Prohibition. The Charleston. Hard times. Jazz. Foreclosures. Breakaways and cutting loose. Twilight Amery sets her sights on Harlem, where a girl with a voice--even a white man's bastard from Alabama--can be somebody. Hopping a freight train, she joins up with the beautiful, bitter Mr. Stone and the compellingly magnetic Hector, two Harlem men trying to get home however they can. Faced with club-wielding Pinkerton agents, an inconvenient dead body, and a shortage of money, Twilight and Stone forge an alliance while pursuing their individual mating dances with Hector. Then an old enemy of Stone's intercepts them, and issues a challenge that Twilight makes the mistake of accepting.
Excerpt, chapter 1:
Twi lay hidden among the honeysuckle vines, ignoring the mosquitoes and the gravel digging into her sweaty skin as she watched the dark bulk of the freight train creep backward. So many times, she and the other pickers had lain hiding like this, ready to swarm a car and throw down sacks and satchels of rice or coal for the little ones to collect. Tonight the little ones had been left to home.
Tonight she wore a picker’s britches for the last time, and her carpetbag satchel was already full. She’d packed corn bread, a double handful of field peas, two corked jugs of water, her shoes, two dresses with underthings, a flour-sack towel, soap, a comb, a threaded needle, nearly seventeen dollars, a shiv, and a traced map showing how to get from the Harlem train station to a YWCA that accepted colored girls.
Alabama would never see this Twilight again. Not if she could help it.
She’d let the first train pass on after seeing the Pinkerton man pacing in the moonlight, swinging his club. Being as she could see him, likely he could see her. Those men delighted in guarding the trains from pickers, hoboes, adventurous boys, and anybody as desperate as Twilight Amery.
So she’d waited, breathing honeysuckle and the creosote off the railroad ties, letting the mosquitoes feed on her. She’d waited knowing the second train would come by as the moon was setting behind the mountains over toward Birmingham. She wouldn’t need cloud shadow to catch a ride on that one.
But the second train had come way early. The moon, still high, ducked in and out from behind ragged clouds.
The wind blew strong way up there. Down here, wasn’t a breath to cool her skin. Sweat stung her eyes. She had nothing to wipe them with but her shirt or the rag-rope she’d braided to make a shoulder strap for her satchel. Both were black with coal dust.
She blinked and set her mind to endure the wait, mosquitoes and sweat and all. At this time of summer folks slept on their porches, or tried. Just too hot to sleep good anywhere. But it was also too hot to stay completely awake. And that would give her the best chance she would ever have to sneak onto the northbound train.
To her right, Timmy, Hooter, and Harelip Joe muttered together, waiting to see if she made the train on her own. If the Pinkerton man reacted to her, the boys had promised to jump the train, make noise, and let themselves be chased away. If she couldn’t trust them, she couldn’t trust anyone.
If they failed, she’d have to hope the Pinkerton would kill her, not leave her crippled up like Timmy’s oldest brother.
It was bad enough to be some white man’s bastard in Alabama. If crippled too, she’d have to get to a track somehow and lay herself down in front of the next train. Jesus would understand.
The whistle blew two long hoots, the“leaving now” signal. To the front of the train, cars paused, and one by one clanged and groaned before changing direction.
Twilight pressed her lips together, inwardly snarling at the bright moonlight. The Pinkertons had to know this junction was a favorite for pickers and hoboes alike, so they’d be watching.
This was the last train before dawn. Time was up.
The boys were talking about going home. They had homes to go to.
As of midnight, the bank owned the Amery house. A mortgage of some kind had come due. Her suspicions as to who’d signed the paper and got the money made no nevermind. She was free of it all.
If she had to walk to Pell City, or even Birmingham, she’d find a train headed to New York City, where there was still plenty of jobs. To Harlem, where a singer could get rich. To the Apollo Theater, the Lafayette, the Savoy, or that new one on the radio, the Cotton Club.
The cars clanked by faster, already moving at a dog-trot speed. Under the clanging metal racket of wheel and coupling, the mosquitoes whined on, one tickling her eyelid. She batted it away.
Tonight everything had seemed so right. Everything. Until this train had decided to pull in so early.
She rested her forehead on her fists -- and the moon went to shadow.
Reviews for Steal Away:
...there is an immediacy to the story that makes me feel that I’m there, right there, with the characters. B!
What a rewarding delight is this book! Rich in vivid poetic imagery that awakens all the senses, rife with historical accuracy and period detail, Steal Away immediately enraptures the reader and elicits intense empathy for the characters. From the beginning, I was glued to the page... 5 stars!
As I read, I felt as if I was right there with the characters riding a freight car through the Alabama countryside, running from the police in Chattanooga, visiting a cathouse in Atlanta, or walking the streets (and avoiding the alleys) of Harlem...This is the first of Ms. Green's stories that I have had the pleasure of reading. Although I have read other stories featuring ménage relationships, the one that is featured here is unique and fascinating. Overall, I found Steal Away well-written, suspenseful, and quite entertaining. Rating: 4.5