Tilly Loves Johnny
Newlywed Tilly Miner turns a deaf ear to rumors and gossip her husband, Johnny, is running parties where “complimentary” hooch loosens lips as well as pocketbooks for those looking to gamble. Some nights he crawls into their bed, smelling of sour rye mash; others, not even making it home until early morning. But her loyalty remains unwavering.
And then, the unspeakable happens. A few days before Christmas, Tilly discovers a bloody atrocity dumped on their kitchen table. A warning from the Ku Klux Klan? Johnny laughs it off as a joke. But, when he goes missing one cold night in February, 1929, Tilly is convinced someone or something prevents his return.
Her undying faith in Johnny is tested by righteous attitudes from her best friend’s mother and a too cruel mother-in-law, while a recalcitrant sheriff is convinced the man merely ran off.
“Where you gettin’ money to buy a record or get pictures taken or for anything?”
“Got a secret.” Tilly winked at her friend. “I’ll show you, but you have to promise to never, ever, tell a soul.”
“Not even Johnny?”
“Oh, especially not him. He thinks I spend all the money on groceries,” Tilly replied. Keeping secrets wasn’t something she’d set out to do, but warnings niggled at the back of her brain to save up for a rainy day. These coins might come in handy when there were no more thrown on the bedcovers in the early hours. She rose from the table and headed to the small room off the kitchen, then pulled down the Mason jar from the cupboard. Once back in the kitchen, she stared hard into her friend’s eyes. “Promise me.”
They linked their pinky fingers together where years earlier they’d made small cuts in their skin, promising to be blood-sisters forever. Rita Mae nodded solemnly as Tilly unscrewed the top from the jar labeled beans and tipped it sideways. Coins cascaded onto the table, a couple of pennies even rolling away. She put her hand just under the edge of the table and caught both.
“Where did you get all this money?” Rita Mae gazed down at the glittering mountain of copper pennies, silver nickels and dimes, even a couple half dollars. Those had such a severe-looking Pilgrim stamped into each one as if the scowl meant one better think pretty hard before spending so much money. She picked up one of the coins for closer inspection. “I’ve never even seen half dollars before. You takin’ to holding up banks?”
“No, not exactly,” Tilly hedged but then smiled. “But maybe taken to make sure I get what’s due me. Johnny’s working for Mr. Straws but he’s getting money from somewhere else. I don’t know he cares when I grab some of the money as long as I don’t ask questions.”
“You’re kind of scaring me, Till,” Rita Mae said. “This doesn’t sound like you. Keepin’ secrets, you know.”
“People can change. Ever since Christmas, Johnny’s been different, so why can’t I?”
“But, you’re only talking a week ago.”
“I know, but he’s been home more’n he ever used to be since…”