Richard drew in a deep breath; cathedral time, his favorite part of the day. The hospital’s shadow sliced through the mauve tinged sunlight, crept across the sidewalk onto the freshly mowed boulevard fronting the streetcar tracks, and wrapped itself around anything in its path. The session had gone better than expected, considering the circumstances.
The MP’s, so eager to deliver him earlier, were nowhere in sight; apparently their door-to-door escort service operated only one way. Rather than wait for the last streetcar, he’d called his friend, Virgil, who owned Trumel’s Automotive Repair with his father. A customer’s car might need to be road tested, burn out the carbon on the stretch of road out to Fort Snelling and back.
A few more months until the third anniversary of his induction into the Army, physical taken in the medical building he just exited. Virgil never got drafted; forming a partnership with his father kept that from happening. Now he’s a pain in the old man’s ass, or, as Virgil thinks, the other way around. Richard pondered a relationship with his father, probably not possible after the way he abandoned his mother and sisters. Margaret, who returned from California with two kids and no husband, talked to their dad who’d been reassigned to the railroad out west. She refused to give Ma his address, but mentioned that he fathered two more daughters.
Girls. With Edward gone, women—mother, sister, and girl friends—complicated his life. How did Milton Morgan Leslie deal with mother, wife, and daughters?
Having step sisters made him uneasy, the grandmother they shared made him angry.
The streetcar pulled to a stop, and the other riders who’d been waiting filed on board. Richard couldn’t break free of the stare he’d locked into.
“Hey, you.” The driver yelled from inside the streetcar. “The last chance to catch a ride. No more units out this far until tomorrow.” He stepped out of the car, his grizzled face directly in line with Richard’s stare. “I know you guys got problems, but it’s my ass if I leave one of you crazies stranded at the funny farm.” He peered into Richard’s eyes and turned back toward the car repeating, “Last chance.” Hand on the lever, “I got a schedule to meet.”
Freed from his stare, Richard’s gaze locked onto the retreating conductor, but his body remained rigid. If he released one tensed muscle, he’d lose control and the consequences frightened him. He didn’t relax until the streetcar screeched and disappeared down the track. He had overcome an impulse, what psychiatrists told him couldn’t be done by will power alone. They understood his problem, but only he had the solution. He was engaged in a different kind of war where concentration, not action, was the main strategy. His deepest fear, it might not always work.
He’d keep calm. Virgil agreed to come to get him if he missed the last streetcar. Buddies got him through the war, and buddies like Virgil will help him adjust to the peace. He’d allow himself to doze.
Tell him I don’t have a grandson. A crone’s voice crackled from inside the house. Only two granddaughters.
Uniform cleaned and pressed with leggings tucked into polished boots, Richard stood at the door facing the maid who offered a sympathetic smile; no need to repeat the response from a grandmother he will never get to see.
Only two granddaughters, echoed on the train ride all the way back to the infirmary at Fort Ord, California, and again stranded at the Veteran’s hospital at Fort Snelling, Minnesota.
Awakening from a deep sleep, Richard fought back the urge to flail his arms, only to realize they’d been restrained. Through the din of falsetto voices fussing about, he recognized Virgil’s harsh but hearty tone.
“What the hell happened to you?”
His head had cleared, but his situation remained confused. “I don’t know. I was sitting on a bench when things seemed to go crazy. I’m not sure but I think four or five guys jumped me. At least something happened to land me here. This is a hospital bed, isn’t it?”
“Yes, you are in the emergency room, and so are a couple of MP’s who tried to restrain you.” The guy in the white gown hooked the clipboard hung at the foot of the bed. “You’re under sedation, but we will remove the restraints if you assure us your outbursts are under control.” He glared at Richard. “Do we have your word?”
Virgil said, “He’s good.”
“I need to hear Richard say it.”
“Yeah, I’m okay. But I want to know what happened.”
“That’ll be explained tomorrow at nine hundred hours. It’s all in the report we sent to Colonel Renford at his home.” He cast Richard a doubtful glance. “Are you back in control? Yes or no.”
“Yes! Now can Virgil take me home?”
“Nine hundred hours. Do we need to send the M.P.’s? Again?”
Virgil said, “I’ll bring him.” His gaze followed the aides as they loosened the straps. “Hell, he can take one of Pa’s cars and drive himself. He’s a war hero. No need for a baby sitter.”
Richard thanked him with his eyes, rubbed his wrists, and sat up. “We better get going. Ma will be worried.”
“I’ll check your vital signs one more time, and then you’ll be free to leave with your buddy.” He shook his head. “I don’t think getting discharged at this time is a good idea, but the decision was made above my pay grade.”
Virgil tossed the keys to Richard as they approached the Ford. “You drive.”
“Are you sure you want to trust me behind the wheel? Especially this car? I just had some kind of relapse.”
“Gotta start sometime.” Virgil slid onto the passenger seat and remained quiet until they reached an open stretch on Minnehaha Boulevard. “Gun it!”
Using the passing lane, Richard breezed by a couple of slower cars and cut back in to shoot ahead of the traffic in the cruising lane.
After swerving in and out, and the needle hovering around eighty miles an hour, Virgil yelled, “Hey, enough.” The Ford’s speed dissipated. “When you get back from your session tomorrow—driving one of Dad’s street vehicles—we can open this one up on Stillwater Road.”
Richard double clutched to gear down, shot back up to cruising speed, and dropped into high gear. “Not bad for a sixty horsepower flathead.”
Virgil said, “Shaved those heads within a witch’s breath of blowing the bottom half the engine. It’ll be ready for the State Fair next week.” He chuckled. “If you can stay out of trouble that long.”
A rush traveled up and down Richard’s spine, assured he wouldn’t disappoint his pit-stop mechanic.
Virgil cracked the window an inch, shook loose a cigarette from its pack, and lit it. “Never guess who stopped by the shop today asking about you.”
Richard, who seldom smoked, held out an open hand. “Who?”
Virgil passed him the smoldering Chesterfield and lit another. “Frank Kelly.”
“Sounds like he’s been keeping an eye on you. I didn’t know you were buddy-buddy with the mob.”
“He and his associates pretty much controlled East Side back when I had my shoe shine location. I did his shoes once. Didn’t really need a shine. Probably every kid in a thirty block area earned his dime that afternoon.”
“He mentioned that episode. Said he’d like to talk to you.”
“Didn’t say, but I’d seek him out real soon. You know he hangs out at the Rusty Scupper, probably owns the place, or, for sure, gets his cut.”
Richard crushed his cigarette into the ashtray and accelerated to a careless speed considering that section being heavily patrolled.