Quick reads the night tr.., p.1
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       Quick Reads: The Night Train, p.1

           Ed Rehkopf
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Quick Reads: The Night Train


  Quick Reads:

  The Night Train

  Ed Rehkopf

  Copyright 2012 Ed Rehkopf

  Charlie reached down with a stick to stir the embers. He was already a little stinkoed from the wine. The meal had been good and he had a full feeling in his belly for the first time in three days. He looked at Junior across the fire and said, "Damned if I don't feel good." It was a statement but seemed directed to Junior as a question.

  "It's the juice makes you feel that way. You felt good two nights ago when you were drunk, too." Junior always had a way of deflating someone.

  "No, by God, this is different," Charlie defended. He took another drink from the bottle and passed it to the third man who reclined on his side by the fire. "How 'bout you, Truck? How you feelin'?"

  "I'm feelin' OK," Truck responded, declining the bottle for the fourth time.

  "I jus' can't get over it," Charlie said to no one in particular. "Truck Thompson saying no to a sweet little taste of Honeydew." Charlie looked at Junior. "The man must be crazy!"

  "Well, I ain't," Junior replied reaching for the bottle.

  Truck watched the younger man tilt the bottle back. In the dancing light of the fire he watched his Adam's apple bob with each swallow. If they only knew how bad he wanted a drink. But he was sure if he got started, he wouldn't stop and he would spend another day in this godforsaken place.

  "Hey!" Charlie yelled at Junior. "Save some for a thirsty man." He phrased it politely, but there was a noticeable edge to his voice. Having put up the better part of three-fifty toward the jug, he felt entitled to his fair share.

  Junior lowered the bottle but not before some of the liquid escaped his mouth and dribbled down his stubbly chin.

  "Damn you, boy," Charlie yelled roughly, "you're wastin' precious heat." He grabbed for the bottle.

  Junior grinned stupidly wiping his chin with the back of his hand. "Sorry, Charlie, I jus' got carried away."

  "Carried away, hell! Go buy your own damned bottle if you wanna get carried away." He was acting mad because he felt the situation demanded it, but actually he was feeling too good to be upset.

  "So Truck, tell me again why it is your headin' out?" he said as he turned toward the wiry man lying at his side.

  Truck shifted his legs uneasily and tried again to explain his need to leave. "It's like I told you before, Charlie, I jus' got to. I've been hangin' around here too long. I'm gonna head south."

  "Well hell, if it's just bein' tired of this place, we can catch the westbound out tomorrow mornin'." He took another drink from the bottle. "Yeah, we can head out to Frisco. I know a sweet little outa-the-way jungle. We can put up there a spell. The pickin's pretty good out there an' I know a place we can work easy."

  Charlie's voice sounded excited at this thought, but Truck had heard it all before. He sometimes thought Charlie had no memory at all. They had ridden together for over a year now and nothing ever changed. Tomorrow it was always going to be better. It was always some other town.

  "No, Charlie, I'm gonna catch that last train out tonight." There was determination in his voice.

  Charlie sensed Truck was doing this one solo. He wouldn't go unless Truck asked, but he didn't think that was going to happen. All was quiet around the fire for a moment. Junior grew uncomfortable and broke the silence. "What's down south that's so important?"

  He directed this toward Truck, but Charlie answered instead, "His ol' lady's down south."

  Truck heard the sneer in Charlie's voice but said nothing. Maybe it was Louellen he was thinking of, but he didn't think so. She probably wouldn't have him back anyway. No, he just wanted to go home . . . go back to his neck of the woods. Maybe he'd look in on his mother if she was still alive. All he knew was he couldn't keep on riding trains. There just wasn't any future in it.

  "You know, Charlie," Junior said, "I'll go out to Frisco with you." There was a sympathy in his voice that said he understood the rejection Charlie was feeling.

  "You go to hell," Charlie responded sharply. He sensed the sympathy and he'd be goddamned if he'd let some punk kid feel sorry for him. "If I go anywhere, it'll be alone. You understan’? You little snot-nosed bastard," his voice rose, "I don't need your sympathy."

  "Easy on the kid," Truck said touching Charlie's knee.

  "You can go to hell, too." Charlie jerked his knee away. "I don't need any of you sorry bastards. I was ridin' freights when both of you were still suckin' at your mamas’ tits. I can get along jus' fine by myself." He took another long pull from the bottle.

  Truck felt sorry for Charlie. He hated to leave him like this. He hated to leave on a sour note. He knew he shouldn't take a drink, but he'd do it for Charlie.

  "Hey, Charlie, how about a taste for ol' Truck?" he said suddenly in a cheerful voice.

  Charlie looked at him with undisguised glee. "Now you're talkin', boy." He handed the bottle over to the wiry man. "I knew ol' Truck couldn't resist sweet Honeydew's charms."

  Truck tilted the bottle back and felt the sticky warmth fill his mouth. He lowered the bottle and chewed on the liquid for a moment before letting it wash back into his throat. After the swallow he let out a long exclamatory exhale. "Mighteeee fine little lady," he said looking at Charlie with a grin. "Yessir, mighteeee fine!"

  Charlie loved it. "You hear that, boy," he said turning to Junior, "here's a man knows how to 'preciate a lady." In the span of a moment Charlie's good feeling had been restored. As he always said, "There's nothin' like a drink shared among friends to raise your spirits." He even passed the bottle to Junior who took a more respectful drink.

  Truck still planned to head out tonight, but figured they might as well enjoy their last evening together. The southbound didn't pass through until after nine and he figured it couldn't be much past eight.

  "Does this mean you ain't goin'?" Junior asked Truck.

  "Shut the hell up," Truck hissed at him and gave a quick look to Charlie.

  Charlie heard, but pretended he didn't as he took another drink. It was something they ought not talk about. "We'll just keep up pretenses," he thought to himself, "an' let ol' Honeydew do the rest."

  "You know, Truck, I recall the first time I laid eyes on you," Charlie started in an expansive voice. "You looked pretty sad. A real sorry sight. You shoulda seen him, Junior. It was outside Omaha and it was thunderin' and lightnin' up a storm. The rain was comin' down like the heavenly floodgates were sprung. I was sittin' under a railroad overpass cooking some dinner. All of a sudden there was a terrifyin' flash and a crash a thunder that like to knock me over. I look up and there stands ol' Truck. Like to scare the hell outa me." He handed the bottle to Junior and moved closer to the fire.

  "He looked like the devil comin' out of that rain an' it gave me a good scare. But I could see he was soaked through. He had such a miserable look on his face, I woulda ast him to join me if he were ol' Satan hisself. You remember that, Truck? You remember how we shared my beans and my bottle that night?"

  Truck nodded his head thoughtfully. "I'll never forget, Charlie."

  "Yeah, an' we've been together ever since," he added looking at Junior.

  Junior passed the bottle on to Truck. "So where all you been?" Junior asked trying to keep Charlie's recollective mood going.

  "Man, where ain't we been! Right, Truck?" Charlie stretched out next to the fire. He was feeling real warm and comfortable now. Ol' Honeydew was turning her trick.

  Truck saw what Charlie was trying to do. Let ol' Truck get a few in him an' start talkin' about the things we done together. Maybe it worked before, but by God, it ain't going to work this time. I'll h
ave a few for old time's sake, but I'm heading out tonight come hell or high water.

  Charlie kept on talking. He was getting so drunk that his stories were getting all mixed up. He had Truck and himself doing things they had never done and going places Truck wasn't even sure existed. Most were stories he had heard in one form or another in dozens of camps from hundreds of nameless tramps.

  Junior, who was still new to the life, sat forward listening intently to these tales, but Truck started to tune out. Listening to Charlie's trash just made him want to leave all the more. Junior passed him the bottle and he drank hard, feeling the warmth in his belly.

  His mind wandered away to Biloxi. He recalled Louellen and how bad he had let her down. She hadn't asked for much. But even that little was more than he could give. He felt too hemmed in by her and the house and his lousy job. He just had to have some space. So he took to the rails where there was plenty of space . . . space enough for anything . . . another boxcar if this one don't suit you or another town if you like. The rails were hard and cold, but you had your space.

  He had seen some ugly things on the rails. He'd seen men beaten bloody for nothing more than a word and men so sick they just lay there shittin' in their pants; he'd seen men grow old with nothing but the lousy clothes on their backs, he'd seen them die quietly in their sleep and he'd seen a man die savagely, surrounded by a gang of punks out for
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