Chicago – February 1924
“Lady, are you okay?
Amanda watched with wide-eyed wonder and unparalleled excitement as the cab traveled along the streets of Chicago. The buildings were tall but not like she had pictured. She had expected everything to be larger than life and for there to be people everywhere. The weather probably had something to do with so few people being out. The cab swayed in the gusty February wind, which had a cruel and biting edge to it. The fresh dusting of snow would make walking difficult, but she saw no city workers out for street clearing duties.
“What?” She hadn’t realized she was so lost in thought. Everything was so new to her she could not help but stare.
“Your hands,” he said. “You okay?”
“I’m fine, thank you.” His question made her notice her gloved hand shook placing the fare into the driver’s bare hand. How could he drive without gloves? The thought of the frigid steering wheel made her shiver.
“Do you need change, Miss?”
“No.” Had she given enough extra to make a decent tip? “Are you sure this is the right address?”
“Lady, this is the address you gave me.” Hardened eyes regarded her in the rearview mirror. They softened, perhaps he understood she was not sure where she was. “Do you want me to wait?”
“No, that’s all right, I won’t keep you any longer. I’m sure you have somewhere warmer to be.”
Amanda stepped out of the cab, taking a deep breath. Was Chicago going to be to good her? A small puff of breath became visible as she exhaled, then dissipated into the night air. Could a breath of air turn to ice? If it was possible, tonight would be the time for it to happen. It had not seemed so cold when she left Des Moines that morning.
Nerves had set in before boarding the train despite the excitement at new possibilities opening to her. Her Grandfather had to reassure her, but now that she was here Amanda believed anything was possible. Maybe there was room in the city to let her in and be kind instead of swallowing her whole. Amanda clutched the worn and faded navy wool coat tight as the wind picked up in a sudden gust. She pulled the cream scarf close. It smelled of cigars, cologne and something distinctly Grandpa, mingling to make a comforting scent. He had given it to her at the train station. Her family was not a rich one, which made Amanda cherish the scarf. Her courage renewed by her grandpa’s distant comfort Amanda continued toward the warehouse, a walk that she hoped would bring her closer to fulfilling her dreams.
The scarf rubbed against the back of her neck, causing a few errant strands of hair to tickle her. She heard the wind blowing and a car somewhere in the distance, but aside from her shoes hitting the snow-packed gravel all was quiet. She saw no lights coming from the warehouse and the parking lot was empty. Was anyone there? Maybe she shouldn’t have come here if even her basic ideas of the city were inaccurate.
“I can do this,” she murmured, drawing the scarf securely around her neck.
“No, I can’t.” What if no one liked her voice? What if Grandpa was wrong and she had no talent? Amanda knew full well she was just a little fish in a shark’s world. She turned to the road, unwilling to take the final steps only to find the cab gone.
“Damn,” she muttered. “I shouldn’t have let him go.” She turned toward the building only to run into something. Rather, someone she realized. A hand clad in black leather reached for her and she chided herself for paying so little attention. Why hadn’t she noticed him a moment ago? He may have been a brick wall for all that he budged at the impact of her walking into him. And at five feet and nine inches Amanda was not exactly petite.
“Sorry,” she said in dismay. He had heard her swear, too, she realized in embarrassment. It was dark and cold both things that would cover up any hint of her blushing.
“I didn’t see you there.” He was strong and capable even with the glove on. His hold on her arm was secure yet unthreatening, protective. Men usually made her wary. Yet she did not feel that and instead felt reassured.
She took in the man standing before her. Where had he come from? The answer seemed obvious. There were no other buildings nearby, so it was clear he had come from her destination. He was stylish in an expensive looking dark gray coat, a scarlet scarf at his neck and a dark fedora shadowing his face. She felt intimidated and he stood in the way of her getting to the warehouse that was now just out of reach. Was this her uncle come to meet her after hearing or seeing the cab at the curb?
“There’s no reason to apologize, ma’am.” He sounded a little gruff and Amanda wondered if he had a cold.
A car drove up and parked next to the curb. Moments later a man got out and walked to the passenger side. Amanda guessed the driver was waiting for the man she was talking to. Who was this man that commanded a car with a driver? He released her arm and stepped away adjusting his scarf and coat collar. She had not wanted him to pull away. Years of not knowing whether Thomas’ touch was one of love or anger had made her hesitant to let anyone touch her.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, I just wasn’t expecting to run into anyone.” She smiled then at the literalness of her words.
“Have a good night then,” he said finally.
“You too.” Amanda watched as the man slid into the back seat and directed the driver with his hand as soon as the driver’s door of the vehicle had been closed. Shocked by the stranger’s touch she stared as the car pulled away. She felt a little foolish for letting him affect her as he had. She felt more alone now than she had a few moments ago and wondered how that could be.
The car disappeared around a corner; the last Amanda saw of it the taillight brightened as the driver slowed. The stranger’s face had remained hidden in the shadows. Obviously, he had not been her uncle. She had been too surprised to say much and was sure she had come across as dumb. She guessed it really did not matter what he thought of her.
The sound of gravel scattering brought her away from thoughts of the stranger. She turned toward the sound of the footsteps and froze at the sight of a shadow cast on the side of the building. A scream worked its way up from her belly to her throat at the silhouette of a gun. Not just that, but the gun was pointed at her. Unable to move or say anything she stood clutching her scarf tightly.
The hunting her father and brothers had done left her with knowledge enough of guns that she realized this was serious when the click of the gun being cocked made it to her ears. She was going to die right here in a parking lot her first night out of Iowa if she did not do something. She had not come all this way on a train in the middle of winter for this. Finally, she released her scarf and held her hands up so the man could see she was harmless.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” she said raising her hands even higher to the side of her head so the man could see she was unarmed.
"Who in the hell are you and what are you doing here?" His face was hidden in the shadows and his voice sounded hoarse.
“I’m not sure that I’m at the right address. I’m Amanda Olson.” She saw him lower his gun and Amanda let out a long breath. At least he was not going to shoot her without provocation, though that thought did not leave her feeling very confident. She narrowed her eyes slightly and lowered her hands to her sides. Her gloved hand fiddled with the loose button on her coat trying to catch a better glimpse of the man. She wished she could see him better, but he remained standing in the shadows. “My grandfather gave me this address to come to when I arrived on the train. I’m looking for my uncle, James Andrews."
The man stepped out of the shadows and walked toward her returning the gun to its holster. She was able to get a better look at him, but was still nervous about that gun. He certainly was being dramatic if he was not going to shoot her. Finally, the sound of a snap and his hand moved away from the holster. His eyes were focused entirely on her now, studying her as if she were an animal at a zoo. She saw pain in those eyes, and wondered just who this man was who a moment ago thought he might have need to shoot her.
"I’m James. I didn’t realize you were coming in tonight."
© 2002 Susan Falk