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So he points over to the man on the platform with Miss Ellie Jane and asks me if I know who he is. I spell out d-e-n-n-i-s-o-n from Chicago and he asks me again do I know who he is and I say yes and start spellin again and he sort of grabs me by my shoulders and shakes me a little. If he could speak he’d be yellin DO YOU KNOW WHO HE IS and I got no choice but to shake my head no.
Then Mr. Ned grins like he had the winnin bid to share a basket lunch with Miss Ellie Jane at the Sunday school picnic. He points to the boxes waitin to be loaded onto his wagon and asks if I can help.
Now I have five dollars in my pocket and I’m not about to let that rich man down. But then Mr. Ned just points to his wagon and then off in the direction of town, wantin me to help unload at the feed store. He rubs his fingers together to let me know there’s a little money in it for me—and somethin more that I can’t figure until I get there.
I been up to Mr. Ned’s office once or twice before. He’s the one got me writin my money in this ledger book so I wouldn’t have to hand count it whenever I wanted to know what I have. Seem every time a person lets cash run through his fingers it’s a temptation to hold out a few cents for ice cream or smokes and that’s the type of thing that can keep a fellow from ever gettin to California. Got nearly thirty dollars already. Don’t know when it’s gonna be enough but I figure one of these days the Good Lord will let me know it’s time to go.
Anyway I guess I knew he has that wall covered with newspaper clippings but I never paid them much attention. Today though he stands and runs his fingers over them until he finds what he wants. Then he pulls one of the tacks out real careful and hands me the paper.
Dennison Signs Record-Breaking Deal with Chicago Cubs
I read it and look at Mr. Ned and ask, This the same guy?
But he isn’t payin no attention to me. He’s diggin through a cigar box and hands me a card, one of those that comes in with Old Judge cigarettes. I never paid much mind to them but he had a whole box full. The one he shows me has a picture of that man from the train, only instead of the fancy suit he’s wearing a baseball uniform, holding a bat like he’s about to smack a ball right out of the card and into your face and on the back there’s a bunch of nonsense. Mr. Ned let me keep it (he had about a dozen and he don’t even smoke), and someday I’m going to ask him what all these letters and numbers mean.
I look up at Mr. Ned askin, What’s he doing here?
He shakes his head
and shrugs and grins like someone just handed him a million dollars. Then
he gets real serious, looks at
(He has special hand signs for our names. Mine’s the letter M kind of dragged across his face. Miss Ellie Jane’s an E that he squiggles like a long lock of curly hair.)
I point back at him. Why don’t you go?
He sort of laughs and walks to the other side of the room. He puts a hand to his ear and makes like he’s listenin through the wall, then turns to me again and shrugs.
Nothin, he says, and he says it right out loud in that funny voice he has and I have to laugh. He has a good point. There’s not much I don’t know about nearly everyone in this town. If Duke Dennison is here with a secret I don’t figure it will take much to find out just what it is.
So I smile and shake Mr. Ned’s hand and just as I’m turnin to leave he calls me back. He fishes in his pocket and I almost wave it off, feelin like we was more like friends and that I shouldn’t take no money from him. Then I see he has a silver dollar and you just don’t turn down that kind of cash.
I take it and say, Thank you Mr. Ned. Anything else?
He leans down real close and touches one of those long fingers to my chest then back to his then back to mine then back to his.
Keep this between us.
I’m just down the steps of the feed store when I remember that Mr. Steve has two bits waiting for me if I tell him who was comin to meet Miss Ellie Jane. I figure a friend is a friend and a secret is a secret but a quarter is a quarter too. That two bits will be dropped down in my jar long before Mr. Steve realizes I’m just some ignorant Negro boy who isn’t so good at rememberin names.
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