Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Stitch in Crime by Cathy Elliot



A Stitch in Crime
Abingdon Press (January 20, 2015)
by
Cathy Elliot


Chapter 1


Perhaps if she simply avoided eye contact.

Thea James turned her back on the partygoers, paying attention to the dessert buffet instead. The Quilt-Without-Guilt Guild had surpassed their Christmas potluck standard. Among a bounty of petite cakes, cookies, puffs, and bars, Thea found her own offering, a plate of blueberry tartlets. They appeared untouched. Strange. She pulled them to the front of the culinary display.

“Thea! Why are you hiding out in the desserts when I need your help?” The familiar voice of fellow guild member, Heather Ann Brewster, hinted at desperation.

Turning with reluctance, Thea morphed into hospitality mode. “Blueberry tartlet?”

“What?” Heather Ann viewed the diminutive dessert, gave a small shudder, and then had the grace to look apologetic. “Ah...no, thanks. I haven’t browsed the appetizers yet. Anyway, I can’t think about food now. I’m too upset.”

Thea shoved her reluctance aside. “What seems to be the prob- lem, Heather Ann?” This time.

“You know the publicity banner we had made? The one adver- tising the quilt show next weekend? The one supposed to be hang- ing over the entrance to Old Town?”

“Supposed to be hanging over the entrance? I thought they put it up yesterday.” Thea calculated the days left until the show opened. Today was Sunday, and tonight’s kickoff quilt show soirée started the festivities. The main event was scheduled for next Saturday. Folks needed to be aware of the date so they’d attend en masse.

“City utility workers were supposed to put it up. Oh, and it’s beautiful, Thea. In bold letters it says, ‘1st Annual Blocks on the Walk Quilt Show, Pioneer Park’ and the date.”

“Good . . . very good. So why isn’t it hanging up?”

“I had the letters made in red, too. Sort of reminds me of Janny Rice’s redwork quilt, you know? Perhaps she’ll place with hers. Beautiful embroidery.” Heather Ann seemed lost in the vision, green eyes staring at nothing.

“Heather Ann. Focus, hon. You said there was a problem. As the quilt show chairperson, I want to help.” Well, that was a lie. Helping was overrated. Thea wanted to eat some desserts. And she wasn’t the chairperson. Another fib. Rather, the co-chair, along with Prudy Levasich.

Where was the elusive Prudy, anyway? Probably showing off her twin sister, Trudy, visiting from the East Coast. The co-chair’s co-twin. If Prudy stuck around now and then, she could co-solve these problems with Thea.

“You have to do something! The Larkindale City Planning Commission won’t let us put up the banner.” The desperation returned to Heather Ann’s tone, sending her voice to a higher key.

“Why not?”

“It’s not up to code. They said the banner needs holes cut in it so the wind will f low through and not blow it down.”

“Makes sense. Without the holes, it could act more like a sail,” Thea said. “Can’t you cut some?”

“I guess.” Heather Ann looked uncomfortable. “But I don’t know how big to make the holes. Or how many. The banner was expensive. I don’t want to ruin it.”

“Very responsible.” Thea considered the options. “I have an idea. Call the Larkin Lake Resort. They’re always putting banners up for some event. The Fly-Fishing Derby. And the Daisy Pedal Bike Race, right?”

“Oh, you’re good.” Heather Ann’s expression turned eager, like a puppy about to score a treat.

“Whatever size they advise, be sure you use the white space and don’t cut into those big red letters you chose. That way people will only see the letters and not notice the holes.” Thea gave Heather Ann an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “Sound okay?”

“Sounds great. Thanks so much, Thea. I’m on it.” Heather Ann dashed away, blonde ponytail bouncing, presumably to make the call.

Or grab a few appetizers.

Which seemed an even better idea to Thea.

“Well, aren’t you just the CEO. Or is that dictator?” Renée Fowler pushed up against Thea in jest, as she used to do when they were teens.

“Oh, stop.” Thea grinned at her best friend since fifth grade, recently returned home from a long honeymoon tour of Europe.

She had missed Renée terribly. But something seemed off between them. Had the travels changed Renée? She certainly looked different. More elegant. Her brown hair, cut in Paris, was styled in a fashionable pixie cut. But weren’t her large gray eyes filled with disapproval now? Or was the still single Thea a little jealous of her friend’s marriage and new life?

Thea studied the crowd. “A wonderful turnout, don’t you think? I’ve been watching for him but have yet to see Dr. Cottle. Did he already check in?”

“How would I know, Thea?” Renée asked. “I may own the Inn, but I don’t keep up on what time every guest walks through the door.”

Not a hint of a thank-you for recommending Renée and Howie’s Heritage House Inn as lodging for their illustrious judge and guest speaker, Dr. Niles Cottle. Typical treatment from Renée since her return to Larkindale.

Thea waved to a friend of Gram’s. “Everyone seems to be enjoy- ing themselves. And no better place to do it than in Mary-Alice Wentworth’s garden. Exquisite, isn’t it?”

Glorious roses edged a pavestone patio, which surrounded a sparkling pond, highlighted by the spectacular fountain in the pond’s center. Water poured endlessly from an urn held by a grace- ful granite lady. The effect was more than tranquil. It was hypnotic. Tables with bistro chairs dotted the grounds, and this evening’s attendees alternately chatted in groups or relaxed with a cool drink. A number of quilts were displayed near the walkway, staging a quilt show preview and adding a folksy feel. Thea’s mother’s string quar- tet played various classical selections with so much enthusiasm the occasional sour note went unnoticed.

Except maybe by Renée, who now winced as if she had stepped on a nail.

Uh-oh. Thea grabbed the dessert plate and shoved it at her friend. “How about a nice blueberry tartlet?”

“Tartlet?” Renée’s distasteful look increased. “What’s in the fill- ing? And look how thick the crust is, Thea. You must use very cold dough to make a f laky crust.”

Crestfallen, Thea placed the plate back on the table. “Tasted good to me.”

“They probably are good, for Larkindale. I do like the antique serving plate though,” Renée said. “My tastes have refined so much from my exposure to other cultures. Like what I’m wearing, for instance.” She smoothed out her simple black dress. “In Europe, everyone wears something elegant like this. Understated, you know? Your dress is much too frilly. Too yesterday.”

“Oh.” Thea’s cheeks burned. Was it no longer okay to like yes- terday’s fashions best? Her vintage cocktail dress had been a steal from the family’s antique store, James & Co. Antique Emporium. Certain the cut was f lattering to her figure, Thea also thought the cobalt color and purple tulle overlay brought out the periwinkle blue in her eyes. Both Mum and Gram had agreed.

“But the pouffy skirt is a great illusion. One’s not sure if it’s so full because of your curves or the dress’s design.” Renée put a hand on her hip and once-overed her friend. “I could never pull it off. It would just hang on my slender frame. But those strappy sandals are cute. A nice change from your clogs.”

Thea was beginning to wonder why she was friends with Renée. And where was Dr. Cottle?

Thea studied the gathering again but didn’t see him. Their host- ess, Mary-Alice, was also missing. Perhaps she was inside greeting him this minute.

Leaning toward Thea, Renée said, “Here comes your Cole Mason. So handsome. Did you see him chatting with Mayor Suzanne Stiles for more than a half hour? You better watch out, Miss Thea. Step it up or you’ll remain Miss Thea for a long, long time.”

“He’s not my Cole Mason, and he can talk to whoever he likes!” Thea almost hissed at her friend as Cole approached them. His rov- ing reporter role tonight was to cover the quilt show kickoff soirée for the Larkindale Lamplight’s society pages. Surely he wouldn’t report any petty problems from putting on the show. It could result in a definite damper on attendance at the official opening.

Moving past a sullen Renée and closer to Thea, Cole f lashed his disarming dimples. Then appearing stunned, he stopped and said. “You look so . . . nice! Am I writing about the wrong subject for the Lamplight? How about a full-page spread of you in your dress?”

Renée rolled her eyes.

“No comment,” Thea said, laughter in her voice. “What are you planning to cover?” Making her a feature story was not an option. He had to be kidding. Especially if she looked as chunky in her dress as Renée seemed to say. And the camera added what? Thea sucked in her stomach.

Cole’s attention had diverted to the treat table. “What do you call this delicious-looking sweet?” He plunked a pink petit four on a faux-china plate. “I don’t want to get the name wrong in my article.”

Relieved, Thea named each dessert. Cole listed it in his note- book and took still shots with his smartphone. Without embarrass- ment, he snuck a few more tempting treats.

“And this . . . ,” she swept her hand in front of the tartlets with a f lourish, “is what I made. Blueberry tartlets. Care to sample one?”

So far, Renée stood silent. But apparently she’d reached her etiquette limit. “You don’t want to eat those, Cole. They’re made by our peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwich queen here. Need I say more?”

“Good recommendation. I’ll take two.” Cole stacked the tarts on the last empty spot on his plate.

The tiny triumph tasted like sugar. But Thea wondered if Renée, with her newly acquired European sensibilities, was right. “Perhaps I should have used raspberries instead of blueberries,”Thea said. “Might have looked more appetizing.”

“I doubt it,” Renée said. “Probably would have looked like coddled blood.”

Coddled blood? Coddle? What was familiar about that word? Then Thea shivered, remembering Dr. Cottle was still a no-show. What if something horrible had happened to him?

She surveyed the party once more. Mary-Alice’s favorite nephew appeared to have captivated a small audience, his hands in motion, probably spouting his expertise on the family quilt, “Larkin’s Treasure.” The string quartet sawed with vigor. Thea spotted Prudy hard at work, gabbing with the guests. Or was it Trudy? Thea’s Aunt Elena, along with a few others, admired a magnificent Grandmother’s Garden quilt displayed on the walkway.

But no Dr. Cottle.

Cole’s voice cut through her concerns. “You know, these look so good, I think I’ll take another one in case we run out before I’ve had my fill.” He balanced another tartlet atop the others and winked at Thea.

Renée blew out a sigh. “You are quite the risk-taker, Mr. Mason.” She waved a dismissal and strolled toward the mayor, probably for a little update on her conversation with Cole.

That’s it. That’s all I can take. I’m leaving before one more person says boo to me.

Cole’s hand brief ly touched the middle of Thea’s back, stopping her f light, his dark eyes inquisitive. “Are you quite sure she’s your best friend?”

No. She wasn’t sure anymore. But what could she say? Thea groped for a reason for her friend’s bad behavior. In the search, she found an emptiness she couldn’t name.

“Renée’s . . . not been herself since she got back from Europe.” “A lingering case of jet lag. That’s probably it,” Cole said.

Thea looked up, grateful for his kindness.

“So where’s the famous Dr. Cottle?” Cole asked, changing the subject. “I’ve heard he can read the stitches on a fastball from the nosebleed section at Yankee Stadium.”

“So they say. He’s a major leaguer on quilts and quilting in our state,” Thea said. “In fact, I should go see if there’s been any word of him. Folks came tonight to hear his talk about the Wentworth legacy quilt.”

“You go then. I’ll pacify myself with a blueberry tartlet.” Cole stuffed a whole one in his mouth and started chewing, pleasure written all over his face.

Did he like it or was he trying to cheer her up? Maybe she didn’t want to know.

Thea excused herself and strode purposefully toward the house. No eye contact. No eye contact. No eye contact. She managed to slip through the French doors, muting her mother’s Mozart, and put- ting a wall between herself and the problems outside.

She closed her eyes. See no evil.

Beyond the glass door, a distant voice called out, “Has anyone seen Thea?”

She clicked the door closed.

Hear no evil.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Soul Painter by Cara Luecht

Soul Painter
WhiteFire Publishing (March 15, 2014)
by
Cara Luecht





Chapter 1

Chapter One

Chicago, 1891

The bricks crumbled under her feet. Down by the docks, repairs to the infrastructure of the thick, stretching city were considered more luxury than necessity. Walking in the dark hours, after the fog slipped up from the churning lake and gave body to every shadow and mass to every lamp, walking then, when even the air closed in around her, she could move freely.
Her long wool skirt blended with the fog. A hooded cape, buttoned at the chin, molded to the back of her head and fell over her face. The heavy folds draped her shoulders.

It had been years since someone had looked directly into her gray eyes. She wrapped that knowledge around her like the fog, wore the isolation like a second cloak, let it melt into her pores as she navigated the city.

Her feet knew every cobble, every crack. She counted the steps. At step nineteen, the brick gave way to yellow, desperate patches of grass. Six steps later, she turned behind a fence, again counting the steps to the streetlamp burning at the base of the cathedral stairs. A statue of the Virgin glowed in the muted light. The Virgin’s robes were faded to gray and a crack scarred her smooth complexion. It crawled from her hidden ear, across her lips, and toward the inner corner of her eye. The crack never lengthened. It was almost as if the Virgin had decided when the pain should stop.
Miriam loved the Virgin. She loved how her stone-carved hair was pulled tight under her cascading veil. Miriam imagined her own brown hair becoming one with her colorless cape and falling to the ground. On damp nights it wicked up the moisture from the stones, and, if she stood still enough, clung to the street. For as much as she avoided the crowds, she was as much a part of the city as the immoveable, silent Virgin.

The church towered overhead. She knew the stonework, the carved faces of the saints, and every piece of stained glass. The windows of her rooms in the upper levels of the warehouse faced the cathedral, and although she had not stepped a foot inside since childhood, she could remember every detail: the sputtering candles to the right of the heavy oak doors, the pool of water that never rippled, and how the sun cast pieces of color across the heads of the penitent, kneeling parishioners.
She hadn’t stepped inside since her mother’s funeral. Her father had sat in the front pew, stonefaced, clenching her eight-year-old fingers. His hand trembled, once. They followed her mother’s casket out of the doors, down the stone steps, and watched the men load her into the wagon. When they returned from her grave, they turned right, into her father’s warehouse. He carried Miriam up the stairs, past his offices, and into her new nursery, where he kissed the top of her head and handed her over to a motherly nurse.

They never returned to the glittering townhouse where her mother had hosted parties for the city’s elite. As far as she knew, her mother’s brushes still sat, a decade later, on her dressing table with her tangled hair wrapped around the bristles.
Miriam looked up to the carved façade of the cathedral. She could only make out the details to the bottom of the second row of windows. There, the light failed.

When her father died, his solicitor knocked on the door. Miriam watched him from her rooms above the warehouse. Eventually, the bespectacled man gave up and mailed the letters. She instructed him through correspondence to leave all as it was, to make deposits into her trust at regular intervals, and to send her the balance sheets. He complied and left her in peace. The few men who worked in the offices were paid generous pensions.
And Miriam locked the doors.

Down by the docks, the city was never akin to the rich, planted gardens where she’d spent the years in her mother’s arms. But they had a flavor of their own. A reality she could smell and taste from her windows above the streets. The changing landscape of people passing, hurrying, every day, gave her an unlimited source of new faces to capture on canvas.
The church was the center of her world even if she never stepped inside. She gave, via her solicitor, and in return was rewarded with glimpses into the lives of the devoted, the employed, and those on the periphery. They were close to the docks and the shipbuilders. While some sailors populated the stone steps to wait for a priest to hear their confessions, others used the deep shadows that ran through the alleyway and found reason to confess.

Miriam stepped around the Virgin and out of the illuminated mist. There would be no one in the alley at that hour, and she was tempted to change her path, to veer down the narrow walkway, to see where it all happened. She didn’t. Instead, she counted her steps back to the warehouse door, pulled her key from her pocket, inserted it into the well-oiled lock, and turned it. The lock opened without hesitation, as relieved to find her as she was to find it, and she stepped into the dark, dusty room. She closed the door, locked it behind her, and turned to the stairs. She didn’t need to light a lamp.

Once upstairs, she made tea. She sat in her living room with her feet up on cushions and her back pressed deep into the upholstery of her chair. Her father’s chair still sat on the other side of the room, with his imprint permanently registered in the sawdust stuffing. Miriam never sat in the chair herself, nor had she ever thought to remove it. It filled the corner of the heavily decorated room as if it had grown there of its own volition, and she would no more extract it from its place than she would chop down some unsuspecting country tree. There simply was no reason.

The cushion under her feet was red, with gold stitching and tassels in a rainbow of colors. On its own, it would have appeared ostentatious, gaudy even. But in Miriam’s room, an echo of her father’s younger years spent in the orient, it was completely at home.

She watched from her lead-framed, factory-grade windows until the sun glinted off the cathedral’s stained glass panes. When it reflected and caught the crystals hanging from the lampshade next to her, she rose, rinsed her cup and saucer, set in on the counter to dry, and found her bed where she would sleep until the bells of the church chimed and the school spilled its children into the streets. The children’s faces were her favorite, had been since she was a child herself, watching them from above.
They wore their day like a mask. Over the years she watched as that mask slowly became their adult face, just as hers did in the mirror. But she painted, painted the children when the mask was still a mask. Painted the child, and then added layers of brush strokes over the child’s face, predicting with color the person they would become.

***

John had made the habit of watching for her before the sun burned off the fog. As a deacon in the cathedral, he woke before all the others in order to prepare for the morning mass. It was a congregation consisting primarily of aging mothers praying for wayward sons, and wayward sons who had exhausted every other resource. Of course, there was never an opportunity to match mother with son.

The strong coffee he poured from the pot did little to add to the early hour, so he turned off the lights and watched the street through the barred windows. He knew she would be by. The fog had come in heavy that night and had only thickened during the pre-morning hours.

She stopped as he knew she would. Once again he took a step nearer to the pane of glass. He could see a shadow of what appeared to be fine, small features. Under the shadow of the hood he failed to make out the color of her eyes.
He wasn’t sure why it mattered. It shouldn’t. She was a soul, like the countless other souls that passed by every day. She was a soul who never stepped a foot into the church. He knew he should turn away, should review the passages for that morning’s service, should make sure everything was ready. There were more pressing matters, more urgent needs. People walked by every day, desperate, hopeless, yet she filled his thoughts.

Maybe it was the way she paused to face the statue. Her motionless lips open with her exhale, as if she might start up a conversation. He thought of her lips. Wondered if they had ever felt the pressure of a man, wondered how much she had in common with Mary.

Mary. That’s what he called her in his mind. She was called by other names. The school children whispered about her. They called her the factory witch. The eldest priest called her “that poor creature.” John never questioned his superior about her real name. He didn’t trust himself enough to maintain the proper demeanor of concerned, but casual indifference.
Mary she was.

***

Ione shivered. She hated the fog. Hated the way it hid the men. Hated the way she could hear their work boots slosh in uneven stumbles before she could see their approach. But they always knew where to find her.
She waited at the entrance to the alley and watched the strange, quiet fog-woman pause mere feet from where Ione stood. Ione shifted behind the hedges at the entrance to the alley. The solitary woman with the ghostly white skin unsettled her far more than the men who claimed her time. A drip of water fell from a low branch and traveled down her bare shoulder, into the void between her breasts. Ione shivered again.

The clock struck four chimes. But even that bold, bronze beacon was dampened by the everthickening blanket that suffocated the docks. It was time to go home, to crawl into bed with her younger sisters, and to look in on her mother. She moved her toes against the night’s earnings wadded in a cloth under her stocking. The coins were taking on the chill of the concrete. Her bed would be warm, her sisters’ limbs smooth and soft. So unlike the rough, groping hands of the men that held her still, then trembled as they fastened buttons and dropped the coins into her hand—sometimes with a mumbled apology, sometimes with a sneer. Her mother was too sick to ask where the money came from.

Ione looked up from her hiding place. The fog-woman had slipped away. Ione stepped out of the shadows and into the damp light of the streetlamp. In the morning, after her sisters had left for school, Ione would go to the butcher—to the back door, but to the butcher, nonetheless—and she would buy soup bones. The good ones, with meat still tucked in the crevices. She would buy the bones and boil them to a rich broth, and her sisters would come home to something hot and good. She would spread the marrow on a cracker for her mother, and maybe her mother would eat. Ione wiggled her toes against the money one more time before stepping off the curb and into the street. It had been a profitable night.

Jenny passed by—a white girl with dirty hair and gapped teeth. She was on her way home too, only Jenny lived with her father, one who knew how Jenny spent her nights. They made quick eye contact without slowing down. Jenny nodded her recognition before turning down the alley that led to her storefront rooms. Ione continued into the fog.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Masterpiece Marriage by Gina Welborn

Masterpiece Marriage
Abingdon Press (December 16, 2014)
by
Gina Welborn





Chapter 1

May 9, 1891

In all his thirty-one years, Zenus Dane had never expected to see seven inches of rainfall during a six-hour period.

He trudged through the flooded floor of the textile mill he was able to inspect since the fire marshal had declared it safe. Still, the water reached the third metal clasp of his vulcanized rubber boots, a product he wished he had invented, but was thankful Charles Goodyear did. Although, at the moment, he felt more nauseated than thankful. Through the hole in the roof, the morning sun revealed the full extent of the destruction caused by Friday after- noon’s deluge setting a record for one-day rainfall in Philadelphia.

April was the month for deluges. Not May.

His mouth sour over the damage, Zenus looked to his foreman at the other end of the mill. The man didn’t have to speak for Zenus to know he shared his grim thoughts.

Zenus stopped at the loom farthest from the collapsed roof. A floral cotton print lay half-woven in the machine. Unlike the bolts of textiles in the storage room, the print was as dry as his gabardine suit. It was also water-stained on the bottom portion of the roll. As he had with the other machines, he examined the loom’s frame, the crankshaft, tight-and-loose pulleys, picker stick, shuttle, and race plate. All damp. Oxidation here, too, on the bolts where the floodwater reached its highest level. The looms hadn’t even had a month of usage, and now rust?

As if his flooded warehouse of raw cotton bales wasn’t a torturous enough loss.

A fitting why God? moment if there ever was one.

Zenus whipped his newsboy’s cap off his head, ran his hands through his hair, then put the cap back on. Living by faith could be hazardous.

With a shake of his head, he released a breath.

No sense bemoaning fate. Count it all joy—it was the only con- tingency he had. And he would count it all joy that he’d fallen into this trial, because the testing of his faith was producing patience in him. He didn’t consider himself an impatient man. His well-planned schedules allotted time for the unexpected and diversions; they resulted in maximum efficiency. Everything would work out, in time. Optimism: the first necessary ingredient for success. Don’t lament the obstacles was the second. A few days were all he needed to solve this setback.

He could—no, he would—do it.

After a slap to the loom beam, Zenus stood. “Cousin Zenus!”

He looked across the mill’s vast floor to the entrance. His ten-year-old goddaughter Aimee stood with her father, waving frantically, while wearing her perpetual smile. The parts of her blue dress not stuck in her rubber boots grazed the surface of the floodwater.

He waved back with a silly expression, knowing it’d make her giggle.

And she did.

“Morning,” his cousin Sean Gallagher called out, his voice echo- ing in the practically empty mill.

Sean said something to the fire marshal then touched Aimee’s head. The fire marshal, nodding, motioned Sean to enter. As they did, he resumed pointing to the second-story rafters and speaking to three other firemen, likely, about the hole in the flat roof.

Sean gripped Aimee’s hand. He slogged forward with the pants of his gray suit tucked inside his own pair of shin-high galoshes, his arm and Aimee’s a pendulum between them, their legs creating ripples in the water.

“I should’ve insisted you buy flood insurance,” Sean said. Zenus’s lips twitched with amusement. Typical of Sean to cut to the should’ve. “Buying flood insurance wasn’t logical. When was the last time this part of Philly flooded?”

Sean gave a yeah-you’re-right shrug as he waded through the water.

“I’m sorry about your mill,” Aimee said in almost a whisper.

“It’ll be all right, sweetheart.” He gave her a gentle smile. “Did Noah have flood insurance?”

She shook her head, her dark corkscrew curls swaying. “Did he survive?”

She nodded.

“Then things will work out for me as well.”

“Sometimes your optimism annoys me.” Sean stopped with Aimee one loom from where Zenus was. He rubbed the back of his neck as he glanced about the mill, his blue eyes even lighter in the morning sun. “You’ll need a new roof before production can resume. Insurance will cover it. Unfortunately, it won’t cover dam- age caused by rising water.”

Zenus motioned to the looms around the mill floor. “Is any of this fabric covered by insurance because the damage was caused by the collapsed roof brought on by an act of God, not by flooding?”

“Yes, but”—Sean removed folded papers from his suit coat’s inner pocket—“let me see what your policy says.”

Zenus blinked, stunned his cousin actually remembered to bring the policy. Details, Sean never forgot. Items—always. If the man ever married again, his wife would have to accept Sean would remember their anniversary, but wouldn’t remember to get a gift. Or if he did remember to buy a gift, he would leave it at his law office or in the cab or at the café where he always had a coffee after leaving work.

Good man. Honorable. Just forgetful.

“What isn’t excluded,” Sean said, “is included, so it’s covered. But from what I can tell, none of the fabric on the looms looks damaged.”

Aimee ran her hands across the orange-and-brown plaid, one of his new textile designs. “It’s not wet.”

“Because it dried overnight.” Zenus trudged to the loom where Sean and Aimee were. He looked to his cousin. “Even if the textiles don’t have stains, I have to declare they were exposed to water and sell them at a drastic discount, which means no profit. I lost all the raw cotton bales in the warehouse, too.”

Sean repocketed the policy. “You’ll get insurance money to help you equal out. Why are you shaking your head?”

Zenus leaned back against the loom. “I have forty-seven bolts in the storage room”—Aimee touched his hand, and his fingers immediately curled around hers—“all damaged or partially damaged by the flooding.”

“How much fabric is it?”

“A hundred yards per bolt. Each bolt, fifty-four inches wide.” Sean opened his mouth then paused, clearly thinking, running

numbers through his head. “Were those bolts already paid for?” “Almost all. They were scheduled for cutting and delivery this

Monday. Forty-five days of weaving will go to fulfilling those orders.” Zenus loosened his tie. “Insurance money will go to repairing the roof and making my loan payment. I have enough left in savings to make payroll for a month.”

“Maybe this is God’s way of telling you to sell the business and do something different.”











1





May 9, 1891







In all his thirty-one years, Zenus Dane had never expected to see

seven inches of rainfall during a six-hour period.

He trudged through the flooded floor of the textile mill he was able to inspect since the fire marshal had declared it safe. Still, the water reached the third metal clasp of his vulcanized rubber boots, a product he wished he had invented, but was thankful Charles Goodyear did. Although, at the moment, he felt more nauseated than thankful. Through the hole in the roof, the morning sun revealed the full extent of the destruction caused by Friday after- noon’s deluge setting a record for one-day rainfall in Philadelphia.

April was the month for deluges. Not May.

His mouth sour over the damage, Zenus looked to his foreman at the other end of the mill. The man didn’t have to speak for Zenus to know he shared his grim thoughts.

Zenus stopped at the loom farthest from the collapsed roof. A floral cotton print lay half-woven in the machine. Unlike the bolts of textiles in the storage room, the print was as dry as his gabardine suit. It was also water-stained on the bottom portion of the roll. As he had with the other machines, he examined the loom’s frame, the crankshaft, tight-and-loose pulleys, picker stick, shuttle, and race plate. All damp. Oxidation here, too, on the bolts where the




floodwater reached its highest level. The looms hadn’t even had a month of usage, and now rust?

As if his flooded warehouse of raw cotton bales wasn’t a tortur- ous enough loss.

A fitting why God? moment if there ever was one.

Zenus whipped his newsboy’s cap off his head, ran his hands through his hair, then put the cap back on. Living by faith could be hazardous.

With a shake of his head, he released a breath.

No sense bemoaning fate. Count it all joy—it was the only con- tingency he had. And he would count it all joy that he’d fallen into this trial, because the testing of his faith was producing patience in him. He didn’t consider himself an impatient man. His well- planned schedules allotted time for the unexpected and diversions; they resulted in maximum efficiency. Everything would work out, in time. Optimism: the first necessary ingredient for success. Don’t lament the obstacles was the second. A few days were all he needed to solve this setback.

He could—no, he would—do it.

After a slap to the loom beam, Zenus stood. “Cousin Zenus!”

He looked across the mill’s vast floor to the entrance. His ten- year-old goddaughter Aimee stood with her father, waving franti- cally, while wearing her perpetual smile. The parts of her blue dress not stuck in her rubber boots grazed the surface of the floodwater.

He waved back with a silly expression, knowing it’d make her giggle.

And she did.

“Morning,” his cousin Sean Gallagher called out, his voice echo- ing in the practically empty mill.

Sean said something to the fire marshal then touched Aimee’s head. The fire marshal, nodding, motioned Sean to enter. As they did, he resumed pointing to the second-story rafters and speaking to three other firemen, likely, about the hole in the flat roof.

Sean gripped Aimee’s hand. He slogged forward with the pants of his gray suit tucked inside his own pair of shin-high galoshes,




his arm and Aimee’s a pendulum between them, their legs creating ripples in the water.

“I should’ve insisted you buy flood insurance,” Sean said. Zenus’s lips twitched with amusement. Typical of Sean to cut to

the should’ve. “Buying flood insurance wasn’t logical. When was the last time this part of Philly flooded?”

Sean gave a yeah-you’re-right shrug as he waded through the water.

“I’m sorry about your mill,” Aimee said in almost a whisper.

“It’ll be all right, sweetheart.” He gave her a gentle smile. “Did

Noah have flood insurance?”

She shook her head, her dark corkscrew curls swaying. “Did he survive?”

She nodded.

“Then things will work out for me as well.”

“Sometimes your optimism annoys me.” Sean stopped with Aimee one loom from where Zenus was. He rubbed the back of his neck as he glanced about the mill, his blue eyes even lighter in the morning sun. “You’ll need a new roof before production can resume. Insurance will cover it. Unfortunately, it won’t cover dam- age caused by rising water.”

Zenus motioned to the looms around the mill floor. “Is any of this fabric covered by insurance because the damage was caused by the collapsed roof brought on by an act of God, not by flooding?”

“Yes, but” —Sean removed folded papers from his suit coat’s inner pocket—“let me see what your policy says.”

Zenus blinked, stunned his cousin actually remembered to bring the policy. Details, Sean never forgot. Items—always. If the man ever married again, his wife would have to accept Sean would remember their anniversary, but wouldn’t remember to get a gift. Or if he did remember to buy a gift, he would leave it at his law office or in the cab or at the café where he always had a coffee after leaving work.

Good man. Honorable. Just forgetful.




“What isn’t excluded,” Sean said, “is included, so it’s covered. But from what I can tell, none of the fabric on the looms looks damaged.”

Aimee ran her hands across the orange-and-brown plaid, one of his new textile designs. “It’s not wet.”

“Because it dried overnight.” Zenus trudged to the loom where Sean and Aimee were. He looked to his cousin. “Even if the textiles don’t have stains, I have to declare they were exposed to water and sell them at a drastic discount, which means no profit. I lost all the raw cotton bales in the warehouse, too.”

Sean repocketed the policy. “You’ll get insurance money to help you equal out. Why are you shaking your head?”

Zenus leaned back against the loom. “I have forty-seven bolts in the storage room”—Aimee touched his hand, and his fingers imme- diately curled around hers—“all damaged or partially damaged by the flooding.”

“How much fabric is it?”

“A hundred yards per bolt. Each bolt, fifty-four inches wide.” Sean opened his mouth then paused, clearly thinking, running

numbers through his head. “Were those bolts already paid for?” “Almost all. They were scheduled for cutting and delivery this

Monday. Forty-five days of weaving will go to fulfilling those orders.” Zenus loosened his tie. “Insurance money will go to repair- ing the roof and making my loan payment. I have enough left in savings to make payroll for a month.”

“Maybe this is God’s way of telling you to sell the business and do something different.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014