Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Night Train Part Eight
Madeline left the apartment late that morning. She went to gas up her car and collect what she needed for a road trip.
I spent the rest of the day cashing in where I could, which more or less meant New Jersey. I couldn't get to my city dough. I emptied a handful of bank accounts, burned a few favors, and collected on the Jersey rackets I ran outside of Jack's purview.
New duds were a must. Most of the people I knew had never seen me in anything but a suit. I bought a couple of pairs of tweed slacks, three shirts that wouldn't have looked out of place around a factory, underwear, and a good pair of walking shoes.
The change felt good. I had two closets full of tailored suits back in the city, worn one damned dear every day of my adult life, and hated every shoulder-constricting, neck-choking second of it.
I met up with Madeline in scenic downtown Hoboken.
Hoboken had a Main Street, a town square, and a train station. Some called the place quaint. I called it New Jersey.
There was a little diner situated just off the town square. The place smelled like a grease fire and looked like rail car. Conversation stopped when I went in to grab some grub for the road. Every townie eye burned into me as I stopped at the counter and placed my order. I've been told I have a certain presence. Some of the lunch customers looked like they were trying to place me, the rest stared with unabashed nosiness. It was a silent curiosity, though. They all stayed hushed up until I'd paid and gone back outside.
Madeline picked me up in front of the diner.
She sat behind the wheel of her new, cherry red breezer, staring at me as I loaded my new clothes into the boot. I dropped the sack of hamburgers into the back seat and climbed into the convertible.
She had her hair secured against the wind with a scarf of the same red as her car.
Her traveling outfit-- a simple white blouse and tan trousers-- didn't look much different than my own, which didn't stop her from giving me a critical going-over from behind her dark glasses.
“Why Moe,” she said as I settled into the passenger seat, “you look... you look like a rube!”
I turned to her, trying to get a look at myself reflected in her shades.
“Thank you?” I replied.
I didn't think my new olive drab shirt or the gray pants looked all that bad.
“I say it with love, chouette,” she laughed. “My family tree is a big ol' rube bush.”
“Well, that sure makes me feel better.”
She laughed again, then slammed her bare foot on the gas pedal. We rocketed away from the curb, leaving Hoboken behind in a cloud of road dust and greasy smoke.
There wasn't much conversation along the way, only partially because of the wind and the roar of the convertible's engine. That didn't change much when we stopped for a quick lukewarm hamburger supper. Madeline couldn't appreciate the finer points of a greasy New Jersey burger.
I took over the driving after our meal.
Madeline lay back in the passenger seat, her feet up on the dash. I felt her looking at me, searching my face for answers I didn't have yet.
I kept my eyes on the road.
We got off the interstate just after dark. An hour or so after that we stopped at a motel I'd have driven right by if it hadn't been for the lit neon, 'Vacancy', sign in the window of the office shack.
Madeline yawned and stretched as I parked and shut the car off.
“Where are we?” she asked.
“Maryland. Somewhere on the eastern shore.”
“Maryland? What the hell are we gonna do in Maryland?”
“Exactly,” I said. “Where are they going to expect us to go? California. Maybe Louisiana to be with your people. Maryland's perfect. Nobody goes to Maryland. On purpose, anyway.”
“You ship through Baltimore all the time, don't you?”
I conceded defeat with a shrug and got out of the car.
“I'll go get us a bungalow,” I croaked, stepping into the office.
The proprietor was a tall man in an ugly green bathrobe. He big ears, a big chin, and a shock of grayish brown hair that poked up in every direction. His beard appeared similarly untamed.
I watched that beard rise and fall with his breathing as he snoozed in his chair behind the desk.
A car door slammed shut behind me. I turned and got an eyeful of Madeline stretching in the moonlight.
The desktop had plenty of things on it-- pencils, newspapers, two ashtrays, and a coffee mug. Everything but a bell.
I cleared some surface space and rapped on the desk until the man woke up.
He opened one eye, smiled at me, and began the process of getting out of his chair.
“Evening, friend,” I said. “We could use a roof if you've got one.”
He closed his robe with clumsy, gnarled fingers and shambled to the desk. He moved like a man who'd recently lost weight and wasn't sold on his new mobility.
I nodded toward Madeline out by the car.
“Your wife?” he asked.
“Nope, but I'll say she is if it helps you sleep at night.”
He squinted at me for a second, then opened the register and slid it my way.
I picked up one of the pencils and scribbled something illegible.
“Got any luggage?”
“In the car.”
“No funny business, right?”
“Been on the road all day. I'm too tired for funny business.”
He chuckled and shook his big, shaggy head.
“The rate is four dollars per night. Two night minimum.”
I gave the man a sawbuck. He gave me a key and directions to the bungalow.
When we got there I unlocked the door and stepped inside, feeling around for a lamp.
Madeline followed me in. She found the lamp right away and switched it on.
The word, 'bungalow', implies a cozy shack with a fireplace, maybe some gingham curtains. The one we rented for four dollars a night was nothing more than a wood hut near the edge of some woods. There wasn't a fireplace, the curtains were plain, off-white muslin, and it wasn't cozy so much as it was small.
Madeline dropped her shoes at the foot of the bed and sat down, testing the mattress. She looked around and nodded her approval of the simple but clean furnishings.
I tossed my hat on the table by the window.
“Drink?” I asked.
“You tryin' to be funny, chouette?”
I uncapped my flask and walked it over to her. She took a belt and handed it back.
“L'chaim,” I toasted.
We emptied the flask over the next hour. When we were done I set it down on the nightstand and laid back on the bed.
Madeline stretched out next to me, her fingers playing with the buttons of my shirt. We stayed that way until we fell asleep.
I woke up a little after sunset.
Soft, red light streamed into the bungalow through the cheap curtains. Birds chirped in the trees.
I stayed in bed, enjoying the warmth of Madeline's body until I got restless and hungry, then untangled myself from her arms and went out in search of breakfast.
A quick trip to a truck stop a couple of miles down the road yielded coffee and donuts. I set Madeline's on the table next to my, then dragged a chair out in the front of the bungalow to eat mine.
The surrounding woods were green and lush. Flowering bushes grew right up to the front door. I fixated on some little white flowers on a vine, meditating on the delicate petals and the drops of dew.
I didn't taste the coffee or the donuts. My mind had begun to work again. It worked so hard that I didn't notice Madeline watching me from the open doorway.
“You gonna tell me about it?” she asked.
I snapped out of it and looked at her. I loved the way Madeline looked in the morning, with her hair all over the place and the sleep still in her eyes. The morning light added to the overall effect. So did the clingy white nightgown she had on.
“Tell you about what?”
“Your plan, Moe. I gotta tell you, this running away? It's not you.”
“My plan,” I grumbled. “Don't have one, baby. My plan was to get someplace where I could come up with a plan.”
She ducked back into the bungalow and came out a few seconds later with her coffee and the other chair. She sat down next to me, setting her bare feet in my lap.
“That's what this is?”
“Seems as good a place as any. At least it's quiet.”
“It's quiet all right. Come up with anything yet?”
“Yeah. I have to go back to New York. Like you said, running away isn't me.”
“You gonna run the operation then?”
“If the boys want me to.”
“That's gonna mean moving against Hersch. And Tynan.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. I'm less worried about O'Shaughnessy. He's the smart one.”
She thought about it.
“When are we going?”
“We've got this place for at least another night. We're in Maryland. May as well check the place out. Who knows? It could be good.”
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Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.