Thursday, July 27, 2006

"Great Times," Chapter 24

Copyright 2006, Terry F. Phillips Sr.
All rights reserved

Chapter 24

Soon, Howard was back from talking to the ticket agent and Ted had hailed a taxi, thinking their boss would be happier paying for a long taxi cab ride than to be pressed into a bus full of strangers.
The three piled into the taxi, Ted and Connie in the back seat and Howard in the front, so he could “keep an eye on the meter,” meaning he didn’t trust the driver.
Howard’s mood had started to sour with the New Mexico heat. He was pleasant enough when sitting in the train club car with a high ball in his hand, chatting with fellow passengers. But, this was a different matter. He felt too old and fat to be chasing around strange places, looking for a singer who left with no notice. Eddie had been slated to star in that new man on the street radio show and with Beck in the hospital; the whole project had been put on standby. Howard hoped the advertiser wouldn’t change his mind before the program was ready to go on the air.
As the taxi made its way through Roswell’s downtown, she did it again.
“Stop the car!” she yelled. “There he is!”
This time, Ted saw him, too. Eddie was distinctive because of his shaved head and he noticed that if it weren’t Eddie, it was surely his twin.
As the two looked at him, Eddie seemed to feel their stares and looked back. He quickly ducked into a hardware store.
“Stop the car!” Ted ordered.
Howard groaned as his two proteges leaped from the car.
“Hey!” the driver yelled.
“Here,” Howard said, handing him a $5 bill. “Keep the tip, but wait for us!”
“OK, OK.”
Connie and Ted ran into the hardware store to find a man leaning on the counter, halfway to the back of the store, reading a catalog.
“Help you?” he asked.
“We’re looking for someone,” Ted said. “A man with a shaved head. We just saw him come in here.”
“Nobody like that been here,” he said, looking up. “Say, you folks aren’t from around here, are you?”
“We’re looking for a friend of ours,” Connie insisted. “I know he came in here. Where did he go? His family is worried about him.”
“You related to him?” the clerk asked.
“No,” Howard said, thinking about the waiting taxi.
“Practically,” Connie said. “Look. His aunt lives in Chicago. That’s where we come from. Eddie is supposed to be in San Francisco and we saw him at the train depot here in Roswell. He disappeared. Then we saw him come in here. Please, help us!”
The man took the tail of his apron and wiped his forehead.
“Sure gets hot in July,” he said. “Bet it’s not that warm where you came from.”
“Oh, come on!” Howard said. “He is going to tell you anything! Let’s go.”
“Wait, mister,” the clerk said to Connie. “You say that fellow you’re lookin’ for has family in Chicago?
“I didn’t know that. He said something about a girl friend he was running from, so when I saw you, I thought you were the girl he was talking about.”
“No,” Connie insisted. “He knew a girl named Barbara in Illinois, but my name is Connie Collins. These men are with me. This is Ted Lane and Mr. Howard. We’re on our way to Los Angeles on a business trip, but I have to talk to Eddie, if I can.”
“Well, look,” the clerk paused again, for an excruciatingly long time before he continued. “OK, OK. Look, he works for a man named Brazel, on a ranch a few miles from Roswell. Mac Brazel is the rancher’s name. He lives near Corona. You want a map?”
The three stood still, watching him.
“Look. I’m being straight with you this time. This Eddie you asked about ran in here and then out the back way. He’s probably half way to Corona by now, but you might catch him, if you hurry.”
By this time, Howard was weakening and realized there would be no peace until Connie found Eddie Adams and told him to phone home.
“The cab driver said he would wait for us,” Howard said. “Let’s find that ranch.”
Double-checking Mac Brazel’s name, the three left the hardware store, walking past wooden cabinets filled with fasteners, past all the other items that make a hardware store what it is.
“It’s been years since I was in a hardware store like that one,” Howard said. “Guess I do need to get out the city once in a while.”
“They are all alike,” Ted agreed, thinking about the hardware stores in South Bend. The driver said he knew where the Brazel ranch was, but it was getting late, so he didn’t think they would be able to get on the property that day. Instead, he offered to write down the directions and take the three to a hotel.
After paying the driver, Howard paused as they watched the man drive off.
“I just realized - none of us have any clothing or toiletries! They were supposed to be put off at the next town!”
“Well, wonder where the nearest department store is,” Connie said.