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The Moon Looked Down
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Sophie Heller’s family immigrated from Germany to Victory, a small town in Illinois, before WWII began. Now that the war has affected the town, the townspeople discriminate against Sophie and her family. When a train derails, it is an accident but the Heller family is blamed. Coming to Sophie’s rescue is a teacher from the high school, and despite their cultural differences, a romance starts to bloom.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Grand Central Publishing
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
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First eBook Edition: July 2009
Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
The Grand Central Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
BOOKS BY DOROTHY GARLOCK
After the Parade
The Edge of Town
A Gentle Giving
High on a Hill
Leaving Whiskey Bend
The Listening Sky
Love and Cherish
More than Memory
On Tall Pine Lake
A Place Called Rainwater
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
Song of the Road
This Loving Land
Train from Marietta
A Week from Sunday
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Will You Still Be Mine?
Wind of Promise
SOPHIE HELLER HURRIED down the busy street, oblivious to the hustle and bustle, the cars and trucks, the daily life of Victory. Her eyes passed from one sight to the next quickly, not alighting on anything or anyone for long as she kept moving ever forward. She could not, would not be late!
Above her, the summer sun pounded down mercilessly. Rain had been promised for days, but those promises had proven to be every bit as empty as the cloudless afternoon sky. This day was a scorcher if there ever was one! Red, white, and blue American flags hung limply from every storefront, stirred by only the slightest of breezes. Pushing one errant strand of hair from her eyes, Sophie wiped the back of her hand across her brow. Her simple blue blouse clung tightly to her skin, the fabric as wet as if it had just been pulled from the wash.
"Good afternoon, Sophie," a woman's voice called to her from somewhere near the bakery.
She gave no response save a nod before hurrying on, clutching her purse tightly to her chest, aware that whoever had spoken to her would find her behavior rude. Still, her concern was not great enough for her to stop. She had a task that would afford no wait, and, moments later, she finally reached her destination.
Ambrose Hardware sat in a long, thin brick building on a corner of Main Street, right next door to the grocer. With its wide display windows, crisp sign, and long awning, Robert Ambrose's business was as familiar a sight to the town's residents as Marge's Diner, McKenzie's Barber Shop, or the post office, and every bit as vital. Victory's lone hardware store served everyone from the town's most venerable families to the newest arrival.
Stepping into the welcome shade provided by the awning, Sophie looked through the large show window. Past the stenciled lettering on the glass, she could see hammers, saws, several buckets of paint, and a pair of shovels, but it was the centerpiece of the display that grabbed her attention, sending a chill racing across her skin, even on such a hot summer day.
Two large posters stood side by side on a pair of chairs, their bright headlines shouting a clear message to every passerby. The first showed a smiling man holding a treasury bond in one hand under the banner of:
MAKE EVERY PAY DAY BOND DAY
The second poster was far more sinister-looking than its companion. On it, the dark eyes of a German soldier looked out from under the brim of an iron helmet, his steely gaze clearly showing his harmful intentions. The poster read:
HE'S WATCHING YOU
Sophie had seen these posters and others like them in the windows of stores and homes across town, attached to lampposts and telephone poles, and even in the back window of a pickup truck. While she shared their sentiment as a proud American, she couldn't help but worry that the more sinister poster had it backward; she and her German family were the ones being watched!
Faintly, Sophie caught her own reflection looking back at her in the glass. She looked haggard, bone-tired from lack of sleep. She hadn't bothered to put on any makeup or do a thing with her hair. To do so had suddenly seemed so unimportant, so trivial! But she certainly looked a mess. Gingerly, she rubbed the swollen knot at her temple; the slightest touch was enough to send sharp ripples of pain racing across her head.
Now, even a week after the burning of her family's barn, the wound was still angry and tender. She hadn't so much as seen the blow coming! When the gunman brought the butt of his rifle down upon her skull, the brief flare of pain had not been as bad as the pounding headaches that had plagued her for days afterward. Thankfully, the wound was hidden in her hairline, far enough out of sight to keep anyone from asking any questions.
As she stood before the hardware store, Sophie knew that the physical pain she had suffered was nothing compared to the shame and hurt she still felt at the indignities that had been visited upon her family. These wounds were deeper and more difficult to heal. She wondered if their scars would ever truly vanish. Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door.
Sophie entered Ambrose Hardware to the sound of small bells ringing above the door. The blistering heat of the summer day followed her inside as if it were a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. After the bright glare of outdoors, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the store's darkened interior.
The store was crowded with goods in every nook and cranny; pots and pans, spools of thread, wire and rope, buckets of paint, and tin pails full of nails. Small compartments ran the length of the nearer wall, rising from the worn wooden floor to the high tin ceiling, their treasures hidden behind the smoky dark glass of each drawer. The very air carried with it the scent of available goods—oils, soaps, and wood—all gently pushed by the ceiling fans that turned lazily above her head.
"Afternoon, Miss Heller."
Robert Ambrose stepped from the store's stockroom, wiping his hands upon the dark vest that covered his button-down shirt and matching tie. Though Sophie felt certain that the store owner was nearly as old as her father, he carried himself like a much younger man. He was betrayed only by the slightest of hints to his true age; the silver hairs that were sprinkled across his black mane, the round, wire-rimmed glasses that sat high upon his thin nose, and the deep wrinkles that spread from around his mouth when he smiled all spoke of a man in his early fifties. Of medium height and build, he had a reputation about town as a bit of a teetotaler; no tobacco stained his long fingers or teeth and he would never be found staggering from a tavern as the morning sun broke the horizon. Decent and hardworking, he had built his business with his own two hands.
"Good afternoon to you, Mr. Ambrose," she answered.
"Still blazing away?" He nodded toward the front door.
"I'm afraid so."
"I swear it's not fit for man or beast out there," he remarked. "It gets a mite lonely in here when folks aren't brave enough to venture outside on days like this. Between the war and this darn heat, I'm going to have a bear of a time this year!"
"Did you have enough time to go over my father's list?" Sophie asked, a bit too anxious to engage in talk of the weather. "I know you asked me to come back today, but if you need more time—"
"No, my dear, it's fine," Mr. Ambrose said as he slid a pencil out from behind one ear and consulted the list she had left with him earlier in the week. "I've managed to round up most of what your father was asking for, all except for the roofing pitch. That will have to be ordered from Springfield, but it shouldn't take more than a week at best."
"He's certainly grateful for all that you can do."
"Your father's been coming here from the first day you and yours set foot in town." The hardware store owner smiled. "Darn shame losing a building like that, but I'll do all I can to get him back on his feet."
"He'll be glad—"
"Gosh darn it all," the man suddenly blurted, snapping his fingers across the piece of paper with a crack. "I forgot all about those hammers! I best check and make sure I don't…" He mumbled to himself as he disappeared back into the inky darkness of the storeroom.
As much as it shamed her to admit it, Sophie was thankful that Mr. Ambrose had left her when he did; casual talk of what had happened on that fateful night made her skin crawl. Remembering the flames that had stretched toward the night sky, the sounds of the barn collapsing, the armed and hooded men, and the dark crimson of her father's blood as she cradled his head in her arms still made her tremble. She knew that she should go forward with her life, leave the past in the past, but she found it too hard.
Her father had no such trouble. The morning after their lives had been forever changed, Hermann Heller had been out picking through the still smoldering wreckage of the barn, his head swathed in thick cloth bandages. Within days, he'd written a list of things he would need to reconstruct what they had lost. He would harbor no talk of the police or of following the advice given to them by the hooded men to leave their home, to leave Victory behind. Whenever he was asked about that night, he became upset, his voice quickly rising in anger. Sophie could not understand her father's defiance; she could not stop asking the questions her father refused to give voice.
Who were the hooded men? Why had they committed such acts?
These questions haunted Sophie every bit as deeply as the events of that night. From the moment she woke every morning to the instant she fell asleep at night, she thought of the men who had hurt her family. She waited, fearful that they would return to make good on their horrific promise, but every night their failure to reappear made her all the more fearful. Her dreams had also been poisoned; gone were the visions of wildflowers, replaced by biting laughter and hungry flames.
Even in this store, Sophie's eyes sought out the hated men, straining to find them hiding behind the stacks of washpans or for sight of their reflections in the dark glass of the wall of compartments. To her, they potentially lurked behind every corner, across every street, and even within every nod, smile, or stare that came her way.
They could be anyone… anywhere.
Her thoughts were broken by the ringing of bells as the door to the store was opened and a pair of men entered, one of them nearly as large as one of Mr. Ambrose's display cases, the other as reed-thin as a broom. Sophie immediately recognized them and smiled brightly.
Charley Tatum was nearly as wide as he was tall, with a personality that was more than a match for his girth. A farmer who worked the land just south of Victory's limits, he was a familiar sight to the town's inhabitants. He was quick to laugh, and his voice boomed over every conversation he joined and filled the church with a deep baritone every Sunday morning. Dressed in dark overalls, he wiped his sweat-beaded brow and flushed red cheeks with a handkerchief before burying it deep in his pockets.
"Well, I do declare, Miss Sophie!" he bellowed, breaking into a toothy grin. "You get more lovely just about every time I see you! 'Fore long, the simple folks of this here town are gonna see you on one of them there movie posters!"
"My mother says it's not nice to tease," she chided him.
"Who's teasin'? Why, there ain't but nothin' any of them Hollywood beauties has got on you! Not that Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, nor that Vivien Leigh neither!"
"My pa ain't lyin', that's for sure," Will Tatum offered in defense of his father's proclamation. Unlike his larger-than-life father, Will was timid and skinny, still boyish in many ways though he was nearly a man. His personality was just the opposite of Charley's, his voice almost a whisper spit in the face of a storm.
"Then you're both teasing me!"
"Am I going to have a problem with you harassing my customers?" Mr. Ambrose kidded as he stepped from the storeroom. His eyes rose from her father's list just long enough for the businessman to give Sophie a knowing wink. "I'd hate to have to call the sheriff."
"I swear this might be the first time I ever heard of a woman complainin' about a man sayin' she was pretty," Charley cackled, slapping one wide hand upon his knee. Leaning back, he rested his weight against one of the long display cases. Sophie felt sure that she could hear the old wood groan with the load. "What is the world comin' to?"
To that, they all laughed heartily.
"I was mighty sorry to hear what happened to your barn," Charley offered in a more somber tone. "With a tipped-over lantern, it'll only take a few shakes of a sow's tail 'fore the whole thing is ablaze. That happens, ain't but nothin' you can do but stand back, watch, and pray for rain."
"And we sure ain't gettin' much of that," Will added.
"We should all be a mite extra careful this time of year," Robert said as he wiped his glasses on his apron. "As much as I appreciate the business, it's a shame to lose a building like that."
"An outright shame," Charley echoed.
Sophie nodded solemnly. The story that had been given, the outright lie that had been created, was that Hermann had accidentally tipped over a lantern when checking upon their animals. Before he could hope to contain it, the fire had raced out of control. The entire Heller family had agreed that this was the story they would tell, but Sophie still felt the shame of their untruth coloring her cheeks.
"I appreciate your kind words." She smiled at them. "But my father says that we shouldn't feel sorry about what happened. We just need to roll up our sleeves and get back to work making it all right again."
"That's the spirit!" Charley exclaimed. "Why, if I know Hermann, he'll have that barn back up so fast that you'll wonder if you imagined that pesky fire! It'll look better than new, what with a fresh coat of paint and all!"
"I wouldn't doubt that for a minute," Robert Ambrose agreed.
"And you make sure to tell Hermann that if he needs any help gettin' that barn of his back together, he shouldn't hesitate to ask us," Charley offered, patting his son so heavily on his shoulder that the boy's knees sagged. "We ain't against hard work to help out a neighbor. Ain't that right, boy?"
"Darn right, Pa!" Will agreed.
"After all, an accident like that could have happened to anyone. 'There but for the grace of God' and all. I sure ain't the most graceful man alive," the large farmer chuckled, patting his ample stomach. "It could just have easy been me knocking over that lantern and you can bet a helping of my Martha's biscuits that I wouldn't have hesitated a second to ask for a touch of help."
While Sophie appreciated Charley Tatum's sentiment, that it could have been any of Victory's many farmers who had lost their barn, she knew that his words rang hollow. What had happened a week before would only have happened to them.
Because we came from Germany…
"Thank… thank you, Mr. Tatum," Sophie stammered, forcing a smile. "I'll make sure to tell my father of your offer."
"You do that." He nodded. "Anything at all, just let us know."
After making arrangements with Mr. Ambrose for her father and brother to pick up the supplies they would need to rebuild the barn and saying her good-byes to the Tatums, Sophie hurried from the hardware store and again stood under the awning. She gulped the hot air as waves of heat rose from the pavement. She knew that she should begin the long trek home but her feet would not move. A persistent, gnawing fear had grabbed her. Stomach-churning thoughts flashed across her head too worrisome to ignore.
Could Charley Tatum know anything about what had happened to their barn? Could Mr. Ambrose? Was it possible that they were involved? While Charley undoubtedly would have stood out like a sore thumb, would she have recognized Will if he had been one of the men? What if—
Struggling with the effort, Sophie put a stop to her panicked thoughts. Her breathing had started to come in fits and her heart pounded hard in her chest like a jackrabbit's. What was she thinking? The very idea of such things was sheer madness! Would she wonder about everyone she knew? Would she look at friends differently? Was hurtful intent hiding behind every face or kind word, even those of the people she had known nearly all her life?
ROBERT AMBROSE TURNED the key in the lock of his hardware store, tried the door to make sure it was secure, and stood back to look in his storefront window. How he liked the look of those posters! Both of the posters' colors had already started to fade in the sun's glare, but he swore that they, or ones like them, would remain in the window of Ambrose Hardware for the duration of the war. He would do his part, by God! Why, if he were a younger man, he'd have been the first in line to enlist the day after Pearl Harbor!
"Damn heat," he muttered under his breath.
Far enough along on its path through the sky to be past the awning's protection at four o'clock in the afternoon, the sun blazed down on him relentlessly. It had already been a hot summer with little rainfall. The grumblings of the farmers who frequented his store were getting louder by the day. August and September surely promised more of the same. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, Robert wiped the sweat from his brow. He didn't have time to dally in this heat.
A quick glance at his pocket watch showed that he had less than twenty minutes to get to the train station. It had been a hard decision to close the store early, but he supposed there wasn't much of a choice to be had. Cole would expect him to be there. Still, he hated the idea of losing a sale; he hadn't gotten where he had by ignoring customers! Robert knew it was the right thing to do… but he didn't have to like it.
It was hard to admit to himself, but this was a day he had been dreading ever since he'd received the telegram from Chicago. Even with all there was for him to be proud of in life, his successful business and Jason's accomplishments, he had always feared that this day would come. And, like the rising and falling of the sun above, it had.
With a sigh and a resignation that galled him, Robert set off for the station.
For better or worse… Cole was coming home.
"And then he punches him in the face!"
Cole Ambrose turned in his seat on the train and looked across the aisle. A young boy—he guessed him to be no older than seven—stood in the space between the seats and was wildly throwing punches into the air. His blond hair was as tousled as his clothing. A comic book was rolled up and clutched tightly in one small fist. Cole could just make out the words Fight Comics.
"That Japanese soldier tried to hit that lady but then Rip Carson grabbed him by the arm and tossed him over the edge of the cliff!" the boy continued, his voice high and animated. He'd been so impressed by the goings-on in the comic book that he'd been unable to contain his excitement, choosing instead to act it out. "He screamed the whole way down until he went splat!"
"That's nice, dear," his mother answered absently from behind her Ladies' Home Journal, her eyes never leaving the page.
"Take that, you dirty Jap!"
Pulling his attention from the phantom fight beside him, Cole looked over the rest of the railcar. The space was packed tightly with people, their bags piled high in the seats beside them, many spilling over onto the floor. Traffic to the Mississippi River was always high; boats led to the scores of ports that dotted the great waterway. The air inside the car was stiflingly hot, even for July, and several passengers were fanning themselves with newspapers or handkerchiefs. Few spoke, content to be lulled by the heat and the constant rocking of the train. Somewhere behind him, a baby cried a soft wail that was occasionally punctuated by an old man's cough.
Three seats ahead of him and on the opposite side of the aisle was a young man dressed in the khaki tan of the United States Army. The soldier's head lolled to one side as he tried to sleep through the miserable heat of the railcar. Cole guessed them to be of a similar age; he was twenty-four, but there was something about the man in uniform that seemed to be older, wiser, and even stronger. Had the experience of basic training changed him or was it the simple fact that he was willing to risk his life for the sake of his country?
At the last stop, an older woman had climbed aboard the train and handed the soldier a small bag full of fruit. As the young man dug into his pocket to find some money to pay her, she shook her head and gently touched his cheek before getting off the train.
Before even seeing combat, the soldier was a hero.
More than anything, Cole Ambrose wished that he could wear that uniform, could fight for the United States of America, and that someone, anyone, could look upon him as a hero. But that was impossible! Men like him weren't able to do those things. Coming to grips with that fact was proving to be difficult, hell, just about impossible. His impotence and frustration made him nearly sick with anger. Like nearly every other American man his age, Cole had wanted nothing more than to run to the nearest recruiting station after the Pearl Harbor attack… but he couldn't run anywhere! He tried as hard as he could to stop thinking about what could not be and instead focus on what lay ahead. His future would be different from that of the soldier, but that didn't mean it couldn't be fulfilling.
"On to Tokyo!" the little boy shouted.
Cole still felt a twinge of amazement that he was returning to Victory. After everything that had happened, after all of the difficulty and hardship, he had devoted all of himself to leaving. Escape had been his only ambition. With every fiber of his being, he had thrown himself into his schoolwork. He had excelled in English and history, but had found his true passion in mathematics. The numbers had literally danced before his eyes, the complex theories and equations easily giving up their secrets. He supposed that he had fallen in love with math because the field was based on order, an alluring thing to a young boy whose life had none. After high school, he had gone off to college in Chicago, where he had earned honors and the respect of his peers. He had been poised for greater things when a phone call had changed his life. Clarence Collins, his high school math instructor, was retiring after thirty years and Cole had been offered the job of replacing him. Without even a moment's hesitation, he had accepted the position. He'd spent the last month trying to figure out why.
- On Sale
- Jul 16, 2009
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Grand Central Publishing