Cicero And The Case Of The China Doll Chapter 7: The Old Man

ERIE, PA

The train rolled into the station on Track 11. Enchanting, thick, delicious, sensual, black smoke poured from the phallic iron smokestack and attached itself to the fine wet mist. It was the powerful12:15 bound for Butler, Pittsburgh, McKeesport and then on into the Laurel Highlands. She was built in 1922 for the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Company, a charming jet-black vestige of the machine-age. Now she was a dirty shitty hunk of shabby metal, worn out and played out like a cheap cigarette butt in the filthy street that gets picked up by a shitty sterno drinking bum looking for his last drag.

He had no awareness that his outbound had arrived. He was asleep on the bench in his rumpled, shitty suit, a cigarette in his hand, almost burned down to his fingers. He was cold and uncomfortable. Every joint hurt. It seemed like he was always uncomfortable. He didn’t understand why he still sought out these kinds of tasks when he would just rather be at the old family house in Ithaca, sleeping under a quilt. The old house hand been in the family a long time. Eight bedrooms, a giant basement, a monument from the from the ante-bellum days when upstate New York was a place of power and influence. Now it was just another rotting, shitty Yankee town, sustained only by prisons and colleges.

Someone shook him awake.

“Sir, you’re on the 12:15.” It was the crusty old station master.

“Hate to see you miss it. Not many people catch the 12:15 anymore. Suppose they want to drive down or take one of them there buses. You’ll never catch me on a bus. Too many crazies. I’d never fall asleep that’s for sure. Some damn fool might want to cut your head off or something.”

The man rolled to a sitting position. He dropped the cigarette to the floor and ground it into the dirt with his right foot.

“What the hell are you talking about cutting off people’s heads?” He said groggily. “What the hell do you know about it? Why did you say that?”

“I didn’t mean no harm sir, I sure didn’t. Was you in the War or something?”

“Yeah, roger, roger, got it, got it, forgive me, I forgot, where I was…I forgot…”

“It’s alright sir, I’m sorry.”

The man put on his jacket and adjusted his tie. He put on his sunglasses, picked up his case and boarded the train.

He sat in coach, always the shittiest, most anonymous part of the train, where he could ride in piece with other losers, vagabonds, killers, perverts and gamblers.

He took a seat at the far back corner by the window.

“See your ticket sir?”

He handed the porter a ticket.

“Want a Cleveland News-Intelligencer?”

“Sure”

He took the newspaper and put it on the seat next to him. He pulled out a cigarette and lit up, filling the compartment with the healthy nicotine smoke.

“Got a square?” Asked the man in the seat facing him.

He handed the man a cigarette.

“Got a light?”

He took out a metallic cigarette lighter with a 1st Cavalry Division logo on it.

“I was in the 7th Cavalry once.” The man said. “Down on the border and then Tank Corps in France. Shame they took away the horses.”

The tall man nodded.

“Shame it was.”

“I was in the Cavalry, Pacific. Back in the Great War, though I was just a kid, Cav Trooper in France, 28th Division. Cold, wet, mud. Long time ago though. Long time ago…”  The tall man fell into an uneasy sleep.

WESTERN FRONT, THE GREAT WAR, FRANCE, NEAR VARENNES

The mule team was stuck in the middle of the road. The Redlegs struggled to get the mules moving through the thick mud, but the ammo weighed them down. The mules were tired and agitated. It began to rain again and the road stunk of wet tarp, wet mules and ammo.

The scouts weren’t stuck behind them, but the slopes were muddy and the horses could get hurt if they tried to go around.

The troopers dismounted and went up to give the Redlegs a hand.

“How’s it looking boys?” Asked one of the artillerymen.

“Can we help, boys?”

“Always welcome. Krauts been shelling the road from here to Varennes all day and then this rain hasn’t let up since 4AM.”

The one young Cav Trooper threw his cigarette onto the mud and ground it in with his right foot.

The men worked the wagon back and forth. The disinterested mules strained at the harness until the caisson was free.

The trooper opened a metal case of hand-rolled cigarettes. He handed one to everyone there.

The Redleg Lieutenant took a long roak on the cigarette. His face was caked with mud.

“You look familiar kid!”

The trooper looked carefully at the muddy Lieutenant.

“Don’t you recognize me little brother?”

“Hey, what in the hell are you doing here?”

“I’m stuck in the mud, what the hell are you doing here?”

“I’m headed to Varennes, how did you get ahead of us?”

“No idea, maybe went down the wrong road if you can tell which one is the right one, or for that matter if you can tell me which pile of mud is the road. What kind of cigarette is this anyway?”

“Aah good question, it is a La Cigeauxrette, the ‘tabac’ is grown in the far north of France, near Lille.”

The men worked the wagon until it was freed and they started on their way.

The troopers rode around ahead of the Redleg caisson where the road widened. They continued down the muddy path in the rain. Huge shell-holes pocked the route with fetid brown ponds of shitty water. The Hun’s Artillery could be heard crashing around in the distance. The troopers went at a slow gait staying with the mule team.

“Another day is another day gone. Shouted the Lieutenant to the trooper.”

 “Yes, another day is another day gone!”

There was a gravel road off to the right that went up to an abandoned French country home. The Redlegs set up their cannon in front of the now badly damaged fountain. The troopers dismounted and set up a perimeter.

“I’m going up to the top of the tower and see if I can give you anything to look at.” said the Lieutenant.

The one young cav trooper followed him up the staircase of the old grain tower which abutted the country house. At least it was dry inside the tower. They climbed to a dusty landing at the very top and they closed the trap door after them. The Lieutenant sited through the mist with his binos as the artillery team set up the cannon pieces in the courtyard below.

“Let’s blow something up do you think, Paul?”

“What do you see Ian?”

The Lieutenant wiped the lenses. The Germans were about a mile away milling around in the road indecisively. It looked like they hadn’t had time to dig in. The two men laid out the map and looked it over.

“We are right here.” He pointed at the map.

“This is the road here.”

“I am guessing about 2,500 yards out.”

He pulled out a compass and sited it.

“Wow, due East dead on. I’ve never seen that in my entire life!”

The LT shouted down to the crew: “90 degrees!”

The crew shouted back and adjusted the deflection on the cannon.

“Shell HE!”

The cannoneers adjusted the charge.

“Twenty-five hundred yards at my command!”

“Ready!” Called up the chief of smoke from the gun line. The troopers held the reins on their mounts and steadied them.

“Fire!”
 —

FIVE MILE RUN, PITTSBURGH, PA

“Alex, one more tune.” Shouted a happily drunken red-faced college boy from one of the tables.

Alex took a sip from his martini and motioned to the bartender for another.

“Whattya wanna hear?”

“Roak, Roak, Roak!”

“Ah, not my favorite but we’ll see what we can do.” He turned to the bass player and the sax player.

“Boys can you keep up on a little bit of the old roak, roak, roak?”

“We never fell behind ya Alex me bye!” said McGlory from his piano bench.

“Do you mind if we help you sing it?” Asked the college boy.

A group of them stood up They all had suit jackets and straw hats.

“We’re from the Carnegie-Tech glee club”

Alex put down his glass.

“Ready boys? Give me a tune.”

McGlory tickled the ivories with the chorus.

The sax player started out with the familiar strains.

The bass player winked and set the cool, sweet-hot beat on the giant stringed beast.

“There was a man name a Jim,
and he looked mighty slim,
and he loved to roak that schmie,
He got up one morning,
and I’ll give you a warning,
what a morning it would be,
got hit by a train,
and he lost half his brain,
now all he says is blee.

The glee club lined up to sing the chorus

Alex: Never roak, roak, roak
Club: roak, roak, roak
Alex: Never roak, roak roak that schmie
Alex: Never roak, roak, roak
Club: roak, roak, roak
Alex: Never roak, roak roak that schmie

Was a girl name a Doris,
Her brain got porous,
when she roaked that schmieffer stick,
she roaked so much, that she fell of the bus,
Now she’s feeling mighty sick.

The glee club were now dancing and perfoming for the crowd,

Alex: Never roak, roak, roak
Club: roak, roak, roak
Alex: Never roak, roak roak that schmie
Alex: Never roak, roak, roak
Club: roak, roak, roak
Alex: Never roak, roak roak that schmie

Was a man name a Curt who fell in the dirt,
Cause he roaked just a little Schmie,
He found his religion,
Now its just good livin’,
and he’ll never roak again you see…

Copyright 2008, All rights reserved Botendaddy

Now the entire crowd was dancing and singing

Alex: Never roak, roak, roak
Club: roak, roak, roak
Alex: Never roak, roak roak that schmie
Alex: Never roak, roak, roak
Club: roak, roak, roak
Alex: Never roak, roak roak that schmie

Everyone clapped. Far at the end of the bar, the petite, raven-haired vamp clapped loudly, with the cigarette holder still in her mouth. Only Alex could ever make her smile.  Alex went to have a drink with the blond lady.

The musicians began to mill around the bar.  The vamp took a sip from the glass. She looked at her watch.

“Get me a cab, Charlie.” She said to the bartender. “I’ve gotta get to town.”

“You don’t need a cab.” said the Sax player.

She looked up curiously at the Sax player. She knew him from a long time ago. But what was he doing here?

“Lynn asked me to pick you up.”

“Lynn? You know Lynn?”

“Lynn’s husband, Ian and I go way back.”

“I thought you were just band mates, but sounds good to me.” She said.

“Ready to go after another round.”

She took out a cigarette and put it into the cigarette holder.

The bass player leaned forward and gave her a light.

“What kind of Cigarette is that?

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t offer you one. It’s a Cigar-Attu from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They grow a rich, Eskomio blend. Here…”

“Amazing roak! Thank you!”

Rikugun Shikan Gakkō Military Academy Ichigaya Tokyo 1935

“There is no question”, said the Rikugun Shōsa…

“Rokkoman of Naoshima! You are the worst officer candidate I have ever seen. You have broken almost every rule at the academy! You fools from Naoshima are only good as weak musicians and puny artists. You are the laziest, most self-involved, slothful idiot I have ever observed in my entire military career! But your penchant for violence, trickery and evil will be needed in this war against the Chinese and the ‘Me o maruku shita akuma’ (white devils).”

“But sir, we are not fighting any white devils.”

“You insolent snot! Do you really think Japan will tolerate round-eye devils in Asia any longer! We will push them out! We will make them fight! They are soft and weak like an old women to be beaten down in the marketplace!”

“Yes sir! I will fight whomsoever the Emperor tells me to fight!”

“You talk like a mercenary, not like an officer! I predict you will do well for the Emperor for a long time, but in the long run, your addiction to hedonism and your hatred of self-denial will make you just like the White Devils! Better yet, I predict that if you survive this war, you will choose to go live with them! You went to college in America, did you not? “

“Yes sir I did! Carnegie Tech!”

“Never heard of it. Shameful. Get back in the ranks.”

ASHTABULA, OHIO 2AM

The train pulled slowly to a stop. The card game was still going on. A thick pallor of pure tobacco roak filled the air.

“Cicero, you gotta move quick to catch the 2:10, it’s on Track Seven.”

“Thanks Curtis.”

Cicero shook the lady’s hand.

“Time to go.”

“You’ve got my card, she said, we’ll meet again?”

“You bet sister, you bet.”

Cicero went down the steps and he moved swiftly across the smoky tracks. He couldn’t see much of Ashtabula in the dark.

He made his way to Track 7, where the Youngstown Express Local was already warmed up. It belched out a monstrous column of tasty black smoke into the cool, clean night air.

Two other folks were already in line. The train wasn’t leaving quite yet.

Curtis waved to the porter on the 2:10 and he nodded towards Cicero. The other porter acknowledged and he sat Cicero in a private sleeping car berth.

Cicero took off his jacket and his gat and he sat on the bed when he realized that he wasn’t alone.  A man was sitting on a chair in the corner or the little cabin.  He was very thin and pale he had a long thin scar on his cheek.

“Ve haff to be very careful about der paths we trod…Herr Cicero?”

The man was pointing a steel-gray 1898 Parabellum at Cicero.

“Zometimes ve valk down ze wrong path, ve fall into a big hole, Ja?”

The strange man offered Cicero a cigarette.  Cicero took the cigarette and the German lit it for him.

“I think you may be in the wrong car, Klaus. By the way what kind of cigarette is this or should I say Cigaretu?”

“Ah zo you know the Cigarteu. Ve are men of der World no? Right, wrong, gut, evil, it’s all relative, Ja? Vas ist right one day ist wrong der next und visa-versa. Anyvay, I digress, I haff my orders. You are meddling into something dass is none of your business, mein friend.”

“When I get paid to do a job Heinrich, I tend to do the job.”

“Zo you’ve got your own orders as vell, I like dat. Always gut to FOLLOW ORDERS!” The man shuddered violently then composed himself.

“At any rate you are getting off dis train mit me on Neville Island.  Ve have someone you needs to talk to. Now be a gut fellow und hand me dat pistol. Und don’t be tricky, Ja.”

Cicero handed over the gat.

“Take care of that piece, Franz, it’s an original Ivory-Schmouck.”

The two men roaked their cigaretus in silence.

“I like you Cicero. You are strong und virile like a German soldier, not soft..und weak like and old voman!” The German shuddered.

“Don’t make me haff to kill you.” The German shuddered again and then composed himself.

“How did you know who I am Kraut?”

“Vell it vas easy. Ve vork over your little freund Tomascz, just after you leave. He und I go vay, vay back. He is as you say ein GYPSY!” The German stiffened, his eyes rolled back in his head and he shuddered in uncontrolled hypnotic ecstasy.

“Dies ist ein new vorld now mein Freund. Our big enemy ist no longer each other. I myzelf am now ein Amerikkaner citizen ja? You see ve fight der dirty Reds, dies Bolsjewicz! together! Ve are not so different you Amerikannischer und us Krauts as you say? Ve have powerful friends in der government and dey are rather fond of our Japanese friend I sink you are looking for? I sink dey don’t like zo much if you find him, Ja?”

There was a knock at the door.

“Cigarettes.” called a gruff voice.

“Open ze door, Cicero, but don’t do anything, how do you Amerikannischer say…suspicious?”

An older man was selling cigarettes. He had a goatee much like Cicero. He leaned over and offered a pack of Jaguru brand cigarettes to the German. The German reached for the cigarettes and the man knocked the Kraut out cold with a single punch.

“Dad, what the hell are you doing on this train?”

The old man winked and pulled the door shut behind him. He lit up a Cigaretu.

PITTSBURGH, PA

The cop savored his doughnut. “It’s a good one Jerry.”

“Aye Frankie me bye, it’s a moighty tasty doughnut it is!”

A 1940 Runnamoker brand automobile rolled past them under the bridge. It headed for Second Avenue and disappeared under the trestle.

“Jerry, I gotta go to the call box anat’.”

Frank walked across the street to the callbox. He looked around, then he opened the box with his key. He took a swig from the little flask he kept in there, then he rang downtown.

“Yeah Chief, dere comin’ your way, inta tahn anat’ I wouldn’t jag yer wires, dere comin’ to tahn. Yousee da car anat coming right dahn Second Avenue, maybe to the Boulevard a dee Uh-lyze.”

Officer Frank put down the phone and took another swig.

“You know we got a job to do up in Munhall anat’. Inter-departmental. Big, big stuff.”

EASTERN OHIO, SOUTHBOUND

“Dad, how did you find me?”

“Curtis called me.”

“Damn.”

“How do you know Curtis?”

“Oh you know, I used to stay at his place from time to time.”

The thought disturbed Cicero as he knew there was something odd about Curtis, something that could never be spoken, yet was somehow, alluring, enticing, forbidden?

Cicero shook his head like a dog who just climbed out of a lake. He told the old man his story. He showed him the paper.

“What do you think?”

“It doesn’t add up if you ask me. Let me do some snooping for you when we get to Pittsburgh. I know this fellow who runs a bookshop. He can tell you about the paper. He sells office supplies too. Has his own print business. Lost everything in ’29 been trying to build it back up ever since. We used to spend a lot of time together. Queer fellow. Handsome, virile, good skin.”

“Dad! Stop it, for god’s sake. One might think for a minute that you were a follower of the white-T-shirt society!”

The old man snapped back to himself, he took a long sensuous roak on his Cigaretu and stared out into space. He put his feet up on the unconscious German.

“This joker’s coming with us. At least until Allegheny Station!”

Cicero nodded approvingly. He missed the old man. The old man was still surprisingly youthful and strong, but seriously disturbed like any old sailor.

“Any port in a storm, my son, any port in a storm.” Said the old man dreamily, eyeing the unconscious German.

“Dad you can’t be serious.”

“Son, you do your work your way, I’ll do my work mine, now you go have a drink up yonder ways and when this feller wakes up he’ll be squealing like a pig up in the holler. He’ll tell me everything, I reckon.” {CENSORED, PA. DEPT. OF AGRICULTURE PL No. 31 of 1797}

Cicero bolted from the car and ran for a bourbon. He needed the shittiest rotgut bourbon he could find. He made his way to the bar.

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