(Based upon a true story.)
Marie was five years old the first time she saw her father genuinely scared. Not even with the recent threats of losing his job had he been that scared. They had been vacationing in Hot Springs, Arkansas; Marie's father had lost his hat out the train window, so he decided to go onto Main Street to look for a new one. His other had been getting a bit old, anyway. So upon going into town, Marie decided to wear her favorite pink dress, and she begged her father to let her play hopscotch out in front of the store, and he agreed, only if she would stay in front of the window so he could see her.
She started a new game, her hundredth, it seemed, and landed on the last square when her eyes fell upon a shiny new pair of white shoes. Her eyes followed them upwards to find a man in the nicest white suit she'd ever seen. Marie couldn't believe someone could afford such a suit in such hard times. At her young age, her parents tried as best they could to explain to her why everyone suddenly had no money and no work. "There's a reason they've been calling it the Great Depression," her papa had told her.
"Hey there, lil' girl," the man smiled. "That sure is a pretty dress you've got on."
Marie smiled. "It's my favorite," she replied.
"I can see why." Marie's father looked out the window and every drop of color drained from his face when he noticed the stranger.
"Are you from Hot Springs?" Marie asked the nicely-dressed stranger.
"No, my friends and I are just passing through on business. What about you? Do you live here?"
"No, me and my family are here on vacation. My daddy is buying a new hat."
"Aha," the stranger nodded. "Well I've been to Hot Springs before, and I never leave without seeing the alligators. Have you ever seen an alligator before?"
Marie shook her head as her father stepped from the store. His hands were shaking and he was staring at the nicely-dressed stranger.
"No?" The stranger smiled in surprise. "Oh, everyone has to see them! They're incredible. Would you like to see them?"
"Yes, please!" Marie grinned and nodded, and the stranger held out his index finger. Marie ran up, grabbed his finger and the stranger led her down the street. Her father stayed back a bit, thinking of running after his daughter, but when he saw two more nicely dressed men watching him from one end of the street and yet another two from the other end, he decided to walk slowly, keeping his daughter in his sights. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but his daughter and the stranger were chatting happily. His mind raced. "Oh, God, what's going to happen to her? I should have never let her play. Her mother will kill me."
He didn't have very far to follow; shortly thereafter, Marie and the stranger in white stopped at a bridge, and the father broke into a sweat. The stranger picked up Marie and let her look over the side. "He's going to throw her in!" The father's heart practically stopped. But the stranger didn't. Instead he pointed to some of the wildlife down below, and Marie grinned. They chatted happily about the alligators down below for a few minutes before Marie's father mustered up enough courage to step forward. The stranger let Marie down and asked, "Is this your papa?"
"Well, I'll tell you what....." The stranger reached into his billfold and pulled out a few coins. He counted them and handed them to Marie. "Why don't you treat yourself and your Papa to some ice cream?"
"Oh, thank you, mister! Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome. It was nice to meet you, Marie."
"It's nice to meet you, too!"
That was when the stranger departed, and Marie and her father went for their ice cream. Father was still shaking, and when Marie asked him what was wrong, he told her it was nothing. She knew enough to know he was lying.
That night she overheard her father telling her mother what had happened that day, and her mother was frantic. She heard her father call the stranger by name: "How could I have let our daughter go off with Al Capone like that?!" Marie fell asleep wondering how he could have known the stranger's name if the stranger hadn't even told either one of them what it was…..