14. The Poet (part two)

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A charming black man stood in front of Sarah. He wore a neatly pressed chocolate-colored suit, buttons shiny and new, and a matching bowler that fit his head perfectly. His eyes were a smoky brown, and a tiny crescent moon freckle decorated the space below his left eye. The man smiled at Sarah, the afternoon sun glinting off a bottom tooth made of gold.

Sarah cheeks filled with warmth. "Oh, it's nothing, really."

The man smirked. "It doesn't look like nothing. And a moment ago, you were writing away madly. It caught my attention."

Sarah inhaled, not sure what to say. "It's a poem," she blurted finally. "I mean, it's supposed to be a poem."

The man quirked an eyebrow at that. "I happen to know a little bit about poetry. Do you mind if I have a look?" On his middle finger, a brilliant diamond ring sparkled as he held out his hand.

Their eyes locked for a heartbeat before she handed him the notebook and pulled her gaze away.

"Hmm," the man hummed, studying the page intently. When he finished, he gave Sarah a firm look. "This is quite impressive," he said, raising a manicured eyebrow. "Have you had any formal training in writing poetry?"

"No, not really," she said. "Well, I did have a teacher when I was younger who really loved poems. She taught me everything I know about poetry. Ms. Clanton ... that was her name. She was a Godsend. She didn't have a formal education either, but you wouldn't know it to talk to her. She sounded like she'd come straight out of a university. She worked with my father, and when I was having trouble learning how to read ... I think I was six or seven at the time ... anyway, she started giving me tips. When my father saw how easily I learned with her help, he paid her a nickel a week to teach me. She tutored me for years. It probably would've taken me much longer to learn how to read and write if it hadn't been for her."

Sarah felt herself blush again, realizing how silly she must have sounded, pouring out her life story to someone she'd just met. But like a gentleman, the man smiled and nodded as if he understood her perfectly.

"You sound like a poet to me," the man said. There was an easiness to his voice, relaxed and slow. He took his time moving over each word, as though he wanted to give each syllable the time and attention it deserved. "You know, I think I've seen you around before. You're Albert's niece, right? The mechanic."

Sarah chuckled. She was used to people calling her "the mechanic gal," but it was usually done with skepticism or outright condemnation. There was no malice in this man's words. Absolutely none.

"That's me," she replied, not sure where to set her gaze.

"My name is Edward Benedict. And you are?"

"Sarah Stewart," she said, then realization dawned in her face. "Wait a minute! You own the Rooks."

"I used to own the Rooks," he said, his expression suddenly tense.

"Oh," Sarah said. She wanted to ask him more. Wanted to ask him what he knew about Henry, but decided that might not be the best idea now.

"It was time for a change," Edward said. "That ball club had gone stale. But I'll bounce back."

Before Sarah could speak, Edward swung his hand around in a majestic gesture across the street to a shop with a large open front. Above the door, white letters against a red background read:

BENEDICT'S VARIETY STORE

Sarah's eyes slowly widened as the dots started to connect. Edward Benedict was the wealthiest man in Hester's black district. Twelve stores in the region. One in Hester, two in Pittsburgh, even one as far out as Canton Ohio.

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