Lucinda: Mistress to the Mob

Official website of the in-work novel…..

The Kindness of a Stranger

 

THE KINDNESS OF A STRANGER

 

                 Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clicket. Ty-clack. Clicket. Ty-clack. Click. Et. Ty. Clack. The air brake let out a loud hiss as the train came to a stop. Willie, O.B. and I all lay still on the cold floor of the boxcar. We have to let some time pass to be sure nobody will see us.

                 After a little while, the three of us sit up. We look at each other in the darkness. We all have the same knowingness that it is safe to get up. Slowly we all come to our feet and begin our journeys to the door.  I slide the door open, just a peek and look outside. Slowly I look to the left and to the right. It’s clear. Without uttering a word, we slowly slide the door to the boxcar open and exit.

                 Willie limps along, in his usual manner. O.B. shuffles when he walks, and I – well, I just move very slowly these days. I been doin’ this a long time, now. Over 20 years I reckon. Started during the Depression. I’ve rode with Willie and O.B. a lot of times before, too.

                 As I look around at my surroundings I recognize that we are in Baltimore. I been here before. The sky is gray and there is a real nip in the air. Gonna be a cold one tonight. Without a word said, the three of us begin preparations for our night’s camp. O.B. goes lookin’ for sticks to build a fire. Willie is lookin’ for a tin can so we can make some grub. I gather rocks to surround the fire. Don’t wanna burn the town down, y’know.

                 We all have matches in our pockets. That’s standard equipment for us. I got a couple of potatoes in my right front coat pocket. Picked ‘em up in Boston a few days ago. We’ll see what else we can rustle up and make ourselves a batch of mulligan stew. Then we’ll lay by the fire and get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll go to town and see if we can get some booze, or anything else of value that someone is throwin’ out. Then, after a day or two, we’ll hop another train and go to some other town. We may go together, or maybe alone. Never know. We just take each day as it comes.

                 Just then, we hears footsteps. Whoever this is snuck up on us, because he is already here by the time we hear him. He got on us too fast for us to run. The man is tall, well groomed. He wears a nice, brown suit with matching felt hat. The hat has a silk band above the brim. He has shiny black shoes and a nice wool overcoat.

                 “Gentlemen,” he says in an official sounding voice, “Come with me.”

                 Me and Willie and O.B. look at each other and realize we don’t have much choice. So, we follow him. The man leads us along the tracks a short ways, and then into a parking lot. We follow, expecting him to lead us to a police car. But, instead, he stops at a big, shiny, black Cadillac. A new one. He opens a rear door and orders us to get inside.

                 “Nicest damned cop car I ever been in,” I think to myself. Once we all get into the car the man starts it up and starts driving. Pretty soon the view out the window is a really fancy looking neighborhood. Big houses with large front lawns. Everything is neat and clean.

                 Shortly, he turns the car into the driveway of one of these homes. A big house. White, with a big front porch. He shuts off the engine, gets out and opens the door to let us out. Slowly, we emerge from the car.

                 Willie limps, O.B. shuffles and I slowly follow behind this stranger as he approaches the front door of the house. He opens the door and asks us to enter. We all step into the parlor and the man tells us to sit down. So, we sit on the couch.

                 The man leaves us alone and shortly returns with a woman, dressed in a Donna Reed lookin’ dress. They stand in front of us three. We don’t look ‘em in the eyes. We never look anyone in the eyes, ‘cept each other.

                 “Do you know what day it is?” the man asked us.

                 “No sir.”

                 “It’s December 24th. Christmas Eve,” he answered his own question. “I’ll bet you wonder why I brought you all here, tonight?”

                 We all nodded our heads.

                 “Ruth and I have no children,” the man continued. “So, for Christmas we like to share our good fortune with others who are less fortunate. Every year we find someone to whom we can show some kindness. Someone we can help, even if for just one day. But don’t ever tell anyone who we are. We don’t want others to know we do this. Just the people we help. This year, it’s your turns.”

                 After his speech, he led us each, one by one, upstairs to the bathroom. When I got there I found a hot bath already drawn. There is shavin’ supplies by the sink so I can get a clean shave, too. I have about five days’ growth, myself, so a shave is a nice thing. Then, after a bath and a shave, I am led to a bedroom for a new suit of clothing. I resist a bit, at first. My old tattered gray pants, button shirt that used to be white, crushed derby hat, worn out tweed sport coat and patched up overcoat are my “lucky clothes”. But the man said it was time for some better luck, so I took ‘em.

                 I got a nice gray wool suit, a white shirt and bow tie, new black shoes, a felt hat, suspenders and even some new socks and undies. I haven’t had new undies in years. It isn’t tailored exactly right, but it fits well enough. I also traded in my half-a-stubby cigar for a new one – still in the wrapper. I found my old one on the street a while back. I smoke it very slowly, to make it last. The other guys get the same treatment as me.

                 After baths and new clothes, we are all led to the dinin’ room for dinner. Turkey and gravy. Mashed taters. Beans, hot bread. Everything. A lot better than mulligan stew. After dinner we have chocolate cake and hot coffee. Fresh coffee, too.

                 Then we are taken to a bedroom and told to put on some nightclothes. We do what the man tells us. Next, it’s back downstairs for a nightcap of fresh, hot cocoa.

                 With full bellies he leads us to a bedroom to get some sleep for the night. In the morning, when we wake up, he tells us to put on our suits and come downstairs for breakfast. Another meal fit for a king. We spend all of Christmas day with James and Ruth – in their warm house, with new clothes and plenty to eat. Then on the day after Christmas, he takes us to the depot so we can go to wherever we choose. He gives each of us a five-dollar bill before he drops us off and wishes us good luck.

                 As I enter the train depot I think to myself, “Maybe it’s time I settle down and get a job. I’m getting’ too old to keep hoppin’ trains anymore. Maybe this is a new good luck suit.”