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by Amber Green
Category: Erotica/Menage Erotica/Romance
Description: Genre: Black History Month; African-American Prohibition-era Historical Menage
Prohibition. The Charleston. Hard times. Jazz. Foreclosures. Cutting loose.
Having lost everything, Twilight Amery sets her sights on Harlem, where a girl with a voice--even a white man's bastard from Alabama--can be somebody. Hopping a freight train, she joins up with the beautiful and bitter Mr. Stone, along with the compellingly magnetic Hector, two Harlem men trying to get home. Faced with club-wielding Pinkerton agents, an inconvenient dead body, and a shortage of money, the three work their way east and north.
Twilight and Stone forge an alliance of reliance, then trust, and then affection. Both try to deal with their feelings for one another while pursuing their individual mating dances with the man they both love. An old enemy of Stone's finds them in an Atlanta bordello, and issues a challenge Twilight makes the mistake of accepting.
They steal away north. Unfortunately, the three of them leave a trail that someone is finding all too easy to follow.
Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Exhibitionism, male/male sexual practices, menage, voyeurism.
eBook Publisher: Loose Id, LLC, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: April 2010
9 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [208 KB]
Reading time: 129-180 min.
Twi lay hidden among the honeysuckle vines, ignoring the mosquitoes and the gravel digging into her sweaty skin as she watched the dark bulk of the freight train creep backward. So many times, she and the other pickers had lain hiding like this, ready to swarm a car and throw down sacks and satchels of rice or coal for the little ones to collect. Tonight the little ones had been left to home.
Tonight she wore a picker's britches for the last time, and her carpetbag satchel was already full. She'd packed corn bread, a double handful of field peas, two corked jugs of water, her shoes, two dresses with underthings, a flour-sack towel, soap, a comb, a threaded needle, nearly seventeen dollars, a shiv, and a traced map showing how to get from the Harlem train station to a YWCA that accepted colored girls.
Alabama would never see this Twilight again. Not if she could help it.
She'd let the first train pass on after seeing the Pinkerton man pacing in the moonlight, swinging his club. Being as she could see him, likely he could see her. Those men delighted in guarding the trains from pickers, hoboes, adventurous boys, and anybody as desperate as Twilight Amery.
So she'd waited, breathing honeysuckle and the creosote off the railroad ties, letting the mosquitoes feed on her. She'd waited knowing the second train would come by as the moon was setting behind the mountains over toward Birmingham. She wouldn't need cloud shadow to catch a ride on that one.
But the second train had come way early. The moon, still high, ducked in and out from behind ragged clouds.
The wind blew strong way up there. Down here, wasn't a breath to cool her skin. Sweat stung her eyes. She had nothing to wipe them with but her shirt or the rag-rope she'd braided to make a shoulder strap for her satchel. Both were black with coal dust.
She blinked and set her mind to endure the wait, mosquitoes and sweat and all. At this time of summer folks slept on their porches, or tried. Just too hot to sleep good anywhere. But it was also too hot to stay completely awake. And that would give her the best chance she would ever have to sneak onto the northbound train.
To her right, Timmy, Hooter, and Harelip Joe muttered together, waiting to see if she made the train on her own. If the Pinkerton man reacted to her, the boys had promised to jump the train, make noise, and let themselves be chased away. If she couldn't trust them, she couldn't trust anyone.
If they failed, she'd have to hope the Pinkerton would kill her, not leave her crippled up like Timmy's oldest brother.
It was bad enough to be some white man's bastard in Alabama. If crippled too, she'd have to get to a track somehow and lay herself down in front of the next train. Jesus would understand.
The whistle blew two long hoots, the "leaving now" signal. To the front of the train, cars paused, and one by one clanged and groaned before changing direction.
Twilight pressed her lips together, inwardly snarling at the bright moonlight. The Pinkertons had to know this junction was a favorite for pickers and hoboes alike, so they'd be watching.
This was the last train before dawn. Time was up.
The boys were talking about going home. They had homes to go to.
As of midnight, the bank owned the Amery house. A mortgage of some kind had come due. Her suspicions as to who'd signed the paper and got the money made no nevermind. She was free of it all.
If she had to walk to Pell City, or even Birmingham, she'd find a train headed to New York City, where there was still plenty of jobs. To Harlem, where a singer could get rich. To the Apollo Theater, the Lafayette, the Savoy, or the one on the radio, the Cotton Club.
The cars clanked by faster, already moving at a dog-trot speed. Under the clanging metal racket of wheel and coupling, the mosquitoes whined on, one tickling her eyelid. She batted it away.
Tonight everything had seemed so right. Everything. Until this train had decided to pull in so early.
She rested her forehead on her fists--and the moon went to shadow.
She looked up. The nearest car was a hopper. Looked like the one behind it was too. Not boxcars, but each car would have a ladder on both ends. If she waited for a boxcar, she might lose this last little chance.
Besides, Old Pinkie Pinkerton would be watching the boxcars.
She pulled her feet and hind end under her like a cat a-fixing to jump, digging with her toes for solid ground under the loose gravel, and adjusted her satchel rope.
Here came the dark slit between cars--Now!
Her hands slammed the ladder bar and went numb. Her shins hit the coupling with mule-kick force. She gulped, swallowing the pain.
Her satchel slung itself around her and struck the hopper's sheet-steel skin. The steel rang like a muted bell, tolling for a funeral.
She jerked her feet up onto the greasy coupling and looked about frantically. Someone must hear that!
If Old Pinkie came at her, he would come from above. She'd have to hide below, between the clattering wheels. The boys spoke of hoboes crawling under a stopped car and clinging to the undercarriage.
They also said the Pinkertons liked to fix heavy cables under the cars, to beat such riders to death.
She didn't hear anything like a drug rope thumping the bottoms of the cars.
The train was going at horse-trot speed, faster with every heartbeat. And she didn't know what to reach for, or what to avoid. She could be chopped meat in a heartbeat.
No. If the man found her, she would jump. Jump as hard and as far as she could.
She shook feeling back into her hands. They buzzed like gloves full of mosquitoes, but they would work. They'd have to.
The hopper car sounded again, another muted tolling of the bell. Less a gonng than a monnnn!
Law, what's that? I didn't do nothing!
The train continued picking up speed, swaying now, the clacking wheels sounding peculiarly like a giant's sewing machine. The muted tolling sounded again, and a third time, softer.
A repeated noise, and it wasn't any of her doing. Something had bumped from inside the hopper, something large and kind of soft.
Something the train men would be used to hearing.
It was a sign.
She tried to stand, but her shins hurt so much, her legs wouldn't hold her.
Foolishness. Get yourself up, girl.
She stood, her feet spread and braced on the gritty, greasy coupling. The metal sang under her feet, like the bare rails did if she touched them when a train was coming. The coupling sang slower and harder, but it was the same song. Her private hymn. Always.
She gripped the ladder and smiled. She was on board with no fuss, no shouting. The first step was done. The next step had to be purely easy--just move to the car behind and climb to the top of its ladder, checking often to make sure she wasn't raising her head into swinging range of a Pinkerton club.
Only after doing would she need to consider the third step: running across the top of whatever was in the hopper. With luck the car on the other side would be an unguarded boxcar with an unlocked door. Otherwise, she'd search to the end of the train and then start back forward to the beginning of the train.
She leaned over the coupling joint and reached for the next car's ladder.
One foot slipped. Grease gooshed between her toes.
She sat hurriedly, as nasty as the coupling was, and didn't fall. Scraping the grease from between her toes gave her a moment to collect her nerves. Between her aching shins, the coupling pin groaned. She'd seen enough two-fingered trainmen to know the danger there. The joint wasn't that big, though. She could crawl past it.
Could and did, cringingly, putting one hand on the heavily vibrating metal and using the other to hold her satchel away from the nastiness. The carpeting might protect her clothes inside, but those clothes were all she had, and might wasn't good enough.
Once across, she crouched on the coupling of the other car, which wasn't nearly as grimy, and set the satchel in her lap. The carpeting didn't feel greasy, except a little near one corner.
Opening it to check her things would be stupid, as dirty as her hands were. The things inside were as clean as they were, and that was just it.
One dress was respectable, or it was here in the sticks. Wrapped inside that dress, however, was the beaded dancing dress her aunt had kept hidden. A heavy China silk dress fringed with thousands of shimmering glass beads. Once she saw for herself what colored women wore in the theaters and dance halls, this dress was her best chance at fashioning something that wouldn't get her laughed at.
Twilight Amery was through having her dreams laughed at. Twilight Amery was going to be somebody.
She scrubbed her hands against her just-as-dirty britches, and climbed the ladder.
Mercy, the hopper car had a tarp tied over the contents, billowing like a revival tent in the wind.
Under it would be rice or corn. Easy to scoop a satchelful, but--they said--terrible to walk across. Talk was, a person would sink into rice like sinking into water.
She looked at the hopper car behind her, squinching her eyes against the wind. Another tarp, tied even tighter and smoother.
She couldn't sink into the rice unless the tarp ripped under her weight, right? And a railroad wouldn't use a lightweight oilcloth. A railroad would want waxed canvas, something woven to resist powerful winds over a long time.
Crawling would be lots easier. But she only had until the whistle sounded, warning of the next stop, to get all the way over this load and into the car behind--and hope that was a boxcar.
She threw another glance about but couldn't see much of anything in the cloud-veiled moonlight.
Twilight of the moon. She grinned and set herself to crawl across the billowing fabric.
Her weight didn't sink it down more than a few inches but did gape open a slit in the fabric. Good thing she hadn't tried to run. Putting her foot through that might have sprung her ankle. Might even have broken it.
Sore shins she could walk with. A broke ankle, that would pretty much end her trip.
The cloth bucked her into the air and caught her when she fell. The dusty scent of rice surrounded her. She laughed out loud, knowing the wind would snatch away the sound before anyone heard it. On May Day they'd toss a little girl on a blanket; while she flew and fell, the blanket-holders ran in a circle under her. This was better, with the wind rushing past.
At the fair a girl might have to pay a whole dime for a ride like this. I get it for free. She laughed again, for sheer joy. Look out, Harlem--Twilight is in the air!
About halfway down the length of the hopper car, she saw another slit. That's how the air got under the cloth and out from under it. What was this, a way to dry out the rice on its way up north?
When tossed up again, she curled around her knees to spin faster. But she fell faster too, and the fabric ripped a little.
Mercy! One hand nearly touched the side of the hopper, between two of the metal pins holding the tarp in place. She curled up and rolled to the dead centerline of the car. Getting thrown to the gravel from the top of a hopper car at full speed was a good way to end up crippled. From here in the middle, she could fly a little at a time, without getting thrown off.
A third slit gaped by her hand. A dark hand reached out, grasped her wrist, and yanked her arm from under her. "Do not shout."
The urgency of the voice caught her, held her as securely as his grasp on her wrist. He sounded strange, even foreign.
His notions were foreign too. Colored girls didn't scream when surprised by a man. As Auntie put it, "Better to be done over by just one of the bastards than yell so they know to line up for turns."
"I will release your arm. You will remain still. Yes?"
He had to be a foreigner. But his hand had been black against her skin. Foreign and colored?
"Yes. Let me go."
He released her.
She held still, the wild galloping of her heart slowing to normal, as a big body crawled under the tarp to the closest tie-off. He looked so much like her aunt's fat cat running under the carpet, she had to laugh.
She could scramble to the end of the car before he could come after her. But if she did, she'd never know anything more about that rasping, exotic voice. She wanted to know.
"Come here, boy."
I ain't no boy. But she obeyed, drawn by his deep voice and by a curious thrill. His voice was deep and resonant, a bass with a distinctive edge. He would stick out in any ensemble, and everyone else would find their pitches from him. She peeked in under the tarp but saw only dark and darker.
"Thread the needle. Come!"
She backed a step. Curiosity was one thing. Stupidity was a whole nother thing. "You got this car, Mister. I'll find a boxcar."
"At every stop the boxcars are searched, and the riders are beaten. I hear them shout. If your journey is long, come here."
She weighed his words. They did make sense. Or maybe her curiosity was lending them sense. She came closer.
The moon came out, bright enough to cast shadow under her. She threw a quick, panicked glance about, but the only shape that might be a man was many cars ahead.
And might be her imagination.
Still, she'd been lucky so far. Too lucky to forswear luck now. She wriggled through the tight gap, dragging her satchel behind her.
The canvas tarp flapped down, slapping her face-first into a hard bed of rice. She rocked up cautiously, licking a dusty grain off her bottom lip. Rice. But the hopper load under her was packed as solid as dirt. "I thought a body would sink in rice."
"Sink down in the rice. Like in water."
"Ah." The man--she could see his mule-sized silhouette against the gap in the tarp--wrestled a bar and a knotted rope. "Yes, the man can sink in newly poured rice. I hear so. But this rice is Texas rice; it is shaken many miles. It is solid like the feathers of the old bed. Also, no dust is left. Be thankful."
That made sense too. Even though there was still some dust left.
He made a final wrenching motion, and darkness closed over the slit of moonlight.
She sought out the smaller hand-sized slit, and after a moment she could make it out, with the sky behind it.
"You have the water?"
She flinched. He'd moved right up by her, and his voice had a taken on a gravelly sound, like rocks falling. "I have--a little."
He lunged for her carpetbag.
She snatched it to her chest and scrabbled away, spider-crawling under the flapping canvas. Toward the edge of the car, it didn't flap so much.
He didn't chase her. He crouched where he was, chest to the rice, a dim mass in the darkness. "Please, may I drink?"
She untied the flap of the satchel, found the handle of the smaller jug, shook her towel from around it, and set it in the rice. Then she backed up right to the cool metal wall of the car.
The car sang for her. She spread her hand on the metal, and it sang against her just as the rails always had.
She realized the rice dipped here. She could sit upright under the canvas tarp without it beating on her head. Likely the foreigner had hollowed out a den. She closed her eyes in the darkness and sorted her thoughts. Why is he not scary?
He could take the whole satchel if he wanted. He was certainly strong enough, but the intensity of his bass voice didn't sound like a threat. A threat was more likely hidden in sweet words and greasy voices.
He uncorked the jug and drank noisily.
So much for packing enough water to wash with! "How much you going to drink?" Mercy, that sharp a voice was likely to charm any man!
He instantly broke away from the bottle. "How many years have you?"
Have I what? "Why do you ask?"
He corked the jug with an ominously hollow pop! "At your size, the boy should speak with the voice of the man."
"You are too nosy!"
He chuckled. "Yes, Miss."
Am I stupid or what? Safer to be a boy, traveling. Especially since she'd decided her painfully saved train fare would be better spent on Harlem rent and Harlem food.
He shoved the sloshing jug across the rice at her. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. My heart is yours for the gift of the water. How far is this place from New Orleans?"
Not really a gift, since you took it. "This is St. Clair County, Alabama. We headed north, away from New Orleans."
"Alabama? So many days, so little a distance!"
Oh. He was from New Orleans. Why would anyone ever want to leave New Orleans?
She'd spent evenings last winter on the sidewalk by the furniture store. When night fell, right before closing time, the sales clerk would tune the store's three radios to the scratchy sounds of faraway places: New Orleans. Memphis. Harlem. Places where nobody had to pick peas from summer dawn to summer dusk for sixty-five cents a day, only to be fined half of it because some member of the crew had left too many peas on the vine.
But those days were gone. She would scrub the gray calluses off her knees, and they would never grow back. Never!
She carefully gathered up the jug, checked the cork, and double wrapped it in her towel. A towel bath would have been nice tonight, but if he was to be sharing the water--and she couldn't stop him if he wanted to--the two jugs wouldn't be enough just for drinking.
"I am Hector Castillo, and I am your devoted companion for this part of your journey."
"My name is Twilight Amery, and I'm going to be a famous singer in New York." There. She'd said it out loud. Wouldn't everybody laugh if they knew the hardheaded Widow Amery hid such dreams in her heart? But the big shadow didn't laugh.
She gathered her courage to say more. Sociability wasn't her strong point, and if she aimed to be a singer, it behooved her to practice being sociable. "I expect I'll have devoted followers once they hear me sing, but right now we're both hoboes. Are you French?"
He chuckled, sounding like a cat's purr, if a cat the size of a mule purred from the black gullet of a mine shaft. "French? No. Also, I am not the hobo. I am the player of trombone as well as horn, and sometimes drum--and I have been the famous player of baseball. You have heard of Hector, yes?"
She smiled in the dark. But he hadn't laughed at her foolishness, so she wouldn't laugh at his. "You ain't originally from New Orleans, are you? Mercy--are you from Africa?"
He boomed out a laugh.
She scrambled over to clap both hands over his mouth. "Shh! Anybody could hear that!"
The sound went deep in his chest, felt but not heard. I got my hands on a strange man's face! She yanked back.
But he clapped his hands over hers, trapping them against his silently laughing mouth.
She tried again to snatch away.
He lay back, pulling her across his heaving chest and holding her stretched there.
Her face heated. Oh no you don't! But heaving away from him did no good at all. He held her like she might hold a puppy.
The canvas tarp beat against her back, doing nothing at all to stop him. Conflicting smells of hot peppers, roasted peanuts, and unwashed male surrounded her.
Instead of anger, she felt a stir of warm hunger.
Then he rolled atop her, mashing her into a shifting bed of rice. The anger came, a cold blast sweeping away any touch of warmth or curiosity. She held still, except for her heart fluttering like a trapped bird's, and waited for the attack. Once he opened his pants, she'd find what he had in them and rip it half off.
Half would be good enough. 'Cause then she could get to her satchel, and the shiv hidden deep within it.
"This travel is long, Twilight Amery. Two more nights, possibly three. You must not fear Hector, or the time will be unendurable."
"Get off me!"
He rolled off immediately, but kept her hands trapped in his.
"Let go my hands."
He let go of them and disappeared in the darkness. "See? You cannot fear Hector."
"I don't see nothing," she snarled.
"I have boiled eggs. Have you hungry?"
Her stomach gurgled. And just like that, the cold fury left her. She'd been too nervous to eat like normal earlier. "Hungry is something you are, not something you have."
He chuckled. "Excuse me, please. Are you hungry?"
"I ain't taking your eggs." Nor am I offering you what I have. A man as big as you would swill it all down in one meal and go looking for more.
"But, lovely lady--"
"She said no, Hector."
Another man! A Yankee! She whipped about but saw nothing. Even Hector on his bed of rice had faded into the night. The Yankee--a tenor--what kind of creep hid in the dark and let folks talk? She lifted her chin. "You got a name too, friend?"
"I'm Stone. And no, I'm not particularly at your service."
A tenor with hard edges, like newly broken rock. He sounded, in his way, as foreign as Hector.
Hector made a popping noise. "He is called Daniel Stone. He is the very enchanting man, when he is not caged--"
"Shut up, Hector."
She flinched at his tone, then considered it. That was frustration, which was familiar enough. "Mr. Stone, would you fancy a cool drink of water?"
"Of course I would, Miss Amery. But what kind of man would drink up a female's water supply just because he's already drunk up his own?"
A thirsty man. The big jug was a gallon, easily enough to keep her through two days of lazing in a shaded bed of rice. "I've brung two jugs. Y'all can have the one Hector started on, if you don't bother me about myother one."
"My word of honor, Miss. My life. You and your water are under our protection."
I notice you didn't make a promise, Mr. Daniel Stone. She smiled bitterly and unwrapped the smaller jug again. The truth was, the two men would probably empty it before lunch tomorrow. Then they'd watch her sipping on the big jug and decide to share that one too. That was a man's way.
Even when a man felt obliged to keep his word to another man, he gave his word to female folk just to quiet them down and keep them easy to manage. I'd be in a better position to argue about it if I'd handed Big Boy the big jug to start with.
Hector took the jug from her outstretched hand and skidded it across the rice. It disappeared quickly. The unseen cork popped out, then squeaked back in place.
"Thank you, Miss Amery."
Mrs. She'd been married to Buster Amery for all of eleven months before he'd been knifed in the wrong woman's bed. She'd swapped the radio for his burying, which had been a pure waste of a good radio.
That Stone didn't like giving thanks. If she said he was welcome, he could rightly call it a lie, even though he might keep the words inside him. What could she say, that a Yankee would respect?
She couldn't tell.
She waited in the darkness, feeling like a squirrel nesting by a clothesline on a windy night, with the loud and unending flapping noise beating its way through her. But under that raggedy racket, the rails hummed: hymn and lullaby together.
The smell of peanuts lingered. She'd never been particularly fond of them, especially the way Hooter's daddy tended to burn them in the parcher. But now she wanted them so bad, she could eat every scrap of food she'd brought along and still be hungry.
And that would be a pure waste of perfectly good food.
After a little while Hector grunted, and the flapping lessened.
She couldn't guess how he'd tightened the canvas. She could only be grateful he had.
Lying down in the dark, she stretched cautiously. The rice formed a perfect, lump-free bed under her shoulder and hip and even under her head. The satchel she cuddled like a baby, its opening tight to her belly. No one would open it without her knowing.
Carefully she opened the mouth of the satchel and put her hand through the towel, using it like an elbow-length glove as she felt her way down to the bottom. There was the corn-shuck-wrapped bundle of field peas, and under it the shiv Hooter had given her.
Still there. Still as dangerous to have as to be without. She left it hidden and found a loose pod of peas to nibble.
She chewed each pea to nothing before lipping up the next. The green taste of them didn't kill her craving for half-burned oily peanuts but might keep the craving from killing her.
The men remained silent under the flapping roof.
Slowly the excitement of the day leached out. Maybe she could close her eyes, rest herself a little while amid the wind and the rail song. But first she slid her hand back into the satchel to grip the taped end of the shiv.
If those men planned a surprise, a polite Alabama girl ought to make sure they got at least as much in return.