JOHN AND ROSE
August 8, 1926
John and Nadia arrived at the train station just as the last train was pulling away. Nadia leaped out of the car, looking around frantically in hopes that Mary wasn’t on it.
There was no sign of Mary at the train station. A few people who had come in on the train milled around, but most were hurrying away to whatever destination they had in mind, not eager to spend the night in the station.
Nadia was ready to run down the tracks after the departing train, but John’s hand on her arm kept her where she was. There was no use in chasing the train; it wasn’t stopping, and there was no way to be sure that Mary was on it. Besides that, it was dark, and running down the tracks in the dark was dangerous. A person could easily trip and injure themselves.
"Dad...I think she must be on that train," Nadia told him, staring after it. The train gave one last whistle before disappearing into the night.
"Let’s make sure," John replied, praying that she wasn’t. Mary had done some half-witted things in her life, but running off with a stranger on the 12:30 express train to Los Angeles would have to be the worst yet. It was entirely possible that she had changed her mind, and was even now sneaking back home in the dark. If she had changed her mind, he’d hug her and be forever grateful that she’d finally learned some sense—and then he’d ground her until the new year.
Entering the building, he approached the ticket booth. The clerk was closing the window and pulling down the shade before counting the contents of the cash register and leaving for the night, but John walked up to the window anyway.
"I’m sorry, sir, but we’re closed," the clerk began. He stopped when he saw who it was. "Mr. Calvert!"
John had taken the train many times over the past few years, going both east and west. Being a prominent businessman in Cedar Rapids, he was well-known, and had done business with this particular clerk many times.
"I just have a question to ask," John told him, seeing him glance at the clock and knowing that he wanted to get home.
The clerk suddenly looked nervous, as though he might have made an error in judgment. "What is it?"
"Did my daughter Mary get on that train that just left?"
He hesitated. "Well...yes, she did."
"Was she with a man in a three-piece suit?" Nadia interjected. "He had a derby hat, and gray-streaked brown hair. He also had a wide smile, showing too many teeth, like someone who is about to cheat you, or a dog that’s about to bite you."
"Uh...yes. That would be a good description." He knew Mary Calvert, as well as her sister Nadia, because their father often took them with him on trips when they weren’t in school.
"Who bought the tickets?" John demanded, looking hard at the clerk.
"Uh...um...he did, sir. Yes." He checked his records. "Two tickets for second class, purchased by John Adams at 12:15."
"John Adams!" Nadia exclaimed. "He said his name was Richard Ross."
"I thought it was kind of odd, him having the same name as a president, but lots of folks like to name their younguns after famous people."
"Why did you let him buy a ticket for Mary?! She’s too young to go off on her own like that—especially in the company of a strange man." John leaned forward, glaring at him.
"Well...uh...she, uh...she said that you had approved it. She said she was going to visit her aunt in California, and the man was her chaperone."
"Her chaperone! I would never send my daughter off with someone I’d never met, especially a strange man!" John put his forehead in his hand. Of all the stupid stunts Mary had pulled, this was the most foolish. She would be lucky to get out of this with her virtue intact—if not something worse.
"Oh, my God! Mary’s run off with that fake director! She’s really done it!" Nadia was pacing back and forth agitatedly, wringing her hands.
"Nadia." John led her to a bench. "Sit down and take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Mary knows where Hollywood is. If he tries to take her anywhere else, she’ll catch on. She’s impulsive, but she’s not stupid. And your Aunt Rose is in Los Angeles. Mary will undoubtedly go to her once she figures out the truth." At least, he hoped so. He sincerely hoped that Mary, with her grand dreams, wouldn’t be taken in by any smooth lies. All too many young girls were taken in by stories told to them by con men, but Mary had more knowledge of the moving picture industry than many, having learned about it from Rose over the years.
"Dad, we have to go find her!" Nadia jumped up and started pacing again.
"Nadia, sit down." Although usually quiet and level-headed, Nadia did sometimes become hysterical in the face of trouble, pacing agitatedly and talking wildly, occasionally even using the few words of Arabic she remembered. It was, he suspected, a holdover from her experience aboard the Titanic fourteen years earlier. She didn’t consciously remember the event, but it was still with her.
Remnants of a long-forgotten event or not, the last thing he needed was a hysterical daughter. It would take hours to calm her down, he knew, and they didn’t have any time to waste.
"Come on." He gestured to Nadia to follow him back to the car.
"But what about Mary?!" she screeched, still sounding hysterical.
"Nadia, calm down. Hysteria is not going to help matters any. The next train doesn’t leave until six, and it’s going east. We won’t be able to go after her until at least 7:30, so we need to go home and figure out what to do."
"Couldn’t we just drive after her?"
John sighed, shaking his head. "There’s not enough gas, and the filling station isn’t open at this time of night. Besides, you know how the roads between towns are—rutted dirt roads with potholes, and pavement only in the towns. And the only direct road to California is Route 66, far to the south of here. We’ll get there faster by waiting for the 7:30 train."
"But that’s not an express! It stops everywhere."
"The next express isn’t for two days. We may be able to get another train in another city. We’re sure not waiting two days!"
"Let’s go!" Nadia suddenly decided, hurrying past John and out to the car. She’d always had an underlying fear of losing someone she loved, though she wasn’t sure why. Aunt Rose and Christopher had left, but it wasn’t the same. They weren’t gone, just in a different place. She heard from them all the time. But the prospect of her sister vanishing terrified her, bringing vague recollections to her mind of someone else she’d lost but couldn’t remember.
John joined her in the car a moment later. "We’ll go home first, call your Aunt Rose, and then pack some things for the trip."
"What about your meetings?" Nadia suddenly wanted to know.
"Right. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll leave a message with Mrs. Wilde before we leave, telling her to arrange to have the vice presidents take over while I’m gone."
Nadia smiled. That was one of the things she loved about her dad—he was always willing to drop whatever he was doing if a family member was in trouble. Some men cared more about their business than anything else, but John, in spite of being president of Anders Cedar Rapids, still knew when other things mattered more.
Rose groaned as the phone rang, rousing her from sleep. Rubbing her eyes, she got out of bed and hurried down the hall to answer it.
Who can possibly be calling at this hour? she wondered, seeing the clock as she went by. It was three AM. If it’s a wrong number, or a fan who’s found this number, heaven help them!
"Hello?" Rose answered the phone sullenly, wondering who could possibly want to disturb her. She saw Christopher come out of his room, dragging his feet, and waved him back. Even if the call was for him, she wasn’t letting him take it at this hour.
Rose’s eyes widened with surprise. She hadn’t expected to hear from John at this hour.
"John, what’s going on?"
"Mary’s run away." John sighed. "She met some man at the fair who claimed to be a director and gave her a business card. They left Cedar Rapids on the 12:30 express train for Los Angeles."
"Oh, God." Rose leaned her head against the phone.
"At least they won’t be able to get off the train until it reaches Los Angeles, but after that—they could go anywhere." He paused. "Have you heard of a director named Richard Ross, by any chance?"
Rose frowned, shaking her head. "No. I’ve never heard of anyone by that name."
"I didn’t think so. Nadia said that Mary said that he might be an artistic film director, but—"
"I doubt it. Unless he’s brand new. But I’ve heard of about everyone in this business, even the new people. Newcomers are always eager to mingle with the ones already here. It helps them get their foot in the door."
"Have you heard of John Adams?"
"He was president back in the nineteenth century," Rose replied, puzzled. "Why?"
"That’s the name he gave at the train station. I hoped it might be familiar to you."
"Nope. I’ve never heard of this guy."
"I didn’t think you would have. He had his business cards printed up in Cedar Rapids, not Hollywood—some were accidentally delivered to me."
"Oh, God." Rose put a hand to her forehead, thinking. She knew about Mary’s love of excitement and adventure, of course—the escapades had started when she had been the girls’ caretaker. But this went beyond adventure into idiocy. Running off with a con man—what next? She just hoped there was a next for Mary.
"I’ll be at the station when the express train comes in," she assured him. "It’s during filming, but being a star means that I can shift things around a little, as long as I don’t do it too often. Mary certainly comes first."
"Thank you, Rose." John sighed. "I’ll hang up now, let you get back to sleep. I’m told you’re rising early these days."
"Much too early," Rose agreed. "Mary will be all right, John. I can sense it. She’s impulsive, but not stupid. Usually."
"Usually," John agreed. "Good night, Rose."
"Good night, John."
As she hung up the receiver, Rose turned to see Christopher standing in his doorway, watching her. He had obviously overheard everything she had said.
"Mary ran away?"
Rose sighed. "She thinks she’s been discovered."
"That’s stupid. Why would somebody discover her in a hick town in Iowa?"
"Christopher, Cedar Rapids is not a hick town, anymore than Los Angeles is." When Christopher looked at her skeptically, she relented, "Well, maybe a little more rural."
"Huh. Doesn’t she know that girls who run away from home usually wind up...uh..."
Rose looked at her son in amusement as his face turned red. She knew exactly what he was saying.
"Not all girls who come here to be actresses wind up like that, Christopher. I didn’t."
"You didn’t get ‘discovered’."
"No. Lucky me." She’d managed to avoid con men—possibly because her ex-fiancé had been little more than a rich con man.
"If I ran away, would you come after me?"
"Of course I would. But..." Rose leaned closer as Christopher’s face took on a mischievous gleam. "...I wouldn’t recommend that you try it. You’re not too old for me to spank, you know."
"And I’m thirty-one. I’m still your mother, no matter how grown-up you get." She ruffled his hair.
Christopher backed away, glaring at her. "Mom! Don’t!" He patted his hair back down. "I’m not a little kid."
"I know. I know. Go back to bed now. I’ll see you in the morning."
The last stop John and Nadia made before going to train station was the home of John’s secretary, Edith Wilde. The Wildes had no telephone, and there was no one at the office to take messages this early, so he had to carry his message the old-fashioned way—by hand.
Scott Wilde was none too pleased to be awakened at six o’clock by John’s knock on the door. Edith was probably already up and about, taking care of her family before going to work. The house the Wildes lived in was run-down and drafty, hardly what he would expect with the amount he paid Edith, but her husband worked only under duress and habitually spent his wife’s earnings on bootleg liquor.
From the looks of the man, he’d overindulged the night before. His eyes were red and he held his head as though he feared the slightest movement would cause it to fall off. He glared at John from the open doorway.
"Yeah? Who are you?" Scott paid little attention to anyone but himself.
"I’m John Calvert, Edith’s boss—"
"Are you the one she’s been out with all these nights? I know there’s somebody."
"I wouldn’t know." John had little doubt that Edith was carrying on an affair, but it wasn’t with him. He had always stayed strictly away from married women, including his needy, clinging secretary. She was a good worker, and worth every cent he paid her, but whatever she wanted outside of work she had to find for herself. He’d made that clear from the first advance.
"Well, whaddaya want, then?"
John cringed at the smell of the man’s breath, but gave him the folder with his instructions in it. "I’m going to be gone for a time—how long, I’m not sure. These are my instructions for the next week. If the trip lasts longer than that, I’ll send the instructions. For now, give these to Edith. She’ll see that everything is taken care of."
Scott stared at John rudely for a moment before slamming the door and lumbering away, hollering for his wife. John shook his head and walked back to the car. At least the company would be all right, if nothing else.
Just after 7:30, the next train to California left the depot, with John and Nadia on it.