Chapter Thirteen

Meeting Booth

Eli has his eyes closed. His mind is occupied with the same image that I now have burned into my mind. Mayme is standing there with her hand held out palm up. The inability to be with her is causing an intense ache in his heart. He decides he must think of something else to ease the pain. The clickety-clack that he has been hearing subliminally now comes to the forefront. The rhythmic clatter soothes him. He resolves to analyze the sound to distract his despondent mind. The sound of the steel wheels hitting the gaps at the splices of the steel tracks is what causes the clicks. The forward pair of axles hitting the slight gap of the splice causes a nearly imperceptible double clack whose interval is so close it almost sounds like a single click. Then the rear axles cross the same gap an instant later...

Someone is talking. He hears his name. “Bailey!”

He keeps his analysis going. There are actually three rhythmic sounds going on here. The space between axle pairs causes the first nearly imperceptible double clack…

“Bailey!”

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The distance between car’s axle trucks determines the second rhythmic interval then the length of the track between splices causes a third rhythmic repeat of the wheels’ clacking…

“Bailey!”

Eli stops his analysis but keeps his eyes shut.

Now quite loudly, “Hey, Asshole.”

Eli opens his eyes. Eli is seated in an aisle seat near the end of the car facing the center of the car. Parker is seated opposite and facing Eli. “Aha, you’ll only open your eyes if I call you by your real name,” Parker laughingly jibes.

Eli returns a short laugh aloud as his eyes scan the railroad passenger car. The first impression I get is how packed the train car is. The window seat next to Eli is occupied by two large duffel bags each about one foot in diameter and three feet tall. Next to Parker in the window seat is a sleeping, square jawed, black haired man with thick eyebrows. He’s one of those guys whose hair is so black and thick that even though he is clean shaven you can still see his beard. There are bench seats that are installed so there are pairs of seats that face each other, not unlike some commuter train cars today. The entire car is medium to dark brown and yet there is so much olive drab equipment and so many olive drab uniforms the car appears to be olive drab. The men have so much gear there are only three men to each four seat set, nevertheless almost every square inch is of the car is taken. Everyone is seated, a few with their eyes closed. The isle, less than three feet wide, is completely occupied with sprawled legs and booted feet. Eli is facing the rear of the train.

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Eli moans, “Whad’ya want, Parker?” Actually, he welcomes the interruption from his clickety-clack analysis but he feels he has to keep up the defiant attitude that he knows Parker expects from him.

“Are you planning on sleeping your way to New York? Your hot babe wear you out last night, Bailey?”

“Don’t call her that, Parker. I like her a lot.” Eli knows he would have to take a lot of guff if he told any of these guys he fell in love and wanted to marry a woman he had just met. They would never understand so he left it at ‘like’. “Besides, Assface, I wasn’t sleeping. I’m keeping my eyes closed ‘cause the sight across from me is so ugly it makes me want to puke,” Eli barks back.

Parker ignores the ‘ugly’ comment and exclaims incredulously, “Don’t call her that?!” “Are you crazy? She was the cat’s meow. You must be a blind eunuch if you couldn’t see that?”

“Well, yes I saw that, but the way you say it, it sounds disrespectful.”

“Sometimes I just don’t know about you, Shithead. Now if I’d said ‘She’s a homely bag’, that would have been disrespectful. You spent the whole evening with her so you should be thanking me. You know, you wouldn’t have gone over there if it wasn’t for me.”

“I guess you’re right, Asshole. I probably would not have gone over to her if it weren’t for you. So thank you, Parker. Okay, you’re right again. She is a hot babe, but the comment about wearing me out was disrespectful to her. Don’t be such a dickhead.”

“Okay, Bailey. Since you’re such a sensitive prick, I apologize for that part. But you claimed you couldn’t dance and didn’t even want to go there. I had to just about push you all the way there. What was that

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about anyway? I saw you out there dancing. You can dance you lying sack of shit!”

“She taught me everything you saw me do just last night,” Eli declares. He then confesses, “I didn’t know one dance step before. She was amazing. And smart too.”

“Well, you had me fooled,” Parker admits. A few moments pass then he continues, “You know, Eli, I’d never ridden a train before all this started. Now I’ve had a lot of rail time and I kind of like it. When I get back home I think I’ll get a job as a conductor. I like the sound of the rails.”

Eli thinks this conversation is a little strange. Parker does not normally share small talk. In fact, Eli thinks, if he isn’t needling someone he isn’t talking. That was four sentences without calling me a name and he used my first name. Eli then continues aloud, “That is exactly what I was thinking about when you yelled at me. Not being a train conductor but the sound of the rails.” Eli thinks he did not hear his comment as Parker looks over at his neighbor then back at Eli then back to his neighbor again where he freezes his gaze for a few moments. Eli has concluded from his behavior Parker is worried that the black haired man may be listening to their conversation and that the babbling has been leading up to some confession or secret he wants to share with Eli. He decides to take his cue and states just loudly enough to be heard over the rails, “I think there may be something bothering you. You know Jim, anything you want to confide in me will be held with the strictest confidence. And I will not judge you in any way.”

Parker looks back at Eli and silently but distinctly mouths the words, “I’ve never trusted ...” as he gives a slight sideways nod and rolls his eyes toward his neighbor then rolls them back to Eli.

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Eli nods his head in agreement. Parker then turns his head to his fix on his neighbor for a few more moments. He has not moved, flinched or blinked. He finally decides it’s safe to talk and continues, “There is something bothering me. I didn’t really give it much thought when I enlisted but the closer we get to the actual war the more this nags me.” Parker pauses and just stares at Eli for a minute. Eli remains silent and patiently waits. Then Parker resumes, “You had your father when you were growing up, right?”

“Oh, I understand, you lost your father. I’m sorry Jim. Yes, I had a father as a child. I’m fortunate enough to still have him. What would you like to know?”

“Well, here is the deal. I never knew my dad. In fact I never saw him. He was already gone when I was born. He was twenty-five and I wasn’t even a year old when he died in France in the Great War. Now, here I am going off to war and I have a two year old son. I really didn’t think about dying when I signed up but now I can’t get my son off my mind. I know what it’s like not having a dad. Tell me what I missed. I don’t mean playing catch or something. I mean emotional or spiritual effects your dad gave you that I may have missed. What do you consider your most treasured benefit from being with your dad?”

Eli thinks to himself, I am amazed. I have misjudged Parker. I haven’t credited Parker with any deep thoughts. He then says aloud, “You know Jim if you would have asked me that just a few days ago I don’t know what I would have said. All my life my father has been giving me advice.”

Parker interrupts, “You mean advice like the early bird gets the worm?”

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“Well, kind of, but it’s all his or his mother’s or his father’s thoughts on life or God or nature. They’re never the generally known proverbs. Anyway, all my teen years he’s giving me these little speeches and most of the time I didn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. I thought he was crazy. But in just the last day there were some of those crazy things he said that have turned out to be prophetic. To me he has suddenly become a genius! I can’t wait to get back so I can tell him that I get it now. I have never fully appreciated him but I wish he knew that now I do.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“I can’t because of ...,” Eli softly says then finishes the sentence by nodding toward the man next to Parker. “But I can tell you that if I look back on my life and remove my father there would be a huge void. I guess my assessment would be that I am who I am was formed by forty percent my father, forty percent my mother and twenty percent everyone one else in my life.”

“Well, yours sounds like he is a great guy. But what if he was an asshole? What kind of impact do you think that would that have made?”

“I know some guys whose dads were like that. Then you turn out like...,” and again Eli finishes by nodding toward the neighbor. He and Parker both laugh then Eli continues, “But seriously, my forty, forty, twenty ratio example would just apply to me. I think the ratios in anyone’s life would be determined by the most influential people around them. They could be good or bad. A person could have a good father and possibly be more influenced by some strong-willed other relative or acquaintance who lived a life of crime or even other evil tendencies.”

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“That makes sense, Bailey. You are a pretty smart guy but I’ll deny I ever said that.”

“Well, I may not be smart but I am observant and I draw thoughtful conclusions based on those observations,” Eli concedes. “That is something I learned from my father. But to get back to you, your concern was about your son and something happening to you in Germany. You didn’t have a father and I’ll deny saying this but you turned out pretty good.” They both laugh. “I would consider you my friend and my standards for friendships are pretty high. Yeah, you have this thing where you are always picking on someone…”

Parker interrupts, “I never really thought about that. Do you think I should try not to do that?”

“You didn’t let me finish, Parker. I was going to say that actually you are never mean about it and always do it in a good natured and funny way. It is just your sense of humor. I would not change it Parker. It makes you who you are and everyone knows you do it to be amusing. You have this gift where you can call someone an asshole and they will laugh with you. When I am talking with you, my demeanor changes to become antagonistic. I actually enjoy our banter. But, I know for sure that if you have my back I will be safe. It means a lot about a man’s character if those around him can trust him with their lives and you have that Parker. If you would not make it back to your son for sure it would be a great loss to him. The really sad part is he would never know it because then he wouldn’t get to know you.”

“That is nice of you to say, Asshole,” Parker acknowledges and again they both chuckle. “You are right though, I never knew my father other than what people have told me about him. But that is not knowing him because all I know is what he did and that they say he

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was a good guy. That means nothing about who he really was. My uncle Alva, his brother, was the closest thing to a father to me. He was good to me but still he wasn’t always around like my dad would have been. Uncle Alva was always handing out the good natured sarcasm so I guess you are right about getting your personality percentages from different people. Could you do something for me, Eli?”

“Sure, Jim, what’s that?”

“If I don’t make it back, could you go find my son in ten or fifteen years when he is old enough to understand and tell him what you just told me? That would be something no one else could tell him. I also want him to know that I thought defeating the Krauts and the Japs was necessary for his future well-being and that is what was on my mind when I enlisted. Dying was not specifically on my mind and I really didn’t want him to grow up without me. Tell him I didn’t have my dad so I understand what he is going through.” As Parker says this, a tear wells in his eye and he wipes it with the back of his hand as it starts to roll down his cheek.

“Oh, for Chris’ sake, what is this? Crybaby day?!” the neighbor bellows loudly with a low raspy voice as he is wide awake now and looking directly at Parker. He then continues, “We’re gonna lose this war for sure with you pansy ass girls. How ya gonna kill any fuckin’ Krauts with your eyes all full of tears, crybaby.”

Eli counters without any thought, “Shut up, Booth. You’re the pansy ass pussy that has to take a nap. I don’t see anyone else taking naps in this car.” Eli states this as if it were a fact because Booth can’t see the rest of the car and couldn’t contradict him. “At least we can make the trip to New York with our eyes open.” Eli realizes his remark was infantile but then immediately rethinks that it fits any conversation

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with Booth perfectly. He feels badly though that he hadn’t kept one eye on Booth in the last few minutes as he notices Parker, red faced, looking around to see if anyone is looking.

Booth ignores the napping comment and continues, “If you two are going to go queer lovey dovey on me I’m gonna to stop hangin’ out with you.”

Eli blasts back at a volume even louder than that of Booth, “Who asked you to hang out with us? I’d be happy if you didn’t. In fact, I have always wondered why you are always around.” Eli looks into Booth’s eyes but Booth looks toward the aisle instantly.

“It’s because you two are always cussing each other out,” Booth replies at a normal conversational volume as it is now him looking around as if to avoid any eye contact. “I have fun watching you two go at it.”

Eli retorts, “I’m going to be going at you in about a minute. But it will be physical instead of verbal.” I can feel rage coming on in Eli with intensity increasing with each word he speaks. He continues, “The more you talk the more pissed off I’m...”

“Whoa, whoa, Bailey. I didn’t mean anything,” Booth replies then continues, “Get off your high horse now. I was just funnin’“

Parker jumps in, “Let it go, Eli. Don’t get all worked up. He’s not worth breaking your knuckles over.”

Booth exclaims, “Eli?! I didn’t even know your name was Eli and now your girlfriend calls you Eli and wants to save you from hurting your hand. Jim and Eli sittin’ in a tree k-i-s…”

Booth has pushed Eli beyond his boiling point. He jumps up and is over Booth who immediately is trying to use his duffel for protection. He slides down in his seat as low as he can get while

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laughing sadistically. Eli seizes the pack with his right hand and, without looking, hurls it to the aisle of the car. He puts his left foot on the edge of Booth’s chair, leans down, grabs Booth’s head with his left hand on top and right hand under his jaw then lifts him off his chair so he is looking directly into his eyes from about three inches away. With his mouth firmly slammed shut Booth’s laughing has stopped and his eyes are wide open in shock. With an unyielding demeanor Eli growls, “I know what you are and you don’t intimidate me one iota.” He then throws Booth’s head down, hitting the back of the seat with a thud like it was a medicine ball. Eli maintains his icy glare into Booths eyes and commands “Grab your shit and move to the next car.”

As Booth is drawing his left leg over Eli’s feet Eli raises his foot causing Booth to trip and fall into the lap of the guy in the seat across the aisle. The guy yells loudly as he pushes Booth against the back of the Eli’s seat, “Hey, asshole. Get off me. Where did you learn to walk?” Eli laughs then he watches Parker’s eyes as they follow Booth out of the back of the car while wrestling with his duffel.

Eli’s rage had dissipated as fast as it came on. Parker’s eyes return to Eli and as if nothing has happened he calmly says, “Jim, I would be happy to tell your son how I trusted you with my life. Even if nothing bad happens to you and I hope it doesn’t. But if something does happen I think you should give me the information on both sets of grandparents that will allow me to track him down. Your wife may move but it is less likely that the grandparents will, even years from now.”

An astonished Parker marvels, “All that going on and you go right back to where we were without missing a beat?! You were ready to kill him and just like that it’s as if it never happened.”

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Eli calmly remarks, “He’s gone and I’m done with him so I have no reason to carry that rage.”

“He seems so dark and evil to me. Doesn’t he scare you?”

“Not at all. When I was in eighth grade there was this guy that was not much different from Booth. I think that Booth may be about the same age mentally as an eighth grader right now. He is just a school yard bully.”

“So you weren’t scared of him either?”

“Well, at first yes. He moved to Fayette at the start of fourth grade. His name was Ian. He started right off pushing everyone around. He was always a big kid too. For years he was always picking on everyone. More fat than muscle but still too big for me to mess with. There was this other kind of wimpy kid named Phillip that had always lived in Fayette and he was always kind of a loner. I had tried to talk with him but I couldn’t really get him to participate in a conversation so I gave up on him probably in the third grade. Anyway, Phillip somehow became Ian’s stooge. Anytime Ian would start a bullying session Phillip would be standing there yelling for Ian like he was his cheerleader. It always seemed like an unlikely match but for some unknown reason Ian wouldn’t bully Phillip and he’d let him hang around. I understood the relationship from Phillip’s side because Ian was his protector and no one would pick on him but Ian certainly didn’t need Phillip. At one time I thought maybe if I was nice to Ian I could change him. He just wouldn’t let me in so I gave up after a couple tries. It went on like that for years then in the summer between seventh and eighth my lifelong friend, Jerry and I worked for my uncle on his farm. It was lots of hard physical work. I remember my mother complaining about how much I ate. I added a lot of muscle. The

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hardest was loading bales on the wagon then into the barn and that really bulked me up. I never saw Ian all summer but when eighth grade started Ian resumed right where he left off the previous year. So he was strutting around the playground, acting all tough, pushing or hitting one kid after another and I was sitting on the fence rail watching. Ian was about fifty feet away and glanced my direction. He froze for a second then got this determined look on his face and started marching toward me with his fists clenched. Well, I guess I wasn’t feeling like a pansy anymore and Ian’s expression on his face like he was going to kick my ass made that same feeling of rage you just saw kicked in. With each step he took towards me the rage became stronger. By the time he was about five feet away it was like I was not in control of my body anymore and like lightning speed I leaped off the rail. I got to him in an instant. I bent over, grabbed his legs at both knees and pulled them out from under him. The back of his head hit the gravel pretty hard and it left him dazed for a moment. I got on him with my legs straddling him and sat on his belly then pounded his face a few times.”

“Was that the end of his bullying?”

“Well, it stopped his bullying around me. He was definitely afraid of me after that. When he would see me he always headed the other way. I did have kids tell me that he would pick on them when I wasn’t around.”

“Were they asking for protection from you?” Parker asks.

“Some hinted at it but they all knew I was a nice guy and would never go looking for trouble. I’m a live and let live kind of guy even around assholes. They also knew I would never give any ground to anyone though.”

“What about Ian’s stooge? Was he afraid of you after that?”

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“Oh, yeah, that was kind of funny. As I was getting up from Ian I glanced up and Phillip was standing about three feet from me. I stared him right in the face as I stood up and evidently he could still see my rage. I didn’t intend to do anything to him but evidently he didn’t know that because I scared the piss out of him, literally! He turned white as a sheet and visibly soaked his pants. Of course there was a crowd around now. He was frozen for a moment then looked down at his pants. Then he looked up, saw everyone staring at him and took off running.”

“I’ll bet it took a while for Phillip to live that down. Did he continue to be Ian’s stooge after that?”

“No, Ian wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Actually, even though he was still an asshole, Ian did a lot less harassment of everyone. But Phillip’s story ended up being kind of tragic. As I said, before Ian, Phillip had always been a loner but after this incident he was really withdrawn. He wouldn’t talk to anyone. Teachers couldn’t even get him to talk. Not in front of the class anyway. He had no friends. I felt sorry for him and wanted to talk to him but as soon as I looked at him he would run. I couldn’t get close enough to talk. He quit school after ninth grade and I never saw him again. My beating of Ian made everyone respect me but if I could get a redo I would have avoided Ian that day just because I regret what happened to Phillip. Anyway, back to the point of all this. I think Booth is just another Ian.”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure if you have Booth pegged right,” Parker observes. “To me, he is so sinister. I think he’s more than just a bully, he is actually evil.”

“He didn’t hesitate leaving when I told him to get out of here. I guess my dark side trumps his.”

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