After Zach had met with Mr. Graziano, he was to have lunch with Charlie to give him an update. They agreed to meet at a small cafe that they both liked called Jackson’s Cafe, located just outside of town.
The owners, Reuben and Cerise Jackson, were a friendly couple. Reuben was a musician that played guitar for Blues man “Georgia Tom” Dorsey in his band before he relocated to Chicago. Reuben decided to stay in Tennessee and settle down. He married Cerise and with the money he made playing music, they opened the cafe together.
Cerise was light-skinned and had a Creole heritage. Charlie loved their food, it reminded him of his mother’s cooking. They made all kinds of southern dishes from fried catfish to fried pork, chicken fried steak to barbecued ribs. Their menu also had collards turnip greens, corn fritters, fried green tomatoes, blackeyed peas, southern biscuits, southern corn bread, breakfast grits, potato pancakes, mashed potatoes, and sausage gravy. However, their specialty was Cajun Jambalaya. It was no wonder Charlie loved the place. Reuben and Cerise cooked while Cerise’s sister, Tiffany hosted and waited on tables. Other relatives helped in the kitchen, served food, and washed dishes, as well. It was a loose and fun environment. Everyone smiled and sang to the gospel music that played on the radio in the kitchen as they worked.
When Charlie entered the cafe, he saw Zach waiting for him at a table. When he sat down, Zach told him that he had already ordered their food. He knew what Charlie liked: a bowl of their Cajun Jambalaya and barbecued pulled-pork sandwich slathered in sauce.
Zach could tell that Charlie was anxious by the look on his face.
“So, what did he say?” Charlie asked.
“He said if we make enough money he’ll let ya go.”
“And what if the stock don’t make no money?” Charlie asked ignoring the jambalaya that was just placed before him.
“It’ll make money, don’t worry,” Zach said. He took a bite from his sandwich, trying to brush off the subject.
Charlie watched as Zach chewed. “Mr. Graziano seems like a smart man. I don’t see him just lettin’ me walk away. What if it don’t make no money?”
“It’ll make money, trust me,” Zach said.
“But what if it don’t? You’re holding something back. Tell me everything he said.”
“Okay,” Zach said. “I didn’t want to tell ya. I knew you’d get all worked up. He said if we don’t make no money we ... um ... we work for him indefinitely.”
“Yeah, it means—”
“I know what it means, Zach! That could be forever!”
“It ain’t gonna be forever because we’re gonna make money.”
“Oh Zach, how can ya make a deal like that?”
“There was no other way. Look, he’s been putting us up in that hotel and payin’ ya good money. Look how we eat. We eat good. He’s invested a lot of money in ya and doesn’t want to let ya go. We had a deal for ten fights, remember? And you’re breaking that deal, not me. I did the best I could ... I know what I’m doing, you’re just gonna have to trust me with the stocks. I’m in this too ya know, I’m now part of the deal now too.”
Charlie didn’t say anything. He took some time to let it all sink in. After he thought about it for a while, he began to feel bad. “Well, it ain’t like it’s the end of the world I guess. Ya tried your best. I’m sorry. How’s the stock doin’ anyway?”
Zach unfolded the newspaper on the table and checked the stock market section.
“Well?” Charlie asked.
“Give me a second will ya?” Zach scanned the paper searching for their stock.
Charlie began cracking his knuckles as he waited.
“It’s still low,” Zach said. “We just have to watch it and see what happens. It ain’t gonna happen over night ya know. It’ll probably take a while. So eat your sandwich and try to relax.”
“Easy for ya to say.”
“Do ya trust me?”
“Then relax and eat your sandwich.”
Charlie took a bite of his sandwich and in no time it was gone. Then he chased it down with a grape Nehi soda.
“Feel better?” Zach asked.
Charlie leaned back in his chair and rubbed his stomach.
“Still got all your fingers?” Zach asked.
Charlie smiled. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I’ll try to relax from now on.”
For two weeks straight, Zach and Charlie sat in Jackson’s Cafe, ate breakfast, and checked the morning paper. Each time they checked their stock they became more discouraged, and that morning was no different.
Charlie reminded Zach that his next fight was in two days. He wished that his ear and finger hadn’t healed as fast as they had. He enjoyed his time off. He hated fighting, and that evening he slept uneasy. He lay in a pool of sweat and haunting dreams.
A rope dangled from a tree as the noose wrapped itself around Charlie’s neck. Huck was on the other end pulling the rope tight. Zach stormed out of the house. He was trying to help Charlie, but one of Huck’s men stabbed him in the abdomen. He fell to the ground and landed at Graziano’s feet. Smitty was standing beside him. Neither of them moved. Suddenly Zach’s body transformed into the shape of an alligator and began swimming below Charlie’s legs, as he swung from the rope over a small pond. They all watched as Big Al’s eyes peered at Charlie. He cried for help, but no sound could come from his mouth. He could see his parents and brother in the window crying for help as their house became engulfed in flames. Suddenly Big Al grabbed a hold of Charlie’s legs and began tugging on them.
“Charlie, wake up. Wake up, Charlie!”
Charlie opened his eyes and found Zach standing beside his bed shaking and tugging him.
“Ya were having a nightmare,” Zach said. “Ya okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” Charlie said. He sank his head back into his pillow and took a deep breath. His dream was so vivid and surreal.
Zach climbed back into his bed.
“It must have been a doozy, huh?”
“Yeah, it was,” Charlie said. He stared at the ceiling and tried to fall back asleep. Damn Smitty and his stories.
The following day was harrowing for Zach and Charlie. It was the day before Charlie’s next fight, and he was a nervous wreck. He constantly paced the floor, and as the day progressed he became worse. Back and forth he crossed the room while he cracked his knuckles. He was also muttering something to himself as he paced. He barely touched his breakfast and skipped lunch.
Zach couldn’t take it anymore, Charlie was driving him crazy with his pacing and knuckle cracking. “Charlie, will ya stop already? You’re wearing out the carpet.”
“I can’t help it,” Charlie said. “I have to fight tomorrow, and I don’t think I can do it!” Suddenly he raced to the closet and removed a suitcase that he had bought for himself and started to pack.
“What are ya doing?” Zach asked.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Ya can’t just leave, they’ll come looking for ya!”
“Well, what else can I do? I told ya, I ain’t fighting no more!” Charlie was very decisive. It was the only time Zach saw him this way. It was contradictory to his normal, easy-going behavior.
Zach saw how fighting had changed Charlie. He was becoming a different person. He felt as though something terrible was going to happen if things didn’t improve soon. If Charlie can just hang on a little longer. If he could just be patient, something good is sure to happen. It just has to. “Ya can’t run away from your problems. Ya need to get out for a little while. C’mon, let’s go for a walk.”
Charlie loved the idea of a walk. He needed to get out into the fresh air and get his mind off fighting. They decided to go to Jackson’s Cafe. They walked past a few small shops along the way. When they got to the general store they stopped and stared at the items displayed in the window. Zach stared at a camera that he had his eye on for some time. It was a new Brownie Hawkeye camera made by Kodak. He began to daydream of the photos he could take when they got to the World’s Fair and New York.
Charlie stood in a daze as he stared at the window display. His eyes drifted over a brass lantern, some mason jars, a Montgomery Ward iron. Then suddenly something caught his attention. It was an old Colt semi-automatic pistol. The model was a 1903 Pocket Hammer. Just under two pounds, it was a small, yet powerful weapon. He stood and watched how it gleamed in the light.
“Charlie, whatever you’re thinking that ain’t the answer,” Zach said.
“I was just looking.”
“Do ya believe that God has a plan for us?”
Charlie was stunned by Zach’s question. He thought about it briefly. “Yeah, why?”
“Then ya have faith?”
“Why ya askin’ me this?”
“Just answer the question,” Zach said.
“Yes, I have faith.”
“Really? From what I see it don’t seem so.”
“I’m trying, but it ain’t easy,” Charlie said. He was obviously on edge.
“It’s easy to have faith when things are going good,” Zach said. “Having faith during difficult times shows God ya believe and put your trust in him. That’s when it counts.”
Charlie thought about it for a moment. He realized what he said made sense. He noticed a look of calmness come over Zach. Then Zach winked and walked away.
When Charlie caught up to him, they talked about having faith and staying positive. They talked all the way to Jackson’s Cafe. Along the way, Zach used the words “when” instead of “if” when he talked about Cleveland and New York. He was positive and confident. He made Charlie feel as though going to Cleveland and New York weren’t just pipe dreams, and would actually happen. Their conversation gave Charlie just what he needed. His faith was restored again ... for a little while anyway.