The kid’s name was James Patrick George Hogan, George being his confirmation name, taken for the saint who slew dragons. In his Catholic school book there had been an illustration of George in armor and mail standing triumphant with his huge battle sword near a slain dragon. The dragon’s scales and reptilian snout had captivated James.
    Looking at illustrations of dragons and dinosaurs was his favorite pastime. He could stare at them for hours, imagining himself living back then. The only thing wrong with this was that back then there would have been no Marietta Courtney, this being the fourteen-year-old public-school girl James had been steadfastly stuck on since he’d seen her a year ago riding her bicycle, her red hair gorgeous in the sunlight, her smile in equal parts impish and unknowable.
    These were some of the things James had thought about on the last part of the journey to Myles. His uncle Septemus Ryan had fallen into one of his silences. Of course, James knew what the silence was about: a few years back his uncle’s girl-and James’s favorite cousin-Clarice, had been shot and killed in a bank robbery back in their hometown. This had been particularly hard on Septemus, because only two years previously his wife had died from whooping cough.
    Since these deaths there had been a lot of talk in Council Bluffs about “poor Septemus not being quite right upstairs.” He was given to violent tempers, unending days and nights of brooding, and talking to himself. The latter seemed particularly troubling to Council Bluffians. Here was a leading merchant, and a darned handsome one at that, walking down the streets of town quite obviously carrying on some kind of conversation with himself. What he was saying or to whom was a mystery, of course, and a disturbing one to those who cared about him.
    In the dusty street, James and Septemus dismounted. They took the carpetbags from their saddles and carried them inside the hotel.
    James appreciated the cooling shade of the fine hotel lobby. Gentlemen in percale shirts and straw boaters and cheery red sleeve garters sat in leather chairs smoking cigars, sipping lemonade, and reading newspapers and magazines. A few yellowbacks were even in evidence. James wondered if any of them were reading The Train Boy, which next to the works of Sir Walter Scott was the best thing he’d ever read.
    The lobby had mahogany wainscoting and genuine brass cuspidors and great green ferns. The mustached man behind the registration desk looked as snappy as a man in a Sears catalog.
    “Good afternoon, sir,” the clerk said in a splendid manly voice.
    “Afternoon,” Septemus said. “One room, two beds. And we’ll be wanting baths this afternoon.”
    “Cool ones, I trust, sir,” the clerk said, smiling.
    Septemus didn’t smile back. The clerk, something dying in his eyes, looked mortally offended.


    Up in their room, they emptied the carpetbags on their beds and then sat in the two chairs next to the window to sip their complimentary lemonade.
    “You glad you came along?” Septemus said. Here it was three degrees hotter than down on the street, but here they could feel the breeze better, too. Septemus had taken his jacket and his vest off. At forty-five he was balding and getting fat, but he still looked muscular and his hard, angular face attracted women and made men wary. He didn’t look at all like a haberdasher.
    “There you go again.”
    James blushed. “I’m sorry.”
    “No need to apologize, James. You’ve just got to remember the things I’m trying to teach you.”
    James nodded.
    “You know why I took you on this trip?”
    “Because you wanted to take me to the state fair.” The fair was in Des Moines, some one hundred miles away. There would be amusement rides and prize livestock and bearded ladies and magicians and probably two hundred girls who were as cute as Marietta Courtney. Or at least James hoped so.
    “The fair is part of the reason but it’s not all of the reason.”
    “It’s not?”
    Septemus looked at James very hard. “I wanted to get you away from your mother’s influence.”
    “You did?”
    “I did.”
    “You don’t like my mom?”
    “I like your mom fine but she’s not the best influence you could have.”
    “She’s not?”
    “Nope. Your father was.”
    “But he is dead.”
    “I’m well aware of that.”
    “And my mom has done a good job of raisin’ us three kids ever since.”
    Septemus still looked solemn. “Your mother is my sister and a woman I respect no end. But she’s a lot better mother to your two sisters than she is to you.”
    “She is?”
    Septemus nodded, then sipped some lemonade. “Think about it, James.”
    “About what?”
    “About what your life has been like since your father died. Without a proper male influence, that is.”
    “I don’t understand.”
    “Violin lessons. Always wearing knickers and a clean dress shirt. Spending most of your time on studies instead of being outside playing baseball. Do you honestly think this is a natural state of affairs for any young man? And that’s what you are, James, whether your mother chooses to acknowledge it or not. You’re sixteen and that makes you a young man.”
    “I guess I never thought of it that way.”
    “When your father was your age, he was supporting a family of three and going to work for the Union Central Life Insurance Company. By the time he was twenty, he had his own office.”
    “That’s right, Uncle Septemus.”
    “And he was a man known to take a drink who could hold a drink, and a man known to hunt who had respect for the rifle and the prey alike, and a man known to please the ladies just by the manliness of his stride and the confidence of his smile. He was one hell of a real man.”
    James couldn’t help it. Hearing his father recalled so lovingly- Septemus and James’s father had been best friends for many years- James got tears in his eyes and had a hard time swallowing.
    “Your father wouldn’t have approved of the violin lessons. Or the musicals in your parlor every Tuesday night. Or all those luncheons your mother takes you to.”
    “He wouldn’t have?”
    Septemus shook his head. “No, he wouldn’t have. And that’s why I brought you along on this trip.”
    James looked perplexed.
    “To start teaching you about manly things,” Septemus said. “Away from the influence of your mother.”
    “So stop being so deferential. Stop always ‘Yessiring’ me. A gentlemen is always polite, but that doesn’t mean he has to be bowing and scraping. You understand that?”
    James almost said “Yessir.” Instead, he caught himself on time and simply nodded.
    “Good. Now why don’t you take a bath. I’ve got to go do a little business. I’ll be back to take my own bath and then we can get something to eat.”
    Septemus got up and stood over James and mussed his hair with thick fingers. “You look more like your father all the time. You should be proud of that.”
    “I am.”
    For the first time since they’d left Council Bluffs, Septemus smiled. “This trip’ll be good for you, James. You wait and see.” Then, his boots loud on the linoleum floor in the drowsy quiet of the afternoon, he went over and put his vest and coat back on.
    James couldn’t help but notice that Septemus also picked up his Winchester.
    “See you in an hour or so, James,” Septemus said.
    Then he was gone.
Jack Dwyer #07 - What the Dead Men Say
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_0.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_1.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_2.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_3.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_4.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_5.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_6.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_7.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_8.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_9.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_10.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_11.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_12.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_13.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_14.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_15.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_16.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_17.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_18.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_19.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_20.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_21.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_22.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_23.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_24.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_25.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_26.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_27.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_28.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_29.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_30.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_31.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_32.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_33.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_34.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_35.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_36.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_37.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_38.htm
Ed Gorman - What the Dead Men Say_split_39.htm