“Have you told them my name yet?”
“Well-l-l, no,” he said. “I only said someone was interested. If I wired them the interested person was just a girl, they’d laugh me offa the telegraph.” He let out a squeaky laugh. He was nervous now, worried he might lose her business after all.
Apparently, those men hadn’t contacted him yet about the caboose, and she wanted to finish this before they did. So, very slowly, she peered at each of the dilapidated furnishings and walls, frowning at the one hole behind the desk. She winced as she opened the stove’s door, which screeched in rebellion.
Something different was there, and she bent to peer inside, her right knee reminding her of that man’s attack. She stood back and invited Mr. Johannson to look. She didn’t say a single word.
He reached into the cold stove and brought out two jugs. He pulled the corks and sniffed.
“Moonshine,” he barely whispered. “Someone’s been in here.”
Although Luvella was pretty sure she knew who had been inside the caboose, she didn’t say. She could feel Mr. Johannson’s confidence wavering as he fidgeted with the jugs and made that whistling noise as he breathed. At the entrance to the car, she turned abruptly, swishing her skirt, to face him.
“Mr. Johannson.” She tried to keep her heart from sounding like a train in a tunnel. “Since the W and NB Railroad is already interested, you can tell them that you have L. Andersson wanting to rent this caboose for seven dollars a month. You don’t have to mention whether L. Andersson is a man or a bear—just L. Andersson.”
Opening the door, she steadied her hands on the grab rail, stepped down the stairs to the ground, and braced against the rising wind. “I’d like to have this…arrangement…completed by next week,” she said, hoping he didn’t hear the quaver in her voice. “Can you please do that for me, Mr. Johannson?” She used all her inner strength to smile up at him.
He blushed, clearly feeling put upon, and kept tapping his fingers on the jugs. It seemed like hours passed before he finally spoke. “Luvella, let’s see what I can do. I’ll have the answer for sure by our merchants’ group meeting tomorrow and can let you know then.”
“No!” Luvella blurted, and then cleared her throat dramatically. I don’t want any news of this getting to those men. “I…mean, I may not announce this to the group just yet. When I get a few free minutes at the store tomorrow, I’ll come over to find out the railroad’s decision.” She pushed one long curl back into the ribbon again. “Thank you, Mr. Johannson,” she said, using her low voice and smiling. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you.”
She turned into the wind, which suited her mood perfectly, soaring and exhilarating and powerful, as Mr. Johannson went into the depot. She almost floated over to the Muncy Inn, where her best friend, Anna, was waiting for her. Anna was the only other person, besides Steckie and Bessie, who knew about what she planned for the caboose.
Inside the inn lobby, Anna’s father was sitting in his office behind the registration counter glowering at some papers. The smell of his cigar mingled with that of fried bacon wafting in from the Smythe family’s quarters in the back.
Anna pulled Luvella into a small sitting area off the lobby. “Oh, tell me, Luvella. Quickly!” She held both of Luvella’s hands in her own.
“I think I did it, Anna! I think I did it!”