Johanna set her meager breakfast down before her. "Is he gone?"
Fran shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Yes, not that it is any business of yours."
Her sister scowled. "Since Mama died, your business must be mine." Johanna stabbed at her egg angrily. "How could you bring this shame to us?"
She shrugged. "I do not see shame in it. He promised to return." Kurt was off to the front now, somewhere in France. His regiment had been stationed in town for several weeks, and unlike most people, Kurt hadn't cared what color skin she had. To him, Franziska Grunwort was as German as he was. In her twenty-one years, no one had shown her the kindness and love that he had in their few moments together.
Her father had come from Tanganyika to be educated and he'd taken a German name, secreting her mother along. He returned to the colonial government in Deutsche-Ostafrika, leaving their mother behind with Fran and her sister. Johanna and Franziska were born and raised German, yet most in their town remained unfriendly. Now Johanna was all Fran had left, along with their house.
"He doesn't love you," her sister sneered. "You just gave him what he wants. All men are the same, Franziska."
Fran bit her toast, ignoring her sister. Kurt was coming back. The war wouldn't last forever.
Fran had grown increasingly agitated as they came closer to the neighborhood where they would spend the night. Knowing that Larsa would be paying for their train tickets, would it be so hard to ask for him to find them lodgings as well? Ashe could tell that Fran and her sister were not on good terms just from the sad look in the older woman's eyes.
It was a poorer neighborhood, but at least they would stay out of the spotlight. They arrived at the end of a block in front of an aging but sturdy clapboard house. "We wait for the others," Fran said quietly, and they waited in front of the metal fence that ringed the property. It was exceptionally cold – why would they wait outside when they could be inside?
The children huddled together while Fran crossed her arms and stood still as a statue. Ashe frowned, hoping to see the two men and Larsa return sooner rather than later. Within the half hour, another bus deposited them at the corner of the block, and finally Fran opened the gate. They moved to trudge up the dirt walk to the porch when Basch caught her arm.
"We don't want to impose on Fran's family too long. Can't afford having anyone else involved, so the tickets are for tomorrow afternoon," he informed her, showing her a small envelope tucked inside his coat.
"I appreciate your taking care of this," she told him. "In fact, I haven't been appreciative enough, Basch."
He shook his head as the group gathered on the porch, and they remained behind. Fran knocked on the door, and they waited. Larsa stood chatting with Vaan and Penny, the three of them standing close to stay warm. "You think it's good to keep the kid around? He has a powerful family," Basch reminded her.
"Seems like the only choice we have right now since we're broke." She looked at her feet. "But to work together...would my father want me to cooperate with a Solidor?"
Basch seemed to think on it for a moment. "It may be shameful for you, and for me as well...but R.A. Banastre is more than you and me. The employees receive a pitiful wage. Working with Larsa now, we could ask for them to pay the employees what they are worth. Keep them from striking..."
"And you think Larsa's influential enough to get his brother to sign off on that?"
"It doesn't hurt to try. Even if we have to beg Larsa on hands and knees to take care of those still employed, and for those who have been unfairly let go..." Basch sighed. "I would ask on your behalf. There's no shame in it for me when I have nothing else to lose."
She had been so cruel to him, yet he would do this for her...would beg Larsa to consider the employees who would suffer through a tough Chicago winter. This man who had been locked away for two years and had borne it all to keep her father's secrets concealed. Ashe linked her arm through his and pressed her head against his shoulder. "I've spent time with the Workers' Union, Basch. They hate the Solidors and do not believe their promises."
She rubbed her hands together, wondering what was taking the sister so long. Couldn't Fran or Balthier pick the lock on the door? Or did the bonds of family make such a thing out of the question?
Basch huddled together with her. "There's still hope." Gesturing with his other hand to the children, he almost sounded happy. "Larsa is a Solidor, but I'd say his promises are genuine. There is a future in that."
Vaan and Penny teased Larsa, threatening him with snowballs. Ashe wondered if the others whose lives had been affected by Archadia Industries would be so kind and accepting. There was little time to keep pondering as the door to the home was opened. A severe looking woman with brown skin and long hair like Fran's, but obviously lacking the latter's kindness, held the door ajar.
Fran turned to look at the woman, and they all grew silent.
The crying, wouldn't the child just stop crying? Fran couldn't move from the floor, the telegram in shreds at her feet. Some fellow soldier had sent it, not even knowing her surname. Franziska in Sasbachwalden.
"Kurt dead Passchendaele."
Her sister was in the doorway. "I told you."
She wouldn't look up. Johanna could be cruel when she was victorious. Her sister's heart was cold, though Fran could see herself traveling a similar road now that Kurt was never coming back. Johanna walked over to the cradle, her footsteps creaking on the floor beside her.
Fran studied the scuff marks in the wood planked floor. "Mia will have a good life. I will give her that."
The baby's cries were soothed then as Johanna rocked her. "The neighbors do not know or care when Mama died, Fran."
Finally, she looked up, her tears clouding her vision. "What?"
"Give it some thought," were the only words Johanna offered in reply.
"Do you want me to find him or not, Helen?"
She twisted the telephone cord in her fingers and frowned. "I told you in confidence of the young master's whereabouts. That you would go to Vayne over my head..."
"Look, sweetheart," David Bergan shouted noisily over the line. "You think he's tracking down that B'Nargin girl, and I'll find 'em. I'm already getting the word out. Vayne's the kid's brother, you're just the nanny."
Helen Drace fumed. Word had made it to Vayne that his brother was in the Midwest following Ashelia B'Nargin. It had been foolish of her to let it slip to an arrogant ass like Bergan that she knew where Larsa was, but the man was the head of the Chicago arm of the Solidor security detail – Larsa's whereabouts were Bergan's responsibility in that part of the country. But she'd never intended for the stupid Pinkerton to snatch the boy back before his mission was complete.
"Vayne is in enough trouble as it is, David," she informed him. The elder Solidor son was due in New York on that evening's train to face his father and the board. "Your loyalty to Gramis should outweigh loyalty to the son."
Bergan laughed. "The board can't touch Vayne. He's not going down for anything – if Daddy wants his Pinkerton pals to stay in line, he'll do what Vayne says. You know who we're loyal to, Helen."
"Oh, is that so?" she spat at him, wishing he was standing before her so she could wring his neck. Vayne Solidor did not write the Pinkerton agency's checks – his father and the Archadia Industries accounting department did. But since the son used the glorified thugs more than Gramis did, their loyalty had seemingly swayed more than she'd bargained for. "You remind me of Zecht. He followed Vayne's schemes without question, but since the incident with the Heios family...he vanished, Bergan."
"You don't know a thing about Zecht, Helen. He was one of the best, earned every paycheck like a loyal Pinkerton." The man's voice had grown considerably more menacing as their call continued. She was growing more afraid that he would do Larsa harm in order to obey Vayne.
Helen shut her eyes against the knowledge that was more and more apparent. Vayne had sent along paper records of things he'd done since taking over in Chicago – it was more than she'd thought possible. "Your boss, David...he's done terrible things. He's murdered in the name of this company. He is ruthless beyond contempt!"
Bergan laughed. "You're all bark and no bite, Drace. If every business was run the way Vayne Solidor wants to, this country would be doing a lot better. No more kowtowing to the selfish bickering of boards and old men. Men like Vayne are the future, darling. You just have to accept it." With that, the horrible man hung up on her, and she slammed the receiver back in its cradle.
She stormed out of her office, just down the hall from Gramis' and saw the older man's chief bodyguard hovering in wait for her. "Helen, is something wrong?"
She was ready to tear at her hair. "Mr. Zargabaath, you do not share your colleague Bergan's views on the future of this company, do you?"
The man was confused. "Ma'am?"
She stormed off to the floor lounge, Zargabaath at her heels. Noah Gabranth gave them both a nod of acknowledgment when they entered, and she poured herself a cup of coffee. Everything was getting out of her control – Larsa potentially in danger, the old man laid up with pneumonia at the worst possible time, Vayne returning to New York...
Her grip on the coffee mug tightened. "Vayne will..." She took a sip and tried to calm herself. "His father is very ill, Richard. He knows this. Heios and his son? That looked like an accident, you know."
The other man winced. "Helen, you shouldn't talk like that. Vayne would never..."
Gabranth looked up from his paper. "He's already here."
Zargabaath raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"
Drace felt sick. They'd lied to her about Vayne's itinerary? He was already in the city? "He took an earlier train?"
Noah nodded. "Arrived at Grand Central over an hour ago."
And no one had thought to tell her? Zargabaath ran a hand through his hair. "Then he's probably on his way to the house. I'd better go." He looked at her warily. "Helen, you coming?"
She took a long drink from her mug and shook her head. "I have some of Mr. Solidor's papers to bring from his office. I'll be back in another hour."
Richard nodded, turning around and departing the lounge. Once she and Noah were alone, she sat down at the table across for him. He was studying the newspaper closely, obviously ignoring her. She set down her mug, begging for him to meet her eyes. "You didn't tell me."
Noah shrugged. "I only just found out."
"And here you sit without a care in the world?"
He looked at her over the top of the New York Times. "Helen..."
"Larsa is still in St. Louis. He meets with the man from Margrace Oil within the week in Chicago. What on earth do we tell Vayne? He'll want to see his brother." She left out the bit about Larsa trying to find Ashelia B'Nargin – Gabranth didn't need to get in trouble on her account.
"You've done a fine job lying until now," he told her, the slightest smile at the corners of his mouth.
She felt a blush rise in her cheeks, but she rose from the chair to look away from him. "Larsa ensures the security of Archadia Industries. A twelve year old, Noah. He does far more than his brother, and he won't be a pawn of the board's whims."
"Make up a lie about a school retreat. The Collegiate boys are always getting into trouble." Helen heard him stand, his footsteps bringing him closer until he was standing just behind her. She could smell his cologne, he was so close. "Vayne being back here is a problem, but we'll handle it. The board's terrified of him, but you're not, Helen."
His hand was on the small of her back, and she wished to turn, but would not. There were far more important worries at hand. "I'll speak with Gramis. Get Vayne tickets to a show tonight and get him away from the house. We have to take care of Larsa. Promise me, Noah."
"Of course," he told her, rubbing her shoulder in encouragement before departing the lounge with a click of the door. She took a deep breath and straightened her blouse. It would take all her strength to lie to someone as cunning as Vayne Solidor...but it was for Larsa's sake. She would do it.
Ellis Island, New York
The questions came quickly, too quickly. Studying phrases on the boat hadn't helped, and Mia had spent most of the time ill from the restless ocean. Johanna was stubborn as ever, seeing no need to learn English. Fran had to speak for all of them.
"Sasbachwalden, near Black Forest," she said slowly, the words not forming readily in her mind. They were asked about their home, how their family had gotten to Germany, why they were now in America, and then when Fran began answering about birthdays…
"Drei Schwestern," Johanna said loudly, holding Mia close to her side.
"What was that?" the immigration agent inquired, and Fran kept her balled fists inside her coat.
"Das macht nichts," she said, then remembered where she was. Johanna's remark had jarred her from answering in English. "I mean to say, it doesn't matter. My sister, she does not learn English right now."
"Drei Schwestern," Johanna insisted, running her hand through Mia's curls. Fran begged her with a look. They didn't need to continue this here, did they? America would be different.
"Speak up, Fraulein!" the agent said bitterly.
Johanna smiled, moving Fran out of the way. "Th-three…" She tested the words on her tongue, and Fran could see the effort it took. "Three sisters. Franziska, Johanna, Mia. Wer sind three sisters."
The agent nodded. "That's fine, Fraulein, that's mighty fine. Willkommen to the United States." The man stamped their papers, asserting that the Grunwort family consisted of three sisters.
Fran watched Johanna pull Mia ahead through the busy lines, and her heart sank. Mia was almost ten now…it was far too late to tell her.
"Move along, Fraulein!" the agent bellowed. "Lots more where you came from, get going!"
She picked up her suitcase and followed her sister and child into America.
They were escorted into a side parlor by Fran's sister Johanna. The grumpy woman was serving the others tea, but she hadn't given him so much as a second glance as they entered the house. Fran had barely gotten out a sentence before Johanna had simply stood back and let them inside. He waited in the darkened hallway with Fran while the other woman played hostess and encouraged the others to be comfortable in her broken English.
As soon as Johanna left the room, the others stared at them. Fran turned away, facing the banister in the foyer instead of the others. He crossed his arms and stood beside her, where he would remain until this business was over. Balthier would rather be in prison than in Johanna Grunwort's home. Vaan came wandering into the hallway, Ashe at his heels.
"What's wrong?" the boy asked curiously, and Balthier wished they would just get through this night in silence. But with Vaan around, it was unlikely.
Fran smirked. "I'm not quite welcome in this place."
Ashe looked embarrassed. "Fran, I'm sorry...is it something we've done? Are we imposing?"
"We?" Fran replied, shaking her head. "No. It is I." She moved away from the staircase, sliding open the door to the dining room. Vaan was confused, but Balthier waved him off. The kid would never get it. Thankfully, Ashe pulled Vaan back into the parlor while Balthier followed Fran into the dining room.
She sat down in one of the chairs, staring absently at a stain on the wall. "We didn't have to stay here," he told her quietly, resting a hand on her shoulder. "We could still leave."
"We don't have much choice," she reminded him. "We rely on Larsa for money. A child. I will not ask him to pay for lodgings as well."
He felt like the lowest of the low. It was his fault that she was miserable. It was his fault that she was unwelcome in this house. "Frannie, I'm sorry..."
She chuckled. "This is for you as much as it is for me."
"Oh really?" he inquired, not liking where the conversation was going. He'd been nagging her for days now about being in Johanna's house. Now here they were.
She raised her hand to cover his, interlacing their fingers. "You are in a daze, Balthier. This business with Cid..." He pulled his hand away as if she'd burned him. Her face was almost teasing when she looked up from the table at him. "You always let your eyes betray your heart."
He sighed, moving to examine a dying plant in the corner of the room. "Right." Knowing that his father was involved with all this Greek fire, R.A. Banastre nonsense...what did it matter? He left home, left that stuff behind. It didn't bother him.
Balthier tried thinking of some sort of retort to get Fran off his case, but he didn't get a chance. Vaan was knocking at the dining room door. Privacy was apparently not a word in the kid's vocabulary. He poked his head inside. "Hey Fran, your sister's asking questions but uh...German isn't exactly a first language for us..."
Fran shook her head. Even after all these years, Johanna would not let go of the old country. "Mia, she is probably upstairs. Her English is much better than Johanna's. We will explain to Mia why we are here."
Balthier followed Vaan back into the parlor where Johanna was apparently giving Ashe the third degree. The young heiress looked confused, her face increasingly pink with each rapid fire question in German. She looked grateful to see Fran return, although his friend stayed in the doorway.
Vaan waved for Johanna's attention. "So uh, Fran has another sister right? Mia? Is she around?"
Balthier watched the older sister's eyes darken, narrowing in Fran's direction. Johanna's expression was cruel, even more than he'd remembered. It was a face that made you freeze in your tracks – there was hatred in this look that Balthier had seen before. Johanna had looked at him that way just over three years ago. It made his skin crawl. Johanna started talking quickly in German, and even his schoolboy's study of the language kept him from understanding the conversation as Fran started arguing back in a similarly quick fashion.
Ashe looked at him for answers, since he was the only link to Fran in the room. He had only understood one or two words per sentence and still the sisters were arguing, leaving everyone else silent. Johanna rose from the sofa where she was sitting and looked him in the eye. Whatever she had argued about with Fran, it was obviously his fault for some reason.
"Mia..." Johanna spat. "Not in the home now."
"She ran away?" he asked her. When he and Fran had left, the girl had been about twelve or so. She'd only be about fifteen now. "For good?"
Fran looked crushed, her grip tightening on the doorframe as her sister looked at her angrily. "She works downtown, a club..."
"You let her go to a place like that?" he shouted at Johanna. The girl was younger than Penny and working at a speakeasy. "What's wrong with you?"
Johanna smiled at him, not looking away as she gave her explanation in German. Fran was shaking now. "Johanna says that Mia wants to...that she wants to be like me. And that she is as welcome in this house as myself and Balthier."
"You'd forsake your own..." He caught himself. "She's your sister!"
Vaan apparently thought he was a part of this conversation. "Wait, so Fran's little sister is working in some place that's bad news? We could...well, couldn't we go get her? Bring her home?"
"Tonight?" Ashe interrupted, and Balthier couldn't blame her for it. They had big plans that next afternoon.
Fran cleared her throat. "You do not have to come...I will take care of family problems. You can go without me tomorrow."
He shook his head. "No, you're not going alone." If the tone in Fran's voice was any indication, Johanna had said a lot more about this club than Fran had shared so far. Balthier felt responsible enough for the kid, even though he hadn't seen her in years. Mia belonged in school.
"Where is it?" Basch asked quietly, keeping Ashe calm with a firm look. They had until the middle of the next day to find Mia. And it was clear that the others wanted to help in exchange for their room and board.
Even Larsa seemed interested. "What is this club?"
"Silver Mine Club," Johanna said, seeming to understand more English than she actually spoke.
Larsa looked surprised. "My...brother...he..."
"What? Spit it out, kid!" Balthier muttered in exasperation.
"He owns that club," the boy informed them. Great. The Solidor family was everywhere. They'd even gotten their sticky fingers into bootlegging and crime here in St. Louis. It was the last place Mia needed to be, that was for certain.
Ashe stood, seeing that she was being outvoted. "Very well. In exchange for the hospitality, we should find Fran's sister. But..." She turned to him, and he was almost knocked back by the earnestness in her gaze. "Balthier, you have a club like this, right? They won't just let us in, will they?"
Basch interrupted them with a cough. "I will stay here with the children..."
"No fair!" Vaan cried, and Penny rolled her eyes. Larsa looked disappointed, but Balthier suspected that the kid would love the opportunity to see the inside of a Solidor-run speakeasy.
Fran eyed her sister. "If we get Mia to come home, you let her stay."
Johanna was unmoved. "She leave of own idea. You leave of own idea. Don't need criminal in house."
He was ready to strangle the damn shrew, but Fran's hand was on his arm in seconds. "She will change her mind," she whispered in his ear. "But we must go tonight."
The others were still expectant of direction. Why the hell were they all looking at him? "Fine. Frannie, Ashe...you'll get in the club no problem." He pulled his pistol from the holster inside his jacket. "I'll keep an eye on you."
"No guns!" Johanna shouted at him, and he set it down on the coffee table as a peace offering.
"I'm not going into a Solidor club with a gun, honey," he told the woman, for all that she could understand him. He turned to Fran and nodded. No need for Johanna to know about the gun in his side holster. "Come on, let's get you girls ready."
Fran didn't think she'd ever been so tired in her life. The lawyers in the firm had stayed late that night, which meant she hadn't even been able to get in there with a mop and bucket until half past ten. Johanna would be furious when she got home, as she always was. Fran had tried to get her sister to work, to earn money to help support them. Mia was in school most of the day, speaking English and getting along as best she could with the other children. Only Johanna refused to venture outside the house, keeping her German traditions and ignoring anything blatantly American.
Not that America had been so welcoming. In their two years there, they were still outsiders. Their skin kept them separate from the whites, their language and heritage made them strange and different from the blacks in the neighborhood. Fran sighed. Her knees ached from scrubbing the tile entryway to the law firm, but she had little choice. Few other places would hire her.
The road from downtown back to their tiny house was poorly lit, and Johanna hated that she worked so far away. They couldn't afford to move closer to town, couldn't her sister see that? Only if Johanna got a job, but she wouldn't…and there they remained. One of these days, she was going to take Mia and get out of Mississippi. The cities in the north would have better paying jobs, and she and her "little sister" wouldn't look or feel as out of place.
Her mind was miles away when she was shoved down in the dirt. "Where's your money, huh?" Her English had improved, but the drawl of the people in the area always took her mind ages to process.
"Ich habe…I have nothing," she answered, wheezing as another blow was landed against her stomach.
"Come on bitch, give it here," the second man of Lord knew how many shouted. She was on her hands and knees, dirt under her nails as they tore at her clothes. She'd heard of the violence, of the Klan…they were active around here, but these men didn't need hoods. She was alone, and they had the upper hand.
"Please," she begged. "I do not…" This time, her head. She ate the soil, thought of Kurt, thought of Mia.
"Hey!" A voice then in the night, not the same accent as these men. "Get the hell off her!"
"Mind your tongue, pretty boy, this ain't no concern of yours!"
Her rescuer and the men argued, and she wanted to tell this man to go away, to let them do what they liked to her before he got himself killed. But then there were the bangs, the horrible, loud bangs that reminded her of the roaring tanks during the war. It was so close to her, and she felt the attackers' blood splatter on her.
"Come on," she heard his voice next to her ear, and he was dragging her to her feet. "Come on, lady, we have to get you out of here." She could barely stand, could only taste dirt and blood. Three men, shot dead on the footpath. This man had killed them to save her.
He was tall and handsome, but just a baby. Fran watched his shaking hand toss the handgun behind a few bushes, and he introduced himself as Balthier. She told him how to get her home. He wasn't from Mississippi, but he was flying planes for some bootlegger down here. But that was all over now, she knew it.
When he brought her to the door, Johanna cursed at him in German, accusing him of rape and robbery.
"Why would he bring me home?" Fran yelled at her sister in their mother tongue. "He helped me!"
Johanna saw the blood on them and put the pieces together. "You endanger me! You endanger Mia with this!"
Balthier, who was barely nineteen, was trembling in the doorway. "Ma'am, you can't stay here. They're going to come looking, they can follow the blood."
The four of them left that night.
The Silver Mine Club wasn't in a good part of town, that much she was sure of. Ashe never thought she'd be grateful to have Balthier close by. He walked at her side as Fran led the way down the darkened alleyway.
"According to Johanna, it is the last one in the line," the older woman said.
Balthier had been pretty quiet. "Thank you for coming," he told her, staying out of Fran's earshot. "Mia is very dear to her."
Ashe wasn't sure why she'd even volunteered to come along. Balthier and Fran could easily have gone to retrieve the girl alone, but as soon as word had emerged that The Silver Mine Club was one of the under the table speakeasies run by Solidor cronies, she couldn't say no.
They were just outside of the club when she heard several bangs. Before she could duck, Balthier had already pulled her aside behind the building, nearly crushing her against the brick with the speed of his movements. Fran lunged forward instead, her sister's name on her lips.
"Fran, don't go in there!" Balthier shouted, but it was too late. The woman had already found her way inside. The gangster looked down at her, pulling a gun from his holster. Clearly, the one he'd left at Johanna's was not his only firearm. "Ashe, I..."
His eyes were serious, more than she'd ever seen. Much as she didn't want him running into a gunfight, there wasn't much she could do. "Go," she told him, grabbing his empty hand and squeezing it. "Go see if the girl is okay."
"Basch will murder me in my sleep if I leave you alone in an alley," he mumbled. "Come on, stay behind me." She could hear tires screeching, and she imagined that whoever had launched the attack in the club had headed out the front entrance and had finished what they'd come for. Balthier pulled her through the back door, and she kept behind him.
They could hear people screaming and running out in the other rooms, but nobody was headed their way. His gun at the ready, she followed Balthier up a rickety staircase. There was light at the end of a hallway on the second floor, and the door there was ajar. He held up his hand, halting her. Waiting for a second, he finally turned and held out his gun in the doorway. Ashe could barely breathe.
Balthier lowered his gun, beckoning for her to follow him into the room. Fran was kneeling on the floor, and a girl around Penny's age was huddled against her. The girl, presumably Mia, was the spitting image of her older sister, almost eerily so although her hairstyle was closer to Ashe's. The girl wore a tight fitting leotard and a bow-tie collar. An overturned box on the floor indicated Mia's occupation – she was a cigarette girl for the club.
She and Balthier stayed back while Fran rocked the girl in her arms. Thankfully, she appeared to be unhurt. "Auntie, it's you?"
"Yes, mein Blum, it is me. What happened?"
The girl was shaking. "Raid...they say it was the Prohibition bureau, but I was in here hiding...everything was downstairs, the gunshots..."
"What were you doing working in a place like this?" Fran asked her.
"You're as reckless as your sister," Balthier chastised the girl, but his voice was more tender than cruel. Balthier's history with Fran obviously went back long enough to be well acquainted with her baby sister.
"The Solidors, well, the Pinkerton men pay us if we get customers to tell information," Mia mumbled. "I wanted to earn enough to move to Chicago with you. But it was strange tonight, Auntie."
"The Pinkertons are looking for a little boy. He is supposed to be in St. Louis." Fran met her and Balthier's faces – were they looking for Larsa? "But then there was the raid and...well, I don't know what is going on."
Fran helped the girl to her feet. "You are safe now, Mia. Come, we must get you home." The girl barely had the strength to protest and went along with her sister's orders.
They heard police sirens in the distance, and they hurried from the building. When they were back in the alley, Balthier kept them a few paces behind Fran and Mia. "Larsa's a problem," he told her quietly. "If they're talking him up in a back alley joint, there's going to be trouble. Every hired goon in the city's probably looking for him. We need to get back to Chicago, and fast."
"I know," she answered him. As they walked, she noticed Balthier staring sadly ahead at his friend and the girl. "Balthier, what happened with Fran and her sisters?"
He shook his head, his despondent expression shocking her into silence. "I happened."
St. Louis, Missouri
Balthier's excitement was contagious. "The Chicago Outfit, Frannie," he gushed. "They need someone to manage a club for them. A real gin joint in the city…money. Real money, for all of us."
She smiled at her friend, her savior. It had been a hard few months, traveling steadily north. It had pained her to take Mia out of school, and Johanna would not even look at Balthier, who she saw as the man who had ruined all their lives by daring to save Fran's.
Balthier had been engaged in petty crime for the past few years since he'd left his own home, and now he'd roped her in. Not like she minded. She'd never felt so alive, driving around in fast cars and robbing from people who probably hated her anyway. They moved from week to week, making contacts and proving themselves reliable. Chicago was a great place to go. But Johanna told her to have Balthier leave the room.
"That is no place for a child, Franziska. Mia and I stay here."
"No, you can't do this!" She heard the creaking floorboard, could tell that Balthier was listening just on the other side of the door. "You cannot take my…"
Johanna's smile was devilish. She knew that Balthier was educated, had run away from a privileged home. The both of them had seen the way the young man tried to pretend he didn't understand a few words here and there. Johanna dared her to say it out loud. In English or in German, Fran could not.
"You cannot make me leave my baby sister," she said in defeat.
"Franziska, you know this is for the best. You cannot bring Mia to a place like that. You know she is safer here with me."
Fran slammed the door hard as they left. Balthier didn't say a word as he started up the car they'd stolen just the day before. His eyes were always so telling, though, and she suspected that he'd known all along that the Grunwort family was not made up of drei Schwestern.