over to Mrs. Williams. The elderly woman was recovering from a bad flu spell and her appetite had picked up lately. Although just a tad over eighty, the woman had a sweet tooth to rival any child's. But now Teddy's plan had to be scrapped.

Teddy started up the stone stairs, her steps slightly dragging. Damn, losing that money had taken something out of her. It would take another week of taking in washing to recoup her loss. Money didn't last too long what with bills and food and the expense of just plain breathing.

She'd reached the top stair when the sound of a car coming down the dusty road made her turn. Not many cars drove this way.

She spotted the blue and white Studebaker kicking up gravel as it slowly wound down the street. It was a sharp and gleaming monster and looked like it'd just gotten off the assembly line that morning. The car slowed even more as it approached, then came to a complete stop in front of her house.

She waited, curiosity and dread vying for a top spot in her head. In her twenty-eight years, she'd learned that shiny, new things sometimes brought trouble with them.

The driver's door opened and a man stepped out. White, which was unusual to see in this part of town.

Tall, dark hair bared to the sun, and despite the heat, dressed in a dapper blue serge, double-breasted suit, the man was just as "shiny" as his car. Something about him set her spider's senses off. Again, she didn't trust shiny things especially when they came wrapped in handsome packages.

"Yes, may I help you?" she asked as he took a few steps up the walkway. At a closer vantage, she saw he was even taller than she'd first supposed. His dark hair was slicked back but had wavy contours. His features were slightly hard, his eyes dark colored.

He looked up at her without a word and she wondered whether he'd heard her.

"You have somethin' wrong with your hearing? I said, how may I help you?"

She wasn't about to put up with any more shit, considering what she'd gone through in the last hour.

"I heard you just fine."

His voice was deep with a slightly detectable accent. A stranger.

"Well, then?" she repeated more insistently.

"I heard you have a room to let. I need a room for a couple of nights."

That was the last thing she'd expected him to say. Obviously he was a stranger to these parts because what he was requesting just wasn't done. Not to mention the appearance of it all. Yes, she'd let a room to men before, but they'd had their wives or families with them. No, what this man was asking was out of the question.

"No, I'm sorry. You heard wrong. I have no rooms to let."

He said nothing for a few seconds, but his stare never wavered. She felt like a trapped fly being considered by a spider.

"I have money..."

"I don't care about money."

Even as she said this, her mind revolted at the lie because she definitely could use some money at this point. It would be a salvation. But she could never take money from him. It wouldn't be right, and his staying here would cause all types of trouble, not least the chorus of wagging tongues.

He cracked a barely noticeable smile. It changed his face somewhat, but strangely didn't soften it. But it played up his good looks. He probably coasted on that more often than not.

"How about a hundred?"

"What?" Had she heard him right?

He broke another smile, this time wider, showcasing the most even, whitest teeth she'd ever seen.

"Yes, a hundred...a night," he added. And for the second time that day, her breath caught in her throat.

"A night?" she repeated weakly, her resolution quickly falling like broken glass at her feet. She'd heard people say that everyone had their price and he'd found hers.

Nevertheless she tried to hold on to a shred of dignity, telling herself that the money wasn't worth the trouble it was bringing with it. Because why would a white man with that kind of money not be staying in some ritzy digs like the Connor Hotel downtown?

She didn't ask him that question, though. Another of her assets was knowing when to not butt in.

Still, there was one question she had to ask.

"You're not hiding from the law, are you? Because if you are, I can't afford any trouble."

The smile disappeared as quickly as it had come. "No, I can assure you that I'm not running from the police."

"Well, if you're trying to be inconspicuous, you're going about it all wrong because believe you me you will be noticed around this part of town."

"I have my reasons," he said with finality that meant he wasn't going to explain any further, at least not to her.

"Well, if it's just for a couple of nights, then..." she said with a slight hesitance. What was she getting herself into? Least of all a hit on her reputation.

"Yeah, just a couple of nights," he repeated, the edge gone from his voice.

"When would you need the room?"

"Right now, if you can take me."

"Uhm, well I didn't have time to do much straightening up..."

"That don't matter," he said. "I just have a few things and I promise I won't get in your way."

That white curtain parted just a little more and Teddy began to regret her hasty promise. But she wasn't one to renege on her word. And two-hundred dollars would stretch her past these next two months.

Finally she nodded, thinking that a couple of nights would go fast enough. Not that she had too many visitors, so she might not even have to explain away the fancy car and the white man staying with her. Her reputation would surely take a beating if that word got out.

"Let me get my overnight bag," he said and sauntered back to his car.

Before two blinks of an eye, he was standing next to her on the porch carrying a dark blue valise. She noticed that his shoes were black wing-tips, very dressy and very expensive. He towered her by nearly a foot making her feel shorter than she'd ever felt in her life.

She opened the door and he followed her into the blessed coolness of her foyer. The overhead ceiling fan whirled silently keeping the temperature down in the hall. The slight current circulated the fragrance of the picked zinnias sitting in a vase on the small foyer table.

"Well, I guess I better show you around. Through here is the living room." She pointed to the first room off the foyer. He stepped over to take a look.

"Very nice," he said appreciably as he looked around the space. "Yes, this will do me for a while..."

"You mean for a couple of nights," she corrected.

"Yes, exactly."

She could see him noting the comfort of the room, taking in the pastel floral sofa, the slightly opaque drapes that kept out the midday sun's vengeance, the bright yellow throw rug and the yellow vase full of green zinnias set on a varnished mahogany table. It was by no measure like the fancy Connor Hotel, but it was hers. This was where she had her nightly cup of tea while curled up on her sofa reading the latest issue of Detective Story Magazine. Or listening to The Guy Lombardo Show playing on the radio sitting on the corner table. She preferred Lombardo over Amos & Andy because the latter just never sat right with her. Too much buffoonery.

"The kitchen is back this way," she said as she led him down to the end of the foyer. Yellow was her signature color. Yellow zinnias in a green vase set on the window sill bordered by white curtains featuring yellow daisies. The yellow table gingham cloth was pristine and balanced nicely with the white stove and refrigerator, which was worlds apart from the icebox of her childhood.

"I provide three meals a day, no extra charge."

"It'll be nice to have a home-cooked meal again. It's been awhile."

She bit her tongue as she started to ask how long, but that was none of her concern. She didn't make a point of prying into her boarders' business and she wouldn't start now. This was simply a temporary business arrangement so she would keep it that way.

"Once I have you settled into your room, I can fry you up some eggs and bacon if you're hungry. I'd planned on making a pecan pie later, but I didn't get the chance to get flour today." The thought of the robbery was still fresh and raw. And angering. No matter that she could now replace the lost twenty ten times fold, she bristled at the thought of that little robber man holding a gun on her. As well the way she'd been treated by that no-count shopkeeper who'd just dismissed her like she was the one who was no-count.

"Well, if you'd let me, I know where the store is. I can go pick you up that flour for you," he offered with a genial smile.

Handsome and helpful, usually two traits she found good in a man, but she wasn't sure she was buying what he was selling. She knew the drill about what could happen to a Negro woman; her mother and grandmother had told her plenty of stories. Which was why she kept a shotgun near her bed and carried a knife strapped to her thigh. Thankfully, she'd never had to deal with that type of attention, except for the time Charlie Stenson had groped her ass last spring when she'd passed him on her way to the store. She'd turned around and walloped him with her purse making him fall flat on his own ass to the laughing amusement of his buddies standing nearby. He and they had learned that she wasn't to be messed with.

She did a mental shake. No need for her to get paranoid. All he'd done was offer to go to the store for her. Her apprehension was more likely due to how strange this all was. There was nothing normal about a white man standing in her kitchen offering to go to the store for her.

"Well, once you settled in and paid me, I can give you the money for the flour."

He shook his head. "No allow me to pay for it"

Now she shook her head. "You don't have to do that."

"No, I don't but I insist anyway because I sure would like some of that pie, if you'd leave a piece for me."

"Of course, I will."

With that said, she led him up the stairs to one of the two guest bedrooms, this one just to the left of the bathroom.

Inside was a king-sized four-poster bed meant for a married couple. To the right of it, standing near the one window overlooking the garden out front was a dark wood bureau with three drawers. The curtains were a light green as was the bed cover. The nightstand held a clock and lamp with a green shade. The lime-colored throw rug added a small, homey touch.

"Well, make yourself at home. There are guest towels in the bathroom next door and as I said downstairs, there are three meals a day. I'll scramble those eggs and once you get me the flour, I will get to making that pie."

He set his valise on top of the bed, then sat down and bounced a bit to test the springs of the mattress. She stood in the door, watching him, trying to read him. His expression was neutral. She saw he didn't wear a wedding ring, but that didn't mean he didn't have a woman somewhere. She realized she had forgotten one crucial bit of information. No time like the present to settle matters.

"I hope you like the bedroom," she started.

He looked at her. "Yes, this here is fine."

"Well, good then. By the way forgive me, I've forgotten my manners. I should at least introduce myself. I'm Theodora Holliday. Feel free to call me by my Christian name."

That smile again. He stood and walked over to her and held out his hand.

After a hesitant second, she took his hand and they shook.

"And your name would be?" she asked. She found herself staring at gray eyes framed within a face chiseled like one of them Hollywood actors. In her opinion, he was even better looking than Clark Gable, even without a mustache.

"Floyd...Floyd Daniels. And just like I promised..." he reached inside his suit pocket, pulled out a wallet, counted out, then handed her ten crisp twenty dollar bills.

"Here you go, two hundred for two nights."

Thankfully she had on her lilac dress with the hip pockets. She eagerly rolled the bills and placed them inside one of the pockets. They filled the space nicely. She'd never had that amount of money handed to her at one time. It was a strange feeling, a good feeling. Probably a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.

"I think this is going to work out just fine," Teddy told him, and she truly believed it. And she would be able to take Mrs. Williams that piece of pie after all.


Florenzo Giuseppe Danielli, aka Floyd Daniels, handed a single bill to the store owner for the pack of flour. The nervous little man had been talking nearly non-stop during the transaction about the drama that had taken place in the store earlier.

"I tell ya, that little shrimp of a fuck better be glad he had that shotgun otherwise I would've whupped his ass up and down these here aisles. Takin' a man's hard-earned money. What is this world coming to?"

Floyd said nothing, but stood in the stuffy store waiting for the man to give him his change.

"So, I've never seen you around here before? New to Joplin?"

Floyd nodded as the man handed him back a quarter and a dime. Nine cents short.

"I tell ya, if you'd been here an hour ago, you would've been in the midst of things. I haven't had a gun held on me since I came across one of them dirty krauts in France. It was...let me think...sometime early '18, it was. I wasn't but a boy then, hardly seventeen."

Floyd leaned closer to the man, even though the counter stood between them and said, "I'd appreciate my nine cents. Now."

The babbling stopped abruptly as the store owner took in Floyd's expression.

"Oh...I...I must've made a mistake," he said nervously as he opened the till and produced the change.

"Yes, must have," Floyd answered, pocketing the change. He didn't take kindly to anybody cheating him out of money, no matter how small the currency. The last man who'd tried that during a game of stud poker had gained some lead in his knee cap.

As he turned to the door, the squirrely man stopped him with a "Hey."

"I'm sorry 'bout that little mix-up. Lemme offer you some baking powder to go with that flour...on me."

Floyd wasn't sure whether his boarding mistress needed the extra ingredient - after all, he didn't know what exactly went into a pecan pie. But he never turned down anything if it was free. Not when so many people were going hungry, some even eating dirt and clay. He'd seen enough Hoovervilles to last a lifetime and the sights of the down and out, especially the children, had left an indelible scar on his brain. Hoover had been a wash; at least Roosevelt was trying but Floyd was sure no one man could pull the whole country out of this damn depression.

Floyd nodded his thanks, and placed the small canister of Rumford baking powder in with the larger pack of Swans Down cake flour, the specific brand Miss Holliday had asked for.

"Hope the missus can use that," the obsequious owner added, obviously trying to score some more points with a new customer. "Most of the wives who shop around here swear by those brands. Tell your wife that we carry the good stuff here and to feel free to drop on by anytime. I can definitely use the business."

Floyd left the store wondering why the owner assumed he was married and then remembered the ring on his finger. He'd never taken it off even after Laureen had up and left one day two years ago saying that she was sick of living off the measly money he made doing road work. She'd gone off with some starched collar type who worked at the Kansas City credit union.

One of them fancy head doctors might say that Laureen's leaving was why he'd started knocking off credit unions, eventually moving up to full on banks. And maybe that fancy head doctor might be right; maybe he was trying to get back at her, as though he had something to prove to her memory at least. As for the ring, he couldn't explain even to himself why he hadn't taken it off yet. But one day he knew he would. One day.

And he'd settle down with the money he'd collected, start a new life.

No Hooverville or dirty motel room for him. No sir. He'd live the good life, and eat better than dirt or clay for dinner.

Something good like a pecan pie.

At the house, the Studebaker sat idly, its sheen glistening in the late noon sun. If Laureen could see it, could see him now, that clerk wouldn't look so good. Powder blue was her favorite color, too.

He knocked on the door and in the half minute or so it took for the boarding lady - what was her name again? Theodora....yeah, that was it...Theodora Holliday - to answer, he caught a whiff of fried bacon and eggs. It was a damn good smell and his empty stomach grumbled in anticipation. He'd opted to go to the store first so that he could sit back and enjoy the repast she'd offered.

She opened the door and he saw that in his absence she had changed into another dress, this one a plainly cut, sleeveless yellow dress that for all its plainness accentuated a nice shape, something the other dress had barely done. Didn't hurt that she was a comely woman.

He had toiled alongside many coloreds during his hard labors on the road projects and basically he had nothing against them. They basically kept to themselves and he'd been fine with that.

Miss Holliday was an altogether different case. He hadn't known what to expect when he'd put feelers out about a boarding house out of the way of prying eyes. And hadn't been put off either when told that it was run by a Negro. When he'd driven up, though, he'd been somewhat taken aback by how attractive she was.

She stood in front of him with a warm smile inviting him into a home that smelled so good. He handed her the shopping bag and the smile widened.

"Thank you so much," she said as she took the bag. "You saved me a trip.I'll get started on the pie later."

"The man at the store thought you could use baking powder so he handed it to me free of charge."

She checked inside the bag and took out the small canister. "Well, I have baking powder already, but I never say no to anything free. So, you hungry?"

"Yes, ma'am. I could eat a horse."

"Well, you're gonna have to settle for part of a pig and a couple of unborn chickens."

He laughed at that as she led the way into the kitchen where she had set the table with plates. He sat and she fixed his plate with a heaping helping of fried eggs, bacon and hot buttered biscuits, set it before him, then brought down a bottle of Alaga syrup from the cabinet.

"Sorry I don't have any coffee to give you; too rich for my purse right now, but I can get you some orange juice or make you some tea."

He shook his head. "Just a glass of ice water will do me. See you got one of them new frigidaires I've heard about."

She beamed. "Yes, took me a while to save up for it, but it's worth it. Keeps things so cold and fresh, especially my milk and butter. I'll get that water for you."

"Aren't you going to have something?"

"No, I ate earlier. Just eat until you full and I'll be back to clean the dishes."

He'd actually wanted to sit and talk but she obviously had things to do. Then again, maybe she wanted to keep this all professional, which made sense when he thought about it. After all, he was a strange man and she was a young woman here alone. Not that he had any evil intentions, but decency had its dictates. And from what he could tell, she was a decent woman, despite the shape and looks of a woman who could get whatever she could wheedle out of a man.

She left the kitchen and he practically wolfed down the meal. He hadn't eaten for almost a day's time. That robbery over in St. Louis had caused him to keep traveling without any stops until he reached Joplin.

The delicious smell didn't lie. The woman knew how to cook a meal.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 3/09/2014 11:14:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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