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The Wonder Girls Rebel: Chapter 1

Updated: Mar 13

The Muckraker

Brooklyn, New York, New York, late February 1938.

illustration of The Brooklyn Bridge

Veronica knew they were coming. The talk outside Betty Marie's bar blew along the sidewalk to the tiny basement and turned the air sour. Whispers dropped like the marbles the kids were trading on the stoop above. Glances flashed through the railings. Good riddance, they said.


Not everyone had had enough of her ‘lies.' Jessie and Loretta upstairs, for instance. They helped out when Archie was … But she couldn't put that into words yet. How empty the place was without him, the only father she could remember.


Archie's ink-stained work coat still hung on the back of the door that led to the small space they shared. The whole basement, in one way or another, was devoted to publishing their paper The Maple Street Reporter. She unhooked the overall and rolled it into her bag.


She had one last job.


Veronica slid round the printing press, the hulk of iron and ink that dominated the room, now quiet and mourning its master. She stroked the plates, still in place from the edition that had secured her passage to England. ‘I don’t need you today, old friend.’


Folks said their stories were trash—about The German American Bund, for instance, who were playing at Nazis pure and simple. Just fun and games, folks said, what’s wrong with good old healthy sporting competition? But it wasn’t just baseball they were playing, that’s for sure.


Folks said she and Archie should stop raking stuff up. The kinder ones said they should stop drawing attention to themselves, an old black guy and young white girl was asking for trouble. And the stupid ones said people just didn’t want to know.


Tell all that to Mr Schneider. Sewing ten-dollar suits, trying to scratch out a living in South Williamsburg, his window smashed and swastikas daubed on his door. Trouble comes wherever you hide.


Everyone said it was kids, but Mr Schneider had showed Veronica the threat wrapped around the stone. ‘They even come for us here,' he said sadly with a shrug of his shoulders, a little Schneider twisting the tassels on her papa's shawl as he spoke. ‘When I crossed over, I thought we'd be safe,’ he gestured towards the Williamsburg, the huge bridge that joined Brooklyn to the Lower East Side. ‘But this is our lot now,’ he said, gathering up his little one, still blissfully unaware of her papa's troubles.


Well, Veronica had done the work. She'd found the typewriter with the bent ‘J'. It was in the priest's office when she supposedly went to ‘confess' one day. And there on the same desk had been the programme of events for the latest ‘Friends of Germany’ Camp on Long Island. Perhaps when they were holding Nazi rallies in Madison Square Garden, folks would start paying attention.


Veronica took a clean sheet from the box of paper under the desk. The truck had pulled up on the street above, but shwasn’t going to hurry. She unscrewed a bottle of ink and picked out a brush from the pot. One copy, that’s all she needed.


As Veronica painted in clear brush strokes, boots clumped down the steps. She reminded herself that despite how it looked, she was the one in control here.


Voices, petty and jostling, argued on the other side of the door as Veronica was admiring her work. But then she noticed a dot of blood sunk into an ancient crack in the wood and her heart ached for Archie. Her eyes stinging, she blew on the wet ink.


And there it was, the knock on the door, the official rat-tat.

In the last moment before she had to leave the only home she'd really known, Veronica breathed in the scent of the old place and she was filled with certainty that she was doing the right thing.


She pulled her scarf from her pants pocket and tied it around her neck.  The scarf was a bright turquoise and reminded her of a vacation she and Archie once took upstate. Veronica patted his old Fedora firmly on her head and tucked the scarf under the lapels of her jacket, cravat style. She was ready.


The door handle rattled.


‘Alright, alright, I'm here.’ She snatched the paper off Archie's desk and opened the door to two officials. One young, lanky and leering over the other, older, grumpy and crumpled. Both squashed together under the stoop.


'Veronica Frances Park, we're here to…’


'I know, I know… give me space,' she said. ‘I need to lock up.’


The old grumpy official grunted and backed into the young lanky one, who stumbled backwards up the first few steps.


Veronica slung her bag though the door into the space they'd left. She pulled the door shut behind her, turned the key and reached into her jacket pocket where a little nest of thumbtacks pricked her fingers. She held her freshly painted notice against the door and, as the two men watched over her from the sidewalk above, pressed a tack firmly into each of the notice’s four corners.


KEEP OUT

IF YOU DON'T WANT TO CATCH IT!


That should do the trick. Veronica did feel a bit bad about starting a rumour that was clearly (to anyone with half a brain) untrue. But it would stop prying eyes ’til she got back.


She pulled the key from the lock, grabbed her bag and ran up the steps into the early spring sunshine as a trolley car trundled by. ‘Well, aren't we going?' she said, putting up the collar on her jacket against the fresh breeze.


Lanky leaned over and whispered into Grumpy’s whiskery old ear. ‘Catch what?'


'Baloney,’ said Grumpy.


But Veronica caught Lanky’s look of distaste before he loped through the crowd and slunk into the back of the waiting truck. She couldn't help smiling. Her notice would work, then.


‘Take a good look, ‘cause you won't be coming back, Missy,’ said Grumpy, grabbing her arm.


‘We'll see,’ said Veronica under her breath.

‘What d'you say?’ he said, holding the back door of the truck open.


‘I said, “you don't say.”’ She tried the same tone she'd once used for interviewing an old lady who'd lived her entire life in the worst asylum in the state. She shook off the official arm and scanned the little crowd.


She was surrounded by familiar faces, most of them there to gawp. But there was Lorretta, dabbing her eyes. Veronica pushed her way through to her neighbour, hooked her free arm around Lorretta's neck and kissed her cheek. ‘Don't worry. I'll be fine,’ she whispered. ‘Just look after this for me.’ She slipped the basement key into Loretta's apron pocket.


'I will.’ Lorretta sniffed and shook her head. ‘I didn't mean you to go, honey child.’


‘I know, but I think Archie did.’


‘Take good care of yourself, won't you?' Lorretta did her best to smile.


‘I will, dear Lorretta, you know me!’


Lorretta laughed. A tear slid over her cheek. ‘I do, and that's the trouble.’


Veronica felt a rough grip on her arm. 'It's time to go,' said the old official, pulling her away.


But there was the little Schneider, squeezing between two old Brooklyn ladies, self-righteous pouts on their faces. The little girl handed Veronica a small square of cotton, beautifully embroidered with a V. ‘From Papa,’ she said.


The stitching was so fine. But the child had disappeared before Veronica could say thank you and she felt her own tears prickle.


Old Grumpy snatched Veronica's bag and threw it inside the truck. It slid across the floor into Lanky’s feet. He squished himself further into the corner.


Grumpy thumped the small of Veronica's back with his palm, pushing her inside with Lanky. Was it because she was dressed in pants and a jacket that they thought they could be so rough? Though she'd better get used to calling them trousers.


A yellow checker cab with a bent front fender drove up behind. She could just make out a man in a hat on the back seat. How nice to be so untroubled by the world you could doze in cab.


'Miss Park,’ said Grumpy, ‘I strongly recommend you don't cause trouble. You have no papers, no record with Immigration. You are an illegal alien. I am sure your family in England will be pleased to see you.' He slammed the little door shut behind her.


Veronica grabbed her bag and sat down on the bench, ignoring the young man huddled as far away from her as he could get. She heard Grumpy scuffle through the crowd. The truck lurched as he got into the cab and the engine gurgled into life.


Family, what family? That was just one of the questions to which she was hoping to find the answer. She slid along the bench and positioned herself in a small of patch of sunlight pouring through a tiny window. She took off her hat and closed her eyes in the warmth.


The engine rumbled as the truck pulled away from the street.


Jerking and joggling in the back, Veronica Frances Park made up her mind. No, she wasn't going to cause trouble. Not that much, not yet anyway, not on this side of the Atlantic. But perhaps for this family in England when she found them, whoever they were. The thought restored her excitement. She was a muckraker, an investigative journalist, and this was going to be her greatest story so far.




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