A slow, lazy smile spread across his face the moment Jim Evans saw Amanda Channing step out of the cab. He knew he looked like an idiot, but Amanda had that effect on him. Her legs came into view first, long and shapely, visible through the cut of her blue satin evening gown. Next her slender arms, shown to their best advantage by the beading at the top of the dress. Now her face, sculpted by angels, framed with sleek blonde hair, bobbed and sophisticated. The fur shawl draped over pale shoulders was her only concession to the chilly October night. She stood beneath a streetlight, illuminated like an actress on stage.
Jim quickened his pace with a silent curse. Rather than waiting for Amanda on the corner as he’d promised, there had been a delay at the office. The meeting with his father and uncle had lasted an eternity. When he realized he would be late for his rendezvous, Jim had rushed through the last few items, scrawling his signature on papers he hadn’t bothered to read, before racing the few blocks from his office to the nightclub.
But now he was here, and so was she, and he could breathe again.
She paid the cabbie then turned, frowning as she glanced up and down the crowded sidewalk searching for him. The speakeasy was busy on this Friday night. Flappers in short, beaded dresses mingling with women in elegant gowns that swept to the tips of their shoes. Men, some in suits and others in formal evening wear, created a dark backdrop for these colorful ladies, each waiting to give the password and enter the club. Jim pushed his way through them, apologizing now and then as he trod on toes in his haste to make his way to Amanda’s side.
The instant she spotted him her blue eyes widened and a glorious smile replaced the small frown. She glowed as if suddenly lit from within. And she did that because she saw him. The wonder of it still astounded him, humbled him. Six weeks ago he hadn’t known she existed but now he couldn’t imagine life without her. A cliché, he knew, but true none the less. She was his miracle.
The cab pulled away just as he reached her. A movement on the street behind her momentarily distracted him, but then her eyes caught his and the world faded away.
“Jim,” she said in a soft, husky voice that sent his blood racing. She raised a gloved hand to his cheek.
He took that hand and placed a kiss upon it, never breaking eye contact. In those eyes he saw his future, bright and shining and full of love.
The crack of a gunshot sent the crowd stampeding in all directions. Screams filled the air. Jim caught Amanda as she was propelled into his arms. Grabbing her waist, he steered her to the relative safety of the tight space between two parked cars.
Crouching low, holding her close, he murmured reassurances in her ear as others scurried for shelter behind cars or anything else they could find.
He felt a sticky warmth on his hand. Holding it up to the streetlight, he saw red drops fall from his fingertips. “No.” His hand began to tremble.
Amanda’s head lay still and heavy against his shoulder. She didn’t stir as he pushed the silky strands of hair away from her face. Dull eyes stared unseeing into his. “Amanda,” he whispered. He gave her a small shake, as if to wake her. “No, please,” he cried.
A shadow fell over him. Jim looked up. A man stood in front of the streetlight.
Scooting back, dragging Amanda with him, he tried to move, to take refuge behind the cars. Amanda lay heavy in his arms, hindering his process. In the narrow space between the parked cars he couldn’t pull her behind him, couldn’t shield her from the large gun pointed at them.
The brim of the shooter’s fedora shadowed his face as he raised his weapon and fired.
Amanda’s body jerked. Jim felt a terrible, hot pain pierce his chest. He gripped her to him as darkness closed in. “Amanda,” he sighed and fell into oblivion.
Lake Michigan churned cold and gray. Strong winds capped the waves in white froth. Dark clouds blocked the sun as they scudded low across the sky, heavy with the promise of icy rain. From his vantage point of the bedroom window, Cabel Evans couldn’t see the beach that lay at the base of the buff, but was certain that no one walked along the sandy shoreline on this bitter October day. The Silver Beach Amusement Park was closed for the season and no reasonable person would be down there on in this inhospitable weather.
He turned away from the dreary view and surveyed the inviting room in which he stood. The new bed, wardrobe and nightstands were of light oak and carved with simple, classic designs that fit well with the pale blue walls. A brightly patterned quilt made by his nimble-fingered housekeeper lay across the bed. A warm fire blazed in the brick hearth on the adjacent wall. In front of it stood a comfortable reading chair and a small table, offering warmth and relaxation.
Yet it was the bleak landscape outside his window that called to the darkness in Cabel’s soul, for there lived a black beast which had taken residence during the first months of the Great War. His dearest friend, Jon Warner, had died, Cabel had lived, and nothing had been right again.
The fact that he stood here, in this cheerful bedroom that somehow kept the darkness at bay, was less a factor of his own healing than a testament to the tenacity and deviousness of his meddling housekeeper, Marta Voss. She had created this haven of a bedroom, had pushed to change his house into a home, complete with a family of sorts, cobbled together from bits and pieces of his life over the last few months. From the ashes of his past, a future, unclear yet possible, had begun to form.
Cabel settled into the chair in front of the fireplace, picked up the Chicago Tribune, and turned to the business section. Among the usual stories of stock holdings and new partnerships was an extensive article about Charles Banton who had been installed as the president of Banton Construction, a large company in the Boston area. The only reason Cabel took notice of the article was that young Jefferson Banton was to have taken over his father’s business instead of his uncle, but had hanged himself a few months ago. The papers had handled it delicately of course, and at first Cabel had assumed that the young man had been in the war. Instead, a woman had broken his heart and Jefferson decided he couldn’t live without her. With all the needless death Cabel had witnessed on the battlefields of France, he had been angry with this man he had never met for wasting the gift of life, but he was a bit envious as well. Jefferson Banton had done something that Cabel had considered not too long ago, though he never had the courage to act. Only recently had he come to understand that it took more courage to live than to die. Without this reaction to the man’s death, he never would have remembered the name or made the connection to the current article.
Still, the tragedy had not been his, so he set it aside and finished the rest of the articles. Folding the newspaper, he picked up a pen and started to doodle in the margins as he debated the question that had begun to plague him a few weeks ago: should he start his own company? The idea was foolish, he knew, but the question persisted. From his success in running his family’s large manufacturing company in Chicago, he knew he was capable, but he had left that business almost five years ago and it continued to thrive without him. Although he had money, he had no experience in starting a business from scratch. He would need to make connections with other businessmen. Those men would check into his background and learn of the violence that had driven him from Chicago to New Orleans. Once this shame was known, none of these men would do work with him.
No, this was a fool’s dream.
Failure was a near certainty.
Maybe he would start with a small tool and die shop.
Through his open bedroom door, Cabel heard the telephone ringing in the hallway below, followed by the scurry of Marta’s footsteps as she rushed to answer it. He waited until he heard the muffled sound of half of the conversation before deciding that the call had nothing to do with him. Picking up a pen and using a corner of the newspaper as a note pad, he began listing the things he might need to start his hypothetical company.
The despair in Marta’s voice had him hurry to the top of the stairs. Below, Marta clutched the newel post and stared up at him with red-rimmed eyes.
“It’s Jim, Cabe,” she said, a small sob escaping with her words. “Something’s happened to your cousin Jim.”
Bounding down the stairs and past his housekeeper who had slumped on the lowest step, Cabel rounded the corner and saw the earpiece of the phone dangling from its cord. Picking it up, he stepped to the mouth piece and spoke.
“This is Cabel Evans.”
“Oh, Mr. Evans I’m so glad that I was able to reach you.” The woman on the other end of the line sounded young and close to tears. “I’m Catherine, Catherine Anderson. I’m Mr. Jim’s secretary.” She began to cry and Cabel felt his heart drop to the floor.
“What is it? What’s happened?” Is he dead?
The woman gave a loud sniffle then tried once again to speak. “Mr. Jim was shot on Saturday night, downtown, near a club.” The woman cried more tears, holding Cabel in agonizing suspense.
As the sobs began to subside he gathered his courage and asked, “How is he?”
She gave a small hiccup as her tears ended. “He’s in the hospital and he’s had surgery on his shoulder and chest.”
So Jim was alive, injured but alive. Tightness eased in Cabel’s chest and he drew a deep breath.
“He’s unconscious,” the girl continued. “And the doctor’s aren’t sure…” Her voice caught. She cleared her throat and said, “a few weeks ago, Mr. Jim told me that if anything happened to him or anyone else in the family, I was to call you. He was concerned that your mother or aunt would be too upset to do so.”
Jim had been shot on Saturday night and now, Monday morning, a secretary was calling with the news. His position within the family was once again confirmed.
“He hasn’t woken up since the surgery. The doctors are worried that if he doesn’t wake up soon…” She left her sentence unfinished, as if by not saying the words, she somehow kept Jim alive. “Even though he’s not awake, I know he’d like for you to come.” She paused as if she had some vague notion of how awkward that might prove to be. “He’s spoken of you often these last few months. I do think you should come.”
Cabel thanked the young woman before ending the call and replacing the earpiece. The world was suddenly out of balance and he moved with great deliberation to sit next to Marta. Putting an arm around her shoulders, he held her close as she cried.
When her tears abated, she dabbed at her cheeks with a lace-edged handkerchief. Her careworn face seemed to have more sags and wrinkles than it had just an hour before when she had served him breakfast. Sitting up straighter, she squared her shoulders, blew her nose and patted her gray hair back into place. “I’ll pack your bag while you call down to the station and find out when the next train leaves for Chicago.” She marched past him up the stairs
Chicago. The city lay only sixty two miles across the lake from St. Joseph. The train ride would take less than three hours. Yet the journey itself would span years as well as distance. Visiting Jim at the hospital would also mean seeing the rest of his family. There were few people for whom Cabel would make such a sacrifice. Unfortunately, his cousin was one of them.
He went to the phone and rang the operator.