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    When Uncle Septemus came back into the hotel room, he took off his hat, vest, and coat, set the Winchester against the bureau, and came over and lay down on the bed across from James.
    James was reading a yellowback about cowboys and Indians. The hero was a man named Chesmore who, it seemed, changed disguises every few pages.
    From his carpetbag on the floor next to the bed, Uncle Septemus took a pint bottle of rye, swigged some, then put his head down and closed his eyes. He left the bottle, corked, lying on his considerable belly.
    “You trying to take a nap, Uncle Septemus?”
    Uncle Septemus opened one brown eye and looked at James. “Guess I was till you asked me if I was.”
    “A man came.”
    “A man?”
    “A lawman.”
    “A lawman?”
    “The sheriff.”
    Uncle Septemus propped himself up uncomfortably, still giving James the benefit of only one eye. “He say what he wanted?”
    “Said he wanted to talk to you.”
    “He say about what?”
    James was careful not to say “No sir” and sound too deferential. “Nope.”
    Uncle Septemus closed his eye, lay back down flat, uncorked the rye bottle with his thick fingers, poured a considerable tote down his throat, corked up the bottle good, then gave the impression that he was deep asleep.
    “Uncle Septemus?”
    “Yes, son?”
    “I know you’re tryin’ to sleep.”
    “If you know I’m tryin’ to sleep, why are you bothering me then.”
    “Because, I guess.”
    “Because?”
    “Aren’t you worried?”
    “About what?”
    “About why a sheriff would come up to our room and ask to see you.”
    “Maybe he’s somebody I know.”
    “Huh?”
    “Maybe he’s somebody who came to my store and bought things before. A lot of people do that, and from all over the area, because
    I’ve got such good merchandise. They remember me but I don’t remember them. Whenever I visit other towns, there’s always somebody who comes running up and asks me do I remember him.”
    “You really think that’s why the sheriff came up here?”
    “Your mother sure has turned you into a worrier, hasn’t she, James?”
    There he went again. Another jibe at James’s mother. “Uncle Septemus.”
    Septemus sighed. His eyes had remained closed and he was obviously getting irritated. “What is it now, James?”
    “I don’t want you to insult my mother anymore.”
    “I haven’t insulted your mother. I’ve just expressed my concern that a woman can’t turn a boy into a man. Only another man can do that. Nothing against your mother at all. She’s a fine woman, a fine woman.”
    “You really mean that?”
    “I really mean that.”
    Now James lay down and closed his eyes. The black fly was back, walking on his red freckles.
    Uncle Septemus said, “I want you to wear that fancy linen collar tonight.”
    “Where are we going?”
    “Someplace special.” He hesitated. Now he rolled over and up onto one elbow. He looked at James with both eyes. “Look at me, James.”
    James rolled over on the bed across from his uncle and opened his eyes.
    “Do you want me to be treated like a man?”
    “Sure.”
    “A man can give his word to keep a secret and then keep that word. Do you think you can do that?”
    “Does this have something to do with the sheriff?”
    “Forget about the sheriff, James. This has nothing to do with him at all. This has to do with you being a man. Now can you give me your word that you can keep a secret?”
    “Then I’ll tell you that tonight I’m going to take you someplace very special.”
    “The opera house?”
    “Nope.”
    “The racetrack?”
    “Nope.”
    “The nickelodeon parlor?”
    “Don’t even try to guess. It’s someplace so special you wouldn’t guess it in a hundred years. Now let’s take a nap.”
    So James lay back down. In the stillness of the dying afternoon, the stillness and dust and heat of the dying afternoon, he heard the clatter of horses and wagons and the shouts of men and the fading laughter of children. This town was very much like Council Bluffs and, thinking about home, James just naturally thought of Marietta.
    But then he forgot Marietta because of his uncle’s promise of something “special” this evening.
    James wondered what it could possibly be.
    
Jack Dwyer #07 - What the Dead Men Say
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