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A Ride Into the Country

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  • Mathew Morrell
    Last week a lady asked if I could produce a hundred or so botanical illustrations for a book she was writing for the Kansas Chapter of the Botanical Society of
    Message 1 of 1 , May 18 4:54 PM
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      Last week a lady asked if I could produce a hundred or so botanical illustrations for a book she was writing for the Kansas Chapter of the Botanical Society of America.  At first I was hesitant to except the offer.  Illustrating books is a lot of work, but not a lot of pay unless the publication is mass produced.  Besides, I felt it was beneath me.

           We met to discuss the proposal at the Roselle Courtyard within the Nelson Art Gallery , where they were serving lunch.

           `Of course you'll be generously compensated,' said the lady before a plate of linguini and a glass of white wine. I was eating a club sandwich.

           `What else can I say, except I'm flattered.  It's not every day that such offers come around.  However, I don't know if I'm right for this particular job.  I'm a landscape artist.'

           `On your Web site you have excellent paintings of flowers and plants.  They're just the type I want.'

           `Yes, I have some water colors of flowers but. . .' 

           `But nothing.  They're marvelous.'

           `I painted those in college, you know.  These days I paint landscapes, using broad and aggressive brush strokes and un-natural color schemes.  I see life as if from high above.'

           The lady gave him a quizzical expression, lifted her glass of wine up off the table and watched him from over the top of the rim as she sipped. At the same time, she beamed through her eyes: You silly sod, I'm offering you money!  To change the course of their conversation, she flung out another topic seemingly at random.

           `How was it in Iraq ?' she asked after lowering the glass.  "Your Web site says you were stationed in Kabul , with the Kansas National Guard.  Is business doing that well since you've returned?"

           Her remark was subtly brash but un-offensive, moreover true.  Business was awful, and he needed work. 

           `How much are we talking here?'

           `Ten thousand dollars.'

           The artist nodded in response.  It was not a great sum, but it was enough to make the project worth his time.  After he agreed to the sum the lady supplied him with a box of color photographs, which showed the exact types of plants she wanted him to paint.  Evidently the lady was wealthy enough to finance the entire project and the expense of having the book printed at a vanity publishing house.  No advance was given.

           Two weeks later he was on the road, deep within the Kansas prairie, using a combination of watercolors and ink to render plant specimens.  Because they were simple watercolor paintings the bare minimum of art supplies were required, brushes, paper, an India ink pen, and a collection of acrylic paint tubes, all of which he carried in a military backpack when marching into the woods or into farm fields or when hiking alongside rivers and creeks.  It felt invigorating to explore the countryside.  For too much time he had been sedentary, and now he was able to immerse himself in the slow, gentle, life-affirming beat of nature.  No place on earth emitted such a heavenly silence than the grass lands extending through Kansas up into Nebraska .  Almost immediately upon entering the prairie the silence immersed him in the tides and tides of beingness gently emanating from the earth.  The silence was profound, yet insufferably lonesome and desolate if the person is without a mystical attachment to the Absolute.

           In the open range, where he sought particular flower, the summer heat had browned the grass into a subtle maroon shade where the miles of wild graze land expanded towards the horizon; and throughout the grazeland were the miniscule white flowers. These flowers were impossible to see until he pealed away the blades of grass and studied the opulent sub-layer of growth living within the grass's shade, next to the earth, on the most limited supply of water. The fragility stunned him.  His watercolor showed a clump of flowers that were almost spore-like, of infinite fragility and gentleness, for the slightest touch freed the delicate white petals into the whirling wind.

           Being a landscape artist, his mind was more accustomed to large expanses than to the microscopic detail of pantium spore.  The adjustment took time.  At the edge of rolling bluff, he meditated upon the smallness of a daisy and all the intricate details of its white petals and its sun yellow head.  Then he took up his brush, dunked the bristles in a jar of water, and wetted the page thoroughly before beginning.  Around him the tall prairie grasses tapped and rustled in the warm, dry breeze, and a meadowlark could be heard singing from a telephone wire.  While studying the daisy he noticed that the all the tiny, pollen-saturated bristles created an intriguing parabolic spiral on top of the head, which he painted in lemon yellow tones. Deep in concentration, and fully immersed in his vivid dream-life, the smallness of the flower unraveled itself in the interior vastness of his soul. 

           That night, at a hotel in Junction City , he laid all the paintings on the bed.  The twenty-dollar-a-night room was dank and stuffy, but economical; at least it provided a safe place to sleep, in comparison to a camping ground or a rest stop.  Shirtless and wearing cut off shorts, he crouched before the bed and held the paintings, one by one.  Seeing them created a ripple of joy.  All twenty five would most certainly be accepted.

           The only source of aggravation concerned his van.  It was not running well.  It was twenty years old---and he feared that the engine might fail.  The next morning he cleaned the spark plugs because they were fouled with oil and coated with a white creosol that suggested that the valves were leaking.  There was not enough compression left in the cylinders so that he was having to depress the gas pedal to the floor in order to sustain normal highway speeds.  Finally he arrived at his destination in northwest Kansas , where he left the van parked alongside an isolated strip of highway, the radiator steaming, while he hiked a quarter mile into the treeless prairie.  He was down to 140 pounds these days. At 5'9", this was thin. His tank top and cut off shorts hung loosely over his wiry frame; his neck, red from the sun, rose above his bony chest plate. The bland, mid-western tranquility of his expression seldom broke its look of meditative calmness, but when it did it was as if a mask lifted. His face assumed a wild look of happiness the moment his eyes fell upon a lush meadow near a brook skirted in flowers.

           He now sought after that certain perspective that makes a painting a masterpiece, a certain angle in which to frame the entirety of what he saw within the context of the 12 x 16 inch page.  It was not good enough to merely paint.  He wanted to convey the uniqueness of the plants without losing their interconnectedness to the meadow as a whole.  This required that he continually move around the meadow until he discovered the right perspective based upon how the colors, the forms, and the light intersected in his mind. When he found this angle, immediately he begun to paint the dried stalks of wheat, each dry and feeble, arched like thin gold brush strokes rising from the adjacent farm fields. From the effulgent mass of flowers in the meadow protruded one irregular shaped pale-purple seneberry optis, which he also painted. The gorgeous purple hue, a creamy, tropical purple, mingled with the yellows in the daisies, the purple in the fercandum upsi, until all the colors in the meadow seemed to expand into each other and form a blazing picture in the center of his head. 

           Further up the embankment was a pair of railroad track arching smoothly over the prairie.  Skirting the tracks were tall, wavering prairie grasses whose yellowed stalked tapped and rustled in the breeze along with blossoming thistle weed plants and a sunflower whose gigantic seed pod attracted a black-beaked starling. Beyond the highway the wild grasses were shorter, more resilient fescues indigenous to the area, and herd a cows grazing on the various weeds growing near a farm pond.  Exhausted by the heat, he dropped his brush into a glass jar quarter filled with water. He could have extracted more detail from the scene but there was always a danger in trying to make a painting too good, since too much effort threatened to destroy the freshness and purity of his initial impression. 

           The locomotive bellowed and the skittish starling fluttered into the west wind.  Initially the train was no louder than the rustling sound of the waving grasses, but then the locomotive drew closer and the daunting metal grill grew in size the closer it came to highway where the road the railroad tracks ran parallel with each other for about a mile.  Ed MacIntosh, the artist, was hiking back to his van.  The endless chain of cars looped across the prairie carrying a diverse spectrum of commodities; open-topped cars overflowing with ripe, golden-red, summer wheat; cars mounted high with tons of black coal; cars transporting automobiles; filthy black cylindrical cars filled with crude oil; military equipment from the installation in Fort Riley; but it was the abundance of green Union Pacific box cars that told him the final destination of this train. The Union Pacific Railroad Company owned one primary track in the area around Oakley, Ks ---and it ended in Kansas City 's Intermodal Hub.

           A feeling of despair came over him when he realized the van was broke beyond repair---the #2 piston had blow straight up through the cylinder head. He kicked the tire, cursing. It was discouraging, if not a little frightening, to be stranded on a remote country highway in central Kansas .

           At the top of a hill there was a small patch of shade underneath a highway sign riddled with bullet holes; Ed sat in the shade along with some belongings that he removed from the van:  a canteen, his wallet, the car title, all of which he stuffed inside his military backpack which was labeled Kansas National Guard, Third Infantry Division.  All the while the train rolled by.  With every passing minute the prospect of jumping the train seemed more and more logical.  It was over 100 degrees.  Not a car passed all day.  The road's empty, east-west trajectory conveyed the strong likelihood that rides would not be forthcoming. The thought of having to sleep in the van, exposed to the heat and the elements, made the train seem all the more inviting.  Finally he decided to jump it.

           The train was traveling faster than he initially thought when he ran along side it, maybe ten to fifteen miles per hour toward a blackened railroad tunnel that went under the roadway.  The tracks were skirted in gravel. This made it difficult to run.  He moved alongside the train, but at a lesser speed that allowed three oil cars to surpass the strides he made over the loose gravel. Behind the oil cars was a Union Pacific box car. Ed gave it a rapid sideways glance over his shoulder, noticing that the box car was about twenty feet behind him and that its sliding door was fully open. He shortened his strides just enough so that while running sideway the oncoming box car would catch up to him. At the precise moment, he heaved the back pack.  The pack landed on the ledge; the nylon strap dangled over the side near where the heavy-coiled springs flexed in-between the lumbering cog wheels.  Throwing the backpack caused him to lose a precious step. The car surged forward. He tried to catch up but the gravel swallowed his strides; his wild, bewildered face, behind its frazzled mass of brown hair, assumed an enraged expression. His most precious items were inside the backpack---the watercolors. 

           But then a hand extended towards him as he ran. It was hairy and powerful-looking. Briefly, Ed looked up at the hand then at the person who offered it. A short, stocky, bearded man bellowed at the top of his lungs: `Come on you fucker!' His large, calloused hand extended towards Ed's outstretched finger tips. `A tunnel's comin!' the man bawled; and if fact, the oil cars up head already entered the shadow covering the tunnel's entrance. Ed ran even with the car, then in one surge of strength stretched forth his arm. The stranger grabbed him.  Then, with perfect ease, the stranger pulled him aboard.

           The box entered the tunnel.  For a moment, the noise was very loud. The next moment Ed found himself lying on his back, looking up at the wooden ceiling overhead, with the box car throbbing underneath his back.  Ed was shivering with fear and relief, while the stranger yelled: `The train damn nere made hamburger out of ye!'

           Sunlight blasted into the box after it surpassed the tunnel, and the hot wind coming off the prairie swirled around them. Ed was still on his back.

           `Should've let ya go,' said the black bearded stranger.

           Ed struggled to catch his breath. `Huh?' he asked, looking straight up at the face peering down at him.  

           `Should've let you go, I said. Last time I let go the guy looked like hamburger. After he came out of the wheels, his arms were going this away, his legs that away.  You should have seen it.'

           Under the circumstance, the perversity of the remark was inconsequential. Ed was grateful for the assistance. He said:

           `I'm glad you didn't let go! I don't think I could have done it alone.'

           `You couldn't have. You're too slow and you weren`t reaching for the hand rail, dodo bird. Don't you know nothing?

           `I guess not.'

           `Without me you'd be hamburger right now. You`d be laying on the tracks like blob of ground beef. I could shape your ass into a nice big ol' hamburger patty and fry me up some ass sandwich.'  After saying this the stranger laughed with enflamed eyes and his upper row of teeth yellowed and decayed looking. `You owe me one, buster,' added the stranger.

           `Right. I owe you.'

           Ed said this in a small, meek voice, still too grateful to be offended by the gruesome rudeness. Besides, he thought, the rudeness didn't seem intentional. In the shadowed, engine-facing end of the box there was a wrinkled grocery bag and a plastic milk container filled with water. That's where the hobo crouched on the balls of his feet, near his belongings which included a woolen blanket and filthy pillow covered in stains. Ed tugged his own backpack across the floor, away from the threshold and into the opposite end of the box. He liked it that the box was all wood. Otherwise, the walls would have been untouchable.

           `The breeze sure does feel good in here,' Ed remarked.

           `Huh?'

           `I said the breeze feels good.'

           `Man, speak up when you talk to me!  I can't hear a thing you're saying.'

           It was then that Ed begun to feel decidedly un-comfortable.

           `I said the breeze feels good,' Ed repeated a step higher.

           `Ah yeah, shoot,' the stranger responded, this time in a friendly tone. `You oughta wait till we really get rolling. It's like a whirlwind.'

           `I bet.'

           The awkward silence that followed would have seemed uncomfortable had it not been for the pleasant, rhythmic sound of the train rolling across the picturesque countryside. Through the open door, near which Ed settled down with his pouch of tobacco, a free, unrestricted breeze blew against his face. The hobo sat oddly silent, watching Ed hand roll cigarettes.

           `You smoke?' Ed asked.

           The man nodded. Ed leaned against the door frame; one leg dangled outside the car, his other legs straight and flat against the dusty, wooden floor. Not for a second would he turn his back on the transient.

           `I don't suppose you've ever jumped a train before,' said the man scratching his beard. `At least, it don't seem like you has.'

           `It was going faster than it looked.'

           `A train always looks like it going slow than it is. Beginners luck.'

           Ed tossed him a cigarette after lighting his own. Then, he shook out the match; making an effort to avoid eye contact. The last thing he wanted to do was become defensive. That would only lead to confrontation. After folding both his legs inside the car he eased back against the door frame and watched the passing scenery. If he were alone he would have curled up into a ball and taken a nap in the breeze.

           `You wouldn't happen to know where this train is heading, would you?'

           `KC.'

           `Thought so. Have you been there?'

           `Sure I have. Lots of times. Biggest terminal next to Chicago and Saint Louis . There's places to sleep and eat. Lots of good people, as far as people go. Myself, I prefer aloneness. That way you know people won't steal your stuff.' His crows nest beard made his face seem completely expressionless; his eyes distant and remote. Filth was stuck in his beard. His black, shoulder length hair was amassed over his pair of broad, simian shoulders. It was not his height but his width that was concerning. He had a stocky build. His look of brute strength was added by the fact that he was wearing black jeans and a tight fitting black T-shirt that accentuated his arm muscles. Ed removed his pocket knife and cored an apple.

           `Apple?' Ed asked him.

           `Don't mind if I do, sir. Considering I saved your life I suppose you owe it to me.'

           Now they both sat in the open doorway, eating their apples, looking off into the fence-bordered pastureland.

           `You a Vet?' asked the man

            `Yep." Ed had no desire to speak.

            `Thought so. Your canteen is camouflage and your backpack says Kansas National Guard. I bet you think you're a bad ass. When did you get back?'

           `About a year ago.'

           `Surprise you didn't do another tour.  The killing bothered ya?' the man asked.

           `I did two tours.'

           `Me, I don't mind it.'

           `Mind what?'

           `Mind killing. It don't bother me none.' The stranger wiped the apple juices from his beard. `My pops, may his soul rest in hell, ran a farm. We did lots of killing back then, lots,' he added with a proud, lazy chuckle. `Killing just don't bother me.'

           `Well, you were killing animals.  You killed for survival. That's different.'

           `I suppose so. But I enjoyed it, too, I admit. The squeals were pretty funny.  Before the Mexicans came in and took up all the meat packing jobs, I worked in the slaughter house in Abilene .'

           Ed tossed the apple core into the air rushing outside the train. He wanted to jump. But the train was moving faster than it was thirty minutes ago. Gauged by how quickly the train caught up to a truck going down a gravel road, they were doing at least fifty-five miles per hour. Above which, the ground was too unforgiving to cushion the fall, baked as hard as stone and covered in jagged rocks.   

            `So your father ran a farm, did he?' Ed murmured softly.

           `It was a crap of a farm. Don't get me wrong. All my pops did, may his soul rest in hell, was raise chickens and pigs. And he did a poor job at that.'

           Ed grinned without facing him, but was instead facing a brown dust-devil whirling up from the tilled, summer wheat crop.

           `I take it, you don't care much for your father. Has he passed away?'

           `What do you care?'

           `I don't, to tell you the truth. But it's not every day you hear somebody speak so cruelly about his father.'

           `My father was a bad man. Do you know, he broke every finger in my mother's hand, one by on, right in front of me.'

           `Wanna nother cigarette?'

           `Sure thing.'

           Ed asked, as he lit the cigarette: `Where you headed?'

           `Anywhere and nowhere, man. Anywhere and nowhere.' The man leaned back on one hand, and with the other hand he pinched the cigarette wedged between his lips. As he inhaled, and squinted, the goblinish wrinkles around his eyes tightened. He was looking straight at Ed, saying:

           `So how was it like in Iraq ?'

           `It was awful. What do you think?'

           `How did you feel, though, being out there in the desert?'

           `Do you have a fascination with war or something?

           `I suppose I do. Did it give you pleasure plugging them Muslims?'

           Ed gave him a sharp, disdainful look. `What kind of sick bastard would find pleasure in that?'

           The blackbeard broke out into harsh, bitter laughter. `Sick bastard like me, that's who! I'm a sick bastard, a monster, like my father was. I would have tore up those Muslims, and laughed all the while, too. Fuck em!' His violent diatribe ascended into an emotional fit of rage. He made machine gun noises: tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh. Yeah! How do you like that Muslim? tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh. Spit shot from his mouth as he made these noises; as he shot imaginary Arabs with his imaginary rifle, spraying imaginary bullets. `There's one, boom. tsh. tsh. tsh,' the blackbeard said. `There, boom!' and then he shot Ed in the head and laughed. 'Boom! shot cha. Boom Ed! Shot cha again! Boom Ed. tsh. tsh. tsh. You freaking ungrateful, free loading mother fucker! I oughta kill you, you faggot!'

           The next bridge spanned the Saline River ; it was short bridge and the little box car blew across it before Ed knew it was there. His thoughts partially blinded him to everything except for the rising surge of hatred and repugnance. The blackbeard must have sensed the accumulating tension working itself into Ed's clenched fist, for he immediately stopped the idiotic machine gun noises.

           `You pissed now?' asked the blackbearded hobo.

            Ed didn't answer.

           `If you are, I'm sorry. I was just foolin, you know.'

           `How much longer until KC?'

           `Oh, I don't know. Four more hours, I suppose. Sorry for mentioning Iraq , man. I can see, now, that you're the sensitive type. Okay. Except my apology?'

           Ed didn't respond this time, or even shrug. He felt, if he did respond, it would place him in the un-advantageous position of being a victim, a coward, in the hobo's eyes. Instead of saying anything, however, what Ed did do was rise to his feet, produce his pocket knife from his pocket, and begin sharpening a #4 pencil which he pulled from his pea-green backpack. One by one, the wooden pealings floated away in the swiftening air currents. For the first time, the trend of events became exceptionally clear in his mind. He had expended a good deal of energy in an attempt to establish a more of less friendly repoir with this man, and now he realized that this was impossible. The hobo was sociopathic.

           `You look pretty darn dangerous with that knife there,' said the man. `If I didn't know better, I'd say you wanted to cut me like you're cutting that pencil. Whatcha doing?'

           `I'm getting ready to make a sketch. I'm an artist. I'm going to kill time, sketching.'

           The hobo nodded as if perplexed. The idea of sketching seemed foreign. `Well then, I won't bother you no longer. I'll go over to my corner, catch a little shut eye. Can I see the sketch when you're done with it?'

           `If you want.'

           MacIntosh was careful choosing his words. He knew, if he didn't limit his speech, one too many words could spark another un-wanted conversation. Words were doorways into the mind, and the hobo was far more clever than he seemed at entering those doorway. He was quiet now.  The two more of less sustained a psychic equilibrium based upon not talking to each other, besides for a few curt words they exchanged over sleeping arrangement. Already the blackheard looked tired. It was dusk and he spread the blanket over the floor, covered in darkness. The sun was not far from the western horizon, and its slanting, early-evening light fell upon the dusty grasses wavering in the train's turbulent wake. They passed the towns Grainville, Quinter, Wakeeney then onto Ellis, Hays and Russel , Kansas ---but the space between the towns was largely defined by the vast, monotonous stretches of flat, parched grazeland.  Through the farming community, Dorrance , Kansas , the train rumbled past a number of impoverished farm houses. Ed watched them come and go one after another: first a dilapidated shanty with a shaggy front lawn and free range chickens; then another house with a tire swing hung from an oak tree; the next with cloths drying on a cloths line; and through an apple orchard, drenched in the organge light of dusk, ran barefoot children. For the first time a smile creased Ed's lips. On more than one occasion he saw whole families assembled on the front porches, most definitely because it was cooler outside in the breeze than indoors. It was a more lively detour, at any rate, which the train followed through Dorrance, at times receiving a friendly wave from the locals.

           The passage of Dorrance meant the train was in central Kansas and was easing over into that ecological boundary dividing the short grass prairie from the thicker, lusher tall grass prairie. Crops and not pastures dominated the landscape; fields of wheat, usually with a combine deep in the middle. The fields were ripe and golden in color, a vibrant golden-red gleaming brightly in the diffuse light of sunset. Ed, with his #4 pencil, sketched the dimming landscape from the perspective of moving box car. His legs were crossed. The wire-bound sketch pad was spread across his lap. The sketch, in effect, became a collage filled with timeless images that he saw that hovered on the page as they hovered in his consciousness over the elongated distance between Dorrance and the next town of Salina .

           The sun dipped beneath the western horizon, and for a half an hour or so the train rolled along in the dimming twilight. The moon's huge orb followed from above the telephone wires strung alongside the railroad tracks --the wires sinking low until the next wooden post lifted them up with a jerk. At sundown, the stocky, thick legged stranger woke from his slumber. His deep set eyes were watery from sleep. He lay on his back for a while, the worted face looking straight up at the ceiling and his yawn revealing two rows of yellow, tobacco-stained teeth.

           `Where are we?' he asked through the yawn.

           `Somewhere outside Abilene .'

           ` Abilene ?'

           `We should be in Kansas City in a little over two hours.'

           `Crap. I thought we'd be there by now. Two hours?'

           `More or less.'

           `Feels like I've been on this god-damned train for ever.'

           The blackbeard grunted as he removed a bottle from his brown, wrinkled grocery bag; a full fifth of Jack Daniels. He said, as he twisted the cap: `Wanna cup?'

           `I'll pass.'

           `Suit yourself, all the more for me,' he said; coughing and hacking, he spat a luggy on the splintery planks making up the floor, then leaned his back against the wall and got quietly drunk. Between Junction City and Lawrence he fidgeted constantly, unable to resign itself to the rhythm of the train. When he wasn't brooding in his dark corner he was pacing back and forth through the box or drinking straight from the bottle or chain smoking.  `They wouldn't take me,' he was said in his rant about the Marines and how they rejected him when he tried to enlist. `They said it was my knee... It was injured, you see.... and maybe it was,' he stopped. `To hell with the Marines. To hell with you too. To hell with the whole US of A.' His form stood in contrast to the moon's silver orb, which flung across the sky above the trees rising alongside the Kansas River. The moonlight lathered the earth in a silver glow, providing the minimum light needed to see the tree-lined river valley.  High above the river the stars filled the sky in such vast numbers. Among them was the eclipsing binary star, Algol --the Eye of the Demon-- glinting maliciously in the constellation Perseus. The hobo stepped into the haze of moonlight hovering about the box car opening, psychically enfeebled by the immense fire thoughts pouring into his consciousness from the demon star Algol and bringing out all the distorted wrinkles around his eyes; thinner, finer wrinkles checked his forehead. His head was beset with large clownish ears, a thick set of eyebrows and a wide, high-bridged nose which was flattened at the tip, as if broken.

           MacIntosh sat and sketched like a child whose soul is a silent star shining in the center of the universe. He had not spoken a word in two hours. Every now and then he glanced at the hobo then recorded his impression on the sketch pad. There was clownishness to the hobo that aroused Ed's pity.  The hobo had sad, self-pitying eyes and clownish ears, an oversized forehead, a fuzzy brow and flaring temples, feminine eyelashes and a protruding wort. The sketch amplified these traits into a hideous caricature that was barely human and animalistic in appearance.

           They were close to the Hub, and slowing considerably. Another train curled around a bend and ran alongside their open box car. He heard nothing but their cumulative roar. Then, further down the tracks, another train eased up alongside them.  The three trains formed a convoy bearding down on the Hub.

           `Freaky shit,' the man said when he snatched the sketch pad. `You drew this?'

           `Yes.'

           `Is that monster me?'

           Ed stood up just as a loud ringing sound became audible outside the train. The ringing sound increased in volume as they stood there. A train-crossing flashed by the opening. Then, there was the silence of the gently-rocking car.

           `This is bullshit!' the man said; and his agitated face, within his disorganized mass of hair, wrinkled into the words he spoke. `I help you into the train, save you from the wheels, and you make a monster picture out of me! You think I'm a monster?'

           `You said you were a monster, yourself, if you remember correctly. I merely put your self image on paper. That's my job. I'm an artist.'

           The man looked up from the sketch---and in one eye of his, which caught a glint of moonlight, Ed thought he saw a flash of redness erupt from the pupil. From the very beginning the transient had verbally assaulted him with comments designed to whittle away at his self esteem. But Ed did not submit. He addressed Ahriman through the hobo's eyes: I will not be your victim!

           Unexpectedly the transient jumped the train taking the sketch pad with him.  Ed stuck his head out into the rushing wind and watched the hobo pick himself off the ground and give him the middle finger.  The hobo's form grew more and more distant with every passing moment, until the form was absorbed in the consuming darkness.  It was then that Ed pulled his head back into the still air of the box car, and started gathering his belongings into the backpack.  Losing the sketch pad didn't bother him.  Most of the sketches were several years old and were produced when he was on military leave from Iraq .  There were sketches of the magnificent Jesus sculpture before Chartres Cathedral, intermixed with sketches of street scenes in Paris and a short, petit, brunette girl he met at the Sorbonne.

           A convenience store was a short walking distance from the Hub.  From there he caught a taxi cab and had the driver take him to his apartment building in downtown Kansas City .  It wasn't until he was home that he learned the transient's identity.  His name was Harvey Cantrell, a.k.a. The Head Basher, a man on the FBI's top ten most wanted list, responsible for ten serial murders in Texas , Kansas , Missouri and Arkansas .  A photograph of Harvey Cantrell was on the television screen.

       

       

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