In 1927, Hellen Hell-Fire and the Amazon Army march through the coal fields of southeast Kansas. Six thousand women chase the bosses and the strike-breakers over the fields and through the hollows of Crawford County, in the first all-woman labor uprising in America. On the run from Federal troops, Hellen escapes to the west.
In 1967, Marcus Distelfink finds his Oma Hellen living alone in her farmhouse, just south of Loretta Corner in Kingman County, Kansas. She takes him in and helps him make a new life with a new name, and vows to aid him in finding the fate of his parents.
Soon, it becomes clear that he’s going to have to strike out on his own. He moves away to get a job and go to college.
In 1970, he and a friend make a run to Washington, D.C. over Winter Break. In the city, almost deserted in January in the snow, he and his friend go to the Lincoln Memorial and sit on the steps at rush hour.
“As the sun left for the day, a lovely, cold, blue-white light suffused the new dusk. Somehow, their being risen on even the modest height of the Memorial seemed to diminish the hum of traffic. He watched the red strings of taillights snake around the traffic circles almost noiselessly, marking the passage of the departing government snarfs into Virginia.
Marcus was enchanted. A phrase he’d heard somewhere, ‘the capital of the world,’ floated up, lodged. Why, he thought, should anything less than this be enough? He could do this, big time. He could do this.”
Two young women come up the steps and introduce themselves, and Marcus meets Lissa Klein. He tells her that he and his friend have to leave that day and go back to Kansas, but asks for her number.
They begin a six-month courtship by long distance, as Marcus works frantically to finish school, put together traveling money, and get something to drive.
Thus begins what both believe is the great and final love of both their lives. They move in together, Marcus finds employment with a wild man selling cheap rugs, and they begin to build something special and unique.
He settles into a life of going to college full time and working seven days a week. When and as he can, he hunts for clues to the secret of his parents’ disappearance and his own kidnapping in the stacks at the Library of Congress. Every night he returns to his Lissa, to their island of sanity and purpose in the sad and dejected sea of Suitland Manor.
He and Lissa are ready to take their impressive savings and finally cash their normal-people checks, but both still have secrets to tell. They decide to reveal all to each other all on Valentine’s Day, 1971. Lissa sets up a reunion and dinner with her estranged parents, at their home in West Virginia, to announce their engagement.