At first I thought it was a fly that awoke me. I tried to shoo it away but instead got a hand full of hair. I awoke with a start since I didn't remember going to bed with a cat, dog, or rat. I looked down at the head of black hair sprawled across my shoulder and tickling my nose. The hair was so damned black it was almost blue. That hair told me it was Rose.
Now I do some pretty dumb things when I am half asleep. That morning I tried to look at the clock hanging on the far wall of my one room apartment. Since it had come from the grocery store across the street, the numbers on the clock should have been large enough to read, After all, I was told, that it had hung for ten years with no complaints.
Moving my head to look at the clock first caused my head to pound, then my stomach to turn a few loops. Shortly there after I had the urgent need to use the bathroom. All things considered waking Rose seemed to be a good idea.
"Hey Rose," I waited a moment. When she didn't stir, I gently shook her. "Rose honey, I need to use the bathroom."
"Deke, why don't you get a bigger bed. I got to get completely out of bed, so you can get out." She acted as though she had been in my bed, and in this same situation before. Which I assure you was not the case.
"Rose, I haven't exactly needed a larger bed before now you know." I stated it with a very large smile.
"Well Deke, you can't prove that. I mean, I ain't been in it before, but I expect that others have." She had a really smug look on her face, as if she knew a hell of a lot more than she was telling.
"Well if you will move so that I can get out we can discuss that later. Right now I got to use the bathroom, and I mean right now." I really wanted to duck the conversation almost as much as I wanted to use the bathroom. Just as soon as Rose sat up, I moved past her to sit on the edge of the bed. I quickly stood then walked to the bathroom which was surrounded by the only partitions in the apartment.
When I returned, I was surprised to see Rose again stretched out on the bed. When she saw me, she opened her arms in an invitation for me to join her. I did of course.
I held her in my arms even though it hurt a little. It hurt because we were laying so close. So close in fact she was forced to lay on my right arm. I rested my head against her. I had never seen her naked. I had seen her in tight jeans. Rose had about twenty pounds of extra weight attached to her hips. She was also a couple of pounds light in the chest. Still she was all woman and in my bed. Which was a definite plus for her.
What really hurt was I couldn't remember what we had done the night before. After a moment I got up the courage to ask, in a round about way. "I was pretty drunk last night Rose, I hope I wasn't too much trouble." I knew when I finished speaking just how stupid it sounded. Man if nothing else, I was not smooth at all.
"Deke, if you don't want to make love to me, now is your last chance to back out." she said it with a small quiet laugh.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"After you couldn't get up a card game last night you began to drink. Me and you drank till closing time. You invited me here before you were so drunk you didn't know your left foot from you right hand. Anyway, when I got you here you passed out while I was in the bathroom. Not real nice of you by the way."
"So you are telling me that we did not make love last night?" I asked not really knowing how I felt about it. I mean, Rose was nice enough in that loose, divorcee hairdresser kind of way, but I wouldn't want to take her home to Ma. She was the only divorced woman I knew.
"No Deke, we did not make love, nor did we have sex. So if you want to call this whole thing off, now is your chance." She had the most amused look on her face. She looked as though she were reading my mind.
I actually gave it some thought, which shows you how sick I am. In the end I moved my hand to touch her under the sheet.
I lifted my head and I kissed her gently at first. The kiss quickly became demanding, then something with a life of it's own. I found myself moving against her body in the overheated room.
Suddenly I heard a pounding noise which seemed far away somehow. I guess I just hoped it was far away. Rose instantly stopped responding to me. Since she was ignoring me anyway, I lifted my head from her breast, The pounding continued. By that time it was clear that the pounding was at my downstairs door.
I might have ignored it had Rose not pushed me away. "Well, you better go see who that is." Her voice was more angry than frustrated. Meanwhile the pounding continued.
I didn't even answer her. I simply stood, then slipped into last nights pants. I was so groggy from the beer, and almost sex, that I actually hurried down to answer the door. Hell, ordinarily I would have ignored it for at least three more bangs. If Rose had been willing, I would have ignored it completely.
As I had expected, it was someone I didn't want to see. I looked at the familiar man through the screen. "Yes?" I asked pretending not to know him.
"Come on Deke, don't pretend you don't recognize me. Open the damned door and let me in."
"What in the name of God makes you think I want to see you?" I replied.
"Because, you need to talk to me before I talk to the FBI," he said with a conspirator's smile.
"I have no idea what you are talking about. But keep your voice down." I said as I reluctantly opened the door. There was a strange moment when Rose rushed past me in one direction, then Carlton Anderson pushed past me in the other. I watched Rose as she disappeared around the corner. I shook my head sadly then followed along behind Carlton. I did not like following anyone, especially Carlton.
Carlton stood at the top of my stairs without entering my apartment. He was obviously assessing the one large room. "What a dump," he finally announced.
"Thanks, now that you have seen how low I have sunk, you can leave." I didn't expect that he would. He had come too far to simply walk away. Why he had come was a totally different issue. Why he had come I didn't really have a clue.
"Why the hell are you living like this?" he asked.
"Because, I don't have a real job," I replied. "I'm kind of a fixer, and that don't pay very well." I could see that he didn't understand.
"When things go wrong with the mill workers, they come to me. Most of the time, I kind of fix things for them. You did know there is no union down here." I could see from the look in his eyes that he still didn't understand. I really didn't expect a Princeton man would. "Look Carlton, if a supervisor demands that a woman sleep with him or get fired, she sometimes comes to me. I have a talk with the supervisor, or his wife. Either way the problem usually goes away. Since these people don't have much money, I don't really get rich at it."
"What crap," he said forcefully. When he saw me looking as though I might kill him, he added. "Oh, I believe you are a fixer. You just don't do it for the money. I took a look at the FBI files before I left Washington. You've been up to your old tricks again."
"What are you talking about?" I asked it even though I knew he planned to lay it all out for me. When he did, I would know exactly what he had on me, so I waited impatiently.
"You are opening bank cans again," he declared as he picked up a shirt from my one comfortable chair. He tossed the shirt on the floor, then sat in the chair.
"Have a seat you prick," I said in a voice filled with anger.
"Thanks, now let's stop the pussy footing around. I know you have been blowing cans in Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Since that is the case, I want to know why you are living in this dump."
"Listen to me you ass. You may think I have been blowing bank cans, but I have been living right here since my discharge. While I was in Greece blowing up trains for you, I dreamed of coming home. While I was in Italy blowing up trains, I dreamed of this place. When I was in France and Poland, I dreamed of home and just living free. Do you understand. Just free to go to a movie, or to have a drink at the 'Pump Room' across the street.
When I got out, I went to live at my mother's boarding house, while I decided what to do next. I was there three weeks before the Village constable came to tell me I had to either work for the mill or leave. At first I wanted to kill him on the spot. Hell if I hadn't spent that six months in the German hospital after the war I probably would have.
"See, you are a better man because of those months," he declared it, but not too happily I noted.
"I swore I would kill you for having me committed. Since I changed my mind you need to go home Carlton, before I remember all the reasons I planned to kill you."
"Come on Deke, you know I did the best I could for you. There was just no way to help you most of the time. That's why we trained you to live off the Germans, which brings us back to the cans."
"It doesn't bring me back to the cans. I have told you, I have nothing to do with any American bank cans."
"Deke, those jobs have black ops written all over them. Add that to the fact that you live in the area and it is the only thing that makes sense." He paused a moment to allow it all to sink in. He then continued, " Now I could lose those files easily enough. Since I'm the only one looking at them. If I did, it would be safe for you to continue."
"I don't know what you are talking about, and I sure as hell don't care whether you lose a bunch of files or not." He could tell I was getting frustrated, but I could tell he wasn't quite sure why.
"Could you really stand a full court press by the FBI. I know you have done your best to do a perfect job. If it weren't for me I believe it would be good enough. Good enough, if the feds don't know who you are and where to find you. I can give them that, or I can bury the files with the other bureaucratic crap."
I thought for only a moment. "Carlton, I know you have an angle here. Like I said twice before, I don't know anything about any bank cans, but what's your angle? Hell, maybe I can help you out with whatever you have in mind." I said it even though my stomach was in knots.
What I really wanted to do was choke the man. He had been one of those who had sat in London telling me what to do. Sending me radio messages while I was running all over Europe dodging the Germans for three years. Three years of terror that seemed to be a lifetime.
That's the way it worked. Those Princeton types always seemed to wind up in offices, while the Dog-faces from the farms and factories wound up getting there asses shot off. Me, I was from the mill village in North Carolina. I got my training in explosives from the Army. The training was long before I ever heard of Wild Bill. Somehow my file crossed either Bill's desk or someone else with enough pull to get me transferred to their show.
I already knew how to blow a train with it's tracks. They thought me to blow whole factories, not to mention the bank cans. My trainer explained it this way, 'Sometimes you are going to need money to pay for information or to hire men. If London can't get the money to you, then you will have to remove it from a German bank.' Blowing a bank can proved easier then blowing a ball bearing plant. It was tougher than a lonely stretch of train track.
The training school also taught me a lot about hiding in urban areas. According to the instructors anyone could hide in a barn. It was a damned sight more difficult to hide in a metropolitan area. It was especially tough, if you spoke almost none of the native language. I was almost always assigned an interpreter from the local area. A couple of them were even women who played my wife. It was an act to fool anybody especially since the act went on twenty four hours a day in most cases. I always insisted on authenticity.
The school also offered a masters in forgery and a minor in the theater art of disguise. That school taught me just about every possible criminal skill, things useful only during a war.
They didn't teach me to kill in the school. Sure, they taught me how to kill, but no one can teach you to do it. By the time of Carlton's visit I had killed more men than I could live with. Sometimes I killed them in train wrecks, or burned them alive in a fire bombing of their barracks. Worst of all, I killed some of them with a knife or garrote. Carlton, and the other Princeton boys weren't around when I did that. Too bad, they might have learned something useful before they sent men out to die.
They also weren't around when I hid from the Germans after a blast. They definitely were not there during any of the three years when I lived in constant fear for my life. They weren't there when the Gestapo arrested my pretend wife in Dansk. Certainly not the next morning when I saw how she looked after the explosion. That was the day I swore I would kill the men who ordered me around. Every night during the next year, I dreamed alternately of killing Carlton, and of coming home to live in the mill village with my family.
The Village was almost completely self sufficient. It was a world almost completely cut off from the outside. The company had built houses for it's workers since there had been no place else for them to live. After the houses, it built and ran mercantile stores in each of its residential communities. The four communities where I grew up were adjacent to each other, and to the four cotton mills. The company owned the houses and the stores. The mill also owned strips of retail buildings, which it rented out to hand picked businessmen. There were doctor's offices, drug stores, shoe shops, and movie theaters. There was even a hotel. There were also plenty of other smaller shops. All of them were run by company approved businessmen.
Then there were the other business. Businesses which sprang up just outside the village's boundaries. The street on which I lived at the time of Carlton's visit was crowded with unauthorized shops. The company didn't approve of those businesses for one reason or another.
They didn't approve, sometimes because the mill owners didn't think their workers should be wasting their meager pay on the items sold in the shops. More often thought the owners of the out of bounds businesses had not been enthusiastic enough about paying the sky high rents for the company owned buildings.
Either way the 'heights' had sprung up on a small hill two blocks from the mill's property. My large one room apartment was located over a brick and glass jewelry store. Sure, there was a lot wrong with my living arrangements, but it also allowed me to be close to my large family and many friends.
When I wasn't working, which was most of the time, I drank watered down beer and played poker across the street. When I got hungry, I either walked two doors down to 'Pop Marshburn's cafe, or across the street to the overpriced grocery store for fruit, cheese and crackers. Maybe the Princeton man didn't think much of my life style, but it suited me just fine.
I had pretty much tuned him out while I remembered the circumstances which had led me to the point where Carlton sat in my one comfortable chair threatening me. When I tuned him back in, he was saying, "So they are shutting down my operations. My job is going to be gone in a couple of months and I'm going to be on the outside."
"So what, it happened to a million men after the war. You've been lucky to keep your job this long." I am sure he noted that I said it with a certain amount of satisfaction in my voice.
"I know you hate me, but believe me I had no choice in the decisions I made. Besides, I was just following orders," he said.
I didn't bother to remind him that we had already decided that the, 'I was only following orders' excuse wouldn't wash for the Nazis. "So what the hell is it you think I can do for you?" I asked instead.
"Unlike you, I don't want to run around hitting tiny little banks every few months. I want to hit one then retire." he was looking hard at the floor when he spoke. He still wasn't sure how far he could push me.
"I already told you, I haven't hit any banks. Carlton, if I was opening bank cans would I be living like this." I didn't figure he would buy it, but it was worth a try.
"Actually you probably would. If I remember right your only ambition, other than killing me, was to come home to this 'place' and live out your life in poverty."
"See, what do I need with money?" I asked it still trying to convince him.
"Even poverty requires some income. No Deke, you have been hitting small town banks." He looked into my eyes when he firmly made that last statement.
"Even if I have, what make you think I would help you?" I was actually enjoying it by that time.
"How about fear of the FBI?" he suggested.
"You have said that about a dozen times, and I have told you I have no fear of them. If you want, I will tell you where you can find a phone to make your call." I knew he was bluffing by that time.
As if he could read my mind he said, "Don't think I'm bluffing Deke. If I have to start my life over without a dime, I have no reason not to take you down as my final gesture of revenge."
"Look you two bit jerk, if you think you have something call the cops. I know you can't hurt me, because I haven't done anything." I said it as I turned my back on him. I went to the refrigerator to fill my iced tea glass. I pointedly did not offer Carlton a glass. The tea came from my mother's boarding house, since I could never master the art of making it myself.
"Why don't I just skip over that part for now," Carlton said. "Instead I will tell you there is a large vault in a small bank, outside an Army base in Fayetteville. Once in a while, it contains more money than either of us could make in a lifetime of real work."
"Surely a Princeton man can make more money than a small town bank would hold?"
"Princeton men aren't as much in demand as you might think. Besides the government is paying off in cash these days. That little bank holds the proceeds of about every merchant, who's cash registers are filled with Army payday cash. When payday falls on a Friday, the banks can't get the cash moved until Monday. The money just builds up in the bank on Friday and Saturday. I expect it is upwards of quarter million bucks."
"Now that is a good sized chunk of change, but I ain't interested." I really did enjoy turning him down.
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because Carl," I called him by the familiar name for the first time. I enjoyed his discomfort at it. "I am not a thief. Secondly you are not the great organizer you think you are. Most of the missions you and your Princeton friends arranged could have gotten me killed. In the end, I just ignored your plans and worked out my own."
"We knew that, but our plans were laid out with the best military intelligence available to us at the time," he demanded defensively.
"Talk about a contradiction in terms, military and intelligence should never be allowed in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence." I had almost begun to enjoy his discomfort, more than my dread of him being in my life again.
"Okay Deke, you have made your joke. How about it? Will you blow the can for me?"
"The short answer is no. The longer answer is, let me see your plan then I will tell you no."
"Then you are in?" he asked it obviously ignoring my comments.
"No, but I will listen to your plan before I make my final decision," I said that hoping to keep him guessing.
"I don't have a real plan just yet. You see, when I realized you were up to your old tricks, I kind of just decided on a whim to come talk to you. It would never do for a war hero to get busted for burglary. Before I found the time, I got the notice that my job was going to be cut. It looks as though the whole organization is going to be on the scrap heap."
"Spare me the hearts and flowers, I don't give a damn about you and your college buddies. So what you are telling me is that you know about this bank, but you don't have the first idea what to do about it?"
"Not yet, but I can mount an operation. I was always good at that," he suggested.
"Like I said before, your operations stank up my life. I sure as hell ain't going to let you draw up a plan for something as serious as a bank job. Hell, I wouldn't even let you draw up the plans for a kid's bicycle race. Now take my advice and go the hell back to Washington. Forget all about this bank job."
"Like I said, I am going to do this bank, and you are going to help me or go to jail for the others." He was serious and I knew it.
"Look Carl, I done told you half a dozen times, go to the FBI if you want. I am as clean as you. On second thought, I am cleaner than you."
"Okay then how about this, even if you haven't been doing banks, I know we can pull this off. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money," he said.
"Half a million is more," I replied enjoying the look on his face.
"If you do this without me, I will go to the cops. There won't even be a doubt in anyone's mind that you did it."
"Same goes for me. You do this bank, I will roll up your fat ass." I waited while the fact that information was two edged sword, sank in on him. "Now like I said, you go back to Washington and forget all about this."
"Like hell, I am going to do it and so are you." There was a definite threat in his voice.
"Carlton let me tell you something, that doctor didn't save your life. He got you a stay of execution. Now, do you really want to threaten me?" I looked at him as if he were already a corpse.
"This is my one chance to be set for life Deke, I am not going to let you screw it up." He said it positively but he was looking at the hardwood flooring again.
"Me, you should be worried about screwing it up yourself. Okay, give me five hundred bucks and I'll drive down to take a look at the bank."
"I knew you would help. It's the Fayetteville Bank and Trust. The only branch is located on Bragg Boulevard, about a thousand feet from the front gate of the Army post."
"Don't tell me any more about it. I'll go down and take my own look. I'll draw up an operational plan myself."
"Oh no you don't, I am going with you. I am not going to let you out of my sight until this is over."
"What about your job in DC?"
"I am on leave for a month, that should be more than enough time to do this. When we get the money I am headed for South America."
"You doing down to live with the Nazis?" I asked.
"Sure why not, old enemies make great friends," he said it with a grin.
"First of all forget about running. You go back to your job on the day your leave ends. If the FBI turns your ass up, they will eventually get to me."
"Don't get the idea you can tell me what to do," he demanded angrily. He was trying to salvage his position as the superior.
"Then you get your ass back to DC right now. Either that, or you do this job without me. If you do, I am going to turn snitch."
"I am not going to take orders from you," he said again.
"Oh yes you are, you idiot. I have done all this during the war. You have read and talked about it, but you haven't lived it. You are either going to take orders from me, or you are going to forget the whole thing."
"Maybe I'll find another explosive man," he suggested.
"If there was anyone else, you would never have come to me. You know I planned for three years how I was going to kill you. If you came to me, you were desperate enough to risk your life. Now, why don't you just cut the crap and go along with the plan."
"Okay, but I know all the rules. Hell, I helped to write them." The man just couldn't let that fact that he had been my boss go.
"You know them, but now you are going to live them. That is a horse of a whole different breed."
"I suppose you have figured out that there is a Friday payday this month. It is exactly three weeks off."
"I do hope there is a payday between now and the one you are talking about. I want to see exactly what the security is like."
"There is going to be a payday in three days, then another fifteen days later. We are going to have a few days to take a look around, then two weeks to devise a plan."
"Then we need to get into Fayetteville on payday. In the meantime you go on back home."
"Like I told you, I am not leaving here until it is all over. So where do I sleep?"
"In a hotel, did you drive down?" I had been pretty sure from the start that sending him home was not a real option.
"Are you kidding driving down from DC is a real pain. No I caught the train."
"Where are your bags?" I asked it hoping he had a place somewhere.
"In a locker at the train station, why?" The idiot really did get it at all. "Because you are going to have to get them, then check in to a hotel somewhere."
"I am staying with you," he demanded.
"Like hell are, you can stay close but you are definitely not staying with me. I don't want to be seen with you period. Go across to the grocery store and use their pay phone. Call yourself a cab, then have the driver take you to the White Oak Hotel. Tell the desk clerk that you are going to try to sell machine parts to the mills. If you do they will rent you a room, otherwise you are going to have to know somebody down here to visit."
"Okay, I can do that. When are we going to go down to Fayetteville?" He was already antsy, not a good sign at all.
"It won't be any use going down there until Wednesday morning. That will give us the afternoon and evening to look around before payday. After the GIs get paid we want to keep a close eye on the bank. I want to know what security they have overnight."
"It won't be much. The military won't be doing any of the security work, and the cops don't have enough men to station anybody at the bank routinely."
"We will see. Just come back day after tomorrow." I informed him hoping the conversation was over.
"What the hell am I going to do in a place like this for two days?" The man actually had desperation in his voice. He obviously bored easily.
"Not much, you could check into the downtown hotel, but I doubt that you would find much to do there either. The White Oak will be closer and you can get plenty of rest. If you get too bored, you can go to the YMCA next door for a swim."
"Was that built by the mill?" he asked.
"Everything was built by the mill. Now you can stay where ever you like, just get the hell away from me."
While Carlton waited across the street for his cab, I gave the whole thing a little thought. Rose had seen Carlton, but she would never connect a bank job two hundred miles way with the visitor who broke up her morning sweat session. That is unless she was asked by a cop, if she had ever seen us together. If it got that far, it wouldn't matter at all.
I waited until the cab came and went before I left the apartment. When I finally walked down the sidewalk I was headed for a late breakfast. Pop's cafe was empty since it was between meals. Being the only customer did have it's advantages, I got the waitress' full attention.
"You know, if you would get out of bed sooner you could eat at your mother's place. You know the food there would be better than it is here." the young waitress remarked.
"It sure as hell couldn't be any worse that's for sure." I answered. As I was most every morning, I was surprised by the young woman's terrific body. Lois wasn't a natural blonde. She was a blonde in the tradition of Jean Harlow. The work was done by Rose of course. Rose was the hairdresser three doors down from the cafe. The Harlow look alike even had a body like the actress. She was almost perfectly put together. Only difference was she wore underwear. It least that's what the younger men at the pump room said.
Lois always seemed to be more interested in her dream of a movie career, than in her waitress job. I might have been the only one in the village who didn't mind. I had nothing but time, so her inattention didn't bother me at all. I also didn't mind calling her when I wanted something. Unlike a really good waitress, she tended to forget a customer once his or her food was on the table.
"You want the usual?" she asked as she placed the cup of black coffee on the counter in front of me.
"Sure why not," I replied.
Lois didn't have to do more than speak in a normal voice since the cooking was done on a grill just behind the counter. "Pop, scramble a couple of eggs, with sausage links."
The man only a few years older than me nodded. I didn't know when I ever heard Pop speak in the mornings. I know he could speak, I just don't think I ever heard him before noon. For some reason I took a good look at pop that morning. Might have been because Carlton had me nervous that I might lose everything. For whatever reason I noticed that pop had put on a few pounds since my return home. He to had been in Europe during the war. Of course he had been in a combat outfit so he had dropped a tremendous amount of weight before he returned. That morning he seemed to have gained it all back. The scar on his face, where his real eye should have been, was less noticeable that morning than it had been on his first day behind the counter six months earlier. If I had been Pop I would have opted for a patch instead of the fake eye. The eye government gave him looked like a glass eye and not a very good one at that.
Then of course Pop wasn't really Pop at all. Tommy Sims had used his mustering out pay, plus some he had won in a crap game, to buy the place from the real pop who retired. I guess the name Pop was more an honorary tittle than anything else. Either that or he didn't want to waste his money on a new sign.
Lois dropped the plate containing my sausage, scrambled eggs, and the ever popular grits onto the red linoleum covered counter. She turned her back to retrieve a biscuit from the stainless steel bread warmer.
"Deke, why do you always have the same thing every morning?" She was smiling her movie star smile as she asked.
"Well Lois, I am just a creature of bad habits." I replied returning her smile.
"Do you have the same thing at your mama's place?"
"I usually have whatever Ma has left over. I don't get there in time for the real breakfast."
"That's not what your sister says." Lois suggested. Lois was about the same age as Sissy so I expected they shared secrets or at least a lite gossip now and then.
"And what exactly does my sister say?" I asked. Sissy's flights of fancy really were a source of amusement to me.
"She said that since Max Fuller ran you off the hill, you won't go in the house during meals. She also said you were afraid you might get your mama in trouble. That and your mama didn't have no where else to go."
"Lois you talk too much," it was Pop who spoke. I was shocked, like I said I had never heard him speak in the morning before.
"Lois, I don't know about nowhere else to go, but I do know that mama likes running that house. I sure wouldn't like to see anything happen to cause her to loose it."
"That's what your sister said," Lois said it to me but stuck her tongue out at Pop.
"Leave the man to finish his breakfast," Pop said to her sternly.
None of us said another word until I had finished my breakfast. When I did, I looked at the check even though it was the same as it was every morning. I found enough change in my pocket to cover the check and a small tip for Lois. I laid in on the check then stood to leave.
I was out the door and half way to the corner when I heard or more likely sensed someone behind me. I turned slowly toward the man who walked quickly to close the gap between us. I waited to see what he wanted, but he passed me without even a nod of his head. I walked on thinking that I was an arrogant jerk to think everyone I met had business with me. I decided that I really was on edge after Carlton's visit.
I walked on past the jewelry store, then past the grocery. I saw the man who had passed me earlier walk into the beauty shop. The one built into the front of the movie theater not Rose's shop beside Pop's cafe.
The theater wouldn't be open until five, but the shop opened at ten. I ignored the man as I entered the auto garage across from the theater. I was inside the shop when I looked back to see the same man standing in the doorway looking toward the garage.
"Hot enough for you?" the man in the greasy jeans asked.
"Sure is Ed. Hey Ed, do you know that guy?" I was pointing to the man standing in the beauty shop's open door.
"Sure that's Peanut Harris, he works in the mill."
"Hell Ed, everybody but me and you works in the mill," I replied.
"Not quite everyone, but almost," he replied. "Anyway Peanut works down there."
I nodded my understanding. Ed walked off so I turned toward the shop. "Hey Ed, you got my car fixed."
"I did the best I could, but that car has a lot of miles on it," he replied.
"I know but I couldn't afford anything newer. Besides there still ain't many cars for sale."
"I know the war done a number on everything. Anyway, yeah I got it fixed."
I followed him to the 1939 Chevy. The whole front of the car seemed to be grill. The square passenger box was sort of attached to the rear of the engine box, which was located behind that monster grill. The car though eight years old still ran pretty well. The flat six cylinder engine went through oil and spark plugs as if the makers of the car had stock in both. Which I am sure he did.
"I put in new plugs and changed the oil for you. It should run a few of thousand more miles before the plugs go out again. I also put a couple of quarts of oil in the trunk just in case she runs low when you ain't near a service station.
"You're a prince Ed," I said it as I handed him a five dollar bill. I stood looking at the beauty shop's door which had closed by that time.
"You ain't expectin' no change are you?" Ed asked.
"Lord no, I just wondered what happened to Peanut?"
"You think he is lookin' for you?" Ed asked.
"I got no idea, but I don't like people watching me."
"He probably wants to talk but is too shy. Peanut ain't all that bright." Ed suggested.
"Well, I'll pick up the car after while. I think I'll walk back to the apartment just to give him a chance to catch up to me."
I was almost to my outside door when I heard the voice. "Hey, are you Deacon Burke?" it asked.
"I am, but everybody calls me Deke. What can I do for you Mister Harris?"
"How do you know my name?" he asked a little shaken.
"I know just about everybody. Those I don't know, my friends do. Now what is it I can do for you."
"I board at the Bridges house across the street from your ma's place. I know your Brother Archie real well. I ain't seen him for a couple of years, but I know him. Course I know Earl real well."
"Mr. Harris, I'm in a bit of a hurry. Exactly what is it I can do for you." I wasn't really in a hurry I just wanted him to get on with it.
"I don't really like to talk on the street like this. Could we go up to your place?"
"Mr. Harris, I don't allow strangers into my apartment, but we can go over to the 'Pump Room'. There shouldn't be anyone in there this time of the morning, at least no one who gives a damn about your problems."
"That would do I guess," he replied.
We walked across the street, then passed a very small furniture store before arriving in front of the beer joint. I spent a lot of time in the place, either drinking their thin beer or playing poker at the rear most table. That morning I ordered two Cokes as I led Harris to a table near the poker table.
Harris didn't speak until the Cokes arrived. Once the bartender had returned to the bar Harris began, "I got fired last night. Mr. Burke, working in the mill is all I know. I can farm a little, but there ain't no money in that. Working in the mill is all I want to do."
"Why tell me?" I asked.
"Word on the hill is that you can get the company to change it's mind about firing people."
"Mr. Harris, somebody has been pissin' in your ear. I don't have no pull with the company. If I did, I would be living in one of their fancy houses. No, I got run out of my mother's boarding house cause I wouldn't work for them."
"I heard all that, but I also heard you can talk to them. Please Mr. Burke, I need some help here."
"Tell me what happened?" I replied with a sigh.
"I didn't go to church on Sunday, so they fired me last night when I come to work. I don't think they got the right to fire me for what I do on my days off."
"Mr. Harris, the job belongs to the mill, you just use it. They pretty much have the right to do whatever they want. I mean they can't mistreat you like beating you, but they can sure fire your ass for not going to church. Let me ask you this, did they ever warn you about going to church?"
"Not really," he said hedging on me.
"Come on Harris, did they ever tell you that you had to go to church?" I asked.
"Yeah, a couple of months ago the overseer called me in for missing church. I though that it had been long enough so's they wouldn't mind me missing again. You know, I thought they meant that I should go most of the time. I had no idea they meant every Sunday. If I had known, I would have gone."
"Well Harris, since they warned you there is nothing I can do. If I was you, I'd go look for a job with another mill. There are plenty of them."
"But I want to stay here," he replied.
"Why?" I asked, then quickly added. "It don't make no difference, you are out of a job. Since you are living in the Bridges House, you might as well move on as quick as you can. Just as soon as your board is used up the constable will be coming to see you." %%%
"It's a free country Harris, you can go about anywhere you want."
"I'm gonna' tell everyone I see that you ain't no help at all," he said angrily.
"I really would appreciate that. I get awful tired of people coming to see me. Now if you want, I can tell you where there is a mill that's looking for help. If you don't want, then I'll be seeing you Mr. Harris."
"Where is the mill?" he asked shortly.
"The mill over in Pomona is always looking for good help. Go see Everette Richardson over there. You might as well tell him the truth about what happened here. You can bet your ass, he is going to call the mill for a reference. Tell him up front and he'll give you a break."
"Yeah sure," he said as he stood to leave.
"You're welcome," I said too quietly for him to hear as he stomped out.