My Friends & I: A Music and Story Collaboration – Runaway Train
My good friend, Ruth Long, invited me to take part is a music and story collaboration. Each writer selected a song on the, “My Friends & I”, compilation album. The record is a collection of tunes by some very talented California indie musicians. I’m thrilled to be a part of this project and to have had the chance to work alongside a bunch of terrific writers. The story collection will soon be available in eBook format.
I wrote for the tune, “Runaway Train”.
I asked a guy I found sitting on a bench outside a barber shop for directions to The Runaway Train.
He wore a faded hat two shades lighter than his beard and his brown suit clung like he’d slept in it.
“’Bout a hundred yards that way, bo.” he croaked, pointing down the empty street.
“Ain’t no bo, pal.”
He grinned at me with both teeth. “Don’t get sore. We’re all bos here.”
I wasn’t that sore. With my jacket slung over my shoulder, shirt sweat-stuck to my back, and crumpled hat in hand, I could see it.
“Say, whachoo want up at the Train anyhow? Lookin’ for old Gus?”
“Suppose I am.”
I watched the dust blow around in the wind, kissing the barren sidewalk and boarded up shops.
“What happened to this town?” I asked.
“Same thing that’s happened everywhere since ’29, fella. Just more of it.”
The Runaway Train was the kind of place you’d walk right by, unless you had to stop. Even if you had to stop you might still walk right by.
Imagine that somebody put a tin roof on an old rail car and dropped it near the end of a road the county never bothered to finish.
Wasn’t quite that nice a place.
A bare bulb sat next to the door, above a hand-painted wooden sign that read, “Beer”.
Another sign, this one featuring a decent rendition of a train steaming down a steep hill, hung from a nail in the middle of the door.
Inside was a rickety plywood counter with a couple of shelves behind it in an otherwise empty room.
Gus must’ve blown his decorating budget on the sign.
The man himself looked as dusty and down as his adopted town.
His gray shirt had room to spare and his pants were held up by suspenders.
He scratched his bald head when he saw me.
“Moe,” he grunted. “Figures they’d send you. What’d I do now?”
“No one sent me, Gus.”
He leaned against his shabby counter.
“What’re you doin’ here then?”
I gave him the cold stare.
He growled and stepped forward, wagging a crooked finger in my face.
“Listen, Moe, I ain’t laid a hand on that… woman.”
“Only ’cause she hasn’t been here, Gus.”
“You gotta give me another chance!”
“You’ve had five chances. More. Only started counting last year.”
His eyes moved to the sawed-off shotgun behind the bar.
“You can try for it if you want to, Gus.”
A car door being slammed shut got our attention.
The law walked in a second later in the form of a big guy with a big hat and a big gun belt. He could’ve come in off the set of a western. All he needed was a pair of chaps. Maybe some spurs.
“Afternoon, Gus,” he drawled, looking me over. “You I don’t know.”
“This is my old pal Moses, Zack. From back east.”
“Moses,” said the sheriff. He leaned against the door jamb and crossed his arms. “That’s quite a name.”
“He’s quite a guy,” chimed in Gus. “Aren’t you, Moe?”
“If you say so.”
The sheriff fished a hand-rolled cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lipped it.
“All right,” he began. “I know what Gus was back east, which means I know what you are, Moses. I’m here to tell you– friendly-like– that we ain’t back east. We don’t go in for that back east foolishness here. Won’t stand for it.”
He said it with a smile. And a hand on the butt of his Colt.
“So what’s Gus done to bring you all this way, Moses?”
“He’s beatin’ my sister.”
His stare faltered.
“You’re Leah’s brother?”
He nodded and ambled toward the bar.
“I know what you think you gotta do, Moses, but I can’t let you.”
Before I could argue he slugged Gus. Blood and teeth hit the floor. He gave him two more in the face, then went to work on the body.
When he was through he let him fall and looked to me.
“Almost, Sheriff.” I took my gun out of my pocket.
“Hell. Now look here.”
“You look here. Leah told me about you. Said she went to you three times. You sent her right back to him.”
His hand floated above his holster.
“What about you, Moses? He’s been at it for years and from the sound of it you knew. What took you so long?”
“That’s a question I ask myself a lot. Leah stood it as long as she could. She’s had it. I’m a level-headed guy. Seeing my sister step off the bus with a black eye and a split lip brings out the worst in me. All I can tell you is I’m here now.”
“Not good enough.”
“That’s between her, me, and God.”
He relaxed his stance and gave me his best stare.
“You know what, Moses? I think you’re all talk.”
He drew. I let him have it. He fell, taking half the bar with him.
I reloaded and put my gun back in my pocket, then hauled Gus up.
He slobbered and sobbed.
“You’re through. She’s gonna file and you’re sign whatever she puts in front of you. Then you disappear. And when you’re gone you stay gone. Get me?”
I left him thinking it over as I headed back into the dust.
I stopped outside the barber shop on my way out of town.
“Hey,” said the toothless guy on the bench. “You find Gus?”
“Sure did. Thanks for the directions.”
I turned back a couple of steps down the road.
“Hey bo, you lookin’ for work?”
“Everybody’s lookin’ for work.”
“Know anything ’bout owning a bar?”
“I like beer.”
“Close enough. If you head out that way you might just catch a runaway train. Tell ’em Moses sent you.”