"Fell in love with her and she with me, but she had her cap set for a wealthy Mississippi Creole because he could secure her future in ways I could not. She was posing as a woman from an equally wealthy family and probably would have married the man had I not stood up during the wedding Mass and exposed her real identity."
"I refused to let her marry someone else. All hell broke loose after that, of course. Arguments. Yelling. His mother fainted. The groom and his family demanded the truth. She denied everything at first, but as the uproar increased and fistfights broke out between the guests, she finally confessed her real identity and ran from the church. I went after her. Outside, she told me I'd ruined her life and the lives of any children she might have. Threatened to kill me if she ever saw me again, and that was that. Her brothers and uncles weren't happy with me, either. Promised me the same fate if I ever showed my face in New Orleans again. I moved to Boston and never returned."
"That's some story."
"All true." He stared off into the distance for a few more moments. "A lady Pinkerton came to visit me last week."
"A lady Pinkerton? What did she want?"
"To know if I knew of any Black people capable of pulling off sizable, well-planned swindles."
"Why would she come to you?"
"She said she got my name from one of my former associates but wouldn't reveal the name."
"So what did you tell her?"
"That I didn't know anyone with those skills. She refused to believe that. Threatened to send me to prison on fabricated charges if I didn't give her a name. So I gave her the only one I could think of—Hazel Moreau."
"She visited me again this morning. Apparently, Hazel is still in the life and has a daughter named Raven. Someone has stolen one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence."
"Was it Hazel?"
"No, but the Pinks have an idea who did. They want you and the daughter Raven to pose as man and wife and find it."
Brax stared at his father as if he'd been turned into an ear of corn. "I'm not getting involved in this."
"You don't have a choice."
"Of course I do, and I refuse."
"Then we both go to the penitentiary."
"But I'm not guilty of anything."
"They don't care. They'll manufacture something, and who do you think a judge will believe? Two Black men or a Pinkerton?"
Brax studied the grim set of his father's face and dropped his head. "Damn."
"Agreed. Pour yourself another drink, then pass me the decanter. We have much to discuss."
"Traveling with the Pinkerton by train to New Orleans in two days to meet with the Moreaux."
Stunned, Brax passed him the decanter.
* * *
Raven hung the last of the laundered sheets on the clotheslines strung between the pecan trees behind her employers' home and wiped away the perspiration on her brow. When she wasn't posing as royalty or some other fictional entity, she made her living as a domestic and she hated everything about washday: the burn of the lye on her hands, hauling the baskets of wet items across the yard and pinning them on the ropes so they'd dry. Such days began at dawn, and now, at midafternoon, she was as weary as the New Orleans air was humid.
Her employer, an older Creole woman named Antoinette Pollard, stepped out onto the second floor verandah and called down, "Don't be dawdling out there, Raven. The mister will be home soon and he'll be wanting his supper. You need to get the cooking started so he won't have to wait."
Glad the old woman was too far away to see the loathing in her eyes, Raven replied, "Yes, ma'am."