Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Night Train Part Nine
A storm front rolled in early that afternoon.
Sudden darkness, accompanied by a cutting wind that ripped through the trees, sent us running for the shelter of the bungalow. The electricity building up in the air augured meteorological mayhem of the highest order.
The proprietor, dressed in the same ratty bathrobe he'd been wearing when we checked in the night before, arrived with the first of the rain. He stared at me for a second, chewing on the unlit cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth, then barreled into the bungalow, moving furniture and scattering a motley assortment of pots and pans across the room.
He bounced around at a speed I hadn't thought his rickety body could achieve. When he was done he checked his work, grunting his satisfaction with the arrangements, then made for the door.
“Close those shutters,” he growled on his way out.
Thunder shook the ground. Rain drummed on the bungalow like the rhythm section of a hopped up jazz band. The roof couldn’t keep it all out.
I had to hand it to the proprietor. The man knew his onions. The only rainwater that landed outside of his pots and pans got there when I tripped over one of them while pacing the floor.
I ran the numbers while waiting out the storm, thinking hard about how I could square things with Hersch Lerner. Madeline spent the time making a point of not asking me about it.
I had Jack’s crew behind me. I had to have had them. I was still alive. Besides, a crew knows when their boss takes care of them and when he doesn’t. They understood why I did what I did. Backing me was not a tough call. Only fools and martyrs line up with a dead man.
Hersch was a bit of a mystery. I didn’t know him the way I knew Jack. By most accounts he was as decent a guy as you could find in our racket but I wouldn’t have called him a pal. He wasn’t too pleased with his brother and he must have known there was a good chance things would go like they did if he sent me in to see Jack. Didn’t mean he wouldn’t have me bumped off on general principles. Family is family.
O’Shaughnessy was the key.
Smart, shrewd O’Shaughnessy. He was the man I’d have turned the whole farm over to. He’d run the outfit better on a bad day than either Lerner brother could under the best of circumstances.
He wouldn’t be mourning Jack’s death but he wouldn’t be throwing me a parade for pulling the trigger either. I didn’t think he’d miss Hersch all that much either, even if they did appear joined at the hip just then.
The trick would be getting O’Shaughnessy positioned between Hersch and me, and keeping him there long enough to find out where things stood with the younger Lerner brother.
A flash of motion on the far side of the bungalow caught my eye. I looked that way in time to see Madeline slip into a flashy red dress.
“You like it?” she asked as she sat down on the bed to put her shoes on.
“That’s kind of a dumb question, isn’t it?”
“You really know what to say to a lady, don’t you, chouette?”
“You know I do. We going somewhere?”
“Yes. I’m famished. We’re going out to find some supper.”
I nodded, then dug around in the luggage for a clean shirt.
“When we get back,” she continued, “you can tell me all about how you’re gonna use Tynan to hold off Hersch.”
I looked at her, shaking my head.
“I know, Madeline. I should’ve thought of it back in New York."
“You did, hon,” she replied, holding the door open for me. “You just needed to convince yourself you were right.”
An unsuccessful search for a nice restaurant ended with us hitting the same truck stop I’d bought our morning coffee and donuts at.
A swirling fog replaced the ran, further obscuring the narrow lanes as dusk became dark close to the shore.
The truck stop looked suspiciously like a large cargo container with windows cut into it. A fresh red paint job made it a little more homey. Mud-spattered vehicles of every description crowded the patch of gravel in front of the place.
Madeline and I went in and seated ourselves at one of the joint’s dozen booths. The townies who occupied most of the others, as well as all five tables and four of the seven stools at the counter, all stopped what they were saying or eating to stare at us. Every one of the men still had their working clothes on-- overalls, dungarees, mud-caked boots. Some of the women were dressed the same way. The rest wore homespun dresses.
“Just smile, Moe,” Madeline said under her breath.
I gave it my best effort.
They kept staring while we read our menus and didn’t stop until we ordered dinner from a tall, curly-haired woman in a man’s denim shirt and an apron that might once have been white.
The guy in sheriff’s uniform seated at the end of the counter stared at us longer than everyone else.
He let up when the woman returned with our dinners-- chicken croquettes with peas and mashed potatoes for me, pork tenderloin with cream sauce and mashed potatoes for Madeline. The food was better than you’d expect to get in a cargo container. He was even nice enough to let us eat some of it before approaching the booth.
“Evenin’ folks,” he drawled, stopping right at the edge of the table.
“Hello there, Sheriff,” replied Madeline.
“Haven’t seen you two ‘round here before, have I?”
“No sir,’ I said. “Never been down this way before.”
He took his time looking me over. I returned the favor.
The sheriff was a man of medium height and medium build, though the lawman’s aura he wore like a suit of armor made him appear bigger. His long, gaunt face featured sunburned cheeks, a crooked nose, and chapped lips. His tired eyes told a tale of a man who ran an under-manned, overworked department. He’d worn the gray uniform he had on threadbare in the knees and elbows, which I found less interesting than the Smith & Wesson he wore on his hip.
“Never been down this way before, eh?” he repeated.
“That’s not a crime around here, is it, Sheriff?”
He squinted at me. His right hand inched closer to his holster.
“You tryin' to be funny, Mister?” he barked.
“Trying?” I replied. “Nope. Not trying.”
“I don't much care for your sense of humor.”
“Imagine how I must feel.”
That got me the cop glare.
“What’s your name, Mister?” he hissed.
“Malloy,” I replied. “Moses Malloy. My friends call me, ‘Moose’.”
“State your business in this municipality, Mr. Malloy,” he demanded.
“Well, Sheriff, right now we're having dinner. When we're finished we'll head back to our bungalow, maybe play some cards before we turn in. Come morning, we're on the road.”
I gave him my most beatific smile.
His cop's glare got harder.
Madeline jumped in before I could make things worse.
“Sheriff,” she began, “we're just passing through. We stopped here 'cause this is where we got tired. We'll be gone by tomorrow morning.”
The sheriff let his breath out between his teeth. He sneaked a quick look around the room at his audience.
“See to it that you are,” he said.
He scanned the room, then turned on his heel and stalked out of the truck stop.
“I don't think that man likes you, Moe.”
“That fellow’s ahead of the game. Most people wait ‘til the second time they meet me to decide they don’t like me.”
We lingered over the remains of our dinners, then ordered coffee and pie.
“Got anything to drink?” I asked the waitress when she brought the coffee.
“Coffee, tea, and water.”
“I meant anything to drink, ma’am.”
“I know what you meant,” she said.
I smiled at Madeline.
“This is one hell of a town, isn’t it, babe?”
The waitress scribbled some numbers on our check and presented it to me.
I paid her, then we got up to leave.
The whole place watched us go, just like they’d watched us come in.
The fog had thickened in the time it took us to eat. The sky was a pale gray color with patches of dark in it where the clouds sat.
The smells of the great outdoors-- wet grass, dirt, a little gasoline, a little manure-- threatened to overwhelm my city-bred olfactory apparatus.
Madeline slid behind the wheel of her convertible and fired up the engine. Gravel flew as she made for the road.
Something made me look back.
Another car from in front of the truck stop pulled onto the road, keeping a fair distance between us. I counted two more cars right behind it.
I turned back to face front at the same time Madeline took a peek in the rear view mirror.
“I don’t want to sound hysterical,” I said, “but I think we’ve got a problem.”
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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.