Tuesday, May 25

A Sneak Peek - by Janie DeVos



     Sometimes, it takes an author a while to get back into the mood to write, and such has been the case with getting on with my work in progress, WEDNESDAYS AT THE WABASH DINER.  The pandemic took the air out of my creative balloon for a while, but now that I’m fully vaccinated, I’m re-emerging once again, and it’s wonderful stepping back out into the light.  I’ve always said that to stimulate that part of my brain that writes stories, I need to be around people to hear theirs.  It may be something they say in the most casual of ways that sets a story in motion for me, or finally gives me that title I’ve been racking my brain to come up with.  Or, as has happened more than once, someone says something that has absolutely nothing to do with my story but miraculously gives me the elusive answer to solving a problem in my plot that has caused sleepless nights of staring up at the ceiling in frustration.  There’s no doubt about it:  I need face to face interaction with people in order to give life to my fictitious ones.  

It feels wonderful eating in restaurants and going to church again, and it is absolute Heaven shopping in brick and mortar stores where I can actually lay hands on an item I’m considering buying before doing so.  But, what feels the best (cue angels singing), is being back at my keyboard again.  So, I thought I’d give you a little taste of my manuscript by sharing one of the chapters with you, and, if I’m doing my job correctly, it will only whet your appetite for more. 

Boy, is it good to be back to the business of really living again—especially the writing part of it!  Happy reading everyone!

     


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                                     WEDNESDAYS AT THE WABASH DINER

 

Chapter 14

A Hundred Haystacks

 

     I stood in the middle of one of the long tables serving up cabbage, cornbread and biscuits, while Mr. Bradford stood at the front dishing up the chicken and dumplings.  Luke was at the other end, in charge of the banana pudding and refilling empty tea pitchers.  I spoke to him as little as was necessary, and, in truth, we really didn’t have much to talk about anyway.  He and Pepper had been spending more and more time together, and there were days when I hardly saw her at all.  I left early for work most mornings, while she stayed out late most nights.  She and Daddy argued constantly about it, while Mama tried to stay out of it.  In her usual fashion, my mother found it easier to ignore what was going on around her than to try and mediate it.  Not that she could, anyway. 

 

As I waited to serve the next customer, I stepped back to see how long the line was and wondered if we’d have enough food for them all.  The line was longer than the Wednesday before, which had been longer than the Wednesday before that.  Somehow, though, the Bradfords managed to feed everyone, which made me wonder if they’d been given the miraculous secret to feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fishes.

 

Moving my attention back to the task at hand, I scooped up a big spoonful of cabbage and then looked up at my waiting customer.  “Biscuit or cornbread?” 

 

Standing before me was Vance Malone.  Removing his cap from his head, he tucked it in his back pocket then self-consciously smoothed back his brown hair with one hand, while holding out his plate with the other.  “Howdy,” he said softly, glancing up at me then back down at his plate.  “Biscuit.”

 

“I figured you’d be long gone.”

 

He looked back up.  “Well, I would’ve been if there weren’t so many bulls roaming the yards right now.”  He was referring to the police the railroads employed to keep people from hopping on the trains at the rail yards, and catching those who jumped off.  The bulls were known for being brutal, and there had been far more than one rail jumper who had been seriously injured, or even killed.  But the law turned a blind eye to the violence. 

 

“My brother breaking Eugene Carmichael out of jail and then hopping a train might have somethin’ to do with all the police roaming around,” I said.

 

His brow furrowed.  “I heard about that.”

 

I lowered my voice and leaned in closer.  “What else did you hear?” 

 

“Not much more than that,” Vance replied, looking back down at the food.  He was completely closed off.

 

I had to know what he knew, even if it really wasn’t much.  But serving him in the food line was not the place to do it.  Instead, I watched as he found a place to sit in the shade of the shed behind the diner.  After about thirty minutes, he got up, discarded his used plate and utensils on a table set up for that purpose then started walking north at a good clip, paralleling the train tracks.  At the same time, Gina came out with another enormous bowl of cabbage for me.  She had obviously finished working in the dining room, and had been put on lunch line duty to help hurry things along.  “Take over for me for a few minutes, would ya?” I said, shoving my serving spoon in her hand.  “I need to go talk to someone before he leaves.”

 

“Who you gotta see?” she asked, craning her neck around.  “You sweet on one of them bums, Marty?”  She looked over at me excitedly with her overly made up black eyes, then back to scanning the crowd of possibilities.

 

“Don’t be silly.  Just start serving, okay?” 

 

I half-ran, half-walked toward Vance’s retreating figure until I got within shouting distance of him.  “Mr. Malone!”

 

Two other men had joined him, and as soon as they heard his name, they all turned around.  Vance’s companions looked as though they were quite a bit older than he—perhaps in their mid-50’s—and the gray, dust-colored growth on their faces gave away the fact that they hadn’t seen a razor in days.  Oddly enough, Vance was clean-shaven.  As a matter of fact, he always seemed to be.  All three waited for me to catch up to them and state my business.

 

“Mr. Malone, can I talk to you for a minute—privately, please,” I quickly added, glancing over at his companions.

 

“Give us a minute,” he told the men.  Without replying, they turned and slowly started north again, while Vance and I walked in the other direction.

 

“I don’t know where they are, Miss Spencer.”

 

The fact that he answered my question before I could ask it, as well as the fact that he remembered my name, caught me off guard.

 

“Oh, I…you…” 

 

“Anything else?” he asked impatiently.  “My buddies are getting further down the line.”  He watched my eyes but said nothing more.  It was as though he was trying to read what I was about to ask so that he could answer it in a hurry and be on his way.  But then, for some reason, he suddenly seemed to soften slightly.  “I’m sorry I can’t help you.”  He tried to smile but it didn’t reach his eyes.  He turned and started back along the tracks, but I followed him.

 

“Mr. Malone, you must have heard something, or maybe you can figure out where they might be headed.  Couldn’t you give me a pretty good guess where they probably jumped off, or maybe switched trains?”

 

He stopped walking and turned toward me.

 

“Surely, you know the routes,” I continued, “and the routines of people riding the rails.  Please, I’ve got to find them before the law does.  If they do, they’ll go real hard on ‘em.  Please!”  My eyes welled up but more so out of frustration than fear or sadness, though there was that, too.

 

“Look,” he sighed.  “Trying to find two young men along the rail lines who don’t want to be found is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.  Hell, there’s so much real estate they can cover in a fairly short amount of time, it’s more like trying to find a needle in a hundred haystacks.”

 

“Maybe so, Mr. Malone, but that needle is there somewhere, two of ‘em actually, and I’ve got to find them before anyone else does.”

 

“Why?  Why not let them stay gone?  If you find them, then what?  You gonna try to convince them to come back here and throw themselves on the mercy of the court”?  He laughed sarcastically.  “A lot of mercy the justice system’s been showing to that poor Carmichael fella.  I mean, I was only around him a couple of days but he sure didn’t strike me as the kind of guy to strike a match to a theatre to watch it go up in flames.  I mean, if he was involved, I’d be more likely to believe it was accidental, not intentional.”  He was quiet for a moment, then, “How’d your brother get involved in this, anyway?”

 

“Bobo—my brother—and Eugene are friends.  They shared a paper route for a time.  We went to see Eugene in jail the other day, and after we got home, Bobo was even more upset than he’d been before he saw him.  Then my father made him leave the house—told him he couldn’t afford to keep him anymore.”

 

“That’s rough.”  Vance frowned. 

 

“You don’t know the half of it, Mr. Malone.  My father has never been anything but hard on my brother.  Bobo’s…um…different, special.  He’s—.”

 

“I know who your brother is,” he interrupted.

 

“You do? How?” 

 

“Once in a while, when I’ve been staying at that camp by the packing house, he’s stopped by.”

 

“Why?  What’s he been doing there?”

 

“The crazy kid brings a sack of groceries,” he said, a full smile finally breaking across his face.  It was the first time I’d seen it, and it was comforting in an odd sort of way.  In his smile there was some small fraction of hope in a seemingly unsolvable equation.  At the same time I was studying the transformation of his face, however, what he had just said sunk in.

 

“Wait!  Did you say Bo brought groceries?” 

 

“Yeah.  I was there a couple of times when he did.  I think he’d been looking for a dog, ‘cause one night when he stopped by he found it.  That pleased the kid to no end.  You’d a thought he’d won a million bucks.”

 

I remembered the night well.  “That’s my dog,” I said quietly.  “He’d been missing.”  Neither of us said anything for a moment, but Vance watched me closely as I took a deep breath trying to push down a sob that had started to gather in my chest.

 

I thought back to the countless times I’d lectured Bobo about not eating enough, and insisting that he use his own hard-earned money to buy himself food.  But the fact that he was getting thinner because he was making sure others had something to eat didn’t surprise me.  Not in the least.  He was a gentle, good soul and I was more determined than ever to find him before anyone could change that or steal that from him.  And I didn’t want that gentle, good soul stolen from me.

 

“I’m gonna find him,” I said with absolute resolve.  “If it takes the rest of my days, I’ll find him.”   I turned to leave.

 

“And what’re you going to do if you do?  Have you thought that far ahead?” 

 

Turning, I replied, “Bring him home where he belongs.  If he turns himself in, maybe the courts will go easy on him.  I pray they will, anyway.  And once he’s paid whatever debt the law feels he owes, then, if need be, we’ll pitch a tent out there in one of those camps or jungles you talk about, alongside the rest of the folks that have no place else to go, or anybody waitin’ on ‘em.”

 

“What about that Eugene boy?  Courts won’t go easy on him, that’s for sure.”

 

“I need to talk to him.  Find out what he knows.  I never got a chance to do that when they had him locked up.  I have a pretty good suspicion that no one—the sheriff included—asked him too many questions or tried to get to the bottom of what really happened the night of the fire.  It was easy to just pin it on him.  But I don’t believe he had anything to do with it, accident or otherwise.  The only chance I have about finding out how that fire got started is by putting together the little bits and pieces that he’s able to tell me.”

 

“What if the boys won’t come back with you?”

 

“Well, then, I guess we’ll stay gone together.  Someone needs to look after them.  They can’t do it on their own.  They can’t defend themselves here at home, so how on Earth will they be able to out there?” I asked, jutting my chin toward the north-bound tracks.  “They’ll die—or worse.” I looked over in the direction of the diner.  “I have to go.”

 

“Well…I wish you luck.” He started to walk away but turned around.  “You go off on this wild goose chase of yours, you take someone with you, you understand?  It’s a mighty rough world out there, especially for a lone female.  Don’t go it alone,” he re-emphasized firmly.

 

I didn’t say anything.  There was nothing to say.  There was no point in telling him that there wasn’t a soul in this God forsaken town I would ask to go with me.  Instead, I just nodded at the cap man and walked away.

 



8 comments:

  1. Oh, Janie...I don't have any words for how delicious this is! I can't wait to see the rest of it and to find out more about Bobo and Eugene--although I can feel some grief nipping at the edges. You've been spending your time well.

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  2. Awwww, bless you, dear Liz. Can't wait to show y'all some of the places that have inspired me during the writing of this. One in particular is the Orchard at Altapass. Check it out online. You'll get a "sneak peek" into one of the spots I'll take you to. That's where the picture of this train tunnel was taken.

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  3. Janie, another fabulous and touching story in the works. I’m anxious to read more. Your grasp of the era and the people is just perfect. Keep writing, my dear, and I so happy your muse returned. 💕🙂

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  4. Thank you, Nan! High praise coming from you.

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  5. Pam Gassen AlonsoMay 25, 2021 at 8:59 PM

    This definitely has my interest. I would love to see where this goes and evolves. You are a great writer and look forward to reading this book.

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    1. Thank you, Pam!! That's so sweet. Do you know that I have a picture of you that's in a group picture from our confirmation at the Coral Gables First Methodist Church! It was taken in 1971. I keep it on hanging on the wall next to my desk. Such sweet innocent faces. Look how far we've all come. So good to be in touch with you again. xo

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  6. Wow! I'd love to read this. Can't wait until it's published!

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