A Goose in Deer Season
Set in 1978
The Chicago tunnel was a good ten to fifteen degrees warmer than out in the open. A dirty mist from the trucks and buses buzzing through splashed the white, tiled walls near the entrance. The posting stated a twenty-five miles per hour limit, but few ever slowed down that far pulling in from a forty-five MPH highway. Regular through traffic was not supposed to use the tunnel, but some people felt themselves above the law during rush hour and used it to get a one-block advantage. Erik wished the cops would come down and ticket all the violators. It would feel so good to see self-centered drivers pulled over. Farther in the walls were clean. The bright halogen lighting made the middle of the tunnel look almost as stark and sanitary as a hospital hallway. He nearly walked into a dilapidated gurney. He worked to get his frozen numb leg to cooperate so he could lie down on it. He then tried to kick off from the wall, but the wheels were apparently jammed. It was just as well. He could have had trouble if the gurney rolled into the through lane.
The cold stiffened his hands. The right fingers moved with effort, but the left was all but dead. The radio claimed minus five and a wind chill of almost 15 below. It was so painfully cold and he had so far to walk. The tunnel, as a minimum, provided a modest reprieve from the fury for the interval it took to cross through the tunnel.
He passed a couple of unoccupied cars, a half-mile or so back, warming up in their driveways. He was tempted to misappropriate one and leave it a couple blocks from home. In his mind, he pictured the face on one car owner might run outside in worn out slippers yelling as Erik drove off with his car. It was a look of alarm blended with cold blooded, vehement outrage. Another car owner, he visualized, might be so sleepy, that he would stand outside with a steaming mug of coffee confused as to why his car was not still there. He might look to his garage, or across the street to see where, in his sleep-starved, inebriated state of mind he parked it, failing for a while to guess someone else drove off with it. The later amused Erik.
He dressed poorly for the elements. January’s thaw, that permitted lighter clothing, came to an abrupt end the night before with a six-inch snowfall on top of the dirt encrusted remains of an earlier snow. Now it was too cold to snow. His heavy work shoes were soaked with the blackened, road salt encrusted, half-frozen slush found at each cross walk. His feet were so numb he couldn’t tell for sure if he had shoes on or was barefoot. He tried to look down, but his cold-locked neck wouldn’t bend. The thinning fabric of his jeans did nothing to block the intensity of Chicago’s wind. He was surprised to find this old pair under his bed. He thought he gave them to Jig. Either way, it was incredible he was able to squeeze into them. They had to be the most restrictive pair he undertook to get into. He was gratified with his accomplishment, though it was no wonder he walked a bit stiff legged.
The unlined, military fatigue jacket provided little more protection than a windbreaker. Sticking his hands into the jacket pockets didn’t warm them. He had the foresight to put on a black, wool beret that left his brittle ears exposed. Frozen breath from the nostrils caked his week old mustache pulling the thin hairs anytime he stretched the upper lip.
A Brinks truck approached, slowed down and stopped next to him. The dome light went on and he recognized Jig waving him inside the armored vehicle. He wore Dean’s old corduroys and varsity jacket. Erik looked around for witnesses. Finding none, he climbed up into the cab and pulled the heavy door closed.
“What you doin’, moonlighting?”
“No one was in it so I took it.”
Erik laughed. No one just left a Brinks truck alone like that. Raj must have found a temporary job to see him through the labor dispute just as he did. For some reason or another most of the people who hired him on a daily basis found ways not to pay.
“Come on, how’d you get a warm cushy job like this?”
“What job?” Jig retorted, “I was watching this baby just idle for over an hour and so I took it.”
The heat felt good. His skin tingled.
“Where you going?”
“Drop you off if you’re going home,” Raj offered.
“You won’t get in trouble?”
“’Long as I don’t get caught.”
“Who’s in back?” Erik asked having heard that all armored trucks had someone in the back.
“Mean you really just took this truck?”
“’S’wat I told ya.”
Erik sat back in disbelief that he was actually riding in a stolen truck, a Brink’s truck at that. Jig had best keep to the speed limits. “I sure hope no one called this in yet. This baby is rather easy to identify, I’d guess.”
Jig gave a laughed; the kind of laugh Erik would expect from their high school days. The laugh that said, in effect, “What are you scared of, take a chance.”
Erik rested his blazing, wind whipped eyes.
“So, didn’t see you on the strike line today,” Jig said.
“Got a day job. Pushing buttons at a factory.”
“How long will that last?”
“One day. They dismissed me at six.”
“How much you make?”
“Boss went home before I did,” Erik explained. “Place was all but empty after I cleaned up around my machine.”
Erik thought of his money. He had a dollar seventy-five and two or three pennies when he left work. He had asked one of the ladies about bus service. He needed a buck-fifty. Ten cents could buy a transfer. With any luck, he might find the bus he could switch to that passed the end of his street.
“There’s one that heads to Main, then on to Washington where I change buses. I don’t know where it goes from there.”
“Close enough for me.”
He walked with her to the bus stop. He didn’t know where those places were, but the ride would be warm and had to be closer to home than the factory. Standing a fair distance back from the curb to avoid cold dirty splash from the cars, they made small talk of how cold it was. She wore a dumpy, knee length, fake fur coat. Her dull, non-distinguishable colored felt hat with earflaps had a broken string on one side. The other string hung down her front.
“Dear, you should have gloves,” she said as she searched through her bag. “Your hands must be frozen by now.”
Erik stuck his hands back into his coat pockets to ease her mind. If she was searching for an extra pair of gloves, he didn’t want to accept them. She was a sweet lady, probably in her mid-forties. He imagined that she could be a hard working single Black mother who probably went to church regularly, had a couple of good children and a couple others living on the edge. He wanted to know more about her, but wasn’t sure what question to start with.
“Lord,” she said in worried panic, “Ain’t got my fare tickets. Son, I’m sure you’re more broke than I am; but you wouldn’t have a quarter? I got a buck twenty-five and the fare’s a dollar fifty.”
Erik took his hands out of the coat pockets and worked at getting his stiff fingers into the pockets of his jeans. He fished up a quarter while a penny dropped into the snow. His generosity made any hope of a cross bus for him null and void. It wasn’t just generosity, as he saw it. He would have felt bad if he held back, his prerogative to do so without moral consequence, and there was no bus at his stop to switch. She knew her route so it was certain she would get dropped off close to her home. However, he could not find it in him to tell her that.
He felt she didn’t see the penny drop. Normally he wouldn’t waste a penny, but it was just too cold to work his hand through the snow to find that penny.
“God bless you. Are you coming back tomorrow?”
He liked her voice, strong, reassuring, and not at all bashful about offering a sincere and kind remark.
“Not sure,” Erik answered. He knew he wasn’t, but didn’t want her to worry about paying back the quarter.
“I gotta change buses. You got a dime so a poor old lady can buy a transfer?”