General Fiction posted March 28, 2016

This work has reached the exceptional level
Charlie Dixon, a hobo, is dying.

Charlie Dixons Last Ride

by J Dan Francis


 (Part I)

    It was the long distant whistle announcing the Adirondack Flier as it approached High Rock Crossing that startled Charlie Dixon, like he had woken up from a bad dream. He was shaking and sweating, but strangely, as the train drew closer, he smiled and settled back. Nick Rodgers reached over with a comforting touch to his shoulder, patting him gently, speaking in assuring whispers; Charlie drifted back into his dreams and delirium.               
   Nate Harper picked up a stick and examined it; it looked to be just right. He used it to push a can of beans closer to the hot coals as flames from the campfire danced in the breeze revealing the dirty stubble on his face. Nate worried, maybe they had moved Charlie too close to the tracks. That the passing trains would agitate him even more in these last hours before he left this world for another. It is where Charlie wanted to be; where he asked to be. It was not an unreasonable request given the circumstances of his mortality. Like some who had a need to be near the ocean, Charlie had a need to hear the steel wheels of an iron horse clacking and clanking as it rolled down the tracks, and to hear its lonely whistle blow one last time. This would be his last appeal; his last rite.
    Nick lit a cigarette off a stick that he had pulled from the burning fire. He took a long drag, inhaling the smoke deep into his lungs as he stared uneasily at the flames.
“You think Charlie is long for this world?” Nick asked.
   Nate was still pushing that can of beans around. The stick caught fire. He pulled it away and shook it till the flame went out. Smoke swirled and drifted up from the tip. He looked over at Charlie. Sweat was beading up on his forehead and his breathing was labored. But, he was sleeping, which was a relief to Nate. Nate, looked back at the can of beans, studying it as he pushed it around some more.
“No…no I don’t think Charlie is long for this world, kid... Looks like this might be Charlie’s last ride.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know.”                                                                           
“But, how?”
“You ask too many damn questions.”
“Aw… wadda you know,” Nick said.
   Nate looked up at Nick. He was rocking back and forth, cold and troubled. He was worried about Charlie. Nick flicked his cigarette into the campfire. He leaned over and put his hand on Charlie’s forehead. His fever was getting worse. Nick pulled the blanket up and tucked it under Charlie’s chin.
“Charlie can have my blanket,” Nick said.
“Cold night, you’re gonna need that blanket. Besides, Charlie will be gone before morning.”
“He’s burning up.”
“He don’t know it kid… that extra blanket ain’t gonna buy him more time… ain’t nothin’ gonna buy Charlie time now. All we can do is make him comfortable; wait it out.”
“I can’t sleep anyway,” Nick said.
   Nick got up and took the blanket from his bedroll. He laid it gently over Charlie. Charlie opened his eyes a little and gave Nick a faint smile, he fell back into unconsciousness. Nick sat down and pulled another cigarette from his shirt pocket. He tore the filter off and tossed it. He tapped the cigarette on the back of his hand then flipped it between his lips and lit it with the same stick he had used before. He took a long drag and inhaled deep. Nate reached into his duffel and pulled out a bottle of Red Dog Whiskey. He unscrewed the cap, and handed it off to Nick. Nick exhaled the smoke then took the bottle. He looked at it a moment, tipped it to his lips full up and took a big swig and handed the bottle back to Nate. Nate took a long gulping swig smacked his lips and winced; he took another quick swig, screwed the cap back on and laid the bottle down by his side.
“I’m sorry Nate,” Nick said.
“Yeah… me too Kid.”
“It’s not fair… he’s not even sixty yet.”
“God writes the rules Kid… and rule number one, life ain’t fair... It never is.  This is the life we chose.”
“Not much of a life.”
“Depends how ya look at it.”
“I guess.”
   The beans started to hiss. Nate picked up the stick and pushed the can away from the hot coals to let it cool a bit. Charlie began to stir in his sleep. He started talking out of his head like he was having a conversation with someone. Nick reached over to comfort him, Charlie stopped stirring as quickly as he started, Nick pulled his hand away. He didn’t want to wake him. He turned back to the dwindling flames and flickering embers.
“I like this place,” Nick said stretching his arms up high and yawning. “Where are we again?”
“Orendaga River Valley… Adirondacks… In the morning, we’ll hike it over to North Hill, hop the eight-O-five down to Albany. Better chance of finding some work on the down-low in Albany.”
“What about Charlie?”
“What about Charlie?” Nate responded… “Don’t you worry yourself none Kid, Charlie will be with his mother by then… always talked about his mother…. Saintly women she was. I mean, the way he would talk about her. Probably her he was just talkin’ to. She’ll be there to greet him on the other side… be like when he was a kid… be like old times”
“Yeah, but we can’t just leave him here.”
“Can’t take him with us. Someone will find him. They’ll give him a decent burial. There’s a real nice cemetery above town on Hilltop Road. I’ll pin a note to his shirt, tell them who he is, that he got no family but us. They’ll just think Charlie’s another bum who died in the woods by the tracks. They’ll make him a nice pine box to sleep in, take him to Hilltop, say a prayer over him, maybe sing a nice gospel song, then lay Charlie to rest.”
   Nick took another drag on his cigarette; he flicked it into the fire, exhaling heavily. A sudden breeze carried the smoke away. Nate picked up the bottle of Red Dog Whiskey, unscrewed the cap and handed it to Nick. Nick held the bottle awhile as he watched the flames, dying down, flickering, dancing above the glowing burning wood. He looked over at Charlie. Nick felt helpless to do anything more for him. He brought the bottle up nodding it toward his dying friend, and took another long swig. Nick handed the bottle back to Nate. Nate took it, examined the bottle, then wiped the top. He too took a long drink, screwed the cap back on, and laid the bottle down. Nate threw a few more sticks on the campfire. The two men sat still and stared at the flames as the fire came back to life and danced, lighting up the night around them.
“Charlie ain’t no bum,” Nick said. “Make sure you put that in the note.”


(Part II)

    It was a long train, about a hundred cars, maybe more he had guessed. Nate Harper was always trying to figure length and weight and drag and the horsepower needed to pull all those cars. Would it need one engine or two? Would they need a third for a backup? He would factor in departure and arrival time schedules and almost always be on the money. It helped him to pass the time during those long slow rides. He could never read words well but he had a mind for numbers and organization and mechanical things. Nate was a quick study, if he could get his hands dirty doing it. Sometimes when there was a breakdown he would jump out and help with the repairs. There were times when some in the line crew thought Nate worked for the railroad. And the ones who knew he was a hobo never said boo about it, because they knew he could fix just about anything with steel wheels. Nate knew more about trains than any ten engineers put together. But, in his heart he was a wanderer and wanted no other life. Punching a time clock was never going to be something Nate Harper would ever do.
   Nick Rodgers on the other hand couldn’t have cared less. He was young and still considered a greenhorn in this life; the hobo life that is. By nature, Nick was lazy. Now contrary to popular belief, hobos are not lazy. They are what I would say, lovers of freedom. Less the clock watchers like the working stiffs of the worldly type, which often mistakenly gives Hobo’s the appearance of laziness. Nick was the exception.
   Riding the rails was the only way for Nick Rodgers to keep moving. He only stayed in one place long enough to make enough scratch (of which he was almost always divested, through gambling, drink, and whorish women) to get him to the next. It seemed Nick was always running from something or someone. Riding the rails fed his insatiable wanderlust, something he was infected with since he was fourteen when he ran away from an abusive father and alcoholic mother. He never cared where he was going, just as long as he was always in motion and never in one place for too long for anyone to mess with him.
   There was a flat spot on one of the wheels and it was driving Nick half out of his mind. He kept moving to different parts of the boxcar to get away from it, but it was no use. He settled wearily into a corner where there was a pile of hay he could lay on. The clacking thumping rhythm of the errant wheel lulled him into a catatonic state, but it would give him no rest.
   It was early evening when they finally rumbled into the Albany rail yard. Nate was standing, leaning against the steel jamb of the open boxcar looking across a field of goldenrod that glistened in the low setting sun. In a stand of trees were three men gathered around an old truck rim with a fire burning in it. Behind was an old tarp fashioned into a lean-to that served as their camp. One of them was busting up a wooden pallet and throwing the pieces on the fire. Nate looked back at Nick who was staring off into space.
“Let’s go kid…this is where we get off.”
   The train made a loud squealing noise, the cars’ couplers banged into one another jolting Nick from his wide-awake trance. He slowly got up trying to keep his balance. Nate reached down behind and grabbed his duffel, and, threw it out to the dusty gravel below, he then hopped off, landed on his feet squarely, ran a little, then slowed to a walk. Nick grabbed his bedroll, slung it over his shoulder and clumsily stumbled to the wide opened door. The boxcar lurched then jerked back almost throwing Nick off. He grabbed hold of the steel jamb quickly to steady himself. His legs were wobbly and weak from the long ride. He was hungover from drinking too much Red Dog the night before; having an empty stomach didn’t help matters any either. Nick being sick and woozy sat down in the doorway, he shook the sleep from his legs, and then pushed off; he lost his footing and fell flat on his face with a loud “Oof!” Nate, seeing it and wincing in empathy, rushed over to help Nick as he lay on his stomach pushing himself up spitting out gravel, he was trying to catch his breath. Nate was embarrassed because the three men saw Nick’s disastrous dismount and were falling all over themselves laughing about it. He picked Nick up by one arm, brushing the dust off him and scolding him like he was a misbehaving child. The three men laughed even harder and louder.                                          
   Nate gave a look that could kill, and then realized he recognized the three men in the stand of trees by the fire. Nate Harper knew every hobo from Miami to Portland. And who he didn’t know, he eventually got around to knowing.
“I think I know those guys.” he said. “Maybe we can get ‘em to stake us some grub and find out where the work is.”
 Nate started to walk over to where the men set up camp. Nick followed, staggering, trying to keep up with Nate.
“Not hungry Nate…just thirsty.”
“You drank the last of the Red Dog.”
“I meant water… I just want water… I’m sick… my gut don’t feel right.”
“Yeah… well, ya took a good hit back there, knocked the wind outta ya, bruised ya up a bit.  Aw hell, you’re just hungover kid… you’ll feel better once you eat something.”
   As they got closer, Nate could see it was Philly Whalen and Johnny Evers, and a squirrely looking oddball named Smokin’ Paulie. He was called Smokin’ Paulie on account he once slept too close to the fire and set himself ablaze. He has burn scars to prove it, which he often shows to everyone, too eagerly.
“Well, look who blew into town,” Philly Whalen said as the two men approached.
   All three of the men knew Nate, but not Nick Rodgers. They’d never heard of him, so the introduction was somewhat awkward and guarded as introductions usually are in hobo circles. At least until the new guy earns his name and proves his mettle; reputation, that is.
   Nick walked right past the men as if they were not even there and sat down against a tree, holding his belly. He never said a word to any of them, not even a hello. That was his first mistake. They regarded him with suspicion right off. Nate knew right then he was going to have to smooth things over, sooner or later.
“You fellas got any grub to share with couple-a-hungry travelers?”
“What’s with your friend?” Johnny asked.
 “He’s just hungover and mad at the world… don’t pay him no mind.”
“Needs to learn some manners.” Johnny said, getting up in Nate’s face.
   Nate ignored the advance and turned away. He looked at Philly and began rubbing his belly; he was putting on his pity look.
“What-a-ya-say Philly-Boy, ya got any food? We ain’t had nothin’ to eat but a can of beans between us last night.”
“Some stew left over, not much though, you’re welcome to it.” 
   Philly pointed toward an old burnt pot sitting near the fire, Johnny Evers and Smokin’ Paulie were none too happy about Philly giving what was left of their supper away on account that Nick Rodgers had just insulted them and offered no apology. Nate walked over and picked the pot up. The two men glared at him, spoiling for a fight, but Nate didn’t care because their stomachs was painfully empty.
   He considered the pot and saw there was barely a spoonful in there. His eager countenance sunk so low his stomach started doing flips. He took the big wooden spoon and scraped every last bit of the stew into one small pile and walked over to Nick who was holding his belly. Nate was never known to be a selfish man. He was quite the opposite. Without taking any for himself, he placed the pot down next to Nick.
“Eat it up Kid… It’ll settle your stomach.”
   Nick looked into the pot for a bit then grimaced. He shook his head no and leaned back against the tree. It just didn’t look all that appetizing to him. Nate was too hungry to argue. He picked up the pot and gorged himself on what was left, scraping out every bit licking the big wooden spoon. Nick lay down and rolled over on his side away from the others and fell off to sleep.
   Nate sat down around the fire with the three men. Smokin’ Paulie started rolling a cigarette while Philly reached behind and brought up a half full bottle of Red Dog. He unscrewed the cap and handed the bottle to Nate who eagerly took it, wiped the end and took a generous swig, then handed it back to Philly who also took a generous swig, winced, then shook his head and passed the bottle over to Johnny.
“Been a boozer half my life and the first one of the day still burns goin’ down,” Philly said, making conversation.
   Nate was nervous around the other two fellas. He was trying to figure what to say to ease the tension and take their minds off the Kid. Nicks rudeness may have possibly bought him a good beating later in the night when he might least expect it. That’s the law of the hobo jungle; crude, primitive, but effective when it calls for it. Nate did not think Nick deserved a beat-down for his lack of manners; there was a good explanation. If it came to that, Nate might be prevented from interfering and that wouldn’t be good for Nick.  Johnny Evers is a big fella, and he can be real mean if he gets a mind to be, and there’s no stopping him when he gets that way. He’s good to have around though, as long as he’s on your side. Dumb and loyal, as Philly would describe him, but he can turn ugly real quick. He would do anything for Philly though. Philly took Johnny under his wing a few years back and has been looking out after him since. Philly’s a good egg and Nate likes him just fine. Johnny and Paulie, he can take ‘em or leave ‘em.
   The bottle came around again and Nate took another big swig. He figured the time was right to tell them about Charlie Dixon, hoping that might dampen things a bit’ and that maybe Johnny would forget about Nick. So, Nate gathered up his thoughts and broke the news.
“Thought you fellas should know,” Nate got real quiet for a moment.
“Know what?” Philly asked.
“Charlie Dixon took his last ride.”
  Philly looked like he had been punched in the gut when Nate gave the news. Smokin’ Paulie struck a match, about to light a cigarette, he then threw the match into the fire, pulled the cigarette from his mouth and stared into the flames as if he had been drained of his own life. Johnny Evers, angrily ripped up some grass and dirt from between his legs where he was sitting and flung it.
“Charlie was the best,” Johnny said fighting back his emotions.
   Philly sat there somberly looking at the ground while Paulie struck another match and lit his cigarette.
“When?” Philly asked.
“Just before sun-up this morning.”
“Poor Dix… We all knew he was feelin’ poorly these past few months… Had a feeling it was gonna come to this.”
“The Kid over there is pretty broken up about it,” Nate said. “Charlie kinda took him on, started showin’ him the life and all; then this.
Nate looked up at Johnny to gauge his reaction. Johnny peered over his shoulder at Nick then he said to Nate.
“Guess that explains it.”
“Yeah,” Nate replied.
“Guess the Kid is your problem now,” Paulie said.
“He ain’t a problem…just can’t jump out of a slow movin’ train without almost killin’ himself… Other than that, he holds his own.” They laughed as Nick snored away.
Nate was feeling a little more at ease now that Johnny seemed to understand. He knew Smokin’ Paulie would follow Johnny’s lead and figured Nick was safe, for now, as long as he minded his manners.
“Charlie was a stand-up guy,” Philly said.
“He was for sure,” Nate said.
“Amen,” said Johnny.
“Yes sir… he was at that,” Said Smokin’ Paulie, and they all nodded in agreement.
   Philly capped the Red Dog and threw the bottle aside. He reached into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a pint bottle of Jack Daniels.
“I was saving the good stuff for a cold night or special occasion… I’d say this is about as special as it’s gonna get… and it is a bit nippy out… so pull out your tin cups fellas, and I’ll pour ya some of this fine whiskey.”
   They all grabbed their tin cups and held them at the ready as Philly poured a generous shot in each one. He poured his last and then held his cup high to make a toast. The other men also raised their cups.
“To Charlie Dixon; philosopher…healer…free-man…made the best damn hobo stew…and lastly, he was friend to all, be it man or beast. Rest in Peace Charlie” Philly said, and then he drank his tin cup of whiskey down in one full gulp.
   The other men responded, “Hear-hear”, and drank all their whiskey in the same manner, one full gulp. Philly poured the men another, and then another till the bottle was empty; he threw it off into the brush. They all sat in drunken silence as the fire burned and popped and the night air grew cooler.
   Over by the tree Nick Rodgers lay with his face buried in his bedroll crying quietly in muffled sobs. Johnny Evers got up, grabbed a blanket from his bedroll,  went over to Nick and gently placed it over him.


(Part III)

 “I can’t find him Nate…I been up and down this cemetery a million times and I just don’t see nothin’ - nothin’ at all.”
“Keep lookin’, he’s gotta be here somewhere.”
   It’s been close to four weeks since Nate Harper and Nick Rodgers had left North Hill to work the scrapyards down in Albany. Between the two of them, they scraped together almost three thousand dollars. For a regular household of four, that was barely enough to pay a month’s expenses. But in hobo pay, it was more than enough scratch to keep them in Red Dog and beans all summer long, and then some; that is if they could avoid getting stupid.
  After three days of listening to arguing and begging, Nate had relented and gave in to Nick’s sentimentality. He was beginning to sound like a four-year-old. Nate grudgingly shelled out seventy-five bucks for a small cut slab of granite and another twenty-eight bucks for a rock hammer and chisel. Still, that was about six hundred bucks cheaper had they bought a proper monument with Charlie Dixons name expertly carved into it. Nate wasn’t the bank, but he was the bank vault; and for obviously good reason; Nick.
   The North Hill Cemetery and Crematorium located above town on Hilltop Road was twenty-five acres of flat sandy soil, sparse with dull green patches of grass, and a forest that bordered three sides. There were many gravestones of various shapes and sizes placed unevenly throughout half of its twenty-five acres. It clearly made no sense; A person could easily get confused looking for a loved one. Misplaced trees and saplings were planted in various family plots; most weren’t even native to the Adirondacks, and many of those trees looked like they were as dead as the tenants who slept beneath them. For a cemetery that had been in operation for the last fifty odd years, it was not well kept.
   There was a large old weather-beaten wooden shed badly in need of a coat of paint, with its door wide open, exposing an old riding mower, two push lawnmowers and a weed-whacker. A rusty backhoe was parked outside under a lopsided lean-to roof attached to the shed. Fifty feet away stood a sheet-metal building about the size of a three-car garage. It had a very large and tall brick smokestack protruding up through the back of the building; a wooden sign hung above the door that read, “Crematorium”. There was an ominous air about the place. In the back, nearer to the woods was a caretaker’s cottage, it was in worse shape than the shed and almost as gloomy as the crematorium. There was a man in overalls with a red greasy rag sticking out of his back pocket; he was working under the hood of an old Ford pickup.    Nate saw him from a distance and started walking over. Nick followed, weaving in and around gravestones to catch up.
“EXCUSE ME!” Nate called out.
   The man never answered back. He didn’t even come out from under the hood to acknowledge him. He just kept right on working on the truck.
“Excuse me, sir?” Nate repeated as he got closer.
   Nate got right up behind him and Nick was by this time right behind Nate.
“I heard ya the first time, hold your britches!” the man yelled, not even bothering to look up at Nate.
   When he finally emerged from under the hood of the old Ford truck he showed himself to be quite tall, and thick all around, and he was old, in his late sixties maybe seventies. He had a perturbed look on his face as if Nate had just interrupted his lunch.
“If you’re lookin’ for work, I got none for ya… hardly got enough to keep myself busy.”
“No sir, it’s not work we’re lookin’ for… We’re lookin’ for a friend of ours.”
 “Aint nobody been here all day but me. If somebody came by I woulda’ seen ‘em.”
“Our friend is dead,” Nate said. “He would have been buried here.”
   The old man looked up and down at the two men with derisive suspicion, he waved his hand dismissively over at the cemetery.
“Look all you want, gates close at six… just be outta here by then.”
   He started to bend under the hood of the old Ford when Nick spoke up. He was irritated by the old man’s unfriendliness.
“We’ve been through every inch of this place mister.”
   Nate put his hand out behind him for Nick to quiet down. Nick reluctantly clammed up.
“Maybe you can help us mister,” Nate said, “I give you a name, maybe you know where he’s buried… Hell, he only died last month, can’t be too difficult to find him. We just wanna pay our respects and we’ll be on our way.”
   The old man softened and straightened up. He pulled the rag from his back pocket and wiped the grease from his hands; he seemed to have a nicer demeanor this time.
“No, I suppose you’re right about that. Can’t be too hard to find your friend… only had two burials in the last month… Around here, that’s a lot.” He flashed sort of a half grin. “What’s your friends’ name?” he asked.
“Charlie Dixon… or Charles they might have him listed as.”
   The old man looked up in contemplation rubbing his chin repeating the name “Charlie Dixon”, then “Charles Dixon”.
“That name does not seem to ring a bell… hmm…we buried Edna Ostrander last month,” he said, his voice trailing off as he was thinking harder. “Oh yes, and we did bury a fella from New York who was born here a long time ago… no,… his name was George something or other… I can’t remember his last name; haven’t put the stone up yet… Charlie Dixon just don’t ring a bell fellas… You sure he was buried here?”
“He died here… So, he must have been buried here,” Nate said.
“Far as I know, no one has died in North Hill in the past month ‘cept Edna… You sure he died here? Maybe he died in Parkville, or Hope Falls…or possibly High Rock. Those towns are all nearby… lot of folk mistake those places for North Hill.”
“No, Charlie died right here in North Hill… just out of town… head north on the old Route 30, bout a quarter mile up on the left where the River bends. Right there back in the woods near the train tracks is where he died.”
“You mean by that hobo camp?”
“Yes… yes, right there at the hobo camp. That’s where we lef…I mean where Charlie died.”
   Nate almost slipped. Not that he and Nick did anything wrong, but leaving a dead body in the woods and having knowledge could put them in a sticky situation of suspicion with the powers that be in North Hill.
“Well why the hell didn’t you say so? You mean John Doe?”
   Nick finally popped his cork. He didn’t have good sense or tolerance like Nate had and grew more agitated at the old man’s dawdling response.  
“No, we mean Charlie Dixon, you ol’ coot” Nick said, interrupting the conversation. “How many dead people you find by the railroad tracks in the last month?”
   Nate turned to Nick and put his arms up like he was blocking him, trying to calm him down and keep the situation from getting even more out of hand. Nick was still yelling at the old man trying to get by Nate.
“I mean, c’mon man, just tell us where Charlie is and stop messin’ us around.”
   The old man was kind of dancing around pointing at Nick attempting to make his argument while Nate was trying to keep some distance between the two.
“You said buried, right?...That’s what you wanted to know,.. That if we had buried a man named Charlie Dixon… Well the answer is NO!”
   The old man was getting hot under the collar by this time and he was about ready to clobber Nick. Nate had his hands full with both men and was about to walk away and leave Nick to the ol’ codger’s mercy. He was big and Nate did not want to tangle with him. Nate pushed Nick back real hard trying to get him to come to his senses. Nick stopped in his tracks and quieted down. Nate turned to the old man.
“Ok Pop, everything’s cool here… Let’s see if we can straighten this out… Charlie Dixon is most likely the John Doe you found… So, all we need to know is where he’s buried.”
“He’s not.”
“Not what?”
“Not buried… And he might not be your friend Charlie. The dead man we found in that hobo camp is John Doe, at least, until he can be identified.”
“Ok… That’s not a problem… We’re here to ID Charlie, or John Doe,… whoever you want to call him. Just show us where he is.”
   The old man nervously pointed toward to Crematorium.
“He’s in there,” he said.
   Nate breathed a sigh of relief. He was elated their search was probably over. He knew it had to be Charlie in there. Who else would it be? “Now we’re getting somewhere,” he thought. Maybe it was better that they hadn’t buried Charlie. He and Nick could give him a proper send off. And Nick won’t feel so bad that he left Charlie; lying there in the woods by the tracks.
“Great,” Nate said. “Lead the way.”
“Won’t do ya any good,” the old man said.
   Now Nate himself was beginning to get annoyed with the old man.
“And why’s that?” he asked, exasperated.
 “We cremated him.”
   Now, that presented a whole new set of problems. Nick was speechless. He stood there with a confused look on his face. One thing was certain; he wanted to punch that old man right in the kisser. Nate was kind of walking in circles rubbing his hand through his greasy graying black hair trying to wrap his head around it all.
“Cremated,” Nate said turning to the old man.
“Well, yeah… cremated. What’d you expect?”
“Why couldn’t ya have just put Charlie in a pine box and buried him?… I don’t think he woulda liked this whole cremation thing…kinda un-christian if ya ask me.”
“Well, not every day we find some dead bum by the tracks. We had to do somethin’ with him… Taxpayers aren’t gonna foot the bill for no pine box.”
    Upon hearing that, Nick rushed the old man grabbed him by the throat and threw him up against the old Ford. Nate just stood there. He didn’t even try to stop Nick this time.
“Listen here, you sorry son of a…” Nick said, spitting his words in the old man’s face.
   Nick stopped just short saying what he really thought. He pushed away from the old man then spun around jabbing his finger in his face. Nick had his attention…fully. He was trying to suppress his anger. It was like trying to put the cork back into a Champagne bottle. Then Nick said it, making his point, slowly and emphatically.
“Charlie Dixon, aint no bum!” Nick stared intently at the old man.
   Nate came to his senses and grabbed Nick pulling him away. He was looking over at the old man hoping for some kind of reconciliation. But, from the frightened angry look on his face, that wasn’t going to happen. Nate kept pulling Nick, almost dragging him.
“We’ll just be on our way,” he said to the old man.
“And don’t come back!” the old man yelled back.
   Nate got Nick out of there in a hurry. They walked quickly down Hilltop Road into town and ended up at the Brass Lantern Tavern right there on Main Street. He figured maybe a shot and a beer might calm the kid down. Nate needed a stiff drink himself so he could figure this whole mess out and maybe take possession of Charlie’s remains so they could give him a proper send off.
   They were feeling good after a couple of hours of drinking whiskey that was slightly higher in quality than that of Red Dog. Nick was playing darts with a couple of rubes and took most of their pay which made Nate quite happy. That would pay for their liquid lunch and probably cover most of the cost of the granite headstone they bought for Charlie’s grave. Nate sat at the bar drunkenly looking at himself in the etched mirror and at all those bottles of liquor lined up across the wall. He didn’t know what to do about Charlie. He knew the town of North Hill just wasn’t going to hand Charlie over, on account he and Nick aren’t next of kin. And breaking in to the crematorium to steal Charlie was out of the question. Too risky. Besides, Nate was no criminal and he didn’t want to lead Nick down the wrong path. Just then the creaky old door leading into the Brass Lantern opened. Nate looked up, the place got real quiet.
   It was that old man from the cemetery. It was strange, but the old man looked somewhat relieved to see Nate and Nick drinking at his favorite watering hole. He sauntered over to the bar and ordered a beer. He drank down half of it, then walked over to where Nate was sitting and stood next to him, leaning on the bar. Nick didn’t look too worried; he still wanted a piece of that old man, but Nate put his hand up and Nick just continued with his game of darts, cautiously looking over in-between throws. The old man motioned over to the bartender and then pointed at Nate’s empty glass; the bartender obliged and poured Nate another whiskey.
“I gotta be headin’ over to Gloversville to pick up some parts for my truck… I sometimes forget to lock the door to the crematorium. Be doin’ me a favor if you could go up there and check for me, make sure your friend is still there. Hate to think someone would break in and steal a loved one.”
   Nate was not sure if he was hearing right, maybe it was the booze playing with his head or the old man was baiting him. But when Nate looked up, the old man looked quite sincere, maybe even a little sorry over what happened back at the cemetery.
“Yeah… I um… I guess we could do that,” Nate said.
   The old man threw a few bucks on the bar and started to head for the door. He stopped and turned to Nate.
“You’ll find your friend on the counter, right next to the door in a cardboard box… ‘bout half the size of a shoebox… I crossed out the name John Doe. I wrote Charlie Dixon on it.”    




I have just finished a final edit and revision of Part I. 4/11/2016
This piece is part of a series I am doing called The North Hill Chronicles. A review of this short story would be greatly appreciated.
Thank You
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