Chapter 1 Eva Conner polished the nesbit on a napkin and stuck it in her mouth.

She hated the thing, but it plugged the gap made by a missing incisor and allowed her to smile. Most of all she hated it because it reminded her of the hideous car accident three years before that caused her to lose the tooth and left her body shattered and scared. The accident was the topper to her divorce from the rat husband who walked out and left her with a dose of clap. Fearful she’d swallow the damned thing, she wore it only at work, but fearful always it would pop out into a customer’s scrambled eggs and compromise her tip. A dentist told her nothing could be done until some more teeth were removed to anchor a bridge, which she vowed to get once she saved enough cash. But, she did have fun with it some times, especially with her ten-year-old sister, Maddy, who was fascinated by the false tooth. Eva might swing up and down with her tongue like a tiny door, or lay it on her lower lip and cross her eyes. Either way, she’d reduce Maddy to repetitious squeals. It was six in the morning, and she was at Gus’s

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Taverna where she worked. Glancing at the window she saw ice had formed on the glass from kitchen vapor, catching car lights in a kaleidoscope. The ice didn’t surprise her. From experience she knew twelve below zero in Chicago was colder than twelve below zero anywhere else she’d lived, especially in February. With her thumbnail she scraped away enough rime to see outside. Bloated clouds hovered, cars chugged along Halsted Street, and steam rising from grates in the sidewalk changed into wavy wraiths. “Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone,” she muttered. She came to work at five to help George Chu prep for breakfast and listen to his complaints and tales of woe in Chinese and accented English. Short and chubby, in a crisp chef’s coat and toque, he ruled the kitchen. Eva thought he looked like an Asian Chef Boyardee and respected his domain; even Gus entered cautiously. But, George liked to laugh a lot, and Eva delighted in that. She returned to filling salt and pepper shakers, her last chore of the morning. Her first task as soon as she arrived was to start two 50-cup coffee urns, followed by filling endless tiny glass jugs with cream, one plop at a time from a dispenser. Then came butter chips, little

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saucers a tad larger than silver dollars, on which a pat of butter was placed, and endless like the creamers. She plated dozens of sweet rolls and placed them in the pie case where they remained until pie replaced them before lunch. From blocks of ice she chipped hunks to fill the ice chest, and then rolled over a hundred service sets in paper napkins, storing them on trays under the counter. By the time she got the restaurant ready for business, she felt ready for a nap. Gus’s Taverna restaurant was near the Illinois Central Railroad yard, but it was not the typical greasy spoon found in industrial neighborhoods. Considered an institution on Halsted Street, it was a haven for lovers of Greek cuisine as one sniff upon opening the door revealed. Bouquets of herbs and spices used in Greek cooking drifted over patrons along with the odor of anise from ouzo. If anyone doubted they were entering a Greek place, a picture of a line of male dancers in full Thracian Foustanella greeted patrons. For Eva it was a blast working there. The people were great, and the patrons fascinating. In Chicago’s Greek town it was hard to get a job if you weren’t Greek, so she was grateful. She got the job because of Gus’s niece, Foula,

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whom she met in a cafeteria on Clark Street one Friday night. They hit it off right away, and when Eva mentioned she was looking for a waitress job, Foula told her to show up at Gus’s Monday morning. She’d been there almost a year. It was mindless work, but it numbed her so she didn’t have to think. Foula also worked breakfast and was hostess for the dinner turn. They had fun together, and Eva never felt like an outsider because Foula was part of Gus’s family; Gus yelled at them both to get busy, keep busy, and stop talking so much. Eva was topping up the salt when she saw him. “Soko’s here. She filled a cup with coffee, placed a creamer on the saucer, grabbed a service, and took them to the counter, placing them in front of the last stool from the door. “Kalimera, Soko,” Foula called as he entered. Smiling, he nodded his head slightly. “Kalimera sas,” he answered in a soft high-pitched voice, and went to his seat. Soko dumped the cream into the coffee, stirred, and sipped, and then winked at Eva. “You’re right on time,” Eva said as she placed a glass of orange juice beside his coffee.

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“Nai,” the old man said. “Efcharisto.” Yes, thank you. Eva smiled. “Parakalo,” she answered. You’re welcome. “Hey, you’re getting pretty good with the language, Eva,” Foula said. “You’ll be speaking like a Greek in no time.” “You mean a lot of time.” Eva answered and they both laughed. Soko was short for Sokrotes, just like the hemlocksipping philosopher, and from the way he looked, he might have known the ancient sage: his furrowed face looked like a raisin. Under a Greek sailor’s cap he crammed a mass of snowy hair, complementing a huge mustache dyed deep yellow by cigarette smoke from his ample nose. On cold days he bundled in a parka that looked like it belonged on the Iditarod trail. Soko spoke very little English. Local yayas said Soko had sponsored Gus when he came over from Greece in 1919, and his reward for the sponsorship, evidently, was free meals because Soko never paid. “Up!” George shouted and lobbed a plate on the order counter. Eva took it to Soko, who smiled again, winked and began eating: two scrambled eggs folded over a generous slab of feta cheese, three strips of bacon and two pieces of wheat toast, no butter, a little jelly. When he reached

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for a piece of toast, Eva watched his hands: small, delicate and perfectly manicured. It fascinated her that a man his age would care for his hands. The door opened and Gus, along with a rush of cold air, dashed in and flung his coat at the rack, missing it by several feet. “Did you hear?” he shouted and ran over to Soko. “Hear what?” Foula asked. “’Bout last night. Big, big murder, on Clark. Bunch of gangsters shot. I think seven guys, maybe eight, shot with machine guns.” He translated for Soko who looked puzzled.

His brown eyes wide open and sparkling like a kid who’d won a prize, his face was smeared with an immense, yellowtoothed grin. He fired a few more sentences to Soko, and then continued in English. “They say dead guys Bugs Moran boys. They say Capone did it.” Tall, broad-shouldered and

bald, at sixty-five Gus’s face resembled a school boy’s, smooth and tight, except for laugh lines at his mouth. “They’ll find it hard to prove Capone did it,” Eva said, putting Gus’s grey tweed overcoat on a hook. “He owns this town and every crooked official in it. And they’re all crooked. How’d you find out?” “I run into Frank, the cop. You know, he come for lunch

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sometime. He say they find these guys this morning in garage on Clark St. Some cartridge company.” “Cartridge company?” Eva said. “Ne. Cartridge. What wrong?” “You might mean cartage. Cartridges are bullets. Did they make bullets there?” “No, they shoot bullets, not make,” Gus laughed and looked around to see if anyone else got the joke. “How the hell I know? “Cartage.” “Cartage. I don’t know word. Frank say one guy live, a Jew, Gusenberg. But he die at hospital, Frank say.” Gus Cartridge or, what you say?”

paused and looked at everyone, including George peeking through the kitchen doors. “So, let’s get ready breakfast. I think we have lots a customers today, maybe,” Gus shouted. He turned to Soko and spoke rapidly, performing his words with hand gestures, facial expressions, and dancing. Soko bobbed his head like he understood, but he continued to eat. A man and a woman came in, followed by a tall, husky fellow carrying a large leather duffle bag. Eva looked at the two men, both wearing black Kromer hats, earflaps

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down, heavy denim jumper coats, bib overalls with grey sweatshirts, and red bandanas snuggled around their necks, and knew they were railroaders. Notwithstanding the attire, their faces, stained black with coal soot, pinpointed their occupation. The woman wore a stocking cap pulled down and a scarf wrapped around her mouth. All Eva could see were her eyes as she watched the couple sit at a table by the window and shiver enough to sweat. Tall-and-husky mounted a stool at the counter and placed his duffle on the floor next to him. Eva carried coffee and cups to the table. “Looks like you need this,” she said as she filled their cups and placed a service by each. With a trembling laugh, the woman held the cup close to her chest as if it would keep her from freezing to death. The man grunted and slurped. Laying menus in front of them, she said, “I’ll give you a few minutes.” She noticed Foula had already served coffee to the big fellow, who was smoking and preparing his coffee. Watching, she saw him stir in two teaspoons of sugar, test it by sipping a spoonful, add more sugar, test once more, and then drink. Fussy, aren’t we, Eva thought. Glancing at the couple, she saw that the woman had

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removed her stocking cap and come out from behind her scarf. Her brown hair was bobbed and Eva guessed her to be about twenty-five, and very pretty. Eva touched the scar on her forehead with the back of her hand and clinched her crooked jaws. Sighing, she wondered if the car hadn’t smashed into that abutment, she might look pretty, too. “Can I have some more coffee?” It was Mr. Fussy. She filled his cup and sat a creamer next to it. “Really cold out there,” he said. “Yeah, twelve below I heard.” Up close, Eva noticed

that under the coal soot was a strong face with a square dimpled chin. His light blue eyes made him look kind and gentle, and when he smiled, his eyes smiled, too, and she felt warm. “My name’s Jack,” he said. “Oh, shit.” She blushed. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. It just came out. I apologize.” “It’s okay.” Jack knitted his brows. “It’s just that my ex-husband’s name is Jack, and he was, let’s say, a bad person. I just sort of get sick and wanna puke when I hear it.” Eva frowned and shook her head. “Why am I telling you this?”

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“That’s all right. I won’t tell. But is Oh Shit your first name or last?” Eva looked at him and laughed. “You and I are not going to get along, are we?” Sounding seriousness, he said, “Now, you can’t ever tell. Would you prefer John? That’s my real name.”

“Yeah, well, his real name was John, too. No help. I still get queasy.” Peeking at her over the cup’s rim, Jack sipped coffee. “My name’s Eva.” “Two up.” the orders. George yelled. Eva turned and went to get

Chapter 2

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As Gus predicted, the place filled up by seven, and the dominant topic of conversation was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as dubbed by news jockeys everywhere in the city. Newspapers flew headlines above the fold that bellowed “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” or “Capone Decimates Bugsy Moran’s Gang!” Capone, of course, was at his estate in Palm Island, Florida, sucking a Corona Giganta, saying he never heard of any Bugsy Moran and he’d been home for a month. “They say a hundred people were killed.” “Come on,” someone yelled. “The news said seven guys, including some eye doctor named Schwimmer.” “Who the hell cares how many? Seven gangsters or a

hundred, they’re all one big sack a shit,” said a guy in a soft wool cap. “Yeah, well, it’s a matter of the clean-up after, right?” Someone commented from down the counter. “Less blood with seven.” Everyone laughed. Eva, Foula and Gus ran to keep up with orders while George hurled angry phases in Chinese. Soko had left, but Jack remained. By now he’d shed his coat and Kromer, and ordered some eggs and bacon. He was munching a Danish when Eva bent down to get some service. “Not busy, are you?” he

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said. Laughing, she answered, “Oh, no, we do this for fun. Can’t you see how much fun we’re having? You should see

us when we are busy.” She ran off to a table where three men sat. Jack pulled a watch from the top pocket of his overalls and checked it. “Let’s see,” he muttered, “Seven thirty. If I get up at four this afternoon, I’ll have plenty of time to have a little fun before morning.” Jack glanced at Eva as she wrote orders for the three men and wondered if she’d like to have some fun, too. She wasn’t the prettiest girl he’d ever seen; she was homely in fact. But she was put together nicely: petit and shapely, and she had pretty eyes. Finishing his coffee in a gulp and stubbing out his cigarette, he got up and put on his coat and hat for the three-block walk to the hotel. Eva walked toward him as he started to leave. “Eva.” “Yeah, uh…I can’t say your name. Sorry.” “What time is dinner?” “Dinner?” “Yeah, what time do you start dinner around here? And would you join me?”

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“Join you? Dinner? Here?” She squinted her eyes and looked at him closely. “Eva, if I’m confusing you, or something, I…” She cut him off. “Uh, what’d you say your last name was?” “I didn’t, but it’s Stewart.” “Okay, umm, Mr. Stewart. Dinner here starts at six o’clock. And I’ll be working dinner. I work all the time, every day, and I do not join some strange guy for dinner anywhere.” She stared up at him with small hazel eyes out of which it seemed to him an inch fire shot. Her scar appeared to pulsate. “Should I dress for dinner?” Jack asked. “You should leave me alone.” Jack felt ice in her voice. “Okay.” He touched the bill of his cap and left. Although insulted by his boldness and angry that he thought she was just some kind of chippie, Eva felt flattered. After the car accident, she was positive no guy would ever glance at her again, and few had. “Jack,” she said in an undertone, “Why couldn’t his name be Joe? Anything but Jack.” *

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Jack found his room at the Illinois Hotel, a huge place owned by the Blue Island Railroad. He sat down on the single bed, dropped his duffle bag, and removed his boots and socks first thing. He caught a whiff of his feet. “Oh, my god.” He lit a cigarette. Hanging his coat in the small wardrobe, he went to the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. “Face looks like a jigaboo, and you smell worse than one. You need a shower bad. No wonder Eva didn’t want any part of you.” He returned to the wardrobe where he removed all his clothes and stowed them on the floor. Clean towels were on the bed, so he wrapped himself in one, grabbed his soap, and headed down the hall to the gang shower. Grateful to the hotel for abundant hot water, he took his time washing and letting the water splash over him. Back in his room, he donned a pair of white boxers and lounged on the bed smoking. They’d tied up in Chicago that morning around four o’clock, and although the run from Louisville had been without incident, being a fireman meant he had to work all night keeping water tanks full, stoking the fire, rousing the engineer when they were near a stop, and generally making sure the monster ran without

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incident. When he and the engineer, Stormy Cromer, arrived, the dispatcher told them they were stuck in Chicago for a while. They were on the extra board, and the run back to Louisville had been cancelled, which meant both had to wait for however long it took to be assigned a run back. Could be tomorrow, could be next week. For Jack it was a holiday. At twenty-eight and single he relished the idea of being on the loose in Chicago. Having pulled race boats in the Navy after his stint in the army, he was in amazing physical shape. He’d wanted to make the Navy his career, and he worked hard aboard his ship, the U.S.S. Arizona, to make first-class gunner’s mate. For kicks he joined the ship’s race boat team with its rigorous training and weekly completion against teams from other ships, resulting in his developing the physique of a world-class body builder. He loved the Navy. It cared for him, giving food, clothes and shelter while taking him all over the world. He spent a year in Hawaii, eating, drinking, and copulating. Best of all he didn’t have to think; the Navy told him what to think, how to think, and when to stop. All he had to do was obey: “Aye, aye, sir.” And life was

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sweet. But a Navy career was not to be for Jack. His father’s unexpected death in 1927, forced the Navy to discharge him as the only surviving son of his family. Added to the heartache of his father’s death was his feeling abandoned by the Navy. Deeply depressed, he confessed to his sisters that he was scared, that he didn’t know where to go, what to do, and, worst of all, he didn’t know how to do anything, except take orders, swim and pull a race boat. Susan, his oldest sister, dated a guy who worked for the L&N Railroad, and told him about her brother. He suggested Jack apply and that he would put in a good word. Jack was hired, and thus began his career as a fireman. “So I’m stuck in the good ol’ Windy City for a few days. Gee, what a shame. Look out Chicago, Jack Stewart’s on the prowl.” He belly laughed and clapped Stormy on the back. “Sure as hell glad I’m as old as I am,” Stormy said as he watched Jack hop around like a kid. “I’m goin’ to bed.” Knowing he had to have energy to prowl, Jack wanted sleep, too. He looked at the clock as he set it for four that afternoon and saw it was 8:20, and figured by four he’d have eight hours.

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“More’n enough time to raise hell from one end of the city to another,” he mumbled as he flipped out the lamp and snuggled down into the covers. As he drifted off he thought of Eva and smiled. “How I’d love a bite of her, even if I don’t know why.” It was his last thought as sleep swallowed him whole.

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Chapter 3 When the alarm rang, he slapped it off, rolled out, and lit a cigarette. He shaved, splash on bay rum, scrubbed his teeth, and swished Listerine around in his mouth until his eyes watered and his tongue felt three times its size. “No Pathetic Edna here,” he said after he spit. Combing his hair, he caught sight of himself in the mirror, straightened up, posed and smiled. “You know, Jack, in the right light you look a lot like Gary Cooper, except you’re better lookin’.” He laughed as he pulled his clothes from his sea bag: blue and white pinstriped trousers and a white shirt, both of which were without the wrinkles. “The sea-bag press,” he quipped. “Let’s see, I’ll have to wear the work jumper, but I got earmuffs so I won’t have to muss my hair.” He checked his wallet. “Twenty bucks. I’m good to go all night.” As he descended the stairs, he stuffed the wallet in his hip pocket. “Okay. To Gus’s Taverna for dinner with Eva.” He started whistling Bay Rum Blues as he started out the door. “Mr. Stewart.” It was the bellhop. “Telephone, sir.” Jack knew it was the railroad. “Stewart, speaking. Okay. Five in the morning. North yard. Okay.” He checked his watch as he went out the door,

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and it showed 5:30. “Damn,” he muttered. “Cuts down on my fun time.” The cold bit him like an evil bee. He put on the earmuffs, stuck his hands in his pockets, and headed down Halsted. While he walked he thought about Eva and why he was so enchanted with her. She was pretty in a homely sort of way, but no raving beauty like other women he had dated. Nothing like delicious Sarah, or Judy who turned him on with her smile. It wasn’t looks for Eva, he concluded. He crossed the street and was surprised at how deserted it was: few cars and no people. No one but a dope would come out on a night like this, he thought. Or some guy looking for a girl. His returned to Eva as he paused and lit a cigarette. Her frizzy hair needed combing, her nose was kind of hooked, she had no lips—Jesus, he mused, and it might be like kissing a skeleton, for cryin’ out loud. Mumbling, he said, “She is built, though. Big knockers, a round, packed ass. But what the hell, naked and turned up, they all look pretty much the same.” He remembered her eyes: small brown-hazel eyes that shot fire when he asked her to have supper with him. He took another drag and flipped the cigarette into the street. “That’s it,” he

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said, “She brushed me off. Girls don’t brush me off. I brush them off.” He stopped walking and stood in the middle of the sidewalk pondering how bizarre his infatuation was. “It’s like she told me to get lost. No woman has ever told me to get lost.” Then a notion came to him. “Could she be . . . what did we call them? Muff divers? Girls who liked girls? Like fags? Well, we’ll find out. She can’t resist me forever, if she’s normal.” Picking up his pace, he trudged on to the restaurant. * At two in the afternoon, Foula checked out to go home and get ready for the dinner shift. Being Friday, the day after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, there could be a large crowd even with the bitter cold. Gus loved big nights because of the money that came in and because all his buddies and neighbors came in to drink a little ouzo and dance a few syrtos. People brought in lyras, lutes, bouzoukis, and defis or tambourines and danced until they dropped. Pete, a young man who lived around the corner, came in to help George. Pete’s mother and Gus were friends, and gossipers said that she and Gus were lovers once and that

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Pete was his son. No one knew for sure, but Eva noticed Gus treated Pete differently: less yelling, smiles and pats on the back, time off mostly whenever Pete wanted, and easier jobs like carving out steaks and chops, something almost anyone could do while listening to the radio, something Pete did all the time. Rounding out the evening crew was Anna, the short order cook, a fat girl of maybe eighteen who held a lighted cigarette in her mouth most of the time, so ashes flavored her burgers, hash browns and fried onions. At five the door opened, and in walked Jack. “Eva.” he said, flashing a big smile. She stopped and stared at him. As he shed his jumper and hung it on the rack, she saw he had cleaned up rather well. His black wavy hair shimmered in the overhead light, his outfit coordinated, and his wingtips gleamed like mirrors. And he had shaved. She thought he is beautiful, but he was still a man. “Dinner?” she asked without smiling. “Yeah, dinner. Whachya got?”

Eva decided to give him a cold shoulder. She wanted no men in her life. “Sit where you like.” He chose a table near the center of the restaurant. She brought him a menu and service, laid out a beautifully

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quilted placemat in the blue and white colors of the flag of Greece, poured him a glass of water, and lit the candle floating in a snifter-shaped bowl of blue tinted water. “Dinner usually starts at six, that’s why our hostess is not here. I’ll take your order when you’re ready.” She avoided looking at him but caught a whiff of his bay rum shaving lotion, which could cause her to lose control under different circumstances. “Did you say something?” he asked. “Yes. I’ll be back to take your order.” She hit the swinging doors hard as she went into the kitchen. While they rolled service at a table nearby, two young night waitresses, Dena and Priscilla, watched and listened. They giggled when Eva left. Turning to them and smiling, Jack said, “Is she always like this?” “No,” Dena said. “I hear she’s had a rough time. A divorce, I think.” “Has she taken a dinner break?” “I don’t think so,” Priscilla said. “She sometimes grabs stuff from the kitchen and doesn’t take a real break.”

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In the kitchen Eva lit a cigarette, taking long, deep drags. “It is not going to happen,” she said aloud. “What’s not happening, Eva?” It was Pete, who was shredding lettuce. “Nothing.” She stubbed her unfinished cigarette in the ashtray by the door and went out. Pulling her order book and pencil from her apron, she walked over to Jack. “So what’ll it be?” She avoided his blue eyes. Jack looked at her and smiled. “Eva, if I’ve upset you…” “You haven’t upset me, Mr. um…” “Stewart.” “Stewart. Mr. Stewart. I am not upset. I am just doing my job. Can I take your order, please?” “Well…” He looked at the menu. “What do you recommend?” Tapping her pencil on the order book, she asked, “Do you like Greek food?” “Not really. I’m just a meat and potatoes man. Got any of that?” “We serve a very nice T-bone. Potatoes most any way you like them, buttered carrots with a little fresh

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ginger, peas with pearl onions, and spinach with a hint of nutmeg. We also have salads that are not Greek.” She was antsy to get the order and get back to the kitchen. She needed another smoke. She needed a cup of Greek coffee. She needed the night off. “Sounds good. Make the steak well done, please. Don’t like it to moo at me when I cut it.” He waited for a laugh, but getting none, he folded the menu and laid it carefully in front of her. Sipping water, he watched her. “Okay. Choice of potato?” “Mashed, please.” “And vegetable? Salad? Dressing?” “Uh, carrots with butter and ginger, peas with pearl onions, and what was that last one?” “Spinach.” “Spinach. Yes, and Italian dressing on my American salad.” “Drink?” “Water will do, thanks.” She scooped up the menu and headed to the kitchen. “Oh, Eva?” “Yes?” She did not turn. “Are you going to eat dinner?”

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“I’ve already eaten.” “No, you haven’t. Those two nice girls over there told me you hadn’t.” Eva heard Dena and Priscilla giggle. “I’m not hungry, Mr. Stewart. Now, if you’ll allow me, I’ll send in your order.” She disappeared into the kitchen.

Jack lit a cigarette and glanced at the girls who continued giggling. “Is she always this friendly?” Dena said, “I don’t know much about her. She seems nice enough uh…” “Jack. My name’s Jack.” “Okay, Jack. Go easy on her. She’s usually pretty nice, but she don’t dig men. I mean, I don’t think she’s funny, you know, like some…I don’t know, what?” She turned to Priscilla. “Lesbian?” “Yeah, one of those. I think she’s just…” Eva clomped out of the kitchen with a salad and placed it in front of Jack, and then went over to where Dena and Priscilla were sitting. In a low voice that hummed menacingly, she spoke to the girls, and from their faces, Jack knew she was giving them positive hell. He heard both

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Dena and Priscilla apologize. Eva turned and went back to the kitchen, leaving the doors flapping behind her. “Sorry,” Jack said. “Didn’t mean to get you in trouble.” “She’ll get over it,” Priscilla said. They got up, stacked the rolled services on two trays and took them to the kitchen. Jack poured some dressing on his salad, tossed it and began to eat slowly while watching for Eva to emerge. The door opened and Foula came in. “Hey, you were here earlier, weren’t you?” She shed her coat and placed it with her purse on the counter. “Yeah, for breakfast.” He noticed she was quite attractive, dressed in a green, spotted off-the-rack imitation of a current frock, complete with a matching cloche hat, that she pulled off, releasing cascades of black hair. Her face was beautiful: large dark eyes, lots of lashes, cute turned-up nose and full lips. Eva came with his dinner and placed it in front of him, took the empty salad bowl, refilled his water glass. “Anything else?” she asked in an emotionless, flat voice.

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“Yes, but I don’t think I’m going to get it.” “And that would be?” Eva glanced at Foula, who gathered her things and walked toward the kitchen. “Would you dine with me, Eva? I’m really not a lecher or rapist or . . . even a jazz musician, and you know how bad those guys can be. I’m just a young fella from outta town who’d like to have dinner with a pretty girl. You haven’t eaten, no one else is here, and those two cute girls can take over for you, so how’s about it? A little

dinner, a little talk, a little laughter, maybe, and I’m gone with a song in my heart and a smile on my face. What do you say?” He leaned back in his chair. Eva looked at him and started laughing. “Do you know who Lothario is?” “No. Can’t say I do.” “Character in a play, a slick-talking, skirt-chasing character. Now why would I think of him when I’m looking at you?” Appearing perplexed, Jack said, “I’m not sure.” “Okay, Mr. Stewart, I will join you.” She laughed again, this time with a tinge of disdain. “But just dinner and light, and I mean very light, conversation. Is that

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acceptable?” “Posi-lootly.” He grinned. “Absolutely, positively. Promise. Nothing heavy. Promise. Scout’s honor. Cross my heart and hope to die.” “Settle down. You’d better eat before your food gets cold. I’ll be right out.” She turned and went into the kitchen. As she cleared the door Pete smiled at her and winked, while George cackled like demented chicken. Even Anna glanced up, and Eva swore she saw a grin on her pudgy face. “Don’t start, you guys. I’m not in the mood. I might do a few ass whippings if you don’t stop.” Pointing at Dena and Priscilla, she said, “Don’t pretend you’re innocent. You’re first on my hit list.” “Awful handsome guy. Aren’t you just a bit flattered that he’d come back to see you?” Priscilla said. “Do you see this fist?” Eva took a step toward her. “Eva. Come on. I wouldn’t hesitate. Gimme a chance at someone that pretty, and it’d be all over.” Growling, Eva grabbed a bowl and ladled in some vegetable soup, got a spoon and a handful of crackers, and

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left. Anna lit a cigarette, but the others almost collapsed from silent laughter. As she exited she heard George say something in Chinese that she didn’t like, even though she didn’t understand it. Maybe his ribald laugh punctuated it. What made her furious was that Priscilla was right: she was flattered by Jack’s attention.

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Chapter 4 Before she sat down, Eva noticed through the window that streetlights and car lights were on, and a mist had clotted into a fog, creating a dank pall. Jack stood as she sat. “Soup?” “It’s all I want. I don’t eat much. After serving food all day, my appetite’s not too great.” “Well…looks like good soup.” Eva crunched crackers into the soup and stirred briefly. She took a small bite, chewed slowly, and studied Jack who had returned to his meal. “How’s the food?” “Very good. Steak is perfect. Peas and pearl onions are always nice, and I do like what you do with the carrots. Very tasty.” “And the salad? Spinach? Rolls? Butter? Sugar? Water?” She took another spoonful, then placed the spoon’s tip in the bowl and appeared to lean on it as she chewed and watched Jack. “Everything is perfect.” She noticed he ate slowly, laying his fork down after each bite and chewing methodically.

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Swallowing, he said, “Now, of course, everything is even better since you joined me.” He smiled and looked into her eyes. “A wonderful meal and a lovely woman to share it with. What more could a man ask?” She started to laugh softly. “Boy, you…are something. You are really something.” He turned his head and looked sideways at her. “I don’t understand.” “Oh, come on. I admit I’m from the country, but I’ve been here awhile.” She examined him for almost a full minute, then placed her spoon on the table, crossed her arms, and leaned back against her chair. “I guess guys just can’t help it,” she said. “You gotta have a line, but can’t it be original? God. I heard that same bullcrap from my ex the first time we went out. And look what happened.” “What happened?” “None of your business.” Her eyes shot fire again, and she had stopped laughing. “Look, uh…do you have a middle name because Mr. Stewart is just not working.” He frowned. “Yeah, it’s Charles.” “Can I call you Charlie?”

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“No. I hate Charlie. Sounds pathetic. Call me Stew if you can’t say Jack or John. Guys in the Navy called me Stew.” “Stew. Okay, Stew, I’m really immune to all the lines you guys put out. I’m not easy anymore like I was once. The four-flusher whose name I can’t say caught me young and stupid, and I was impressed with his lines, and I married him. A few months into wedded bliss, he went to New York on business, found one of his old girl friends to keep him company, and brought me a dose of clap. He made out like I was the one who infected him. Accused me of running around while he was gone. Then he left. Just like that.” She snapped her fingers. “And I suffered with the clap for months, and guess what it did, Stew?” She spit out his name. Attention focused, all Jack could do was shake his head. “Left me sterile, Stew. I can’t have kids, Stew, because I fell for his low down lousy line.” She stared hard at him for a moment, and the only sound in the room was the soft swishing of cars along Halsted. “Any guy I get around now who comes at me with a load of crap like you just dished out, is dead on arrival.” She dabbed the

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tears running down her cheeks with her napkin. Placing her fingertips on her brow, she bent her head and closed her eyes. Jack, breathing a little hard, lit a cigarette and watched her. When she raised her head, she looked out the window. “I’m a mess.” She sighed. Without looking at Jack, she added, “I apologize for my outburst. You had nothing to do with it, except you’re apparently just a run-of-themill lothario, full of crap. What is it with guys named… Excuse me.” kitchen. Jack stared at his half-eaten dinner as if it had answers to what had happened. Never had he been the target of so much anger from anyone, especially a woman. A few women had been pissed at him over the years, and one or two had slapped him hard, but they never exploded like this. He became aware of burning pain and beat out the cigarette butt that was merrily roasting his fingers. Shoving the dishes away, he considered leaving and heading to Clark Street where he might find a girl who was horny but not mad at the world. He stood up to go when he heard the tinkle of a cup against a saucer and smelled coffee next to him. “Cream?” Eva said, smiling. She picked up her bowl and went into the

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“Uh, yeah.” She placed a carafe on the table, brought a small metal pitcher from the counter and poured cream in the coffee. “Say when.” “When.” She sat down as she pushed the sugar bowl over to him. “I am really sorry, Stew. I guess all my hatred for my ex just tumbled out. I’m really sorry. You didn’t deserve that, even though you were handing me a line.” “What line? What line, Eva? I don’t…I don’t say lines, or whatever it is guys do with lines.” “Yeah, you do. Men drop lines on women all the time. It’s a man’s nature. Don’t be ashamed. Just admit it and move on. It’s a woman’s responsibility to beware, okay?” She smiled. “In fact you’re handing me a line right now by pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about.” “No, no, no, no. Just hold it a second. I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. Explain to me, please, what I did, or said, so I won’t do it again. Jesus God, I don’t think I can take something like that again.” They fell silent and looked at each other. Suddenly, Eva flipped her tooth and laid it on her lower lip and crossed her eyes. Jack flinched and stared at her.

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“What the hell is that?” “It’s my witch’s tooth,” she said, her eyes still crossed. “Didn’t know I’s a witch, didja, now?” She cackled. “Gonna cast me a spell on ya, and turn ya into a toad.” By now Jack was laughing. “Will you please get serious and tell me what you’re doing? Is that a fake tooth?”

She took it out and held it up and examined it. “Naw. Tain’t fake, Mister. Can’t you do that with your tooth?” She cackled like a witch again. “It’s called a flipper. A nesbit, technically. It’s temporary until I can get a bridge, which is expensive as hell. I’m saving up.” “I’ve never seen anything like it. How come you gotta flipper? Is that what you called it?”

“Right, a flipper.” She paused a moment and put the tooth back in her mouth. “Three years ago I was in a car accident. I was working at another restaurant closer to the Loop, and this boy, Gerald, worked there too and gave me rides in his car. In December just before Christmas we had an ice storm, and as he drove to work, he lost control and hit a train abutment.” She looked down at the table, then back to Jack. “Gerald was killed and I was broken like some porcelain doll. My jaws were broken in three

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places. They were wired shut for almost six months. Ever eat three meals a day through straws? Let me tell you,

you lose a lot of weight. I also had a broken arm and wrist.” She showed him her right wrist that was out of

alignment. “And my head laid open.” She pointed to the scar on her forehead. “As for my teeth, they were all loosened, and I lost the one in front.” “Well, Eva, I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. Was that before you and your husband split up?” “No, it was after. If I’d still been married to him, he would have let me die.” She looked at him and smiled. He was genuinely interested. His eyes combined a look of disbelief and compassion, and she found that comforting. She continued, “All right. So, you’re the first man I’ve ever met who didn’t lay a line on me. I don’t believe you, but how about we just start over? ‘Kay?” She extended her hand across the table. “Hi. How’s that food?” They both laughed, a little too loudly because the tension was over, and Jack took her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Ma’am. My name is Jack…I mean, Stew. And the food’s great” They laughed again. He sipped some coffee and leaned back, studying her face for awhile, a lovely face that he

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could see looked fifty years old for all the pain that was evident there. He felt sorry for her. How could anyone so young have experienced the kind of pain and sadness she obviously had endured? “Eva.” He leaned forward, “maybe we should just forget it. I mean, even my name pisses you off, and I’m not sure I want to change my name. And, God forbid, I say or do something else that sends you off. Maybe accept this as a bad experience, and just…” He paused and stared at her. “Not going to give a girl another chance?” Silence. “Got a smoke?” He looked up and saw her flipping her tooth. “Now cut that out.” He laughed. She took the cigarette he offered and lit it from the floating candle. She took a deep drag and let the smoke out slowly. “Where you from, Stew?” He squinted at her. “Tennessee.” “I knew you were from the South.” “The way I talk?” “Yeah. And your manners. You at least can act like a gentleman, even if you’re not one.” She took another puff and looked at him again. “Are we back to lines, again? Because, if we are, I…“

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“We’re not. Relax.” She took another puff and stubbed out the smoke. “Sorry. It’s a curse, this smart mouth of mine.” “Are you always this way, Eva? Are you always so…how can I say it without upsetting you…sour?” “I can be sweet sometimes, like now. Can we just talk?” She looked at him a moment. “You’re from Tennessee? What part? Light talk, Stew, light talk.” He scratched his head, leaned back and sighed. “Lebanon. Lebanon, Tennessee. Small town near Nashville. Country town.” “I’ve heard of it. I’m from a small town, too, in central Illinois. Lawrenceville. Ever hear of it?” “Can’t say that I have.” He thought a moment. “Listen, Eva, can we go somewhere else? Maybe a speak, or something? I maybe could use a drink, and I don’t drink.” She looked at him and wondered what to do. Could she trust him any farther than she could throw him. He was cute as hell, she decided, but aside from the bullshit, he seemed harmless. “I’ll get my coat.” She went into the kitchen and returned with her coat. “You know a place?” she asked.

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“Yeah, matter of fact I do. On Clark Street. It’s a bookstore. I know the shopkeeper.” “Good.” She handed him her dark blue coat. “I like to read.” He began to laugh. “What’s so funny?” “Nothing. Never mind. I like to read, too.” He kept on chuckling while helping her into her coat. “Don’t you want to change into something more comfortable?” he asked. “My God, you are a babe in the woods. That’s my line.” “What’s your line?” “Getting into something more comfortable.” He looked puzzled. “The woman takes the man home, okay? She says to make himself at home while she slips into something more comfortable. Is a light coming on?” He still looked puzzled. “You are an accomplished bullshitter. I see that more clearly, now.” By then he was laughing aloud. “I was in the Navy, Eva.” “Oh, Jesus, a sailor. Maybe I just better stay here.” She pulled out a knitted blue scarf and wound it around her neck before buttoning her coat to her chin. After

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settling a stocking cap onto her head and thrusting her hands into her pockets, she smiled. “I think I’ll regret this. Ready?” Continuing to laugh, he got his coat. “Sorry, but this work jumper is all I have. It may smell a little like coal soot.” “It smells a lot like coal soot. But that’s okay. You’re a workingman. Besides, I can keep track of you by scent. Get it? Track? Smell? Never mind, Stew, just drift back to sleep.” He opened the door and motioned her out ahead of him. “Talk about me being something. Lady, you wrote the book.” “I do not know what you’re blathering about, Sir.” When he closed the door, the kitchen crew released guffaws of laughter that brought Gus out of the back room. “What the hell’s going on?”

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Chapter 5 Jack hailed a Checker from the taxi post near the EL. “You know what we’re doing is illegal, don’t you?” Eva said as she snuggled into the rich upholstery of the cab. “Your point?” Jack slammed the door shut. “Where to?” the driver asked. “Book Store on Clark.” The cabby dropped the car in gear and took off while Jack slid closer to Eva. “Yeah, it’s illegal to drink, but we’ll be joining several hundred law breakers tonight.” Eva laughed and looked out the window. “The more the merrier, huh?” They rode in silence for a few blocks before Eva asked where they were going. “The Book Store. I was in Chicago a lot when I was in the Navy and found a few speaks. I know I can get us into this one.” “A silent pig. Okay.” Eva shot him a glance. “How do you know about silent pigs?” “I read a lot.” Jack grinned and shook his head. “It’s a sad little bookstore that from the outside looks like a place people put together to get outta the rain. It has old books on

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rickety shelves made from scrap and painted brown.” “Sounds absolutely charming. A place any girl would like to go.” “Right. You’ll love the lighting. One sixty-watt bulb. Naked.” “I can hardly wait.” “It’s called Jane’s Bookstore.” “Does it fool anyone?” “Not a soul.” When the cab dropped them off, Eva looked at the place and guffawed. The Book Store looked like a condemned building, unfit for any kind of habitation including cockroaches. But she was impressed when Jack pushed a bookcase and ushered her into a dust-laden corridor with one door opposite the bookcase. “Oh, my, I’m as excited as Marie Antoinette was in 1793.” “Who?” Jack looked at her and frowned. “Never mind. Friend of mine from Frenchtown on the West Side.” “Oh.” Eva rolled her eyes and smiled as Jack knocked on the door. Cold grey eyes filled the small, square peephole and

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said, “Yeah?” in a voice like crunching gravel. Jack gave a password that the eyes rejected with, “Beat it. We ain’t used that one for over a year.” Eva was not impressed. “Maybe we should just go and look at some books.” Her voice quivered. Jack laughed at her. “You know you’re a funny girl? You make me laugh.” He tried to kiss her cheek, but she turned away. “Don’t worry. I know the guy who runs the place.” He knocked again, and the peephole opened. The eyes glared at Jack. “You maybe want I should come out there and beat the living shit out of you in front of your lady?” Jack smiled, but his eyes turned dark. “That sounds like a few seconds of fun for me but not for you. I’m Jack Stewart, and Marty’s my friend.” The eyes studied Jack closely, and they heard a snicker. “Don’t go away.” “You know, the night air, even if it is cold, is very good for you.” “Relax.” The little door opened, and the eyes regarded Jack with contempt. “Marty says okay. Hey, I’d love to spend those Eva said, laughing.

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few seconds with you, but Marty might not want his friend bleeding so much. “ “Don’t despair. There might be time. Have patience,” Jack said grinning, his eyes no longer dark. The peephole slid shut, the lock clicked, and the big door opened. Jack took Eva’s arm and walked inside. Standing behind the door, they saw a large, round young man, no more than twenty, smirking at them. With a shaved head, solid jowls and lumpy nose, he reminded Jack of Babe Hardy. Jack smirked back, but Eva giggled and turned white. He was a kid, Jack realized, about his size and height, but where Jack was all muscle, the kid was soft and jiggly, so Jack knew he couldn’t be very fast. Eva was scared of them both. Jack dropped Eva’s arm for a moment and lit a cigarette, blowing the first puff just to the right of the kid’s face. “Where’s Marty?” “In the back room. What’d you say your name was?” The kid closed the door and locked it. “I didn’t say but it’s Jack. Jack Stewart. Why?” “Just wanted to know for any future business we might have.” Jack smiled, took Eva’s arm and walked away. As they made their way through Jane’s Bookstore, Eva was

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fascinated by its layout. It was a supper club and there was no bar or any other evidence of booze anywhere. Unlike the few high-class restaurants she’d been in, the tables were made of solid wood and covered with cream-colored cloths. Red wall hangings trimmed in gold enclosed the room and gave it a muffled, cozy feeling. Sumptuous red carpet covered the whole place. When she glanced up and saw the mirrored ceiling, she chuckled. It gave the room the illusion of going up forever in the low light of the gold sconces along the walls. “What’s funny?” Jack led her along through the maze of tables. “I was wondering if anyone made love in here.” “What?” He stopped and looked at her. “Never mind. Just ravings from a demented mind.” “I don’t understand.” “I know.” He shook his head and resumed walking. “Stew, are you a railroader by day and a thug by night?” “No. You mean that business at the door? Just dancing. Man dancing. Helps you feel tough in a place like this.” “Yeah, I understand the dance bit because I know men are really stupid, but this place is not just an ordinary

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juice joint. I’ve been to juice joints, and this is truly not one. People are dressed up. The women have jewels. The waiters are in tuxedos, people are actually eating food and I see no drinks.” “Don’t be fooled. There are drinks everywhere.” He pointed to a table where a man and woman were sipping what looked like water from crystal glasses. “That water is probably 80-proof corn water or potato water, if you get my drift. And don’t drink the coffee unless you take a deep breath.” “I get it. What about police?” “Police are paid by the week. In case a required raid comes, see the big plants near the tables? They’re alcoholics.” Eva laughed. “Okay. I’ll remember that.” When they got to the back room, two men sat at a table smoking and talking. One, a chunky dark fellow with a scruffy mustache, was dressed in dark pants and an open blue sport coat over a white shirt and red tie. The other was slender and handsome in a rough way, with deep lines around his mouth and spokes of crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes. His hair was thinning at the sides, narrowing

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into a sharp widow’s peak. He wore a dark suit, white shirt, and yellow paisley tie. “Jack Stewart, you son-of-a-bitch. been?” The slender one yelled. “Hey, Marty, I got a young lady here, so watch your mouth.” Jack was beaming. Marty stood up and they hugged like brothers. “Sorry,” Marty said over Jack’s shoulder, “but Jack never had a dame as classy lookin’ as you with him.” He pushed Jack back but held on to his shoulders. “I didn’t know you was with this bimbo…I mean, nice young man.” “Marty, this is Eva. Met her at a Greek place over on Halsted. Eva, meet Marty. An old and, well, mostly trusted friend.” “Marty,” Eva said. “Pleased to meet you.” “Pleasure’s mine, Eva. Watch this guy, he’s no good, lemme tell ya. Here sit down, Mario was just leaving, wasn’t you, Mario?” “Yeah.” Mario shoved what was left of a cigar in his mouth and walked out. “Mario works for me,” Marty said. “Have a drink, you two. What’ll it be?” Where the fuck you

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“You know I never touch the stuff,” Jack said, “but, Eva? I hear they got good booze here.” “The best,” Marty said. “I’ll have a highball. Make it light. I touch it, but I don’t like it to touch me back.” “Sense of humor,” Marty quipped. “Mack. A highball, light.” A waiter nodded and disappeared. “All the liquor here is Canadian or European, Eva,” Marty said. “You won’t find hooch here, bathtub gin, or filtered antifreeze. It is the very best a lot of money can buy.” “Good to know.” Eva looked out into the large dining area. “I’ve actually only been to a couple of places on Clark, a cafeteria, although I don’t remember exactly where.” She looked at Jack. “It’s where I met Foula. You

know, our hostess.” “Yeah, I remember Foula. Very pretty.” “Anyway, the other place was a speak, a real clip joint. People were there to get drunk, and there was no food. At least I couldn’t see any.” Marty lit a cigarette. “The people who own this place, and I do not know who they are. I swear.” He raised his right hand and smiled. “They have made it clear that this

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is to be as close to legit as we can make it. People come here to eat and drink. And, they got dough because we ain’t cheap. That highball you ordered would be two dollars if you weren’t my guest.” He looked at Eva and grinned. “Two. That’s almost half my week’s pay before tips, which aren’t that great either. Two bucks. I shall sip it slowly and eat all the ice. I’ll even wash the glass, if that’ll help.” Laughing at her, Marty said, “Eva, you’re Marty’s guest. But you can sweep up if you’d want.” “Thanks, host.” Marty turned to Jack. “So, buddy, where the hell have you been?” “Workin’ like a damn slave.” “You can’t even spell work, much less do it.” Marty looked at Eva and winked. “I’m serious. I’ve been workin’ on the railroad outta Louisville about two years now. What do you mean, I don’t work? My middle name is work, Marty Pants.”

Marty stopped smiling and looked hard at Jack. He turned to Eva. “My last name in Panteloni, which means pants or trousers in Italian. I hate to be called Marty

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Pants, and he knows it. He also knows guys who call me that have their noses smeared all over their faces. He also knows he’s the only living puzzone who can get away with it, but only once. Puzzone. That’s Italian for bastard, if you wanna know.” He looked back at Jack and smiled. “Good point, Marty,” Jack said. “Mr. Panteloni, I mean.” Mack brought Eva her highball in a water glass. “So, what do you do with the railroad? Please don’t tell me you drive the trains because I may never ride one again.” Marty lit another cigarette from the one he had just finished, then took a sip of water, which Eva found out later was really water. Marty didn’t drink, either. “I’m a fireman. I make it go. I put fire in its belly and give it steam to make it go. Could I have some coffee, not boozed up coffee, or are you just gonna be impolite?” “Mack, coffee.” Mack disappeared again. “Fireman? Okay. Makin’ good money, no doubt, now that the railroads are back in private hands?” “I don’t know what you mean.” Mack set a mug coffee in front of him. “The railroads, Jack. They were federalized during the

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war, but recently Congress passed a bill that allowed them to run as private companies again.” “Yeah, the Esch-Cummins Act,” Eva said and sipped her drink. “This is very good, Marty.” “Hey, you even got the name of the act right.” Marty said. “Don’t you ever read the newspapers, Jack?” “Sure. The funnies.” Jack sipped a couple of spoons of coffee. “Jesus. I keep up. This whole fuckin’ world…“ Marty looked at Eva and then back to Jack. “I don’t like the word, Marty, but I won’t go to pieces if I hear it,” Eva said. “And you are out with this guy?” He flicked a thumb at Jack. “Hey, you’re askin’ for Marty Pants.” “I told you to watch him.” Marty continued with Eva. “I was serious.” “I will. Don’t you worry, I will.” Returning to Jack, Marty said, “Really, Jack, you should keep up with what’s going on in this world. Things are gettin’ crazy. Anyway, back to the original question, are you making good money?”

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“I don’t know. I guess. Couple a hundred a month, maybe. Seventy-five. What’s good?” “It ain’t two hundred a month. Jesus, Jack. Busting your ass on a stinking steam engine for that? And why the railroad, for Christ’s sake?” “My dad died.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, but what does that have to do with working for a railroad?” “He died in ‘26 while I was still in the Navy. Being the only surviving son, they let me go. I didn’t want to go, but they made me. The railroad was hiring and I needed a job. What else can I tell you?” Marty shook his head and added another link to his cigarette chain. “So, how come you’re here in Chicago?” “Brought a train in early this morning. Gotta wait for a ride back, which’ll be tomorrow morning. I’m on the extra board and layovers are normal.” Marty shook his head. “And I’ll bet you don’t get paid while you’re waiting, do you?” “Nope. But I usually got enough to see me through for a couple a days. Company pays my hotel and food. As long as I come here when I’m in Chicago, I don’t have to spend

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money.” “You’re a bum, Jack. feed.” “So, what should I do, Marty? Rob banks?” “You should come to work for me at a hundred a week. Not a month, a week.” Jack sipped his coffee and looked at Eva who was still enjoying the highball but was also looking at him. “Okay,” Jack said. “What’s the job?” “Bouncer.” “Bouncer?” Jack looked at him, then at Eva with an incredulous look and then laughed. “Bouncer. Get my ass beat up for hundred a week, or pour in some coal for a hundred a month. Get my face bloodied; lips cut open; ribs busted, all for a hundred a week. Marty, I think I choose to stay a poor but healthy fireman.” “That doesn’t happen here, Jack. These people are class. They come here to eat fairly good food. I mean, it ain’t the Chez Paree or anything, but it’s good, and the booze won’t kill them. And they got the money to pay for it.” He paused and grinned at Jack. “Nobody gets bloodied Seriously, you’re making chicken

here, Jack.” “Right. Rich people can be assholes just like the poor

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ones.” “We don’t let them go that far. That’s why we have bouncers. They get out of hand, Joey over there goes to them and asks them to leave. They take a look at Joey, and they leave. Simple.” He lit another cigarette. “Yeah, I met Joey.” Jack glanced toward the front door. “What is he, fourteen?” “Nineteen. He’s young and he has no charm. That’s why I need a slick son-of-a-bitch like you to head things up. Someone who can handle himself with…what’s the word, Eva, I’m looking for?” “Finesse?” “Yeah, that. Finesse. We call it bullshit, and unless you been changed by that railroad, you’re the best bullshitter around.” He turned to Eva. “No offense, Eva, but he had to dump a load to get a doll like you to go out with him.” “Yeah, a big load, but I was just curious. Still am. I’ve had lots of bullshit dumped on me by experts, and even though he’s good, he isn’t an expert, Marty. Just good.” She sipped the last drops of her drink and looked at Jack.

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“Would you do it for $200 a week?” Marty asked without a pause. Jack looked at him, astonished. Eva looked at Marty astonished. Jack found his voice. “How much is that a year?” “Over 10,000,” Eva said quietly, never taking her eyes off Marty. “Less taxes.” “The lady is good at math, too,” Marty said. “Stew, I have to go. I’ve got an early morning, and I’m beat.” Eva stood and buttoned her coat. “What’s with Stew?” Marty frowned and looked at one, then the other. “Oh, she can’t say my name without puking.” Jack smiled at Eva. “Her ex-husband, who apparently was a thoroughgoing rat, was named Jack, too, and when she says it, she wants to hurl. So, I said call me Stew because that’s how I was known in the Navy.” “Beef or chicken?” head and laughed. “What?” Jack asked. Marty asked. Eva threw back her

“Beef stew or chicken stew?” “Up yours, Marty Pants.” “You’re not gonna be pretty with a smeared nose.”

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“Call you later?” “Yeah. But, think about this, Jack: Less than five per cent of people make ten thousand a year. Even less go over that.” He stood and extended his hand to Eva. “Please

come back, Eva, with or without this bum. Just tell whoever’s at the door you know me. Oh, and by the way, I employ women, too, especially smart ones.” Eva looked at him like she’d smelled something horrid and her eyes were cold and hard. “I’m very happy where I am, Marty. I could never fit into a place like this. It’s too high class.” “Well, if you change your mind, you know where I am.” Marty cuffed Jack on the shoulder, and Jack said, “I’ll be in touch.” “Don’t wait too long, buddy.” “I won’t.” Jack took Eva’s arm and they walked to the door. Joey looked at Jack with the kind of malevolence only young, untested kids can produce when they think they’re not only the pearl in the oyster but the oyster, too. Jack smiled, shook his head as Joey opened the door. “Bye,” Joey said. “Bye, Joey. See you later,” Jack said as they cleared

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the doorway.

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Chapter 6 Eva noticed it was warmer when they got outside, and a light snow was falling. She checked her watch. “It’s past nine.” “There’s a cab.” Jack whistled and the taxi made a Uturn, stopping in front of them. “You don’t have to take me home, Stew. Just pay for the cab, and…“ “I have to get to the hotel.” “Okay.” She got in the cab, a fancy Checker complete with side curtains and vases by each back door with roses in them. “Where in the world did you get roses this time of year?” Eva asked the driver. “You gotta know people.” “I guess so.” Jack got in while she gave the driver the address. They rode in silence for a couple of blocks before Jack looked at her and said, “Sorry about all that stuff back there.” “Sorry about what stuff?” “Oh, Marty, and all the stuff about a job. That was completely a surprise.”

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“Don’t worry about me. I enjoyed having a little drink and looking around.” They were silent again as the driver headed west along Randolph Road to Halsted. Eva watched the snow come down, heavier now since the wind picked up. Jack lit a cigarette and looked straight ahead. “So, what do you think I should do?” he asked. She turned and stared at him. “Do about what?” “Taking the job with Marty?” “It’s none of my business, Stew. Do what you want.” “That’s why I’d like to know what you think about it. You’re outside, not involved.” Eva had opinions but they weren’t based entirely on what she had seen and heard at Jane’s Bookstore. She enjoyed a drink occasionally, but she hated what booze did to people. Her ex got her to imbibe, but too much made her sick. That’s why Marty’s place was so interesting to her: an oasis without an emphasis on drinking amidst all the seedy clubs along Clark Street. “Okay,” she said. “Got an extra cigarette?” He produced a metal cigarette case and flipped the lid. She took one, and he lit it for her. “I got some questions before I give you my thoughts on all this.”

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“Shoot.” He turned so he could look at her better. “How old are you, Stew?” “Twenty-eight.” “How old’s Marty?” “I don’t know, maybe 50. Why?” “I’m just curious how you two got together. You’re an unlikely pair to be as close as you seem to be.” Jack laughed, scratched the side of his face, and said, “It’s kind of a long story.” “The short version, please.” “Okay. Actually, Marty’s a lawyer. He saved my ass…uh, rear end. Sorry. He saved my rear end when I was in the Navy. I was stationed on the Arizona, and we’d docked for a week in Honolulu. It was 1921 and Honolulu was wide open.” His smile glowed as he remembered. “Even a choirboy could get into trouble there. “I was twenty and ready for anything. So, me and four other gobs headed downtown looking for…He glanced at Eva who was watching him with a slight smile. “Women. Hey, we’d been out at sea for months and this was the first shore leave we’d had. We were crazy, to say the least.” He laughed at his feeble excuse for joining what the guys called a pussy posse, and he was pretty sure Eva knew

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what he was talking about from the look in her eyes, which he translated as pity. With a muffled, raspy huff, the Checker proceeded, and the snowfall increased. “We were also dry. Navy don’t give a portion of rum like they did in the old days, so we were parched. Booze was easy to get then, just like now, so we had two things to do: get loaded and get…” He glanced at Eva again. “Laid?” “Yeah. Anyway, we made it into town and come upon this shed that reeked the distinct odor of alcohol fermentation, that sweet smell you get when bread’s baking.” He chuckled and stubbed his smoke in the ashtray on the door. “So, you probably already guessed, we broke in. Low and behold, we found pineapple wine bubblin’ away in about fifteen galvanized washtubs. We scraped off the crap floating on top and started gulping down this swill with our hands. Nastiest tastin’ stuff you ever wanted to drink, sort of a cross between rotten pineapple and stomach acid.” Eva frowned, turned her head toward the front of the cab and watched the wipers dredge the snow off the windshield. She took a puff of her cigarette and doused it.

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“Well, by the time we got downtown, we were blind drunk and hurling our guts out. Of course, by then, the booze promoted urine as well. I decided to take a leak right there on the main drag of Honolulu, Hawaii.” As Jack continued, Eva noted that the cabbie had slowed some and was listening. “So, when I begun, the others begun. Picture it, Eva, five American swabbies standing on the street with their, uh…” He paused. “You know what I mean. Just a pissin’ away. “Well, someone called the police, who took a dim view of anyone messing up their beautiful city, and five sailors pissing in the middle of a main street was not attractive. Two squad cars pulled up and eight policemen got out. ‘Hey, boys,’ one of them sang out. ‘Shake ‘em off, pull ‘em in, and put your hands behind your head.’ He was nice. He was even smiling. But we were drunk enough and sick enough to take offense. “We finished and told the cops where they could put their hands, and turned around and walked away. Of course, they came after us.” He turned and looked at Eva, her face shadowed in the pale city light. In a voice laced with pride, he said, “It took all eight of them to put us five on the ground and eventually in jail. I remember, I kicked

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one, and I know to this day that if he didn’t have any kids then, he never had them.” Eva was not smiling. She shook her head slowly and said, “And I bet Marty was there to bail you out.” “Not exactly. All of us, includin’ the cops, were messed up, bloody, cut up, uniforms in shreds. We were all laying on the ground gasping. The crowd we drew was applaudin’ and laughin’ and makin’ comments supportin’ both sides. Then, a paddy wagon roared up, and another small army of cops got out and without ceremony threw us in the back. When we came around, we were secure in the Honolulu jail. “Of course, they called the Shore Patrol immediately, and two SPs were dispatched. We were in trouble with the Navy, but there were civil charges against us by the police, charges like public intoxication, disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, and resisting arrest. That’s where Marty comes in. “He was in Honolulu because he heard that it was a boom town, and since it was sort of outside the main stream of U.S. law, he felt it might be a good place to open a law practice and grow with the city. He’d practiced in LA for almost fifteen years, and before that had practiced here

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in Chicago, his hometown. He told us he was sick of big cities and their rotten politics and wanted to get away. “It was his turn to be appointed public defender, so he’d been called to see about five drunken sailors who’d just about wiped out the police force. He told us we had so many charges against us that it would take a dozen lawyers two days just to read ‘em.” Jack laughed at the memory. “But somehow he convinced the judge we would catch all the hell we could stand when we got back to ship, so the judge fined us and turned us over to the SPs. “I got a chance to talk to Marty some during that time, and we just sort of connected, even though it was brief. I was very thankful that he was able to get us off, because I think we might still be there working in the pineapple fields under the blazing sun.” Jack paused and got a far away look in his eyes. “I’ve never taken a drink since that day, and vowed I never would.” “So, what happened when you got back to the ship?” “Yeah, well, that’s chapter two. I don’t know if you’ve ever been hung over.” She laughed. “To my everlasting shame, many times.” “I’m a little surprised. Your ex husband?” “Yes. Now, go on.”

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“Well, we were in the dry heaves stage. I swear I saw my insides pop outta my mouth every time I heaved. My eyes burned and watered, my nose was running, spit was dripping from my mouth—I was disgusting. I had diarrhea, my head throbbed like my brain was swelling, and I felt mean. As we’re coming up the plank onto the ship, accompanied by two very amused SPs, the CPO greeted us and said, ‘Well, girls, you sure look pretty.’ “I actually don’t remember doing it, but they said I cold cocked him and threw him off the ship.” He paused and lit a cigarette, offered one to Eva who declined. “One of my very big problems is my temper. I have a very hard time controlling my temper when I let go. It’s like I lose consciousness. I do all I can to never to get into a fight, but when I do, I sort of black out and I’m dangerous. It was good that the CPO was near the edge of the plank and landed in the water because I might have killed him.” Jack stopped talking and just smoked and stared out his window, watching snow pile up even with the curb in places. Eva was silent, too. “So, what the hell happened?” the driver asked. “Did ya go to jail?” Both Eva and Jack laughed. “So you were listening,” Eva

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said. “Hey, drivin’ this cab is boring ninety-eight per cent of the time. I gotta listen. I’d go crazy if I didn’t. So, finish, goddammit. Sorry, ma’am.” “Okay. I was locked in the brig, but nothing more was said by anyone. We set out for Cuba. I was locked up about four days, alone except for getting a tray of food at mess times. On the fifth day, the CPO showed up, name of Luke Hanson, I’ll never forget. He’s my age and size, part of the rowing team like me but at it much longer. ‘Morning, Jack,’ Luke says kinda pleasant like. ‘Had breakfast?’ knew what was comin’. you to be hungry.’ I

‘Good, good.’ he says. ‘Don’t want

He opened the cell door and came in.

He smiled real cheerful like and said, ‘We’re gonna to talk. I have a nice room where we can talk. That way.’ pointed toward the bow. I knew the gym was down there. ‘After you,’ he said. “So, I went to the gym with him, and got the stuffing beat outta me so bad that I spent two days in sick bay. He whipped me all over that gym. I thought I was tough, and I was, but this guy was a gorilla. Now, I’ll say this: that was the end of it. No charges, no court martial, which they could have called. A couple of days later when we He

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were on shore leave in Cuba, Luke came to me and offered to buy me a beer. I told him hell no, and he laughed. We never became close friends, but he was all right.” Jack chuckled. “That’s when I became a coffee drinker.” The cabbie was laughing hard, and said, “I’ll be dad burned. Did you even get busted?” “Yeah, I got busted. I’d been first class gunner’s mate. After that I was second class.” Eva just stared at him without saying a word. She didn’t know what to think. As cute as he was and as nice as he seemed to be, he was no doubt the most immature man she’d ever met. “Sounds to me like all of you were a bunch of jerks, little boys who couldn’t keep your hands to yourselves. That doesn’t tell me how you and Marty got together here in Chicago?” “I went to gunnery school again to get my first class restored. I was sent to the Navy base here for some special training, and I found out about Jane’s. One night I dropped in and there was Marty.” “Well, I think Marty’s a crook.” “Why do you say that?”

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“He runs a speakeasy, Stew. Speakeasies are illegal, selling booze is illegal. So, what do you want to call him?” “Okay, I’ll agree that he’s in an illegal business, but he don’t own the place. He just runs it for someone else.” Eva laughed. “You wanna split hairs, Stew? He’s not a

crook but he works for crooks, so that makes him not a crook. Please.” She turned away and looked out the window again, seeing they were very near her destination. “Look, Stew, you do what you want. It means nothing to me, but if you go to work for Marty, you’ll be involved in crime. You’ll be a crook.” She paused as she gathered her things and pulled her coat tighter around her. “You sound like one already with all the fighting and what not.” “That was a long time ago, Eva. I’m not like that now.” “Well, it’s all the same me. Here’s my stop.” She tucked her purse under her arm and scooted forward in the seat. The cab slowed and stopped in front of a two-story brownstone at 330 Halsted. “Thanks for an interesting evening, Stew.” She opened the door. “Hey, Eva.” Jack placed his hand on her arm. “Gimme a chance. I didn’t say I was going to work for Marty. I just asked what you thought about it. Now, I know.”

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She looked at him. “Stew, I’m…“ “I gotta make a run back to Louisville tomorrow. They called just before I came to see you. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but can I see you when I do?” “I don’t think so, Stew. You’re just not my type. You’re a sailor. You said so yourself when you told Marty you didn’t want to leave the Navy. Now you’re a railroader who’s always on the move. Got a girl in every port, or at every depot. No, Stew. First, I’m not ready for a relationship, and second, when I am ready, I want someone to stick around. My ex was a traveling salesman, and see what it got me? Sorry, Stew. You need to grow up, I think, and I don’t wanna be your mom.” She smiled, got out of the cab and walked toward the brownstone. Jack rolled down the window. “Can I write you?” Eva kept walking. “Send it to Gus’s place,” she said and disappeared around the side of the building. “Where to, buddy?” the cabbie asked. “The Illinois.” He rolled up the window. “Wait a minute. Can you pull by Gus’s Coffee Shop? I gotta get an address. Straight ahead. I’ll tell you where to stop.”

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Chapter 7 As the engine sped along toward Louisville, all Jack could think about was Eva and Marty’s offer of a job. Pensive as he watched coal soot deposit a gray patina on the cab’s only light bulb, he flinched when his engineer yelled at him. “Hey, Jack, wake up. Open number two and three. We’re losing pressure.” Jack focused on the brass pipes in front of him that crawled over the firebox like veins and glowed in the early morning sun. He grabbed a spigot handle in each hand and adjusted two of the five valves that dotted the pipes, while scrutinizing the steam gauges. “We’re good, Stormy. Let her rip.” He watched as Stormy eased the throttle forward, increasing the speed. “Where the hell were you?” Stormy yelled. “No where in particular.” Jack opened the firebox and stepped onto the plank of the tinder car and began tossing scoopfuls of coal into the blaze. As the rhythm of shoveling became involuntary, his thoughts returned to Eva. She had dumped him, and she he told him in so many words to get lost. No woman had

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ever done that to him. He quit shoveling, staring at the inferno in the firebox and wondering who the hell she thought she was to dump him. Resuming his work, he recalled the many times he’d done the dumping after the new wore off, but never the woman. With each scoopful be grew more irate. She wasn’t pretty; she had the personality of a pit bull, and talking to her was akin to knitting while wearing boxing gloves. “Damn it to hell,” he bellowed above the engine’s chorus. “Why is she right in front of me?” When he jumped back into the engine cab, he saw that Stormy was asleep. He decided to forget about Eva and roll Marty’s offer around in his mind. Two C-notes a week was Marty’s offer for hustling upper class drunks. Probably just sit around, smoke, drink coffee and chase women, he contemplated. Two hundred dollars a week could make him a fairly rich man, or at least very comfortable. He could buy a car. But Eva said Marty was a crook and if I worked for him I was a crook, too. “You might have to go to hell, Sweetheart. I mean two hundred dollars a week.” He pulled his cap down tight and leaned out the window. It was cold, but the heat from the engine mixed with the air blew dabs of warmth across his face. “Jack. C’mon boy.

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You don’t even know her and she is waltzing you around by your balls.” “You sayin’ something, Jack?” Stormy called out above the din. “Nah. Just talkin’ to myself. Go back to sleep.” * Eva locked the door to her apartment and set the chain before tossing her purse on the Murphy bed. All she wanted was sleep, and getting home late meant less sleep and being cranky. Tips were not paid to cranky waitresses, she knew. What she called her joke of a kitchen was lined along a wall of her one-room-with-bath apartment. She got a bottle of soda from the icebox and noticed she needed ice. Taking the ice card from the top of the icebox, she placed it in her only window, with the number twenty-five at the top, the poundage she usually ordered. She popped the cap of the soda, checked the valve handles of the two-burner kerosene plate that was her stove, and grabbed a glass. Emptying the soda into the glass, she entered her second room, the bath, and plopped down on the toilet. As she sipped her soda, she looked at the corner sink that had no hot water and wondered again why they couldn’t run

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a pipe from the hot water in the tub to the sink. The tub was not a prize, either. Not big enough for a large dog, much less a person, it had slightly, warmish water, barely and rarely. Eva flushed the toilet and returned to her bedroom/kitchen, which was painted chartreuse, making her feel as if she were living inside a honeydew melon. She despaired that the sheer curtains against the street window did nothing to temper the chartreuse, and the oxford brown dresser and bureau only accentuated the sickly green, as did the scarred oak floor that looked like someone had mopped it with crank case oil. And she disliked being on the top floor because it was an inferno winter and summer. “I will not think about that man,” she said out loud as she undressed. “He is bad news, Eva. Forget him.” She thought a sack full of doorknobs might have hit her, she ached so badly, and her waitress uniform felt grafted to her body. She needed a bath. “Please, God, let there be hot water. Just a little.” She turned the spigot and waited with he fingers in the flow. “Oh, wow. Steamy lukewarm water. I might live another day.” She slapped down the stopper to trap it. After she bathed, she wrapped

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herself in a large towel and sat on the bed and dried herself. She giggled. “What would other people think if you were dirty?” It was her mother’s voice floating through her mind. She dried her legs, which she considered fairly goodlooking. Maybe not like Garbo’s, but gams she could be proud of, straight and firm and smooth. She counted herself lucky that she didn’t have to shave. “Yeah, Mom. Cleanliness is next to godliness. I hear you.” She buried her face in the fluffy white towel and inhaled its fresh-air fragrance. It smelled like outside where she dried all her clothes on a small wooden rack on the tiny back porch. While she dried her hair she thought of Stew. “Why, Eva? Okay, he’s beautiful, but so was Jack Herrick. They

say that Satan is actually beautiful.” She stopped drying and lit a cigarette. “Jack Herrick. God, how I loved that man, once upon a time.” * When she first came to Chicago, she’d lived with her father’s sister, a widow who ran a boarding house. To earn her board and keep Eva became Vera’s housemaid, which she had been all her life for her mother.

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Jack Herrick came to the boarding house one Tuesday morning in April, 1923, dressed in a light gray suit complete with a black and cream brocaded vest, a crisp white shirt with a wild red tie, all shaved and smelling of bay rum. Eva could not stop looking at him. He combed his black hair, shiny with tonic, in a pompadour, and his brown eyes that smiled when he looked at her seemed kind, like her father’s brown eyes. He sported a pencil-thin mustache over lips that she thought were too pretty for a boy, but what fascinated her most was that he looked at her a lot, too. She was eighteen, well before the car accident that skewed her nose, scarred her forehead and gave her a flipper tooth. Jack was distinct among the workingmen who lived at Vera’s, not only in his attire but also evidenced by the golden Clyde & Barrow insignia on his brief case. He told Vera he was a salesman on the road a lot; he’d come to Chicago to sell stocks and bonds, and would remain at least a month. A smooth talker as expected in a salesman, he was full of jokes and silly sayings, and he laughed, bubbly easy laughter, which made Eva fall in love with him right after breakfast that first day. Being all dolled up, looking like he’d just stepped out of a bandbox, helped.

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Two days after arriving, when the rest of the men left for work or bed, Jack lingered after breakfast. Eva rushed through her morning chores and joined him at the table for coffee. “So, pretty little Eva Conner, tell me your story,” he asked. His voice was a baritone, throaty but soft. Down the hall Ruth Etting sang Ten Cents a Dance on a radio. “Story? Once upon a time Eva was born? That kind of story?” He smiled at her and moved a little closer. “Don’t need a biography, yet. Maybe later. No, how’d you get here to Chicago? You weren’t born here, I can tell.”

“How do you know I wasn’t born here?” He laughed and leaned back in his chair. He had a broad chest, and his arms, all done up in a crisp white shirt, bulged. He wore no jewelry on his large, hairy hands, which were neatly manicured. “Your accent. The way you speak. I get around a lot, all over the country, and I listen to speech. The way people talk in different parts. You’re from the country.” He took a silver cigarette case from his vest pocket and popped it open. “Ciggy?” He looked at her from under dark lashes when she took one. After he took one, he flipped the case closed and lit both

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with the silver lighter on the end of the case. “That’s neat,” Eva said. She took the case from him and looked at it. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cigarette case and lighter combined.” “It’s French. Bought it in New York.” He looked at her and smiled. “You want it?” “What? No. I mean, thanks for the offer, but it’s a man’s case.” As she handed it back to him, she felt something like a spark jump inside her when he touched her hand. Their eyes met. “Take it.” He placed it on the table in front of her. “Something to remember me by.” Eva felt she was coming apart, and if he’d ask her to his room right then, she would have said a happy goodbye to her virginity. “Uh, okay,” she managed. She took the case and held it. It was cold, but it sparkled in the sunlight coming from the picture window. “Thanks, Mr. Herrick.” “Jack. My father was Mr. Herrick. I’m Jack.” “Jack.” She nodded her head. “Okay, Jack . . . thanks.” She laid the case in front of her. “So, Jack, you say I’m from the country, and you’re right. How’d you know that?” “I asked your Aunt Vera.”

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She laughed. “You bum. I thought you could really tell by the way I talked.” “Actually, I can, but I was talking to Vera last night and she told me. Some place in Illinois, right?” “Lawrenceville. A Podunk town. Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.” you’re from New York.” “Yeah. Brooklyn.” “Well, I knew it was New York, but I didn’t know it was Brooklyn. We get quite a few guys here from New York. Railroad guys, mostly.” They started talking around eight o’clock, and at noon Jack looked his watch and whistled. “Holy Cow. I got an appointment in the Loop in 40 minutes. I gotta scram.” Pulling his suit coat on, he said, “This is your fault, you know.” He adjusted his collar and sleeves. “How’s that?” She got up, folded her arms and walked over to him. “How’s that my fault?” “Yeah, your fault. If you weren’t so pretty, I’d have left hours ago.” Eva blushed. Without warning, Jack kissed her. It wasn’t a peck. Nor was it a lingering kiss, but a kiss that let her know he would definitely be back. She looked at him. “And

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It was April. Eva was eighteen, Jack was twenty-two, and in September, after a wild courtship during which Eva lost her virginity and found she loved doing it, they were married on the fourth, a Friday afternoon, a bright, warm autumn day. God was good, Eva believed, because she could not have been happier. Jack was great. After they were married, they moved into a small one-bedroom apartment not far from Vera’s place, which was good because Eva needed someone like Vera to lean on. Jack spoiled her like he had when they were dating. He’d bring her flowers and candy and clothes and booze, which was illegal in 1923 but was easier to get than water in Chicago, and it wasn’t coffin varnish, but good stuff, lots of times Canadian. They ate out every night, spent autumn evenings cuddled together on the stoop of the apartment house, getting zozzled and making out until they couldn’t stand it any longer. They’d dash upstairs to their bed and work each other over until they passed out. Eva felt so in love. * “Yeah, you dumb broad, and look what it got you.” Eva got up from the bed, returned the towel to the bathroom and got her pajamas from the back of the door. As

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she put them on she thought about Stew and how much like Jack he was. “Jack. Even the same name. Movie star handsome, both of them rats. Both smoke like fiends, both smell the same, both with low voices that make you…shit! Eva, you will not see this Stew again. Now go to bed and forget it. Dream about…dream about…hell, don’t dream, for God’s sake.” She crawled into bed, turned off the light, and the last thing she thought about before drifting off to sleep was that Stew, at least, had blue eyes. * It was late morning when Jack and Stormy tied up in the Paducah and Louisville yard and checked in. Stormy went home to his wife, and Jack headed to his apartment. Surprised to find a taxi near the yard, he was pleased the driver didn’t throw him out of the cab, he was so dirty. “I smell like a boogie and look worse. Sorry.” “It’s okay. We get railroad guys all the time. It’s honest dirt.” “Yeah, guess it is. I live at the Winslow on Ormsby.” “I know where that is.” He looked at Jack in the rearview mirror. “Nice place for a railroad guy.” “It’s all right. Reputation’s a lot better than it is.”

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He leaned back and closed his eyes once the cab was on its way, feeling he could sleep for a week, get up, eat, and sleep another week. In order to stay awake, he sorted through roiling questions: Did he want to be a bouncer in a Chicago speak and get rich, or a law abiding poor railroad fireman? Being well off sounded very fine, but he figured he’d have to kiss Eva goodbye. Bouncer meant crook to her. She talked like she hated him. Deciding it was best to stay in Louisville, he pulled his cap over his eyes and sighed. He’d keep seeing Flora Mae, and be content. Although an alley cat, Flora Mae was all right, prettier than Eva, and always available. It didn’t bother him to imagine she’s messed around while he was gone. They weren’t married or engaged. If Eva had been willing, he would have certainly messed around. He wondered what Flora Mae was doing right then but dismissed it: he was too tired, and she’d keep ‘til morning. “Hey, we’re here.” Jack had drifted off and heard the cab driver shouting from across a distant prairie where he was drinking iced coffee from a small stream. He aroused with a start. “Sorry,” he said and sat up. “I’m beat.” Handing the driver a dollar bill, he got out and

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staggered toward the apartment house. A rat darted across the broken limestone step in front of him, and in kicking at it he almost fell. When he opened the lobby door, a rancid urine stench mingled with dust met him. Dragging his fatigued body along the hall and scraping his feet on the carpet, he kicked up more aroma of stale piss. He sneezed. Since his room was on the second floor, he considered sleeping in the hallway, but the image of his bed pulled him up the flight. Once inside his digs, he managed to find the bed and collapse. It was eight fifteen when he peeked at his clock through gritty eyes. It was light outside. He snapped on the lamp, scrunched his pillow into a ball under his head, fished a cigarette from his bibbies and lit it. “I need to pee,” he said after a puff and rolled out and went to the bathroom for the long morning whiz he always said made his teeth itch. “Well, damn, Jack. You’re still in your work clothes. What a stinkin’ mess.” He sighed, flushed, and flipped the cigarette butt in the small maelstrom. Returning to the bedroom, he striped, piled everything in the wall nook he called a closet,

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grabbed his cigarettes, and went to the living room where he sprawled in an ancient stuffed chair he believed came from the dump. “Need to hear some sounds.” He snapped on the cathedral radio he’d picked up at a pawnshop, and as it warmed up, he lit another cigarette. The easy overture of Hoagy Carmichael’s Washboard Blues drifted out with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra supporting it. He enjoyed jazz like Carmichael’s and listening to popular singers on the radio, especially Al Jolson whom he had seen in person at the Winter Garden when he was in New York. The telephone rang. “Louisville Sheriff’s Office, Louisville speaking,” Jack answered in a serious tone. “Jack. You’re home. How come you didn’t call?” “Hey, Flora Mae. Got in at four this morning and was beat down. I just got up.” “Are you coming over?” “Yeah, in a little bit. I need a bath and a shave.” stubbed his cigarette out. “You were gone a long time.” “Yeah, I got into an extra-board bind. When I got to Chicago, the return run was cancelled. So, I was stuck for He

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a couple of days. A day and a night, actually.” “Do they have telephones in Chicago?” “I didn’t know how long I was going to be stuck. If it had been longer, I’d a called.” He frowned. “Besides, we ain’t married or nothing, are we? in with you?” “Common courtesy. Did you meet any girls?” “Ah, so that’s it.” He paused. “Yeah, matter of fact I Why do I have to check

did. Waitress, named Eva. Took her to Marty’s place.” “Well, you son-of-a-bitch,” she said, her voice lilting. “You just stand there and tell me that? Like it’s a natural thing? Jesus, Jack. I thought we had something going.” “Flora, c’mon. I’m actually sitting, not standing, and we went for a drink and then I took her home.” “Did you do her?” He laughed. “No, Flora Mae, I did not. We had one drink at Marty’s…” “You don’t drink. Now I know you’re lying.” “Think what you want. She had a drink. I had coffee as usual. We rode a cab to and from Marty’s, and I let her off and she went inside.”

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“You didn’t go inside her?” “Look, I’m tired of this. She was a lady, okay, Flora Mae.” “Oh, and I’m not a lady, huh? Well, to hell with you,

Jack Stewart. And do not bother to come over here. And do not bother to ever call me or see me again. You just fell over dead, you asshole.” She hung up. Jack looked at the phone, shook his head and laughed. “Yeah, well bye, bye, to you too, Flora Mae girl. I didn’t ask who you’d been topping while I was gone, now did I?” He hung up the phone, stubbed out his smoke, and went to the bathroom. After turning on the bath, he brushed his teeth and thought about his fling with Flora Mae. In his opinion she was a bearcat with a delicious chassis, but that’s all. Looks were important to him, and he was puzzled as to why Eva was driving him crazy. “If I wanted a woman to lead me around by my balls, I would suck up to Flora Mae. But I want Eva. Why, for Christ’s sake?” Finished scrubbing his teeth, he rinsed. After doing the deed with Flora Mae, he was bored. They had nothing to talk about. They’d smoke, she’d drink; they’d mess around, get hot again and do it again. That was it. Jack loved the goodies of sex, but he suspected

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there was more to life. “Maybe I’m just as boring to Flora Mae.” He turned off the tub and got in. “I’ll be damned, Jack. You’ve been dumped by two women in less than fortyeight hours.” Just as he leaned back and closed his eyes to relax, a big drop of rusty water splattered into the tub from a pipe above. He watched the reddish stain dilute. “I’m spreading in all directions, too. Maybe I’m glad Flora Mae dumped me. Gives me some room to wander around.” Another drop hit the water. He looked up and saw the next one forming. “Think I’ll move to Chicago.” He watched the droplet gather. “Two hundred dollars a week. Stupid to turn that down.” The drop assembled into a blob too heavy to bear itself. “And I’m not sure Eva would piss in my mouth if my guts were on fire, so why am I wasting time with her?” As it separated from the pipe, he kept his eye on the new drop as it zeroed in and splashed right at his pubis. “And why am I getting a boner just thinking about Eva? Jesus H. Christ, Jack, stop being so stupid.“ One

more drop splattered in the same place. “Damn.” He finished his bath, shaved, dressed quickly, and left. As he walked west on Market Street, he mumbled, “Maybe I should talk to Adele.” Catching sight of himself

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in a store window, he realized he hadn’t combed his hair. “Crap.” He smoothed it as best he could and continued on his way. “Yeah, I’ll talk to Adele.”

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Chapter 8 Eva lay naked in bed, her pajamas discarded before midnight. The sheet under her was damp from sweat, and her skin felt wet and oily. Outside it was below zero, but all the heat in the damn world was in her apartment. She imagined those in the basement apartment were teethchattering cold by now, and the middle apartment was probably comfortable, at least near the ceiling. She sat up, ran her hand down her face and watched sweat roll off. Switching on the lamp, she saw it was 4:30 and Sunday. “Shit.” She plopped down on the toilet, massaged the back of her neck and slowly came to grips with the fact that Sundays were mother’s day. It had always been so. Even when she was a little girl, Sundays belonged to Mama, her mama. And now Sundays, the only day Gus closed the restaurant, were still her mother’s day. She flushed and went to the side of the bed where she sat and lit a cigarette. “Mother’s day,” she whispered through lush smoke. Still naked, she went to the window and peered at insomniac Halsted Street, watching cars race along; streetcar wheels grating against rails and electric spit spewing from their trolleys; bells clanging, motors urring

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and braking with a sound like mallets hitting wooden cups--all before five on a Sunday morning. Never failed to fascinate the country girl in her. People clustered like turkeys against the cold waiting for streetcars, gathering in islands close to the tracks, surrounded by barriers that resembled huge, black, oval buttons that separated them from automobiles. She glanced

up and saw elevated trains racing along while people scampered in and out buildings like dolls in a Swiss clock. “Hurry, up. Keep your head down, don’t speak, don’t smile, and just keep moving, moving, and moving,” she mumbled. She stubbed out her smoke and dressed. “Mother’s day.” She hooked her bra. “The day good little girls go help Mama because she’s always done it and because Mama expects it.” She pulled on a taffy-colored cotton skirt and a gray short-sleeved top. She knew Mama’s house would be blazing. Grabbing a sweatshirt from a drawer, she pulled it on. “Can always take it off.” After pulling gumboots over black high-top shoes, she made her bed, donned her brown tweed coat, red stocking cap, snatched her purse and stepped outside. “Merciful God,” she said as arctic air froze her damp skin and numbed her face, making her nose stick together.

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Wrapping a scarf up to her eyes, she pushed her hands into her pockets and headed toward the EL station three blocks away. Walking was tough because the snow was drifting. She felt herself dreading the EL ride to the Loop where she’d catch the South Shore to Indiana. Relieved that her train was on time, despite what the girl at the ticket office said about an accident involving two trains, she stepped aboard along with several others and settled alone into a wicker seat next to a window She put her head back and closed her eyes. Her day at work had ended after midnight, and she was beat from lack of sleep. Going to Mom’s house was not a visit; it was a part-time job she dreaded. Usually, the trip to the Loop was fascinating for Eva because it was like traveling through a stage set, only the train ran backstage through the detritus left after building the set. Rolling by her window were mostly scenes of run-down houses, stacks of rubbish and garbage intermingled with well-kept places, which she called oases. It was not F. Scott Fitzgerald’s picture of the Roaring Twenties that Eva had read about in The Great Gatsby. No storied mansions were there. People wore work clothes, relegating the pink suits and patent leather shoes to the pages of his novel that highlighted the elite

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of the era but few of the dregs. She imagined hand-to-mouth living in the rubble that the train sped by toward the Loop. Coal soot from electric power plants floated down like black gauze and coated everything. Those living there got up in the morning, breathed tarry air, and felt it grind like sand on their teeth as they ate their toast and cereal. The picture in her mind saw them washing the grit down with strong black coffee, laboring all day in menial factory jobs, coming home grime-varnished, and for little pay and no respect. Did they pull their kids out of school when they are sixteen and send them to the factories, too. She wondered. Perhaps, they needed the money, after all. Roofs of houses whizzed below her, tarpaper gardens, their walls black and murky; a fleck of color produced by a patched quilt drying on a line astonished her, as did a pink geranium in a window, or a child’s red wagon parked in a grassless yard. She’d been captivated by people on back porches illuminated in eerie blue-white hisses of electric flashes from the train’s trolley as it skittered across the cable. Eva was actually a little frightened of Chicago, but she could never take her eyes off it, could not stop her

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ears to the sensuous jazz that was the city’s voice, or pinch her nose against the complex miasma that was Chicago’s breath. She sensed a life force there that might be God, that terrible, fearsome God of the Old Testament who created good and evil, and didn’t appear to be finished. But this Sunday she was burned out and kept her eyes closed all the way to the Loop. When she got off, she walked to the South Shore station adjacent to the EL, found the train she wanted and got on, settling again into a seat and closing her eyes. Hardly anyone was on the train. Wanting to sleep the half hour it took to get to East Chicago, she was grateful for the silence. But, she was too resentful to sleep because she felt obligated to spend every Sunday with her mother, but she never understood why. She blamed herself for allowing it to happen, but what was it about her mother that forced her to go. Why was she too gutless to say, “No, Mom, not every Sunday, my only day off. Once in a while, but not every Sunday.” Why couldn’t she say that? But, she knew why. Habit born of fear when she was a little girl that she’d let her mother down, burnished by guilt imposed by her mother, Laura, a stern woman whose

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fierce dark eyes could impale Eva like an insect on a board. She grew up believing that waiting on her mother hand and foot was what society expected of a girl born into a large farm family. The community edict would probably end only when her mother died. The train lurched its way out of Randolph Street station east toward Indiana. “Please stop thinking,” she whispered. “I need sleep, not bad memories.” The train stopped. She looked out the window and saw they were still in the rail yards that seemed to extend forever across the east side of the city. Snow, black from soot, was thick on everything she could see. Feeling sweaty, she discarded the scarf and cap, unbuttoned her coat, settled back and closed her eyes. Chapter 9 The coach became a cradle, and Eva dozed while the orange train moved smoothly along the Illinois Central track, heading south along the Lake Michigan shore and then passing west of the great Calumet Harbor where ore boats unloaded raw materials for the infernal maws of the steel mills. It crossed the Calumet River to Kensington where began the slow curve east into Indiana. Now came the oil refineries, the automobile manufacturers, the

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foundries, and more steel mills. Eva slept untroubled by memories. “Hegwisch. Hegwisch. Next stop,” the conductor called out, his muddy voice tired, his gait effortless through the swaying car. Eva awoke. Hegwisch was the last stop in Illinois before the crossover into Indiana. She yawned, glanced out the window, and put on her coat, stuffing her scarf around the collar. Hegwisch slid by after a brief stop. Next came Hammond, where her mother had run a boarding house right after leaving her father. To Eva the small city was an armpit, an impure place where the grime of the Calumet Region began. The Hammond station was on the north side of town, and the boarding house was cater-cornered across from it on Hohman Avenue. Eva stared at it when the train stopped. Still dirty white with a shocking green roof and a front porch that listed to the right, the tattered old building was to Eva the epitome of degradation. Looking at it, she felt disgusted. She remembered the times she had visited her mother there and had watched as Bill, Laura’s then boyfriend, held her mother and slobbered over her, winking at Eva as he did, his breath rancid from the snuff he chewed. She understood her mother’s leaving her father,

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but she could not understand how she stomached Bill, a fat sloppy man who trailed an unpleasant odor wherever he went and bragged incessantly about being a mule-skinner at age twelve out of Leadville, Colorado, to Denver and about his exploits during the war in France. “Scar on my chin? Bayonet wound from a German. Raided

our camp, but we fought ‘em off. Killed the bastard that got me. Killed about five that night ‘fore it was all over.” Truth was, the family found later, he’d been a camp cook so far back behind the lines that he probably never saw a German soldier, much less fought one. As the train moved out, she turned from the bitter memory, anticipating the day ahead. When she stepped off the train at East Chicago, it was a little after 8:30. Dreadfully cold, the air was a thick, oily thing that bit her flesh and clung crab-like to her face and slathered a coal oil stench and tarry taste up her nose and onto her lips. She rubbed her tongue along the inside of her lower teeth and felt grit. Odors from cars that sat chugging away near the platform waiting for people assaulted her as well, but about four cars down she saw her brother, Jimmy, waiting for her in Bill’s old

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Model-T. She pulled her scarf up over her nose and headed his way. “Jimmy,” Eva said when she opened the door. She pulled her scarf down and slid into the front seat. “How are you?” “Okay, Sis. How ‘bout you?” “Oh, just sensational.” She pulled her scarf up to

ward off the gasoline fumes in the car. Shifting the car into gear, Jimmy eased the Ford onto Indianapolis Boulevard. Their mother lived in Marktown, an industrial residential compound within the city of East Chicago, with her husband, Bill Schlyker, and three of her children—Woodie, Sam and Maddy—-the youngest three of her brood that she had brought from Lawrenceville when she left their father, Walter, in ‘21. Jimmy, her nineteen-year-old son, had left home later but hung out with his brothers, Blantford, the oldest, and Lee, second oldest boy, both of whom had their own places. Jimmy’s straight hair was reddish blond like his dad’s, and his small eyes were brownish blue. A cigarette dangled from his mouth, a thin gash in his moon face, highlighted by his nose, which had been broken and resembled a turkey wattle. Freckles peeped through a fuzzy blond beard.

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“Cold down here,” Eva said. “Yeah.” “Mom okay?” Eva asked after five blocks of silence. “Yeah.” “Bill?” “Yeah.” “I wish you wouldn’t talk so much, Henin.” Eva laughed. “You’re a real blabber-mouth.” “You know I hate that name,” he said without rancor. “I know, but it got your attention.” “Fights in school, too.” They were silent again. Eva remembered the times Jimmy came home from school bloodied from fighting. “Henin, Henie,” the kids would shout, “has a tiny weenie. Fell on his face and broke his beanie, Henie, Henie, with a tiny weenie.” They’d keep it up until he lost his temper and the fighting began. A little tyke but hard as a clinker, Jimmy would usually come out on top. “Don’t know where in thee hell Mom got that name. Henin,” Jimmy said more to himself than Eva. “It’s a hat, worn by women in the middle ages. Looks like a butterfly.”

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“Well, thanks a whole hell of a lot, Sis. I’m a butterfly, huh? Might as well say I’m a homo.”

Ignoring him, she continued, “She can’t read, so it didn’t come from a book. Probably heard it and thought it sounded pretty.” Eva paused, looked over at her brother and grinned. “Maybe she heard a jackass say it.” Jimmy laughed. Without removing his cigarette, he took a deep puff and let the smoke cloud his face. “Probably the jackass.” After a moment and another drag on his smoke, he said, “They both okay, Sis.” Eva looked out the window at the gray, dark morning that looked like six in the evening. After another three blocks, Jimmy said, “Oh, Sis, I’m going to the Navy.” She turned to him. “You’re what?” “I’ve joined the Navy. I’m leaving in June.” Eva couldn’t help but laugh as Jack Stewart pranced through her mind for a moment, wondering what was with the Navy and that maybe she should join. “I gotta get away, Sis. I can’t stand being around Bill, and Mom can be plain mean sometimes.” He rolled the window down far enough to offer his cigarette butt to the wind.

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“I understand.” Eva watched the closed buildings pass by along the Boulevard, looking bleak and lonely. She couldn’t help but think how lucky Jimmy was to be able to decide to leave home. When she was eighteen, Laura just told her to get out. “How’r Lee and Blant?” “Our brothers are all right, I guess. Except a little bad news about Lee. He got a woman pregnant.” “Oh, God, no. He didn’t say anything about it last week. What’d Mom say?” “What didn’t she say? But I guess he’s gonna marry her, and I think now that it’s died down, Mom’s really looking forward to a grandbaby. Be the first.” “My God.” Eva sighed. “Who is this woman?”

“Name’s Maureen. Guess he met her at Whiting Oil. I think she’s older ‘n him, maybe two or three years. She seems nice, though. I like her name. Maureen. Pretty.” “When did Lee think to tell Mom about the baby?” “I think it was Wednesday. He came over with Maureen for supper, and they told Mom and Bill, then.” “Irish name. Damned Irish name. Maureen. Catholic?” Is she a

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“I don’t know. Wouldn’t matter, would it? nothing.”

Lee ain’t

“Yeah, but he’s not a Catholic and you know Mom’d have a stroke if he married one and turned for her. Oh boy, this is going to be so much fun, like being punched in the face.” Eva slumped down in her seat and pulled her scarf higher. She’d always been told her family was Irish on both sides, shanty Irish, said in disgust; don’t brag about it. Her mother’s people had been here forever, but

her grandfather, Finbar Conner, Walter’s dad, came from Ulster and was a flaming prod. If he was forced to say the word catholic, he’d always spit three times to ward off the evil and get the shitty taste out of his mouth, he’d say. All his kids and grandchildren felt the same way, so Finbar had done a good job. Laura’s people had pretty much agreed, they being Primitive Baptist and her dad being a self-proclaimed preacher. Jimmy drove the flivver over a railroad bridge, and Eva looked out and saw Marktown in the distance. A dense fog stuffed itself tightly into everything--the mill, the neighborhoods, and the stores—-creating a misty island on the shore of Lake Michigan. The mackerel clouds from which

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sporadic ribbons of delicate white smoke rippled like streamers covered everything. Deep from within the fog, out where the mill stood, vivid orange-yellow explosions flashed occasionally, Eva guessing from a blast furnace being tapped or from an open hearth spewing liquid iron into a monstrous pot. Jimmy turned and entered Marktown, and the fog. All Eva could see were vague shapes that she knew to be buildings and houses. She felt smothered as if she had been pushed headfirst into cotton. Jimmy turned left onto Pine, easing by the cast concrete streetlight, which looked like a flashlight in the murk. Five yards away, a tiny ray of yellow could be seen from the light of her parents’ porch. Jimmy pulled up and stopped, shutting off the car, and without looking at Eva, said, Mom’s in a bad mood.” “Oh? So what else is new?” “Sis, just want you to know

“Sam came in drunk last night. Fallin’ down drunk.” “Aw, hell, Jimmy. He’s only sixteen.”

“Yeah. Mom beat him up pretty good. Bloodied his nose.” “What’d she use?” “Everything. Razor strop, broom handle, fists. Thought

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she might kill him. Even Pop jumped in, but she belted him one, too.” Jimmy laughed. “Pretty funny. ol’ Pop runnin’ off like a scalded dog.” Eva sighed and looked toward the house. “Where’s Sam now?” “Out at Blant’s. She told him to get out and never come back. Said he was just like his goddamned old dad.” He picked up a black cap lying next to him and pulled in down over his head. “Yeah, well, I knew she’d get Daddy in there somehow. Maddy and Woodie see all this?” “Oh, yeah. Woodie won’t come out of his room, and Maddy just sits and talks to her doll. Won’t even look at you.” Eva glanced at Jimmy and smiled. “I just know I’m going to have the time of my life, today, little brother. Let’s go in and get started.” She opened the door and got out. The fog stank of sulfur and diesel fuel. She went up the five steps to the porch and opened the door.

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Chapter 10 The stench of the fog followed Eva into the house but immediately gave way to the acrid odor of lye soap, which her mother made and used for all cleaning purposes. “Back home at Mama’s,” she mumbled as she shed her coat and scarf on the Victorian sofa her mother delighted in along with the other Victorian style furniture that appointed the room. As always she was momentarily transported to her childhood because the house looked and smelled as it did then. “Mom? I’m here,” Eva called. Laura’s voice sounded

“I’m in the kitchen, Eva.” tired.

She’s in a mood, Eva thought. Laura stood at the sink washing dishes. Eva noted once more how Laura had gained a lot of weight over the last two or three years, becoming a short, round woman instead of the slim, trim shapely woman Eva knew growing up. She deplored the change in her mother who was barely five feet five, and with the extra weight she looked obese and years older than forty-three. Her hair was mostly black, a blueblack that Laura said came from her Cherokee blood. She never cut it, and wore it piled on top of her head in a

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style she said she’d seen in a book. Streaks of gray were invading now, Eva noticed. “Want me to do that, Mom? You look tired.” “I’m so tired, Eva, I could throw up.” She dried her hands and slumped onto a chair by the table. Each time she visited, Eva was amused that only the living room furniture matched in its Victorian splendor while the rest of the house was done in what Eva called vintage second hand. She referred to her mom as the queen of second hand stores, which she roamed frequently in quest of things no one else wanted. “You want some coffee, Mom? “Think I could, too.” Laura sighed and rested her head on the table. Eva filled the teakettle and placed it on the step side stove. “Reckon the paint’s keeping this old stove together, Mom?” Eva filled the coffee basket of the dripolator. “It works. All that matters.” “Any more paint chips come off and it might fall apart. Broiler working any better from last week?” “Makes toasted cheese if you turn it on in the morning I could use a cup.”

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and wait ‘till supper.” They both laughed. “Love to bake a pie, but the oven barely warms bread.” “You can buy pies now, Mom.” “Wallpaper paste with sugar.” They laughed again. Eva went to the icebox and got a can of Pet milk. “Need a refrigerator, Mom.” “Why? Icebox keeps food okay. Iceman comes every week. No electricity to worry about if the lights go out. Never trusted refrigerators.” The kettle whistled, and Eva grabbed it and poured the boiling water into the top of the dripolator. “Be ready in no time.” Several minutes passed in silence, broken only by the tinkling of the dishes Eva washed and the trickling of water as it passed through the coffee and into the pot. Breaking the silence, Eva said, “Jimmy tells me he’s joined the Navy.” “Yup. Crazy kid. But, guess he’s gotta spread his wings sometime. ‘Least he ain’t a drunk, yet. Suppose the Navy’ll change that.” Laura raised up and looked at Eva. “Henin tell you about Sam?”

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Eva drew a deep breath and sighed, but continued to wash dishes. “Yeah, he did, Mom.” Silence again. “He was fallin’ down drunk, Eva. Just like yer goddamned old daddy. He’d wet his pants, shit himself and carried on like a crazy man, just like I seen Walter do a thousand times.” Eva didn’t answer. She finished drying the last glass and put it away in the cupboard over the sink. “Coffee’s done.” She filled two mugs and placed them on the table. “Henin tell you I tried to kill Sam?” Eva sat opposite her mother. “He said you were pretty rough on him.” She sipped her black coffee. “No, I tried to kill him. If I’d a had a gun, I’d a shot him. Just like yer goddamned old daddy. Should a shot Walter dead years ago. Sam’s like him. No use of Sam livin’ if he turns out likes his daddy.” Laura poured the Pet in her coffee and took a swig

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while staring at Eva, who was examining her mother’s sad face with its deep crow’s feet and drooping left eyelid over a half-blind eye, the result of falling into a fireplace as a child. Her bow mouth was scaly and dry, and a small canker sore was forming on her upper lip. “Blant’s a drunk,” Laura said. “Lee’s headed that way.” She sipped at her coffee. “Henin tell you the mess Lee’s in, ‘bout gettin’ that woman in trouble?” “He told me.” “Both just like their goddamned old daddy.” After a moment, Eva said, “Mom, there’s more to it than that.” “Figured you’d defend the son-of-a-bitch.” She spewed the words, making them virtually palpable. “Mom, I am not defending Daddy. What I’m saying is that Blant and Lee and Sam choose to drink. No one pours it down their throats.” “Conners are all alike. Don’t know when to quit. Yer right, though, no one poured it down their throats, but because they’re Walter Conner’s boys, they got the curse. I can’t have it, Eva. I lost out with Blant and Lee ‘cuz they was older and on their own, but Sam’s sixteen. I’ll see him dead before I ‘llow him to be a drunk.”

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“What about when Sam gets to be twenty-one?” “I’ll still kill ‘im, swear I will. Same goes for Woodie. First time Woodie shows up drunk or I hear he’s been drunk, I’ll kill ‘im, I swear.” She drank the last of her coffee and slammed the mug on the table, shattering it. Eva saw how angry Laura was and remembered how before the divorce, she watched her mother become overwhelmed with hatred and anger that could acknowledge nothing good about her father. Eva knew that he had provided his family with two new homes, two more than most families get unless they’re wealthy; knew that the kids never went hungry and always had clothes to wear and beds to sleep in; knew that when Walter was not drinking, which was most of the time, he was sweet, gentle and kind toward the kids and Laura. Each time Laura cursed her father, Eva bristled because none of the positive things Walter did was ever acknowledged. But if it was mentioned, Laura would explode and say it was all a lie and accuse whoever brought it up of defending Walter and of being as bad as he was. Eva knew that her mother wanted everyone, especially her children, to believe that their father was a monster. “Come on, Mom. You know you’ll not kill them.”

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“Yes I will, Eva. As God is my witness, if I live and have the strength, I’ll kill ‘em if they become drunks like their father or their brothers.” She raised her right hand as she spoke and stared so hard into Eva’s eyes that Eva felt a chill. “Okay, Mom. I believe you, but that’s all the more reason that Sam should come home.” “Don’t want him home, the little bastard. Let him rot out there with Blant.” “Mom, think about it. Blant drinks, so what’s to stop him from letting Sam drink? hell happens to Sam.” After a long pause, Laura said, “Guess I never thought of that.” She pushed on her hair, plunging her fingers deep into it and scratching. “Need to wash my hair. Could you help me wash it today and get it back up?” “Sure, Mom. Right after dinner.” Laura quit scratching her head and looked at Eva. “Eva, I’m not ashamed of how I feel about your father Blant doesn’t care what the

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because I know things you’ll never know. But I’m sorry I yelled at you like I did.” Eva smiled and drained the last drops of her cold coffee. “It’s okay, Mom. I’m a big girl now.” Bill walked into the kitchen. “Smelled coffee,” he said. He looked at Eva and smiled, then leaned over and kissed Laura very loudly and very sloppily on the lips. “Cold and nasty outside, Mommy, but I got the paper.” He flopped the newspaper on the table and looked again at Eva. “Lookin’ good, Eva. How you was?” “Okay, Dad.” Eva almost gagged every time she called Bill dad, but Laura insisted on it and got angry if her children did not. Only Blant and Lee got by with calling him Bill, but not the others. Eva, to keep peace, fell into line. “I think there’s some coffee left. Want me to heat it?” “That’d be nice.” He sat next to Laura and unfolded the paper.

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Eva despised him. He was a big man, around six feet, but his girth was remarkable. He wore size fifty trousers, and although he wore the largest shirts available, they were still too small. He had huge feet and massive hands. Eva swore his fingers were as large around as water pipes, and so calloused that he could pinch out a lighted cigar without flinching. Waiting for the coffee to heat, Eva leaned against the sink and studied him. She wanted to gasp because his hands reminded her of Jack Stewart’s, also huge and hammy, but not as calloused or as rough, if she remembered correctly. Maybe that was another thing, besides the name, that put her off of Stew. But Bill stank of sour sweat, and she could smell it whenever he was around, mixed with the acrid smell of snuff that floated around him like cologne. At least Jack smelled good, Eva recalled. “What’s for dinner?” Bill asked, not bothering to look

up from the paper, his steel-rimmed spectacles shining in the overhead light. “I told you this morning, Daddy,” Laura intoned as if to a child, “fried chicken, mashed taters, green beans, succotash, gravy, beets and rolls.” “Pie?”

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“Yes, pie, if you can call that thing from the bakery a pie. Tasted shit better’n that.” “You tasted shit?” “All mothers taste shit, Daddy. Part of being a mother.” Listening to their exchange as she peeled potatoes, Eva felt sadness, a sadness born of memory. She realized when traumatic events happen in a family, the toll can be life altering. Death, she assumed, is probably the most traumatic, maybe because it is so final. Nothing can be done to change it. You don’t cure death like you do illness, or you don’t solve death like you can a financial disaster. Anything that stops life brings pain, no matter the reason. Someone always suffers because of another’s death, she knew. Except, divorce is like death in a way. To die is instantaneous after the last breath, but the death of a marriage can take years, and sometimes there is never a last breath. She knew from experience that divorce does kill a marriage, but the bitterness from that marriage can give it new breath and prolong its life. Even if the couple gets back together, the divorce is always part of their history. And unlike the death of a loved one, who

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may become fond memory, divorce seems to become unimpeachable memory that continues to generate pain forever; Eva would never forget Jack Herrick, and many memories of him were unpleasant. She also knew from experience divorce affects children right into their adulthood. Pain from the death of a loved one lessens over time, but the pain from a divorce just crusts over and remains, always tender to touch. Eva’s scar from her parents’ divorce had never healed. After almost ten years she could still remember that awful day her mother jumped up and down in delight, waving the court decree, and shouting, “I finally got rid of that slimy son-of-a-bitch. Now, may God strike him dead.” Her mother’s glee jabbed her in the stomach, making her nauseated. That was her father, Walter Conner, her mother was wishing to be struck dead. Eva knew he had never been

anything but loving and tender to her. He’d tap his foot and sing some old tune he’d heard his dad sing, or cut the elastic in her Bloomers so it wouldn’t cut off circulation to her legs. He’d tickle her and laugh and give her sloppy kisses, and she loved it. How could her mother wish him dead? He was that way with all his children. He had been a

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bit rough on the boys, Eva remembered, but she knew fathers want themselves reflected in their sons, so they push them and sometimes ride them until that reflection seems clearer. Eva realized there was no right or wrong to it; it was just a father-son thing. Her dad drank, that was true, and when he was drunk he was another person, a mean violent other person, with all his demons bubbling to the surface like in an stinking brew that splashed over and hurt other people, usually Laura, and himself. That other person he became had another name, Mike, and Mike was invincible, he owned the world, he was a tough guy, a really, really tough guy whom no one dared cross. Mike was also a little man, but he’d throw his weight around in a saloon and get his ass whipped and get tossed out, and he’d gather up his anger and come home to let it out on Laura. Never the kids, just Laura. After a drunken episode, which could last two or three days, he’d sober up and be extremely sick, but he’d remember nothing of what had happened. He didn’t even remember Mike. Eva often recalled those terrible times and they saddened her, but she knew inside Mike was her daddy. And when Mike would go away, she would have her daddy again,

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and she loved him. She loved her mother, too, but she was continually torn between loving her father and placating her mother, especially after their divorce. It wasn’t that Eva did not understand and accept why her mother left her father. At first Eva was proud of her for leaving him because she knew here mother received the brunt of Walter’s violence when he was drunk. Now that she had been through a divorce herself, she recognized that relationships end for a lot of reasons. It’s part of life. But what she could never understand was the hatred her mother felt. Eva never remembered hating Jack Herrick. She disliked him, never wanted to see him again, got angry when she remembered everything he had done to her, but she never wished him dead. Eva could also accept the reasons behind the family rumor that said the real reason Laura left Walter was Bill. Not that she condoned affairs, but why not, she asked herself, find comfort in another person when your life is so miserable. When Laura stood up and said she’d take no more, Eva was proud of her, though at the time she hated the idea of divorce. Later, Laura’s example helped her be strong when she kicked Jack Herrick to the curb.

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“Heard your goddamned old daddy got married,” Laura blurted. “What?” Eva dropped the paring knife on the floor and turned to her mother. “Yeah, some little old teenage gal from Lawrenceville. Reckon he’ll pecker her to death before he beats her up.” She turned and smiled at Bill who laughed without opening his mouth, which was, as usual, filled with snuff spit. “Where’d you hear this?” “Vera. She called last week and told me she’d just got back from down home and had been to Walter’s weddin’. I feel so sorry for that girl. Think her name’s Cleo, like your cousin Cleo. Vera said her name’d been Loudermilk, but didn’t know which Loudermilk. We knew some Loudermilks, the ones that saved me from Walter that time. Don’t think it was them. Anyway, Vera said she was all of sixteen, and pretty. Walter always liked ‘em young.” She leaned back in her chair and smiled at Eva, who knew her mother wanted more than anything to force a wedge between her and her father, no matter what it took. Eva

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stared at her mother for a long time, then picked up the knife and went back to work on the potatoes. “When did he get married?” “Early December, I recollect Vera sayin’.” Eva said nothing but peeled with greater and greater intensity until each finished potato was more square than round. After a long, silent moment, broken intermittently by Bill’s rattling of the newspaper and the whispers of the paring knife sliding through potato skins, Eva said, “I saw Aunt Vera just a few weeks ago and she said nothing.” Her voice quivered and tears began to slide down her cheeks. “Well, that’s Vera. Don’t want to trouble anyone,” Laura said. “Vera’s the only good one in the whole goddamned Conner family, and she ain’t much.” Eva threw the knife into the sink and walked quickly to the bathroom. “I need to pee.” Laura smiled. “Reckon you do.” Eva closed the bathroom door, put the toilet seat down, and sat and cried softly so no one would hear. She felt

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betrayed. She felt cheated. She felt great anger toward her father, mother and Aunt Vera. What was she, a child who had to be protected? She was a grown woman who had

gone through divorce and horrible illness. Did they think she was too weak to take the truth or what was inevitable? She knew her father might remarry some day, but the point was, she had been ignored. She wondered how many of the others kids knew. “If any one of them knew and didn’t tell me, I’ll never speak to them again,” she said, her anger temporarily stopping her tears and contorting her face into a florid fury. “And she’s sixteen? Sixteen? Jesus, Dad, she’s six

years younger than I am. I have a stepmother who is six years younger than I am. Oh, my God, Daddy, how could you do this?” Eva wept a while longer, then got up, raised the seat and, in fact, peed. Afterward, she splashed some cold water on her face, dried it with a towel, blew her nose, and returned to the kitchen. “Eva, I’m sorry this news made you so unhappy, but it’s just part of being a Conner. They can’t help hurtin’ people just as they can’t help being drunks.”

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Laura was still sitting next to Bill who was finished with the paper and his coffee, sitting quietly, arms folded across his ample chest and mulling a wad of snuff around in his mouth. Eva went back to the potatoes. Eva knew her mother was not sorry, but she was not about to say that and start a fight that would eventually end with her leaving in an angry huff. For all of her mother’s cruelty, Eva loved her and wanted to get along. “Well, Mom, it happened. Can’t change that.” She paused, finished a potato and picked up another, but before starting to peel it, she turned and looked at Laura. “Mom, did any of the other kids know about this?” “I don’t think so. They don’t see Vera, course, and Walter don’t keep in touch with them. I wouldn’t a known if Vera hadn’t called.” “Why’d she call you?” “She said it was just to say hello. You know Vera and me used to be good friends. She even hid me once when Walter was drunk out of his mind. She knew what I was going through. No, I think she called to tell me about

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Water getting married. I think she thought I would be upset if I heard some other way.” Laura laughed softly.

“I told her I didn’t care what the bastard did or who he married. Told her the only thing I would go to was his funeral with joy in my heart.” “You told her that?” Bill said, gurgling, his head

held slightly back so the spit wouldn’t drain out too much. “Bill, get rid of that damn stuff in your mouth,” Laura said. Bill went to the bathroom and spit in the toilet, dropped his cud with a splash, flushed and came back. “You really said that about Walter’s funeral?” he repeated as he sat down. Laura laughed out loud and looked at him. ”No. No, Bill, I didn’t. Wanted to say it in the worst way, but didn’t. Vera’s a good old gal, stupid like all the Conners, but she’s good. Helped you, Eva, when you moved to Chicago, so that makes her all right in my book.” Eva knew Laura had made the remark about the funeral for her benefit. Another twist of the knife that had been stuck into her during some vicious fights she’d had with

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her mother over her father, fights that exhausted both of them and had estranged them from time to time. Although Eva was finished with the fights, the knife was still there, and Laura loved to aggravate the wound. She would allow no defense of Walter, particularly from his children. The older boys just never brought up the subject of their father, but Eva, in the beginning, wanted them to at least be civil and tried to point out to Laura that Walter was what he was and that included some very fine qualities. Laura lost control, and the fight began. Walter, however, never said anything concerning Laura when he and Eva talked. Eva tried to get him to see some good side of her mother, but Walter insisted that Laura was the one who left him, not the other way around. He never said it in malice, but it always ended any discussion because at that point he left. Eva turned back to the sink and resumed peeling. Maddy came into the kitchen carrying a doll that looked like it had been pulled through a knothole. A soft rubber doll, it had scant hair, no left arm, battered legs and was naked. With crayon Maddy had attempted to clothe the poor thing, but the doll was still naked. Its face was placid, its senseless eyes staring forward like a corpse’s.

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Eva watched Maddy slide onto a chair opposite her mother. Wearing white sleepers with feet, she cuddled her doll in the crook of her left arm. At ten years old Maddy was an incredibly beautiful child. Her hair was a dark auburn and was thick and curly. Her eyes were large and deep brown, surrounded by lush auburn brows and lashes. She had a straight nose and a full bow mouth, and her skin was creamy and clear. Maddy was a stunner, Eva believed. Maddy knew it, too, because Laura never missed a chance to remind Eva that of all her children, Maddy was the most beautiful. Eva got the point. However, Eva was concerned because Maddy was a quiet, somber child, seldom seen doing just kid things, except playing with her maimed little doll or sitting on the front stoop staring out at nothing in particular. Laura said that in school she was pleasant, no discipline problem at all, but unconnected. According to her teacher, she had a friend or two who would sit with her at lunch, or chat with her before school, but Laura said they never came over to Maddy’s house, nor she to theirs. On her regular Sunday visits, Eva had observed Maddy doing her schoolwork, but only a minimum. Her grades were solidly average or below, Laura said, and teachers found Maddy

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sullen, dull and incurious. She looked up at Eva and said, “Hi, Sis.” Eva finished peeling the last potato and dried her hands. Going over to Maddy, she knelt beside her chair. “Hey, Maddy. How’s my little sister?” She hugged Maddy and kissed her cheek. “Good,” Maddy said, looking at her doll and fiddling with its hairless head. “How’s Debra this morning?” “Not so good.” She looked at Eva. Her beautiful little face was drawn with sadness and sorrow, her eyes tearing. “I think she’s going to die.” “Oh, Maddy. Why do you think she’s going to die?” Eva

stroked Maddy’s hair. “Honey?” “Well, she’s lost one arm. And I can’t get her hair to grow.” Tears began to trickle. “And I don’t have clothes for her. She cries a lot, ‘specially at night. I’ve tried, Sis, but I can’t help her.”

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She sniffed juicily and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. She looked at Eva again. “Would you take her, Sis? job of raising her.” She looked down at her doll, then back to Eva. “Maddy.” Eva gathered her in her arms and held her close while the little girl sobbed. “Oh, Maddy. Can’t I just get you a new doll? I’ll Maybe you could do a better

even buy her some clothes.” “No, I can’t take care of any more dolls. I just want Debra to be safe. Please take her, Sis.”

She pulled away and looked at Eva, her face wet with tears. “Please, Sis. If you don’t, I’ll just have to let her die and…and throw her away.” “You couldn’t throw her away, Maddy. She’s…” Eva looked at Laura who had a worried expression, and at Bill who sucked his snuff and read the Want Ads. She looked back

at Maddy, whose tears had stopped. She was holding Debra close to her and humming softly.

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“Okay, Maddy. I’ll take Debra and see what I can do. But, only until you’re ready to take her back. She’s your doll, Honey. She needs you.” Maddy glanced at Eva. “Okay. Maybe I’ll be ready next Sunday when you come.” Eva hugged her again. “That’ll be fine. That’ll be fine. Old granny witch will take her.” Eva plopped her flipper on her lower lip and crossed her eyes. Maddy shrieked and thrust the doll into Eva’s hands, jumped off the chair and ran squealing down the hall to her room. Laura laughed and clapped her hands. “You can make her laugh with that damned tooth,” Laura said. “Sets her off like the noon whistle.” Eva flipped her tooth back into place and held the doll. She decided Maddy was right: it did look dead, or dying. “That was very strange, Mom. Has she done anything like this before? It scares me.”

“She’s all right. She’s got this great big imagination. She’ll be back in here in a few minutes wantin’ the doll

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and laughin’ about all this. Ain’t that right, Bill?” “Mmm?” Bill said, his mouth running over again.

He got up and headed for the bathroom. “This was just an act?” mother. “She’s got this great big imagination, I tell you. You should see her playing with that thing. She treats it like it’s real.” working you.” “But the tears? an act?” “I don’t know. She just has a way of wrapping you around her finger.” Laura laughed again. “Little shit. How can she bring tears if it’s just Laura laughed. “She wants a new one, so she’s Eva said, frowning at her

Oughta slap her to sleep.” “No, Mom. It’s all right. I’ll play her game until she gets tired of it.” to be an actress.” Eva took the doll and placed it with her coat and purse in the parlor. “Well,” she said, smiling as she returned to the kitchen. “Where is that chicken?” Now Eva laughed. “She’s probably going

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* Woodie appeared at dinner. A dark, moody boy, he said absolutely nothing to anyone while he picked at his food and left the table early. Eva tried to talk to him. Laura tried yelling at him, but he would say nothing nor look at anyone. He appeared frazzled. He had on purple paisley pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt that was stained with bits of other meals, as well as dirt and grime. “Woodie, you go get some clothes on, now,” Laura ordered. “Settin’ at the table looking like a heathern.” Woodie went to his room and returned a few minutes later dressed in dungarees and a white shirt, a little less stained but wrinkled. “You got better clothes than that, Woodrow,” Laura said. “I swear yer gonna drive me crazy. Right after you eat, young’n, you get some better clothes on, or I’ll get a switch and cut the blood ‘til it drips down yer back. Y’understand me, Woodrow?” “Yes’m.” He moved his food around on his plate. His dark brown hair was messed. He had hazel eyes, freckles and a small button nose and no lips, a Conner trait. He wasn’t fat, but he was chunky and on the road to fat, which was

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considered good, according to Laura. She believed healthy people were fat, poor people were thin. Maddy, also a bit on the chunky side, picked at her food, too, except for the mashed potatoes, which she consumed completely. But she said nothing about Debra. She seemed happier, teased Woodie for being so sober, and laughed at Bill when he burped once after guiding food into his mouth like a scooper in a coal mine clearing a blast. Eva believed that in an eating contest, Bill would be the winner by acclamation. It was about three in the afternoon when all the dishes were washed and put away, Laura’s hair was washed and put up, and Bill was asleep, in the parlor, contented with a cud of snuff floating in his mouth. Woodie and Maddy were in their rooms. It was time for Eva to go. “Mom, I’ll see you next Sunday,” she said as she bundled herself in her coat and scarf. Jimmy had gone to a friend’s house after dropping Eva off, but she telephoned him and he appeared. He didn’t say much when he entered the house, just stood at the edge of the rug, twiddling his cap and smiling. “If the weather’s bad, I’ll still try. Trains usually run.” Eva turned to Jimmy. “If you can’t drive to the

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station, call me so I won’t make the trip and get stuck.” Jimmy nodded his head. “Okay, good seeing you, Mom. Tell Dad I said good bye, and Woodie and Maddy, too.” “I will.” Laura leaned against the kitchen door stile. “Take care of yourself. Good dinner.” “Thanks.” Eva and Jimmy headed for the door. “Sis. Sis.” Maddy called as she ran down the hallway to the parlor. “I want Debra.” She ran over and plucked the doll from Eva’s handbag. She laughed and cuddled Debra. “Maddy, you’re just awful,” Eva said. She knelt and grabbed Maddy and started tickling her. Maddy squealed and tried to pull away. “You were fooling me, weren’t you?” Maddy giggled. “Yeah.” “Little dickens,” Eva said and kissed Maddy on the forehead. “The devil’s gonna get you.” She held Maddy’s face tightly between her hands and flipped her tooth directly in front of Maddy’s nose. She

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shrieked, but this time collapsed laughing in Eva’s arms. “Well.” Eva looked at Laura who was smiling with an Itold-you-so expression. “She’s different, I’ll say that.” Maddy recovered, pulled away, and ran down the hall singing Ring Around the Rosy in a pipey voice. “Great imagination,” Laura said. “Okay, see you next week.” Jimmy. Nothing was said as Jimmy drove back to town. Eva broke the silence. “I think Maddy’s got a screw loose.” “Maddy’s screws are rolling around like a baby rattle.” Jimmy didn’t take his eyes off the road. “And Woodie?” “Lots of rattlin’.” “What’s going on, Jimmy?” “I don’t know. I’m gone ever’ chance I get, so I don’t see. I just don’t know, Sis.” Eva peered out the side window and thought about the day, especially the incident with Maddy. She had worried about Maddy and Woodie, the babies, and how their parents’ split had affected them. But Maddy was two when Laura left Eva went out ahead of

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Walter, and Woodie was about three years older. She concluded that they were the least influenced by it, but after what she saw today, she decided she was wrong; there was something not right, she was sure.

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Chapter 11 Jack threaded a small bouquet of heliotrope into the lapel of his suit. “Thanks, Paul. Gotta smell good for the ladies.” The florist smiled and bobbed his head. Jack was a frequent customer for the heliotrope grown in large pots inside his store. Jack sniffed the purple blossoms. “Ah, love that grapey smell,” he said, winking at Paul. Stepping outside, he felt the cold air but, unlike Chicago, no snow had fallen. He pulled his overcoat tighter around him, gave a tug to his fedora, and started walking toward the Seelbach Hilton where he knew he’d find Adele. * Jack met Adele Washington at The National Theatre soon after he moved to Louisville. He’d gone with a woman he’d picked up in a bar to see The Diamond Revue, one of the few vaudeville shows still traveling the circuit, and Metropolis, the movie that would close the revue. When Adele came in and sat beside him, he noticed she was a very attractive older woman. Beautiful black hair, worn loose, tinged slightly with gray, large expressive

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eyes that sparkled in the low house light, a small nose and delicate chin, dressed to the nines in a ruby gown with a black lace shawl—-Jack immediately thought, class. Even with the gray and the few lines around her eyes and mouth, he couldn’t tell her age. When the curtain opened on the first act, he saw she was excited and fixated on the action. It surprised him because first acts were always duds, just some stupid thing to fill time so latecomers could be seated without disturbing important acts later. He wondered if she knew someone on stage because it was not worth all that laughter she put out. As the show went on, she was even more into it, not only laughing aloud at almost anything said or done, but also making comments as if she were coaching the performers. At one point she said, “No. Hold the shoe while you talk, then hit him.” Not able to take it any longer, Jack leaned over and said, “You must think this is pretty cool, huh?” “Oh, sorry if I bothered you, but I used to be in the business and I get all charged up when I see this stuff. Sorry.” “No bother, except I think I’d rather watch you than

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the show.” She laughed, turning back to the stage. “You’re from New Orleans, aren’t you?” he said. She snapped her face to him. “How’d you know that?” “The lilt in your voice. I spent some time in New Orleans, and I know how they sound. Like you’re from New York but with a French accent.” “Creole. It comes from the Creole in us.” Cautious, she stared at Jack. “I’ll let you get back to the show.” He almost forgot he had a date, but when he turned to her, he saw she was bored and almost asleep. The last act before intermission was Smith and Dale, a popular comedy team, which was a surprise because the act wasn’t on the bill. According to the emcee, the duo was just passing through Louisville and agreed to appear that night only. “This is a great act,” the woman shouted over the applause. “I worked with them once.” Mostly a slapstick comedy act with snappy dialogue,

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Smith and Dale performed their famous routine, Doctor Kronkheit and His Only Living Patient. Appearing with a young woman who played the nurse, Smith played the doctor and Dale was the patient. “Are you the doctor’s nurse?” Dale asked the girl. “Yes.” “What? The doctor is sick, too?” The audience laughed at each corny joke, and by the time the act was over, everyone was ready for a break. When the houselights came up, Jack nudged his girlfriend. “Rise and shine, Sweetheart.” She gave him a groggy stare. “Intermission, kid,” he said, offering his hand. “I’m leaving, Jack,” she said as she struggled to her feet. “This shit’s boring. Come to think of it, you’re boring.” She stomped out to the aisle and disappeared in the crowd. Jack turned to the woman beside him. She was gazing at the ceiling and losing at an attempt to stifle a laugh. “Uh, we weren’t close,” he said. The woman yelped with laughter and sat back down.

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When she could, she said, “I’ve seen guys brushed off, but you was swatted, baby.” He was laughing, too. “My name’s Jack Stewart.” Calmed now, she stood, smiling at him. “Adele Washington.” “Well, Miss Washington. It is Miss? I don’t like

getting my jaw broke by a jealous husband.” “It’s Mrs., but my husband passed several years ago.” “Oh, my condolences.” “Yes.” “Well, then, Mrs. Washington, will you join me outside?” A warm October night greeted them, complete with a breeze carrying the sweet perfume of dying leaves. He offered her a cigarette, took one for himself, and lit both. “So, do I understand you were in show business?” In the dim glow of the marquee lights he noticed her skin was a soft olive shade, and her dark almond shaped eyes glistened from between thick lashes. Her lips, full and sensuous, set off glimmering, white teeth. “Years ago. I toured for Keith and Albee, starting in He smiled. “Do you smoke?”

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1900. I was twenty-one.” “Wait a minute. You’re not much older’n twenty-one now.” “Bless your heart, Mr. Stewart. So sweet of you, but might we leave age outta this conversation?” “Okay. You were twenty-one and working for who?” “Keith and Albee. They owned all of vaudeville in those years. Still do for that matter. I was a hoofer.” “Hoofer?” “Dancer. I danced. Tap, ballet, interpretive. All of it. I’ve danced with the best, like the Nicholas Brothers once at the Palace in New York, and I’ve danced with the worst. Ever hear of Teddy Allen?” “No, can’t say as I have.” He flipped his smoke into the street and leaned against the brick wall of the theatre. “Well, no wonder. I danced with him in a revue in Wilkes-Barre. He had two left feet and both of them were retarded.” She dropped her cigarette butt and gently pressed it into the sidewalk.

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“So, why’d you quit?” She hesitated moment, fixing her eyes on the traffic moving along the street. “Oh, I just got tired. I did two, sometimes five, shows a day, everyday. On the road constantly, never having a home. I wasn’t big time, sort of middle time, you might say. Never a headliner, but I made a living. Of course, vaudeville is really dead now ‘cause of movies, ‘specially the talkies. What you see tonight is rare, a real live vaudeville show. That’s why I’m excited.” Jack smiled at her and offered his arm. “Well, Mrs. Washington, I think the curtain is about to go up.” She took his arm and returned his smile. “Love the fragrance of those flowers you got in your button hole.” “Heliotrope.” First up was a short play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a relic of old vaudeville, Adele told him. Two comedy acts followed, Sanderson and Bowman with fast one-liners that made everyone laugh, and a ventriloquist act that was just plain corny, Jack thought, although Adele enjoyed it,

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joking that she had dated the dummy. Dancers and singers followed, all pretty fair in Jack’s opinion, Adele concurring with a lot of laughter and enthusiastic applause. Then, as had been the custom in vaudeville since the advent of movies, the film, Metropolis, began as the closer. After a few minutes, Jack leaned over and whispered to Adele, “You enjoying this?” “No. I’ve seen it.” “Can we go?” Without a word they got up and went out. Jack suggested they find someplace to eat, but Adele said she needed to get home. “I’m an old woman, Mr. Stewart.” She grinned. “No you’re not, and my name is Jack, Adele, if I may.” “You may, Jack, but if I’m not old then I am tired.” She hesitated, and then continued. “This was fun. I’m glad we sort of bumped into each other.” “Me too.” Once again admired her smile and dark eyes.

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“Sorry your girl ran off.” “Oh, that’s okay. I think I was stupid for picking her up. Just lonely, I guess.” “You’re not married?” “No. What would a married guy be doing running around like this?” “You’d be surprised. Hey, a cab.” Jack whistled, stopping the cab, which backed up to where they stood. While Adele got in, Jack said to the driver, “Take the lady home and here’s enough for the fare and you.” “Jack, you don’t need to do that.” “Yeah, I do. I wanna see you again.” She leaned back, looked at him, smiling slightly. “I don’t know, Jack, that may not be a good idea.” “Why not? Don’t tell me you’re too old, because I

don’t buy that.” “It’s more than that.” She closed the door and rolled down the window. “You’re a sweet young man, and it was great, but let’s call it a night.” She leaned forward.

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“Driver.” The car sped away, and Jack stood with his hands on his hips, not believing what had happened. For two nights, he hung around the theatre hoping to see her but gave up when she didn’t appear. Since he was incapable of carrying a torch for any woman for very long, she grew dim in a week and faded from his memory in two. The railroad also got busy. It seemed like he Stormy were never in Louisville the rest of that October and November. Thankfully, by early December work had simmered down, and they had some time off. Jack went back on the prowl. “You ever think ‘bout anythin’ but women?” asked him once. “Yeah. I think about food, now and then.” In fact he thought about food on a chilly Saturday evening just before Christmas as he made his way down Grande Street toward Broadway to see what was available at his usual haunts. “What I wouldn’t give for a bowl of black-eyed peas and some greens,” he said to himself as he walked. “And some cornbread. Mmmm. Mammy little baby sho do Stormy

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love some shortenin’ bread.” He’d heard of a speakeasy on Wilson Avenue that served incredible, down home food. Speaks were not known for food, and this was in Little Africa, the area of downtown where blacks had resided for over thirty years. It was rare but not unheard of for white people, most always men, to go into Little Africa, but it was usually for nefarious reasons because police presence there was considered unnecessary; blacks were considered unnecessary. Occasionally, for a thrill, white couples would go to a Little Africa speakeasy just to be daring, or because they just could; blacks couldn’t frequent white speaks, but whites didn’t have that restriction. Jack had been reared to believe blacks were inferior, never questioning the Jim Crow laws that fabricated the idea of “place” for blacks and whites, but like a lot of Southerners, his attitude toward individual black people was different. Believing there were a few good nigras, he wasn’t hesitant about dealing with them. In fact, after his mother died when he was two, a black woman had raised him. He remembered her cooking, which was considered the best in town, and his appetite got the better of him. He decided to risk it, knowing he could defend himself and

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run like a deer when motivated. He headed east to Wilson Avenue. The place was called Alonso’s. From the outside it resembled a restaurant not unlike a lot of greasy spoons in downtown Louisville: two big windows, covered with heavy, deep maroon drapes, framing a door set five feet back from the sidewalk. When he got there he realized he didn’t know how to get in because he didn’t know the password or anyone who could vouch for him. Naturally, they would be careful of a white guy, who might be undercover police. Deciding to try, he knocked on the door. The little square window, the common door ornament of all speakeasies, opened, and a pair of gorgeous dark eyes looked at him. “My God, it’s Jack,” a woman’s voice said and the door opened. He gawked at her, open mouthed. “It is Jack, isn’t it? Forget your last name, but we

met at the theatre the night your girl ran out on you.” He didn’t answer. “Look, we don’t need to heat up the outside. If you’re Jack, the guy I met….” “The vaudeville girl.”

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“Would you please come in before I freeze.” She scooted behind the door and peeped at him. Inside, the air was hot and humid, reeking of a mixture of hops, stale whiskey, the oily sawdust covering the floor, and sweaty bodies. He gasped and breathed through his mouth. Black men and women occupied a bar fashioned from a wide plank of wood set on two sawhorses with stools crowded around. Under a stairwell were several small tables, occupied by couples and tended by girls decked out in long dresses. Beyond the end of the stairs was a large floor washed in hard white light where people danced to music from a wind-up Victrola operated by a boy who looked about fourteen. Screaming voices, pierced with raunchy laughter, rose above the tinny music that made Jack’s chest vibrate. No one glanced at him twice. Jack turned and looked at the woman who had let him in. “I recall your face,” he shouted, “but I can’t remember your name. Does this noise cause people to go deaf?” “Eventually it probably does.” She smiled. “Adele. I remember that smile.” She looked different in the dim light from over the bar

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but still very attractive. Dressed in a light green skintight taffeta gown that floated just above the sawdust, her hair gathered by a headband of white lace, she took Jack’s breath away. But he noticed lines in her face that appeared deeper than he remembered; she looked a bit older than she had that night in October, and he didn’t recall her skin being quite so dark. He suspected it was the light. Adele saw the questions on his face. “You wanna know what I’m doing here, don’t you?” “Yes.” Now that she was closer, he saw she was at least middle aged, not only because of the lines in her face, but also the look in her eyes that said she’d been around the block many times, a streetwise mien that he’d seen on older women in countless joints he’d frequented as a sailor. “I work here, for Alonso, who you don’t need to know about.” She hesitated, gazing into Jack’s eyes. “I am also mulatto.” Jack drew back. “You do know what a mulatto is?”

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He nodded that he did. “My mamma was a Creole and my daddy was white. I favor him, and that’s why you heard New Orleans drop outta my mouth when we met.” She smiled at his astonishment. “Jack, I’ve been passin’ all my life because I can and because there are benefits to bein’ both.” He drew closer so she could hear. “You lied to me at the theatre.“ He frowned. “No, no. Come on Jack. You didn’t look close enough, or maybe I should say you didn’t know what to look for. Your girl had run out on you, and you needed to score. And, even at fifty I do clean up pretty good.” He stared at her, not smiling. “Hey, loosen up.” She took his arm. “You can have a good time here. Lots of white folks come slummin’ because we don’t get raided like those places on Broadway where Salvation Army do-gooders keep things stirred up. Police’re scared of us, too. What’ll

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you drink?” “I don’t drink.” “Then why’d you come here?” “I heard you had food.” She threw back her head and laughed all over her body, staggering around like she was tipsy, stomping on floor, cackling at the top of her voice. Controlling herself at last, she looked at Jack, who watched her. “My Lord, Jack, you came all the way down to Little Africa for food? There aren’t any restaurants in the

white part of town?” “I heard you have down-home Southern victuals.” “We do. Best in town, but Jack, white people come here to drink, not to eat.” She studied him for a moment. “You’re serious?” “Yeah. My money good down here?” “Nope, ‘cause you are my guest.” She pulled him to a table, helped him off with his overcoat and hat, and sat him down, taking the chair

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opposite. “I can’t put you together, white boy. You for real?” “Do you have black-eyed peas, greens and corn bread?” She dropped her head on the table and shook with laughter before looking at him. “Yes, we do, and we serve coffee, too. Would you like some of that, Sir?” “Coffee’d be great.” She got up. “Right away, and I’ll be back ‘cause I just gotta talk to you, Jack. You are somethin’ else.” She disappeared around the corner of the staircase, threading her way through the crowd of dancers, a giant lump of heads, arms and legs gyrating as one. The room had a milky blue haze that should have quenched any nicotine fit, but didn’t. Lighting a cigarette, he wondered what in God’s world was he doing there. He looked around and saw nothing but black faces, a few of them studying him now and making him feel as if he were standing naked in a department store window and risking his life for a bowl of black-eyed peas. Through the din floated a Duke Ellington number doing something spectacular with trombones and

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saxophones. He glanced at the bar just as a well-dressed man approached him. “Oh, shit, here it comes,” he muttered and prepared himself. Dressed in a light gray three-piece suit with a gold watch chain hanging from the vest, the man was tall, about six foot three, and powerfully built. Jack felt a beating coming. The man offered his hand. “I’m Alonso. You all right?” Jack took Alonso’s hand. “Yeah, uh, waiting for Adele to come back with some coffee.” Alonso looked at him and grinned. “Adele is good people. We think a lot of her around here.” The warning in Alonso’s voice was eloquent. After a pause, he said, “You all right, here. We don’t look for no trouble.” He motioned toward the bar. “Have a drink on me.”

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“I don’t drink.” Alonso grinned. “Good for you.” He turned and walked back to the bar. Jack sighed with relief as he watched Adele return. “Coffee.” She placed a steaming mug with a spoon in front of him. “Cream and sugar.” She set a sugar bowl and matching creamer on the table. While he fixed his coffee, she pulled the other chair close to him and sat. “So we can hear each other,” she said. “Your food will be here in a minute. One of the girls’ll bring it.” He sipped a spoonful, added a drop more of cream, sipped again, and placed his spoon on the table. She looked at him, and Jack felt he was being researched. She scanned his hair, his mouth, and his entire face. “Okay, Jack,” she said close to his ear, “why’d you really come down here? You lookin’ for chocolate drops?”

“I came here for food,” he said, annoyance tingeing his tone.

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“Jack. White boys come here for what I got in the cookie jar upstairs. Toll house cookies. Chocolate chip.” Jack smiled, snuffed his cigarette. “I don’t need to buy service from whores. Never have.” Leaning as close as possible, he caught a whiff of Chanel No. Five perfume, the one he remembered from his time in Paris during the war. “I don’t care for chocolate.” She turned to him, their noses almost touching. “Well, it’s sweet and creamy, but everyone to his taste.” He noted the aroma of gin on her breath. A short, plump girl came to the table carrying a tray of something steaming. “It’s your peas. Sorry, no greens. Out of season.” Adele moved aside so the girl could serve. “So, who told you about us?” “Guy at work. Ray Starkey.” “I know Ray. He loves chocolate.” * Jack went into the lobby of the Seelbach Hilton and

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immediately up to the mezzanine where Adele, looking like a queen, sat in a crimson chair. Their friendship had grown close after that night at Alonso’s and the bowl of black-eyed peas. Adele was a straight talker and never hesitated to give advice or to have an opinion. After their usual hugs with kisses on the cheeks, he told her about Chicago and Eva, and the job Marty had offered. When she told him he’d be a fool not to take the job, he listened.

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Chapter 12 Jack moved to Chicago in middle March and went to work for Marty at The Book Store. Like Marty had predicted, the job was easy. The only trouble that occurred consistently was over reservation times. Let’s see, Mr. Prendergast, we have an 8:30 time. No? Well, I’m sorry, we are all booked up. Yes? Yes, I’ll

tell Marty you said that. He’ll be so impressed. (Asshole.) Jack whipped Joey into shape the first day; just messed him up enough to ensure that Joey knew Jack was boss. Soon Joey came to respect him, even look up to him. He became Joey’s reluctant mentor. Jack thought about looking Eva up when he first got to Chicago, but after her frigid brush-off, he had second thoughts. Time went on through April and May, and with the money he was making and the girls who were available, he put Eva in a special room in his mind and closed the door. He bought a car, a Ford Model-T Tudor sedan for $675.00 in cash, and, since transportation was no problem, he chose to live at the Lawrence Hotel in Uptown. He loved it: four rooms with kitchenette and tiled bath; all new furniture from Marshall Fields; linen and maid service;

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the Viceroy Hotel just down the street where Phil Levinson’s Viceroy Palais Syncopators played all the time; food from everywhere in the world; the Aragon Ball Room nearby where girls were knee-deep--all for a hundred and sixty bucks a month, more than he’d paid in a month for anything. What more could a single guy imagine. The weather that spring in Chicago was unseasonably warm, with an average temperature around fifty, something that surprised Chicagoans. It rained a lot, but Jack loved to tool around in his car when he wasn’t working. Sometimes he had companions--Marty and Joey rode with him--but often he just went out on his own and looked around. He drove all over Grant Park and up as far as Evanston. Lake Shore Drive was under construction, but he cruised it to look at the lake, the lagoons, the beaches at Burnham Park, and take in the sites around Field Museum and the Art Institute. He watched the building of an aquarium, which Marty told him would hold five million gallons of water and would be named after John G. Shedd, some friend of Marshall Field who gave tons of money to Chicago. Marty told him all of the buildings around Grant Park along Lake Shore Drive were part of some exposition held in 1893. Jack couldn’t have cared less about the

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history, but he loved the drives. Life was good, even great. Screw the idea that he was working for gangsters. The way he saw it, everyone worked for gangsters one way or another, people hustling money any way they could. In May rumors about hard times began to emerge. Jack read in the Tribune that a young 19-year-old futurist, Peter Drucker, from Wall Street, was harping away that prices would continue to rise and that eventually a business disaster would take place. Jack laughed out loud and considered Drucker a know-nothing snot-nose. With the overall economy booming with a capital B, Jack decided to invest part of his savings after the first of the year. Excited by the prospect of having savings for the first time in his life, he saw a broker and picked out the stocks, but didn’t invest right away. He told the broker he wanted to save some for a rainy day. Truth was, Jack heard a symphony from his money jingling around in a bank, and he loved music. He bought tailor-made suits, tailor-made shirts with collars big enough for his size eighteen neck, silk ties, and handmade shoes. He glittered like Richard Cory, but unlike old Richard, Jack had no thoughts of suicide. This

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was the life. The last day of May that year, Jack learned an old Chicago truism: When June comes around, the weather is hot right away. Last night might have been in the forties or fifties, but today it is close to ninety. It surprised a lot of people. They carried winter coats all day, men ripped ties off, and women used their hats as fans. Winter was over, spring was a warm, moist memory, and summer had rudely pushed both out of the way. Since he didn’t go to work until six in the evening, Jack drove around the city after a leisurely breakfast looking for a good place to eat lunch and to keep a breeze blowing over him. He found himself on Halsted in Greek Town, and thought of Gus’s Taverna and Eva. “I wonder if she’s still there?” He smiled. “Okay, Jack, let’s have lunch.” He parked and crossed the street to the restaurant. Nothing had changed. The smell of basil, oregano and garlic met him when he opened the door, overlaid by the tangy musk of olives curing to a stunning sharpness in brine and their own virgin oil. It was like a sauna

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inside. Chinese flew out of the kitchen carrying George’s myriad complaints, the counter was filled with patrons loudly agonizing over the sudden summer, four waitresses were almost running, arms laden with full plates, trying to make their ways through a field of purses, shopping bags, and outstretched feet without tripping, and Gus, unlit cigar in the side of his mouth, hollering over the din in a mixture of Greek and English; Jack felt he was home. He noticed Eva was not one of the four waitresses. Foula came over to him. “One for lunch?” she asked without looking at him, scanning the room for a table. “Yes.” He was a bit surprised she didn’t recognize him. “Follow me, please.” She grabbed a menu and darted across the room to a table next to the wall near the kitchen door. “Sorry to put you so close to the kitchen, but it’s hot everywhere in here.” She removed one place setting and laid a menu on the table. “It’s all right.“

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Foula still hadn’t looked at him. “Is Eva Conner working today?” Foula did a double take. “I know you. You’re the guy Eva went out with that time. Railroader, right?” “Was. Is she here?” “Yeah, she’s in back. This isn’t her station, but it’s okay if she waits on you. I’ll get her.” Foula smiled. “You really look prosperous, uh, . . . sorry, I forget your name.” “Jack. But tell her it’s Stew. She’ll understand.” Foula disappeared into the kitchen. Looking at the menu, he noticed they still had dolmades. “It’s a Greek restaurant, Jack. Jeez!” He glanced around hoping no one heard him. A few foreign cuisines had crossed his palate since moving to Chicago. Mostly variants of chop suey, which, although not dampening his taste for black-eyed peas, made him realize there was other food. At the Viceroy Palais

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one evening, with a delicious brunette who later became dessert, he’d been persuaded to try dolmades. He loved them. So, today, he told himself, he would try Gus’s recipe. He laughed. With George cooking them, they might even taste like chop suey. He was still perusing the menu when Eva came out of the kitchen. She stopped and looked at him. Dressed in a bottle green blazer with a putty colored shirt and a subtle yellow silk tie, complete with beige knickers, soft brown leather square toed shoes, argyle socks, jet black hair parted down the middle, she concluded that he was a gorgeous son-of-a-bitch. He looked up as she crossed to his table. “Eva.” He stood. “It’s so good to see you again.” “Likewise, Stew. You look prosperous.” She gave a cursory smile. Taking her offered hand, he tried to kiss her cheek as Southern gentlemen were used to doing, but she turned away. “So, what brings you to our humble place today?”

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She withdrew her hand and pulled out her order pad. “Looking at you, I’d say you were slumming.” “I was just driving by, thought of you and decided to stop in to say hello and have some dolmades. That’s all.” He sat. She smiled. “Good. The dolmades are wonderful. Fresh made each day.” She wrote the order on her pad. “So, what else?” “Just the dolmades and whatever comes with them.” She frowned and eyed Jack. “Uh, dolmades are an appetizer served with a mintyogurt sauce. They’re not a main course. You just want appetizers?” “Well, when I had them at the Palais, they were a main course.” “The Palais. Well, we’re not in that league here. Just down-home Greek food. Here, dolmades are appetizers. If that’s all you want . . .” “Wait a minute.”

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He opened the menu and scanned it. “A sandwich of some kind.” “What’s this soulaki? sandwich.” He looked up at her “Souvlaki,” Eva pronounced carefully. “It’s a simple lamb steak cut up and put into pita bread.” “What’s pita bread?” “A flat pocket bread.” “Bread’s got pockets? With loose change and hankies?” “Shut up. Do you want to know about this or not?” “Shoot.” “Okay. Simple sliced lamb steak in pita bread, served with tsatsiki sauce.” He started to ask, but she cut him off. “The sauce is made with cucumber, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and mint. And a Greek salad.” “That’s that salad with olives and that funny cheese, right?” “Feta cheese, not funny.” “I like that cheese. Feta?” A lamb something. Says

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“Feta. You want the souvlaki? And dolmades?” “Yeah. The whole works. And coffee, now, please.” Noting the order, she looked at Jack for a moment, smiling. “It really is good to see you again, Stew, and I’m glad you’re doing so well, but I really think you need a keeper, at least when you go out to eat.” “Okay, I’m free for dinner. At the Palais. What time do I pick you up, my keeper?” He smiled and lifted his

thick, dark eyebrows and opened his blue eyes wide. “Nice try. I’ll be working. Here. And I’m nobody’s keeper.” She turned and went back into the kitchen. Watching her walk away he couldn’t help think that she was a hard assed dame. What would it take just to talk to her? No sense of humor. And why was he putting himself though this. He had better things to do and better women to be with. “What the futz, Jack,” he mumbled, “Maybe you’re an idiot. He sipped the coffee she placed before him without a word. Seeing she was busy with other patrons, he decided

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she was too busy talk. He’d eat and run, and to hell with this shit; she was an ice cube. The dolmades were sensational, the souvlaki very tasty, and the salad was fresh and had lots of olives and cheese. Passing on the tsatsiki sauce because he found it too bland with the lamb, he asked for mustard instead, which she served to him with a deep sigh and a look that said he was hopeless. “I like mustard,” he called after her as she went behind the counter to serve Soko, who turned and saluted Jack with a glass of iced tea and a sly grin.

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Chapter 13 Eva was delighted to see Jack, but she suspected he was working for crooks and the money he was making inflated his self-importance. She wasn’t about to pump him up any more by showing her delight. As far as she was concerned, he was a gangster if he worked for his friend at that speakeasy. She hadn’t asked him where he worked, but dressed as he was, she suspected that he had taken the job. What was it? right. She was a little surprised when he left without saying good-bye. Busing his table, she found he’d left her a tendollar tip. Spinning around, she tried to find him outside, but he was gone. “That lousy bastard,” she said under her breath. “I’m not for sale. I am not for sale.” Foula asked as she cleared the Bouncer? He looked like a bouncer, all

“You okay, Eva?”

kitchen door with an order lining her left arm and a pitcher of water in her right hand. “I’ll tell you about it later,” Eva said. She stuffed the sawbuck in her pocket and went back to work.

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From early childhood Eva had been perplexed by the ambiguity of what she felt was her true self and what she felt she had to present to the world around her, fraught as it was with a mother who did cruel things and a father who drank himself into dangerous oblivion. A compliant daughter, Eva minded her mother because Laura demanded total obedience. She became amenable out of fear. To her father she was the cuddly daughter, crawling up on his lap and allowing herself to be mauled amid the stink of a drunkard’s breath and lathered by kisses that drenched her face in slobbers and snot. Even sober, it seemed Walter doted too much on her, sometimes to the point of officiousness. As an adult she wondered if it was a father’s love for his daughter, or a darker, more sinister need, which compelled him uncontrollably. it as stupid on her part. To herself she was not at all obliging. There was, indeed, a kind of hatred she held for both her parents. There was a hatred she felt for herself for being what they wanted her to be. When Laura threw her out at eighteen, she was terrified. All she knew how to do was be obedient and yield to any person who claimed love for her. Her Aunt Vera replaced Laura in her life, although Vera She’d dismissed

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was not like Laura at all. Vera was sweet-natured and kind, and she demanded nothing of Eva except due respect as her elder, a little work around the boarding house, and some laughter and joy, of which Vera had an abundance. But Eva perceived Vera’s interest to be a demand for conformity. Sometimes Eva wanted to cry instead of laugh, she hated the cooking and cleaning at the boarding house-what she’d done all her life--and Vera drank a bit, not to the extent of her brother, Walter, but enough that Eva did not respect her very much. So she smiled, laughed, and played the fool, drinking at times with Vera because that’s what Vera wanted her to do. When Jack Herrick entered her life, she imitated what Walter had wanted her do: She crawled up on Jack’s lap and allowed herself to be mauled. She was a virgin when she met him but that soon ended. Although she enjoyed sex, she often felt she submitted out of obligation. He was fairly gentle with her, but many times she wanted to not give in. That she was cheating herself gnawed at her. What do I want, she often asked herself. What hope do I have for myself that is suppressed by my need to please, to obey? * An event changed her life when she was twelve. For

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about a year she attended church regularly. Laura and Walter were by no means religious, although Laura did say prayers before going to bed. Her father was a preacher, or at least saw himself as a preacher, and nighttime prayer was required. Believing the whole idea of God and church was a basket of bullshit, Walter just laughed and went on his way. Although he didn’t stop his kids from going to church, he discouraged with his attitude. Laura, however, encouraged it because for an hour or two once a week she had no kids to take care of, unless she had just had a baby, which, it seemed to Eva, was the all the time. Of the three kids, Eva was the only one who regularly attended that year. Blant and Lee pretended to go but always hid out, smoked, and did whatever boys do when idle and unhappy. It was a fundamental Baptist church, a village church, insular and parochial, led by people who questioned nothing that was taught to them from the pulpit or the Bible and who understood little of either. God was up in the sky, incomprehensible. They were told Jesus was God’s son, which they understood because most of them were parents and all of them were sons and daughters. They were

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encouraged to believe Jesus loved them and wanted them to love Him and one another, and in return they would be saved from death. Sounded pretty good. “Just come up here and kneel down and ask Jesus to come into your heart and you’ll be saved.” Eva heard the preacher announce the same thing every Sunday during The Call, which was supported by the choir quietly singing Just As I Am. Young and old queued and in turn knelt before the altar while the preacher paced behind the pulpit and cried out for more to come and “lay your heavy burdens down before the Lord, whose blood was spilt to wash away your sins.” People sobbed as they knelt, so sorry for the sins they had committed and so desirous of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Each Sunday a few new worshipers came, giving their lives to Christ, but most who came were recurrent because the intervening week had been difficult and filled with sin, and they needed saving, once more. One elderly man told Eva that he’d been saved every Sunday for more than thirty-five years. She found out later he drank. For Eva, The Call was in the singing of Just As I Am. She’d joined the choir, and music became her life. Singing had always been important to her, especially when her

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daddy got in a mood and started singing some old songs he’d learned as a kid, and tapped his foot and blew squeaky tunes from the old harmonica, which he called a mouth organ and which he always carried in his pocket. Winter nights, he took out his mouth organ and went into a rendition of Camp Town Races or On Top of Old Smoky, but the one she liked best, because he’d sing the words and she could sing with him, was an old song about some Irish war way back when, called Boolavogue. Even though she didn’t know what the name meant, and neither did Walter, she loved the name: Boolavogue. At Boolavogue as the sun was setting O’er the bright May Meadows of Shelmalier A rebel hand set the heather blazing And brought the neighbors far and near. . .

Then came the part about Father Murphy and how his body was burned on the rack. Eva considered it an inspiring song because it told about strength, bravery, and how people could fight for what they believed in. When she joined the choir, music became what she believed in, and since her mother and father did not object to her going to church, after the chores were done,

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of course, it was her time. Music absorbed her. She sang all the time: washing dishes, laying the table for meals, washing clothes, scrubbing floors, and placing newspapers down after. A lot of times her songs were hymns she had learned at church, or an old song her father had taught her; she wore Boolavogue out. She sang after she went to bed, even though her father said not to sing in bed “cause the devil’ll git you when you’re dead.” Her head rang

with tunes so much that at times she could hardly think; she’d be transported into the song until Laura would scream at her to pay attention. Laura could always bring her back. The choir rehearsed after church each Sunday for the next week. Miss Klute, the choir director, went through the hymns, and if they were going to sing an anthem, they rehearsed that, too. Anthems took a long time to get ready, so about once a month was all the choir could offer. Eva liked rehearsals better than singing on Sunday because it took longer and she could sing more. Miss Klute was an accomplished musician. She had studied music in Springfield at the Women’s Conservatory and could play the piano and the organ with commanding presence. She insisted the choir, amateurs that they were,

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strive for perfection. As far as Miss Klute was concerned, they rarely reached the goal, but she usually told them that they sounded pretty darn good. One Sunday while rehearsing the postlude Miss Klute asked Eva if she could remain a few minutes. She wanted to talk to her. Intrigued that Miss Klute would want to see her privately, Eva stayed. “Eva, you have a beautiful voice.” “I do?” Eva was startled. No one had ever said that to her. In fact, her mother told her to shut up the caterwauling. “Yes, you do. I have been impressed by the clarity of your voice and how mature it sounds for your age. How old are you, Eva?” “Twelve.” “A big voice for twelve. Do you think your parents would let you take voice lessons? From me? No cost. We

would work about three hours a day, here at the church. Saturdays and Sundays off. Well, Sunday service, of course.” Miss Klute smiled. “I’d love to work with you.”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask.” She knew her mother would never allow it. Three hours a

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day would mean after school, and Laura expected her home fifteen minutes after school let out to start work around the house. “Well, let me know. Next Sunday, maybe?” “I’ll ask. I’ll tell you next Sunday.” Eva left the church and went straight home. Just as she thought, her mother looked at her, frowned, wrinkled her nose, grinned a straight-mouth evil grin and shook her head. They were in the kitchen preparing dinner. “Voice lessons? Don’t be stupid. You can’t sing. The woman must be deaf,” Laura laughed more. “You sing like two pigs dying in a sack. Jesus, Eva, what nonsense. I need you here, not gallivantin’ off to no voice lessons.” She walked away laughing. Eva wasn’t shocked by her mother’s reaction; she had expected it. But her ridicule, her scorn, and her contempt slashed Eva to the quick more than if Laura had slapped her or beaten her with a strop. When Walter came home later that afternoon, sober, Laura told him about what Miss Klute had said. Walter looked at Eva and smiled.

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“Well, she does have a sweet little singin’ voice.” Eva brightened. “But voice lessons?” He dried his hands after washing them in the kitchen sink. “You don’t need no voice lessons to sing with your daddy, do you?” “Oh, I just thought maybe I could learn some more songs for us to sing.” Eva glanced at Laura for a reaction. Laura continued to smile and chuckle. “I got plenty songs you can learn,” Walter said and sat down at the table. Laura was scraping carrots at the sink, and Eva was snapping green beans. “Girls belong at home,” Walter said. “You can sing around here, can’t you? Do it all the time anyway.”

“Call that singin’?” Laura chimed in. No one said anything for a while. Inside, Eva was seething at both her mother and father. She hated her mother for ridiculing her, and she hated her father for

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saying that girls belonged at home. She wanted to scream at him and say that women like Miss Klute didn’t stay at home all the time. She did things other than housework and cleaning up baby shit. What about all those women she’d read about in the paper she scattered across the kitchen floor? Women like Marie Curie, a scientist, and that lady

from Montana, Jeannette Something-or-other, who was elected just last year to Congress. First woman ever elected to Congress. She knew without asking that her dad would say the lady was a hussy and should be taught a lesson by her husband, and that Madam Curie was a foreigner, which explained why she wasn’t normal. Only American women were normal, he’d say, those that stay home and tend to their business. She finished the beans and asked to be excused to the bathroom, where she cried into a towel so they wouldn’t hear. Nothing more was ever said about singing or voice lessons. Eva never went back to church, she stopped singing around the house or anywhere, and soon Walter stopped singing and playing his mouth organ. It wasn’t long until Eva accepted what her parents had said: She couldn’t sing, it was stupid to even think about it. She resigned herself that she was a poor country girl, nothing

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special. * But the disappointment became a longing that lodged itself like a knot in her chest as if there was something she could not swallow. It was with her now as she left Gus’ a little after ten o’clock that night and started her walk home.

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Chapter 14 Jack watched from the entrance of a drugstore across the street from Gus’s as Eva left and headed up Halsted. He called Marty and told him he’d be late, then hung around until he felt it was time for her to get off. After watching her walk by, he stepped out into the shadows and followed her. He knew he was crazy and knew he was on fire for some bizarre reason. Passion he’d never experienced before seethed within him, and he perceived that Eva had everything to do with it. Until this hot, humid day in June he had put her way back in his memory, but when he spotted Gus’s place, she broke out of that room he had made for her in his mind and waved at him. It was a fantasy, some trick of imagination that caused him joy and fear, something that compelled him to catch up with her and without thinking grab her arm and yell at her. “Damn it, Eva. Tell me what I did to make you hate me so much?” She screamed and wrenched away. When she saw it was Jack, she became livid and spat at him. “You asshole. You stupid asshole. Take your hands off me.”

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She lurched away and backed off. The street was filled with people, and a man turned and saw what happened. “Hey, Doll, you need me to smash this son-of-a-bitch?” He stepped between Jack and Eva. He was all of six-two, maybe two hundred fifty pounds, in a white polo shirt and dungarees, and well muscled. Jack’s face turned white and he approached the man. “I’d leave right now if I was you,” Jack said as he stared into the man’s eyes. “You ain’t me, Buddy.” Eva put her hand on the man’s shoulder and said, “It’s okay, mister. I can handle this bastard all by myself. I think he’s crazy, but I don’t think he’s dangerous. I don’t want you getting hurt on account of me.” “Suit yourself, Girlie.” The man backed away from Jack who was staring at him with a cold, menacing look. “But, there’d be just two hits. I’d hit him, and he’d hit the sidewalk. Simple.” “Go ahead,” Jack said, still staring at the man without any change of expression.

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“Nope. Lady says she can handle it.” He looked down at Eva who was breathing hard. “I’ll sit over there on that bench across the street for awhile.” He glared at Jack who had not moved. “If you need me, holler.” He strode slowly across the street and sat on a bench reserved for streetcar riders, crossed his arms and watched Eva and Jack. Eva dug the wadded ten-dollar bill out of her pocket and threw it at Jack. “Here’s your ten. I’m not for sale.” Jack picked it up. “Eva.” He hesitated, looking hard at her. “What is with you? What the hell is wrong with you?

“Nothing’s wrong with me, Stew. I’m just not one of your cheap floozies who get all wet over money.” Jack stared at her for a moment. “Eva, for Christ’s sake. I gave you this sawbuck tip

because I could. For the first time in my stupid,

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miserable life I got some money, and, yeah, I am a little bit proud of that. I’m a country bumpkin from Tennessee, and I’m makin’ some real money, and I wanna share. wrong with that? Sharing?” What’s

“You’re working for that gangster, aren’t you?” “Marty? Marty ain’t no gangster, and, yeah, I’m his

bouncer. That don’t make me a gangster.” “You lie down with dogs, you get fleas.” “Aw, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” He put both hands on top of his head and walked a few steps away, and then let his arms drop and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Eva had crossed her arms and was staring back. “Okay, Eva. Let’s say you’re right. I am a gangster because I work for gangsters. And I make great money and can dress like this and live in a swell apartment uptown and drive a car that I paid for in cash. That’s all true, let’s say.” He paused and stepped closer to her. “What else is wrong with me? Oh, wait, I nearly Like your ex-husband,

forgot. My first name. Jack. Right? Jack What’s-his-name?”

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“Herrick.” “All right, Jack Herrick. Well, I ain’t Jack Herrick. I never was or never will be Jack Herrick. I wish I knew this Jack Herrick because I’d beat the holy, living shit outta him for what he did to you and what he’s doing to me. But, Eva, I ain’t him. You got to stop judging guys by this guy. Get over it. It’s sick to do that, to judge all guys by your ex. You’ll never be happy.” “And you think I would be happy with you? could make me happy?” “God damn it, Eva I just want to have some fun, get to know you, buy you things, take you places, spoil you a little. I think you need some spoilin’.” Eva laughed. “You’re something, Stew. You’re really something.” She glanced over at her protector on the bench. He was grinning big, enjoying. “Eva, I want to get to know you. I want you to get to know me. I ain’t a bad guy. I don’t drink booze, I don’t rob banks, I hang around a speakeasy for a few hours just watchin’. Never had any trouble there, no fights or anything. It’s a decent place that’s gotta be what it is That you

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because of a lousy law some do-gooders got passed.” He stepped in close to her. She could smell his cologne, his breath was fresh from the Sen-Sens he sucked on, and he was beautiful. “Hey, can’t we be friends? I ain’t asking you to jump

in the sack with me. I just wanna have a good time. And another thing, since you brought it up, do I look like a guy who needs to pay for it? Yeah, I know, big head, I

really love myself and all that. But no, it’s just fact. I dress well, I’m clean, I ain’t bad lookin’ and I got a pretty good personality. With all that and a little money, do you think I have to pay some woman to go out with me? Be honest.” Eva stepped back and began to laugh. “You are the most conceited man I have ever met.” It wasn’t said in anger or disgust. It was said playfully. She was smiling and her eyes were glistening. “Does that mean we can go some place and have coffee and talk?” “Aren’t you supposed to be working, Bouncer?” “I called Marty and told him my problem, and he said to go for it.”

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“What problem?” She placed her hands on her hips and confronted him. “You, you dizzy broad. You are my problem.” “Oh, such a sweet thing to say to a woman you want to go have coffee with. ‘Come on, Problem, let’s go talk about it.’ “Eva.” “You’re a son-of-a-bitch, Stew, and I don’t trust you any farther than I can throw you, but coffee’s to be had around the corner, and I know the owner, and if you get fresh, he’ll bounce your ass down Halsted like a stone across a lake. Dig, country boy?” He offered his arm. “I dig, country girl.” He looked across the street at the man on the bench and waved to him. “Thanks, Buddy. You’re all right.” They set out down Halsted to a little cafe called Braho’s Pie Shop where they spent most of the night just talkin’. Makes a girl feel real important.”

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Chapter 15 Jack and Eva spent as much time as possible together that summer, but it was difficult with their crazy work hours. He got to The Book Store around seven each evening and was there until after midnight most nights. Eva still did breakfast through dinner, which meant five in the morning until ten o’clock at night, six days a week. Sundays still belonged to her mother, but now Jack drove her and was fast becoming a favorite of her family. Jack and Laura got along well, and he and Bill had a lot in common, having both been in the war. Jack would listen patiently while Bill blew off about how he’d been wounded twice in hand-to-hand combat even though he had been a cook well away from the front. “He’s full of shit as a Christmas goose,” he told Eva after a visit. “He’s full of snuff.” “That, too.” Without all the bragging, Jack told of his time in France during the war, how he ran telephone lines between trenches and how, after the war was over, spent a remarkable tour in Paris. Eva wondered if there was one woman in Paris he did not sleep with, young or old.

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The drive to and from East Chicago was the highlight of the week for them because it was quality time even though most of the day was spent with Eva’s family. They talked a lot while Jack drove, and they stopped at various places along the way to look at sights. One was the new Lever Brothers plant going up at Five Points in Whiting, and there were little roads here and there leading to Lake Michigan where they could find a quiet spot. They took off their shoes and ran in the sand, chasing each other along the edge of the lake, or often they packed a picnic from Laura’s leftovers and enjoyed it along the shore. It was blazing hot that summer, so they loved to stop at the beaches at night when they drove home, when cool breezes drifted off the lake. Eva let Jack kiss her now. They even did some serious necking from time to time, and Eva loved Jack’s hands: huge, strong, but gentle. He knew where to touch a girl. No sex, though. Eva stopped at that, and even though Jack was tied loose and suffered pain that caused him to walk funny, he respected her and never pushed, although he groaned a lot. Sundays began at her apartment where she fixed breakfast for them on the double kerosene burner. She

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served bacon and eggs and toast, with coffee, which he said was the best he’d ever drunk, heavily laced with cream and sugar. He sat on the floor and leaned back against her bed as he ate, and she sat on the edge of the bed so his head touched her knee. Their best time was after breakfast with coffee, cigarettes and talk. They talked about everything they could think of. Eva loved to talk politics, and she was so well informed from reading newspapers and listening to news on the radio that she awed Jack. He seldom read newspapers, and all he listened to on radio was jazz. Nevertheless, in order to keep up with her, he listened to H. V. Kaltenborn in the morning while he shaved, Jimmy Fiddler when he wanted news from Hollywood, and Floyd Gibbons for anything else. He read the Chicago Tribune every day. They talked about religion, in which neither of them was much interested, and about what was going on in Chicago, particularly stories about Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, the O’Banions, and other gangsters that ran the town, like Bugs Moran and the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. She needled Jack about his gangster connections, but stopped when he got annoyed at her taunts. They

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revealed their dreams to each other. “If you could choose anything to do, no barriers at all, what would it be?” Eva asked one Sunday. “Maybe an electrician. I thinks there’s a future in it.” “Do it. You’ve got the money now. And you’re young. What’s stopping you?” Jack smiled. “I never finished high school. Ninth grade. I don’t think I could qualify.” “Have you tried?” “No, but . . .” “But, but, but, but. You can but your life away.” “So, if you could do anything you wanted to do, no holds barred, what would it be?” She sighed. “Nothing special, really.” She heard music in her head but shook it off. “I thought getting married and having babies was what I was supposed to do. Least that’s how I was raised to think. But…” She sipped her coffee and examined the nails on her

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left hand. “Bullshit. Everyone’s got dreams.” “Well, like I said, marriage, kids. But, that’s shot to hell, now, isn’t it?” “You really want kids?” “I did. I like kids. I helped Mom with the babies and I enjoyed it.” She propped her chin in her hand and looked at Jack. “How about you?” “I don’t want kids, actually. I like kids, too. I enjoy your sister, Maddy, and your brother, Woody, but I’m glad to leave them and go home. I’m not sure I’d care to have kids around me all the time. I don’t want to be tied down.” “What about marriage? It ties you down.”

He leaned back against the bed and took a long drag from his cigarette, exhaling slowly. “Well, I’m not sure about bein’ married, either.” He glanced at Eva. “I know I’m not ready now. I may never be ready.” Eva smiled and continued to look into Jack’s eyes.

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“Why do you hang around, then, Stew?” She leaned forward on both arms, still smiling. “You may be the strangest guy I’ve even known, or maybe ever will know.” “How’s that?” “You don’t want to get married. You don’t want to have kids. So, except for sex, apparently, you have no other use for women. And here I am, forbidding you sex, and you’re hanging around. I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.” Jack stubbed out his cigarette, got up and walked to the window. It was seven o’clock. The sky was becoming a faint opaque blue in the east just before radiating into red. “Red skies in the morning, sailors take warning,” he said without turning around. “You should know, Sailor.” She scooted up and leaned against the headboard. “But you’re avoiding the question.” He gave a snorty little laugh, and talking to the window, said, “I don’t think I said I didn’t want to get

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married. I said I was not ready to get married. There is a difference, you know.” “Yeah, I know. You also said you didn’t think you’d ever be ready.” He turned and looked at her. There was a remarkable beauty about her, he noticed. She was slim and trim. She smelled so good, and she tasted so good; he loved holding her close and losing himself in her fuzzy hair that always smelled of lilac. And her face had a glow that said to him she thought life was open to all kinds of excitement but with a wariness born of painful experience. “Well, I ain’t ready. And no one knows the future, do they? I don’t know what I’ll be like in a year or two or

three. I don’t know what I’ll be like tomorrow, or even at ten o’clock tonight.” He sat beside her. “I’ll be thirty years old the seventeenth of July.” “That’s next week. Party time.” “Now who’s avoiding? Listen to me. I’ll be thirty, and

I really don’t have much to show for it. A third of the time I was in the service where all decisions were made for me, and my sisters and my dad controlled the first

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third of my life. I don’t know what I’m all about. I don’t know if I could take care of a wife, to say nothing of kids. Scares the livin’ crap outta me just to think about it.” He paused. “And, I don’t think you’re ready either.” She frowned. “I didn’t say I was. This is no proposal, Stew. I was burned very deeply, and it’ll take, maybe, years before I can trust again, but this is about you, not me. And you have not answered my question: Why do you hang around with me, a screwed up person who refuses to put out and insists on being in control of her life? “You want to know the truth?” He got up and strolled back to the window where he lit another cigarette. “I don’t know why I hang around you. You’re absolutely not the kind of dame I usually hang around with, that’s for sure.” “The find-‘em-feel-‘em-fuck-‘em-and forget-‘em kind, you mean?” He threw his head back and laughed. “You are a stitch. Does not make sense.”

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Maybe that’s one reason I hang around with you because you’re funny as hell. You can always make me laugh.” He looked at her. “Eva, it’s gonna sound like I’m braggin’ again, but facts are facts. I’ve never had a problem gettin’ women. I’ve been honest with you about that. I was wild in the Navy and I’ve been wild since I got out. But, I don’t know, for some reason that’s never been clear, I felt something for you the first time I saw you at the restaurant. If I had to say there was one thing, I’d say maybe it was because you were not impressed with me. Does that make any sense?” “You’re doing fine. Just keep going.” “I mean, you told me off before I had even said a half dozen words to you. And you’ve said over and over that I’m a son-of-a-bitch and you don’t trust me any farther than you can throw me. And worst of all, you hate my first name. Can’t even say it. No woman has ever approached me that way, so…” “So, I’m a challenge? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I guess. But there’s more now.” He turned back to the window. “When I hold you and kiss you I feel…I feel I’m okay. I

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feel I’m right with things. I don’t know the words, but no woman has ever made me feel about myself the way you make me feel. That’s as close as I can come.” He drew the last puff and walked over to the bed to stub it out in the tray, which Eva was holding on her lap. They were silent for a good long while. Jack visited the coffee pot but found it empty. Sitting back on the floor, he leaned against the bed. Eva sat, saying nothing. Jack broke the silence. “Why do you hang around with me? don’t like.” “It’s not about me.” “Hey, be fair. I spilled my guts. It’s your turn.” Eva didn’t say anything for a moment. “I guess I could say the same thing you said. I don’t know. I don’t think you’re a son-of-a-bitch, but I don’t trust you. Look at the men in my life, Stew. I got a father who’s a drunk and a wife-beater, brothers who are becoming drunks, a stepfather who’s a snuff-sodden pig, and an ex-husband who truly needs to be shot. No, I don’t trust you. You’re a man.” She paused and took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I’m everything you

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“I think you’re a decent guy who has sold himself short. I think you’re better than what you see yourself as being. I don’t think you’re a gangster, but you’re associating with gangsters, and that scares me because I don’t want to read about you being found somewhere riddled with bullets. What if some rival gang does to you what Capone did to Moran’s men? Like I said, you lie down with

dogs, you’re gonna get fleas. I worry about you. “And, at the risk of your head blowing to pieces all over the room, you are really good looking. And you are a great kisser.” “I’m really good at other things too.” He looked up at her and grinned, his eyes twinkling. “Shut up. You wanted me to talk, so can it.” “Okay, okay.” “Remember my ex was very good looking, too, dressed like a million and was a very great kisser. You’re not my first, Stew. So, don’t think I’m just a plain girl who has been flattered by the first good looking guy that’s come by and feels, oh, so lucky. I got lucky before. Well, not lucky, really, but I thought I was lucky” “And look what it got you.”

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“That’s another story. And what’s to say you won’t turn out like my ex? He was wonderful before I married him. It

was after that he turned into a louse.” “So, you made my point. Neither one of us is ready to tie the knot. So, let’s just have some fun and enjoy each other’s company, and let’s start by going to your mom’s house. We really ought to get going.” She scooted down and straddled his head and shoulders. He grabbed her legs and pulled her tight. “You don’t help doing this, you know. If you look real close in the right spot, you’ll know why.” He caressed her knees and shins. “Don’t give up on me, Stew.” She hugged his head and put a cheek against his hair. “If anyone can get me back into bed, it’ll be you. Probably.” “I like that probably. Sounds like never to me.” She leap-frogged over him and picked up her coat from a rocking chair beside the bed. “Probably,” she said and laughed. Jack got up, helped her with her coat, and then swung

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her around and kissed her, softly, seriously, patiently, deeply. “Please don’t say I love you,” she said when they stopped for air. She searched his eyes. He let her go and put on his coat, hat and gloves. “I won’t. But I can’t control what I think.” They followed a routine that included Jack’s spending a lot of time during the day at Gus’s, so much so that everyone knew him. Customers called him by name, often eating and talking with him for hours. Although they never talked about their feelings for each other again that summer, Eva liked having Jack around. When business was slow, they’d sit together, drink coffee, smoke, tease each other, and talk about what they had done and what they would like to do. Jack had insisted she get her tooth fixed. “I can’t deal with a woman who can wiggle her tooth up and down.” In June he took her to a dentist who constructed a bridge. Eva was thrilled; the tooth no longer fell out at inauspicious times like it did one night in a diner’s

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bread pudding. Gus learned to know Jack, and the two of them spent time talking and discussing matters of great importance, like was Eva getting a little broad in the butt, to which she responded by spilling a cup of hot coffee into Jack’s crotch, or if George was just losing it altogether in the hot kitchen that summer. Gus told him he’d come to America right after the war, something they discussed from different perspectives, Jack being in the regular army and Gus fighting as a Greek patriot against Bulgaria. “I get so tired fighting. Fight, fight all time. Since I was kid, always fighting. Greeks like to fight, but I get tired. Come to America.” Jack learned that Gus had been married, and that his wife had drowned in a boating accident. She was pregnant, and Gus almost lost his mind. After Germany withdrew, leaving Bulgaria weakened, he joined the Allied forces, hoping maybe he would be killed. “But, I have no luck. Not killed. So, I come to America, borrow money from relative and open Taverna. End of story. America good. If you know what to do, America is good.”

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Part of the routine for Jack and Eva was his calling her every night after getting away from The Book Store. He woke her up, but she wanted him to call to make sure all was well. And, of course, spending Sundays at Laura’s house was integral. When Laura found out Jack liked her cooking, especially pot roast with potatoes and onions and carrots, she cooked for the family almost every Sunday, with Eva’s help for sure, but it was Laura’s meal, and it was usually aimed at Jack. She learned he loved Southern cooking, so the family was treated from time to time to corn bread and black-eyed peas, fresh greens in season, biscuits and gravy, sweet potatoes and fried chicken. For all the wonderful food, Jack had only one word: larrupin’. “What?” Eva asked the first time she heard it. “Larrupin’. Means so doggone good your teeth itch just thinking about it.” “That a Southern word?” Laura asked. “That’s right. From down Dixieland, honey chil’.” “Well, it’s no wonder you lost the war,” Laura said, deadpan. They all laughed, especially Jack whose laugh boomed, rolling out like huge bubbles, and was infectious; the

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more he laughed, the more they laughed. He was very popular with Maddy and Woodie. When he discovered Maddy’s birthday arrived in August, he planned a big surprise. Eva didn’t even know. He got a cake made, decorated, and hid it in a box with some flowers and a new doll in the trunk of his Tudor, springing it when they got to East Chicago the Sunday before Maddy’s birthday. Maddy, of course, was thrilled beyond control, and even Woodie, usually too self-absorbed to enjoy anything, was smiling and laughing. After the usual Sunday feast, they all took off for a beach nearby and spent the rest of the day exhausting themselves playing in the sand and the water. Woodie was taken with Jack. Having had little to do with men in his life, Jack became for him a person to emulate. It wasn’t long until Woodie was using Jack’s phrases, such as larrupin’ and honey chil’, Good Night!, and Holy Mackerel! He wanted a straw hat like Jack’s, and

wanted muscles like Jack’s. He told Woodie he had to exercise to get muscles like his, so the boy began doing crunches and sit-ups and leg lifts. Jack told him great muscles could be had by slowly, very slowly, wadding newspaper in his hand. Consequently, there wasn’t a safe

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newspaper in sight of the boy. He spent hours wadding paper and listening to the radio, jazz because it was Jack’s favorite. Maddy was simply in love with him. On her eleventh birthday, she asked Eva if she thought Jack might wait for her to be twelve so they could get married. Eva almost swallowed her tongue to keep from laughing, but said as calmly as she could that she thought Jack might be open to such an arrangement and that Maddy ought to ask him. Maddy said she was afraid to ask him. Would Eva do it? Eva said

she would, and both she and Jack had tears in their eyes from laughter when Eva told him. “Well, you know it is the best offer I’ve had,” Jack said after finishing his laugh. “No one else around here has offered as much.” “I thought you weren’t ready for that.” “Well, in two years, who knows? encouraging.” Eva punched him and they spent the rest of the evening scuffling with each other and kissing. * “My God, it’s hot,” Eva said. They were sitting on the The offer in itself is

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front steps of her apartment building. “Well, it’s August, Kiddo. It’s supposed to be ninety after midnight.” “You can say that sitting here with no shirt on.” “So take you’re shirt off.” “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” “Oh, yeah.” “Animal.” She punched him. “Let’s take a drive.” “Okay. Let’s go.” Jack’s car was at the curb and posthaste they were driving around the city. “Look at all the people sitting on their porches,” Eva said. “Two in the morning trying to catch a breeze.” “How about a movie tomorrow night?” “We have to work.” “I can get off, and I bet Gus would let you off if you’d sweet talk him.” “Maybe. I can try.” Gus was okay with it, and Marty told Jack to scram, that Joey could fill in. “Garbo’s in Wild Orchid at the Castle,” Eva said, looking at the theater section of the Tribune. “Sounds good. Who else is in it?”

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They were at Jack’s apartment in the Chelsea, and he was dressing. “Nils Asther and Lewis Stone.” “Asther. I saw him in Laugh, Clown, Laugh with Lon Chaney. Pretty good.” “Okay, Wild Orchid it is.” She dropped the paper and tackled Jack. “Who’s the animal now?” Jack shouted as Eva tumbled him on the bed. “You’ll mess me up.” “Don’t care.” She kissed him repeatedly as he giggled.

Chapter 16 One Sunday later in August, after their now traditional visit to her folks and after stopping at an air conditioned downtown restaurant, they returned to her apartment. Opening the door, they both smelled it at once. “Oh, my God.” She gasped. “What is that? Smells like pickles.” “That’s exactly what it is. Pickles.”

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She ran into the room. “Damn it.” “What is it?” Jack followed her. “The jar of pickles Mom gave me exploded.” Mouths agape, they stared at pickles and glass scattered in every direction. Islets of mustard seeds, cloves, bay leaves, and onion bits floated around their feet. “Good night! Look at your toaster. It’s drenched with the syrup. And looky here, in the sugar bowl. Little balls. Look like tiny pearls.” Jack laughed. “Laugh, you idiot, because you’re going to help me clean this up.” Eva pushed past him and got towels and cleaning agents. They spent the rest of the evening cleaning the whole room. Bed stripped, walls washed, furniture cleaned—-all covered by a mist of pickle juice. Streaks of milky yellow syrup clotted in tiny rivers across the floor, giving a surreal texture to the dark wood. “What caused this?” Jack asked after Eva had settled

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down. “Must be the heat. Mom lets the hot pickle juice seal the jars instead of using a boiling water bath. They must’a kept working, like beer or wine, and exploded. Used to happen when I was a kid, but not to this extent. Don’t you know about canning and stuff?” “No. That’s why I have you around.” Jack stood on a chair and wiped the wall over the door. He’d stripped his shirt, and his body glistened with sweat. “Oh? Just because I’m smarter than you are?”

“I didn’t say you were smarter than me. I keep you around to answer questions. That way I don’t have to waste time looking them up.” “I’m a dictionary?” “The prettiest one I’ve ever seen.” “No, no. You’re in deep trouble, mister. And flattery will just get you another punch.” “You are a violent woman, Kiddo. I’ve never been so black and blue.” “When I get through with you, you will be able to truly say you are black and blue.”

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She wrung a cloth and tossed it in a dry bucket. “Now get down here and get ready for your beating.” He turned and smiled. In the dim light, with her hair all mussed and frizzy, her pretty blue and white dress sucked into her sweaty body like skin, her face glistening, her eyes shining with mock malevolence, Jack caught his breath. “You are so beautiful.” “Flattery will just increase your punishment. Now, get down here.” He stepped down, tossed his cloth in the bucket with hers, and came very close. “Ready for my whippin’, Ma’am.” “Dare to call me ma’am? I don’t like kid…” He kissed

her, pulling her to him, their soaked clothing making their bodies feel naked against each other. Cradling her head in his big hands he pressed his lips deeper into hers. Carnality amplified by their slippery faces, they groped each other with their mouths and hands until Jack was close to climax and Eva was swollen in thrilling agony. They dropped to the floor, tugged their clothes off,

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and made love amid the cloying odor of sweet pickles and cleaning compounds. Jack brought her slowly to a climax, which she celebrated with a loud, joyous scream at which moment he was released, huffing huskily and grunting. “My God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” She kept repeating as he explored her face with his lips. “Why did I wait so long? My God. Never in all my life have I exploded like that.” She grabbed his face and looked at him with a wild expression. “Am I all over the room with the pickles?” He rolled off her and started laughing until his body quaked. She jumped on top of him, bent down and took his whole head in her arms. They were both so slimy from sweat and pickle juice they could hardly hold on to one another, but it just created insane arousal, and they made love again and again and again. By the third round they collapsed exhausted and slept on the floor. It was after two in the morning when Eva awoke. Startled to find herself naked and on the floor, and felling a bit panicked, she looked at Jack. “Oh, my God.”

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She knelt beside his naked body and listened to his soft snores. “You are exquisite,” she whispered. “You are so beautiful.” Pictures of the statue of David came to mind, but she immediately decided it was not good enough. Even in sleep his muscles were well pronounced. She loved the coarse black hair that covered his body. Arms above his head, his biceps bulged and his hands, palms up, relaxed. He opened his eyes and caught her staring at him. “What’s wrong?” His voice was raspy. “Nothing. Nothing. I was just looking your body.” She felt stupid. He took her hand and pulled her to him. “Why are you blushing? It’s okay. You look as much as you want to. It belongs to you.” He kissed her but she pulled away. “It is two in the morning, and I have to be at work in about three hours, and…” “Call and tell Gus you’re sick.” “No. I can’t do that. They need me.”

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“I need you.” He tried to kiss her. “No.” She got up and stood over him. “Look at us. We’re a mess. We stink like some brothel.” “How many of those have you been in? And how many smelled like sweet pickles?” He jumped to his feet, stroking her with his eyes, a naughty grin on his face. “Ooo. Talk about bodies. You are delicious.” She smacked him on his shoulder and took off toward the bathroom. “I have got to get cleaned up and get a little sleep.” She turned on the spigot in the tub. “Hey, let’s go to my place. I got a shower. Would you like a nice hot shower, with me? and… “ “And screw me on the floor of the shower?” “Well, you really never know what will come up.” “I know exactly what will come up.” She paused as she tied her hair in a red bandana. I could scrub your back,

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“Shower would be nice, though.” She peeked out of the bathroom. “Great. Let’s go.” He put on his clothes quickly, grabbed her dress, and flung it over her. Once in the Tudor, she said, “I can’t do it any more today, Stew. I’m so sore I might not be able to walk. You gotta promise me you’ll take a rest.” “Okay. Just a shower.” He patted her knee and pushed down on the gas. They showered, and as Eva was drying, Jack slipped to the phone and called Gus. He explained what was going on. “Screw her ears off,” Gus said after he’d laughed heartily for at least a minute. “She need it, Jack. Tell her Gus say okay.” “Gus say it okay,” he announced as he went back into the bathroom. “What? Gus? What about Gus?” “I called him. He said to screw your ears off.” She faced him, astonished. “Don’t look at me like that, I’m only telling you what he said.”

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He stepped back. “You called Gus and told him we were…were…” “No, I told him we were making love. I was not crude like you.” “Stew. For God’s sake. What did he say?” “He said to screw your ears off. I swear.” He lifted his right hand. She stared at him disbelieving. “You do know he will tell everyone who works there and who comes in there today. You do know that, don’t you? You do realize if that stupid male brain of yours is capable of realizing anything that I will never be able to walk in there again.” “Eva. You’ll walk proud.” She jumped him and they ended on the bed, where they spent the day making love, sleeping, eating take-out, making love, listening to the radio, making love, taking more showers, making love and, at last, sleeping through the night so soundly and so relaxed that not a dream intruded. “I thought you were sore,” Jack said as he turned off the light. “Shut up.”

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Chapter 17 In the wee hours of one slow Monday in July, a man who called himself Roger struck up a conversation with Jack. They sat at a table. He told Jack he was a businessman but didn’t tell him what business. Well dressed and groomed, Jack judged him to be around fifty years old. He was tipsy although not tight. “Do you like lectures, Jack?” He poured another three fingers in his glass and sipped. “Well, can’t say. Never had one.” Roger laughed. “Oh, never mind. Do you like stories?” “Yeah. My daddy told some wild yarns and I liked those.” “Good. I gotta yarn to tell you. An historical yarn. It’s long, sort of complicated. Got time?” “I leave here at five o’clock. Everyone leaves then, including you. So we got about two hours. If that’s enough time, I’m game.” Roger laughed again. “Well, it’s about a game. I think I can do it in two hours.” He sipped his drink, leaned forward, and began. “From the beginning of the American experiment in free market capitalism, a vast number of people have been obsessed with setting dominos on end in

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long, curving rows that crisscross and dissect the nation. Right now this domino mania is the canon of Wall Street and Main Street.” “What size cannon?” Roger laughed out loud. “I’m talking about a rule, standard, principle. A way of doing things that is unbroken, as in everyone is doing it.” “Oh. Why didn’t you say so?” “Try to keep up, Jack.” He took a large swing from his glass, and then continued: “Other countries with developing economies are in the game as well, but America taught ‘em how. Today, in the year of Our Lord, nineteen hundred and twenty-nine, setting dominos is preeminent. Dominant dominos is its name, and it is played something like this: “I have a domino here.” He pulled a domino from his vest pocket and placed it on the table. “I’ll want to set on end, and you have one.” He took another from his vest. “And you want to it set on end. If we set them up together, each will be more secure because the other is there. You see? Mine is here, yours is in front of mine,

or in back of mine if you prefer, and they are standing

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straight and strong and tall like corn soldiers. Okay? “Now, my domino is called steel, as in the American Steel Industry, or ASI for short. I make steel. Yours is called automobile, as in the American Automobile Industry, or AAI for short. See how we fit together? We have others here who want to join the game.” Roger took several other dominoes from his coat pocket. “Meet rubber, meet petroleum, meet leather, and meet paint. You, my AAI friend, need all of us in order to secure your place in this line. And we need you. Why?” He lined all the dominos on the table. “I’m not sure,” Jack said after lighting a cigarette. “Well, you need my steel. Right? made of steel. Correct? Your automobiles are

Okay. Now, I think, correct me if

I’m wrong, your tires are rubber, your engines need gasoline and oil to operate, you cover the seats in your automobiles with leather, and you paint the cars. Although they may all be black, you do paint them. Am I right so far?” “Sounds okay.” “Good. You agree you need all of us in order to make your automobile. We need your business; you need our materials. At this point it is necessary that we find the

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most important domino in the game, the domino without which we are all lost. That is the consumer, the guy who will buy your automobile. You see, you’ve bought all your material from us, you owe us money, and you must recover production costs by selling your automobile for what you owe us plus what you consider to be a reasonable profit. I mean, after all, you have to eat and pay rent and taxes just like the rest of us do. We all have to make a profit. Right? “Okay, the price of your automobile is?” He looked at Jack and smiled. “$250.” Jack took a sip of coffee and continued to listen. “Good. Two hundred and fifty dollars. You’ll make a decent profit. We got accountants that see to that. So, sell your automobile, get your costs back, pocket your hard-earned profit and build another car. We’re waiting to sell you more material. Got to keep our domino line secure.” Jack thought a moment. “Look, all this sounds good, even simple. But the guy I found can’t afford $250 for a hoopdee. I’m stuck, right? I owe you guys money, all of

it’s tied up in the car that he can’t afford. How does

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that help our game of dominos?” “It isn’t a hoopdee, Jack. It’s a brand spankin’ new car. Shiny and clean” Okay, new car. I call all cars hoopdees. My question still stands.” “We find another jugador,” Roger said. Jack looked at him and frowned. “A what?” “A jugador. Spanish for player.” “I don’t talk Spanish.” “Okay. Another domino player. He’s called a banker. He’s got lots of money, and he’s willing to let your buyer give you just ten percent of the $250…” “Ten percent for my automobile. I can’t let that happen. I got bills to pay.” “Keep your shirt on. The banker will loan him the rest, and he’ll take that and the ten percent and pay you. You’ll have your money. You with me so far?” “Yeah.” He sipped more coffee while Roger filled his shot glass. “Good. The banker will take payments each month from your buyer and charge him a bit for being so nice to loan him money in the first place. The banker calls that interest on the loan, which is really his profit. He’s got

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to eat, pay rent and pay taxes, too. Okay?” “Sounds good. The banker is now a player.” “Exactly. He takes his place in our lineup. He’s a very important part because he’s got money. And we all need money to operate. In fact, I think you’re going to need him.” “How’s that?” “I see you now have two buyers, so you’ll have to make two automobiles, but you only have enough money to build one.” “Will you give me credit like the banker gives him?” “Sorry. We’re not bankers. We have other customers to supply, so we need to keep our inventory up and that takes money up front. No, you need to go to the banker and borrow enough to cover the cost of making that second car.” “And pay interest?” “Yeah, well, we all know you got to spend some money to make some money. Even we are into the banker for loans because we need money all the time to keep operating. See how important the banker is to us? We have to have him,

or our line of dominos is not secure. But, the most

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important domino is the consumer. Never forget that. If he can’t or won’t buy it, we’re all stuck with stuff we can’t sell.” “I see that, but where does the banker borrow if he needs cash?” “His bank. It’s called the Federal Reserve. And, boy, they got most all the money in the world. They supply everyone, even the boys on Wall Street who buy and sell paper, which they call stocks and bonds. The Fed even loans money to the government. Take a real good look at our line of dominos. What do you see?” “Holy Cow. It goes on forever. How many dominos we got in…hey, there are thousands of lines, all over the place with, what, millions of dominos in each? We’re running

into each other, but we’re still standing. How?” “Because we all depend on each other, and since we do, we’re secure for life. Nothing can destroy our lines of dominos. Nothing. As long as we can and will stand together.” “That is so cool. The bee’s knees, right? I just got this fabulous idea. I’m gonna make hundreds of cars, get an inventory together. I’ll borrow a million bucks from our banker friend, make the cars, open a store to sell

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them, and get rich. I might even join those boys on Wall Street who, I hear, are selling on credit. How about that? Selling stocks on credit. And that’s all right because we’re all in this together.” “Atta boy, Auto. You’re one of us now.” * On September 5, 1929, Roger Babson, a businessman, statistician and futurist, spoke at Babson College, which he had founded, and predicted that if prices kept going up as they were and credit debt kept increasing as it was, a crash would be inevitable. The vast majority, if not all, of the dominos would fall and men would be out of work and a serious business depression would sweep the country, and the world. “What the fuck does Roger Babson know? Who the hell is he? I learned he was a lousy student and even messed up in business himself. Who’s he to say were gonna fail? I’m

selling cars. Hundreds of cars every day. I got so many cars in my inventory; I’ll be selling cars for fifty years. We’re the domino men. We stand together, straight

and strong and tall, like corn soldiers. This is the jazz age. God has shed all his grace on us. We’re invincible.

Screw Roger Babson.”

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Chapter 18 That a mob of panicked businessmen were blocking Wall Street and that police had to be called to quell the riot that ensued never got to Jack and Eva. Radio news was declaring October 29, to be marked forever in American history as Black Thursday, the day the New York Stock Exchange crashed. Rumors were rife that businessmen were flinging themselves from the roofs of skyscrapers, and that pedestrians were gingerly stepping around their splattered bodies. The truth was that except for speculators whose entire wealth was tied up in the market, the crash created an imperceptible ripple on Main Street. There were no splattered bodies. To Jack and Eva the crash changed nothing although Eva glanced at a news story about it in the Tribune and wondered if it had implications for the country. What did change was her schedule at work: breakfast through lunch with evenings off. Delighted with their romance, Gus accommodated it every way he could that did not harm his business. That she was an excellent waitress was unquestioned, but now that she was in love, she was fun to have around. Gone was the long face she once offered to the world, replaced by smiles and laughter and witty

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comebacks to the guys, who responded with louder laughter and wittier comebacks. Jack was the primary target for her barbs as she delighted in making him squirm. Foula and the rest of the staff were also caught up in the revelry, and each day at the restaurant was like a Greek celebration, filled with good food, lots of laughter and fun. Jack was more relaxed. At the Book Store Marty noticed he no longer seemed to be on the make. Always polite and charming, he’d stopped his smutty innuendoes around women. On occasion he tended bar when the regular bartender was off, or had disappeared for some unexplainable reason. “What the hell’s come over you?” Marty asked. “I think I’m in love. I don’t know for sure because I’ve never been in love, but I think this is it.” “You poor, stupid bastard.” Marty laughed. “Listen, I’m not sure it’s love, but all I think about is Eva.” “Are you gettin’ any?” Marty’s smirk was a clown smile. “You’re a sick bastard, you know that. None of your business, Bub, but if I am it’s like leavin’ this world and flyin’ to another one where there’s nothing bad like filthy minded guys like you.”

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“A poet, for cryin’ out loud. You’re not in love; you’re in lust.” “Yeah, well, time’ll tell, Marty Pants.” * “I heard that the Stock Market crashed last week,” Eva mentioned as they enjoyed steak dinners at the Palais. “What stock market?” “The New York Stock Market. The New York Stock Exchange. The economic heart of the nation. Jack, really, you need to read more, newspapers for instance. I can’t keep keeping you up.” She smiled and speared one of his

buttered whole potatoes and ate it. “Get out of my food, wench. Why read when I can spend my time diddling you?” “Sex.” Her voice was hushed but loud enough to turn a few heads nearby. “All life is to you is sex.” “No. No. That is completely wrong to say about me. I am really kind of hurt. Truth is, sex with you is all I think about.” “You really want another beating? I can accommodate

you, but I thought maybe we were past that.” “Okay, okay, I give up. I do love your beatings, but

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I’ll behave for a while. What’s the crash of the New York Stock Market have to do with the price of eggs in Paris?” “Maybe a lot, actually. Never mind. It won’t bother us anyway. Bunch of blue noses getting what’s coming to them. I would like apple pie for dessert.” “I’m not enough?” “And I want it a la mode.” “Ooo! That’s freakish, Baby.” “Shut your mouth, pervert, and order my pie.” * Neither Jack nor Eva realized at the time that the Wall Street crash was comparable to the first cough of a serious upper respiratory infection; it took awhile to come to full fruition. Chicagoans did not seem terribly worried. Pontificating as he locked the doors of The Book Store, Marty opined, “Listen, keep calm. Recessions worse than this have hit this country and the world lots times before, and lasted maybe two months. Nothing to worry about. Hoover says the market will correct itself, and I believe him. He’s the president, for cryin’ out loud, and who should know better? Just stay calm and ride it out.” Jack wondered what correct itself meant.

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“Sounds good,” he told Eva, “but what’s it mean?” shook her head and kept wiping crumbs off a table.

Eva

They welcomed 1930 at a Greek shindig thrown by Gus at the restaurant, complete with lots of booze, which his friends the cops swore was iced tea. They all drank a lot of tea that night, except Jack who welcomed the new decade with coffee. “That shit’s bad for you,” yelled a guy Jack didn’t know. “Booze. Alcohol. Hooch. Bathtub gin. Giggle water. That’s where all the vitamins and minerals are, Jack.” Jack guessed the guy was healthy as a horse with all the vitamins and minerals he’d taken that night, so he saluted him with his cup and lit a cigarette. Eva smiled and sipped her retsina, for which she had acquired a taste. * Eva objected to Jack’s working for Marty. “Why do you insist on working for crooks?” “Because I’m rolling in dough, that’s why.” “I don’t want to be seen with a damned criminal. Marty

says he doesn’t know who owns that gin mill, but I know he’s lying. Capone runs it, like Capone runs everything else in the godforsaken town.”

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“You don’t seem to mind all the money I spend on you. The clothes, the restaurants, the trips, and the things I take to your folks. What about that? It’s gangster money, ain’t it?” “Go to hell, Stew. And don’t even think about calling or seeing me.” “You’ll be in hell, too, so we’ll see a lot of each other.” They’d part for about half a day, and then settle the argument in bed. They went in circles with their differences, Eva more worried about Jack’s getting hurt or killed because shootings were reported all over Chicago, led by this gang and that gang, with the Outfit, a.k.a. Capone and Associates, always coming out on top. Jack wanted to give the world to Eva and tried to make up for all she’d been through. But, Jack was not very ambitious. Most ventures that were risky he avoided. He’d considered the railroad solid; the future rode on rails, he believed. When he joined Marty, he was dubious, but he felt the railroad would take him back in a minute. He knew it was a crapshoot, but he was sure his dice were loaded. Despite little bumps in the road, Jack and Eva got along well. With Eva off evenings and Sundays, they spent

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a lot of time together, and not all of it was in bed. Even Jack needed a break, and Eva was satisfied with what she liked to call sex holidays. “Fucking holidays?” Jack asked. “I hate that word.” “What, holidays?” “Shut up, pervert.” “Oh, Sheba. What gams you got.” And the battle was on, Jack getting his daily whipping and loving every minute of it. They agreed not to talk about marriage any more. Eva was all right with their arrangement because she felt she was always free to quit the relationship, though she knew it would be tough. Better than divorce, she figured. There were times, though, that her moral sense got in the way. Her mother was no idiot and knew that Eva and Jack were sleeping together, but Laura couldn’t point a finger because she and Bill had shacked up before getting married. To Eva’s surprise, Walter was clueless. She never saw him because he never came to Chicago and she never went to Lawrenceville, but she wrote him letters, and her Aunt Vera served as the family connection. Eva told Walter early on about Jack, but had mentioned only casually that

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they were seeing each other regularly. “Your dad still thinks you’re twelve years old,” Vera said the evening Eva introduced her to Jack. “He’s got to get over that, “ Eva responded. “Yeah, well, it’ll take some time,” Vera said. So a niggling lump of guilt occasionally lodged in Eva’s throat and caused her to pull back from Jack. But it wasn’t often, and they talked through it without hurting their bond. Jack was comfortable with their arrangement. Not that he dreamed he would pull out, but one never knows, he’d say. * In 1932 the bottom fell out of the economy. Jack thought about Roger and his lecture that morning at The Book Store. Lot of dominos fell, destroying line after line. He read that Detroit had too many cars and people weren’t buying. Steel production was cut and Bill lost his job. With no cars, no need for gasoline and oil so Eva’s brothers who worked for Whiting Oil lost their jobs. H.V. Kaltanborn reported daily over the radio with his clipped, over-enunciated diction that throughout the nation retail was overstocked, and businessmen were eating

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their goods because people were not buying. Money did not flow like it had, he reported, so people were keeping it safe, not in banks because that particular domino was especially untrustworthy, but in bed posts and little tin boxes hidden in the back yard or in jars snuggled amid the home-canned fruits and vegetables in the basement, or in their pockets where they could feel it. In 1932 Hoover was up for re-election, and since the bottom had been falling out for about three years and people were getting worse and worse off, he was blamed for everything. “Everything will be all right,” he kept telling the nation. “Just have patience and let the market work.” A few alarmists may have blamed him for their having dandruff or bunions or warts, but everyone, it seemed, blamed him for the hard times. The packing crate slums in which the destitute lived were called Hoovervilles, and when once fabulously wealthy men were pictured selling apples in the shadows of the stock exchange, captions intimated the men were working for Mr. Hoover, because Mr. Hoover had put them there. When the Democrats convened in Chicago in 1932, they nominated the governor of New York to be their candidate

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for president. When the dense smoke of the campaign cleared in November, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had whipped Hoover by seven million votes, and as Ted Lewis, that great entertainer of the time, said, “Is everybody happy?” Except the gangsters. It was clear that the Eighteenth Amendment was going to be repealed because candidate Roosevelt said it would, and the great attempt at social engineering, which the Volstead Act had made possible, would be over, and they would be out of business as bootleggers. Americans would once again drink legally. Goodbye giggle water made from antifreeze. People could take baths now instead of making gin. No more hooch. No more hiding the sauce. No more speakeasies. “What do you mean, they’re closing this place?” Jack asked, stunned by what Marty told him. “Well, you know, business hasn’t been great recently. Nobody’s spending any money, and prohibition is over, Jack.” “But now it’s legit. We can run it in the open.” “People aren’t coming in, Jack. There’s a depression on, if you didn’t know.” Marty showed annoyance with Jack’s difficulty in understanding simple business facts. “Without customers, we got no business. Without business

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we got no money. Without money, I don’t get paid and you don’t get paid. We’re closing. That’s the end of that.” Jack sighed and leaned back in his chair. It was noon. The Book Store didn’t open until six, but Marty had called everyone to tell them that the joint was closing. Jack sipped his coffee and smoked. “Well, shit and two’s eight,” he said. “I’m out of a job. I feel like a goddamned fall guy.” “Jack, for cryin’ out loud. You’ve had a great ride. So have I. But times have changed. Everybody’s busted. I mean, look at Capone. He’s in trouble for tax evasion, of all things. He’ll probably go to jail. The ride’s over for us all. Pull yourself together.” He got up and pushed his

chair under the table. “Go back to the railroad. You always said you could do that.” “Now you need to read the papers. Railroads are going under, too.” “Eva tell you that, because I know you can’t read?” Marty smiled and looked at Jack sideways. “I can read, Marty Pants. But, yeah, she told me.” “You should have some money stashed. You did pretty good here.” “Yeah, I had some stashed in a bank. Guess what?”

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“Lost a lot of it?” “What a genius.” “Look, you’re my friend, my pal even. But I got my own problems. Now get outta here. I got work to do.” Jack left and went directly to Gus’s and told Eva. “I’m not surprised. This was coming for a long time. All you had to do was read between the lines of all that crap coming out of Washington and Hoover’s lying mouth and you’d know,” Eva said. She sat next to him at the back table he always occupied. Hugging him and kissing him on the cheek, she smiled. “Hey, it’s going to be all right. We got each other, right?” He looked at her, not smiling. “Eva, I’m broke. I can’t pay my rent. They’ll throw me out of my apartment. I’ll have to sell the car. Tell the truth, you ain’t got shit if you have me.” “Stew. That’s not like you.” “I’ve been sucker-punched in the stomach, Eva. I don’t know what to do.” “Something will come up. I just know it will. It’s early in the game, Stew. You’ve been out of work, what? An hour? Get a hold of yourself.”

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She was feeling scared now because she’d never thought Jack was weak. The confident, take-charge guy she’d learned to know and count on was showing some cracks. She was sure it was temporary; just the initial shock wearing off. “Look, we’ll go to your place tonight and I’ll fix a fabulous dinner and we’ll relax. How about it?” her arm around him and pulled him to her. “I gotta think. Yeah, okay, dinner at my place. I’ll see you later.” Ironically, two days later Gus told the gang at the restaurant that he was closing, too. “I got lotta bills. Had few bucks in market crash.” No one knew Gus had stock. “Customers don’t come no more. Business stinks. Food purveyor don’t have no food. He quit, too. Foula getting married.” “Foula!” Eva yelled. “Married? know?” “You were too busy making whoopee with Stew.” Foula said. She was blushing. “So, who’s the guy?” Eva asked. “Me,” Pete said and stepped forward. “My God.” Eva’s eyes popped, her mouth dropped open, How come I didn’t She put

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and she sat down. “Pete say maybe he get money open place again,” Gus said. “But I go back to Greece.” “Going back to Greece?” Foula said, turning to her uncle. “You never said anything about that.” “I got few bucks in sock.” He laughed. “Greece right

now is okay. Always poor country, so what makes difference? And I have family.”

“You have family here, too, Uncle Gus. Me, Mom, and now Pete.” Foula crossed to him and put her arms around him. “I know, I know, Foula, but I old, tired, want to go home. You can come see me.” “Not very easily.” miss you.” “I miss you, too. I stay for wedding, then go.” Eva considered this marriage after she’d closed her mouth and relaxed her eye muscles. Now, let’s see, if Pete is Gus’s son, and Foula is his niece, then…maybe it’s just Greek tradition. “So we’re both out of work,” she told Jack that evening. “Move over and let me cry on your shoulder now.” They were quiet for a while. Jack had been looking all over Chicago for anything that would bring in some money. She looked at him. “I’m going to

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Nothing. He was discouraged. It was about six o’clock in the evening, and a light breeze was blowing in the window behind the sofa where they were cuddled. May had been wonderful that year in Chicago. It was too bad that most people were down in the dumps about what was happening in the country and not enjoying the weather. It smelled so damned good, they could taste it. Eva said, “Let’s get married.” “What?” He sat up and almost shoved her off the sofa. “Let’s get married. Together maybe we can make it. Hell, you’re being evicted, I’m going to be, so let’s get in that Tudor of yours and find someplace where there are some jobs. Mom and Bill and the kids are moving to Denver, she told me, so what’s to keep me here? All your people are down South. Let’s go down South, or to Denver, or wherever. We’re young, we’re free, and we got our health. We both have a little money stashed away. Come on. This isn’t the end of the world.” “I’m not hearing this right. You want to get married? Eva? We…” He was so flabbergasted that when he opened his

mouth, only odd noises came out. “We could live together?” “I don’t do that. My dad would kill me. I just couldn’t do that.” Eva took his face between her hands and looked

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at him. “Do you love me?” “You know I do.” “Say it. Say, I love you, Eva.” He took her hands and held them. “I love you, Eva. you trust me now?” “No.” They kissed. Do

“I love you, Jack. Trust’ll come, maybe.” He looked at her, frowning. “What did you call me?” “Jack. That is your name, isn’t it?” All that took place on a Friday. A week later they were married by a Chicago Justice of the Peace and on their way to Louisville

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Chapter 19 “Tell me about Louisville,” Eva said as Jack navigated the Tudor down US 31 toward Kentucky. “Pretty nice place. It’s on the Ohio River. Gets sort of sticky in the summer, but no more’n Chicago.” “How do people make a living?” “Don’t know now with this depression and all, but used to be lots of factories and businesses. That’s where the L&N tied up for me. Lots of railroad jobs.” “Lots of stores?” She lit two cigarettes and stuck one in Jack’s mouth. “Great stores.” He glanced at her. “What? You think Louisville is just a hick town? It’s a lot like Chicago, just smaller.” “I don’t know what I thought. Louisville’s never been on

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my mind. Just curious.” She took a puff of her smoke and watched the scenery go by. She felt cleaner now that they had passed Indiana’s Calumet Region with all its factories, smoke and dingy skies. Passing so close to East Chicago where her mother used to live called forth no sentimental memories, but it did make her think of Laura and wonder how things were going in Denver. “It’s hard to believe we paid two dollars to stay in that hole last night,” Eva said. “Well, it had a bathroom and carpet,” Jack said, feeling a little guilty about Eva’s reaction. “It wasn’t the Ritz, Kiddo, but it was a roof for just one night.” “Just kidding. But I am curious why they think no one would want a mattress or pillows. How can you get along without a mattress or pillows? And to want fifty cents to use a mattress and another fifty cents for bed clothes and pillows, I think they have a hustle going.” “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe not. Some use sleeping bags or their own blankets. They just want a roof for the night, especially with kids. So, they rent the stuff to make a little more money. I don’t know. You could be right.” “I’m always right.” Eva grinned and let her cigarette butt run with the wind rushing by the window. “You seem to know a lot about these places.” Still grinning, she slid

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closer to him and stared at the side of his face. Glancing at her, he said, “I’ve slept in a few.” “With?” A leer now supported her grin. He glanced at her again and realized what she was doing. “Let’s see, there was that redhead in Michigan City where we stayed last night. Name was Mort, as I think.” “Mort?” “Yeah. Think it was a family name. She was right ugly, though. Looked like she’d been strained through a sheet.” Eva guffawed and fell against Jack’s shoulder. “Then there was the nigra girl, named Iddy Bitty Pickininny, in St. Paul . . .” “Stop,” Eva shouted. “You’re killing me,” she said between gasps. “And you’re a terrible person. A nigra girl; you should be ashamed.” By now Jack was laughing. “Ask a silly question, get a silly “Just drive, you nut. Jeez, what have you gotten into, Eva? A mad man. A pervert.” “Do I get a beating tonight?” “No. You need one in the worst way, but you’d enjoy it.” That night in another auto camp, they made love and

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then snuggled together naked, without blankets, languishing in the breeze drifting through the single window. They slept until dawn, hardly moving. * The morning was bright as they drove toward South Bend, their goal for that day. Estimating around fifty miles a day, Jack said it would take about a week to get to Louisville, more or less. “More or less?” “Depends on traffic, how long we stop. You know, things like that.” “Are you taking me across state lines for nefarious reasons?” “No, not at all. I’m taking you for vile, foul and sexual reasons.” “Oh, well, that’s all right. I was worried for a minute.” She leaned over and cuffed his shoulder. Then

she sang, “Back home again in Indiana, and the fields I used to roam/ the gleaming candle light/ still shining bright/…” “I love to hear you sing.” Jack smiled. She finished the song, leaned back, and watched the countryside sweep by. Farm after farm, fields with crops

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turning the black soil green, farmers busy baling the first cutting of hay, cattle dotting pastures--Eva remembered how it was when she was a girl living on a farm. She recalled damned hard work. Farms appear all peaceful and quiet, like it’d be heaven to live that way, but she regarded it dirty and stinky and dreadful. Eva laid her head against the seat and went to sleep, surrendering to the steady panting of the Tudor engine and the humming of its tires, the monotony of which soothed her like warm milk. While Eva slept, Jack pondered on what was ahead of them. He knew Louisville well, but he wasn’t sure how the city would be with the depression raging. Having read newspaper accounts, Eva expound about the plight of the nation, so he knew it wouldn’t be easy. Susan, his sister and only kin there, had moved. He knew Stormy Cromer, his old engineer, and Adele, if she was still around, but no one else. Married, on his own, no job, very little cash--Jack sighed as he lit a cigarette. “Ah, well, something will turn up,” he muttered. * Because Eva insisted on looking around Indianapolis it

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took them eight days to get to Louisville. “Look, look, look, Jack. Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument.” She dragged him by the hand to The Circle in Indy. “Soldier’s and sailor’s. You’re covered both ways.” She giggled and kissed his cheek. Christ’s Church on the circle had to be scrutinized, and a matinee at the Circle Theatre had to be seen. By the time they got to the auto camp south of town, Jack was bushed and ready for sleep. But Eva, full of energy, was horny, so he slept later. It was midday in June when they drove into Louisville, where the temperature was 114 degrees and humid, but luck was with them: they found a nice little three-room apartment and rented it, paying a full month in cash, nineteen dollars. The landlord couldn’t help prying. “So, where ya from?” he asked as he caressed the three fives and four ones Jack had given him. “More coffee?” They were sitting at his kitchen table, which was also his office. His wife, a thin, auburn-haired woman, was seated next to him across from Jack and Eva. Clad in a long-sleeved dress that looked like it had been made from pillow ticking, she was barefoot, and her feet looked dry

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and boney to Eva. Although her face had a fine composition —small straight nose and full lips—Eva thought her dark eyes seemed filled with fear. Eva couldn’t guess her age because her skin was tanned and wrinkled. “We came from Chicago,” Jack said and reached his cup out for the lady to fill. Eva indicated she didn’t want more, finding it very weak. She wondered if maybe they’d dunked a used coffee bean into some boiling water for a minute or two, or maybe added some water to a leftover pot. “Chicago. Well, how are things up there?” the landlord asked. Jack saw he was as thin as his wife with dark graying hair. Jack judged him to be fifty or more, and the dark bluish shirt and bib overalls that hung on his spare body made him appear elderly. Barefoot, also, his face was like his wife’s: wrinkled and leathered. Suspicion instead of fear came from his small, brown eyes. He glanced at Jack and Eva sideways several times as if analyzing them. It made Eva uncomfortable. Jack took out his cigarette holder and offered the man a smoke, which he took and placed behind his right ear. He offered one to the landlord’s wife, who refused it with an

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expression of disgust, and then to Eva who took one much to the obvious shock of the landlord’s wife. He lit all three with his lighter. “About the same as here, I reckon,” Jack said, inhaling smoke deeply. “No work. People walking the streets. Living in makeshift tents in Grant Park and along the beach. Bread lines, soup kitchens.” Jack laughed and took

another long drag. “Ever hear of Al Capone?” “Reckon we have,” the man said. “Gangster, ain’t he?” “The biggest around. Well, guess what? He opened the

first soup kitchen in Chicago. Feature that. A gangster opening a soup kitchen so people could eat.” The landlord smiled, sipped some coffee. “I reckon he had the money. Maybe he ain’t bad as they say.” “Oh, he’s bad all right. Real bad. Don’t know what possessed him to open a soup kitchen, though.” Jack quaffed some coffee, which was not sweet because they had no sugar. They did have Pet milk. “So, what’d you do up there in Chicago?” the landlord asked. “Businessman?” Jack looked at him and smiled. “No. Just worked for a businessman till he closed.”

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“What kind a business was it?” Jack hesitated, drew on his smoke. “Speakeasy.” The landlord’s wife squirmed, her mouth dropped open, and she stared at Jack with wide eyes. The landlord didn’t change, just looked at Jack. “You one of them gangsters, son?” Jack stubbed out his cigarette. “No, sir. I was a bouncer. Never had to do any bouncing, but that’s what they called me. Place closed because no one was coming in, and Roosevelt says he’s repealing prohibition.” The landlord’s wife continued to stare at Jack. Eva coughed and took out a handkerchief to cover her mouth. Jack knew she was suffering from suppressed laughter. “You think it’s really gonna stay legal?” the landlord asked. “Got to. People demand it. Gotta have that booze.” Jack lit a cigarette after offering one again to the landlord, who put it behind his left ear. Eva was busy controlling her laughter. “Well, might be a good thing,” the landlord said. His wife turned her shocked look to him. “If we can get these distilleries around here back runnin’, we can create some

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jobs. People gonna drink, might as well put people to work makin’ the stuff. What you say to that?” “I agree,” Jack said. The landlord’s wife got up and left the kitchen. Eva had a serious coughing spell. “She’s Primitive Baptist,” the landlord said. “She thinks sour milk’s the work of the devil.” Everyone was

silent for a moment, except for Eva’s coughing. “You okay?” the landlord asked. Eva nodded but coughed. “Okay, young man, as long as you ain’t one of them gangsters from up there, we’ll git along just fine. Apartment’s ready when you are.” He started to get up.

“Truth is, I used to live here,” Jack said. “Worked for the L&N. Lived at the Winslow.” “Ah, a native,” the landlord said and sat back down. “No. I come from Tennessee, Lebanon, Tennessee.” “Lebanon. Why, I got a cousin lives up there. Thaddeus Hogg. Know ‘im?” “I knew some Hoggs, but don’t recall a Thaddeus.” “No matter. You’re a Southern boy, then.” The landlord brightened a lot. “Wonderful. Thought you was just a Yankee tryin’ to live easy in the South.” “Nothing like that. Just sort of comin’ home for a

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while.” “You oughta go back to Lebanon. Country folks makin’ out a lot better’n we city folks. Well, I should say, other city folks. I’m from the country myself, and so’s Patsy, my wife. We go down home near ‘Lisabethville and stock up on good country food from the relatives. They got more than they can use, so they give it to them that ain’t got so much. ‘Course, we do a little work for it, help out around the farm and all, but’s better’n starvin’ in the city.” “Well, if things don’t work out here, we might try that.” When they got outside and back into the Tudor and were a ways down the road, Eva let the laughter out. “They are the funniest people I’ve ever seen in my life,” she hollered. “Did you see her face when you said you worked in a speak? I thought she’d choke to death.” She laughed uproariously until tears came down. Jack looked at her and grinned. “As I recall, you were none too happy about me workin’ for Marty.” “Okay, you got me there. But, I don’t think I bugged my eyes and almost dropped my teeth like she did.”

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“They’re typical, kiddo. You’ll meet a lot of them here.” “I will die laughing then.” She continued chuckling. That evening they moved into the tiny apartment on the second floor of an antebellum house, complete with two rooms, a kitchen, and a bath. The kitchen had two windows, one looking out over the slanted roof of the back porch and the other directly into the branches of an oak tree. Jack used the bathroom and told Eva it was best to go in forward and then back out. The only window in what they called the living room opened on the front of the house and showed the street. Windows in the bedroom were just below the ceiling and showed sky. “I love it,” Eva said. “It has a real kitchen, and I’m smaller than you, so I can turn around in the bathroom.” “If you’re happy, I’m happy.” Jack hugged her. They went to a second hand store and bought a bed and a few other pieces of furniture they needed, and paid cash. The owner was grateful but shocked because he said they were his first customers with money for months. “Most people wanna trade,” he told them. “It’s like I ask a guy if he needs a chair. ‘No,’ says he, ‘but I got

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this cradle to trade. The baby died.’ It breaks my heart. No matter how many times I hear it, I’m horrified and sad.”

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Chapter 20 Jack was lucky again. He contacted Stormy Cromer and found that Stormy was still employed by the L&N, but he said the railroad wasn’t hiring. He told Jack he might be able to get on at the city tramway because the company had a soft spot for unemployed railroad guys. And, sure enough, it happened. He was hired because he was an exrailroader and because the company had received some money from Washington. Jack learned that Hoover, running against Roosevelt, figured he had to do something in order not to lose, so cash money for needed repairs and refurbishing was bestowed on local transit companies in various cities. Louisville was one. Hoover reasoned that if municipalities got funds, jobs would be created. “But that’s a nigger job,” Jack heard one guy whine at the employment office. “It’s a job, ain’t it?” Jack said to him. “Pays money, don’t it? Niggers’ll go back the country where they belong. White men come first, ain’t that right?” “Right,” a chorus of men shouted. Jack went to work laying track, lugging rails and ties and pounding huge spikes in to catch the edge of the rail. In the first few weeks he found out lying around a

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speakeasy doing little or nothing had been bad for his rock-hard muscles. They were flabby and indolent. He came home so sore the first day he could hardly move. Eva didn’t help when she laughed and offered him milk toast for supper. Later she massaged him with liniment, and it led to a fine lovemaking during which Jack did not have sore muscles. He told her it had been the liniment that made him feel better, and he got a whipping. Afterward, curled up together, they slept soundly. Eva pounded the streets for work, applying at every restaurant and greasy spoon in Louisville, and got pretty much the same story. “Sorry, ma’am, but I can take care of everything myself, cookin’ and servin’. Don’t get much business. People don’t eat out much anymore. Can’t afford it. Think I’m gonna close anyway.” They decided that Eva should just stay home and be a housewife. Jack was making sixteen dollars and fifty cents a week. They had no bills, and Jack had discovered early in their marriage that Eva could stretch a dollar until he could read a newspaper through it. For instance, she’d buy an old hen from a guy who lived at the edge of town and sold chickens for fifteen cents a pound, and for another

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nickel he’d dress them for her. Hens would run usually five pounds, so that was a dollar because she always wanted them dressed. She felt she’d done enough feather picking and gutting as a kid on the farm. A buck was a lot of money for them, so the old hen would have to do for a long time. First, she’d roast it and serve it with mashed potatoes, which she bought at Logan’s Market for a penny a pound, and carrots, two bunches for fifteen cents. Beets, two cans for a quarter, she made into Harvard beets—a little sugar, a little vinegar—Jack’s favorite. Next night it would be a fricassee or some other gravybased creation over biscuits, along with any leftovers. Already she boiled the bones all day to make a soup for the next evening with whatever vegetables and chicken she had left over along with rice, four and a half cents a pound. “Kiddo, you’re amazing,” Jack said and hugged her tightly. “Look at all this larrupin’ food from just one chicken. You are amazing.” Without hesitation he turned over his paycheck to her every Friday and let her take care of things. Soon they had a savings, enough to shield them from disaster: some

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rent money, some food money and some gasoline money, or escape money as they referred to it. Eva also kept the apartment spotless, something Jack had to get used to. “Take off your shoes before you come in,” she told him. “It’s raining?” “Here’s a towel. Dry your feet outside.” “And when it snows?” “Dry your feet inside.” “Eva, this place is a hole in the ground. You scrubbed all the hide off it, for cripe’s sake.” She came within inches of his face, her little hazel eyes blazing. “This is our home, Jack. Hole or no hole, wherever we live, it will be spotless. Would you want it any other way?” “No, but … “Then shut up and take off your shoes.” She slammed the screen door behind her and went to the kitchen. Jack removed his shoes, dried his feet, and padded into the bathroom. He learned mighty quickly that home was her domain. She ruled it. When he obeyed, they were happy because Eva was happy. When he disobeyed, or got sloppy, Eva was not happy and neither was he.

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It took awhile, but Eva grew to love Jack. It terrified her when she’d proposed because she didn’t know him, and shades of Jack Herrick assaulted her mind. From Jack Stewart’s described past, she considered him at least undisciplined if not out of control. But he was honest about having a lot of women. He didn’t have to tell her about his other women, but he did, which could mean he was telling the truth. She had taken a chance, and so far it had paid off. He was kind and gentle, he worked extremely hard without complaint, and although he was a crazy cutup, always joking and laughing, she loved him more each day.

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Chapter 21 Flora Mae Strickland was sure she saw Jack at The Four Coaches, Louisville’s only supper club that was making enough profit to stay open. He had been with a plain, homely little number, and he appeared to really like her, pulling her chair out and helping her with her coat and generally fussing over her. He’d never helped her with a chair, so it might not be him. When he left town, she missed him for a time. He was fun, and he made love like she imagined Valentino would: slow, gentle, adventurous, and always willing to try what she asked. But after a year, she forgot about him. Richard came into her life for three weeks, and Ronald for a month, and then Philip who was still with her off and on: on when she needed him; off when she didn’t. Lately, he’d not been needed a lot. One day in July with the heat insufferable, she walked down James Street and saw a beautiful man, stripped to his waist, carrying a huge hunk of wood. “I know that body,” she said to herself, recognizing the muscles and thick black chest hair that she remembered nuzzling, and that body to which she had been welded in sweaty copulation many times.

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“Jack Stewart,” she yelled as she hurried across the street. “Jack Stewart,” she called louder. He spun around and dropped the tie when he saw her. “Flora Mae?” “Well, at least you didn’t forget my name.” She felt herself become aroused. She loved men slick and sweaty. Jack looked around to see if anyone was watching, then crossed to her. She smelled his sweat now, and it began to make her jittery. “Flora Mae Strickland. My God, you’re just as pretty as I remember.” He put his hands on his hips, shifted his

weight, and looked her up and down. “Always in fashion, aren’t you Flora Mae? Love the yellow dress. What’s that gold stuff?” “They call it hatching.” “With little green leaves. Makes you look like a cool breeze.” She giggled. “You don’t just dress, honey, you wear a costume.” “Like my hair?” He smiled and looked into her eyes. “Always liked your hair, blonde girl.” “When did you start lookin’ at girls’ clothes and

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hair? Never used to.” “Oh, I always looked. Never said much, but I did look.” “So what you think?” “Larrupin’. Just larrupin’.”

“You haven’t changed. I haven’t heard larrupin’ since you left me.” She grinned and lifted her right eyebrow. “Wait now.” Jack smiled back. “You told me to never call you again. I just did what I was told.” “Yeah, as I recall you were a prick. Cheating on me with some floozy in Chicago.” Her grin was gone. “Hey, come on, Flora Mae, old friend. That’s in the past.” He laughed. “How’s ‘bout a hug?” He stretched out his arms and took a step toward her. She stepped back. “Yuck. I think you’d drown me.” was smiling again. “But, uh, are you working here or something?” “Well, I ain’t doin’ somethin’. But I am workin’ for the tramway company. Layin’ track.” “Hm.” She looked at the men working. “I guess I never saw white men layin’ track.” “Haven’t you heard? There’s a depression on. Ya takes She

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what ya can gets.” He laughed, fished out a rumpled pack of cigarettes from his dungarees and offered her one, which she took and which he lit after taking one, too. “What about the railroad?” “Hard times. Nothing’s being shipped; people ain’t riding trains as much. Can’t afford it. Where you been, pretty woman?” “Here. Same place.” She took a deep drag and let the

smoke meander, not taking her eyes off Jack. “Looks like you got a sugar daddy.” He looked down at her and smirked. “Fuck you, Jack. I got a job.” “Job? What kind of job could you have? Oh, wait, I

know. One of those old mansions on Elm, right?” “You son-of-a-bitch.” She stepped a little closer to him. “I was never no common whore, you asshole. It’s none of your business, but I work for the newspaper, The Journal, in classifieds.” Two trucks roared by, belching a cloud of smoke. When it cleared, Jack said, “Classifieds, huh? Sounds good.

But, you’re right about one thing. You certainly weren’t common.”

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She gave him a slight grin, took a last puff on her cigarette and flipped it right at his chest where it sizzled out in his chest hair. “Hey, watch it. That’s my winter underwear.” He fished the butt from the wet hair and threw it in the street. She couldn’t help but laugh. “What a rotten bastard you are, Jack Stewart,” she said while thinking she’d take him back in a minute. But you’re right. Bygones are bygones. Listen, I got a phone, believe it or not.” She plucked a pencil and a pad out of her clutch purse. “I’ll give you my number.” “Uh, Flora Mae.” Jack flipped his cigarette butt away. “I think I need to tell you something.” Ignoring him, she finished writing, tore off the page and stuffed it in his back pocket. “Ooo. Still got a tight ass, I see.” He looked at her and sighed. “I’m married.” “You’re what?” She dropped the pencil and pad into her purse. “I’m married. Got married in Chicago in June.” She stood there for several moments, saying nothing, her face without expression, lips forming a hard line, and her eyes getting darker and darker. Finally she said, “Did

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I see you about two weeks ago, on a Friday night, in The Four Coaches?” “Could be.” He could tell she was upset, and moving rapidly toward pissed. “With a mousy thing, bushy hair and no lips?” “Careful, Flora Mae. That’s my wife.” Now he was getting upset. Again, she said nothing, but placed her purse under her left arm, which she stroked with her right hand, all the time staring at Jack. “Congratulations.” She turned and walked away, disappearing around the corner of a bank. Flashing through his mind were brief scenes of their time together: how good she smelled and tasted and moved; the things she was eager to perform on his body, the good times spent going to shows, eating out. And the boredom. The numbing boredom after sex, and the boredom during sex that had become more pronounced for Jack. He shook his head. Eva had replaced Flora Mae in his mind, and as he watched her disappear, he felt a growing warmth arise in himself as he pictured Eva. “Bye, bye, Flora Mae,” he whispered as he hoisted. “You ain’t even close to bein’ in Eva’s league.” *

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That Jack was married and hadn’t bothered to tell her at first did not bother Flora Mae. Marital status of a guy had never been a problem for her. What really burned her up was that Jack had chosen an ugly bitch to be his wife. “Goddamn him,” she said aloud while walking to her car, a Chevy Coupe she’d bought used with the help of a couple of boyfriends. “What am I, a pile of shit? Jesus, Jack, how could someone as pretty as you tie up with a hag like that?” She stopped and whirled around, looking back the way she’d come. “He got her pregnant,” she said. “That’s the only explanation. He knocked her up and had to marry her.” She laughed out loud, and a couple passing by looked at her. “Ah, Jack. Dipped it without dressing it one too many times.” She got to her car. Before she started the engine, she laughed again. “Better her than me, for God’s sake.” Curiosity, however, took hold of her, and the more she thought about Jack and his wife, the more curious she got. If he’s knocked her up, why marry her? Why not just pay her off and go away? It’s done all the time. What about abortion? If you know someone who’ll do it right and keep his mouth shut, there’s nothin’ to it, like the two times she did it. Nah, there’s more to the story.

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On Friday, figuring Jack would be off around five, she drove to where the crew was working, parked in an alley, and watched for Jack to leave. Right on time, he came, got in a Ford Tudor, and drove off. She pulled the Coupe in behind him at a discreet distance. “Nice car. He must have a good job to afford that.” When he turned onto South Second, she said aloud, “Well, don’t tell me you live here in Old Louisville, with green grass and trees and shrubs.” Jack stopped in front of

902. “I’m impressed,” she quipped as she drove by, stopping a half block away. Not noticing her at all, Jack got out and went in the door to the right of what looked like the front door, a double paned oak with massive brass Victorian hardware. Getting out her note pad and pencil, Flora Mae said, “Okay, let’s see. That was 902 South Second. So Monday, Flora Mae, you’ll pack a lunch and watch to see if Mrs. Mousy Stewart comes out, and then you’ll follow her to wherever she goes. If she’s pregnant she’ll be showing by now.” As she drove home she thought of Philip waiting for her. She needed him tonight. All at once she imagined Jack in bed with his wife and was engulfed with jealousy.

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Chapter 22 Seated in her car, which despite being parked under a huge oak tree and having all windows open was an oven, Flora Mae wondered why in hell she was doing this: sitting and munching an egg salad sandwich that she didn’t like, feeling her pink cotton dress stick to her body, and watching for a woman she didn’t know to emerge from a house across the street. To make matters worse, the humidity made her hair droop like boiled noodles. “You are crazy, Flora Mae. You don’t even love Jack. Sure, he’s fun and he’s every woman’s dream fuck, but love? Oh, no. I do not risk love on anyone.” She took

another bite of her sandwich, made a face, and threw it out the window. Wiping her hands on a napkin, she leaned back and thought about last night. When she got home, Philip was waiting for her with a bottle of fine brandy and some cheese samples arrayed around crackers. They drank a bit, nibbled a bit, chattered about trivialities, and went to bed and did what they intended to do all along, which they did most of the night, leaving Flora Mae exhausted. Skinny bucktoothed Philip was her service provider, a backscratcher she could use when she itched. With his

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goatee she wondered if she were kissing a sheep’s ass although cunnilingus was interesting. To Flora Mae the only part of Philip’s body worth anything was his dick, which she thought was top quality. She told a co-worker at the newspaper that he was hung like a horse and wished she could keep only that and discard the rest. Nevertheless, he had some money, from what source she did not know, and he enjoyed spending it on her; she hadn’t paid rent in over a year. For a roof over her head and the other goodies he lavished on her, she could tolerate buckteeth and a goatee. All night she imagined Jack lying on her. Then like a movie switching frames, Eva appeared in her mind, and she watched Jack make love to his wife. Jealousy overwhelmed her. When Philip drifted off after a round, she left the bed, went for a smoke and nipped brandy as she paced. In her estimation Jack was no prize. Thoughtless, never remembered birthdays, or Valentine’s Day—self-centered was inadequate to describe him. And the fight over the Christmas he forgot was classic. He said he didn’t forget, that he just didn’t care. She was shocked. “You don’t care about Christmas?” she said. “Not really,” he said. “It’s a pain in the ass. All the

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cheering and peace and goodwill shit is baloney. After Christmas people just go back to being the assholes they were before.” She said to him, “Boy, Jack, have you got a screwed up view of life.” So off they went about the meaning of Christmas and family, and how it was a break for people during winter. On and on, until Jack stormed out and she got drunk on cheap wine like she was now doing am on the brandy. She sat the bottle down, lit another cigarette and paced. Cheapskate was another way to describe him, she considered. He bought her worthless baubles but never flowers or candy or perfume—things that said he care about her, or that he was thinking about her. They went out to dinner a lot, mainly because neither of them could cook, to shows and movies, and long rides in the country on hot summer days when he was home, but never at night when it was cool and moonlit and erotic, when they could stop and do it on the damp grass under a tree, something she’d dreamed of doing with him. She snickered, grabbed the brandy and nipped some more. “Yeah,” she said. ”He was content to be at my place, in bed fucking and smoking, fucking and smoking. He bored the crap outta me.”

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* Flora Mae opened the car door to get a little air moving and continued to watch the house. No one had been out except for a strange little woman with coal black hair and very tanned skin, wrapped in a green shawl. “Wondered how the hell she stands the heat wrapped up like that,” Flora Mae said. The woman had come from what looked like the main entrance to the house, not the one Jack had gone into the night before. Besides, she didn’t look like the mousy one she’d seen at The Four Coaches. “So, why are you doing this, Flora Mae?” She thought a moment. “Because I’m a woman, and Jack pissed me off so bad with that crack about working at the Elm Mansions. I’m no goddamned fifty-cent piece of ass to be rolled around by some filthy loser like him. I may whore around, but I pick my men. I am not a la carte.” About half past noon, Eva came out. She wore a white dress with a full skirt that came to just below her knees. Flora Mae thought she was a trim little thing as she watched Eva go to the Tudor and get in. Wearing low-heeled pumps and carrying a purse decorated with embroidered flowers, her hair frizzy like it had been at The Four

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Coaches, Flora Mae decided that in the sunlight her face was quite pretty, almost lovely. Eva got in the car and drove to the end of the block, right past Flora Mae, who pretended she was doing her face. As she started her car, Flora Mae saw Eva turn left, so she followed. Eva turned north on Broadway and drove about a mile before she pulled into the parking lot of Logan’s Market. Flora Mae did the same. After Eva parked and went in, Flora Mae chose a place near the Tudor. “This is all new to me,” she said as she looked around. Set into a line with three other stores—a laundry, a beauty shop, and a bakery—grocery was the largest building. Through Logan’s vast window that took up most of the front, she saw Eva walk by pushing a cart. “First time for everything, Flora Mae. Never been in a grocery store,

have you?” Walking to the door, she thought about when she was little girl at home and how food just seemed to appear. Her mother brought in groceries and prepared meals, but where her mother got the food never crossed her mind. Too busy dodging her drunken father who wanted in her pants, scoring only once, where her mother got food was not a priority. Entering the store, she muttered, “My God, would you

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look at all this stuff.” Canned goods, baking ingredients, cereals, jars of things she couldn’t identify—all lined in rows down aisles. Captivated by people taking bottles of milk and cream, boxes of butter, eggs and cheeses from cases at the back of the store, she stared like a newborn exploring its world. At the single counter the checker, a plump elderly woman, sorted items for a thin woman with straight hair, in a dress Flora Mae guessed was home made from feed sacks she’d read about. She’d seen other women resembling this one on the streets downtown and was always put off by the sight. The checker examined each item, punched the price into the register and pulled the crank, causing the total to pop up on tags in the small display window on top. When she punched the last key, a drawer at the bottom flew open. As she thumbed through a small book she’d taken from the register drawer, The checker said to the woman in the feed sack dress, “Your bill’s near fifteen dollars. Can you pay just a little bit?” Her voice was not unkind.

“My husband gets paid tomorrow,” the woman said, her arms crossed in front of her and her eyes staring at the

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floor. “After we pay rent, we’ll come in with something. A dollar or two, if we can.” “Well, that’ll be fine,” the checker said. “We know times are rough. And with kids it’s even rougher.” She

bagged the groceries and gave them to the woman. “See you tomorrow, Dora Lee.” She smiled and got ready to ring up the next customer. Puzzled by the scene, Flora Mae walked by the meat counter and caught sight of Eva turning into the aisle marked “vegetables”. She grabbed a hand basket and followed, surveying the stacks of canned goods and pretending to know what she was doing. Engrossed in her task, Eva searched the rows of beans, picking up a can now and then, reading the label, and replacing it. Flora Mae, intending to “accidentally” bump into Eva, examined some beans, too, and moved closer. Without warning Eva looked at Flora Mae and said, “Four cans of pork and beans for a quarter is pretty good.” Surprised, Flora Mae laughed. ”I guess that’s right. Four for a quarter. That’s good, is it?” “Good? It’s sensational. Down the street at Stout’s, where he goes and gets them for you, they’re three for a quarter. Guess he charges for carrying them to the

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counter.” Flora Mae gave a blank stare because she didn’t know what Eva was talking about. Beans? Quarter? Go get them? “Yeah, well, that makes all the difference in the world,” she managed to say. “If he goes and gets them, he probably would charge more.” “Doesn’t seem right.” Eva turned back and studied more cans of beans. Flora Mae saw that up close Eva was quite lovely. Her skin was smooth and flawless, just the right tones of tan and white, not milky like an old woman’s. Her nose was thin and prominent without being intrusive. Although her eyebrows were thin, her eyelashes were dark and thick, complementing her eyes that sparkled and danced with merriment, as if she were about to say something clever and have a laugh. But Eva had thin lips that made her face stop just below her nose, making it appear incomplete. She was, however, built very nicely, and Flora Mae knew why Jack liked her: small waist, nice round hips, and big tits—all Jack-pleasing attributes. When Eva chose four cans of pork and beans and put them in her basket, Flora Mae saw no signs of pregnancy.

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“Please excuse me for being rude,“ Flora Mae said,“ but don’t I know you? Have we met before?”

Studying her face for a moment, Eva said, “I don’t think so. Do you live around here?” “No, but it seems to me I saw you once about a month ago, maybe sooner, at The Four Coaches? The supper club over on the west side?” Eva knitted her brows and studied Flora Mae again. “My husband and I did go to dinner there two weeks ago, but I don’t remember meeting you. I think I’d remember someone as beautiful as you.” Flora Mae smiled. “That’s it. You were with Jack Stewart.” Eva didn’t answer right away. She was still trying to place Flora Mae. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember meeting you.” “Well, that’s because we didn’t meet. My name’s Flora Mae Strickland. I just saw you across the restaurant with Jack. You must be his wife.” Flora Mae smiled and watched Eva’s face. “I’m Eva Stewart. Nice to meet you. You know my husband how?”

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“Oh, me and Jack are old friends. We go way back. I hadn’t seen him in years, and when I saw you two at The Four Coaches, I was really excited. I almost came over, but I didn’t wanna to intrude. I didn’t know what the circumstances were. If I remember, Jack don’t like interruptions and surprises.” “How is it you know him?” “Oh, well, we dated a bit when he lived here. Nothing serious. Just a few laughs now and then. Actually, I saw him yesterday.” “Oh?” “Yeah, I work at The Journal, in classifieds, and I was out to lunch and ran into him on Grand. He was working there with a crew laying track, I think he said.” Eva said nothing. “We said ‘Hi,’ that’s about all. I told him about seeing you at The Four Coaches, and he was real upset that I didn’t come over so he could introduce us. But I told him I didn’t want to intrude. He’s still a beautiful man. He was naked to the waist when I saw him. Mmmm. You are one lucky woman, and I should know.” Flora Mae smiled and stared into Eva’s eyes. Eva returned her stare, but then smiled and laughed. “Well, I’m sorry you didn’t come over. Jack would have

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enjoyed getting us together. His women.”

She got another

four cans of pork and beans and put them in her basket. “I’ll tell him we bumped into each other. He’ll be amused. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get home and start supper before I pick him up at work.” She turned and walked away. Smiling, Flora Mae watched Eva go to checkout. “Well, Jack, you’re gonna get kicked so hard in the ass you’ll taste shoe leather,” she said under her breath. “Almost feel sorry for you. Almost.” Waiting until Eva left the store, Flora Mae dropped her basket in the pile and departed. As she crossed to her car, she saw that Eva was gone. She started the engine, lit a cigarette, took a deep drag, and leaned back smiling. “I would give anything to be there when Jack gets home. He is gonna be one sorry son-of-a-bitch.” She drove away laughing out loud.

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Chapter 23 “You could get lost in those blue eyes of hers,” Eva said as she drove home. “Shoot, I’d sleep with her if I was so inclined. She’s like a movie star.” She considered being jealous, but then decided that Flora Mae was part of Jack’s past and that he had a right to his past, undisturbed and unrelated to the present. But maybe she should be jealous because in a contest between her and Flora Mae, she would be invisible. Standing side by side all eyes would be on Flora Mae—all eyes, male and female. Women like her were drop-dead gorgeous. Of course Jack bedded her, she accepted as given. If he hadn’t he was totally crazy and was less of a man for it; he’d be queer. Beautiful women had always attracted Eva although not in a sexual way, not dykie, but admiringly. She accepted that she was not beautiful and appreciated beauty in other women, just as she appreciated beautiful men like Jack. A very beautiful man, as Flora Mae pointed out. So why would he turn from someone as exquisite as Flora Mae and choose her, a mud fence, to be his wife? The mugginess of their apartment embraced her like a wet towel. It was like the inside of a laundry. She put the groceries on the table and went into the bedroom,

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where she kicked off her shoes and removed her dress. In her panties and bra she sat on the sofa and lit a cigarette. Flora Mae’s face was still right in front of her. Thoughts were bombarding her now, exploding like popcorn. What is her game, this beautiful, this stunning Flora Mae? Had Jack been seeing her now that he was back in Louisville? “When would Jack see her?” she said aloud, her voice muffled by tobacco smoke. “He leaves at six in the morning and gets home at six. What? He’s doing her in the street.” She stubbed out her smoke and admitted she was jealous: a growing, rising, pissed off jealousy that she’d never experienced before. An angry jealousy. Not the agonizing rejection she felt when Jack Herrick turned on her. Now she was just mad as hell, resentful of Flora Mae’s intrusion into her life. What was she trying to do? was she after? Eva smiled and wondered what she had over Flora Mae to keep Jack interested when a dish like her is on tap around town. Then again, maybe he was seeing her. Maybe that’s why he insisted on coming to Louisville. He could have cake and ice cream. Was she cake or ice cream? Pacing, What

she said, “Is that it? Is he playing house with me and

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topping her on the side?” She became furious. “Well, I’ll find out. I’ll find out, and if he is, I’ll pickle his balls in acid. I’ll not let him hurt me like Jack Herrick hurt me. No one will ever hurt me like that again. Never.” She decided to make one of Jack’s favorite meals: pork steak fried almost to leather, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green peas. Fresh-baked biscuits would round out the menu she hoped would soften him up when she started talking about Flora Mae. If he was evasive about his old girlfriend, it’d be his last meal, she resolved, so might as well be one he’ll enjoy. * Jack had a pretty good day. Used to the heavy work now, he felt terrific after twelve hours of lugging and lifting objects slightly less heavy as he. Reveling in the feel of his muscles overcoming the stress of gravity as he lifted a tie or his section of a rail and slid it into place, he felt he had conquered something tremendous. Shirtless, sweat still cascading down his nose and chin, his body glistened, and Eva took one look at him and went a little silly. “Hi, sweetie.” She hugged him. Still in her underwear, the feel and flavor of his slippery skin with his lips

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against hers sent familiar warmth to her crotch. Jack fingered the latch on her bra. “Not now,” she said and backed up, holding both his hands in hers. “Got dinner waiting. We’ll do better after.” the kitchen. “I’ll do better if I get rid of this thing right now,” he said as he pulled her back to him and embraced her. “Besides, there are all kinds of things to eat for dinner.” She pulled away and cuffed his shoulder. “Shut up. You She guided him toward to

have such a dirty mind. Come on, it’s your favorite and it’ll get cold.” “Lemme wash first.” “Hurry. You think I have the whole do-da day?” “Wait’ll I take care of you.” He dried his hands as he walked to the table. When he gobbled the last pork steak without offering to share, she figured he’d enjoyed dinner. Anxious about the rest of the evening, she was not too hungry. “Oh, man, can you cook. Did you notice how much trouble I had with the biscuits?” “What are you talking about?” “They were floating off my plate. I had to put my knife

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on them to hold them down.” “You are so silly.” She got up and brought the coffee pot over to him. “More coffee, sir?” “Uh, yes, please. Do you have dessert?” She looked at him with a little sideways grin, lifting her right eyebrow. “I have a sweet knuckle sandwich if you don’t behave yourself. Sir.” “I’ll give you a nice tip.” He grabbed her and pulled her to his lap. “Hey, watch it, fella. You’ll spill hot coffee on both of us.” “Ain’t nothin’ as hot as you, wench.” “Shut up.” She escaped and replaced the coffee pot. “Wench? Is that any way to talk to your wife who’s slaved over a hot stove all afternoon just to give her lord and master his very favorite food? Is it?” “Come here and I’ll show you how I appreciate your slaving.” “Oh, no. Can’t sweet-talk your way out of this.” She went to him and embraced his head. He rubbed his face on her belly and began sliding her panties off. “No. It’s too hot right now. Let’s take our coffee into

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the living room and sit in front of the window. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a breeze.” “You’re a damned tease. That’s what you are, a tease. A prick teaser.” “Honey, no one has to tease your prick to get it going.” He threw back his head and roared. “You are a crazy lady,” he said between guffaws. She took her coffee to the living room, sat in front of the window, and lit a cigarette. Jack followed. Sitting opposite her, he lit up and sipped some coffee. She looked out the window and noticed a boy strolling down the street, his shirttail out, suspenders askew, hair matted and sticking up, and barefooted. The old couple that lived in the house directly across the street sat on their porch, he smoking a pipe and she chewing tobacco. Eva never understood how a woman could chew tobacco, or how anyone could. Turning to Jack, she said, “Guess who I met today at the grocery?” “Rudy Vallee.” “No. Prettier than him. Flora Mae.” She watched

closely. His smile disappeared, but he looked as if he hadn’t heard her. His eyes narrowed, and a puzzled

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expression covered his face from his eyes to his mouth that twitched slightly. Looking at her, he took a puff and sipped coffee. For a moment he considered lying to her and saying that he didn’t know a Flora Mae. But he dismissed the idea as stupid because he knew Flora Mae had told Eva about their relationship. “Flora Mae. My old girl friend, Flora Mae Strickland. Now, how did that come about?” He was curious and scared.

“Well, I was in Logan’s looking at some cans of beans, and this absolutely drop-dead gorgeous woman came and stood beside me. I think I smelled her before I looked at her. Expensive perfume, I think. Anyway, she managed to bump into me and after we both apologized, she said she knew me. Well, said she recognized me from seeing me at the Four Coaches with you.” cigarette. “The Four Coaches?” “Yeah. You remember. We went there for our monthly fling.” She watched him. Was he sweating again, or was it “You had She stubbed out her

just the waning light playing with his face?

shrimp at some hideous price and I had fried trout. Very good, as I recall.”

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“Okay, Kiddo. I do remember The Four Coaches. And the shrimp. I don’t remember Flora Mae.” “Oh, she said she just saw us across the room. Didn’t want to disturb us. She said you didn’t like to be disturbed, as she recalled.” Jack sipped the last of his coffee, sighed deeply, and leaned back. “Flora Mae and I dated before I moved to Chicago. Yes, we had sex, if that is going through your head. But that was before I ever knew you existed.” were silent for a moment. Watching Jack’s face, she said, “Yeah, that’s what she said, kind of.” “Kind of? What does ‘kind of’ mean?” Oh, yes, old They

“She said you were—how’d she put it?

friends. You went way back, I think she said. And, let’s see. Oh, and it was just for laughs, nothing serious.” He looked out the window and nodded his head. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s pretty true. There was nothing serious. We saw each other whenever we could, and we . . . laughed a lot. Eva where are we going with this?” “She said she happened to see you at work. A day or so ago. Downtown.”

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He smiled. “Yes, she did. I was carrying a railroad tie and she called to me. Almost dropped it. Scared the wax outta me.” Eva studied him and began to laugh. “What the hell? Are you pulling my leg?” She just kept laughing. “I’ll come over there and spank your pretty butt if you don’t stop.” He got up. Still laughing she looked up at him and opened her arms. He went to her and she hugged him tightly. He kissed the top of her head and nuzzled his cheek deep into her fuzzy hair. “Eva, I knew lots of girls before I met you. I was a sailor, remember? I lived long and hard.” He knelt

beside her and held her hands. “I’ve been around the block a few hundred times. Sowed wild oats, is that what they say? But, it’s over. When I married you, it was for life.

Ain’t no girl in my life except you from now on. Swear to God.” Smiling at him, she ruffled his hair and embraced his head. “Sweetheart, I have no problem with Flora Mae, except that no woman should be that beautiful. You’ve been honest with me about your past, and that’s just what it is: the past. I know you knew lots of girls. You told me so. I have a past life, too, but neither should interfere

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with ours now, this time, our time.”

Eva held Jack’s face

between her hands and looked at him without smiling. “But don’t ever let me catch you fooling around with another woman. I promise you, I’ll make you curse your mother for giving you birth.” Still holding his face, she stared at

him with a coldness that made him shiver. Then she smiled and consumed his mouth in a lustful kiss. “I had you worried, didn’t I?” She was playful again.

“Yeah, well, it’s damned embarrassin’. An old girlfriend and my wife. Jesus, be merciful.” Exploring his face with many tender kisses, she said, “Speaking of pulling legs, don’t you have a third one that’s just dying to be pulled?” They didn’t wash dishes that night. Chapter 24 Jack was furious with Flora Mae. He imagined breaking her beautiful neck, but he knew if he said anything to her, it would make things worse. Breaking her neck would be great though, he thought. What troubled him most, however, was why Flora Mae would do such a thing. Why would she insert herself into his life now? She knew he was married. He told her.

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“That’s it,” he said aloud, nearly dropping the timber he was carrying. “She’s pissed as hell that I’m married.” “What the hell you talkin’ ‘bout, Jack?” Henry, the construction boss, yelled. “Nothin’. Just thinkin’ out loud.” “Forget it and git to work,” Henry snarled. Jack heaved the timber back on his shoulder. Why is she so pissed? he wondered. We never discussed marriage. Hell, she’s a pig. So was I, for cryin’ out loud. Pigs don’t marry. She knows that, or should. Flora Mae’s not changed. I can see that. But by God, I have and she’s going to keep the hell out of my business and my life or I will break her neck. I swear I will. His anger at Flora Mae put fire in him all day. He worked like it was the last day before Judgment, shocking the stuffing out of old Henry who had never seen Jack work so hard. * Eva cleared Jack of suspicion, and she thought his reaction was hilarious. She laughed when she thought about it. His face went chalk-white, and his right hand actually shook when he drank his coffee. They’d had been hot, she concluded, but it was also over. When they made love that

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night, he was brilliant, and she believed no one could be guilty and make love as he did. She wanted to believe him. If he was a low-life liar, which he might be, she’d deal with it, she promised herself. But right now she pushed those thoughts out of her mind; Jack was not Jack Herrick. Weeks passed. Their life was back to normal. Jack worked hard six days a week for the tramway company, and Eva continued to make their home comfortable and to learn more about cooking, mainly Southern cooking, and Jack’s passion. She took on collard greens, looking right into their tough-leafed greenness and vowing that they were a plant, she was a human being, and they would kneel before her, surrender, and cook into a savory dish any Southerner would love, despite their odor, which Eva likened to old feet. Jack loved them flavored with fatback, caramelized onions, and cornbread. Sacred to a Southerner, she learned, as a priest’s host is to a Catholic, is cornbread, the staff of life and guardian of the gut when eaten with “buttuhmilk.” Eva heard Southern folklore proclaim that the grittiness of “co-ern-bread”, a three-syllable word in the South, doesn’t lay there in your “stomik” and get all doughy like light bread does. Bettuh for ya. And cornbread puts hair

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on a man’s chest and makes a lady’s boobies grow round and full, she was told. But making cornbread that satisfies a Southern boy from Tennessee is an art form as complicated as creating fine porcelain, which crumbles if the formula is incorrect. Proper Tennessee cornbread must have the right amount of flour: too much flour and you have cake, too little and you have sand that produces a grittiness that Eva found was not “good fer the stomik”. Shortening has to be perfect, also: too much and you’re back to sand, too little gives you yellow hockey pucks. Eva imagined she was like Thomas Edison as he labored over discovering the right filament for his light bulb, only she labored over the exact combinations of flour, cornmeal, eggs, buttermilk, salt and baking powder. She did research. She cut recipes from newspapers and filled shoes boxes with them. She consulted ancient women in the neighborhood and got so many tricks and secrets to good southern cornbread that her mind was like mush, as some of her cornbread was. Alas, one beautiful stormy day, she hit it right. The premier shortening was butter—not lard, not Crisco, not Snowdrift. Melted butter suffused the dry ingredients with a golden light, and when whole-milk buttermilk was added,

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the batter became creamy, smooth, and delicate, with a sun-like hue. Baked, it transformed into squares of gold, not only light and fluffy but also arrogant enough to stand up to gobs of more butter and sweet jam. Jack no longer looked at Eva across the table with a pained expression on his face and said, “Gee, Kiddo, that cornbread was . . . well, different.” Now he shouted,

“Larrupin’”, and delighted in what he was eating, attacked her and covered her face with greasy, buttery kisses. At last, she was a Southern cook, a Southern chef, a Southern gourmet chef because she could make cornbread that pleased her man, and that was what it was all about, wasn’t it? The collards were wonderful, too, Jack said, and she learned to like them. But it was the cornbread that made her a star. Jack was so happy with his Eva. He loved to tease her and chase her around the apartment, groping her, undressing her, and drowning her with kisses. When she’d had enough and was begging him to stop, he’d fall on the floor and roll around laughing like a crazy person. Eva was happy with Jack, also, and felt that their love for each other grew deeper every day.

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Chapter 25 Eva rolled over and grabbed Jack’s nose and squeezed. “Guess what today is?” she whispered in his ear. “The day I smother to death?” She released his nose. “No, you goof. It’s washday.” Poking him in his ribs, she sang Somebody Loves You and emphasized words with a poke. “Stop, mad woman.” He rolled away into a ball as she continued to poke him and sing. “Vicious, crazed wench. Stop.” By now both were screeching with laughter, and Jack had snatched her to him, holding her as she sang louder. She covered his face with slobbery kisses in between stanzas. “If you don’t stop, I’ll do something terrible.” “What? Dare you. What?” He rolled her over on her back and in a deft move he stripped her. With one hand she unbuttoned his pajamas and guided him into her. “It’s best in the morning,” she whispered before they devoted themselves to each other’s pleasure. * While Jack set up the laundry in back of the house, Eva made breakfast: toast and coffee, dry cereal and no

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nonsense. Dreading washday, Eva was all business and would snap at Jack if he lingered. In addition to assembling the laundry he was to make toast, a culinary task that he found complicated. “I genuinely worry about you, honey. If I died suddenly, you’d starve to death. You at least need to learn to heat up soup.” “That’s what restaurants are for: men who can’t cook.” He always forgot the bread in the toaster, a two-sided gadget with swing-down doors that had to heat fully before bread could be placed on each little portal and then closed. Toasted on one side, the bread slices were flipped so they toasted on the other side. But invariably he was smoking, sipping coffee, or teasing Eva, who slapped his hand if it wandered up her dress, when they saw smoke meander from the toaster. “Jack, for God’s sake, watch the toast,” Eva shouted. Inside, he found something that resembled bathroom tile: snow white on one side and charcoal black on the other, including tiny flames flickering on the surface. He blew out the flames, flipped the bread and closed the toaster.

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“I’ll scrape the black off before I butter it.” Eva said nothing, but the severity with which she placed the flatware on the table did not equivocate. * When Jack left for work, Eva took on the manner of a jerky, frenzied two-reel movie, much like a Buster Keaton comedy: all stern, serious expressions predicated by furious action. She ran downstairs, checked the water bubbling on the two-burner hot plate; if hot enough, lugged the steaming buckets one at a time to the first tub; poured, refilled the buckets, put them on to boil; ran back to the tubs, sprinkled Oxydol in the scrub tub; scrubbed white clothes, linens, and underwear; inspected, worked more Oxydol into stubborn stains; scrubbed some more; ran for boiling water, returned, poured, refilled, replaced on burner; returned to scrub tub, wrung whites into first rinse, stirred with a piece of broom handle, used hand wringer to send clothes into the final rinse, and kept in step as if a tinny piano playing William Tell Overture kept time in the background. All day she ran in turbulent fury, all severe movement from her chin down, with her head motionless and her eyes expressionless.

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“I hate this job, but if you have to do something you hate, do it fast so you can get it over with,” she repeated to Jack at the end of every washday. By midday she finished the whites and hung them to dry. Dark clothes came next. She picked up a pair of Jack’s dungarees, held them between thumb and forefinger as far from her body as her arm reached and stood in awe of how filthy they were. Caked with grease and tar and snot, because as far as she could tell he hadn’t mastered the use of a handkerchief, she trembled at touching them. “I know I shall die one of these days from a horrible disease in these pants.” When she plucked from the left back pocket a near-clean kerchief, a piece of paper dropped out. “What’s this?” After a cursory read, she stuffed it in her dress pocket and plunged the dungarees into soak and went in to rest and have some lunch. “Merciful God, it’s hot.” Her soaked dress felt good against her skin. “Okay, Ma Perkins, what’ll it be today?” She turned on the radio before going to the kitchen. “Campbell’s tomato soup and crackers, Eva.” She got the

soup and opened the icebox. “Maybe a salad, too.” After eating and listening to Ma Perkins solve another

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thorny problem at her lumberyard in Rushville, Eva switched off the radio and went to the bathroom where she noticed the paper in her pocket. “Wet but readable.” She

flattened it on her knee and read the dim scribble: Call me. Flora Mae. SP 3890. Nookie? She pressed it out and read again. Call me. Flora Mae. SP 3890. Nookie? “What is this?” She read it again as she went into the living room and sat on the sofa. “Makes no sense.” She leaned back, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

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Chapter 26 When Eva opened her eyes it was late afternoon. She yawned and rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand and saw the note lying on the coffee table. “It wasn’t a dream, then.” Their apartment was a sauna. She was barely able to move, and she stank of Oxydol and sweat. Her hands were stiff and resembled chenille from being in hot water all morning; her joints ached, and her head throbbed. She leaned forward and saw that her feet were developing bunions. Covering her face with both hands, she wept. “Why am I not surprised? I’m an ugly, old hag.” When her weeping exhausted her, she stopped, blew her nose on the tail of her dress, and leaned back. Like sun in her eyes, the note seized her attention and forced her to read it again and again: Call me. Flora Mae. SP3890. Nookie? She got up, stuffed her feet into her shoes, picked up the note, and shoved it in her pocket. “Laundry won’t do itself.” She shambled down stairs. The buckets had almost boiled dry, and the water in the tubs was tepid. While she filled the buckets, she considered quitting for the day, but she knew it was no

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option; in the end she’d have to do it. A stray thought made her laugh: What would she do in winter? Go to one of

those new fangled washerettes down town, she reckoned, if they could afford it. They. She thought about the word. They. Would there be a they? Were they over? Would they be able to get past Or would they part?

this and get on with their lives?

Eva sat on the ground in the shade of the house and leaned against the wall. It wasn’t any cooler, but the shade duped her into believing it was. A pack of cigarettes and a box of matches lay next to her where she tossed them from the sogginess of the laundry. She took one and lit it. Right away she thought of Jack. “God, how he loves his cigarettes,” she murmured. Smiling, she pictured their routine most evenings: smoking and drinking coffee, and talking. That’s what Eva loved most, the talking, and if smoking was necessary, she’d smoke. Recalling how they kidded each other and laughed, she chuckled. She learned a lot about him in those sessions: how he grew up in Tennessee; how he delivered Western Union telegrams; what it was like fighting in the war and being stationed in Paris; how he loved the Navy and traveling to strange places; about his sisters Mary and

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Susan, and his parents. She shared her past, too, but not as openly as Jack did, because she was ashamed of a lot of it. Tears flowed and she wept from somewhere deep inside; tears not only of heartbreak but also tears of anger at herself for doing exactly what she said she’d never do again: trust another man. Having grown up surrounded by pain, she knew that intimacy with a man meant pain, and loving someone invited one to be hurt. Sobbing, she vowed

never again to depend on anyone else for happiness. * “Henry,” Jack yelled. “Get over here quick. Holy mackerel, this is horrible.” Henry ran to where Jack stood. Henry was fat, or portly as he liked to say, and jiggled as he ran, his jowls vibrated, his short heavy arms with balled hands pumped like drivers on a locomotive, and his huge belly arrived just ahead of the rest of him. Forty and mostly bald, he always wore bib overalls, open at the sides to accommodate his gut, and a grimy shirt that flapped through the openings like signal flags. His face was weatherworn and tanned, his large dark eyes expressing a mixture of anger, fear, and dread. Henry never talked to his men; he yelled.

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Jack pointed to the ground as Henry skidded to a stop. “We gotta do something quick, Henry.” “What is it, Jack?” Henry puffed and wheezed.

“Here. Look, it’s Orley. Look.” Jack pointed at an oil spill next to the track bed. “It’s Orley. He melted. Henry, you gotta do something.” Frowning, Henry stared at Jack, looked at the oil spill, back at Jack, who was bent with laughter. Henry narrowed his eyes. “You are a crazy son-of-a-bitch, Stewart.” His voice was calm. “You scared the livin’ shit outta me. I coulda had a heart attack. I thought someone was hurt.” “There was,” Jack insisted, shamming great concern. “Orley melted right down to the pavement in this heat.” “Someone call me?” Orville Boggs ran up. Now Henry laughed, and Jack sat on the pavement, laughing like a braying donkey. “What’s funny?” Orville asked. As slight as Henry was portly, with dark brown hair knotted on top of his head and big rubbery ears, all the guys thought Orville was the personification of Andy Gump: his neck appearing stuck to his upper lip and his mouth a hole near the top of it.

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Orville always seemed lost. He gawked at Jack and Henry. “Nothin’, Orley,” Henry said. “Stewart here’s just having a little stupid fun.” He looked at Jack. “Ever

hear of the boy who cried wolf?” “No. Can’t say as I have.” Jack lit a cigarette and let the smoke spew out of his mouth and nose at the same time. Henry shook his head. “Yeah, well, I’ll tell you some time. Now, both of you idiots get outta here and go home. Get outta my hair.” He walked away chuckling.

“You don’t have any hair, Henry,” Jack called after him. “Fuck you, Stewart,” Henry yelled over his shoulder. “Stewart, what the hell just happened?” Orville asked. “You melted, Orley. See. Right there in that little oil spot.” Jack got to his feet and clapped Orville on the

back. “Hot enough to melt, ain’t it?” Orville stared at the oil spot and scratched his head. “I don’t think that’s me, Stewart.” Laughing again, Jack headed to the parking lot, anxious to get home. He hopped into the Tudor and took off. After

rolling down his window, he leaned back against the seat and screamed.

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“Goddamn, that’s hot.” He jerked his naked back away from the seat. “Forgot my shirt. Jesus, that’ll roast ya.” He leaned forward and increased the speed. “I’ll get Eva to splash me with some water before I harvest the dry clothes. She’ll be ready for a break.” He rounded the corner of his street and pulled to a stop in front of their apartment. “Eva, I’m home.” He ran to the back of the house where he found her sitting on the ground crying, and a pile of his work clothes lying by the tubs. “Kiddo? What’s wrong?” Hurrying to her, he skidded to a sitting position by her side. She pulled free and looked up at him when he attempted to hold her. “Sweetie? wrong? Did someone die or something?” “Die? Maybe. Here, you tell me.” She thrust the note at him and leaned away, her tears blending with sweat on her cheeks. Jack looked at the note, frowned, shook his head slightly, and then looked at Eva who was not looking at him. “What is this? Where’d this come from?” He became angry and imagined snapping Flora Mae’s neck like a dry stick between his hands. “Eva, where did you get this?” “From your dungarees.” Her response was flat, and she did not look at him. What’s

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He scowled at the note. “How’d it get there?” Looking at him, she laughed a tight little laugh and said, “Instant paper. Just add water and poof, you got a note from your girlfriend.” “Hey, I’m serious. How did it get in my dungarees?” “Aren’t you clever. Why, I’m just fascinated by your cleverness, Darlin’.” Her eyes blazed, and she was stone

faced. “No, that’s not how it works, Jack. You’re supposed to tell me how it got there.” She glared at him and

wondered if he was shocked or was the most gifted liar she’d ever encountered. “I don’t know how it got here.” “It was in the back pocket of your work pants.” She stared into his eyes. “Tell me you forgot it, but don’t lie to me. Please don’t lie to me and tell me you don’t know. Try hard to remember.” She got up and kicked over the washtubs, threw the water from the buckets in after, flung his work clothes into the loblolly, and stomped on them. “Oh, and don’t forget the offer of nookie. That’s the best part. Nookie, nookie, nookie. Jackie want some nookie with the stunning, gorgeous Flora Mae? Vine ripened, luscious . . . “

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“Stop it, Eva. Stop it.” She dropped to her knees and wept. Her clothes sopping, her feet bare, her hair matted, her face streaked with dirt--she looked like she’d been lost in a forest for days. Jack moved toward her. “Keep away,” she screamed. “Keep away. Go away.” “Eva, I’m telling you the truth. Kiddo, I’m not lying to you. I do not know how this note got in my pocket.” Sitting amid the mud and saturated clothes, she stopped crying and gazed at him. “I’ve been lied to by experts, Jack, and I sincerely believe you are one.” She got up and continued to gaze at him. Attentive to the words she chose, she said, “You see, Jack, I have no doubt you are a liar and a skirt-chaser, or letch, as Foula used to say, but it isn’t your fault. You are a man, endowed with these qualities and others that wreak havoc on women.” Jack started to speak, but Eva raised her hand and cut him off. “Please keep your mouth shut until I’m finished. Afterward, you can say what you want because I probably won’t be here.” After a pause, she continued: “I promised myself no men after Herrick, but you came along like something out of a movie, and I fell. Stupid, simpleminded Eva allowed you in, like I had done before.” He

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started to speak again. “Don’t talk, Jack. I’m not finished.” She stepped a little closer. “Jack Herrick

lied to me. I’m sure the first word he ever said to me was a lie. Maybe his name was a lie, but expert fisherman that he was, he tossed out the bait and I, the brainless fish, swallowed it and he reeled me in. After he admired his catch and eaten his fill, he threw the remainder aside to die. But, it didn’t die, Jack.” She was in his face now. “He did me a favor. Wanna know what he did for me? He left the hook in, and I feel it constantly, especially when someone lies to me.” Placing her fingertips on his chest, she pushed him. “Go away, Jack. Now I’m your fish, you’ve sucked me dry, and thrown me away, but I won’t die this time either.” “Eva, I am not lying. I do not know how…” He stopped and looked at the note again. “Damn it. When she saw me at work, she did slip something into my back pocket. I didn’t even notice. I forgot all about it.” was grinning. “So she slipped it in your back pocket. Slipped it in. And you forgot. Did she squeeze your ass? Oh, but you don’t remember. Sorry, my mistake. Did she slip anything else in your pockets? A hand, maybe? What else did she He looked at Eva who

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squeeze, my darling?” Eva crossed her arms and leaned away from Jack. The grin was gone, a cold look in her eyes replacing it. “Eva…” “Go away. Pack your stuff, and go away. I need time and distance from you. Leave.” Jack looked at her astonished. He wondered where Eva had gone. “You’ve got me in a really tight place, Jack, here in this hellhole of Louisville that was your home. You’ve got friends and a slutty girlfriend who wants to share nookie with you. Now don’t forget that, Honey. I think she’s very sincere about the nookie.” She ran her hand through her hair. “Who the hell do I have for nookie? Shall I go nookieless while you nookie all you want?” She turned away from him. “I got no friends, my family’s scattered to the four corners. You really did a number, didn’t you? Get me away from Chicago and all I was familiar with, and stick it to me, right? Fucked me over, as you’d say, using that filthy word you’re so fond of. Get out.” Jack saw she was so profoundly hurt that her soul was raw. Cramming the note in his pocket, he went in, gathered what he could and left. Eva crumpled into the loblolly and sobbed.

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Chapter 27 Accosted by the odor of stale urine and vomit, Jack walked out of the River View Hotel in downtown Louisville promptly after entering the lobby. As a railroad man he refused to stay in hotels that reeked of human waste and offered small, stuffy rooms with beds encrusted with filth. He drove to Tyler Park across the Ohio River in New Albany, Indiana. He’d managed to pull on an old polo shirt before leaving the apartment, but he hadn’t washed and he stank, and he was hungry although he felt too upset to eat. He decided he’d pick up some coffee somewhere. Poking a cigarette in his mouth and igniting it, he headed toward the park about five miles west of the bridge. While driving he muttered threats toward Flora Mae. “I’m so mad at that bitch I could kill her while sayin’ the Lord’s Prayer.” He fantasized about calling her and telling her that he and Eva had split up and that it was because he wanted her and not Eva. “Egotistical little cunt’ll fall for it.” In his fantasy he saw himself going to her place. They would take a shower together, get all hot and bothered, and wind up in bed. He’d fuck her, slowly and gently, until she began to twist and turn and

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moan like she always did. Then he would strangle her and get close to one of her pretty little ears and tell her why she was dying. Still fucking her, rhythmically and smoothly, he’d close down her throat until he heard a crack, and then he’d watch her face as her life ebbed. After he’d climaxed and when he was sure she was dead, he’d stand over her body and piss on it, light a cigarette, take another shower to wash her slime off, and leave. “You are one sick bastard, Jack. Why would you want to give your life for a sack of shit like Flora Mae? You know they’ll catch you and burn you.” He felt ashamed of

himself. “All right, I’ll work this out with Eva, but I’ve got to end it with Flora Mae. Somehow, I’ve got to get that little tart out of my life.” He pulled into Tyler

Park and found a place to park and sleep in the car. * Eva sat and stared into the darkness of the living room until after midnight. Later she managed to bathe and wash her hair. Eating wasn’t possible; she was nauseated. Lying in bed she smelled Jack’s bay rum on the pillow next to hers. She cried again. Even the old sack-like gown she wore made her cry because Jack loved to search for her in

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it. He once told her, “I’m like the old man whose wife made a gown outta forty yards of silk because he got more of a kick outta lookin’ for it than findin’ it.” Now as her memory focused on past times, she imagined feeling his big hands that she loved so much caress the satin softness of the gown over her body, feel her breasts, slide his hand between her cheeks to her vulva, and with feather-like strokes fondle her to a frenzy that caused her to lose touch with reality. With her eyes closed, she panted and sweated, tossing on the bed and sensing he was kissing her pubic mound through the gown and blowing hot breath into her vagina, causing her to combust and to want to take him like a famished animal takes food. She jumped out of bed, tore off her gown, and threw it into the blackness. Naked, she ran to the living room and dropped onto the couch where she stimulated herself until she climaxed, and then wept until exhaustion forced her to sleep. Sunlight filled the apartment when she awoke to the sound of someone pounding on the door. Startled, and not understanding for a moment why she was lying naked on the

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sofa, Eva sat up but didn’t move. The knocking became insistent. Regaining her senses, she dashed into the bedroom and threw on an old blue robe. She rushed to the door, hoping in spite of herself, it was Jack. “Hi, Sis.” “Jimmy. Where in the world did you come from?” Her brother stood on the porch, grinning, and dressed in a light blue shirt and dark pants that looked like a wild animal had eaten them and then vomited. His stench was a mixture of sweat, puke, and stale whisky, his hair was twisted and matted, and his little blue eyes sparkled with mirth reserved for the very young and unbounded. “Hell and back, Sis. Gimme a hug and a smooch.” He grabbed her and pulled her to him. Eva felt vomit rise in her gullet as she was buried in Jimmy’s embrace and subjected to the putrid odor that swirled around him like an aura. When he lathered her with kisses, she felt sure she was kissing the bung end of a pig. “You got any coffee? Got anything to eat for a starvin’ sailor?” Turning aside and gasping for air, she said, “Sure. Come in.” She opened the door wider, and dragging a huge

sea bag, he came in.

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“All I got in the world’s in this here sea bag, Sis. All I got.” “Well, drop it there by the door and I’ll get you something to eat. Would you like to wash? “Nah. I’m good.” He dropped the bag. “You stink to high heaven, Jimmy.” “It’s okay. You’ll get used to it. I did.” He smiled Take a bath?”

and reached out and patted her arm. “Glad to see your baby brother?” “Shocked is more like it. Come on.” He followed her into the kitchen and sat at the little breakfast table. “Nice place, Sis. You and Jack must be doin’ okay.” “How’d you find me? Louisville’s a big city.” She loaded the coffee pot and turned to Jimmy who was sprawled in the chair, right arm over the back, the other on the table propping his head, legs crossed, shoes off, adding to the foul air that hung around him like the scent of dead mice. “Jimmy, after you eat, it’s a bath for you or outside for you, whichever you choose, but you can’t stay inside and stink the way you do. Where were you last night? how did you find me?” And

She went to the refrigerator and

took out a bowl of eggs and a slab of bacon.

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“All right, Sis, all right. I’ll take a bath. Can you wash my clothes?” The idea of laundering clothes brought back yesterday. “No, I don’t have a way. There’s a washerette downtown. Don’t you have clean clothes in that bag?” “Yeah, I got some. Sailor’s always prepared.” “Thought that was the Boy Scouts.” She brought the coffee pot and a cup over to him. “Cream? Sugar?”

“Black. I got webs in my head like fishnets.” She poured the coffee and returned the pot to the stove. She broke three eggs in a bowl and sliced two thick pieces of bacon, and then she glanced at him as he drank his coffee. God forbid Mom should see him now. “Okay, for the third time, how’d you find me in this city?” She put the bacon in a skillet and adjusted the flame. “Ain’t that big a place. Post office. I went to the post office and asked for Jack Stewart, a newcomer to this fair city. They give me the address right off, and I grabbed a cab and came over. Simple. Got some more coffee?” “Help yourself.” She moved the bacon around in the

skillet, turned it and adjusted the flame again as it

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began to sizzle and send a fine spray of grease onto the burner that flamed up for a second. The bacon smell helped cover Jimmy’s stink. “So, where you been? Hear anything from Mom or Dad?” “Yeah, Mom writes now and then. You know, her abbreviated letters written in pencil on a writing tablet.” He laughed and went back to the table with his coffee. “And Dad?” “Nothing. I don’t think Dad can write, and besides, he ain’t got nothing to say to me. I really don’t know the man, Sis.” She took the bacon out and set it on a neatly folded stack of paper towels to drain. The beaten eggs she poured into the skillet and stirred with a spatula. “So how’s Mom?” “Seems to be fine. Says she loves Denver. Bill’s working on some dam just outside of town. Woodie’s in school sometimes. She says the little bastard refuses to go to school if his clothes ain’t just right. Lucky to have clothes, I think.” He sipped some coffee. “Maddy’s

gittin’ to be a handful, she says. Sassin’ her and not

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comin’ home from school on time. Mom says beatin’ her don’t no good. Says she thinks Maddy likes beatings.” laughed. “And Sam?” She scooped the eggs out of the skillet onto a plate, added the bacon, and took it to Jimmy. “Oh, man, does that look good. Toast?” He looked up at her. “Yes, sir. Customer’s always right.” She went to the toaster and loaded it, and then stood by it so it wouldn’t burn. Jack came to her mind and she almost cried. “What about Sam?” she said. “Workin’ in a mine somewhere in the mountains. Mom said right after they got to Denver, he quit school and took off. I think she’s washed her hands of that boy for a while. I guess he’s a caution. Drinkin’.” “Like you?” “Okay, Sis, okay.” She buttered his toast and brought it to him. He was eating like he hadn’t seen food for weeks. “I’m in the Navy. On leave I get wild, I admit. Found this bar last night and this woman, least I think she was a woman, got shit-faced and that’s about all I remember until I got to the post office. Sorry you don’t He

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approve, but I got me some things I need to do before I settle down.” He gulped the last of his food and got some more coffee. “Speakin’ of settlin’ down, where’s Jack, the old sailor hisself?” “He’s working. Goes early.” Eva couldn’t bear to tell Jimmy about Jack right now. “What’s he do?” “Lays track for the tramway company. Hard work. Listen, Jimmy, I’m going to draw you a bath and if I have to, I’ll throw you in. You’re still my little brother.” for the bathroom. “Ain’t so little anymore, Sis,” he called after her. When he’d bathed, shaved, and brushed his teeth, Jimmy put on a pair of jeans and a Navy-issue t-shirt. Eva made him take his dirty clothes outside. “Think I could stretch out on your couch and catch a few winks? Didn’t really sleep much last night.” He grinned. “Sure. Go ahead.” Eva looked at him and smiled. She hugged him and said, “I am very glad to see you, Jimmy. Stink and all.” She stepped back. “So, what are your plans?” She headed

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“I’m going to Denver to see Mom. Gotta be back in Norfolk a week from Friday, but that gives me two weeks. Thought I’d spend a couple of days here with you and Jack, then leave for Denver.” “How’d you get here?” “Hitchhiked.” “Jimmy. That’s dangerous.” “Naw, it ain’t, Sis. You meet some real interestin’ people. Trucker picked me up just outside of Norfolk, and where was he headed? Louisville. Said he had to go through Charlotte to drop a load, so I rode along, helped him unload, and he brought me right here. Even paid for me to stay at a roadside camp one night. Bought me meals. Hell of a nice guy.” He laughed at her look of horror. “Sis, I hitchhiked all up and down California when I was there last year. Even hitchhiked in the Philippines. Now there’s a tale I’ll tell you sometime.” He put his arms around Eva and kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry about me, Sis. I’m having the time of my life, and I am careful.” She pulled away and said, “I’ll still worry. Now, get some sleep. I have to go to the store.” She chose a white cotton dress that buttoned down the front because even at eight o’clock in the morning the

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heat and humidity were engrossing. Jimmy’s being there meant that she needed a few extra things, so she’d walk to the store. No Tudor. No Jack. Tears began to form as she left the house. Her mind flickered from one scene to the next. One time, Jack Herrick would flash before her and she’d begin to relive all that pain, then the scene would change abruptly and she’d watch herself find the note in Jack’s pocket, and then she’d envision Jack burn the toast. Just as abruptly she’d see her mother and father fighting, and his storming out and being gone for a week or more. She mumbled to herself as she walked. “If I’m wrong about Jack, if he’s innocent as he says he is, I still feel devastated. I know he’s not Jack Herrick, but he is a man.” Sweat dribbled down her back and off her brow. She

dabbed at it with tissue she always carried in her purse. Scars heal, but they never go away, she pondered. Search for them, and even the tiniest lesion can be found. You can sit in the sun and tan all over, but your scars will be white lines reminding you of the wounds they once were. One’s life can be extraordinarily positive, but there is always a scar that will be there, reminding and nagging to remember a time of pain, a time of hurt. Eva’s

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lacerations began in childhood at the hands of parents who themselves were forever disturbed by their scars; some of them open sores that would never heal. Jack Herrick inflicted many more and much deeper wounds, and now another Jack was threatening her. Even if he didn’t strike, even if he was telling the truth, the very idea that he was capable of inflicting pain on her brought all the agony from the past to the present moment. As she stepped into Logan’s grocery she decided that life was too short to abide such suffering. She would divorce him. * Jack didn’t sleep much. He rolled down all the windows, but the car still sweltered. He spread an old blanket he had in the back seat on the ground, but the ground was too lumpy. Besides, he knew it wasn’t the heat and the lumps keeping him awake; it was not being home snuggled next to Eva. At four o’clock, he gave up and drove back into Louisville and headed for the Seelbach Hotel where Adele lived. He needed her crisp, no-nonsense take on life, laced with sarcasm, jokes, and laughter. She’d tell him to stop whining, go back to Eva, and have it out, and go ahead and break Flora Mae’s neck, but that pissin’ on her

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after? Naw. That’s just sick and disgusting, she’d say. He stank to high heaven and was so hungry he felt feeble. “Maybe Adele’ll let me shower and feed me.” He snickered. “Probably kick my ass out for not seeing her sooner.” He pulled up in front of The Seelbach. When he opened the elaborate hotel door, cascades of frosty air fell over him like taffeta curtains, and he remembered why he loved air conditioning. “Look what the dog drug in?” a man’s voice said from behind the dimly lit night desk. “Where the hell you been, boy?” “Hey, Luther.” Jack crossed the huge ornate lobby. “See you’re still on nights.” “Who else’d be crazy enough to stay up all night frogmarchin’ rich drunks back to their rooms?” Jack watched Luther walk from behind the desk. He was tall and muscular with receding salt and pepper hair and matching full beard, and he looked like a military officer in his maroon bell captain’s uniform. Black and gold epaulettes trimmed the shoulders, an eight-point gold star adorned his right breast, and a smaller version at his throat held his collar together. He gazed down at Jack and laughed.

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“You look like you’ve been crawlin’ around in a cave, Jack. Where you been?” “Just got off work. Say, is Adele home?” Clasping his hands behind his back, Luther turned and strolled away. Jack stared at him. Luther stopped and perused an Arthur Thomas mural behind the ornate oak desk, as if he were an art critic. After a long time, he peered over his shoulder at Jack. “Adele died in January,” he said in a soft voice. Jack felt his legs give way. All at once floating, becoming hallucinatory, somewhere in a dream amid shadows, he visualized Adele sitting beside him at the theatre, but then her face became Eva’s face that turned into Flora Mae with Eva’s fuzzy hair. A glaring light flashed, and Adele appeared again, laughing and applauding as actors tumbled and staggered across the stage and beat each other with soft rubber clubs. She spoke a language he could not understand. Another flash burst, and he was in a dark pit surrounded by jagged brown walls that smelled like fresh apples. High above him, peering down into the pit, he saw Luther and heard him calling his name. “Hey, Jack. Jack. Jack? It’s Luther.” He cuffed Jack

gently on his cheek and shook him. “You fainted,” he said

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as he tried to pull Jack against a wall. When Jack opened his eyes, the room swirled around him and he felt nauseated. He snapped them shut and slumped against the wall. “Come on,” he heard Luther from a great distance. “Stay with me, Jack.” stand?” Jack shook his head and opened his eyes. The room stayed put this time. “I’ll try.” Luther helped him up, but he steadied himself against the wall. “When was the last time you ate?” Luther asked while he held the wavering Jack against the wall. “Don’t know.” “Come on. I got some coffee back here in the office. Maybe I can find something in the kitchen. Crew’s there by now.” He hooked Jack’s left arm around his neck. “God, Luther patted his face again. “Can you

you stink. Smell like you’ve been rolling with pigs. Come on. Frogmarch, now. I can’t hold you up all night.” “How’d she die?” Jack asked after Luther sat him in a small office at the back of the lobby. “Pneumonia. She got sick and she asked us to call Alonso.” He poured coffee into a large white mug and

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scooted it over to Jack. “Cream and sugar?” Jack said, leaning on his right fist. “You want everything, don’t you?” He got a bowl of sugar, Milnot from the refrigerator, and a spoon. “You know Alonso?” Luther asked. “Yeah.” He sipped, adjusted the sugar and cream, and sipped again. “You mean Alonso from over at Alonso’s Place?” “Yeah, the nigger speak.” Luther poured himself a mug

and sat down across from Jack. “We didn’t know about all that stuff. We thought she was white, don’t you know, or she’d never have set foot in this hotel.” “She ever stiff you on rent?” “No, but that’s not the point.” “She get drunk, act crazy, and piss on the floor?” “No. But Jack, this is the Seelbach. Famous people stay here. Niggers have no business on this side of town. You know that.” Jack drank his coffee and studied the natty bell captain for several seconds. “Luther, I knew she was mulatto. She told me. But Adele Washington was one of the

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finest people I ever met. A great lady, no matter what she was.” He finished his coffee and laughed. “She fooled you, didn’t she? Fooled a lot of people in her life, playin’

both sides of the fence. After all, she was an actor.” “Well, all I know is, management hit the ceiling when they found out. Even fumigated her room.” “Aw, shit. The bastards. Listen.” He leaned across the

table. “If we’d a been the same age, old or young, I think I’d a married her, she was that fine.” Luther started to speak. “Just keep quiet, Luther. I’m just about finished. I know you’re a Southern boy, so am I. But, Adele was not in any way a nigger woman, even though her mama was. So don’t go bad-mouthing her, or I’ll whip the crap right outta you, even though you are bigger’n me. I loved Adele, as a friend, and I’ll not hear a bad word against her. Hear?” Luther smiled and stood up. “Yeah, well, I liked her, too, Jack. Sorry you had to hear about her bein’ dead from me, and sorry I spoke the way I did.” fight ‘tween you and me? fun, don’t you think?” Grinning, Jack straightened up. “It would be for a fact, Luther. It sure would be.” He stuck out his hand, He laughed. “A

Now, that’d be a day or two of

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which Luther took, and said, “Thanks. Obliged for the coffee, I think it’ll hold me ‘til I can eat. Didn’t mean to mess up your night shift.” “Nothin’ at all, boy, nothin’ at all. Say, you want me to find a roll or somethin’ in the kitchen? No trouble.”

“Nope. Gotta get goin’. The day I have ahead of me needs to get started so it can be over. Thanks anyway.” When Jack stood up, everything turned white and he felt as if he’d pass out. He leaned against the wall and breathed deeply several times before regaining his sight and losing the dizziness. He smiled at Luther and walked carefully from the hotel.

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Chapter 28 When he got in the Tudor, he realized he had no place to go. He could go home, which he seriously considered, and have it out with Eva, as he knew Adele would have suggested. Without warning, tears rolled down his cheeks, and he sat in the car crying. “Oh, Adele,” he said amid his sobs, “I’m so sorry. I’m gonna miss you so much.” Through tears, he imagined Adele at Alonso’s, laughing, joking and looking after her chocolate cookies. She was the best. He dried his eyes and blew his nose. “Why not go home?” He sniffed and blew his nose again. “At least I

could clean up. I pay the rent, damn it. I’m the one who works, why should I have to leave? If she can’t stand to

be around me, let her leave.” He pictured her out where he was, alone with no place to go in a strange city. “Stormy,” he shouted. “Stormy Cromer might let me clean up and at least listen.” He sighed. “Listen to what? I’m not sure I know what to say.” Fishing in his pocket for a nickel, Jack found the crumpled note among the few coins he had. He sat and stared at Flora Mae’s phone number, written in a big, juvenile script, and again considered the possibility of

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killing her and getting away with it. He gazed out the windshield for a moment. “Come on, Jack, this is all your fault. You knew the note was in your pocket, and you shoulda taken it out and torn it up. Eva woulda never known.” He lit a cigarette. “Shit and two’s eight.” He found a nickel, shoved the note and the rest of the coins back into his pocket, and crossed the street to a phone booth, which to his surprise had a phone directory dangling from a chain beneath the shelf under the phone box. He realized he didn’t know Stormy’s real first name. He only knew him as Stormy, and he was sure it was a nickname. As he ran his finger down the list of names starting with Cro—, he wondered who in the world would name a kid Stormy. “Here it is, Cromer. Only one in the book.” He dropped the nickel in the phone box and dialed the number. “’Lo,” a sleepy voice said. “Stormy, this is Jack Stewart.” “Jack. Hell, boy, I thought maybe you was dead. Where are you?” “Downtown. Across from the Seelbach.” “Still with tramway?” Stormy asked through a squeaky yawn.

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“Yeah. And, hey listen, I didn’t tell you before, I got married.” Stormy said nothing for a moment. “Wait a minute,” he said in a flat voice. “Somethin’s wrong with this here phone. I thought I heard you say you got married, but I know that ain’t true. Come again?” “I got married, Stormy, to that waitress at Gus’s place. Eva. Remember Eva?” “Martha,” Stormy yelled. “Martha. Wake me up. I’m havin’ this terrible nightmare. Jack Stewart says he got married. Ain’t possible.” “Okay, Stormy, okay. You heard right.” “Jack Stewart married? Made an honest cock outta that

wild thing of yours? Who the hell are you? An’ where’s Jack?” “Stormy, I need your help. Can I come over to your place?” He flipped the butt away. “Why, sure. Martha an’ me’d love to have you. You know where I live?” “Caledonia Place? House set back from the street?” “That’s the place. You come over and we’ll drink coffee and smoke and tell lies and talk dirty. Ouch. Martha don’t go punchin’ me. I’m delicate. See you soon, Jack.” Stormy

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was laughing out loud when he hung up. As he drove out of downtown toward Caledonia, Jack had to chuckle as he thought about Stormy, a solid gold, cardcarrying character who was a legend among railroad men along the L&N line. Stormy loved tenderfoot firemen like Jack had been when he started with the L&N. It was still a narrow gauge line in some places, and firing was done by hand. Hell of a job, Jack recalled with joy: opening thick steel firebox doors to an inferno, standing on a two-foot wide plank between the coal tender and the engine, scooping coal into the firebox, dancing up and down to keep his balance as the engine roared ahead. Jack laughed out loud as he remembered Stormy and his pipe. A gunnysack of whole tobacco sat at his feet, and he’d take a leaf, scrunch it up and stuff his pipe. He said it tasted like real tobacco without all the sweet shit they put in cut grain like Sir Walter Raleigh. “I remember what you did, you son-of-a-bitch,” Jack said as he popped a cigarette and placed it between his lips. Bouncing like a marionette on the plank, Jack had been trying not to fall off the train when Stormy lifted one hand off the scrunched up tobacco and let the wind take it

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right into Jack’s face and eyes. He flung the shovel and the coal right into the firebox. Stormy laughed until he was sick, and after Jack caught his balance and decided not to kill Stormy, he laughed, too. “Somethin’ in your eye, boy?” Stormy shouted over the roar inside the engine’s cab. “Kiss my ass, you knot head,” Jack shouted back as he slammed the doors of the firebox. Standing a few inches over six feet and weighing in at around two-fifty, Stormy was an imposing man. Lots of graying hair was crammed under a cap most of the time. He took it off to sleep, he’d told Jack, but that was about all. Overalls and denim shirts were his uniform of choice, with a red bandana tied around his neck. Craggy face, brown eyes large and sparkling, nose bent to the left because it had been broken when he was a kid, his chubby cheeks and square chin always covered with a stubbly beard that he told Jack his wife liked when they were in bed, Stormy was a sight. “Sets the mood,” he’d say and wink. Jack laughed again as he remembered how Martha would stare at Stormy with a sad expression and release a quivering little sigh, then drop her eyes and shake her head. Jack’s favorite story about Stormy illustrated his

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rascally personality. He’d tell unsuspecting young railroad men that he was the famous Stormy Cromer, the inventor the cap worn by most railroad men in winter. “You invented that cap?” “Hell yes,” he’d say with a straight face. Watching their faces, Jack saw the trainmen, not an educated lot, become fascinated by the prospect of knowing a celebrity. He knew they weren’t stupid, but many couldn’t read or write, and some, like the hostlers, had never been any further than their neighborhoods in Louisville. Scrunching a handful of tobacco and loading his pipe, Stormy said, kind of misty-eyed, “Yep. That’s me.” “No shit,” someone would yell, and they’d all look at Stormy awestruck. “How come are you still driving trains, then?” another would ask. “Well, I like it. Like to drive trains and see different things along the way. Besides, maybe one day my caps won’t sell, an’ I’d have to go back to railroadin’. So, why quit? Money I make from railroadin’ I give to charity, anyways. Ain’t like I need it.” Stormy’d draw a

big puff from his pipe and let the smoke engulf him. Jack

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thought he resembled a leprechaun. “Hey, Stormy, I’m a charity. How’s about a contribution?” or “Stormy, old friend, gimme a twenty and I’ll buy one of your caps and sing your praises all over town.” “First of all, you can’t sing,” Stormy would quip. “Nope. Got to keep this ‘tween us. Don’t wanna rile the people. Don’t need to be more famous than I am. I’ll consider you, though, when I make out my next charity checks.” Jack remembered that Stormy’s put-on didn’t go over well with the fellows because a lot of men were desperate for extra money. So Stormy ended his prank by throwing his head back and laughing. “Boys, I’m just pullin’ your leg. Guy that invented the cap spells his name with a ‘K.’ I spell mine with a ‘C.’ I met him once, though. Up in

Milwaukee where he has his factory. Mean little sombitch. Glad I ain’t related.” He’d laugh some more, then added: “But the money the man makes would be good.” That they were upset with Stormy’s lie was evident to Jack as the men wandered off either laughing or cursing Stormy and his mother. Although he laughed and went along, Jack always considered it a cruel joke, and many times

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he’d leave the room before the confession came. * After a short drive across the awakening city, Jack sat at the Cromers’ kitchen table, drinking coffee, smoking and telling Stormy and Martha all about his troubles. Stormy put down his cold pipe, scratched his stubbly beard, and looked at Jack. “Way I see it, Jack, is you’re screwed by circumstances and your own stupidity at not takin’ that note outta your pocket. You gotta say you’re sorry to you wife. Take her some flowers or candy or both and convince her ain’t nothin’‘tween you an’ this gal. She’ll come around, won’t she Martha?” Martha fiddled with her napkin while Stormy delivered his sage advice. In her middle fifties, she was still a remarkably attractive woman, petite but not skinny. Although she wore a homemade print dress that tied at her waist like an apron, Jack noticed right away that she still had curves in all the right places. Except for a few crow’s feet at the corners of her dark eyes, her face was taut and clear. Dimples near her mouth appeared and disappeared with her easy laughter. Jack wondered how a pretty woman like Martha could tie up with an ugly old guy like Stormy, but Stormy was a one-of-a-kind.

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“Stormy, you’re a wonderful engineer, but you don’t know diddly-squat ‘bout women.” She laughed and looked at her husband who leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, smirking like an indulgent father. “Well, you don’t,” She glanced at Jack, who rested his chin on his left hand and smoked. Martha studied her napkin and spoke: “Jack, a little ol’ note with a gal’s name an’ phone number on it ain’t enough to break up a marriage over, ‘cept that crack about nookie, which I’d never heard of ‘til you told me, Stormy.” She glanced at her husband who was chuckling. “Ain’t no nookie goin’ on, is there Jack?” “No, ma’am. Not now. Was a few years ago, but not now. Swear to God.” “I believe you, but there’s somethin’ else goin’ on. I don’t know what, but somethin’ is causing your wife to act the way she is, and that’s what you gotta find out. Then, you got to let her know you understand. Flowers and candy ain’t understandin’. It’s a bribe.” and smiled. No one spoke for a moment. Then Jack said, “I never thought of that, Martha. Guess I was so surprised that I didn’t think at all. You’re right. Eva’s had a tough She looked at Stormy

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upbringin’, accordin’ to what she’s told me. You really got something there, Martha.” Stormy leaned forward on the table and looked into Martha’s eyes. He was still grinning, and his eyes were dancing with merriment. “Martha, you full of shit like a ripe pig.” He patted her hand. Still fussing with her napkin, she said, “Maybe, Stormy. But I’m somethin’ you ain’t an’ never will be.” She looked at him. “I’m a woman, so I know.” Stormy leaned back in his chair again and stretched. “Listen to her, Jack. She’s probably right,” he said just before a yawn attacked him. Jack looked at Martha for a long time, then leaned close to her and said, “Martha, how’s about ditchin’ this ugly old man and marryin’ me?” Martha leaned back in her chair and laughed. “Jack, you’re already married, an’ I could never ditch Stormy. Wouldn’t want no other woman have to be saddled with the likes of him. I’m protectin’ womanhood.” She laughed again along with the guys. Jack crushed the butt in an ashtray and became serious again. “I gotta another problem, Stormy.”

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“You need a place to stay for a few days.” “How’d you know?” “I’m a fortune teller. And a man.” He gaped cross-eyed at Martha and brought his lower lip up to touch his nose. “And I know,” he bellowed and laughed again. “We gotta place you can bunk, and we gotta bathtub, which you need mighty soon, boy. ‘Course, if it’s all right with Sister Martha over there, the fountain of wisdom.” “I’d be honored to have you, Jack,” Martha said and looked at Stormy. “You, I’ll see to later.” “Here now.” Stormy hollered. “Oh, man, Jack, she’s gonna take care of me.” He smiled big and watched Martha out of the corner of his eyes. “I can’t wait, Sugar. How’s about now?” “You’re too eager. ‘Sides, I gotta clean up this mess and you gotta show Jack to his room. I reckon he could use some sleep.” “You’re right about that,” Jack said.

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Chapter 29 Jimmy was asleep when Eva returned from the market. She tiptoed to the kitchen and put away the groceries, after which she cleaned up the breakfast clutter and went to the bathroom. Afterward, sitting by the window in the living room, she smoked and thought about her past, which haunted her like a ghost that popped up unforeseen and blocked her view of the moment, the now of her life. As she looked out the window, she acquired a far-off look. Her eyes darted glances at nothing in particular, she squeezed her eyelids into slits, and her hands toyed with a piece of paper lying on the table. A niggling habit, Jack would watch her. “Hey, Kiddo. Where are you?” he would ask. Often she’d not answer, and he’d have to touch her shoulder or steal a kiss to bring her back. She’d look at him for a moment as if he were a stranger, and then smile. He’d hug her and say, “Where were you?” “Wool gathering,” she’d reply, never telling him of her wanderings in her past; it was her secret not to be shared. The last sounds she heard were Jimmy’s soft snores before she floated over and through her past like a bird

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caught in a thermal, spiraling and whirling, seeing with eyes that could track an ant across a cornfield. She saw herself standing on an orange crate, washing dishes and listening to her mother admonish her: “If I find a piece of lint on a glass, I take a switch and whip you until the blood drips down your back.” Like changing a slide in a magic lantern, she was singing in the choir, her clear soprano rising above the others to the delight of the choir mistress. She heard her mother’s mocking laughter descanted above the melody, and then heard her voice saying Eva sounded like a bullfrog. Drifting with the thermal across time she was fourteen and getting the lesson from her mother Laura about sex: “Don’t bring no bastard home for me to raise, hear. Keep your bloomers on and your legs crossed. Now, go scrub the kitchen floor.” She spiraled toward the ground and was talking to Jack Herrick in their apartment in Chicago. “Oh, Jack, honey, I think something’s wrong. There’s something coming out of me, down there, and it smells terrible, and I feel so weak and tired.” “You got clap, Eva. Where’d you get it? Huh? Whoring

around when I was in New York? Huh? Bitch. Goddamned cunt.

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I’m leaving.” “Please, Jack, please. I’m sick. I need you.” “Eat shit and die.” She watched him leave, and she felt the pain of the disease as it ate away her womanhood, as it made her barren. Borne high above the scene, she could hear the cries of the babies she could never have, and then the thermal died, dropping her at the table by the window where she wept and wondered what she had done to make her life so miserable and unhappy?” Jarred awake by her weeping, Jimmy said, “Sis? What’s going on?” He came over to her and knelt. Still sobbing, she said, “Jack left me. No, that’s not true. I threw him out. He’s gone.” “Jesus, Sis, what happened? I’ve never seen you like this, even after Herrick walked out.” He held her as she wept. When she stopped, she looked at Jimmy through bloodshot eyes and said, “I need a Kleenex.” “Where?” She pointed to a box on a small table beside the couch.

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She blew her nose loudly, took another and wiped her eyes and face. “Sorry, little brother, I didn’t want you to find out like this.” “So, what’s the scoop? You kicked Jack out?”

“I did. He’s seeing another woman. I found her phone number in his pocket.” “Do you know her?” “I met her at the market. Gorgeous woman. Flora Mae. That’s her name. I don’t remember her last name.” “Sis, are you sure he’s messing around? A phone number ain’t proof. Just a phone number.” “No, he admitted dating her before he met me. They were intimate. He said so.” She blew her nose again. “You should see her, Jimmy. She’s so beautiful it could make you cry. Blonde, blue eyes, the whole thing. Now look at me. Mud fence. Homely, ugly…“ She started to cry again. “Christ, whatta kick in the ass. I liked Jack a lot. Thought he was a good guy.” He watched Eva cry. “But I can see the bastard needs whipping.” He paused a minute. Eva stopped crying. “But I’ll need help. Jack can pinch my head off and spit in my neck. I can tell him what a louse he is and call him a son-of-a-bitch, but a fight ain’t a good idea. I can try, Sis, if you’ll promise to visit me

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in the hospital.” She laughed. “Hey, that’s my girl. Listen, Sis, are you sure Jack don’t love you no more? I mean, a phone number? Maybe he’s tellin’ the truth.” “She invited him for nookie. Know what nookie is?” “Yeah, sure.” He paused and looked away. “Well, maybe somethin’ is going on. I don’t know.” “Love? I don’t know, Jimmy. I think I was some sort of

challenge for him. I didn’t tumble into bed for him like women all over the world had done. No, I think it was pride. He was just bound and determined I would go down for him, and it doesn’t matter to him how he does it. He brought us to Louisville so he could have her, on the side.” “Come on, Sis. Jack could get any woman he wants. If this Flora Mae is what you say she is, why pick you? No offense, but just to, what, bed you? He’s so messed up he’s gotta conquer every woman he meets? No. Jack don’t

impress me as just a…pussy chaser. Sorry, but that’s what we call guys like that.” He laughed. “Like me, for that matter. But I’m young and single.” Eva blew her nose again and glanced out the window. “I found that note and Jack Herrick popped into my mind just like that.” She snapped her fingers.

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“I thought that was part of it. Sis, Herrick was a complete son-of-a-bitch. He left you sick. He destroyed your life. I remember how you suffered, even though I was just a little kid. Jack Stewart doesn’t seem to be in the same league.” “You can’t tell by lookin’ at ‘em, Jimmy. You can’t even tell by the way they act. I thought Jack Herrick was a prince, and for a time, he was. But, when it came down to making a choice, he chose himself. Men are all alike, Jimmy. They’re rats.” “Am I a rat, Sis?” Without looking at him, she said, “Probably.” Jimmy laughed and looked down at the floor. “Yeah, well, you’re probably right.” They were both silent for a moment. “I just can’t understand why Jack would go to all the trouble of marryin’ you just to get in your pants.” Eva glimpsed her brother with a look of pity and said, “Why would Jack Herrick make me feel I was his only love and go off and do what he did and bring me that horrible disease?” She looked out the window again. “Why would

Daddy get drunk and beat Mom?” “We only have her word for that, Sis. We never saw any of that.”

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“We saw him drunk.” “Yeah, but we never seen him beat Mom.” “She’d always leave. Daddy told me not too long ago that when he drank he’d black out. He said it was like dyin’, he supposed, because things would just quit all around him, suddenly, and then he’d wake up and never remember how he got where he was or what had happened. He told me of coming home drunk one time and sitting down to eat supper, and he said that’s all he remembered until he woke up on the floor of the kitchen. He said everything was torn up, food on the floor and walls, chairs broken, table turned over. He was alone. Mom had taken us kids and gone to a neighbor. He said it scared him so that he didn’t touch a drop for almost a year.” “Well, I still say it’s Mom’s word against Daddy about the beatings. I never saw it.” “Neither did I, but why would Mom lie about something like that?” Eva looked at Jimmy.

“Oh, well, Sis, sometimes women just exaggerate. Maybe things did happen, but not as bad as Mom always said.” “You think I’m exaggerating, Jimmy?” a sharp edge that Jimmy didn’t see. “No, Sis, I’m not sayin’ that, but maybe you just…” He Her question had

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paused like he sensed he was in trouble. “I don’t know, Sis. What do I know? his mouth shut.” “You’re right about that.” She glared at him. “Look, Sis, if you want me to, I’ll find Jack and talk to him. I don’t know what to say, but I’ll try. I’ll hang around a few days ‘til you get things together, if you want.” “I think maybe you should just go on to Denver. I’m not going to be much fun to be around, and you’re right about not knowing what to say to Jack. You don’t know anything about it.” “You throwin’ me out?” “Yeah. I guess I am. I need to be alone. I don’t need a baby brother to take care of.” Although her voice was calm, Jimmy knew she was angry by the look in her eyes, which were narrowed and cold. “Can I stay the night and be gone in the morning?” he asked very carefully, trying not to look into her eyes. “Be fine.” She got up, blew her nose again, slipped the tissue into the pocket of her dress before going to the kitchen. I’m a snot-nosed kid who should keep

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“I’ll make supper. It won’t take long.” Jimmy followed her and sat at the table. Eva said nothing as she tossed pork chops in a skillet.

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Chapter 30 Instead of sleeping Jack decided he ought to go to work, much to Stormy’s concern. “You sure?” Stormy asked. “You’re awful tired. Call in sick, why don’t you?” “I’m lucky to have a job, Stormy, like you. I don’t want to take a chance and lose it.” “Who says I gotta job?” “I thought you were still with the L&N.” Jack laced his shoes. Stormy gave a snort and said, “Extra board for ‘bout a year. Don’t pay nothin’, but we get along. We don’t need much. I got lucky in the 20s and paid this house off, and the boy’s gone to the army, so we don’t have him to take care of. We’re poor like everyone else, but we do all right.” He smiled and lifted his Kromer cap and scratched

his head. “You’re late to work now.” “It’ll be okay. Boss is a pretty good guy, and I’ll just tell him I got problems at home. He’ll understand. And I’m going to see Flora Mae after work and tell her I never want to see her again.” “Look, kid, I’ve seen you lose your temper, and it ain’t pretty. It’s scary as hell, in fact. You’re

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dangerous. So how’s about I go with you when you see Flora Mae?” He looked over at Martha who was drying a glass and

staring at her husband. “I know I ain’t no woman, so I probably don’t know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout, but I’ve seen Jack lose it. You ain’t.” “I agree with you, Stormy,” Martha said. Jack promised to come by after work and get Stormy. * Henry looked at Jack and scratched his head. “Hell’s a matter with you, Stewart? Fourth time in a row you missed that spike. What’s goin’ on?” “Nothin’. Personal problems ‘s all.” Henry shook his head and walked away. “Hotter ‘n a gall durn three dollar cook stove,” Orville said when he walked by with a load of welding rods. “You’re right there,” Jack said and missed another spike. He decided it was not his day when he tripped and fell, catching his leg under a rail, which, to his good fortune, hung on a tie and didn’t drop its full weight on him. He was delighted when the day ended. When he and Stormy arrived at Flora Mae’s apartment

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building, it was about six o’clock and it was getting dark, a bizarre incident for August in Louisville. “Must be the damned dust in the air,” Jack said when they got out of the Tudor. “Read where there’s a big dust storm in Oklahoma ‘n Kansas,” Stormy said. “Must be getting some of that.” “Pain in the ass.” They went into Flora Mae’s apartment building and climbed the stairs to the second floor. “Know where you’re goin?” Stormy asked. “Blindfolded. Still smells like fried potatoes and bacon.” Jack knocked on the door. “Used to have a key.” Stormy chuckled. Flora Mae opened the door. “Jack.” She looked at Stormy, then back to Jack. “What do you want, Jack?” Her voice quivered. “We need to come in and talk to you, Flora Mae. This here’s a friend of mine, Stormy Cromer, a guy I used to work with. Can we come in?” “Sure, come in.” She stood back and opened the door wide. As they stepped inside Jack took a quick look around

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and saw that nothing had changed. The two cherry cocktail bars still abutted the picture window. The Italian leather couch was facing the mahogany coffee table across from the tan leather club chairs. She still had her beloved lacquered cabinet next to her Duncan Phyfe table and chairs that Jack recalled one of her elderly clients had given her just before he died. The carpet under the table was new: a bright yellow and black geometric with fringe that was combed. She closed the door and followed them into the living room adjacent to the kitchen. “Can I get you something? I got beer and I got coffee. Should satisfy at least one of you.” She looked at Jack. “We didn’t come here to visit,” Jack blurted. “We came to talk.” “Okay, take a seat.” She motioned to the sofa and plopped down in a club chair. “Flora Mae, my wife found that note you put in my pocket.” Jack’s voice was calm, but his eyes narrowed and his face turned white. “What note?” “Don’t play with me, Flora Mae. You know what note. The

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one with your phone number on it, and the word nookie.” Jack stared at her, his blue eyes cold and expressionless. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jack. When could I give you…” She stopped and seemed to search the ceiling. “Oh, yeah. Now I remember.” She leered at Jack, smirking. “Yeah. When I saw you downtown I slipped a note in your back pocket with my phone number on it. I remember your tight ass, too.” She leaned back so her blouse could

settle over her nipples, and she continued her coquettish smile. “What’d she do? Throw you out?” Jack got up and started for her, but Stormy caught his arm and pulled him back. “Take it easy, son. Just take it easy.” A man walked out of the bedroom and stood beside Flora Mae. “Ev’nin’,” he said. “Ev’nin’ to you,” Jack replied. “This is Philip.” She took his hand. “He’s my friend.” She continued to smirk at Jack. Stormy began to laugh. Jack shot him a glance and frowned. Still laughing Stormy said, “This is Philip, Jack. He’s her friend.” Stormy stopped laughing but maintained a grin. “Nice meeting you, Philip,” Jack said. “I guess as her

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friend, she won’t mind if you hear what I got to say. That right, Flora Mae?” “Go right ahead, Jack. Philip and me don’t keep secrets, do we honey?” “That’s right.” His voice was high pitched and sandy like he had laryngitis. He sat on the arm of her chair. “All right.” Jack took out his cigarette box. “Mind?” He shoved one between his lips and lit it. “Gee, not at all, Jack,” Flora Mae said. “Since you already have it lit.” “Good.” He flipped ashes on the floor and leaned forward. “I’ll say this only once. If I ever hear of you contacting Eva, even if it is by accident; if I ever hear of you even so much as comin’ close to her, I’ll find you and I’ll break your neck.” He made a cracking sound with his mouth. Flora Mae, visibly angry now, started to speak. “Don’t say anything now, Flora Mae. Just shut up and listen.” Philip started to stand up. Jack stood and took a step toward him. Stormy pulled Jack back down again. “You might have to go through me to get to Flora Mae, Jack,” Philip said.

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“I can do that.” He smiled. “That’s no problem at all.” “Okay, everybody settle down,” Stormy shouted. “No need of any fightin’.” No one spoke for a moment, and then Jack said in a calm voice, “I mean this, Flora Mae. You stay away from us. Maybe you didn’t mean to cause trouble with the note, but…” Flora Mae cut in. “I didn’t even know you was married. You told me after I put the goddamned note in your pocket.” “Okay, I’ll give you that, but that nookie shit and the grocery store business was not an accident, right?” He

flipped more ashes on the hardwood floor, which glistened honey maple. Flora Mae sighed and leaned against Philip. “No, it wasn’t.” “All right,” Jack said. He started to drop his cigarette butt on the floor, but Stormy grabbed an ashtray from the coffee table and rescued it. “No need to be a complete slob,” he said, grinning at Jack and swishing his bushy gray eyebrows. “Flora Mae,” Jack continued, “I’d hate it if you was

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the cause of Eva leavin’ me, and, yes, she threw me out, but I’ll get back in. I’m sorry you thought I’d marry you, but that was never in my plans. You’re a beautiful woman and we had ourselves a lot of fun, and when you wanna be, you’re kinda sweet. But face it, Flora Mae, you’re a high classed whore.” “And what were you, you slimy son-of-a-bitch? A choir boy?” “I was a slimy son-of-a-bitch, just like you say. All I wanted was a good piece of ass, and, honey, lemme tell you, you are prime.” She leaped up and tried to slap him, but he caught her arm and shoved her back in her chair. Philip stood but didn’t move toward Jack.. “Let’s end this now, Flora Mae. I love my wife. She’s all I want. And you got Philip here, and he looks like an all right guy.” He released her arm. “We weren’t meant to be together, Flora Mae, not the way I was and not the way you are. I’m not the same stupid fireman I was back then. I’ve changed and I want to be married, to Eva. I love her. She means more to me than anything, and I’ll not have some jealous broad like you bustin’ things up just because you’re pissed that I didn’t choose you. It’s over, Flora Mae. It’s over. Do you understand what I’m saying, Flora

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Mae?” She got up and walked into the kitchen, returning with an opened Coca Cola. She looked at Philip and toasted him with the bottle. He smiled. Opening a drawer in the lacquered cabinet, she got a bottle of aspirin, plopped two tablets in the Coke, and took a swig. “Okay, Jack, you’ll see me no more. I get it.” “That’s a good girl, Flora Mae.” He smiled at Philip and extended his hand. “Nice to meet you, Philip, old fella. I wish you lots of luck because you’re gonna need all the luck you can get. Believe me.” Philip took Jack’s

hand, nodding with a tight-lipped smile that may have said he knew exactly what Jack was saying. With that Jack went out the door. Stormy grunted as he got to his feet and took a step toward Flora Mae and Philip. He tipped his cap to Flora Mae. “Nice to meet you, Flora Mae. You too, Philip.” He went into the hallway where Jack leaned against the wall smoking. “Thanks, Stormy. I almost lost it a couple of times.” “You did good, kid.” Stormy clapped Jack on his shoulder. “Let’s go have supper, or Martha’ll crawl up both our asses. Think she’s havin’ fried chicken tonight. Southern fried chicken with lots of cream gravy.”

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* Stormy was right on the mark. After apple pie and coffee, they sat at the table and talked. “When you gonna see Eva, Jack?” Martha asked. “I wish I could call her, but we ain’t gotta phone. I ‘spect I’ll go by tomorrow after work.” He was smoking

hungrily, and Stormy had his pipe roaring, so poor Martha was lost in a thick light gray haze. “Sounds right,” Stormy said, puffing his pipe. “You get some good sleep tonight, Jack,” Martha said. “You’ve been up too long now. You can’t think right if you don’t rest. Stormy’ll show you where.” After a long bath, soaking off the crud of two days, Jack stretched out on the fold-down bed in a small room off the kitchen. Martha and Stormy washed the dishes, and then sat in the living room listening to Amos ‘n’ Andy, Martha knitting and Stormy enjoying his pipe, along with a beer. The last thing Jack heard was Kingfish say, “Holy mackerel.”

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Chapter 31 Jimmy rolled out early, took another bath, and dressed in well-washed jeans and a Navy issue t-shirt. Carrying his shoes and socks into the living room, he saw Eva sitting on the sofa sipping coffee. “Sis? You ever go to bed?” He sat and dressed his feet. “Sleep won’t come. I tried, but it’s too hot and miserable, and I can’t stop my mind.” “I was wondering why he didn’t come over last night.” He lit a smoke. “He was with her, probably. Where else?” “Call her. You got her number.” “He conveniently took the note. Don’t think I wouldn’t call if I’d had the number.” She lied and felt a little guilty because she knew the number, but she was damned if she’d call. After sipping the last of her coffee, she said, “There’s coffee in the kitchen. I’ll fix breakfast in a minute.” Eva was so tired she slurred her words. The old white chenille robe she wore was disheveled, as was her hair, was a ball of fuzz squatting on top of her head. Her face, especially her eyes were red and sore from crying. Jimmy

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had never seen her this sad. She looked puzzled, as if she had witnessed something so terrible that instead of shocking her or horrifying her, it simply baffled her. “Don’t worry about breakfast.” Jimmy stood. “I don’t eat much on the road, ‘cause you have to stop and take a shit too often, and people don’t like to be slowed down by a hitchhiker. I’ll drink some coffee and have a couple of pieces of toast, which I can fix. You’re too beat to cook anything.” She couldn’t help but laugh at his reason for not eating much, but she was relieved that she didn’t have to fix anything. She felt she might vomit if she smelled food cooking. “Can I get you something?” Jimmy asked. “Yeah. More coffee. One sugar and a little cream.” handed him the cup. Jimmy left about an hour later, promising to be careful, promising to give her love to Mom and the family, particularly Woodie and Maddy, promising to eat right, and promising to send a card or letter to let his sister know he was all right. It was seven o’clock, and already hot and sticky. As she watched him walk away, lugging the bulging sea bag on his shoulder, she wished she were going She

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with him. “So, what do you do now, Eva, old girl?” she said to herself as she closed the door and went into the kitchen. “You stay cooped up here and wait, right?” She washed the few dishes, emptied ashtrays, and wiped down the tables in the living room and kitchen. Afterward, she sat on the sofa, leaned back, and closed her eyes. Sweat dribbled down her face and cheeks, and off her nose, trickling between her breasts and pooling in the folds of her belly. She felt dirty. She also sensed that despite being consumed by exhaustion, she could not stay cooped up in the apartment all day, slowly melting and losing what little was left of her mind. A lengthy soak in tepid water until she felt clean was in order, followed by dressing in something light and cool and going out. But where? She had no money to go

shopping. The library was closed because the city couldn’t afford to pay personnel. Window shopping was detestable because it just created desire that she could not fulfill. While soaking, she imagined Jack soaking with Flora Mae. “Maybe they’re soaked with sweat from fucking all night, or maybe they’re sliding around on each other’s bodies like fish in ecstasy.” She slipped her head under

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the water and considered taking a deep breath. Popping up, gasping, she said, “No way, Eva. You’ll not make it easy for him.” She pushed herself out of the tub and stood dripping on the fluffy blue bathmat she and Jack had bought from a second hand store. “I will not let another son-of-a-bitch rule my life. I’m in charge here. It is my life and I will not give it willingly to anyone to play with.” She dried, splashed on some cologne and deodorant, spent thirty minutes putting her hair in pin curls, finally wrapping the do in a dark blue bandana. A white dress, full and loose to catch a breeze if any existed; no under slip, only panties, the lightest she could find in her drawer; and no stockings, just soft sandals was became her costume for the day. If the law and society had allowed it, she would have gone naked; she was so hot and miserable. “I’ll look for a job, that’s what I’ll do.” She slammed the front door and locked it. “There’s got to be something, even scrubbing toilets, if I have to.” Eva thought of Chicago, Gus and the gang: Foula, Soko, George, and the kitchen crew. “If I could get back to Chicago, I’d have work. I know it. God, how I hate this

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place.” She considered hitchhiking like Jimmy as she sat on a bench at the streetcar stop. Hitchhike to Chicago: Sounded good except for the possibility of being raped and killed along the way. Clanking and sparking, the streetcar arrived and Eva gave the driver a dime. He gave her a token that she dropped into the token-collector, which chimed back as if saying, “Thanks.” The car was packed with people including the colored section in back. The only seat Eva found was between two large sweaty men on the side seat at the front. As she sat, they moved over as much as possible, and she caught a whiff of their body odors. Although it was not a stench, she was happy all the windows in the car were open. The streetcar rattled north past Douglas Park, Churchill Downs, and the University of Louisville, stopping at almost every island to pick up passengers. Eva noticed that blacks put their tokens in at the front, then got off and came to the side door in the back to get on. She hated to see bigotry, which she considered nonsense, but she was glad that blacks and whites were separated. The whole racial problem was something she spent very little time thinking about. Right now people were standing

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as the car filled and got closer to downtown. Eva read that Louisville’s inner city was a microcosm of the depression, and as she looked around, she saw why. Men, probably unemployed, congregated downtown, perhaps hoping that a job would come along so they could earn enough to feed their families for at least one day. The sight of hundreds of people milling around stunned Eva, faces hollow and gaunt, eyes following anyone who appeared even vaguely prosperous in expectation that someone would be the one with a job. She saw that their eyes were filled with fear and wondered if the fear was of starving to death or watching their children die because they could not feed them. She also saw confusion as to why this was happening to them in America, the beacon on the hill promising abundance and opportunity. Walking along Broadway, not knowing where she was going or what she was looking for, she felt eyes follow her. She looked prosperous. She was clean and smelled good, she was fresh and crisp in her white dress, and even though her hair was tied in a bandana, she might be the wife of someone important getting her hair ready for a night on the town. They didn’t know her; they simply hoped. Thankful that Jack had a job, even if it was a government

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“make work” job, calmed her. But Jack was gone. It was up to her, as it was before she met Jack. She smiled. “If I did it once, I can do it again. But what do you do, Eva, and where do you go? Louisville is an unknown. You got 31 cents in your pocketbook, an hour’s pay for most men if they’re lucky, and you got to get home, so that leaves 21 cents.” She stopped and looked around. The businesses along Broadway looked almost as bleak and desolate as the people wandering the sidewalks in front of them. Few people went in the stores. Who could buy clothing or appliances or jewelry when they couldn’t afford an apple or an orange. Proprietors of the shops stood outside, mostly to watch that no one stole anything, but also because they had nothing else to do. Eva was heartbroken that her beautiful country could come to this in just six short years, or that it could come to this at all. “Lady, can you spare a nickel?” It came from a man who slipped up behind her when she stopped to look around. Disheveled, wearing a suit coat that may have been brown, without a shirt, his pants were threadbare jeans, so thin they looked like a series of ribbons held together by hope. He was barefooted and smelly. His beard was long and

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scruffy like his matted and gummy hair. But his eyes, forlorn and fearful, were young, Eva thought; he was anywhere from 20 to 50 years old. “Yes,” she said and took a nickel from her pocketbook, placing it on his filthy palm. In an instant other men and women surrounded her, asking for a nickel, a penny, anything she could spare. Panicked, she ran from them into the first door she found, a clothing store, close and stuffy, smelling of the musk of new cloth and the oily odor of sweeping compound. A man stepped from behind a counter near the center of the store. “I saw you out there. Don’t you know when you offer something to one, others’ll mob you? You’re lucky they

didn’t attack you.” He strolled toward Eva and dragged a large white handkerchief from his back pocket, mopping his face and mouth with it. He smiled and laughed a low, gravelly laugh. “You have to watch these days. People are like vultures.” “I had no idea. I don’t get into town much.” “You’re not from here?” “No, I just moved here a few weeks ago with my husband. He lived here once.”

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“You don’t sound like a Kentuckian. Need any clothes for your husband?” The question startled her because she wasn’t certain what he was talking about. She was so caught up in what happened, it didn’t register where she was. She looked around. “Oh, I’m sorry, I was so upset that…” She stopped and looked at man who was still smiling. “No, I’m sorry. I don’t need clothes for my husband. Actually, I need a job.” She surprised herself that it came out so easily. “Leaning on a stack of cotton pants near the door, he said, “Not here. I got one employee. Me. All I can afford, and lots of times he doesn’t get paid.” Eva noticed he had an accent, German she guessed because of the guttural sound of his “r’s” and the “z” sound for “th.” She decided he looked Jewish, and sounded

Jewish like George Burns. “Any suggestions where I might look?” He stepped closer to the display window and pointed west. “About two blocks that way you’ll see a Walgreen’s on the corner of Fourth and Broadway. Turn right on Fourth past Walgreen’s, and two doors down is the office of the

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Civil Works Administration. That’s all I can suggest.” “Well, thank you, Sir. I’ll try there.” She looked out the window before opening the door. “I think they’re gone, now. You’ll be safe as long as you walk fast and not look at anybody.” He smiled and returned to the back of the store. “Thanks again.” She opened the door and left. For a

few seconds it seemed cooler outside, but after a few steps sweat slid down her body. Scurrying with her head down, she found the office of Civil Works Administration was where the haberdasher said it would be. It was a dinky little place crammed between the rear of Walgreen’s and a soup kitchen, both of which had long lines of people. The soup line was the longest and was unisex. Only women were in the queue for the Civil Works. Eva had heard of the program, the brainchild of Ellen Sullivan Woodward, a woman whom Roosevelt had chosen to lead work relief for women. The jobs she wanted to create were “socially useful” jobs like sewing clothes for the poor, which included most people at the time, making toys for children, opening and staffing libraries, gardening and canning. Part of the alphabet soup of programs the administration generated to aid people with no jobs, the

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CWA ran women’s work relief starting in 1934, and thanks to Woodward and the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, over 300,000 women were busy working at all kinds of jobs for an average of thirty-one cents an hour, a living wage. After waiting for over an hour, slowly melting into the sidewalk, Eva was inside the office, a long, narrow space with rows of government issue oak desks heaped with forms, the dross of overwhelming days working with women who were desperate to do anything that gave them a penny. She saw that the workers themselves were haggard, sweating through their clothes while fans blew a gale of stifling air across the area, often lifting a pile of papers and causing pandemonium among the workers until the papers were caught and organized. Eva guessed those pages were the archives of the lives of hundreds of needy women. Once inside she contended with the heavy atmosphere of the office, a blend of blue cigarette smoke, and odors of burned coffee, sour body sweat, mildew, machine oil, musky paper, and bad breath. Wafting reminiscently in the amalgam was the scent of onions, the ever-present perfume of all restaurant kitchens. Eva smiled. She asked a large woman in back of her what this place had been before it was an office.

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“A restaurant called Billy’s. I understand it was quite popular, especially with business people. It closed soon after the crash, and the government moved into the space in thirty-three, right after President Roosevelt signed the bill for women’s relief.” The woman seemed educated, so Eva thanked her for the history lesson and turned around. Giggling to herself, she concluded that once a waitress, always a waitress. Gets in your blood, as well as your nose. The line was an ooze of cold molasses. Take a step, wait, wait, wait. Take another step, wait again, wait again, wait again. Eva thought she might faint and was a bit disappointed when she didn’t. At least it would have cleared the place, but then again, maybe not. After over four hours, a stressed out man with a short cigarette butt searing the side of his mouth passed out applications on clipboards. Stubs of pencils with trifling rounded lead points dangled from them, the lead so rounded that Eva could hardly see it. She managed to scrape off some wood with her thumbnail and fill in the form. The same man returned a few minutes later and collected the clipboards and applications. Minutes later she heard her name called and was shown to a desk.

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Across the desk sat a very thin, almost emaciated woman of indeterminate age. She wore a light purple dress, and her dark hair was rolled in a rat across the back of her head. Metal-rimmed, disk-shaped glasses kept sliding down her nose, and a lighted cigarette dangled from her mouth. While she read Eva’s application, Eva noticed her boney hands and the prominent veins that wiggled across the backs. Without looking up, the woman removed the cigarette and said, “It’s Mrs. Stewart?” Her voice was husky.

“Yes,” Eva answered over the din. “I’ve been married for less than a year.” Eva wondered why she said that? The woman replaced the cigarette and kept her eyes on the application, flipping from front to back several times, dragging repeatedly on her cigarette. She stopped and looked at Eva with almost no expression on her face. “Can you sew?” Eva hesitated. “Can you sew?” the woman asked again, louder, frowning. The glasses made her eyes look huge, out of proportion to her face. Eva thought she looked like a preying mantis. She almost laughed. “Well, yes, my mother taught me.” “With a machine?” “Yes, a little. I’m not actually…” “Take this and go to the address.” The woman shoved a

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piece of paper across the desk. “Tomorrow morning, six o’clock. They’ll put you to work. You’ll get thirty-one cents an hour, twelve hours a day.” She stuffed Eva’s application into a folder and added it to a stack of folders on the floor next to her chair. Simultaneously, she grabbed another application from the stack on her desk and called a name. “Excuse me,” Eva said. “Are there any other kinds of jobs? Waitressing, maybe?” The woman froze for a moment and turned her mantis eyes to Eva. Flashing with anger and peering directly into Eva’s eyes, the woman intoned, “There are no jobs, Mrs. Stewart. There’s not a job in this whole goddamned country except made work. Do you know what made work is?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “It’s work made up by the government. Work made up by that Jew president we got and given to trash like you who can’t make it on their own. And we who pay taxes pay for made work. We pay your wages. Nobody ever gave me a thing. I work for everything I want. Times are hard, it’s true, but that should just make people work harder. Be grateful for what you get, and pull your ass off that chair and get to work.” She turned

without warning and yelled, “Hoskins. Amy Hoskins. Over

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here.” Eva was stunned by the woman’s outburst and completely not understanding why the woman had exploded. “Git,” the woman shouted at Eva. Eva tucked the piece of paper in her handbag and left, pushing through the sweating crowd. Outside, she leaned against the side of the building for a moment because she was positive she was going to drop over. Breathing hard and trembling, she stood there for what seemed to her like hours, sweat pouring down her face and soaking her clothes. It wasn’t what the woman said that disturbed her. She’d heard it before from a lot of people, and it was almost comical because as the woman lambasted Eva, she was working a “made work” job for the government, probably for not much more than thirty-one cents an hour herself. But it was the way she said it, so full of vitriolic anger, nearly hysterical. Eva had heard similar outbursts from people talking in the grocery store or on the street around her neighborhood, and it puzzled her why some people were so upset with the government for trying to help people in a terrible time. The Roosevelt administration could have taken the view that Hoover’s administration had taken, namely that it is not government’s responsibility to help citizens financially

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but to protect the country and allow the market to work out hard times. Roosevelt believed government was there to serve the people in any way it could, even if it meant creating work to keep food on tables and roofs over heads. In Eva’s opinion it made good sense. Coming to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk, she remembered the woman had said the hourly wage was thirtyone cents. “Wait a minute.” She dug around in her purse and found the slip of paper the woman had given her. Under the address was written “31 cents an hour.” She dug deeper into her purse and found a pencil. On the back of a grocery receipt she did the math, talking her way through it. “Let’s see. Thirty-one cents times twelve is three dollars and seventy-two cents a day. If I work six days, that’s…” She scribbled away. “Twenty-two dollars and She gasped

thirty-two cents, times four for the month.”

and stared at the answer. “Eighty-nine, twenty-eight a month.” She was speechless for a moment, then overjoyed. “Wait ’til I tell Jack.” Only after settling into a crowded seat on the trolley did she remember he was gone. She removed her bandana and cried softly into it. When Eva got home, it was nearly three o’clock. Drained from the heat and humidity, exhausted from walking

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so much, not having eaten, she was weak and nauseated. She unlocked the door and saw a note stuck between the door and the jamb just above the knob. Grabbing the note, she went inside. She dropped her purse, keys and the note on the table, went to the only window in the living room and opened it, creating a hot cross breeze. “At least the air is moving.” When she picked up the note and read it, she dropped to her knees, screaming.

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Chapter 32 It was Friday. Determined to see Eva after work, Jack told Stormy he wouldn’t be there for supper. “I can’t let this thing fester ‘til Sunday, my only day off.” “Take the day off and go over this mornin’ when you’re fresh and rested. She’ll be rested, too.” “I can’t risk my job, Stormy. Eva depends on me, even with all this mess. If I see her this evenin’, maybe we can work out something for Sunday when we can spend the day. She’s got to be running out of money and food and stuff. I have two dollars, and one of them is hers.” Stormy nodded and smiled. “Thanks for lettin’ us know ‘bout supper.” That Jack wanted to be a railroader was no secret to anyone who knew him. Hearing a train whistle at anytime would stop any conversation, either with someone else or himself. He longed to be aboard a steam engine with all its noise and soot and sultry, clammy dampness on which hung the ever-present, oily smell of coal. Laying track for the Louisville tramway was not even close to what he wanted to do, but in 1935 beggars could not be choosers when it came to jobs. All the men, including Jack, were grateful for sixteen dollars a week when most people were

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not working and not eating. Jack got to the worksite at six o’clock, just in time to clock in, shed his shirt and report to the gang Henry wanted him to supervise. Today they would be laying rails so the hammer men could drive in the spikes. Hundreds of men had been hired to lay track, some clearing the ground that would become the track bed, others filling the bed with ballast and regulating it for the oak ties, treated with creosote and measured exactly seven by nine inches by six feet eight inches, except for switch ties and cross ties that were cut to fit as needed. Jack usually set the ties because he was meticulous about their correct distance from each other, and Henry appreciated that because it saved time when the rails were laid. Rails were managed with a steam-operated crane that crawled along beside the right of way. Men rolled rails off huge wagons along the route near where they would spend their lives. When the time came, they hooked a rail to the crane with heavy cable and dangled it over the actual location while the gang guided it into place. By ten o’clock they had moved along at a brisk clip despite the heat and humidity. When they came to a curve, they took care because the rail, being curved, was hard to

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balance with the crane. “Take it up,” Jack yelled and spun his right hand above his head, the signal for the crane operator to lift the rail. It came up about four feet when it slipped the noose and fell full force on Jack’s right big toe. At first Jack was confused. Something had happened to him. The head of the rail, which weighed about 86 pounds per yard, rested on his toe, but there was no pain. Numbness enclosed his whole foot, and he found himself laughing and calling to his crew, most of which ran to him and began pulling the rail away from his foot. One of the men hollered to the crane operator and gave him the signal to lift up, but as the crane lifted, the noose just slipped along and didn’t move off Jack’s toe. “Hey, fellas, I think you guys need to lift the rail or tighten the noose,” Jack suggested. He was still standing but leaning his weight against one of the crewmen. Henry came running over. “What’s the matter?” he shouted above the hiss and blow of the steam crane. “Jack’s been hurt. Rail tipped and fell on his foot. “Let it down.” Henry shouted and gave the signal for

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the crane man to bring it down. The head of the rail tipped off Jack’s toe, and he screamed and fell back as the pain ignited his foot and leaped up his leg to his knee. He passed out. Later, he vaguely recalled being loaded onto the bed of a truck and driven to the hospital with Henry kneeling beside him. The pain was so hideous when he momentarily regained consciousness that it sent him back into oblivion. At the hospital, Henry jumped out of the truck and ran to the emergency entrance, shouting that he needed help. Two orderlies came pushing a gurney, but Jack barely remembered the ride in. * “Jack,” a voice shouted to him from across a lake over which he was rowing two Asian men. It was very cold on the lake, but the sky was deep blue, cloudless and bright. Around the lake were groves of trees: cedar, pine, maple, oak, and poplar. He was rowing, and it felt wonderful to work the big muscles of his shoulders and arms like he had in the Navy, training in the race boats. “Jack.” Hearing his name again, he looked toward the shore. The Asian men didn’t move or say anything, just watched the scenery.

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“Jack.” Now something cuffed his cheek. “Jack. Hey, Jack. Come on, Jack. Snap out of it.” He was cuffed

harder, and water came up and flooded the boat, sending the Asian men overboard. The shore faded, and he felt the oars give way, as they had nothing to pull against. He awoke with a start, the pain grabbed him, and he screamed. “Take it easy, Jack. You’re all right,” the young man standing over him said. “I’m doctor Callis. You’re in the hospital. You’ve been hurt but you’ll be okay. Okay? You’re all right. Settle down. I’m going to give you something for pain. Hold still.” Jack felt the tiny sting of the injection, and instantly the pain abated and he was able to concentrate on where he was. An examination light absorbed most of his vision, blinding him except for random movement in his periphery where he thought he saw Henry. He turned his head and saw that he was not there, but men and women he presumed were nurses and doctors moved rapidly around him. “Okay, Jack. Look here, Jack.” Doctor Callis called again and gently pulled Jack’s head toward him. “How you doing?” “I don’t know. You tell me.” “Your boss, Henry is it?”

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“Yeah.” “He said a train rail fell on your foot. Do you remember that?” “Yeah. It slipped the noose and fell. On my toe.” “That’s what Henry said. We’re going to take a look. We’re going to take off your boot. Did you have steel toed shoes on?” “No. Can’t afford ‘em.” Jack felt pain again as his shoe was removed along with his sock. “Well, you did a great job, Jack,” Callis said without looking at him. “It’s flat as a pancake. We’ll have to xray it, but I think all of the bones have been broken. Probably pulverized is more like it.” Jack groaned and laid his head back. “What’s the verdict, Doc? Cut it off?” “Well, not right now. We’ll bandage it and let Dr. Morgan, our resident surgeon, take a look in the morning.” “I gotta stay here tonight?” Jack lifted his head so he could look at Callis. “You can’t walk, Jack, with this toe. Stay here the night, rest, get some pain relief, and we’ll see about it tomorrow. Sounds like a good deal to me.” Callis moved

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into Jack’s vision again and looked down at him. “Can you let my wife know?” “Sure. Give us you phone number and we’ll call.” “Don’t have a phone. Can Henry come in here so I can get him to run over to the house and tell her?” “Give me your address and I’ll tell Henry.” His is pain was gone, but fatigue soon swallowed him so he never remembered being cleaned up, bandaged and taken to a room.

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Chapter 33 “Jack hurt bad come to hospital,” the note said. Eva stared at it although she could hardly read it because she was trembling so hard, and something was kneading her stomach. “I don’t even know where the hospital is,” she murmured. How would she get there with no money for a taxi and no phone to call anyone, if she knew someone to call? They’d made no friends since moving to Louisville because they had been so busy getting settled. Occasional dinners out… “I wonder.” Clutching the note close to her breast, she got to her feet and stepped to the window. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, like all the other bright, sunny afternoons she had encountered while in Louisville. So boring in its way, she had thought so many times, why couldn’t it rain just once? “Flora Mae. Pearl 3890. I’ll never forget that phone number.” She looked at the note again, and sighed. “I’ve got no choice.” Without closing the door, she went downstairs to the porch and knocked on the landlord’s door. She waited for what seemed to her an hour, then knocked again. The door opened and the landlord’s wife peeked around the edge, revealing just half her face. “Yes?” she said.

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“May I use your phone, Ma’am? My husband’s been hurt at work and is in the hospital. I need to call someone to drive me there.” The woman stared a moment at Eva, then said in a flat voice, “Do you have a nickel? We don’t have no free phone.” Eva smiled. She wanted to kick the door in, slam the woman against a wall and use the phone, but she knew she’d wind up in jail and never get to see Jack. “Yes, I do have a nickel in my purse upstairs. I’ll get it.” She ran upstairs and dug a nickel from her purse, the last of her money, and returned to the porch, placing the coin in the woman’s outstretched palm, who scrutinized it before opening the door. Inside it was dank as a wet basement and dark because every window shade was pulled down, and curtains and drapes drawn. Eva noted, though, that it was remarkably cool, even though it was foreboding. “Phone’s on the table by the kitchen door,” the woman said, still in monotone. “Thanks.” She waited for the operator and thought how backward Louisville was not to have dial phones like they did in Chicago.

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“Number, please,” sang the operator’s voice. “Pearl 3890.” “Calling.” After an eternity of ringing and Eva deciding Flora Mae was not there and that calling Jack’s old girlfriend, or maybe his current girlfriend, was a bad idea anyway, Flora Mae answered. “Flora Mae, it’s Eva.” There was a long pause during which Eva listened to Flora Mae’s rhythmic breathing that seemed to get harder and harder. At last Flora Mae said, “Jack is not here. I don’t know where he is, and I really don’t care to have any more trouble.” “Flora Mae, I know where Jack is. He’s in the hospital. He was hurt at work. I don’t know any more than that.” “What can I do?” Flora Mae sounded concerned. “I don’t know anyone in Louisville, Flora Mae. I don’t even know where the hospital is. And I don’t have money for a taxi. You’re the only one I know who has a car.” Eva could hear Flora Mae breathing again. She worried that if Flora Mae turned her down, she would be unable to go unless she walked, which she vowed to do. Having a car,

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however, meant that Flora Mae could get to him first, and he might think she didn’t care. “I can be there in ten minutes,” Flora Mae said. “Sit tight.” Eva replaced the phone on the table and almost ran into the woman who was standing behind her. “How bad’s your man hurt?” she said. “I don’t know.” “Elmore be home in awhile an’ could carry you to the hospital.” Eva looked at her and wondered if the woman had been present the whole time. Why didn’t she offer Elmore then and save her the embarrassment of calling Flora Mae? “It’s all right.” Eva headed for the door. She turned and looked at the drab, unsmiling woman and wondered briefly if all was well with her and Elmore. “Thank you,” she said and smiled, “for use of the phone.” She closed

the door behind her and walked across the porch to the stairs. A slight breeze blended the wearying heat and heavy humidity into feverish breath. When she reached the top step, she sat down instead of going inside. Life has strange bizarre moments, she thought. Like waiting for Jack’s girlfriend to drive her to the

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hospital. She smiled and thought about Backstage Wife, a radio soap opera she cared little for but listened to sometimes out of boredom. Maybe Mary Noble would know

what to do, Eva theorized. Tears streamed down her cheeks as Flora Mae’s car came skidding to a stop in front of the house. “Are you ready?” Flora Mae called. “I’ll get my purse.” She ran into the house, grabbed her purse, and ran out the door. Flora Mae opened the passenger door, and Eva got in. “Thanks for doing this,” Eva said after they were on their way. “Forget it.” They were silent for several blocks. Eva was impressed by how Flora Mae whipped through traffic and turned down side streets to get to the hospital. She knew the city well. On a long stretch of road without stops, Flora Mae broke the silence and said, “Eva, there is nothing between Jack and I. What we were is over. I know that now. Jack made it very clear to me when he came over.” “He came to your place?” “Yeah. He and a friend of his, someone called Stormy or

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something. He told me to back off, not to interfere with y’all or he’d break my neck. He wasn’t kidding.” She

glanced quickly at Eva. “He loves you, Eva. Only you. No one else.” She paused a moment, and then said, “I do know Jack. Once he’s made up his mind, he will not change. Whether you like it or not, or want it or not, he’s yours. You’re stuck with him.” Eva didn’t respond but kept her eyes straight ahead. All at once she felt giddy, almost dizzy. She was free of doubt and worry and stress. Here was Jack’s old girlfriend, one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen, saying that Jack loved only her. Exclusively. But being a practical women, she trolled for more information. “How do you know all this?” she asked. “He told me. Jack’s no bullshitter. He told me he loved you and only you. Ask this Stormy guy.” “I don’t know this Stormy guy, but I’ll take your word for it.” She was relieved to know Jack loved her, but now

she felt ashamed that she had been so cruel to him. When they got to Louisville General Hospital, Flora Mae stopped at the entrance. “I’m not going in,” she announced. “He told me to stay away, so I’m doing just that.” She paused and looked out the windshield. “I did

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love Jack. When he left I was depressed for months.” She paused again and looked at Eva. “When he told me he was married, I thought I’d die.” She was silent again, but she kept her eyes on Eva. “I’m not the one for Jack. I’m really not the one for anybody, but that’s neither here or there. You’re the one he’s been looking for all these years as he chased one skirt after another. He wasn’t just looking for pussy. Fact is, I think when gettin’ it was easy, he lost respect for a woman, and he never had a problem because he’s gorgeous.” She touched Eva’s hand. “You go in there and tell him you love him, and you’ll never have to look back.” She was silent again, and then

with a sly grin she said, ”Now, get out of my car and go see your husband.” Eva got out and watched Flora Mae drive off. Eva didn’t know what to think. This Flora Mae was not the woman she’d met in the grocery store who appeared arrogant and conceited, and disdainful as she boasted of her relationship with Jack. She wondered what had happened to make Flora Mae now seem like a caring person, someone willing to sacrifice her happiness for another. Of course Eva considered that Flora Mae could just be a clever whore realizing she had lost a war and was giving up.

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* Inside the hospital a, a cube beige cube of many windows, a receptionist directed her to Jack’s room on the fifth floor. She hated the smell of hospitals, a combination of alcohol, ether, dirty linen, stale food, and urine, which soaked through all other odors, a pervasive presence. She mused that maybe life reduced eventually to the stench of stale piss. His bed was one of six in a room with windows on both sides. Surrounded by dingy white curtains suspended from trolleys, all the brown steel beds were identical, with cranks at their ends for raising and lowering. Jack’s was the last bed on the left. She saw he was asleep, with his mouth open as usual, snoring softly. Pausing at the foot of his bed, she watched him and noted that even asleep, he was remarkably handsome. His deep black hair was a mess against the pillow, and since it was an oven in the ward, despite the huge fans blowing air across the room, he was stripped to his waist and wore only white pajama bottoms. Eva looked at his bandaged right foot held in a sling above the bed. Moving to the right side of the bed, she saw he glistened from sweat and observed his woolly chest and washboard

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belly rise and fall as he breathed. “You turn me on even when you sleep,” she whispered. Placing her hand on his chest, she leaned over and kissed his open mouth. As if resurrected, he opened his eyes, smiled, and said, “Kiddo?” She laid her head on his chest. “Kiddo’s here, sweetie, go back to sleep.”

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Chapter 34 Doctor Morgan offered two choices. “We can amputate,” he said while Eva and Jack cuddled on the bed. “I don’t recommend it because without a big toe your balance will be messed up. Instead I think if we remove all the crushed bone in there, eventually you’ll get along fine and almost forget it happened, except it will be numb forever.” “Numb?” Jack looked up at Eva who was holding his hand. “Yeah, numb. The toe has been mangled terribly, so not only have the bones been crushed, but the nerves are severed. We’ll be lucky to connect blood supply, but I’m sure we can.” He smiled and patted Jack’s left ankle throughout the interview. “Do what you think is best, Doc,” Jack said. “I’m young and in pretty good shape. I’ll get over it.” “You will,” Morgan replied. “It’s a small bump in the road. We’ll see you in surgery tomorrow morning at five.” He turned and strolled out of the ward, stopping once to say something to one of the other patients. “Certainly glad you’re not losing your toe,” Eva said. “Like that ball player.” Jack laughed. “That’s Shoeless Joe Jackson, not Toeless

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Joe.” He reached out and pulled her close. “Gotta keep your baseball players straight.” He kissed her cheek. “Shoe, toe, ankle, instep. I knew it had something to do with a foot.” She kissed him back. Eva slipped from Jack’s embrace and sat on the edge of the bed, thinking. Glancing at him, she said, “I’m happy we’re together again, but…” “But what, Kiddo? Ain’t bein’ together all we need?” “Yes.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “And no. Jack, honey, please listen to me a minute. You know, nothing’s been settled between us. I mean it’s all an emotional thing right now. It’s like your accident has brought us together and now we’re thinking everything is hunky-dory.” “Well, yeah. That’s true, ain’t it?” Jack scooted up in the bed as best he could. “Let me finish, please. This is hard for me. I’m not good at putting my feelings into words.” She got up and walked to the window next to the head of his bed. She smiled at him and said, “Men are rather simple-minded, you know. I’m back and all’s well with the world.” “What?” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We’ve

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got to talk about what happened between us these last few days. I know that nothing happened between you and Flora Mae because she told me.” “Told you? When did you talk to Flora Mae?”

“She drove me here.” “What? She drove you here? Well, how the hell did that happen?” “I found a note stuck in the door, it said you were hurt and in the hospital, I had no car, had no money for a taxi, and I remembered her number from that note I found. Jack, I don’t know anyone in Louisville. What was I supposed to do? Walk to the hospital? I didn’t even know where it was. Still don’t, actually. I just know I’m here.” She stopped for a moment and lit a cigarette, which she placed between his lips, and then lit one for herself. “I called from the landlord’s phone downstairs. By the way, that is a very weird apartment and an extremely strange woman, the landlord’s wife. But that’s a story for another time. I called Flora Mae, explained the situation, and she came over and brought me here. I think she needed to tell me that you and her were not involved. Maybe because I want to, I believe her.” Jack looked away and smoked his cigarette. “Well, you

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should believe her because nothing did happen. I saw her day before yesterday and told her to back off.” “Or you’d break her neck.” Eva smiled. “She told you that?” “Yeah.” “Did she tell you I took my friend Stormy along?” “She did. I’d like to meet this Stormy fellow sometime and thank him.” “He’s a good friend.” Eva took a drag from her cigarette, blew the smoke out of the side of her mouth away from Jack’s face, and said, “Let’s forget about Flora Mae. She’s no longer a problem. But I learned a few things about me while you were gone, and you need to know. By the way, my brother Jimmy stopped by.” “Jimmy? How’s he?” “He’s fine. In the Navy, on leave and headed to Denver to see Mom and the family.” “How’d he find us?” “Asked the post office.” “Smart boy.” Jack crushed his smoke in the tin ashtray provided by the hospital. “Back to us.” Eva put her cigarette out in the same

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tray. “So, what did you learn about yourself?” “That I really don’t trust myself.” “I don’t understand.” “Just hear me out. It actually doesn’t have much to do with you at all.” She walked to the window again, looked out at the setting sun and the city lights coming on. She’d always thought a city at night was another place, virtually opposite of the same city during daylight. She turned and faced Jack. “Truth is, what I’m going to say just came to me while I was riding over here with Flora Mae. Did you know she’s a scared little girl?” “No. Never gave it much thought.” “Well, she is, I think. I think she had a tough upbringing. I don’t know that for sure. It’s just something I suspect. And I think she’s looking for someone to take care of her, and when you were seeing her, you fit that bill very well. She had her heart set on you, and when you left, her life fell apart for a while. I think she’s all right now. “So what’s that got to do with me? I think I’m a lot like her. I had a tough upbringing, as you know, and I was

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looking for someone to take care of me, too. I was looking for a man to do it. Jack Herrick swept me off my feet, as they say, and for a short time he took good care of me. I was genuinely happy.” She smiled and walked back to the bed, sat once again on the side, and looked at Jack. “Of course, you know the rest. I was still very sore when you met me, and I’m still sore. I was not at all sure I should marry you, and I’m still not.” “But you’re the one who asked me.” “That’s true. But when all this came up with Flora Mae, every wound Jack Herrick inflicted on me began to ooze. So did the wounds my father and mother inflicted on me, and what I wanted to do more than anything else was run away from all of you. I’m not so sure I don’t still want to run.” She paused and looked off in the distance. “I need to learn how to take care of myself. I need to tend the wounds I have and get tough so that I won’t ever get hurt again. So, I’m not sure I can stay married to you because I am too dependent on you.” She looked at him squarely.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?” “That you want a divorce?” “No, I don’t think I want a divorce. Not now, anyway. I want time. Jack, I want to go to Denver so I can be close

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to my family again. When I got word you were hurt and in the hospital, I never in my life felt so scared and alone. I don’t know anyone here. I don’t even know my way around except to the grocery store and back. I turned to Flora Mae because she was the only person I knew with a car.” “Kiddo, I thought you took care of yourself pretty well in Chicago.” “I did, but my mother lived thirty minutes away and I had Aunt Vera if I needed anything. Gus and Foula and all those people at the restaurant were like family. I had places I could turn if I got in trouble. I had a phone. We don’t have a phone. Do you know how isolated I feel?” “Okay, Kiddo. We’ll get a phone. We’ll go to Denver.” “Not we, Jack. I want to go alone. I want to get a job, a place to live, and try to be my own person for a while.” She got up from the bed and crossed back to the window. It was dark now, and the city was spread out against itself with thousands of lights dappling the streets, and buildings twinkled points of red, green, blue, and white between which cars and trucks crept like toys. “Jack, every choice I’ve made since I’ve been on my own has been because I was afraid to be alone. Sounds so simple and stupid. When Jack Herrick entered my life, I

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was desperately alone. I was a girl. I missed my mother, even though she was mean to me at times, and I missed my father, drunk or sober. And, my brothers and my sister—I missed them most of all. So, I ran to Jack hoping to find a family. “Well, that was a disaster, and then you came along. I was all right until this depression hit and Gus closed the restaurant. I really didn’t know where to turn. So I married you hoping I would be safe, and I have been for the most part. But when you left…” “When you kicked me out.” “Okay, another point for you. When I kicked you out I realized I was completely alone. Even while we were together and things were going well, I think I felt alone because I didn’t trust that things would work out for the best. Can you see that I cannot be good for you until I feel I don’t need you? That would give you strength, too, because you could depend on me taking care of myself if anything happened to you. I want to be married because I choose to, not because I think I have to in order to survive.” She looked at Jack who was silent. “Am I making any sense at all?” He didn’t answer right away. Then without looking at

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her, he said, “It makes no sense to me, Eva, but if does to you, okay. I guess you’ll have to do it.” Eva saw tears forming in his eyes. “God, I’m gonna miss you, Kiddo. I’m going to miss you so bad.” The tears rolled. She went to him and put her arms around his big shoulders and held him tightly. “Honey, I really think it will work out. I just need some time.” “How much time?” “I don’t know. Until,” she said, stroking his chest hair. “Until?” “Until I feel okay. I do love you, Jack, and I think I’ll love you forever no matter what happens. But right now I don’t love myself very much and I’ve got to deal with that.” She was silent a moment, and then she said,

“I’ll miss you, too, sweetie. Already do.” An old schoolhouse clock hung on the wall opposite the bed, over the door. They stopped talking and both concentrated on the rhythm of the its ticking. At last, Jack said, “Stay with me until my toes gets better?” “You know I will.” They remained holding each other until Jack went to

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sleep. Eva curled in the chair beside him and slept too.

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Chapter 35 Surgery on Jack’s toe went very well. He was limping around the room, up and down the halls with a cane in two days. The cane was tossed aside the third day, and the fourth day he was home. “It feels funny,” he said to Eva after getting up the stairs and into the apartment. “I can’t feel the toe. It’s like I don’t have a toe, but I can balance. Funny as hell.” He was back at work in two weeks, feeling great and cracking jokes to the crew about being a tap dancer. “Oh, hell, yeah,” he told Henry. “I’m like George Raft, I can dance all night. He has to tie his shoes extra tight with piano wire, so he can dance without feelin’ pain. Me, I just start dancin’.” “Show me,” Henry demanded. “Can’t. I do an elevator dance and there ain’t a elevator around.” “Elevator dance?” “Yeah. No steps.” Jack grinned in Henry’s face.

“Get the fuck outta here, you loony. Elevator dance, Jesus Christ. You’re an idiot, Stewart. A fuckin’ idiot.” He walked off laughing while Jack looked around for

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another sucker. At noon Henry called for him. He was munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and he was in no mood now to be yelled at about his joking around. “Hey, Stewart,” Henry hollered. “Supervisor wants to see you. Get your ass over here.” “If I send my ass, I’ll have to come too,” Jack hollered back, his voice muffled around the bite of sandwich he had just pulled off. “Now.” Henry screamed. “Well, Jesus, Henry.” Jack got up and ambled over to Henry and the supervisor. “Maybe you could come over to me?” he mumbled. “You say something, Stewart?” Henry asked. “Just belching.” “This here’s Mr. Ludlow from the main office,” Henry said, more affably. Jack reached out his hand, and Ludlow took it firmly and said, “Good meetin’ you, Stewart. Need to talk about your accident.” “Okay.” Jack took another bite of sandwich. Henry, from just behind Ludlow, eyed him with a scorching expression

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that told Jack to lose the sandwich. Jack stuck it in his right pocket, which caused Henry to roll his eyes and walk away. “How’s the injury, Stewart? Foot, wasn’t it?” Ludlow

was tall and portly. He had heavy features, and wore rimless spectacles, which gave his eyes a startled look. Suffering in a wilted three-piece blue serge, he resembled a crumpled feed sack. “Right toe, smashed to hell,” Jack answered. “Toe’s numb, but they said it would be. Took all the bone out. I’m all right.” Jack noticed that Ludlow blanched at the

details, so he continued for a while. “Yea, Doc said the bone was pulverized, like a dish run over by a truck. You know, just smashed…” “That’s okay, Stewart. I can read the medical report. What I’m here for is to tell you the company feels partly responsible for the accident because the noose on that crane had not been properly maintained. That’s why it slipped.” He paused and adjusted his spectacles. “Now,

the company like all America is out of cash because of this lousy depression, so we can’t offer you money. Just ain’t got none to offer. You with me so far?” Curious about what Ludlow was leading to, Jack said,

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“Okay.” “We’d like to train you to be a welder. We can do it in our own shops, and when you’re trained, say in six weeks, we’ll put you on as a welder at an increase in pay. Great thing is, you’d always be a welder. You could go anywhere in the world and find work. Now, whaddaya say about that?” Jack looked at Ludlow for a long moment. “How much of an increase in pay?” “Hell, I don’t know. What do you get now?” “Thirty-one cents. All the government will pay.” “See, you wouldn’t be on government dole no more. You’d be just a straight company employee, so we could pay you the going rate we pay all our employees, forty cents. That’s a thirty-five per cent increase. You’ll not get a better salary anywhere, I can assure you. Hell, that’s what I make, forty cents.” Jack thought that he wasn’t sure he’d do what Ludlow was doing, standing out in all that heat in a suit for forty cents an hour. He also resented the crack about being on the government dole. “I reckon I need some time to think this over. Need to talk to the wife and just study on it a while.” “That’s okay. You got ‘til tomorrow morning.”

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“Why the rush?” “We need to get a shop ready for you, and try to get you trained before the snow flies. Make sense?” “I reckon.” Jack wondered why that made any difference. Why move so fast because you need shop space and need to watch the weather? “Okay, I’ll see you in the morning. Right here?” “I’ll find you.” Ludlow stuck out his hand again. “Pleasure. You’re a lucky young man to get a chance at a trade, free and all that.” Jack gave a tight smile and just nodded. As Ludlow walked away toward a red Dodge coupe, Jack whispered, “It don’t smell right, Mister. It just don’t smell right.” Henry walked over to Jack after Ludlow had driven away. “What was that all about?” “Offered to train me to be a welder.” Jack dug his crushed sandwich out of his pocket and started eating it. “But, it don’t smell right, Henry.” Grimacing like he’d sniffed something rotten, Henry watched him eat the sandwich. “I don’t know, Stewart. Bein’ trained for a trade. Sounds mighty good to me. I sure wouldn’t hesitate.”

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Jack took the last bite of his sandwich, and said through it, “He told me I’d not be on the government dole no more. The company’d pay me. Forty cents. Say, Henry, we on a dole? Thought we worked for what we got.” Henry turned to Jack, a broad smile on his face and his dark eyes twinkling. Jack caught the expression and said, “What?” “He said that? We’re on a dole? “What he said.” “We’re not, so forget about it. You’re worried about workin’ for the company. Right?” “I am.” ”Henry put his arm around Jack’s shoulder and looked him square in the face. “Stewart, most of the time I consider you an idiot with all your jokin’ around and elevator dancing shit, but, son, I think you’re all right, or will be some day. God does grant miracles from time to time. But…” He jerked Jack’s head roughly. “Think about what I’m gonna say, just think about it. Long as you’re workin’ for the government, you can’t be fired, unless you hump baby girls in the middle of Broadway in broad daylight. Even then, it might be difficult to get rid of

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you. But, you go to work for this here tramway company at forty cents an hour, and they can fire your ass anytime they want for any reason. And, if they ain’t got no reason, they’ll make one up. And you, Elevator Dancer, will be, as they say, shit out of luck and a job. Now, you go ahead and do what you want to do, but just keep that in mind. Okay?” Jack pulled away and looked at Henry. “Why, Henry,” he said with a smirk on his face. “You do have a heart. You’re human after all.” “Fuck you, Stewart. Now get back to work, lazy assed Tennessee ridge runner.” He walked away mumbling something about never trying to give advice to anyone ever again. “Hey, Henry,” Jack called after him. “Ain’t you back at work by now?” Henry bellowed. “Thanks.” Henry didn’t answer. He just turned and strode away, shaking his head. * That night over supper, Jack told Eva about the offer. She was delighted. “Sweetie, that is so wonderful. You’ll have a trade you can take anywhere.” With some trepidation, Jack said, “Hold on now. Couple

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of things we need to think about.” “What is there to think about? The company said you’d be trained in six months and they’d put you on at an increase in pay. Jack? What is there to think about?” “One thing is if I go to work for the company, they can fire me at any time, Henry says. Government won’t do that.” “What the hell does Henry know? He’s probably jealous and wants it himself.” “Big thing is, though, I don’t want to be a welder.” He watched her closely for reaction, which came as a dark look in her eyes. In a low, menacing voice, she said, “Why, for God’s sake? What is wrong about being a welder? They always work. They always have jobs. Jack, we are in a depression. We are so damned lucky that you’re working because most men are not working. I know. I’ve seen them downtown milling about, haunted by fear of starving to death and watching their families do the same. Here you are offered a gold mine. Your own private gold mine. Jack?” “I don’t want to be a welder. I’ve watched those guys welding the tracks together, covered from head to toe in

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heavy, dark clothes, sweatin’ like pigs and almost dyin’ of the heat. I could not take that.” “So what do you want to do? Lay track? You tell me that’s killing you. Go back to Chicago and be a bouncer again?” She leaned back, folded her arms, and glared at him. “I want to work for the railroad. It’s the only thing I want to do.” “Aw, poor baby. Mommy’s sorry. Go to work for the railroad, honey.” She was out of patience. “Hey, that’s no way to treat me. I ain’t some little kid tryin’ to get his way. You asked me what I wanted to do, and I told you.” “So go get a job on the railroad, for cryin’ out loud.” She got up and flung her napkin on her plate. “They’re not hiring. Stormy’s been with the L&N for twenty years, and he’s on the extra board.” Eva rubbed her forehead and paced the kitchen. Jack lit a cigarette. “Ciggy?” he offered, but she refused. Without looking up, Eva said, “If you were drowning, Jack, I think you’d take hold of anything that would save you.”

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“I’m a great swimmer, Kiddo.” She pushed her chair hard under the table. “Shit,” she screamed and slammed the chair again. “You’re never serious. You’re a goddamned child.” She stormed off to the bedroom, and soon Jack heard the bedsprings squeak and he thought he heard her crying. He found her lying on her stomach and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Okay, Kiddo. You want a welder, you got one.” Without moving, she said, “Do what you want. Just get me a ticket to Denver as soon as possible.” Her voice was cold. Stunned for a moment because he’d forgotten their conversation at the hospital, he felt she had stabbed him. Giving her shoulder a tender squeeze, he whispered, “Okay, Kiddo. I’ll do it first thing in the morning.”

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Chapter 36 August 17, 1935 Dear Jack, Well, I’m here at last. The train got to St. Louis just fine, and the layover there was not bad. We could get off if we wanted to and go in the station, but I was tired and just stayed put and napped. A nice elderly man sat in the seat next to me. He told me he lived in Topeka, the next big city we’d come to, and had been in Louisville to visit his daughter. He said she lived on Spring St. Do you know where that is? I asked him what he did in Topeka, and he said he worked for the railroad. Of course, I thought of you. I told him I was going to Denver to see Mom. When we got to Topeka dust was flying everywhere. It made everything look gray and dead. My seatmate said it was dust blown in from the west, and that we’d probably run into a duster before we got to Denver. I asked him what a duster was, and he said it was a dust storm so thick you couldn’t see through it. Well, he was right. It got darker and darker as we left Topeka and went west, and by the time we got to Salina it was pitch black and it was only five o’clock in the evening. Now, I mean pitch black. Go in the closet and close the door and shut

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your eyes real tight. It was darker than that. The lights came on in the car, and we could see dust floating around inside like a mist. It was an icky yellowish gray and it clung to your clothes and skin, it sifted into your eyes and made your teeth gritty. The conductor passed out handkerchiefs and said to tie them around our nose and mouth until we got through the storm. I asked how long that would be and he said it was hard telling. The rails were covering up and the train had to move slowly to plow through the drifts across the tracks. He said it could take a couple of days, and it did. Jack just imagine the thickest cloud you can think of. Then imagine it’s on the ground. Now pretend it is as black as coal. That’s what we traveled through for two days. The wind was the worst. It howled and screamed and rocked the cars. We thought we’d go over a few times, especially if we had to stop for some reason, which we did a lot. The car rattled in the wind, and it never let up. It blew that way for two days. Kids were crying, women were crying, men looked so scared they couldn’t sit still. Every time the poor conductor came in, he was mobbed with questions. He was a colored man and he was so patient and kind.

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Well, it finally stopped right before we got to Hays, Kansas, but from there to almost Denver the air was dark and dingy, and the dust in the car was all over us. I’ve never felt so dirty in my life. I took a bath first thing when I got to Mom’s house, and the water was like mud. I felt like getting out of the tub and washing it and then getting back in and taking another bath. It was horrible. When we got to Denver it was beautiful. The sun was shining and the sky was so blue and clear it almost hurt to look at it. The air was clean, and it wasn’t that horrible heat and humidity we had in Louisville. It was cool with a breeze and the first night it got so cool we had to have blankets. My stepfather said that was Denver. It is always that way. I’ll not go into how I found the folks. That’s another letter. Just let me say that I am so sorry we quarreled before I left. While I was riding on the train before all the dust I realized how selfish I was. I imagined someone forcing me to do something I didn’t want to do and I got ashamed that I got so mad at you. All I was thinking about was more money and I’m really ashamed of that. Can you forgive me? I still think this separation is good at least for me.

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I think it’s good for you too because you’ve got to decide how you’re going to accomplish your goal of working for the railroad. Please take this time to do that. I do love you very much but I need this time. I feel freer here than I have ever before in my life. I love it here and I think I might find me here. I truly think we’ll be together again before long. I really do. Please take care of yourself and be careful at work. You only have nine toes left and you’re not a cat. Ha. I’ll close for now. I’ll write again in a day or two. Maybe by then I’ll have a job. Pray for me. I’ll pray for you. Love always, Eva

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Chapter 37 August 30, 1935 Dearest Eva, Received your letter and was very glad to hear you had got to Denver safe. Sorry you had to go though the dust storm. I’ve been listening to the radio more these days and the news is full of stories about the dust bowl. That’s what they call it now. The dust bowl. Heck of a thing to have in a bowl. Ha. I am fine. The pain in my foot is gone and I’ve got used to my toe being numb. I don’t even think about it any more. Henry my boss says I’m still a nut but he’s glad I’m okay. That guy from the company come back and I told him I didn’t want to be a welder. It really surprised him. I thought once he was going to cry. He said I was stupid for saying no, and when I tried to explain he just cut me off and walked away. I sure hope I did the right thing. I made up my mind to do something and I hope its all right with you. I got hold of my sister Mary in Texas. She and her husband Fred live in Port Arthur right where Texas and Louisiana come together on the Gulf. He has a small shrimp boat and said he could use some help. So I thought I’d go down and see about it. Fred said there was lots of

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shrimp but its not selling for very much but you can always eat shrimp. You know I like shrimp. Mary is a nurse and is still working and they don’t have kids. They said they’re doing good. Truth is Kiddo I need to get out of Louisville. There are too many memories good and bad. The good ones are of you and me but the bad ones go way back before we met. Every time I leave home I run into something that causes me to remember something. At the apartment I remember you and me and how happy we were before everything happened. Now it is all mixed up because you’re not there. I miss you so much. Everywhere in the apartment I look I see you and I got to tell you I have cried a lot. When your train pulled out of the station I sat in the car and bawled like a baby for I don’t know how long. I hope we can get back together Kiddo because I don’t know if I can go on if we don’t. I love you so much. And I have been good. No messing around. Go to work, come home, heat up a can of soup, listen to the radio awhile, and go to bed. I really miss you. Getting back to Texas and all, I’m going down at the end of next week. I give Henry notice and all he said was he now knew I was crazy instead of just thinking it. He

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might be right, but I got to get out of here. I hope you’re not mad at me for this but I think I can make some money in Texas and maybe when your ready to get back together I can have some saved. Mary said I could stay with them and Fred said I will live on the boat most of the time anyway. Write me soon and let me know how you feel about this. I’ll write you when I get to Texas and give you there address. I think they might have a phone so maybe I can call you if you give me a number. Well, I’ll close for now. It’s late here and still hot as hell but I got to get some sleep. I love you with all my heart. Let me know how things are there. Love forever, Jack

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Chapter 38 Sept. 12,1935 Dear Jack, Well, you’re in Texas. I got to say I was surprised when I got your letter and you told me what you were going to do. Maybe I should say I was shocked. But then I got to thinking about what I said when I told you I understood that you didn’t want to be a welder but wanted to be a railroad man. I guess that meant I wouldn’t stand in your way whatever you chose to do. A shrimp fisherman. Well, that’s not the railroad but if it makes you happy, I guess it’s alright with me. By the way, I got a job, too. Restaurant. Big surprise. Ha. I’ll tell you about it later. I want to concentrate on what you’re doing right now.

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I think it is good that you’re seeing your sister. You have three sisters, don’t you? I know you talked about

them but said you had no desire to see them. Remember I said that wasn’t natural. Everybody wants to see family. I’m glad you’re with Mary and I hope you get in touch with your other sisters too. I sure would like to meet them. As for me it has been a trial. First Mom has been feeling bad since I got here. The doctor thinks it’s female trouble and she’ll have to have an operation sooner or later. Mom is none too keen on that idea and I don’t blame her but if it’s got to be what can you do? Mom has also developed what she calls nervous spells. She gets real shaky all over and sees these bright lights and sweats and has to go to bed and falls asleep sometimes for two or three hours. When she wakes up she’s okay but hungry for sweet stuff. It’s really strange and her doctor doesn’t seem to know what it is. He thinks it might be related to high blood pressure, which she does have. Dad Schlyker is fine I guess. I don’t see him much because he’s working on some dam in the mountains. He’s gone all week except Sunday when he manages to come home for a few hours. I guess the dam is not too far away. My brother Woodie has quit school and is training to be

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a welder. You can get up off the floor now. Ha. He works for a factory here in town called Winter-Weiss and they’re training him. He says he likes it alright, but I don’t know. Mom let him quit school because she said he wouldn’t go anyway because he was ashamed of how he had to dress. Lots of his clothes were hand me downs from his brother Sam, who has moved away, and Woodie was ashamed to wear them. I can understand how he feels because kids can be cruel and tease and make fun but Mom and Dad have had a rough time since leaving East Chicago when he was laid off and I think Woodie should consider that. He’s a solemn boy. He doesn’t talk much and he doesn’t seem to have many friends. He’s a good-looking kid with a thick head of black hair and dark eyes and a really muscular frame. He asks about you all the time, but he’s just too quiet. He’s smoking now and I think he might be drinking some because there are times he seems a little tipsy when we talk and at that time he talks a lot like something has loosened his tongue. He seems different then, too, argues more and gets mad easy. I worry but can’t do nothing. Mom’s too sick to do anything and Dad’s off working. Now Maddy is fifteen and she is going to be a real beauty. Thick, thick auburn red hair, big brown eyes and a

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figure that won’t quit. I’m actually more worried about her than I am Woodie because right now she’s hard for Mom to handle. She sasses Mom, cusses at her, and you know how Mom reacts to that. When Maddy is home all you hear is screaming and crying from Maddy or Mom. I just don’t know what will happen. She won’t listen to me. That sisterly relationship we had is gone and she will mighty easy tell me to keep out of it and shut up. I’m really worried. I think she is smoking too because she has yellow stains on her first two fingers of her left hand just like you and I do. Sam like I said has moved out. He’s somewhere in the mountains working in a mine. Mom is worried to death because she knows he’s still drinking a lot and he’s working at the most dangerous job in the mine as a steel driver and blaster. Mom says he drills the holes and sets the dynamite to blow up the wall of coal. She worries he’ll go to work drunk sometime and kill himself and a bunch of other men. I have to agree it is a worry. But their little house is so darling, Jack. It’s small with two bedrooms that run off this huge living room that goes straight into the kitchen and off onto a back porch. It’s like you would take a shoebox and divide it into four

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rooms and a bath off the kitchen. The bath is small but sufficient. The kitchen is small also but it has two big cabinets or pantries built into the walls. One is in the corner between the living room and stove and the other is in the west wall before you go onto the back porch. It’s a brick house and they have it painted white. There’s a huge window in the front of the living room looking out east. It’s not a very pretty view because there is a vacant lot across the street that is not kept cut down very well and the street is not paved, which allows dust to come into the house. It drives Mom crazy. Off the back porch you can look west across the mountains and that is a beautiful sight. Dad showed me how you can see Ruby Hill where the city dump is and on across to the high mountains. He says in the winter if you look real close you can see Mt. Holy Cross that has a canyon that fills with snow and looks like a cross. I haven’t seen it of course because it’s summer. On the north side of the property is a great big place owned by Mexicans. Mom’s not very pleased with that, as she does not like Mexicans at all. But she says it’s better than having Negroes over there. Of course she did not call them Negroes either. On the south side are two houses one right after the another. Their back yard is great big and Dad says he’s going to raise chickens and

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rabbits. The front yard is small with a huge old locust tree that gives a lot of shade. On the north between their house and the Mexicans is a large area they use for a garden. Dad’s a great gardener. He plants all kind of vegetables and has a very good patch of strawberries started. Of course Mom has planted thousands of flowers and the place looks real pretty. Dad says he’ll build a garage one day if he ever gets a car. Dad says he’s going to dig a basement under the house when he gets a chance probably next summer. He wants to put a coal furnace down there because right now the only heat is a wood stove in the living room. But Mom says with the wood cook stove in the kitchen that the house is real warm in the winter. Maddy’s room is right off the living room where it comes to the kitchen. Woodie sleeps on the porch that Dad says he’s going to enclose. Mom sleeps in the front bedroom as does Dad when he’s home. I’ve been sleeping on the couch and it is not too much fun doing that. Mom still expects me to do most of the housework and cooking, which is all right since they aren’t charging me rent, but sharing a bathroom with Maddy is a major pain in the you know what. So, I’m looking for a room downtown. I can eat at the

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restaurant where I work and if I can find a place close enough I can walk. Right now I have to catch the number three streetcar over on Broadway about a block away across that vacant lot and ride downtown to the end of the line and walk two blocks to the restaurant. Living with my folks is not all that bad, but sharing the bathroom with my sister is. They have one bathroom, very small, and Maddy considers it her private territory. I have to wade through oceans of makeup and perfume just to brush my teeth. Don’t ask me about bathing. Ha. I guess I should tell you about the restaurant. Well it’s called Landers’ and it is right downtown near what’s going on. There are theaters and other restaurants nearby and bars and lounges and stores. It’s in the busiest part of Denver. I work the breakfast shift right now, which is alright, but I’d rather work lunch because the tips are better. Tips aren’t much good anyway because people don’t have money, but I did get a dime yesterday morning from a man. I guess I should be grateful. A dime is a dime. The owner is named Landers Tashitsky. I am telling you the truth. He’s really a nice old man maybe 55 and he laughed when he told me his name and said that I could see why he didn’t name the place with his last name. All the

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people are really nice and I enjoy working there. The owner said I could get on lunch real soon because a girl was leaving and he’d place me in her spot. That will be good because I’ll make more money. I have to go. It’s 5 a.m. here and I got to brush my teeth and catch the streetcar. I have to be at work at six. I love you. I really do and I miss you but this is a good time for me. Please write and let me know how shrimp fishing is. oxoxoxox Eva P.S. My birthday was Sept. 4. I’m 29. Next year I’ll be an old woman. Don’t worry about missing my birthday. We’ll have more to come I hope.

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Chapter 39 Oct.1, 1935 Dearest Eva, Shrimp season is over believe it or not. I got here late and shrimp season begins in July so I was almost a month late when I got here. Fred says there is plenty to do all winter long since it’s warm down here almost all the time. We’re going to take his boat out of the water and clean it and paint it and do some repairs on the engine. I might enjoy some of that. They can’t pay me in money but they said I’ll eat and have a roof over my head. I guess that’s all we can ask for in these times. Your letter was sad with all the troubles your family is having. I wish I could be there to comfort you. Is there any possibility of that happening? I do not like

this place. It isn’t Fred or Mary because they have been wonderful, but it is so humid down here that I am sure I could scoop up some in a bucket and send it to you. The nights are cool but still humid. Denver sounds so good. Fishing for shrimp isn’t fun either. I used to like being on a boat when I was in the Navy but they were big ships and didn’t rock back and forth ever time you took a step. I’m always wet and ocean water eats at your skin. All I

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smell is shrimp, mostly dead shrimp and that’s not much of a perfume. Ha. But I understand if it can’t be now. I respect what you have to do. I’ve thought a lot about us since I’ve been here. Maybe more about myself actually. I really don’t know what I want to do. I know I don’t want to be a shrimper and I don’t want to lay track all my life. My toe is doing just fine except I can’t feel it. I’m getting used to that though. Working on the railroad was so much fun for me. I told you I started when I was a kid right out of the Navy throwing coal for the L&N. To some that would be a bad job but to me it was fun. I got to go places and see things and meet people. I even liked the noise because it was like being in my own world. Engineers used hand signals for what they wanted but most time I could just sit and ride and smoke and think and dream. I got to admit that most of my thinking back then was about girls and my life in the service. I thought about my family some but they were spread out and we didn’t have much contact. I would think about you now like I do when I’m out on the boat waiting for the nets to fill. I think about you lots Kiddo. I do love you so much. But my hopes and dreams are all mixed up now. I want us

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to be together and I want to be happy in a job but you’re the most important person in my life. So I guess a job doesn’t make any difference. As long as I have you that’s all that matters. In these hard times any job is good because there’s not that many around. We have been very lucky. If you hear of any work that you think I could do write me or call the number I sent you. Best call after six o’clock in the evening because during the day we’re all gone. I would do anything if I could be with you. Write when you can. I may not be able to for a while because I think Fred’s got a lot planned but I will when I can. Love and kisses, Your loving husband Jack. P.S. I’m glad you’re getting a place of your own but you be careful downtown. Pretty as you are some guy will get you and that would make me awful mad.

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Chapter 40 Eva found a room at the Bonds Hotel around the corner from Landers, about a hundred steps; she counted one day. It was the typical cheap hotel room, done in what she referred to as mustard, which meant the walls hadn’t been cleaned since the building was constructed. A fairly nice beige carpet covered the squeaky floor, and except for the walls the place was clean. She had a small bath with a tub reminiscent of the one she’d in Chicago except it held only half of her so she had to squat to bathe. But she had hot water. A double hung window that was hard to open looked out over Fifteenth Street and to the left she could see Landers’ big neon sign at the corner of Fifteenth and Welton. Being able to see the sign made her feel safe, almost like she was home. The bed was standard hotel issue, tinny metal, and squeaky springs with a mattress that looked to Eva like a huge slice of white bread. It was comparably thin but clean. Eva sniffed every inch it, even turning it over, to make sure no one had peed on it. At one point she thought she smelled a slight odor of love making but decided it was wishful thinking. She did miss Jack.

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Passing the sniff test, the bed was now tested for comfort. At four dollars a month including clean linens on Mondays, it had to be comfortable, although she might be so tired when she got to bed that comfort wouldn’t matter. That was especially true now that Landers had put her on lunch as well as breakfast. She worked from six in the morning until six at night, so bath and bed was all she was able to do once she got home. But with no streetcar ride she could sleep until five and have plenty of time to dress and go down for breakfast before starting her shift. A few times when Landers was short a waitress, she agreed to a dinner shift. He was always nice to give her an extra hour in the morning when she worked straight through. After work at six, she was too tired to do anything else but sleep. With no money about all she could do was window shop, which she did one night along Welton and ended up in Five Points, the black district, which scared her to death. Occasionally, she saw a movie at the Denham Theater a block from the restaurant, but seeing a movie alone was not her idea of a night out. One or two guys that came in the restaurant tried to take her out, but she said she was married and let it go at that. She didn’t come to Denver to play around. She didn’t do that in

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Chicago and she wasn’t going to do it in Denver, boring as it was in either place. Denver rolled up the sidewalks on Sundays except for a few lonely bars frequented by downtown people, like her, who were off work and wandering aimlessly. Of course, Eva couldn’t join them; she went to her mother’s house just like she had done when in Chicago. Some things never change, she decided.

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Chapter 41 Just after dawn Jack stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window. The Sabine Neches Canal was across the open field in back of Mary and Fred’s house, and down to the right he saw Fred’s shrimp trawler, newly painted white and glistening in the morning light. He decided to take a walk. Outside the air was cool, soft and salty just like he’d experienced on many morning watches in the Navy. Looking to the southeast he saw the sun-pied sky in shades of red as it rimmed the Gulf horizon, which was laced with gray cloud scud. He remembered the old Navy saying--red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Looking up at the sky, he decided if that was true, it would rain today. Standing for a few minutes on the small deck outside the kitchen, he sipped coffee and puffed on a cigarette, taking his time looking around and inhaling the delicious sea air carrying savory sweet wafts of fish; briny odors of sea plants decaying on the beach; and the pungent musk of warm wood from the many decks and piers in the area. He descended the stairs of the deck and ambled along a street leading to the canal. With people readying

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themselves for a varied day of fishing, mending and repairing equipment, leaving for work in Port Arthur or even Beaumont twenty miles away, the neighborhood was alive at this hour. It was not a tourist beach. Jack was fascinated by the houses built high on stilts to weather the constant threat of violent storms out of the Gulf. Already one storm this season hit Honduras and circled back east across the Gulf to hit Louisiana and northern Florida before blowing itself out up the east coast. They experienced strong wind and lots of rain, but damages in the neighborhood had been minimal. Two dogs ran out from a house as he passed and barked at him. One was a small, shaggy, mottled black and white, about to have a stroke objecting to Jack’s presence, and the other, a Labrador mix, wagged its tail and woofed a few times. Jack laughed and called to them. The Lab came over, but the small near-stroke-victim just backed off and barked louder and faster. It always amused Jack to see a large dog with the small one egging him on. Like two kids, he thought: the puny one siccing the big one on someone. He scratched the Lab’s ears and chin, chuckling as he did so. He finished his coffee and threw his butt into the

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street. “Hey, there, boy. What’s the matter?” he called to the small dog, which turned and ran, still barking. The Lab snorted and lumbered after his little friend. He stashed his white Navy cup in a clump of weeds near a tree and continued to the canal. Admitting to himself he had lied to Eva in a letter when he said he didn’t like Port Arthur, he felt guilty. He liked the ocean, and though he considered the Gulf a bit too dirty for his liking, it was salt water and he dearly loved everything about the sea. What he wanted Eva to know was that wherever she was, he wanted to be. Gulls flocked along the piers trying to snatch scraps of fish thrown overboard by fishermen who had come in from a night of trawling. Chattering hollow-pitched cries, they were in a frenzy to get whatever they could. Flying rats was what everyone called them, but Jack enjoyed watching and listening to them. A group of four pelicans went by, flying east over the canal and looking like S-hooks, their long beaks nestled low onto their breasts and their feet stretched neatly behind them. One broke and dove into the water and almost immediately arose with a flapping fish, which the bird swallowed in one gulp and resumed flying a few yards behind the others.

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“Eva would love this,” he said softly. “She’d be amazed to walk around in a T-shirt and jeans in December.” Since Eva left, time passed for him as if he were wading thigh-deep in tar. Compared to how minutes went by for him, snails flew, and hours never ended. He walked out on the jetty where Fred’s trawler was tied and jumped aboard. Going to the stern, he leaned against the port bulwark. A couple of gulls flew over, hoping he might be a soft touch, and when he tossed his butt into the water, they both dove for it at the same time. Although the sun was well up, the sky remained red. A cool wind rocked the trawler, and Jack could smell the rain gathering. He looked to the west and saw a darkening in the sky and knew he wouldn’t be able to stay out very long. Eva was always on his mind. It didn’t matter what he was doing during the day, nothing was so absorbing that she was far from his thoughts. He could feel her body; smell her strong, musky woman’s odor that always turned him on, and could taste her: lips tangy and fresh, skin salty from sweat or delightfully bitter and fragrant with cologne, her loins perfumed and savory, sending him into another realm where only he and Eva existed. As he leaned against the bulwark he wept.

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“Why does she need to be away?” he lamented. “Why so far away? And why couldn’t I be there?” He wept quietly and felt his heart aching in a way it had never ached before. Having had never loved like this before, he didn’t understand it; he didn’t know why he loved her so much. “Good morning.” He turned so fast he lost his balance. “Jesus, Mary, you scared the crap outta me. I almost fell over board.” “I watched you walk down here and thought you might want company. But maybe not.” She looked at him carefully and said, “Are you crying?” Mary was forty-three, a full ten years older than Jack. They were never close because Mary left home when Jack was ten to take nurse’s training in Louisville and never came home again. Over the years she was a shadow in his life, but after the weeks in Port Arthur, he grew to love her deeply. She was kind and warm, with a wonderful impish sense of humor, and she cooked the most wonderful Southern food, just like their stepmother, Nanny. She stood on the jetty next to the trawler, steaming cup of coffee in her hand, plump and motherly in a white nurse’s uniform, white cap pinned to her graying hair, and a twinkle in her blue eyes behind the round wire-framed

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spectacles that made her appear older than she was. “Are you crying?” she asked again. “No.” Jack dabbed his eyes with the tail of his Tshirt. “I think it’s the wind. Kind of salty.” “It’s all right to cry, Jack. You’ve got a reason, a good reason.” She climbed aboard and sat by him. Turning, he looked out across the Gulf. In a husky voice he said, “Half of me is missing, Mary. Maybe more than half. I just feel empty, alone, abandoned.” “You really love her, don’t you?” Mary reached over and took his hand. “More than anything in this world.” Without letting go of her hand, fished a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket and lit it expertly in the wind, nipping the head of a kitchen match with his thumbnail and catching the flame before it died, a trick he had picked up on board ship in the Navy. He squeezed her hand. The cloud cover began to thicken, and he felt rain in the air. “What are you going to do about it?” “I don’t know. I really don’t know, Mary.” He looked at her with a puzzled expression, frowning and shaking his head. She smiled with her eyes at him over the rim of her

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cup as she took a sip. “Ever think maybe she don’t know either?” “I don’t follow you.” “Well, Jack, women have a tendency to blame themselves when anything goes wrong in a marriage. I guess it’s just bein’ a woman. It’s always been that way.” She gazed at the Gulf and got a far off expression. “When Fred and me found out we couldn’t have children, it liked to kill me. Women are supposed to have children, and I couldn’t. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for Fred and offered to let him go and find someone who could have his children. He told me not to be stupid, that he hadn’t married me just to have kids. Said he loved me and wanted to be with me. If he’d left me I’d of understood, but I know it woulda killed me. Later, when Leon came to us after his folks got killed, Fred said that the good Lord knew that all along and didn’t want Leon to have any competition.” She

laughed. “I don’t know about that, but Leon sure filled an empty space.” She turned and looked directly at Jack. “What I’m tryin’ to say, Jack, is that Fred wouldn’t let me do something he knew was wrong. I didn’t know what to do, but he knew we couldn’t solve anything by being apart. And if we had been apart, what would’ve Leon done?” She

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paused and studied Jack’s face. He was looking away again. She reached over and put her hand on his shoulder. “Go to her, Jack. Make her know that you care. Right now she may feel you don’t care because you let her go.” “But I do care, Mary. I let her know every day I love her and want her. Guess that’s not enough.” He pitched his cigarette butt into that water and immediately lit another. “Many times we don’t really want what we ask for. Any more’n I wanted Fred to leave me.” Jack patted the hand on his shoulder. “How’d you get to be so smart? Y’ain’t old enough to be this wise.” She laughed at that. “Jack, I been a nurse now for almost twenty years, and I seen a lot of people. Young, old, in between, an’ I’m here to tell you, most folks don’t know what they want or what to do. You are aware, brother mine, that life don’t come with no instruction book, aren’t you?” “Yeah.” He laughed. “We go through life on the seat of our pants and make it up as we go along. Sometimes we win, other times we lose, but that’s true of anybody. We’re not alone.”

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Jack thought a minute. It started to drizzle, and the wind died down, and it was chilly. “So you think I should just go up to Denver and face her?” “That’s exactly what I think. If she tells you to hit the road, then you’ll know. You’re a young man, Jack. No need of you, or her for that matter, to waste time. You’re either together or you’re not. I say you got to be together to solve problems. You got to know what the problems are before you can solve ‘em, and you don’t do that by being separated. Go to her, Jack. If she throws you out, you’re no worse off than you are now, and you can always come back here. I think you like it anyway.” “I do, but I ain’t fond of fishing. I want to work for the railroad again. Fishin’ is all right once in a while, but not for a living.” “Well, that’s all right. We got some railroads around here, maybe you could get on. But right now you need to go to Eva. Christmas is coming and I think you need to be her present.” Jack was silent while he stared out across the Gulf. “Well, I got to go to work. Think about what I said. I hear tell there’s been snow in those mountains around Denver, but so far ain’t been much in the city. Right now

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might be a good time to go.”

She took his face in both

hands and kissed his cheek. “Whatever you decide will be right. I just know it.” She got up, took her empty cup and hauled herself over the bulwark to the jetty. She turned toward him. “I hear you got sort of a job.” “Yeah, at the movie theater. Janitor. Fred knows the owner and got me the job. Doesn’t pay much, but I get to see movies free. I sit up in the projection booth with Raleigh and watch. I clean up after the show.” She smiled. “See you at supper,” she yelled as she ran to the house in the rain. Jack slid down on the deck and leaned against the bulwark under a life raft. Pulling his cap down to keep the rain out of his face, he imagined showing up in Denver and how Eva would react. She’d tell him she needed more time and throw him out, or maybe have a teary-eyed meeting, hugging and kissing. If she threw him out it would tell him it was over, that he needed to move on. Imagining that made him so depressed he began to cry again. How could he live without Eva? Images of living

alone again appeared before him. Another apartment, maybe, or a room somewhere. Restaurant food. One girl after another, but maybe not. The way he felt now, another girl

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was out of the question. He considered going back in the Navy and drowning himself in the work. Then he imagined them getting back together, but thought maybe uncertainty bred by this separation might last a lifetime, making him nervous that it could happen again if Eva felt she needed time alone. He didn’t believe he could take another separation. Besides, he needed to know. He was aggravated that Eva would push him aside and leave him dangling. Like Mary said, he was thirty-three, a young man, and it wasn’t fair that he should be left dangling for no telling how long. He decided Mary was right: meet it head on so you’d know where your life was going.

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Chapter 42 Jack studied a roadmap spread out on the kitchen table with several more on the floor next to him, all in various states of disarray. It was five o’clock Monday morning. Leaning close over the map, he traced a trail with his right index finger from east to west. “Okay, from here to Baytown, across to Houston, and then over to San Antonio,” he whispered. Taking a drag from his cigarette, he sipped coffee and returned to his scrutiny. “That’s what? Two hundred miles, maybe more?” “Two hundred ninety-four, to be exact,” Fred said, leaning over Jack’s right shoulder. Jack jumped as if had been he shot and gaped at Fred’s grinning face. “You scared the shit outta me. Where’d you come from?” Fred chuckled as he headed for the coffee pot. “Thought I smelled java. What’s so important you’re up in the middle of the night?” He poured a cup and turned around, leaning on the counter. “It’s mornin’ and I’m planning my trip.” He stubbed out his smoke and drained the last of his coffee. “I’ll take another,” he said, handing his cup to Fred.

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“Half a pound of sugar and a quart of cream?” Fred said and filled Jack’s cup. “Smart ass. Two spoons of sugar and enough cream to turn it army khaki.” “Khaki? Jesus, you take coffee with all this?” “I don’t know how Jesus likes his coffee, but just do it and get over here. I got questions.” Jack smoothed out the map on the table when Fred brought the cups and sat. “What trip?” “To Denver. Mary talked me into going without telling Eva. Said it was what Eva wanted. Some woman thing I don’t quite understand but sounds reasonable. Here’s my plan. I go from here to San Antonio. How’s the roads? You know?” “Not bad. Concrete all the way, which means there’re plenty of cracks and holes, and even if they fixed ‘em yesterday, there’ll be more today. Got to watch your axles.” hell? He turned abruptly and looked at Jack. “What the You’re gonna drive?”

“Yeah.” “Drive what?” Fred scooted his chair back to take a longer view of his brother-in-law. “My car,” Jack answered as if Fred were a five-yearold. “My Ford Tudor.”

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“Your ten-year-old Ford Model T Tudor? That heap of bolts outside?” “Hey, that’s a fine car. I drove it here from Louisville.” “Yeah, and you said you put bearings in it about every day.” “Not every day. Twice.” “How far’s it from Louisville to Port Arthur?” “I don’t know. Nine hundred, maybe nine hundred and fifty miles. How far is it to Denver?” “Farther. I don’t know but, Jack, you haven’t been out west. You don’t know how the roads are out there. From Louisville to here the roads ain’t bad, but my God, you get outta Texas and you got maybe cattle trails, cow paths.” Fred doused his cigarette in his unfinished

coffee and sat it on the table somewhere near Dallas. “I’d rather see you ride a horse to Denver than take that car.” Jack leaned back in his chair and smoked for a long time before saying anything. “Well, Fred, how else can I go? I have twenty-five dollars. I can’t ride the train on that, and I’ll need a car when I get to Denver.” “If you get to Denver. You may spend the rest of your

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life on the road between here and Denver.” “Will you let me finish?” Jack stubbed out his cigarette. “I know it’s not gonna be a breeze. I know the risks but, Fred, I got to get back with her. It’s tearin’ me up. I told Mary she’s all I can think about. I’m worried to death that we’ll be apart so long she’ll not want to get back together, or maybe she’s found someone else. I go crazy thinking about it.” “Call her. Use our phone.” “She doesn’t have a phone. I can call her folks, but she ain’t there most of the time, and if I call her at work, we can’t talk. How’s callin’ gonna help?” “How’s getting yourself killed goin’ out there gonna help? I’m not sure you do know the risks. Show me how you planning to go.” Jack smoothed the map, blew the cigarette ashes off, and pointed to Port Arthur. “From here I go to San Antonio. Then, I plan to go north to Seymour, west to Lubbock, then up through Amarillo and on into Oklahoma. From there . . .” “Whoa.” Fred interrupted. “I thought you had your head up your ass. Jack, right here.” He pointed to Amarillo and

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slid his finger up to Oklahoma. “Right here is one of the worst places in the dust bowl. Look here. This is Dalhart. According to the news, Dalhart’s all but been buried. Dusters go through there about every day, and Amarillo is just as bad, they say. You ever seen or been in a duster?” “No. But Eva went through one on her way to Denver.” “Well, I’ve seen one up close. Up in Kansas about two years ago. Imagine it’s noon, okay? A duster comes and it’s blacker than it is at midnight. I ain’t lying, now. You can see no light. No light, Jack. Even at midnight you’ll see light even if it’s the moon or stars or streetlights. Nothing is lit in a duster. You cannot see your hand in front of your face. I know, that’s an old saying, but in a duster it is the gospel truth. First, you don’t dare open your eyes or they’ll fill with dust, and if you could, there’d be no hand. The dust sifts into everything. Cars are stopped and when the duster passes, which often takes a week, those cars have to be torn down, washed out with gasoline and put back together. Most times that don’t work, so cars just sit and get buried until no one can see ‘em. Now you still want to go this way?” “Okay, you tell me how to go.” “Go upstairs, go to bed, pull the covers up, and forget

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it. That’s the way to go.” “That ain’t gonna be, Fred, so help me find a way.” “I figured you say that. You’d walk, wouldn’t you?” “If I had to. Maybe that’s how I’ll go. Hitchhike, ride the rails. Hear tell that’s a good way to travel these days.” Jack looked straight at Fred and grinned. “It might be a hell of a safer way to go than in that car.” Fred pulled the map toward him. “All right, look here. First, you gotta keep outta Oklahoma and the northwestern corner of Texas to avoid dusters. I mean, you’re gonna get some dust, but if you stay far enough south, you’ll not get the brunt of it. So go on to Lubbock like you said, then turn west and go to Farwell. Now Farwell’s a dinky wide spot in the road, but if I recollect right it’s got businesses includin’ gas stations and places to eat. Santa Fe’s got a depot there, and there are hotels, so if you get tired of the car, you got places to stay. It’s right on the boarder with New Mexico.

Clovis is the first town you’ll come to there. Clovis is a lot bigger, about ten miles from Farwell, so you might wanna skip Farwell and head for Clovis.” Fred spent the rest of the morning plotting a route to Denver that he thought would keep Jack out of the dusters

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although he felt sure the road would be horrible and that Jack would probably die somewhere in the desert and no one would ever find him. “Listen, Fred, I served with Pershing down here when they were watching for Pancho Villa, and I was in pretty rough country. Got treed by a goddamned wild boar once, and . . .” “I heard all that shit, Jack. So, you’re tough. Just pay attention.” Fred folded the maps. “How’re you gonna eat and pay for gas?” “I got twenty-five dollars. I’ll buy bread and lunch meat and eat sandwiches. I’ll get coffee now and then.” “And the car? You know you’re gonna have to take the I mean you’ll

guts of another engine with you, don’t you?

have to have just about every spare part on that car because I guarantee you’ll be doing mechanic’s work every day. You got tools?” “Full set. Came with the car.” “Can you use ‘em, is the question?” “I can out-mechanic you, Fred, and you know it.” Fred stared at Jack for a moment. “Okay. I think you might make it before summer. I don’t know which summer, but you’ll make it. I hope.”

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“Thanks for your help, Fred. And your concern.” Pretending to attend to a fingernail, Fred said, “I’m gonna stake you, too.” “Oh, no,” Jack fired back. “You ain’t giving me no money, Fred. No tellin’ when I could pay it back, or if I ever could. I’m broke. I got no job and no prospects. So you keep your money. You might need it to bury me if I die out there.” “Hell, they’ll just dig a hole and kick you in. No one will ever know.” “That’s all right. Reckon God’ll know.” “If God gives a shit. But that’s another discussion. I’m stakin’ you seventy-five, and if I have to I’ll ram it up your ass. Mary’d skin me like a rabbit if I let you outta here with twenty-five dollars. Did you ever think maybe spring would be a better time to go? Or even summer?” “Like I said, time ain’t a good thing with this. It’s now or never, I think.” Jack thought a moment, looked out the kitchen window, and said, “I’ll take your stake, Fred, and I’ll pay it back as soon as I can.” “Good.” Fred got to his feet. “Now, come with me and

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we’ll get the parts you’ll need and other stuff you’ll have to take. When you wanna leave?” “No later’n next Monday. I can work at the movie house this week and make a couple more dollars. It all helps.” “All right, let’s get to it. We got lots to do.” put on his coat and went out, followed by Jack. Fred

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Chapter 43 Fred and Jack filled the week with getting ready. Amazed that Fred knew so many guys with stashes of auto parts, Jack was more astonished that they were willing to sell them for little or nothing. Jack figured Fred had something on them, or they were just nice guys who wanted to help Fred’s friend. By the end of the week they had virtually rebuilt the Tudor, starting with the transmission in which Fred insisted they put all new parts. “Gets the most wear and tear,” he said, “grindin’ and movin’ agin each other all the time.” The engine was next: grind valves, replace spark plugs, pull the pans, replace mains, and hone the cylinders. “Jesus, Fred,” Jack said after replacing the head, “even Mr. Ford didn’t do it this good.” “That’s because Mr. Ford can’t make shit. Wished to God you had a Dodge. Now, that’s an automobile.” “Didn’t want a Dodge.” “Well, see, that worries me even more because you really don’t know anything about cars. Good cars, that is.”

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All week as they worked on the Tudor they kept up the banter and enjoyed each other. Fred saw that Jack did, indeed, know his way around an engine and could handle tools like an artist. At least that worry was gone. Mary said she would fry a couple of chickens and make a big pot of baked beans and send along some fruit. “You’ll need fruit, Brother. Keeps you loose.” She grinned at him. Saturday evening they finished getting Jack ready. The Tudor almost disappeared under huge rolled tarpaulins strapped to each front fender to make into tents if need be, or to just sleep under. Suitcases and duffle bags wrapped in oilcloth were strapped to the top, along with eight tires Fred insisted he take. He had inner tubes and repair kits as well. “You’re gonna get some snow, Jack,” Fred promised, “especially when you get to Colorado. Oughta be okay in Texas, but you can never tell. If it comes it’ll be black because of the dust. Mean shit, now, I tell you. So, be careful.” They wrapped all the tools in oilcloth to ward off dust that Fred said was inevitable, even on clear days. “Goddamned Fords leak like sieves,” he said. “You’ll probably choke to death before you do anything.”

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“I feel so safe with your advice,” Jack quipped. “I’m so excited about going out there and gettin’ killed.” “Glad to hear it because you probably will.” Last addition to the car was two red ten-gallon cans of gasoline strapped on either running board, joining blue cans of oil and white cans of water. They filled heavy canvas water bags and hung them wherever they could on the car, making it look like it had leprosy. “You’ll need water like a fish,” Fred said. Before bed Sunday night, Jack and Fred sat in the living room going over their list and it all checked out. “Okay,” Fred said, tossing the list aside. ”I’ll let you go.” “Gee, thanks, Dad.” Jack sat across from him, smoking and drinking coffee. “Why the hell are you drinking coffee at this time? You’ll never sleep.” Jack looked at his coffee cup, lifted it in a toast, and said, “This is mother’s milk, Fred. It rocks me to sleep.” “Well, you better get to it. Mornin’ comes early.”

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“You go on. I’ll finish the ciggy and java and be up in a few minutes.” As Fred left the room, Jack added, “Thanks old friend. I couldn’t do this without you.” Without turning or stopping, Fred said, “Y’ain’t done it yet. ‘Night.” Jack smoked and sipped coffee. Outside he could hear an occasional ooga horn and the bells from boats along the shore. He knew he would miss it, but he also knew that he had to go because living in limbo was not living. He thought once about calling Eva at work and telling her he was coming to see what her reaction would be. Maybe he could save a trip if she was really cold about the idea. But what if she was cold about it and told him she didn’t want him to come? What if she was evasive? He knew it

would destroy him. No, he had to see her, touch her, hold her. He went to bed at midnight. At four in the morning Jack heard someone moving around in the kitchen, and he guessed it was Fred because it sounded like a team of horses being driven through the house. He rolled out and went down to the kitchen. “You need to make some more noise. I’m sure the boats on shore can’t hear you.” “You have a standing invitation to kiss my hairy ass,”

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Fred answered without looking around. “Coffee?” “Don’t mind if I do.” Jack sat at the table. Mary appeared, wrapped in a blue chenille bathrobe. “Oh, it’s my husband tearing up the house. I could a swore it was my little brother.” She crossed to the coffee pot and poured a cup. Fred slipped his hand inside her robe and pinched her. “Animal! Ever get boilin’ hot coffee poured all over you?” Mary asked, removing his hand. “Don’t mind if I do,” Fred answered. He sat. “Are you ready?” “Ready’s I’ll ever be.” “Scared?” “A little.” Jack sipped coffee. “A lot,” he added. “Shitless?” Fred lit a smoke. “Yeah.” “Well, I ain’t worried ‘cause you’re scared. If you wasn’t scared, I’d be worried.” They were all silent for a while. Jack broke the silence. “I’m so grateful to you two. Fred, you’ve been a prince, and Mary, I’m proud to be your brother.” “Glad to help, Jack,” Mary said. “We want nothin’ but

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the best for you and Eva. We just want you to be careful.” Fred sighed deeply, stretched, yawned, and looked at Jack with a sly grin. “Just check your oil and keep your powder dry.” “I’ll do it.”

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Chapter 44 Mary insisted on a big breakfast: steak, eggs, biscuits with butter and sorghum molasses, and more coffee. Jack ate with relish. At five he was in the car, and Fred and Mary were talking to him through the rolled-down window, the Tudor chugging away. “Does your heater work?” Fred asked. “I forgot to check it.” “Well, it did.” Jack flipped a switch and felt the air coming from under the dashboard. “Yeah, it’s gettin’ warm.” “Watch your water. Got any extra alcohol?” “Yup. Plenty. You gonna let me go, Dad, or are you gonna keep me here burnin’ good gas?” “You’re a smart ass, you know that. Here.” handed him a bundle of oilcloth. “What’s this?” “Birthday present. Open it.” Jack unwrapped the oilcloth. “It’s a pistol.” He looked at Fred. “You’re quick. Take it. It’s loaded and I put a box of shells in there, too.” Fred

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“I don’t want a gun, Fred.” “Take the goddamned gun,” Fred ordered. “I hope to God you won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll thank me. You don’t know who or what is out there, Jack, and sometimes just the threat of a gun is enough to turn someone back. You know how to use one, don’t you?” “Yes! I got the marksman medal to prove it. I don’t know, Fred. I don’t like guns.” “No one likes guns, Jack, but you’re going into territory where people still think it’s okay to carry a gun and to shoot your ass off if you look at ‘em the wrong way. Humor me, Jack, take the gun.” Jack looked at the pistol, a small twenty-two caliber with mother-of-pearl handles. He hefted it, broke it open, counted the shells, snapped it shut, and set the safety. “Okay, I’ll do as you say.” “Probably won’t need it, but I’d feel better if you have it. Carry it in your P-coat. Won’t do no good wrapped up in oilcloth and stuffed in the car if you need it.” Fred reached in and punched Jack lightly on the shoulder, and then walked toward the house. Mary poked her head in and kissed him.

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“Please be careful, Jack. Give our love to Eva,” she said, a slight catch in her voice. “I’ll do it, Sis. Love you.” Jack slid the car into gear and took off, leaving Mary waving goodbye. * By eight o’clock Jack drove into Houston. The highway from Port Arthur wasn’t too bad, and although concrete had buckled in some places, it was mostly smooth. What slowed him down was a lot of railroad crossings that he had to take cautiously to guard against breaking a spring. Traffic from Baytown on into Houston, heavy with cars and trucks, surprised him. He expected Houston to draw a lot of traffic, but there was a depression going on and he figured fewer people would drive. His reasoning fell

apart as he juggled lines of traffic through the city. In Houston he filled up with gas, checked oil and added some, checked water and tires, and was on his way. He wanted to get to San Antonio by early afternoon, and his goal was Seymour by dark. He expected the four small towns between Houston and San Antonio would slow him down along with the inevitable unknown encounters he knew were waiting. Twenty-five miles out of Houston he felt a tire

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go. Hiking up the car and pulling the wheel was the easy part; taking the tire off the rim was hard. He pulled the inner tube, located the leak, caused by a nail, and repaired it. With the perforated half of the patch kit lid, he roughed the area where the nail had gone in, being careful to roughen it a bit larger than the patch, spread rubber cement around the hole, and lit the cement with a match, blowing flame out before it melted the rubber. Slapping on the patch, he took the metal top of the repair kit and rubbed the patch until it was sealed. If it didn’t seal, he knew he would have to do the job again. It sealed, and he started bantering with himself: “You know, Jack, you have new tubes on top of this hoopty. You didn’t have to patch this.” “I know, Jack, but the new ones are for when I really need ‘em.” “’S okay, Jack. Just thought I’d mention it.” “Much obliged, Jack.” Locating the nail in the tire, he pulled it and patched the inside. He pushed the tube back into the tire, pounded it onto the rim with a heavy hammer, and placed the wheel on the car. With a hand operated air pump he

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worked thirty minutes to inflate the tire. “Thank God it wasn’t a blow out, Jack.” He tightened the last lug nut. “Yer right there, Jack. A blow out would mean a new tire and tube. At two o’clock that afternoon, he rolled into San Antonio, clear sky and warm. He ate chicken and beans at San Pedro Park, thanking Mary with every bite. Coffee gone, he stopped at Cappy’s Restaurant and ordered coffee and filled his thermos. As he drove out of San Antonio past the Alamo, he remembered his last stop in San Antonio while he was stationed in Texas. It was before he stopped drinking, and he was three sheets to the wind. Her name was Conchita; at least that’s what she called herself, although he learned later that most all the girls on the street in San Antonio were named Conchita or Rosalita. His Conchita was small with big breasts and flowing black hair that smelled like sage, large dark eyes that glistened, and a mouth so soft and sweet that he just wanted to dive inside. And all she wanted to do was fuck. He told a buddy later, back on duty at the border, that if he hadn’t stopped her, he would have been flat as a pancake with nothing but his pecker and eyeballs showing. Jack smiled as he left town

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wondering if his Conchita was still there. The number of small towns between San Antonio and Seymour were legion. San Marcos, Fredericksburg, Mason, Brady, Brownwood, Coleman, Albany—all little towns surrounded by farms, ranches, and oil fields, most of them sad and abandoned. The depression had hit southwestern Texas. After he decided he would never see Seymour, it finally appeared around eleven o’clock. Tired, beat up, shaken like cream in a butter churn, Jack found Lake Kemp just north of town and prepared to bed down. But just as he pulled up to a likely camping space, he heard a loud tap-tap-tap coming from the engine, and the Tudor died. Jack sat in the car for several minutes. A loud noise coming from a car engine was not a welcome sound, he realized, but having the engine stop suddenly was anxiety inducing. It wasn’t a pop, or a clank, or a grind—-it did not sound like something had broken, so Jack tried the ignition. The tapping returned, a little louder and insistent, and the engine would not fire. He sighed and leaned back. “Oh, shit.” He was too tired to guess what had happened, but he had an unsettling feeling that he would get to know Seymour much more thoroughly than he wanted to. As he got out of

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the car, the thirty-eight degree temperature hit him, biting through his T-shirt and jeans. The air was misty, and fog swept before a light breeze from the lake. He got his P-coat. Lifting the left engine cover, he peered inside at the engine but could see nothing in the dark. Exhausted and disgusted, he dropped the engine cover and went to get a bedroll. Tomorrow was another day, he decided, and he couldn’t do anything tonight anyway. Just as he lifted the bedroll from the fender, he heard a noise that sounded like a million cowbells being blown in high wind. Out of the wet darkness came a car so startling that Jack dropped the bedroll and reached in his P-coat for the pistol, which to his distress wasn’t there. He had never seen a car like the one that pulled up and stopped next to the Tudor, cowbells diminishing to a tinkle as the engine chugged and sniffed like a steam engine. The front resembled a Hupmobile, he thought, but

when he looked closer, it reminded him of a Dodge Brothers. Making the whole thing look like a freakish junkyard on wheels coming out of the ragged mist was what Jack guessed was a Ford Model-T Touring car body, with isinglass curtains dropped down. Enclosed in several rounds of heavy rope, a huge trunk that looked heavier

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than the whole vehicle adorned the rear bumper. Jack saw tires were different widths, and the headlights flickered like kerosene lanterns. The cowbells were cans, buckets, jugs and jars along with canvas water bags hanging off the sides. It reminded him of the gypsy wagons that came by his home in Lebanon. The driver’s isinglass curtain went up, and a man got out. Tall and husky, dressed in faded bib overalls and a red plaid shirt that had been washed too many times, he walked over and extended a hand to Jack who took it but kept his eyes on the man’s face. “Evenin’. M’name’s William. William Coston. Ever’body calls me W.C.” He smiled, revealing big, white teeth and

full lips. Framed in a red hunting cap with the earflaps down, his face was long and oval with a narrow nose. Soulful dark eyes looked at Jack. “Saw you had the hood up. Trouble?” Jack was so startled that he continued to hold William’s hand and stare into his face. “Trouble? Oh, yeah somethin’ stopped my engine. Started tappin’ and stopped. I’m Jack. Jack Stewart. Ever’body calls me Jack.” He dropped William’s hand and examined the strange car, which was emitting a series of regular muffled explosive sounds.

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“Don’t…uh…don’t think I ever saw a car quite like yours.” “Won’t ever, neither,” said W.C., turning to his car. “Dug the front end outta small mountain a dirt in Kansas, where we’re from, and the body was left over from a wreck. Guy sold it to me for two dollars. I rigged it on a Dodge chassis, slapped in a four banger from a Plymouth I had in a barn, and there she is.” Sliding his hands in his the back pockets, he looked at the car with obvious pride. “It runs,” he continued. “We come all the way from Dodge City with no trouble a’ tall.” “Well, I declare.” Jack rubbed his head through his watch cap. “Ain’t never seen anything like it, but if it runs, it’s good.” He looked at W.C. and said, “Dodge City’s a long way.” “Yup. But we had to get outta that dust bowl country.” Still looking at his car, W.C. asked, “You from ‘round here?” “No, I hail from Tennessee, but I been in Port Arthur, Texas, for a few months. That’s where I started from today.” “Well, tell ya, Jack, it’s mighty late and the kids and the wife needs to sleep.” Turning to look at the Tudor, W.C. said, “Bet it’s a bent valve stem. We git to it in

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the mornin’. I’ll help ya.” W.C. surveyed the surrounding area, and for the first time Jack saw several cars parked all around the lake, some with campfires. “Lotta people on the road, Jack, runnin’ from trouble. Don’t know they won’t just find more trouble, but runnin’ seems to make ‘em feel they’re doin’ somethin’ ‘bout it. Reckon?” “Yeah, reckon so.” W.C shut his car off, stuck his head inside, and mumbled something. The isinglass on the other side went up and out stepped a woman and two children. “This here’s my wife, Betty. And these here are my kids, Joseph, my son, and Mildred, my daughter. This here’s Jack and he’s got some car trouble I’m gonna help him fix in the mornin’.” Betty was small, maybe less than five feet, and thin. Because it was dark he couldn’t see much of her face, but she appeared to be cute. She was wrapped in blanket, and Jack saw that her feet were bare. Wrapped also in heavy blankets, the children appeared sleepy. “Reckon we could camp together tonight, Jack, if you’re a mind to,” W.C. said as he pulled a bundle of blankets

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and sleeping bags from the top of his car. “We’ll build a fire and sit and talk after the kids and Betty bed down.” “Why can’t I stay up and talk, too?” said Betty, sounding offended. “You can,” W.C. answered. “You said you was tired when we rolled up. Just thought you want to go to sleep, that’s all. Stay up all night and talk, if you want.” He tossed the bundle down and separated the blankets, distributing them to the children and Betty. Joseph grabbed his and skittered off under the car. “You’ll get mighty cold under there later on,” W.C. called after him. “I’ll move when the fire gets goin’,” Joseph answered as he pushed his sleeping bag under the engine and slid in on top of it. “You’ll git oil on ya,” said W.C. “Don’t care. It’s warm.” “Mamma, can I sleep with Joseph?” Mildred asked. “No, you can’t sleep with Joseph,” Joseph yelled. “You sleep here with me,” Betty told her daughter. “Your dad’ll have a fire going pretty soon.” Betty spread two sleeping bags on the ground while W.C. and Jack gathered wood. “Not much here,” Jack said.

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“Lotta people come by here, Jack. Lotta people.” W.C. gathered a big armload of wood from out near the fringes of the lake. They both dropped their loads in clearing near where Betty and Mildred snuggled down in their sleeping bags, which they had also covered with blankets. W.C. placed some wood in a circle and then piled the rest in the middle. “Jack, I’ll light this and tend it if you’ll look around for some bigger logs, maybe.” Jack found a few old punky logs that he knew would smoke more than burn, and a lot of twigs. He was about to go back empty handed when he spotted a pile of leaves. Brushing them away, he discovered a considerable stash of wood. He loaded up and came back to camp where W.C. had a fire blazing. “Look what I found.” Jack dropped the load by the fire. “There’s more if we need it.” “Good job, fella. Grab a blanket and set.” W.C.

centered the coals with a tree branch and threw in some smaller logs. Jack retrieved his bundle of tarps, grabbed the pistol and slipped it in his P-coat. “I got these.” He dropped the tarps. “They’re windproof and waterproof, and over a

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blanket or two they’ll keep you warm as toast. Reckon the kids and your wife would like one?” “That’d be nice, Jack.” As he spread a tarp over Betty and Mildred, Joseph appeared, dragging his sleeping bag behind him, which he dropped beside his mother and crawled in. Stone faced, he watched Jack spread a tarp over him. Jack chuckled and went back to the fire. “Married, Jack?” W.C. asked, putting a larger log on the fire. “Yessir. That’s why I’m out here.” “Okay.” W.C. spread out a sleeping bag and got in, pulling another blanket and one of Jack’s tarps around him. He put his right arm behind his head and looked up at Jack, his face dancing with shadows from the flames. “She’s in Denver. That’s where I’m headed.” Jack

gathered some of his blankets and created a makeshiftsleeping pallet. He lay down and pulled a tarp over him. “Denver.” W.C. leaned up on his elbow. “We’re goin’ to Pueblo, ‘bout ten miles south a Denver” He seemed excited. “Hey, we could travel together. Keep each other company and help out. Whatcha say?”

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“Sounds okay to me.” He lit a cigarette and offered one to W.C. “Roll my own.” He produced a bag of Bull Durham from his bib pocket. As he rolled a cigarette he said, “I come from Colorado. My daddy works for a steel mill in Pueblo and told me there’s work if I don’t mind gettin’ real dirty. Well, I told him dirt made no never mind with me and farmin’ in this dust bowl was a sure way to starve. See, Jack, he wanted me to stay in Pueblo and work at the mill, but I heard about all this money people was making farmin’ wheat out here and thought I could make a killin’ in a short time. “So right after I got outta the army I lit out to Kansas and rented me a hundred acres and set out wheat. Boy, lemme tell you, I made money. Lots and lots of money. Wheat was selling for three dollars a bushel and that ground just kept pourin’ out the bushels. I met Betty near Dodge and we was married, and for a time we lived high on the hog. Traveled, bought a car and a tractor, built a real nice house, ate in restaurants in Kansas City and Topeka. We were livin’. “Then, the price of wheat fell ‘cause people was growin’ too much. They had so much it was piled like

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mountains on the ground outside elevators, and rottin’. Then came the drought. No rain for a couple of years and no wheat. “Then the dust commenced. Jack, I seen whole towns disappear under dust. I ain’t tellin’ no stories. People was dyin’ ‘cause of dust in their lungs, and cattle and horses and pigs was dyin’, too. Once when I went to Dalhart, Texas, to see if I could trade some hogs, a duster come and almost killed me. I was on the street when it hit, sudden like, and before I knowed it, I’m down on the ground crawlin’ like a snake and not knowin’ where I was. I just knew I was gonna die and Betty six months along. Well, sir, this old boy saw me and tied a rope to his porch post and come out after me and we followed that rope back to his house and that’s where I stayed for six days ‘cause that’s how long that thing blowed. Guess what, Jack? When I was lost in that street, I was only six foot

from his porch and couldn’t see it. Now, that’s a fact. I swear to God that’s a fact. It was so black with that there dust I couldn’t see a big, ol’ wrap-around porch six foot away.” Jack flipped the butt of his smoke into the fire, rolled over and got to his feet. He hefted two large logs

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and placed them in the fire. “W.C.,” he said when he got back in his sleeping gear, “that is some kind of amazing story. My brother-in-law in Texas said he was in one and couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, but your story takes the cake.” “Well, I held out for another year ‘cause we had some money saved and ‘cause Joseph was born and I didn’t wanna move him and Betty too soon. Then, Mildred come along and we moved to Wichita hopin’ to get some work and lay low till all this stopped and we could get back to farming. I did git a job workin’ on cars in this here garage. Couldn’t sell my property so I just let it go for taxes. Weren’t nothin’ else to do. Then the garage closed ‘cause people wasn’t drivin’ as much, and we moved to Dodge where I worked for a time for a trucking company, but that dried up last month about this time. So, here we are, going back to Pueblo to God knows what, but least we’ll be near family.” “Your wife’s family back in Kansas?” “She ain’t got no family. She’s orphaned when she was five and raised by the county. Her folks died of the flu in eighteen and she didn’t have no other family. When I met her she was a barmaid in Dodge. Well, now, she was the

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prettiest thing I’d ever seen, and I knew from the first time that I was gonna marry her. She’s a good woman, Jack. Wonderful mamma. And cook. My God I ‘spect she could boil cowshit and make it taste good. Listen, if we can get us a jackrabbit, I’ll have her make us a jackrabbit stew that’ll make you talk to yourself.” W.C. stopped talking and all he could hear from Jack was light snoring. “Well, good night, Jack. See you in the mornin’.” It

wasn’t long until W.C. joined Jack’s chorus with the fire gently crackling an accompaniment.

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Chapter 45 The clank of metal hitting metal woke Jack at first light, and when he looked over to see where the noise was coming from, he saw that W.C. was gone. The clanking came from the Tudor. He scrambled to the car and was flabbergasted to see the engine parts organized on a tarp. Jack always considered himself a good mechanic, but W.C. made him look like a beginner. “Mornin’, Jack. It’s a valve all right. Thought I’d take a look at ‘er guts to see if anything else was wrong ‘fore it broke. She looks pretty good for ‘n old lady. How long you had ‘er?” Jack gaped at all the engine parts. “How in the world’d you do that in the dark?” “Aw, hell, Jack. I could tear down a engine blindfolded and put ‘er back together again without lookin’. ‘Course, I might have a few parts left over.” W.C. laughed and

rubbed his chin with a greasy hand. “’Sides, this here’s a Model-A engine. Simplest thing Mr. Ford ever made. Joseph could tear ‘er down. Oughta have her perkin’ in ‘bout an hour or two. How ‘bout you fixin’ up the fire and helpin’ Betty get some victuals? I’m gettin’ hungry.”

“Okay.” Jack took a few steps toward camp and then

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turned back to W.C. “I bought the car new in twenty-eight in Chicago. Wanted the sedan because of the winters up there.” “Must a had some money. This baby sold for ‘bout five or six hundred, right?” “Yeah. Six seventy-five, to be exact. I was doin’ all right ‘til October of ‘29.” “Know what you mean, Jack. Know exactly what you mean.” Jack walked back to the camp, feeling humbled by W.C.’s skill as a mechanic. When he approached, he saw Betty squatting at the fire with a huge frying pan snuggled in the hot coals, and he smelled bacon. “You got any flour?” she asked without looking up. “No. Gotta sack a cold biscuits we could heat up.” “That’s good. Bring ‘em over. Got anything else?” “Got some chicken and beans.” “Wonderful. We got bacon, eggs, taters, onions. I’ll make us up a slumgullion that’ll curl your hair.” She looked up and smiled. Jack saw she was pretty, perhaps even beautiful. Her hair sparkled in the morning light, and her complexion was flawless. She stood up and went back to a box from which she took a sugar sack. “Eggs,” she said, holding up the sack. He saw why O.C. was so

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contented. Seedy dungarees hung from her shoulders on black galluses and flapped around her like clown pants. She swam in a denim shirt, and he was still barefoot. “Ain’t your feet cold?” “Yup. But, if ya ain’t got shoes, ya ain’t got shoes.” She looked at him and smiled wide. “I got shoes, Jack, but I’m savin’ ‘em for when it really gets cold. This ain’t cold. Wait’ll you get to Colorado.” She cracked eggs in

the flying pan and stirred. “I was awake last night. Heard you talkin’. I’m glad you’re gonna go along with us.

It’ll be good for W.C. and Joseph. That boy is so upset ‘cause he has to move again, and I don’t blame him much ‘cause seems like that’s all we done for the past few years.” “How old is he?” “Eleven. Hard age.” “And Mildred?” “Seven. She’s my angel.” “Well, you got a nice family. The boy’ll come ‘round.” “Hope so.” Jack went to the Tudor to get the chicken, beans and biscuits, and saw that O.C. had the lower part of the engine back in place.

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“How’s them victuals?” W.C. asked from somewhere under the car. “Oughta be anytime.” Jack went back to the fire. W.C. was right; Betty could cook. “This slumgullion is

plain larrupin’,” Jack said while wallowing a mouthful. “What’s it got in it?” W.C. chuckled. “Told ya.” “Oh, some bacon and taters, few onions, and eggs to hold it together.” She spread jam on Mildred’s biscuit. “Well, it’s just larrupin’, that’s all I gotta say.” “Ain’t never heard that word,” O.C. quipped, “but if it means good, I approve.” “Biscuits are tough, Mama,” Mildred said. “They’re a gift, honey. Be grateful. Eat your chicken and beans.” Jack downed his third coffee, and helped Alice break camp, after which he strolled back to the Tudor that was idling like a new one. “Had to hone that one cylinder just a mite,” W.C. said and dropped the engine covers, “but it’ll be good.” Jack scratched his head and stared at the car. “Amazing,” he said under his breath. “W.C., you are a mechanic. What I owe ya?”

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“Well, how ‘bout you stockin’ up on some groceries for us? Betty tells me she’s runnin’ low, so maybe that’s what you owe me.” W.C. rolled a cigarette after he wiped his hands. “Fair enough.” In a short time, they were on their way. Jack looked at his watch as they pulled out of the park, and it said nine o’clock. W.C. took the lead because he said he knew the way and because he could go faster with the Plymouth engine. After seeing W.C.’s mechanical ability, Jack did not argue. Their goal was Clovis, New Mexico, about two hundred fifty miles. The weather was good—clear, near sixty—and both cars ran well. At Lubbock they stopped and ate: chicken, beans and biscuits until they were gone. They found a store and Jack stocked them with staples, some meat, another chicken and some vegetables, mostly in cans. W.C. bought sack of Bull Durham and some papers, and persuaded Jack to try it. “It’s cheaper and I think the smoke’s sweeter. Ever roll your own?” “A few times in the Navy.” “Navy? You in the war, Jack?”

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“Yeah. France.” “Thought you said Navy.” He lit his cigarette. “That was after the war. I just liked the service.” He was having some trouble rolling a cigarette. “Too much tobacco,” W.C said. “So you was in the Army and the Navy. Well, I’ll be.” “Yup. Still be in if I had my way.” He completed the cigarette after dumping some tobacco, lit it and took a long, deep drag. “Good night. That’ll blow your head off.” “Good, ain’t it?” W.C. smiled at Jack.

Back on the road, Jack smoked Camels because he couldn’t roll smokes and drive, and he smoked a lot more than W.C. The road wasn’t bad, and just before dark, they got to Clovis ready to eat and sleep. Jack was surprised that Clovis was such a large town. Fred told him it was good size, but as they drove through Main Street, they saw scores of businesses and cars lining the street along with several multi-storied buildings. Although it was almost dark, the street was bright with streetlights. W.C. pulled over and Jack came along side. “Better find a camp,” he yelled through the isinglass.

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“Let’s find a gas station and ask.” “Okay. Think I see one up yonder by that drive in.” W.C. took off with Jack on his tail. The gas jockey told them there was a motor camp north of the town, and when they arrived, they saw it was dotted with campfires. “Could be a hobo jungle,” W.C. said. “If it is, we best move on. There’s a lot of hobo kids on the road and they get wild. Kids kicked outta families ‘cause they can’t afford to feed ‘em, so they take to the road. But they’re still kids, if you know what I mean.” “So, how do we know?” “We go there, look around, and decide. Just stay in your car and don’t stop unless I tell you.” When they drove in, they saw cars parked. W.C stopped and leaned out. “Ain’t no hobo jungle, Jack. If they got room, we’ll bed down here.” Jack waved consent, and they pulled up to a gate where a large shed with light in it. Six men stood in the roadway in front of them, one carrying a shotgun. Jack reached in his P-coat, unwrapped the pistol, and caressed it as a man approached W.C.’s car.

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“Evenin’,” said the man who looked to be about 45, tall and slim, wearing bib overalls, a khaki shirt and a soft, floppy cap. He had a dark beard and his eyes were nervous. “You folks campin’ the night?” “Thought we would,” W.C. said. “Cost anything?” “No. Just makin’ sure we don’t get no gangs in here. We don’t need trouble. We’re mostly families here.” “Well, that’s what we are, a family. My wife and two kids, and my brother in that car behind us. Just need a place to camp and eat and sleep. Don’t want no trouble neither.” “Where you from?” the man asked, looking Betty and the kids over. The guy with the shotgun sauntered over to the Tudor, so Jack slipped the safety off the pistol and slid his right finger around the trigger “Dodge City,” W.C answered. “Runnin’ from the dust, huh?” The man softened and smiled at W.C. “Yup.” “Well, so are most of us. We’re headed to route sixtysix and Bakersfield. Pull up past that green tent up yonder. There’s a good, clear place for you. ‘Night.”

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He and the other men went into the shed where Jack could see several kerosene lanterns burning. Other people gathered there, also, talking and smoking. Jack and W.C. managed to get a fire started, and after putting coffee on the new coals, Betty and the kids made bologna sandwiches. Keeping an eye open for anyone coming up on them, they ate silently around the fire. When time came to bed down, Jack told W.C. he’d stay up and finish the coffee, taking the first watch. “Gimme two hours.” He snuggled into his sleeping bag. “An’ leave some coffee.” Jack took out the Bull Durham and rolled one. He was beginning to like them. All was quiet except for voices that sounded far away at night. Settled near the fire, he looked around. Starlight glowed so brightly he could read the print on the tobacco bag, and numerous other campfires stippled the commons. “L.L.F.,” he murmured. “Left leaf first. Okay, come here to me, little paper left leaf.” Tearing a paper from the packet, he fashioned a tiny trough around his left index finger and slipped the yellow string of the Bull Durham bag between his teeth and pulled it open with his right hand. He scattered tobacco in the trough until he

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considered it enough and closed the bag by yanking the string with his teeth. The tobacco he distributed evenly along the trough with his right finger, wrapped the paper around the tobacco, moistened its edge, and rolled the cigarette, twisting one end and shoving the other end in his mouth. He lit it with a twig from the fire. “Lot a work for a smoke.” But he felt it was appropriate to the moment, sitting beside a campfire with stars spread out like frosting and listening to the occasional howl of a coyote or the scream of an owl, rolling his own smoke fit the mood. He looked around at W.C., sleeping with his hunting cap pulled down over his face, and at Betty and the kids snuggled together. Without warning tears ran down his cheeks. “Hey, Jack, y’all right?” It was W.C. standing beside him. “Oh, yeah. I think I got some dust in my eyes.” W.C. stretched and yawned, and then squatted down beside Jack. “Yeah, that must be it. I git dust in my eyes when Betty’s gone, too.” He pulled out his tobacco pouch and began rolling a smoke. “I give you couple hours. Get some sleep.” *

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Awakened by a clatter, Jack sat straight up. His head felt like he’d been swimming under water and his eyes felt sandy. He looked in the direction of the noise and saw Betty flitting around making breakfast. “It’s the middle of the night,” Jack said. “It’s dawn, and William wants to try and make the Colorado line by tonight.” “How far’s that?” “’Round three hundred thirty miles. Now come an’ eat. Got fresh biscuits, fried eggs, and bacon. Coffee’s bubblin’ in the pot. W.C.’s off peein’ and lookin’ for more wood. I need some water. Think you might find some? After you pee, ‘course.” She smiled but didn’t look his

way. She lifted the lid on the biscuits, checked them, and then replaced it. “Joseph and Mildred ‘re still asleep.” Jack rolled out, stretched, lit a Camel and got a bucket from the Tudor. He walked down the path of the campground and saw most folks were packing and getting ready to leave, too. “Pass a good night?” said a man who joined him from one of the tents. “Tolerable. I’m no camper. I like a soft bed and a

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roof.” “I kinda like it out here,” the man said, “except it could be a little warmer. I’m from New Orleans.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m from Texas, I guess, by way of Tennessee, Chicago and Louisville.” “Traveling man.” “No. Just the way it is.” “Well, here we are.” The man stopped by an open well. “Water’s real good. Surprising because this is desert country, you know, so there isn’t a lot of water, especially now with all this drought. But, this is an artesian well, so its got its feet real deep into some underground stream. Lucky to have it.” “Guess so.” Jack tied a rope to the bail of the bucket and lowered it until the rope went slack. He let it fill, and when the rope pulled again, he hauled it up. Tasting the water from his hand, he looked at the and smiled. “You’re right. It is real sweet.” Jack said goodbye and returned to camp. W.C. was back, breakfast was ready, and the kids were shivering under blankets and sipping coffee. “Good water,” Jack announced as he set the bucket down

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and went to the coffee pot. “You doin’ okay?” W.C. asked as Jack sat down. Taking a plate food Betty offered, he said, “Just fine,” and began to eat. “Like to maybe skedaddle in a half hour, if possible,” W.C. said, munching on a piece of bacon. “We got over three hundred miles ‘tween us an’ Branson. Might average, say, thirty to thirty-five miles an hour, if we’re lucky. Maybe get past Las Vegas ‘fore noon and be up close to Raton by night. But we got some rough territory facin’ us, Jack, so we don’t know what we’ll get into.” “William, you said you wanted to be at the Colorado line by tonight,” Betty said. “Well, Raton’s close. Branson’s only ‘bout fifties miles away. We can cross into Colorado in the mornin’. Might find better camps on this side. Okay, now we get eighty-five outta Las Vegas, and it’s a straight shot right up to Pueblo and Denver. Oughta be in Pueblo by tomorrow if we don’t break down, and by the next day you and your wife’ll be gittin’ it on.” He laughed a high

pitched laugh and was joined by Betty who was laughing and snorting. Joseph and Mildred laughed, too, and Jack joined in although he could feel himself blushing.

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When he’d quit laughing, W.C. said, “Sorry, Jack. Just that me and Betty know what it’s like.” * When they drove out, a lip of red sun was on the horizon. Before noon, they drove into Las Vegas, looking for U.S. 85. “Big town,” W.C. declared while they all sipped coffee on the plaza. “Looky there at that hotel yonder,” Betty said, pointing at a huge hotel on the outer edge of the plaza. “Boy, that’d hold lots of people,” W.C answered. “Railroad town, Jack said. “AT&SF.” “Okay, Mr. Ashcat,” W.C snapped back, “what’s A-T and . . . what’s the rest?” “AT&SF. What’d you call me?” “Mr. Ashcat. You was a fireman on the railroad, you told me. Ain’t that an ashcat?” Jack guffawed. “Ain’t heard that for ages. You’re right. They called us ashcats. Bell ringers, too.” He thrust a Camel in his mouth and lit it. “AT&SF, smart alack, means Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe. And it runs through here. See the sign when we come into town?” “Nope. Lookin’ for 85.”

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They found the highway meandering through town and followed it until they felt like natives. On the northeast side of the city, the highway took off into the country, and they stopped for more bologna sandwiches and cold coffee. The gas jockey where they filled their tanks told them that as far as he knew, the road to Pueblo and Denver was good. “It’s a good road. Government takes care of it, and it’s really the only way to Denver from here.” “Any snow?” W.C. asked. “Not here, but might be as you get closer to Pueblo. Been a dry winter to far. Just be careful and you’ll be all right.” Each mile was prayed over by Jack and W.C. that no breakdowns would occur. Joseph came out of his gloom and rode with Jack for a few miles. Jack thought he was a smart boy, curious about everything he saw; asking questions a mile a minute until Jack was worn out. Later, Mildred took her turn with Jack, and slept most of the time. Just before sundown they drove into Raton, their last stop before Colorado, where they planned to rest. “Lots of mining ‘round here, Jack,” W.C said. “But times’r tough, right now. Heard mines’r shut down.”

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“Don’t doubt it.” “Let’s drive north. I know a place we can camp.” After driving less than a mile, W.C. stopped near the Springer road sign, and got out with a rifle. He ran into an open field and in seconds Jack heard a shot. “Wahoo!” W.C screamed from the field. “We eat high on the hog tonight, Jack.” An enormous jackrabbit dangled from his hand as he ran toward the cars while Betty and the kids jumped up and down and squealed. W.C. smiled from ear to ear. Unable to resist the opening, Jack rolled down his window and said, “W.C., that’s a rabbit, not a hog.” They pulled up a half mile north of town and camped. Betty made rabbit stew with canned vegetables and herbs, mostly wild sage she’d found nearby. W.C. noted the sage wasn’t as pungent as summer sage but tasty nonetheless. Lounging by the fire, he turned to Jack and said, “High on the jackrabbit, hey?” “Yessir, larrupin’.” Betty sat next to W.C., wrapped in a blanket, her bare feel tucked under her husband, while Joseph and Mildred lit twigs in the fire and menaced each other with the tiny

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torches. “Sure glad you come along with us, Jack.” Betty smiled. “Welcome company for me and William and the kids.” “Yeah, Jack,” W.C. said. “Maybe you oughta see if there’s a job for you in Pueblo. No need to break up a set. Go get your wife and bring her back. I bet my dad’s got somethin’ you could do.” Jack thought a minute. “I don’t know, W.C. I’ll have to talk to Eva. I’m not sure what she wants to do. But it’s a thought and I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks for your interest.” He rolled smoke, lit it, and went on, “I really want to get back with the railroad. I love railroadin’, and I miss it. Eva said that the D&RGW was doing some expansion into the mountains and adding diesels. Might be hiring, so thought I’d give it a look-see.” “There you go again, Ashcat.” “Denver and Rio Grande Western.” They all chuckled. “Well, you know you can always look us up,” W.C. said. * A scudding gray sky tagged along with them as they traveled to Trinidad the next morning, and right at the entrance of town they spotted a red gas pump by a shack with a sign that said, “Frontier 90 Octane Gasoline” in black letters. W.C. pulled up to the pump first and hopped

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out. “Hey, Jack, it’s gotta hand crank. Seen those in the 20s.” Jack rolled down his window and looked. “I’ll be darned. Last one I saw was in Tennessee.” Out of the passenger window he saw a very large man wrapped in a heavy blanket stroll out of the shack and come to the Tudor. Under the blanket Jack could see he had a coat that looked like a horse blanket. Topping his head was a large-brimmed black hat with a round crown over long, stringy hair. He leaned down and stuck his head in the window. “Gas?” “Mornin’,” W.C. shouted and sauntered over to the Tudor. “Think it’s gonna get cold ‘round here?” When he turned to W.C., Jack saw he was an Indian, young, with heavy features and almond-shaped eyes. “Might wanna fill mine first,” W.C. said as he approached. “I’m closer.” Without a word, the Indian took the pump hose, lifted the gas cap of W.C.’s car, and placed the nozzle in the opening. He began pumping gas, dispensing one gallon for each complete revolution. Jack got out, put on his P-coat and watch cap, stretched and yawned.

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“It’s 14 out here this morning,” the Indian said. Jack and W.C. watched the lad pump gas, and then turned and sauntered to a vacant lot beside the station. “Might as well take in the view,” W.C. said, “’cause we’re gonna to be here awhile.” Jack lit a cigarette and

W.C. rolled one and peeked in on his family. Everyone was asleep. “How far to Denver?” Jack asked the Indian. “Hundred ninety-eight miles.” He huffed with each gallon. They stared north over the vacant lot. “Colder ‘n miner’s ass,” W.C. said. “Colder than Las Vegas, sure,” Jack said. “Lucky we ain’t broke down. Even the tires held.” He chuckled and clapped Jack on his back. “Thought you’d break somethin’ yesterday when you had to back up that hill.” Jack laughed. “Model-As,” W.C. continued, “is good ol’ cars but ain’t worth a shit on hills.” “Yeah.” Jack puffed his cigarette and flipped the butt away. “Well, we got some flats and canyons ahead, but the land’ll get higher as we get closer to Pueblo. More foothills and mountains.” He flipped his butt near where

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Jack’s landed and looked back to where the Indian was still working. “It’ll get colder, too, ‘specially ‘round Pueblo. Might even snow. Now once you’re in Denver, you’ll be a mile high. Capital building downtown has a step with a brass plate that says if you stand there, you’ll be exactly one mile above sea level.” “I’ll have to find that step.” “You want that one filled, too?” the Indian called to them. “Yup.” Jack answered, and they walked back to the gas pumps. “Need to pull your car up,” the lad said. “Okay. W.C., gotta get outta my way.” “Right.” They each moved their cars and rejoined the lad as he pumped gas into the Tudor. “Come far?” the Indian asked. “Port Arthur, Texas,” Jack said. “I come from Dodge City, Kansas.” W.C. leaned against the side of his car. “Both come a ways.” The lad labored to pump the gas. “Left Raton this mornin’,” W.C. said. “Go through Vegas?” “Yeah,” Jack answered. “Big place. Looks like it’s got

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a lot of people.” “That’s where I’m from. My folks still live there.” “Well, how come you way up here bustin’ a gut pumpin’gas? W.C. said. “Worked for the railroad. Got laid off. My uncle owns this place, so he offered to let me run it while he runs his restaurant in Pueblo.” He pumped the last gallon into Jack’s car and hung the hose. Bending over and leaning on his knees, he panted. “Aw, man, that gets old after a while.” “Said your uncle runs a restaurant in Pueblo?” W.C. asked. The Indian raised up, dug in his coat for a cigarette. “Yeah. A burger joint. Makes the best goddamned burgers in the country.” He lit his cigarette. “Y’oughta try him when you get there.” Brightening, W.C. said, “I’m from Pueblo. What’s he call the place? Maybe I been there.” Las Vegas looked like it might have jobs,”

“The Teepee. Can’t miss it ‘cause it’s built like a teepee.” “Damn.” W.C. hollered and smiled. “Your uncle Matt Three Bears?”

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“Yes he is. Know him?” “Know him? I worked for the sumbitch when I was in

school. Doggies. Ol’ Matthew Three Bears. What’s your name, kid?” “Owen. Owen Three Bears. Matt’s my daddy’s brother.” W.C. laughed, looked at Jack. “Jack, I got stories ‘bout that place and old Matt that’ll keep you in stitches.” He turned to Owen. “Kid, your uncle is a wild man, you know that?” “Yeah. Me and him’s done a few things together.” Owen grinned. “So far we ain’t been caught.” W.C. laughed again. “Well, I declare. I go there every time I go home. Now I can tell ol’ Matt I met his nephew.” “Try a burger, too.” “I know ‘bout them burgers, and you’re right. They’re the best anywhere.” W.C. turned to Jack. “We’ll have to stop, Jack. Old Matt’ll probably treat us.” “Tell him I sent you and he will,” Owen said. “What’s the damages?” Jack fished out his wallet. “Two dollars, each. Need oil?” “You can check.” Jack walked to the front of his car, and the Indian lifted the an engine flap. Pulling the oil

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stick, he said, “Quart low.” “I got some on the running-board. Blue can.” “Check mine, too, Owen. If it needs it I got some on my runnin’ board, too. I’m gonna take a piss out back.” W.C. disappeared back of the shack. Owen got the can from Jack’s car, popped the top, pulled out the nozzle, flipped open the oil cap, placed the nozzle in the opening, and pumped the thumb primer. “Like pumpin’ gas. One squirt at a time.” He went to W.C.’s car and did the same thing. “What I owe for the oil job?” “Compliments of the house.” W.C. returned and paid Owen for his portion of gas. As they drove away, Owen waved and shouted for them to take care. Jack looked back in his rear-view mirror and watched him wave and then go back in the shack. * The drive to Pueblo was not easy. W.C. was right about more hills and mountains, and the surface of the road was pretty good but not as good as the stretch in New Mexico. Two times Jack had to back up hills with W.C. close behind as a shield. They saw other Fords, T’s and A’s, doing the same.

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Around five o’clock that evening they rolled into Pueblo. W.C. stopped and got out; Jack did the same. “This here’s home, Jack. Mighty pretty place, ain’t it?” “Sure is. Why’d you ever leave?” “Like I said, I was money hungry.” Evening sunshine allowed Jack to see that the town was neat and clean. He guessed the temperature was around 20, but the sky was bright blue, not gray as in New Mexico. With mountains and hills surrounding it, Pueblo gave Jack a cozy feeling. “Can’t understand how anyone could leave somethin’ like this. It’s beautiful, W.C.” “Yeah. I thought I knew it all and was tired of the same old place. You know, live in a place all your life and don’t ‘preciate it?” “Yeah, I know that well. Not until you come back after a long time do you appreciate it.” “That’s right.” W.C. looked off to the northeast and pointed. “See them buildings over yonder? That’s a new university. My daddy told me about it. Call it Colorado Sate University. Started up last year. I might go over there and get myself some schoolin’.” He laughed. “Do it.”

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“Shit. Dumb as I am they wouldn’t let me come in the door. But maybe my kids later on when they’re growed.” He

paused. “Say, Jack, my dad’s got a big house and I’m sure he’d let you stay the night. You could get a good rest and start early for Denver in the mornin’. I can draw you a map to get anywhere in town you wanna go. I know that place like the back of my hand. Y’ain’t but 113 miles away. How’s that sound?” “Sounds good, if you think your daddy won’t mind.” “Oh, hell no, he won’t mind. He’s a pretty good ol’ man, and my mamma can cook better’n Betty, and you know what she can do. So saddle up, we’re goin’ home.” W.C. trotted back to his car and jumped in, they were off. * In less than fifteen minutes they stopped in front of a sprawling Victorian house set in the middle of a grove of pines. W.C. jumped out and signaled for Jack to come, while Betty and the kids ran to the door. When it opened a man and a woman scooped the children up in their arms and hugged Betty. W.C. and Jack walked up together. “Good to see you, Mom.” W.C. hugged his mother, kissing her cheek. “Daddy.” They bear hugged and kissed each other on the lips.

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Turning to Jack, he grabbed his arm and pulled him over. “Folks, this here’s Jack Stewart. We met up in Seymour, Texas, and he’s on his way to Denver to see his wife. Needs a place to stay the night, so I brung him here.” W.C.’s dad stuck out his hand to Jack and smiled, “Welcome, Jack. Any friend of W.C.’s welcome here. My name’s Eldridge Coston, ever’body calls me . . .” “E.C.” Jack said and grinned. Eldridge threw his head back and laughed loudly, “How’d you know?” “A lucky guess.” Jack joined the laughter. “This here’s my wife, Alice,” E.C. said. “We don’t dare call he A.C. for obvious reasons, so we call her Ellie.” He started laughing again. “Pleasure, ma’am.” Supper was fried chicken with all the trimmings, and the conversation was lively. E.C. was an old fashioned storyteller and Jack was a new audience. The kids were ecstatic to be off the road and in a house, running all over the place to the delight of their grandparents, and the bed was so soft and wonderful, Jack considered asking E.C. if he would adopt him. When morning came and Jack was invited to take a hot shower, he was sure that he was

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dreaming and did not want to wake up. Alice fixed a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and ham, juice and coffee, and Jack thought he’d die from stuffing himself. As he started to leave, E.C. put his arm around him and said, “You got a job here if you want it. Just let me know. W.C. told me all about you last night.” “I appreciate that so much. In these times you don’t know what’ll happen. Thanks, E.C.” Jack thanked Alice for the fantastic food, said goodbye to Betty and the kids, and W.C. walked him out. Another blue sky overwhelmed them, but the temperature was around 16. “Okay, Jack,” W.C. said as Jack got into the Tudor and started it. “I wrote you a map here. You said you needed to get downtown to Landers’ Restaurant, which I’ve et in many a time, so here’s the way. You’ll come into Lakewood first but just keep going till you get to Englewood just up the road.” He held the map for Jack to study and traced the route with his finger. “Now, once you get to Englewood, look for Broadway, 85’ll cross it. Go north on Broadway to 15th street, turn left and go a couple of blocks and you’ll see Landers’ big red sign. Can’t miss it.”

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“Thanks. How far did you say?” “From Pueblo, 113 miles. That’s to Denver. Now Lakewood’ll come sooner, so keep you eyes open.” “Right.” “You’ll go through the Springs and Castle Rock before you get to Lakewood. You can’t get lost as long as you stay on 85. Okay?” “Okay.” W.C. let go of the map, and Jack laid it on the passenger seat. “Gonna miss you, Jack.” He took Jack’s extended hand. “Lemme know how you do, and always remember, you got a place here. Pop wasn’t blowin’ smoke about a job.” “I’ll remember that. I’ll see you again, don’t worry about that. I’ll load Eva up some Sunday and come down and we’ll all eat at the Teepee.” “You’re on, Buddy. Take care.” W.C. closed the door and waved as Jack took off.

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Chapter 46 To her surprise Mr. Lander’s told Eva she could skip breakfast and come in at noon since she worked to closing the night before. Knowing tips were few at breakfast, she took advantage and slept an extra hour. Snow had covered the streets during the night, and it looked dreary and cold. She figured breakfast would be a waste of time. After taking a long, hot bath and washing her hair, she decided to become Claudette Colbert. “Oh, yes, I will,” she said to her image in the mirror. “I will be Claudette in It Happened One Night and drive Mr. Gable crazy.” She giggled while she applied pomade to her hair, glancing frequently at the picture of Claudette she had taped to her dressing table. “Maybe I’ll be discovered, eh, Miss Colbert?” She winked at herself in the mirror and set to work to replicate the sassy Claudette in the picture. “Shall I snuggle in furs? Feather my bangs above my eyes like you? Ah, but Claudette, mon cheri, my hair is feathered all over my head.” She giggled, then stopped and stared at herself. “You are a ninny, Eva girl, if you think you could be Claudette Colbert. Might as well expect the sun to rise in the west.” Crossing her eyes, she stuck out her tongue and laughed.

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She flipped on the radio, lit a cigarette, and sat on the bed, leaning against the headboard. When the radio warmed up, she heard Walter Winchell’s voice calling “Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.” “What’s he doing on? Must be a rebroadcast.” Winchell attacked his favorite target, Adolph Hitler, when she turned it off. “God, how that man’s voice grates on my nerves.” Crushing out her smoke, she grabbed a copy of Time from the side table and thumbed through it. “Hope this pomade dries before I go to work.” She smoothed her hair and continued to read. * Just like W.C. said, Landers’ red neon sign was hard to miss blazing away in the gray light of noon when Jack pulled to the curb on Lake and shut the Tudor down. He was so excited to see Eva that he almost fell on the icy street. He peeked in the window and saw Landers’ was not busy; in the corner by the counter one customer lingered over a cup and read a newspaper. A short, dumpy brunette with large glasses on a prominent nose, stood behind the counter, sipping something steaming. Jack went to the counter. “Does Eva Stewart work here?”

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Sipping her drink, the waitress eyed Jack. He looked like a hobo to her: scruffy beard, dark circles under his red eyes, breath almost visibly rank, hair a nest of snakes—-she guessed he’d come off a colossal drunk. “I don’t know. Who’r you?” “Jack Stewart, her husband. I drove from Port Arthur, Texas, practically overnight, I’m so tired I’m sick, my ass is sore from sittin’ so long, and I don’t want to be messed with. Does Eva Stewart work here?” His face turned white and his eyes darkened. She hesitated a moment longer, then broke into a broad smile and said, “So you’re Jack. I’ll be damned. She said you were ugly, but, damn, I didn’t think you were this ugly.” She laughed heartily and set her cup on the counter. “She works here but she ain’t here. She’s probably home, in her room, next door at the Bond.” She laughed again. “Does she know you’re coming?” “No. Just decided to come.” He was relieved that he didn’t have to get upset. “I would give my right arm to be a fly on the wall when she opens the door and sees you. Damn.” She stuck out her hand. “Shake, Jack. I feel I know you already because you’re all she talks about.” She smiled broadly as she

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pumped Jack’s arm and laughed softly. “Hey, I didn’t mean anything about being ugly. That’s just our way of saying you look mighty good. You need to go up and see that gal. Turn right out the door, hotel door’s maybe twenty feet. Kid at the desk is Ely. Tell him Bonnie said you were okay and to show you to Eva’s room.” She was still smiling as Jack turned to go. “My arm to be a fly on the wall.” Ely was asleep, stretched in a tattered wingback, his feet propped on a footstool and his mouth open. Jack beat on the bell until it broke, and Ely stumbled to his feet. “What’s Eva Stewart’s room number? I’m Jack Stewart, her husband, and Bonnie said I was okay. What room?” Ely groped his way over to the counter, scratching his head and frowning at Jack. “Whose room? Bonnie? What the hell are you talking about, fella?” He leaned on the counter and yawned. “I am Jack Stewart, Eva’s husband and I want to know where she is, now.” Jack was within inches of Ely’s face. “Oh, Jesus. Where have you been?” He backed off. “I smelled a dog’s ass that was sweeter’n your breath. God damn. Dead people don’t stink like that.” He rubbed his nose and mouth. “Okay, just settle down a minute and let me come to.”

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“You go ‘round smelling dogs’ asses?” “Ah, fuck, man cover your mouth. Jesus.” Fanning his face with his hand, he said, “Now, who’s it you wanna see?” He rubbed his eyes and face, again. “Shit. Am I still sleeping? Is this your dream or mine?” “It’s going to be your nightmare.” Jack shouted. “Don’t shout, please. Eva? Eva Stewart. You’re her what?” “Husband, dumb-ass, husband.” “Bonnie? Bonnie at Landers?” “Bonnie at Landers. She said to tell you it was all right. I was all right.” “Two thirty-four.” Ely returned to his chair, put his feet up on the threadbare green footstool, stretched out, and closed his eyes. “She is in room 234, top of stairs to the right.” Jack took the stairs two at a time. He found the door but hesitated before knocking. “Okay, what are you going to say, Jack?” he whispered. “The truth, I suppose. I missed you, I don’t understand what in the hell is going on, I don’t want to be dangled like a goddamned puppet on a string, and I am so screwed up without you I can’t function. Or, just, ‘Hi, kiddo.

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It’s me, you lucky girl.’”

Leaning against the wall

opposite the door, he sighed. “Fuck it.” He knocked on the door and braced himself. Whatever will happen will happen, he thought. Dozing, Eva jumped as if shot. “Who is it?” she called, getting off the bed and moving toward the door. “Telegram.” The voice was low and muffled. “Oh, my God.” Eva went to the door and unlocked it. “Something’s happened.” She opened the door and peered around the edge with half her face. Jack grinned at her. Her mouth dropped open, her eyes widened, and she felt like someone had punched her in the stomach. For a moment, she could not react; she just stared at him. “Jack?” “Yeah, it’s me, kiddo. Glad to see me?” “Jack.” She opened the door wider and stepped into view. “What are you doing here?” “Well, I was hoping we could be together for awhile. Maybe like a married couple?” He paused and studied her.

What did she do to her hair? “Am I interrupting something?” Maybe she met someone. “No. No, I’m just shocked to see you.” A slight smile

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crossed her face and a glint came to her eyes. “Of all the people in all the world, you were not supposed to be here.” The slight smile broadened. “But I am delighted.”

She jumped on him and wrapped her legs around him. He enclosed her in his arms, and both cried. “I’m lost without you.” Jack whispered in her ear and kissed it. Sobbing, Eva pulled him closer to her. “I’ve missed you too. I didn’t realize until now how much I’ve missed you.” “Oh, my God, you smell so good, you feel so good, you taste so good. I’ve never wanted anyone so much as you.” Despite his foul breath, she found his mouth, and they devoured each other. For an eternity they transcended time and were alone somewhere pure and unreachable. Eva finally pulled away and said, “I think we need to go in and close the door. Someone may think I’m soliciting.” Without uncoupling, they managed to move into the room and close the door, kiss intact. They made love on the squeaky bed, and afterward agreed they felt so satisfied that their lives were complete, even if they died. As they lay exhausted, somewhere in a distant quadrant of her mind, Eva felt she needed to be somewhere else, but her body refused to move. Jack swam in some dream where the

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world was at his feet and laughter accompanied his existence. I am dead and this is heaven and I am so happy. Eva spoke first. “I have to go to work. Mr. Landers expects me.” “Quit.” “I can’t.” She rolled out and went to the bathroom. “I smell like a brothel.” “How many brothels you been in?” “Just ours. I have to go. I’ll be off around six, maybe seven if we’re busy.” She washed herself in the lavatory. “You need a bath because you stink. Shows how much I love you or how horny I was to overlook the stench.” “Stench. It was a stench?” Jack lay on his back, eyes closed. “It is now.” “Come over here and say that.” “Forget it.” “Dare you.” “I said, forget it.” She put on clean underclothes and her uniform, a short-sleeved, coffee-beige dress with a white collar and white cuffs. “Didn’t notice a stench,” Jack said.

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“In the heat of combat, how would you notice.” “Good point.” She applied some makeup, brushed her hair, which she thought did resemble Claudette Colbert’s in the picture, and put on a rose-colored cloth coat with large pockets and a broad collar. “I’ll see you then. Bathe. Sleep. I know you’re exhausted. We’ll talk when I get home.” She

kissed him. “I am glad you’re here, even though I’m not.” For a moment after she left Jack lay immersed in the sweet elixir of lovemaking: relaxed, light, and comfortable. “I need a cigarette.” He rolled over and grabbed his pack from the side table and lit one. “Now what the hell does that mean: You’re glad I’m here, but you’re not?”

Chapter 47 The sun shone as Eva stepped out of the hotel. Shading her eyes, she looked up at the blue sky and smiled. She loved Denver because the sun shone every day, maybe only for a short time, but it shone. Snow still lay on the street and sidewalk, but people were shoveling the walks and city crews were busy on the streets.

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In Landers’, Bonnie sat at the counter, her back to the door, reading. “Be right with you,” she said, not turning around. “Two alligator sandwiches and a bowl of lice,” Eva said as she walked toward the counter. No one else was in the restaurant. “Comin’ right up,” Bonnie answered, continuing to read. “Bonnie,” Eva yelled and sat down next to her. “What?” Bonnie spun around. “Eva. Jesus. You scared me.” “What if I had been a customer?” “You’d a been shit outta luck.” “And where are my alligator sandwiches?” “Did you get some?” Bonnie grinned. “What are you talking about?” Eva gaped at her and grinned back. “Don’t do that to me, Eva. You know what I’m talking about. I saw him. He’s beautiful. Did you get a poke?” Eva got up, took off her coat and walked to the kitchen, followed by Bonnie. “If it was any of your business, I might tell you. But it isn’t.” “That’s a yes, right?” Bonnie called after a giggling

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Eva who cleared the swinging doors into the kitchen. The cook stood behind the steam table stirring something. “You can mind your own business, too,” she said as she walked back to the locker room. “What?” the cook said, looking up and frowning. Lunch was busier than expected. Most all the customers were shoppers, although a few were going to movies, and the orders were mainly cheap sandwiches, burgers or chili, a favorite on cold days, served with oyster crackers and coffee. At 5:30, the place was empty. Bonnie, who was the titular manager for the day decided that if there was no activity by eight o’clock, she’d close. At 7:43, a couple came in dressed to the nines and ordered steak dinners with all the trimmings. The entire staff was pissed. “Just lock the goddamned door.” Alvado, the sous chef, shouted in Spanish. * For Eva the afternoon was easy because she had only two tables: malted milks and one set of hamburgers with french fries. It gave her time to think about Jack and their relationship, their future together, if there was a future together. She was honest when she told Jack she missed him

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and was glad he had come, but she was also miffed that he’d come at this time. Being separated had not been a problem for her because she knew she could return to him anytime, so she concentrated on herself and didn’t think about him much. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten him, but she admitted to herself that she had taken him for granted, which was what annoyed her; he didn’t belong in her life right now. He came out of left field, an ambivalent surprise. She’d told herself several times that in many ways they were almost strangers; they’d been married for five months and had known each other for little over a year. Living single and alone had been fine with her, and even after they married and moved to Louisville, she still felt single at heart, wanting to do what she wanted to do when she wanted to do it. The joy of marriage died with her divorce. And the marriage vows haunted her. In sickness and in health, until death do us part. For better or for worse. It felt like a trap. She went through the sickness business with Jack when he injured his toe. But what else would there be? And what about her sickness and health? Would he be there for her? Yeah, he fixed her tooth, but

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he was in love with her. In ten years or so, when the new had worn off their relationship and their bodies, would he be there? Why should or could anyone promise to be faithful forever no matter what? at some time along the way? and disgusted him? What if he disgusted her

What if she disappointed him

Were they to remain together and live

lives of disgust just because they had made vows at some emotional time? All these questions she pondered as she wiped tables and did her side work that evening. She confessed to herself that she did love the sex. Jack was creative, attentive and experienced, and he made her feel like she alone existed in the universe. Was she a slut looking for a good time in bed but accepting none of the responsibilities. And what were the responsibilities? Love, honor, obey until death do us part. Love, honor, obey until death do us part. She didn’t know if she could you do that again? She realized the business with Flora Mae simply awoke feelings in her that she had pushed down. The truth was that she had never come to grips with what Jack Herrick had done to her, and when Flora Mae raised her beautiful head, it brought all those feelings to the top. Poor Jack Stewart, she thought, screwed before he had a chance. She

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felt bad about that. Eva’s mind was like a taffy pull. Do I love Jack Stewart? How would I know? I believed I loved Jack Herrick. Love. The age-old question of what the hell is it. I love you. What does that mean? Love, love, love, love. Stupid word for something that’s supposed to mean everything. Nations are built on it, people dedicate their lives to it, give their lives for it, but never, ever are able to define it, describe it, experience it. She wasn’t sure she wanted responsibility for another person’s life, dedicate herself to the task? Could he?

At nine she finished her side work and she left. Although she decided didn’t want responsibility for anyone else, she wasn’t sure she could leave Jack. “But I have to be me,” she muttered as she walked. “Not sure yet what that means, but I gotta do it. Be true to it. If Jack can accept that, then maybe we can make it. If not, goodbye Jack, nice to have known you.” Cook had made her two big sandwiches to go, and she took two coffees, one with lots of cream and sugar. She was crying when she got to the hotel. * Jack woke when he heard the key in the door and rolled

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over to sit on the side of the bed. “Hey, Kiddo.” He rubbed his eyes. “Hi. Brought us some coffee and sandwiches.” She pushed the door shut with her hip and brought the food to the bedside table. After switching on the lamp, she tossed her coat over the pillows and deposited her apron on top. Jack caught her scent—a perfumy, sweaty, musky scent that made him smile up at her. Taking her hand he pulled her to him and let his hands roam over her body. “You feel so good in that uniform.” She bent and kissed him. “Missed you,” he said as she pulled away. “You slept.” She took the sandwiches from the bag and popped the tops of the coffees. “I’m glad because you were exhausted.” “I had some energy left, as I remember.” He grinned. Handing him a roast beef sandwich and a coffee, she sat beside him. “Jack, we gotta talk.” She got a sandwich for herself. “Uh, oh. I know what that means. I’ve heard it so many times before.” “Oh? Okay, what does it mean?” She bit into her

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sandwich and sipped some coffee. He placed his unwrapped sandwich on the bed, his coffee on the floor, and lit a cigarette, pulling a large gulp of smoke into his lungs before he looked at her. “It usually means I’m being dumped and asked if we can be friends.” He did not smile, and his eyes were grave and intense. Eva hesitated, looked away, and took another bite of sandwich. After chewing for some time, she turned to Jack and said, “Could be, but not necessarily. That’s why we have to talk. And I need you to talk, too, not just sit there and bob your head and smoke. We’re at a crossroads, Jack, and I have to tell you, I think I know which way I’m going. It’s possible we’re not going the same way.” Leaning on his knees, Jack smoked and said nothing. Knowing this time would come, he’d thought about it on his drive from Texas, considered it before going to sleep that afternoon, and dreaded it. Eva stared at him. “Ladies first.” Eva put her sandwich on the bedside table and sipped coffee. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m not sure I want to be married.” Jack took another long drag. “I caught that.” “Let me say it in a different way. I am not sure I want

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the responsibility of being married, the responsibility of another person’s life. And I think married people are responsible for each other; they’re duty-bound by the vows they take and by the love they feel for one another. And, Jack, I do love you. I truly love you. You may be the best man I’ve ever known, and that’s one reason why I’m not sure I want the responsibility of you. I’m afraid I’ll mess it up, hurt you. Does any of this make sense?” Jack scratched his head and said, “No. Not really. I agree we’re supposed to take care of each other, but dutybound? That sounds to me like it’s forced. Like bein’ in the service or somethin’ where you do your duty whether you want to or not because if you don’t bad things will happen. I can’t understand how that has anything to do with being married. I do stuff for you because I love you, because I choose to, not because I have to. I ain’t forced. At least I don’t feel forced.” “Till death do us part?” “Yeah?” “What if it doesn’t work down the line? Jack, you know what I experienced in my first marriage, you know what I’ve told you about my parents’ marriage. I don’t have a lot of good examples of marriage, and, frankly, I’m scared

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to death. When Flora Mae came into the picture, I thought nothing of it at first. One of Jack’s flings, I thought. You said it was over, and I believed you. But the day I found that phone number in your pocket, I thought I’d choke. I actually found it hard to breathe and thought I’d pass out. Finding that note changed me, Jack. Memories I thought I’d gotten rid of came back. “My entire first marriage with Jack Herrick flashed before me, and how he had swindled me out of my womanhood. Then I thought of you, and how you came along out of nowhere. Yeah, I pushed you away, but after I found you to be what I thought was the opposite of Jack Herrick, I trusted you with all my heart because I needed to. I pushed down the mistrust of men that I carried from my first marriage, but I know now that I can’t push it down. It’s right here.” She put her hand inches in front of her face. “I see it all the time. It’s part of me. How can I put you through that? I know nothing happened between you and Flora Mae after we were married, but I see you in bed with her because I know at one time you were, even if it was before we met. I can’t get it out of my mind.” Jack got up and went to the bathroom where he flushed his cigarette down. Returning, he leaned against a wall

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facing Eva. He couldn’t look at her because he was afraid he’d cry, or laugh. To him it seemed so funny, so silly because he loved Eva with all his heart. But he wanted to cry because Eva was in so much pain, and it made him feel guilty because he could do nothing to end it. And that bewildered him; he’d always been able to make people happy. What was he doing wrong with Eva? “Let me ask you a question, Kiddo. Why did you marry me? I think you’re the one who proposed. Frankly, I was dumbfounded because you resisted me so strong. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, it’s ‘Jack, let’s get married.’ I’m very mixed up.” “Jack, I told you all that in the hospital. Didn’t you listen? I married you because I was scared.” She looked up at him. He was angry. “Well, I’ll be goddamned. Jesus, Eva I’ve been made a fool. You used me, huh? Is that what you’re sayin’?” He stood over her, leaning in and frowning. His eyes were dark and his face was pale. “Jack. Calm down. Why didn’t you react like this when I first told you?” “I don’t remember you telling me.” He was still angry.

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“Okay, let me try to explain again. Like I said, I was scared. After the stock market crashed and Gus closed, I had no prospects. I guess I panicked. I couldn’t bear the thought of not having a job and having to move back in with Aunt Vera or, God forbid, with my mother. I knew you wanted to get married, and although I wasn’t too keen on having a speakeasy bouncer for a husband, I knew you were a good man, a kind man. You had always treated me like I was special, and my family adored you. So…” “Did you ever love me, or did you lie?” She hesitated. Jack felt like he’d been sucker punched. “To be honest, I didn’t know. I liked you very much, and I enjoyed you, not only sexually, but you were funny, hilarious, actually. You were a big kid and you made me laugh and really believe everything would be all right. You’re an optimist, Jack, and I’m just the opposite. I needed you to keep me from… from going sour. I knew you loved me, and I hoped that I could grow to love you, and I have for the most part. It’s just that when Flora Mae entered our lives, so did Jack Herrick.” “Goddamn it, Eva. I am not Jack Herrick. Can’t you get that through your head? Or are you just too goddamned stupid to see the difference?”

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Her eyes darkened. She looked at him as she had that day at Gus’s when she told him to leave her alone. “I am not stupid. I have been through things you could not dream of on your best day.” She clenched her teeth and stared

at him coldly. “I had my heart ripped out of me. I had my ability to be a mother ripped out of me. I was humiliated in front of my family, my friends, and my co-workers. Don’t you dare say I’m stupid. You don’t know.” “I know all that. You’ve told me a hundred times. For God’s sake you wear it on your sleeve for everyone to see. But what in the hell does that have to do with me? I haven’t mistreated you, so why do I have to suffer for it? I don’t understand. I just don’t understand.” “What you need to understand is that I will probably never get over it. I might, as you put it so well, wear it on my sleeve the rest of my life. It’s part of me. You’ll either accept that or you need to leave.” “I will not live my life compared to that son-of-abitch, and it’s not fair for you demand it. It’s like some goddamned threat. What if I went around comparing you to some woman I’ve known? Flora Mae. What if I told you that I loved you but you reminded me of Flora Mae?” Eva laughed out loud. “After seeing her I’d take it as

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a supreme compliment.” “You know what I mean.” “Yes. Yes, I do know what you mean.” She paused and sipped coffee. “And I have been unfair. You certainly are not Jack Herrick, absolutely nothing like him. I’m sorry I compared you, and as time goes by I hope that will change, except it might not. There’s always that possibility.” “Then I walk on eggs the rest of my fucking life, right?” “I hate that word. I think if you say it in my presence one more time, I will leave.” The cold stare returned. “In answer to your question, yes, you may have to walk on eggs forever if we get back together.” “So, what do I get? It’s all about your comfort. What about mine? Don’t I get a stake in this?” He snuffed his cigarette in the toilet again, and came back and pulled on his shoes. Grabbing his P-coat and watch cap, he headed for the door. “If you walk out, take all your stuff because you won’t get back in.” He turned to her. “Eva, what do you want me to do? I don’t think I can live with what you’re demanding.”

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“That’s why I said I don’t think I’m good for you. I’ll hurt you in the end.” “What a load of bullshit. Sounds like an excuse so you can go your way.” They both fell silent. Jack looked at the floor, then spoke softly, “As far as I can gather, the last year was a lie, right? Our whole marriage is a lie?” “Yes, in a way. I don’t think I lied to you, exactly. I…” “You just got through saying you didn’t love me when we got married.” “Please let me finish. I don’t really know what love is, Jack. No one does, do they? I felt something for you. It was warm and comforting. I cared for you very much. But, no, it wasn’t love in a classical sense.” “What’s that mean?” He’d dropped his coat and was leaning against the door. “I guess it wasn’t love like in the movies or a book, full of happy-ever-after kind of things. I wanted to be with you, I enjoyed you, but I always felt I could go on without you. I didn’t have to stay with you.” “Hell’s bells.” He picked up his coat and opened the

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door. “Can I finish before you run?” “All right.” He closed the door but did not turn to her. “I feel I’ve done the right thing by being open and honest with you, Jack. I could have told you what you wanted to hear. I could have really lied. But a month from now, or less, we’d be back at the same place. Lies always break down.” “You don’t say.” “Don’t be bitter.” He chuckled and opened the door again “I still don’t understand why you want me.” He closed the door and stared at her a moment. “I don’t know why. I don’t want to know why. Is it so important to know why? Do you just need to hear it over and over? I love you. I love you. I do not know why. I just love you.” He stopped and placed his hands in his pockets. “There’s an old saying, a kind of silly old saying, but it might fit here. If you like sausage, don’t ever learn how it’s made. Ever hear that?” “Yes.” “Okay, I love you, and I don’t want to learn why. I

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just want to love you, to be with you, to…to grow old with you, to die in your arms. Yeah, that’s corny as hell, ain’t it, but that’s me. I’m a corny guy. I’m a corny, country bumpkin who has been all over the world, and I’m still just a simple-minded country bumpkin who loves you. If I knew why, maybe I wouldn’t like it. I’d just enjoy it and never know what’s inside.” He rubbed his eyes. “Oh, I’ll get over it. I’ll meet someone down the line but I’m thinking she won’t be Eva, and I guess I’ll have to be honest with her and tell her you’ll always be on my mind.” He put on his coat and cap. “My God, I’m going to miss you, Kiddo.” “I’ve got one question.” Her voice still flat and chilly. “Are you calling me a sausage?” He threw her a blank look and saw an ornery twinkle in her eye. He smiled a little. “Yeah. A hot dog. No, no, a Polish sausage. Wait. I know, an Italian sausage. Yeah. Hot as fire with juice runnin’ down your chin, making your eyes water, your tongue swell, and your nose run.” “I said I love you, and I do. Did you hear that or were you just thinking about sausage, or maybe thinking like a sausage?” “I heard you. So what? You said you don’t know what

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love is. How do you know you love me? Maybe you’re lying to yourself now. Maybe you’re scared again and don’t wanna be alone, so you tell me what you think I want to hear. I’m sorry, Kiddo. I can’t trust you now. I think I’m gonna be stepping around on eggs the rest of my life because you can’t get your first husband outta your head. That’s no place for me, no matter how much you love me or I love you. If he’s in control of your life, if he’s leading you around my your nose, I’m gone. Maybe when you let him go and realize that I’m not gonna treat you that way, we’ll get together.” “Why can’t we work on that together?” “Eva, all the time we’ve been apart, all I thought about was you and getting back together. And now that I’m here, I realize I need more time away from you. You’ve unloaded a shipload things I never considered, never knew was a problem. I need to sort it out, and I don’t think I can do that together with Herrick in the picture.” They looked at each other for a moment, then Eva said, “Well, I understand, and I’m not surprised. I also think you’re right.” She sat down on the bed. “So, where does that leave us?” “What do you mean?”

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“Are we ever going to see each other? Communicate? Or is this it? Goodbye? See you around.” “I’d like to keep in touch. I don’t know about seeing you. Right now I feel like I’m going to puke and spend the next week crying my eyes out. Nothing has ever hit me like this.” He opened the door and took a step outside. “I know how you feel. I’ve faced it.” He turned and looked at her, his cheeks wet with tears. “You’ll lose your cook. I spent all that time learning to cook Southern, too.” “I will miss that. I’ll miss everything about you, Kiddo.” “What’ll you? Where will you go?” “Well, I can’t go back to Texas because I don’t have the money and I’m not sure the Tudor will make it. I think I can get to Pueblo. I know a guy there, guy named W.C. He and his family and I drove together from west Texas, and he’s from Pueblo. Anyway, his dad’s a boss or something at the steel mill up there, and he said I could get a job if I come back. I guess I’ll take him up on it.” “Sounds promising.” “After that I might just go back to Texas, who knows.”

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“Write me?” “Sure.” “Call me?” “When I can. Where should I call?” “Restaurant. It’ll be okay.” Tears dripped off his chin. “Love you, Kiddo.” He closed the door behind him. “Love you, too,” she whispered. Covering her ears with her hands, she crumpled to the floor and sobbed. At midnight she bathed and went to bed. In the morning she went to work as if nothing had happened. Questions about Jack were answered briefly and vaguely. A week later Jack called and said he’d gotten the job in Pueblo and was doing all right. How was she? She was fine, he was told. Her mother threw a New Year’s Eve party to welcome in 1939, and her sister Maddy told her she was pregnant and was going to Indiana to stay with their brother, Lee, until the baby was born. “What will you do with the baby?” “Adopt it out.”

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A surge of jealousy threatened to burst Eva’s eyes, and that night she dreamed of cuddling and caring for Maddy’s baby.

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