WOULD YOU RISK YOUR LIFE FOR JUST ONE DAY OF FREEDOM?
For hardworking teen, Dee Pageau, the annual employee picnic will let her escape the drudgery of work and possibly find love with her best friend Mae’s older brother, Karel. But in 1915 Chicago, girls don’t go on picnics without their mother’s approval.
Unfortunately for Dee, Mama has had a premonition of disaster and forbids Dee from going. Forced to watch as Mae and Karel leave without her, Dee defies Mama and rushes off to join her friends.
But Dee’s joy soon turns to terror when the ship ferrying them to the picnic capsizes. Rescued not once but twice-by Karel and a mysterious sailor-Dee finds herself tested in unimaginable ways. What happens next turns out to be worse … and better … than anything Dee ever expected.
Three doors down, neighbors had gathered in front of the VandeKipp home. Officer Kennelly emerged from within the house at the very moment a paddy wagon pulled up to the curb. The assembly erupted in questions and jeers. Kennelly held up his arms.
“Easy now. We’ve got the situation under control.”
“Control?” argued Mr. Czarnek, who lived across the street. “You call this control?”
“Their landlady is checking now,” said Kennelly. “She’ll let us know if any valuables were taken.”
“And then what?” countered Mrs. Ivanko. “They’re all dead. Even if you find the thieves, who you gonna return the belongings to?”
“Right!” Mr. Czarnek retorted. “Who?”
“Who?” the crowd echoed.
Their “who’s” soon turned into an angry chant. Kennelly signaled to the driver of the paddy wagon. Six more policemen piled out the back door, every one of them brandishing a billy club. The cops encircled my neighbors, smacking their clubs against their opened palms. My neighbors pressed outward toward the cops, still chanting.
I was inching back toward my front door, when a whistle blew.
“Stop! Please!” Kennelly held his whistle to his lips as the chants fell away. “We’re all on the same side here. And we’re all justifiably angry at people who could take advantage at a time like this. We’re grieving for the VandeKipps. Even the police.” Kennelly looked at his fellow cops. They nodded and lowered their clubs. “This neighborhood, why, the entire city of Chicago, has been devastated. We don’t want to add to that heartbreak, do we?” Heads shook. “Good. Let us finish our investigation. You good people go home. Be with your loved ones.”
People muttered and shook their heads as one by one they drifted away. The six cops quietly disappeared into the VandeKipp home. Kennelly stood alone on the porch for a moment, watching, and then turned and went back inside.
I wandered along the deserted sidewalk wondering what had happened. Neighbors I’d known my whole life had gone berserk. Friendly coppers had threatened violence. Burglars had stolen from the dead. And what about the Miller Brothers, those two pickpockets from the armory? So much evil. Then I remembered Lars Nielsen and how he’d risked sliding into the river in order to save me from myself. What about Karel? If not for him, I would have drowned in the capsizing, along with those two teenagers and that baby he’d pulled from the river only minutes later.
There was Mrs. Mulligan. Many a day she and her children went hungry. Yet somehow, she’d managed to scrounge together enough pennies to buy a crepe of ribbons and flowers for the VandeKipps’ front door.
At the end of the block, I’d turned back toward home, relieved to know that good still existed, when something flickered. I looked at the corner house. Through the parlor window, a candle glowed, a notice for the neighborhood that someone in that home had died. I stared up and down the street. Candles blazed from dozens of windows. Not in every home, but in every other, maybe every third or fourth. Crepes hung on the doors of those candle-lit homes, a further sign of the torment within. I thought of the joy of last Saturday morning.
How could things have gone so terribly wrong in such a short time? Yet one look around, and I knew I was not alone in my despair. Everyone had to live a new life. Forget BC and AD. Time had taken on a new meaning. Now there was only BE and AE. Before and after the Eastland.
About the Author:
Marian Cheatham lives in a suburb of Chicago with her family and their menagerie of pets. A graduate of Northern Illinois University, Marian taught Special Education for many years before becoming a full-time writer.
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