Chapter 6

August 17, 1950

“When are you available to start?” asked Mr. Clayton.  He had installed a lunch counter in his drugstore and was looking for a few attractive, energetic young women to work it.  The work hours would be less than Katie wanted, but she hoped that if the lunch counter was successful, he might expand the hours it was open.

“I do have a job now,” she said.  “I’d have to give Arnie—Mr. Hartford—two weeks notice, I think.  Is that a problem?”

“I was really hoping to hire someone who could start immediately.”  Mr. Clayton frowned.  He seemed to be weighing the options in his mind.  “Still, I like that you wouldn’t leave without notice.  If you’d give one employer that consideration, you’d be likely to give it to me as well.”

Katie hadn’t noticed she was holding her breath.  Now she let it out in a soft whoosh and took another quick gulp of air.  “Do you mean… are you saying I can have the job?”

“Yes, Miss Vanderheiden.  The job is yours if you can start in two weeks.  I’ll provide a uniform, and you will have to buy your own shoes.  I’d advise against high heels.”

When Katie told her mother, Juliana seemed pleased.  “It will be nice to have you closer,” she said.  “You can walk back and forth and you won’t have to work at night.  I’m sorry, though, that you’ll have to put off your studies.  I’d really hoped my girl could go to college, the way you always dreamed.”   

“I know, Mamma.  But this way I can spend more time with you.”  Katie smoothed a few silvery strands from her mother’s face.  “Are you sure you’re quite well?  You seem to be limping more lately.”

“It’s nothing,” her mother demurred.  “My bad leg is aching at night, but it’s fine once I get going.  And I have a lot of sewing to do by Thanksgiving.  One of my ladies wants a wardrobe for a winter in Florida.  I’d have thought she could just wear her clothes from the summer, but she wants all new.  There are five little girls’ holiday dresses, too.  I won’t get to fit them until Thanksgiving, since the mothers don’t want the dresses outgrown before Christmas.”

“We’ll both work hard and we can take a holiday together after Easter,” Katie promised.  “Just a few days away would be wonderful.  We could take the train into the city and do a little sightseeing.”

“We’ll see, mijn schatje.  We’ll see.”  Juliana bent her head to the hem she was setting in a curtain panel.  When she spoke next, Katie noticed she changed the subject.  “How’s your friend Sally doing in her nursing program?”

“She loves it.  It’s hard work, because the students staff the patient floors at night.  It’s a lot of responsibility.” 

“I’m glad she likes it,” Juliana said.  “Once I hoped you’d go into nursing, but I don’t think it would suit you.”

Katie shuddered at the thought of holding the burden of people’s lives in her hands.  What if a student made the wrong decision and a patient died?  “No, it definitely wouldn’t suit me,” she agreed.  

In spite of Juliana’s frail appearance, she’d rarely been ill enough to set aside her sewing and fail to cook meals.  But the first week in October she came down with a cough and congestion; every time she sat down to sew she’d have such a coughing fit that she had to stop her machine.  In a few days, she was so sore from coughing that Katie insisted she see Dr. Ferris.  Her mother protested but finally gave in.

“What did he say?” Katie demanded as soon as her mother emerged from the exam room.

“He said it is probably the flu, but I may have broken a rib from coughing,” Juliana told her.  “Rest, plenty of fluids, aspirin for pain or fever...all the usual advice.”  She grimaced.  “He gave me a strong cough syrup and said no sewing for a week.”

“You don’t need to be sewing, Mamma.  You need to rest.”  Katie couldn’t believe her mother was thinking about her sewing when she was so ill.  “We’re going home and then I’ll take your prescription up to Clayton’s.”

Juliana nodded, too tired to protest.  But later, after Katie paid the taxi driver and settled her into bed, she began to fret again.  “What am I going to tell my customers?  They need their dresses for the holidays.”

“Why are you worried about them, Mamma?”  Katie frowned.  “Think of yourself for once and concentrate on getting well.”

“My darling, it’s not my customers I’m worried about.”  Juliana reached up to smooth Katie’s frown.  “But I depend on that income to pay my rent and to buy groceries.”

“Don’t worry about the rent, Mamma!  I have a job and I can take care of it if you’re short this month.”

Mijn schatje!  You are a good daughter.  But I don’t want to take your money.  How will you be able to save for your education if you have to spend everything you earn on rent for this house?”  After this protest, she was overcome by a coughing spell.  Katie ran to get the cough syrup.

“Take this, Mamma.  Please.”  She held the spoonful of thick dark red syrup in front of Juliana’s mouth until she obediently opened it.  Swallowing the mixture with a shudder, her mother lay weakly back on the pillow.  “I can take care of it this month.  Next month, when you’re back to normal and working full speed again, maybe you won’t need my help.  There now, go to sleep.” 

November 13, 1950

Katie pulled the pillow over her head to block out the sounds of harsh, hacking coughing in the room across the tiny hallway.  Her mother had seemingly recovered from her illness of the previous month, but last week she’d started coughing again.  In vain, Katie had pleaded with her to go back to Dr. Ferris, or to ask him to make a house call.  Juliana had set her chin and refused.

“I already owe Dr. Ferris a large bill,” she fretted.  “I’ll be all right in a few more days.  I’m better today than I was yesterday.”  Her hot, flushed skin gave the lie to her words, but there was no arguing with that quiet stubbornness.

“Very well, Mamma,” Katie had acquiesced.  “But I don’t care how big your bill is.  If you aren’t a lot better by Monday, I’ll call him myself.”

It was Monday night now.  Juliana was no better.  At first, the coughing had kept her from sleeping, but now she seemed in a half-conscious state, not noticing whether she coughed or not.  Katie had tried to call Dr. Ferris earlier, but he’d been out of the office nearly all day, first with a delivery and then with several house calls.  Although the kind nurse had offered to send him over after the last house call, she called Katie back to say he’d gone to another delivery.

“I’m calling a taxi and taking her to his office first thing in the morning,” Katie vowed.  Taking the pillow off her head, she crawled out of bed and stole into her mother’s room, where Juliana tossed and turned.  Tears pricked at her eyes.  Her mother had never been too sick to care for herself, and Katie had never taken care of a sick person.  She was more frightened than she’d ever been in her life.

Brushing away tears, she pulled on her warm robe and slippers, then went to the bathroom and wet her mother’s washcloth with cold water and wrung it out.  Next, she bathed the older woman’s face with the cool cloth while speaking soothingly to her.  “Please get better, Mamma,” she begged.  “I couldn’t get along without you.  You’re all I have.”

Gradually, Juliana seemed to calm down and her breathing grew quieter.  Katie kept the washcloth cold and bathed her face until she, too, fell asleep.  The cloth fell on the floor as Katie’s head dropped onto the bed. 

When she awoke, it took her a full minute to process where she was and why she was so cold, stiff, and sore.   Then, she noticed how quiet the room was.  For a glad instant she saw her mother lying quietly in the bed.  Grasping Juliana’s hand, she realized it was cold and lifeless.   

She dropped the hand and jumped to her feet.  Unbelieving, she stared at the still, pale face, as everything else in the room receded into a dim fog. 

Then a keening sound split the silence.  When Katie became aware of the anguished howls, she wondered who was making all the racket.  It was a few seconds before she realized she was the one screaming.

December 10, 1950

Katie sat at her kitchen table, a small pile of bills in front of her.  She hardly knew where to begin.  Dr. Ferris had written off half of his bill, but the total was still a sum that seemed astronomical to her.  Utilities—her phone, electricity, water and gas service, amounted to over half of Katie’s monthly earnings, and rent was scarcely less.  Worst of all was the bill for Juliana’s funeral expenses.  She’d chosen the least expensive casket available, hating that she couldn’t bury her mother in one of the beautiful wooden caskets on display.  But the casket’s cost was nothing compared to the cemetery lot and the charge for opening and closing the grave.  The funeral director’s services cost another chunk of money.

She toted up the bills, and put the sum next to the amount of her last paycheck.  She’d missed so much work in November, she was surprised she even still had a job at Clayton’s.  After Juliana’s death she’d been in a daze for weeks, even when she’d met with the funeral director to make arrangements.  Everything ran together in a muddy stream, from the funeral home visitation to the funeral, on a chilly, rainy day.

Worse still were the next two weeks following the funeral, although she wouldn’t have believed anything could be worse than that.  She’d returned home to an empty house, with several baskets of clothing to be ironed, and garments in various stages of completion, as well as bags of uncut fabric, with patterns, thread, zippers and buttons to go with each one.  Katie forced herself to complete all of the ironing—not too hard since she wasn’t able to sleep—but she had never had the patience for sewing, and she lacked her mother’s skills to take over partially completed garments.  She’d spent an hour on the phone, contacting each customer and arranging for them to pick up their material.  Worst of all was when the ladies asked her advice on whom to take the material to so the projects could be finished.  Each query was like a stab to her heart.

“Mrs. Brentwood, this is Katie Vanderheiden.  I’m calling because—” Unfailingly, she would be cut off at this point.

“Yes, ma’am.  Thank you.  The reason I’m calling…”  And again with the hurtful questions.

“Yes, she suffered a lot.  I know she’s in a better place.”  At this point it was all she could do to continue.  “Mrs. Brentwood, I’m calling because I wanted to let you know you can pick up your fabric.  Mamma had cut out your dress, but that’s all she was able to finish…”  Another pause as she was interrupted again.

“I’m sorry, no.  I don’t sew very well.”  Another question.  “I think you might be able to get the name of a seamstress if you call the dry cleaner’s. The lady who does alterations there may know someone who can help you.  I’m sorry, I don’t.” 

Five phone calls like that sent her to the couch, a storm of sobs shaking her body.

Now, she looked again at the bills.  Which ones could be put off?  Rent was due today.  Mr. Olyfant was known as a hard landlord.  No one ever got to pay partially or pay late.  She’d have to pay him. 

I’ll pay a little to the funeral home, and I’ll see if I can defer part of the utility bill to later in the month, she decided.  Dr. Ferris will have to wait, even though it was awfully nice of him to reduce his bill. 

She picked up her savings passbook, and studied the entries made so painstakingly over the past two years.  She’d accumulated a tidy sum, almost enough to pay her tuition and what she would consider a reasonable boarding fee for a whole year at White Plains Community College.  If she could cover a whole year, it would have given her the leeway to find a part-time job and save some money while she was studying… whatever it was she decided to study.  But now… now her savings were nearly depleted.  She’d paid all of the costs for the cemetery plot and the opening of the grave.  There wasn’t much of a cushion in her account now for any unexpected expenses, let alone for her to consider paying more money for an education.  Her head dropped onto her crossed arms on the table and she gave way to tears of despair.

A rap on the door startled her, and she jumped up to see who it was.  She didn’t have to reach the door; she could see through the thin curtain over the half-glass of the front door.  It was the landlord, Frank Olyfant.  She dashed a hand across her face and blew her nose before squaring her shoulders and walking toward the door to greet him.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Olyfant,” she said, standing back so he could enter.

“Hello, Miss Vanderheiden,” the oily-voiced man greeted her.  “I’m here to express my sympathies and to see what your plans are.”

“I...I’m not sure what you mean,” she stammered.

“Can we sit down?  I think it’ll be more comfortable.”  He was obviously perfectly comfortable already; looking around as if to gauge whether she’d caused damage to his property, Katie thought.

“Sure.  Please sit down on the couch.”  She sat in the chair so he couldn’t choose the space next to her.

“Miss Vanderheiden, I ain’t sure if you know it, but your mamma was behind on her rent,” he began.

“I didn’t know.  Mamma was always very careful to keep up with her rent.”  Katie felt her spirit returning.  He wasn’t going to disparage her mother.

“Yes, since she’d been sick and lost business in October, I cut her some slack and agreed to wait on the rent.  Then last month…”  He let his voice trail off.

“What are you saying?  Are you evicting me?”  She forced the words over the lump of fear that was blocking her windpipe.  She’d expected to have to move, but oh!  Not so quickly.

“Now, Miss Vanderheiden, I ain’t in this business for charity.”  His narrow, dark eyes drilled her.  “But I ain’t no monster.  I’m willing to give you some leeway.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll give you two months to make up the rent for October and November, as well as this month.”

Katie’s mouth was dry.  “And if I can’t make it all up?”

“Well, like I said, I ain’t in this business for charity.  I have people come in every day who want to rent a house like this.”

Her heart sank.  “I’m sure I can do it, Mr. Olyfant.  If you can give me until the end of the month…”

“End of the month?  I guess I can wait that long.”  His eyes bored into her again.  “But that’s it.”   

He lit a cigarette and blew the smoke up at the ceiling while he waited for her response.

“I can do it.  I will do it.”  Her chin quivered but her voice was steady.  “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for work.”

Blowing out another cloud of smoke, he stood up.  “I’ll say goodbye, then.  I’ll be in touch, Miss Vanderheiden.”

She struggled to keep from coughing as he moved past her to the front door.  “Thank you, Mr. Olyfant,” she managed to say with a fairly pleasant smile that threatened to crack her face.

One more worry.  She hadn’t realized her mother had asked for an extension on her rent in October.  This could wipe out her remaining savings.  She felt the heavy weight of a hopeless despair weighing her down.  Just a few weeks, and she’d probably be begging the old snake for a room in his boardinghouse.  She went through the motions of preparing for work mechanically.  She’d have to ask around at work to see if anyone knew of another boarding house or maybe a room in a private home.  With no cash cushion, she certainly couldn’t consider moving to White Plains for school.  And even if she moved elsewhere in Sleepyside, there was furniture to consider; she’d have to sell some of it if she moved to a smaller space.  Her thoughts chased each other in a cycle of hopeless repetition. 

December 22, 1950

Luncheon plate, fork, and spoon—check; wadded-up napkin—check; coffee cup—check. Katie swiftly tidied away the dishes used by her last lunch customer.  She scooped the coins from his tip into the pocket of her apron and wiped the counter clean.  Although the drugstore was decorated for Christmas, she couldn’t spare a thought for the upcoming holiday.  The only thing it meant to her was the loss of a day’s work and a day’s pay, although Mr. Clayton had implied he was giving cash gifts to all of his employees.  As she worked she tried to calculate whether she’d be able to pay Mr. Olyfant the full amount of rent she owed him. 

“There you are!”  The familiar voice startled her from her thoughts.  Jerking her head up, she saw Win Frayne in front of her. The dishcloth dropped onto the floor and she didn’t even notice it.  For a moment she was speechless.

“I’ve looked everywhere for you,” he said.  “When you didn’t answer my last two letters, I figured you’d found some other guy.  So when I came home for the Christmas break I waited a few days before I tried to see you.  I went out to Hot Dog Heaven and Arnie said you’d taken another job, and that your mom had passed away.  Why didn’t you tell me, Katie?”

 “I’ve been working here since the first of September.  When Sally went to nursing school, I just didn’t have transportation out there, and this job was much closer.  Mamma—she got sick and I tried my best to take care of her…” she stopped, her eyes filling with tears as she recalled her mother’s illness.  “She just wasn’t strong enough to fight it off.”

“I’m so sorry!”  He really did look sorry, she realized.  “I wish I’d known.  At Thanksgiving, I spent the weekend with my aunt and uncle at a friend’s place in the city.  If I’d known, I would have found a way to come and see you.”

Katie noticed the dishcloth on the floor and bent down to pick it up.  She dropped it into a pail that held soiled dishcloths and towels, and plucked a clean one from the drawer.  Busying herself with this mundane chore, she delayed answering him.

“It’s all right, Win,” she finally said.  “I know you were busy.  And everything was so strange and mixed up for a few weeks that if I had a letter from you I probably misplaced it.”

“When do you get off?” he asked next.

“”We serve sandwiches and coffee until five p.m.,” she said.  “Then I clean up and make sure everything is ready for tomorrow morning.  I’m finished about five-thirty.”

“I’ll come back then, and we’ll go to dinner,” he told her.  “Unless you do have another guy.”

“No.  I mean, there’s no one.”  She was still stunned. Win Frayne had waltzed back into her life after she’d finally convinced herself there was absolutely no future for them as a couple; in fact, since she’d heard nothing from him for two months, she had figured he really had found the one who would be his special girl. 

“I’ll be here at five-thirty, then.  I’ll take you home so you can change, because we’re going to White Plains.  There’s a new Italian restaurant I’d like to try.”  He turned around and walked away, leaving her to wonder what was going on in his head.

When Win arrived at five-thirty, he led her out to a shiny new dark green Chrysler parked at the curb.  She stopped dead when he opened the passenger door for her.

“Win!  Is this your car?”  She touched the shining metal fender with a gentle finger.

“Yes, it is.  Uncle James gave it to me for my twenty-first birthday,” he said, not without pride.

“It’s beautiful!”  She slid onto the front passenger seat, stroking the plush cloth seat and the leatherette-covered dashboard.  He closed the door as soon as she was completely inside and tossed his keys into the air, catching them on the way down.


Katie and Win sat opposite each other at Lentini’s Little Italy in White Plains.  She was full of salad, lasagna and garlic bread, and a generous portion of lasagna still sat on the plate in front of her.   She wore her best dress, of dark blue wool, with a long, gored skirt and a boat neckline.  On the left shoulder she’d fastened the roller skate pin Win had given her the year before.  It provided a sparkle that was missing from her eyes.

“So, I have another week to earn enough money to pay Mr. Olyfant the rent I owe,” she finished up.  “I really don’t know what I’m going to do after that.”

“What are your choices?” Win asked.

“I know I can’t afford to stay in our house.”  Her voice caught and she took a moment to collect herself.  “Mr. Olyfant has a boarding house and he’ll rent me a room.  It might be the best thing to do, since I haven’t been able to find anyone willing to rent me a room in their home.  It’s no farther from work than I am now.”

“Didn’t you say that Olyfant is a shady character?”  A vertical crease appeared between Win’s brows.

“Oh, yes.  Supposedly he runs an illegal poker game and maybe fences stolen property.  I don’t know what all else.  Mamma hated to rent from him, but his properties were less expensive than others she checked.”

Win frowned.  “I don’t like the idea of you being under obligation to him.  I’ve heard other things about him...unsavory things.”

“What do you mean, Win?”  She twisted her cloth napkin.  “He’s creepy, and his nephew… ugh.  He went to school with me and was always hinting around that I should date him.  I’m sure I’d have to see more of him if I moved to the boarding house.  But I can handle Dick.  At least I think I can.”

“Well, don’t sign any leases until I can make a few inquiries for you,” Win said.

“Do you really think you can find me an affordable place?”  She felt a tiny flame of hope.  Win might not know many local people, but his uncle and aunt surely had connections. 

“Give me a few days.  It’ll be hard with Christmas coming on, but I should have news for you by the twenty-seventh, at least.”

Win wasn’t sure where to start with his inquiries.  He didn’t know his neighbors, except for the Spencers, and they weren’t local people.  He seriously doubted they’d know anything about Frank Olyfant and his business schemes.  Going straight to the police seemed a bit hasty.  Driving back to Ten Acres after dropping Katie at her house, he thought of her old boss, Arnie Hartford.  Arnie was local, he knew a lot of people, and while Win didn’t believe for one minute that Arnie would ever be involved in anything crooked, he might have heard rumors.  He made up his mind to go out to Hot Dog Heaven the next day and see what he could learn.

Three o’clock in the afternoon was a slow time at Hot Dog Heaven two days before Christmas.  Win drove up and blinked his lights, and a new waitress walked out to wait on him.  She wore boots instead of roller skates, since the sidewalk and parking lot were dotted with patches of ice and snow.  “Welcome to Hot Dog Heaven!  May I take your order?”

“Sure, I’ll have a chili dog and a Coke,” he replied almost automatically.  “But I hoped I could talk to Arnie.  Is he here now?”

“Yes, he is.  If you’ll tell me your name, I’ll tell him you’re here.” 

“I’m Winthrop Frayne.  Thanks.” 

She flashed him a smile and turned back to the restaurant.  A couple of minutes later, Arnie himself walked out to the car. 

“What can I do for you, Mr. Frayne?” the burly restaurant owner asked. 

“I’m worried about Katie Vanderheiden,” Win replied.  “Can I talk to you for a few minutes?”

“Sure, come on inside.”  Arnie gestured for him to enter by a side door Win recognized as the employee entrance.  He followed the older man into the building and joined him at the small break room table.

“What about Katie?”  Arnie’s arms were folded across his chest.

“I’m worried about her.  She and her mom lived in a house owned by Frank Olyfant, and she can’t afford to stay there alone.  So far she hasn’t been able to find a less expensive apartment or even board in a private home.  Mr. Olyfant owns a boarding house and she’s considering taking a room there.”

“I wouldn’t let anyone I cared for stay at Olyfant’s boardinghouse,” Arnie said, leaning forward and resting his arms on the table.  “He’s got some shady business going on there.  Katie would be welcome to come and live with my wife and me, but we live too far out of town.  She’d have a hard time getting to work from our place.”

“What kind of shady business?”  Win’s jaw tightened and he could feel a blood vessel pulsing in his forehead.

“He runs a bookie joint and a high-stakes poker game on weekends, or so I’ve heard.  But that’s not the worst.  I’ve always heard he keeps a stable of… well, prostitutes.”

“And the police do nothing about all this?”  Win wasn’t exactly shocked that illegal activities went on, but if Olyfant was into that much, he couldn’t believe Katie wasn’t aware of it.  And she hadn’t sounded like she thought anything like that.

Arnie shrugged.  “To an extent, what happens on Hawthorne Street stays on Hawthorne Street.  As long as Olyfant doesn’t flaunt his illegal activities and no one gets hurt, I think the cops look the other way.  My cousin’s boy, Wendell Molinson, is on the force, and he is champing at the bit to clean up Hawthorne Street.  But his bosses aren’t so keen.  So nothing gets done.”

“That’s unbelievable!”  Win was flabbergasted.  “What about the other people who live in the area?  Don’t they deserve better?”

“Sure.  There are good, hardworking people on Hawthorne Street and the surrounding area, like Katie and her mother.  But there are other people who like living on the seamy side of town.  And if the police patrols are few and far between, it lets them keep up their shady activities.”   He tapped the table for emphasis.  “Katie’s a good kid.  I wish she’d been interested in nursing school, like Sally.  She needs to find something that will get her away from that neighborhood.  If she stays there, I’m afraid she’ll be pulled down into a place she can’t get out of.  She’s smart and has a lot of potential, but she doesn’t know what she wants.”

Win stood.  He’d learned the information he sought about Frank Olyfant, and he didn’t want to discuss Katie with anyone, not even this man who obviously cared about her and had her best interests at heart.  “Well, thanks for talking to me, Arnie.  I’d like to help Katie and I don’t want her to turn to a man like Olyfant for help.”  He reached across the table and shook hands with Katie’s former boss.

Arnie stood, too, and shook his hand with a firm grip.  “You seem like a nice, levelheaded young man.  I hope you can help Katie to make a choice that’s good for her.”  

back   next


Author’s Notes

4793 words

Many thanks to my wonderful editors, Ronda, Ryl, and Trish! This story is so much better, thanks to their help! Any remaining errors are mine, not theirs!

Lentini's Little Italy was an Italian restuarant located in Louisville, Kentucky, for about 60 years. White Plains may or may not have had a similar establishment during the era in which this story is set. Lentini's was a cool place and only the second ethnic restaurant I ever visited; I wanted to memorialize it in some way!

Some may question the term “stable of prostitutes” for the era in which this story takes place.  So I cast around to think of an older man I could ask to read it for me (and I didn’t want to ask my dad!!!).  My manager’s husband is 75, he loves to read, and he has a great sense of humor that can be a little crude (definitely a good thing in this instance!).  Also I’ve known him for over 20 years, so not like asking a total stranger but also not like asking my dad J.  He confirmed it was a term that would have been used in the 1950s.

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2010-2012 by MaryN/Dianafan. Images from; manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2012.

Story copyright by Mary N, 2012.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional