The Divine Intervention of the Molly Maguires

Submitted into Contest #192 in response to: Set your story at an antique roadshow.... view prompt


Drama Fiction Romance

For three months out of the year, antiques and art lovers all over the United States gather to share their beloved treasures at designated roadshow locations. The hunters and gathers, the collectors, and even the hoarders come together in one place to seek out the advice of experts and estimators to see if the stuff they have is worth any money. Sometimes they earn a history lesson while also learning they’ve got an unexpected fortune on their hands. Most times, those lessons fall on deaf ears because they’ve learned what many already suspect. Their wares are nothing but crap. But maybe, just maybe, if they hang on to their stuff long enough, one day, it might be worth something to someone.

The irony of collecting art and antiques is that the value lies in the hands of a potential buyer. If the buyer perceives a deal, the item has a set worth. If there is no buyer, then the item is trash. Or useless. This often happens when too many of one thing exists on the market or there isn’t a demand. The price of an item is entirely subjective and at the mercy of someone with disposable income.

“I sure hope this crystal punch bowl that my Gran treasured so much is worth something. I need the money to pay my bills!” a twenty-something treasure holder said to no one in particular in the line that had formed outside the Kentucky Museum of the Gardens.

“I’m certain this painting of clowns is worth a fortune. I bought it at a garage sale for $2, but something told me it was worth way more than that. Just look at those brush strokes,” said another.

“Are you sure you want to sell great-grand daddy’s rifle, maw?” a young man asked his frazzled mother.

“What am I supposed to do with an ancient rifle. It don’t shoot. It just takes up space that I need for my Precious Moments figurines. It won’t buy you new sneakers or that iPad you want. Why not sell it to someone who will appreciate it.” The boy nodded in acquiescence.

Joanna Compton stood nervously towards the back of the line, the sun shining on the back of her neck, causing her to sweat. Or maybe it was how slowly time was ticking by. She only had until 3 pm to return what she’d taken or risk the consequences. Glancing down at her phone, she checked to see if any new messages had popped up or if a breaking news story about what she’d done was blasting out on every electronic device nearby.

It's not like what she did was against the law per se. The items would be hers anyway someday. Her grandpa always said she was his favorite and she could have the pick of anything she wanted when the time came. She didn’t want to rush that time, but circumstances called for desperate measures. She wasn’t a killer. Joanna could not live with herself if she did something so amoral as taking another life. But taking a few forgotten items locked in a hope chest? She could accept that. It’s not like anyone had even looked at the stuff in a while, based on the amount of dust gathered on the box within the chest. Strange how her grandpa would store a box with a lock already on it in a locked chest and then make it so difficult to find the keys. Especially when he already practically offered everything to her.

“Hey there!” a man’s voice came from behind her. “I see you have some items from the Molly Maguires. That’s really fascinating!”

“How…how do you know about them? Who are you?” Joanna questioned, squeezing the box in her arms impossibly tight against her chest. Her shoulders were rolled inward so much they almost touched.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m James. James McKenna,” he said, waving his event badge at her. “I’m a volunteer at the event. I’m supposed to monitor the line for any shenanigans, but when I saw that patch on your backpack, I had to ask.”

“Oh. That? It’s nothing. Something my grandpa gave me when I was a kid. Said it was his father’s, and it gave him good luck. He’s Irish. You know how they are with their luck talk and talismans.”

“Sure do! I’m Irish myself. My granda immigrated when he was a babe. His father worked in the coal mines in Pennsylvania in the late 1870s. I bet yours did too.”

“Yeah? Why do you think that?”

“Because the Maguires were a secret society.”

“They were?” Joanna’s eyes widened at the idea of a secret society.

“Yep. Tried to keep things safe for the coal miners. But they met with a terrible end.”

Joanna laughed. “You are pulling my leg.”

“Am not.”

“Tell me, then. What happened.”

“Well, why don’t you tell me what you have in the box first. A little trade, if you will.”

“I don’t have anything. Just a bunch of junk my grandpa had locked up in Gran’s hope chest.”

“Locked up, you say?”

“Yeah. For safe keeping. You know how they are with stuff. Always wanting to keep their treasures safe from the takers.”

“Sure. Sure. Say, if you show me what you have in there, I might be able to get you to the front of the line.”

Joanna looked at her watch. She’d already been standing in the same spot for an hour. She thought about her grandfather’s schedule and the time it would take her to drive back without anyone asking questions. “Okay,” she swallowed dryly.

Squatting down, she placed the box on the ground between her feet and unlocked the lid. Inside was a journal, several newspaper clippings, and documents signed by various individuals. There were patches of the same symbol on her backpack and a log with names and dates.

“I believe this has something to do with the coal mine unions and the Pinkerton agency,” she explained. “My great-grandfather was head of the union in Schuylkill. The story goes that he saved hundreds of men’s lives by convincing them to unionize. He died himself, hanged, not crushed in the mines, fortunately. Something between the Pinkerton guy and him. They were at odds about the union.”

“Yes. The coal mine owners hired the Pinkertons to pose as regular Joes to see if they could pin any of the hundreds of murders, accidents, and atrocities on the union. Organized workers were harder to control. They demanded more wages, safety precautions, and standardized procedures. The Pinkertons blamed the Molly Maguires for all the bad stuff, and a bunch of them were hanged for their crimes,” James added.

“How do you know all that?”

“Because great-granda was the Pinkerton who proved it.”

“Wait. Your great-grandfather killed my great-grandfather?”

“Jeez. I hope not. What was his name? I kind of know the story.”

“Fergus Flanagan. What was yours?”

“Same as my name. I’m the third James McKenna.”

Both of them looked at each other in silence. Joanna spoke first.

“So, is it true then?”

“Which part?”

“The part where your great killed my great.”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah, holy shit. What are the odds?”

Joanna laughed in a sardonic way. “The odds of your great being a killer? I don’t know. You tell me.”

“No. What are the odds that we’d meet up 150 years later?”

“My sister would say this is kismet. That the Universe put us in each other’s paths. I’m not so sure I believe in that stuff, though. I’m more of a ‘God works in mysterious ways’ person.”

“Either way, it sure is something that we’d meet up like this. Say. Wait here. I’m going to go grab my supervisor and see if they can get you in with an expert on this stuff.”

“You know what? I think I’m good,” Joanna replied, feeling a sudden sense of shame burning through her. Or maybe it was the hot Summer sun. Either way, she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go home.

“You can’t just go now!” James proclaimed.

“Yeah, I think I can. I don’t know what I thought I would learn about this stuff, but this wasn’t it. I need some fast money to get myself out of a jam, and I thought I might be able to sell some of this to a history buff or collector of crap. But knowing what I do now, it doesn’t feel right.”

“You should at least go through those things. Maybe talk to a historical society person. There is probably a writer out there who’d love to get ahold of your items and do a book on it.”

“You seem to already know a ton of stuff about it. Why don’t you do that?”

“Because I only have oral history. I don’t have the proof. The Molly Maguires were said to have been a myth made up by my grandfather and the coal mine owners as an excuse to get rid of the union sympathizers. What if what you have in there is that proof? You could vindicate your grandfather and all the others who were killed.”

“Killed by your great-grandfather?”

“Well, I don’t think he did the actual hangings.”

“He might as well have. If you’ll excuse me,” Joanna snapped, closing the box and standing to go.

“Please, don’t go like this. Let me buy you dinner.”

“I need to get back. I have a deadline.”

“A deadline for what?”

“What does that matter? I have to go,” Joanna barked.

The people around them turned to see what the commotion was.

“Are you okay, honey?” a frumpy-looking middle-aged woman asked.

“Yes. Thank you. This very helpful volunteer has convinced me this is not the place to trust my antiques. You might want to reconsider that yourself,” Joanna warned, shifting the focus away from her.

With a small angry mob forming around James, Joanna slipped off into the parking lot. Slogging to her car, her legs shaky from everything she’d just learned and her mind murky from the thoughts rushing through her head, she got lost in the large lot. As she fumbled with her car keys to see if she could get the panic alarm to sound, she heard a noise behind her.

“Hello, Joanna.”

Screaming from surprise and fear, she dropped her keys and nearly dropped her grandfather’s precious box too.

“How…how did you find me?”

“I always know where you are, thanks to Apple.” The man shook his phone at her to emphasize that he was somehow tracking her location.

“I need more time.”

“You don’t have more time. Where’s my money?”

“Obviously, I don’t have it.”

“Then you know what needs to happen.”

“No! Please, don’t. I…I can get it to you. I just need more time!”

“The purpose of a deadline is to give the person an end point. A literal line that can’t be crossed without someone dying. You’ve reached yours.”

Sobbing silently, Joanna surrendered. “Okay. Can you at least let me get this back to my grandfather?”


“Can you let me put it in the car, then?”

“If it’s worth that much to you, maybe I should have it.”

“It’s not valuable in a monetary way. The experts will tell you. Just a bunch of old paperwork that I hoped would be the answer to our little…disagreement. Unfortunately, they told me it was worth about as much as the paper everything was printed on. They liked the box, though,” she lied smoothly.    

“Alright. I’ll allow it. You parked over here,” the man took her by the elbow to guide her away.

“Wait. My keys. I dropped them. Can you pick them up for me?”

The man hissed in annoyance but complied. As he bent forward, she took the opportunity to slam the heavy box over his head before running back toward the line.

“Help! Help! There’s a mugger in the parking lot!” she yelled.

James came running. “Joanna. Are you okay?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know. This man. He tried to steal my box! He has my car keys!” she panted, trying to catch her breath.

James called security from his walkie-talkie for help.

“Come with me. There’s an emergency services tent. Usually, it’s filled with people upset their items are worthless or in shock because their useless item turned out to be priceless.”

“But what about the man?”

“Security will handle it.”

“Like a Pinkerton?”

“I’d have to double-check, but I don’t think Kentucky allows hangings anymore,” he grinned. “Hey, maybe this isn’t the right time since you’ve had this shock and all, but would you reconsider dinner with me?”

“Do you know anything about Apple tracking devices?”

“Airtags or Find My Phone?”

“Both?” Joanna asked, shrugging her shoulders.

“Yeah. I know a little something about that.”

“Okay, then. I’ll go. But can we make it a late lunch? I’m starving.”

“I thought you needed to get back?”

“I guess the Universe wasn’t ready for us to part so soon,” Joanna grinned as they walked into the medical tent.

“Because God works in mysterious ways,” James retorted, using her words from earlier.

“Indeed, he does,” she sighed, making the sign of the cross. “That or that Molly Maguires patch thing really worked. Either way, luck or divine intervention, I think you’ve righted a wrong from your ancestor today.”

“Let’s hope. Now, can we open the box and look at more of those documents?”

“Why, James, are you only interested in me because you want to get inside my box?” Joanna laughed.

“You have no idea.”

April 08, 2023 03:35

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Mary Bendickson
16:20 Apr 11, 2023

You labeled this fiction. You really had me believing the Mollies were a thing.


KT George
22:26 Apr 11, 2023

Haha. There WAS such a thing as the Mollies. They were an Irish Secret Society! Some details I added were truth(ish), like the Pinkerton's involvement with their demise. The rest I played around with. 😄


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Jeannette Miller
15:55 Apr 10, 2023

KT, So intrigued by the story as well as the mysterious back story of the relationship between her and the parking lot guy! A lot happening here but a fun read. Well done!


KT George
22:03 Apr 10, 2023

I regret not adding more in that section. After I submitted it and the contest closed, I beat myself up about not editing more at the beginning to make room for that piece. Oh well. Maybe there's a sequel to be written someday! ☺️ Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.


Jeannette Miller
15:15 Apr 15, 2023

Of course! I feel the same way after submitting and then going back and reading it with fresh eyes after a few days, haha.


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Viga Boland
17:12 Apr 08, 2023

Oh my goodness KT…aren’t you a naughty one ending on that note LOL. Here I was thinking you’d written a take-off on my Dolores-Delilah story of last week with that kismet meetup and look how much more you gave us than a sweet little romantic story. Nicely done! And here I thought you hadn’t submitted anything this week and I see there’s another one! I swear I’ll never keep up with all you hot Reeds! Or is it hot reads? 🙄


KT George
00:56 Apr 09, 2023

The prompt was listed with the Drama genre, so I felt I needed to add a little something extra to comply. I cracked myself up writing those last few lines! 🤣


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09:39 Apr 13, 2023

Nice writing! the explanation of the antique road show and the scene worked really well. The two of them being the 3rd generation of a feud was interesting, And you very smoothly educated me on some Kentucky union busting history in the process. On the critique circle feedback, I think this story possibly could have worked as a slightly shorter meet-cute on, felt like they had some good chemistry, and the deadline guy feels like he could be the material for a full novel.


KT George
12:00 Apr 13, 2023

As much fun writing a little romance is, I love to sneak in some darkness. Thus, the parking lot guy. 😄 Plus, the prompt genre said 'Drama,' so I had to sprinkle that in somewhere. Thanks for reading and providing feedback!


13:38 Apr 13, 2023

That makes sense, it did give a nice dark almost urban fantasy mood. Ive heard on the youtube writing videos that dark themes are the hot trend these days.


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Julie Grenness
00:41 Apr 13, 2023

Well done. Great story, effective choice of imagery to build an evocative word picture. Nice touch of humor at the end. The historic references added color and authenticity to your modern day tale. Keep on writing.


KT George
02:46 Apr 13, 2023

Thank you, Julie!


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