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Scree-eech! The northbound Illinois Central braked in front of the terminal. "Kankakee! Twenty-minute layover. Next stop, Chicago!" the wiry conductor yelled. "Feel free to stretch your legs ... use the facilities. But be back before departure time."
Jenny Hinson tossed a lock of hair behind one shoulder, grabbed her purse, and then swept up her small blue vanity case. She had to get to a telephone. Aunt Violet had insisted she call during this stop. Jenny could use the time to freshen up before greeting the aunt she had not seen in twelve years.
As she stepped to the ground, Jenny sighed. She was happy the twelve-hour journey from Memphis would soon be over. She would arrive at the Chicago depot in an hour or so, and she would be able to rest. The ride was uncomfortable, but the rumbling train was only one reason Jenny hadn't slept well last night. Sylvia Sheridan, a middle-aged socialite who shared Jenny's seat, had boasted well into the night of her husband's wealth gained through a farm machinery venture. Waving a bejeweled hand past Jenny's nose, the woman had woven tales of grand parties, and the famous people the couple befriended. It was a life Jenny could only imagine.
Initially, the one-sided conversation intrigued her. But, when an hour had passed, and the saga continued, Jenny struggled to stay awake. Sometime past midnight, to her relief, Mrs. Sheridan had retired to a berth. Ah, to afford such luxury.
Jenny had finally dozed in her uncomfortable seat, only to be awakened two hours later by the woman, who thought it only proper to bid her farewell. It was there, at the Champaign stop, that Jenny had detecteda distinct accent change in the passengers. The entire group of incoming people spoke the northern dialect. Intrigued by their accents, she had barely catnapped since.
The large clock on the stationhouse wall urged her to keep moving. Most of the passengers had already boarded the train. She sought the attendant for directions to the phones.
"Just around that corner, Miss. In that short hallway," he pointed. "You can't miss them."
Jenny picked up the receiver to dial the operator. A woman with a northern brogue responded. "Operator. How may I help you?"
Jenny requested the exchange, and soon the phone rang three times. "Hello, Hollister residence. Louise a'speakin'."
Jenny cleared her throat. She had forgotten about the housekeeper mentioned in her aunt's letter. "Hello. This is Jennifer Hinson ... Mrs. Hollister's niece. Please tell my aunt that the train is currently on layover in Kankakee." Jenny glanced at the clock. "It's due to leave in eight minutes. I should arrive in Chicago in about an hour."
"Missus Hollister has been expectin' yer call," Louise replied. "I'll give 'er yer message."
"Thank you. I appreciate it."
A trail of freshly perked coffee tantalized Austin Grant's nostrils as he stepped inside the Kankakee train station. The delicious aroma lured him to a percolator near the attendant's counter, where he poured a cup. Austin was not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. The short drive from Bradley, Illinois had left him drowsy. He and his friend, Luke Jennings, had worked well into the wee hours devising a plan to bring relief to the South Pekin disaster victims. A series of tornadoes had wiped out three residential blocks a few weeks ago, leaving many homeless.
Austin picked up his cup and looked around for a place to relax. He spotted a bench, dropped down and stretched his long legs. His friend had just hopped on the train to Peoria. Luke would haunt the city's lumberyards to haggle over the prices of supplies needed to rebuild the small, tornado-stricken town.
Luke, who was pastor of a thriving church in Kankakee, also possessed a good business head. Austin trusted his friend to get bottom-dollar figures without forfeiting quality. Buying in quantity would mean they would be able to get a profitable discount, and would be able to reconstruct more houses.
Luke was also a skilled carpenter. Austin's talents lay in persuasion. He could talk anybody into anything. Together, Luke and Austin made a formidable pair.
Austin looked at his watch. He could spare a few minutes to savor his cup o' Joe. Afterwards, he would head north to meet with a hardware store owner in Chicago and devour a hearty breakfast.
He sipped the aromatic liquid, leaned back, and tucked one foot under the bench. Plunk! His boot heel struck something solid. Bending down to investigate, Austin pulled out a small blue vanity case. When he tugged at the handle, the case fell open to reveal a print dress, neatly folded. He scanned the premises for a possible owner. No one in sight, not even the attendant.
Snapping the case shut, he hurried toward the door. The Illinois Central was still parked. That was good. Austin sprinted toward the porter who was leaning against the rail above the loading ramp. "Hold up a minute, sir! I believe this belongs to a lady on board." He pointed to the case tucked beneath his arm.