Excerpt from HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL
The Deception Series Book 1
by Sherry Morris
January 1945 in Washington, DC
Chloe awoke shortly after 3:00 p.m. as the Havana Special chuffed through Savannah, Georgia. She opened the aisle curtain and squinted into the light. Scooting to the edge of her bunk, Chloe let her legs dangle as she grabbed her pocketbook. Seizing the ladder, she stepped down the swaying rungs. She walked into the ladies’ lounge to freshen up. Chloe washed and dried her hands, then moved into the spacious primping compartment. She sat on one of five bolted-down stools in front of a stainless steel counter and wall-to-wall mirror. The railway had provided hair lacquer, tissues and six bottles of perfume on a silver tray.
She touched up her makeup and brushed her hair, then sprayed her curls into place with the lacquer. While she blotted her lips with a tissue, the metal door banged open as a woman and a little girl entered. Chloe smiled at them and left.
She stumbled through the rail cars with the rapidly escalating side-to-side pitch of the train. In the jam-packed dining car, she bought a ham sandwich on buttered white bread, gobbling it as she plodded to the first lounge car. There weren’t any empty seats in there either. Chloe continued walking until she arrived at the special tavern lounge observation car, at the end of the train. She lucked into a comfortable chair next to a glass-topped end table, just as someone left. She tried to disappear into the laughter permeating the art deco room streamlined in pink, mint and periwinkle.
The piano man began his first set. Chloe soon lost herself in his melodies and reminisced over the good times. The day she met Bill…the mischievous twinkle in his eyes…their secret love—on her part, anyway. Bill had never once said, “I love you.” He’d just used her. She admitted it to herself. How could she have been so stupid? All she wanted was for somebody to love her. To wrap his arms around her and kiss and comfort her. Someone to make her feel that she was lovable.
I was so stupid. Nobody loves me. Never has, never will. And now look what a mess I’ve gotten myself into. I have to run. Far away.
Shuddering at the memory of her last night in Washington, Chloe allowed herself a good cry.
* * * * *
Helping herself to the napkins arranged like a fan on the end table, Chloe picked a couple of them up. The Havana Special was embossed on them. She wiped her eyes and nose. Determined to begin anew, Chloe gritted her teeth and stood up with perfect posture. There. That didn’t hurt too much. Maneuvering through the smoky haze, she hummed along to the Mitchell Ayers song the piano man was playing. In between well- groomed heads, she caught a glimpse of a bartender with a Clark Gable mustache.
Someone bumped against her back as the train pitched hard on a curve. He said, “Pardon me.”
He smelled wonderful, like that guy she’d brushed by in the corridor last night. Chloe didn’t bother to turn around and look at him because the slight jolt stung her bruises and sore muscles. She stifled a gasp and half smiled, looking from side to side, trying to keep her sight on the bartender. There was something magical and comforting about his aura, drawing her to him.
Chloe dodged animated hands waving lighted cigarettes and booze. She arrived at the bar and steadied herself by holding onto the pink marble counter. Leaning in close to the bartender, she requested as loudly as she could without screaming, “Hot tea please.”
The bartender was crooning the lines of “Make Believe Island”. He finished the first verse and shouted, “Are you sure you want tea, miss? I’ve got some killer martinis.”
Chloe caught a little hint of a British accent in his spoken words, but not in his singing. “Yes, hot tea with sugar please.”
He dashed off to the kitchen to fetch a fresh little pot of tea.
When he returned still singing, Chloe enjoyed his soothing voice as she scooped three sugar cubes into a gold-rimmed teacup. She visualized the fantasy in his lyrics. Sunshine, blue water and beautiful flowers on Make Believe Island. A magical paradise where the future is much better than the past. Chloe laid the small silver spoon on the cup’s saucer.
The crooner grinned at Chloe while she fished coins out of her purse. She dropped them on the bar.
Looking forward to that first delicious sip, Chloe balanced the cup and saucer in her left hand and her purse and the small silver teapot in her right as she navigated through the lively throng.
* * * * *
Mike Taurus pushed his way up to the bar and motioned for the barkeep to lean in closer. He complied.
Mike whispered, “What’s the story with her?”
Mike shouted, “What’s the story with her?” He spun around to make sure no one else had heard him. The mix of servicemen and women as well as a few civilian ladies were immersed in their own merriment. He returned his attention to the bartender.
The bartender stroked his mustache. He hollered, “She bawled her eyes out and then came up here swaying to the music. Beats me. I can’t believe there’s some stupid stooge who would hurt a classy dame like that.”
“Gimme a bottle of beer and a pot of tea.”
The bartender winked. “Sure thing.” He popped the top off a bottle of beer, placed a cup and saucer on the counter and then dashed off to the kitchen, where he retrieved a second little pot of steaming tea.
Mike threw a dollar bill on the bar. He slid the beer into his pants pocket. Opening the hinged lid on the pot, he plunked in five sugar cubes and snapped it shut. Mike Taurus carried the teapot, along with a cup and saucer, toward the end of the car.
The barkeep winked and muttered, “That’s it, mate, get her on the rebound…” He continued singing softly, fading out at the end of the refrain.
The train pitched hard toward the left. The cup and saucer flew from Mike’s hand. The porcelain saucer broke in half as it hit the polished wood floor. The cup miraculously just bounced. Scalding tea sloshed through the little silver spout, searing his chest. Cold beer slopped down the front of his gray trousers.
* * * * *
Chloe balanced the teapot and cup as she passed by her berth, noticing the porter had made the bed. She drew a deep breath. The air was much fresher in the Pullman car than it was in the social areas. She walked back to the coach seat she’d occupied during the night, before the sleeper car was added. Perhaps I’ll try to make conversation with the sailor. I don’t wanna, but I do need the practice. When Chloe approached the seat, she was relieved to see the sailor was gone. His duffel bag and peacoat were missing from the overhead rack. He must’ve gotten off in South Carolina. I get a small reprieve. There would be plenty more servicemen to become acquainted with in Miami Beach.
Chloe plopped down in the window seat and clumsily opened the tray table. She placed the cup and saucer on it just as the train pitched hard. “Ow!” A gush of hot tea had spurted onto her hand. Sucking on her scald, she used her other hand to pour. Steam swirled from the steeped orange and black pekoe. Stirring to melt the sugar, she slopped a little tea onto the saucer. She took a careful sip and savored the hot comfort. Glancing out the window, Chloe marveled at her first glimpse of the palm trees whizzing by. She’d only ever seen them in books.
The conductor strolled through casually announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached our top speed of seventy-nine miles per hour. Out your windows, you’ll see we are passing through the Georgia swamps. Please rest assured that the odor permeating the train is swamp gas and not your traveling companion.”
Chloe and the other passengers giggled.
As he passed her seat, the conductor leaned in close and said, “You can enjoy your tea, miss, but you need to return to your berth or one of the public areas before the next station stop. That seat has been reserved.”
Chloe’s eyes grew big as she blushed. “I’m so sorry. I haven’t ridden trains much. I didn’t know.”
He nodded and continued through the car.
The tea seared her taste buds as she gulped, staring out the window as day faded into night. I’m such a fraud. Sophisticated people ride trains for the glamour and adventure of traveling to new locales. Maybe someday this mountain girl will see the world.