The following morning, Smitty was sitting in the hotel lobby smoking a cigarette waiting for Zach and Charlie. He had offered to take them to the bus station. When he checked his watch, it was a little before nine. Across from where he sat was a young boy. He sat quietly and stared at Smitty. He was a chubby kid with auburn hair and freckles all over his face. He had to be no more than 10 years old.
Smitty smiled politely at the little boy, but the boy just stared with no expression whatsoever. Smitty started to feel uncomfortable. Suddenly an idea came to him. He inhaled deep from his cigarette and blew out a smoke ring. It was large and thick. It slowly drifted up, staying in a perfect circle the entire time. Then he blew out a second smoke ring. He and the boy watched as it caught up to the first ring, entangled, and made a chain. Smitty thought it looked exceptional and was proud of his masterpiece.
When he looked over, the boy just sat and looked at him. Then he stuck his tongue out at him. Smitty became insulted that the little boy did such a thing. Then suddenly a pink bubble appeared from the boy’s mouth. It grew and grew until the boy’s head completely disappeared. Smitty was impressed until the bubble burst. He flinched to the sound of the pop, and when he opened his eyes, he saw that the gum had completely covered the boy’s head. Oh boy, Smitty thought.
When the bell for the elevator rang, it was a well received distraction for Smitty. He saw Zach and Charlie exiting the elevator with their suitcases. “Too bad kid,” Smitty said as he fled the scene. Then he rushed over to Zach and Charlie.
“Hey Smitty,” Zach said, “thanks again for offering to take us to the bus station.
“Yeah, we really appreciate it,” Charlie said.
“No problem, glad to do it,” Smitty said. Then he quickly headed toward the door. Zach and Charlie followed in suit wondering what the rush was. As they crossed the lobby, they noticed a woman scolding a young boy. She was peeling bubble gum from his face and hair.
“What happened to him?” Charlie asked.
“Eh, we had a little competition ... he lost,” Smitty said. “C’mon, let’s get outta here.”
When they got outside, they all piled into the car parked by the curb. “Hey Smitty,” Zach said. “Ya think we could make a quick stop at the general store on the way? I wanna pick something up.” Charlie had an idea of what Zach wanted, but didn’t say anything.
“Sure, we have time to make a quick stop,” Smitty said. “So, where ya fellas heading to anyway?”
“Cleveland,” Charlie said.
“Ohio? What’s out there?”
“The World’s Fair,” Charlie said. “Zach found an article about it in the paper. They got a light show that looks like the Aurora Borealis.”
“What’s Roara ... whatever ya said?”
“It’s pronounced AU-ROR-RA BOR-E-AL-IS,” Charlie said. “It’s a fancy name for northern lights. They shine up in the sky, but ya gotta be way up north like near Canada or Alaska. Right, Zach?”
“Yep,” Zach said.
“No kidding?” Smitty said. “Sounds interesting. I’d like to see that some time.”
“And after Cleveland, we’re off to New York,” Zach said. “Hopefully we can get some Yankee tickets.”
“Say, that sounds like a lot of fun,” Smitty said.
“Why don’t ya meet us there?” Charlie asked.
“I wish we could, but I can’t, Mr. Graziano’s too busy. We’ll probably be traveling to Chicago again soon. Who knows, maybe I can catch a ball game out there.”
Zach and Charlie thought Smitty sounded doubtful. He hardly ever had much time for himself. It wasn’t easy working for an ambitious man who was a workaholic. It was the only thing that Smitty didn’t like about his job.
Before they knew it, they were in front of the general store. Zach climbed out of the car. “I’ll just be a jiffy.” He shut the car door behind him and quickly entered the store.
“What do ya suppose he’s getting?” Smitty asked.
“Every time we pass this way, he stares at a camera in the window display. I bet he’s buying it.”
Smitty and Charlie watched a store employee remove the camera from the window display. “Looks like ya right. He’s always up to something, ain’t he?” Smitty said with a chuckle.
“He sure is,” Charlie said. “I’ll tell ya one thing he ain’t boring, that’s for sure.”
Through the car window they could see Zach smiling as he exited the store carrying a shopping bag. “Let’s say we have a little fun with Zach, okay?”
“Okay,” Charlie said trying to keep a straight face.
When Zach got back in the car and set the shopping bag on the seat beside him.
“What’cha got there, Zach?” Smitty asked in a ribbing tone.
“A camera,” Zach said. He pulled a box from the shopping bag and opened it. He looked like a young boy opening a present.
“Why a camera?” Smitty asked. “What’cha gonna take pictures of? Ya plan on taking pictures for the newspapers or something? Ya gonna become a newspaperman?”
“No,” Zach said, “we’re gonna need it for Cleveland and New York.” He made it sound as though it were an important necessity in the world. Charlie and Smitty started to laugh. “We’re gonna want photographs ain’t we?” He didn’t understand why Smitty and Charlie were laughing at him. He became irritated, he didn’t like being needled.
“Oh Zach,” Charlie said. “We don’t mean to laugh, but the way you’re acting. You don’t have to explain why you want the camera. Ya had your eye on it for weeks. It’s okay, we have a little money now.”
Zach took a moment to think about it. Then he smiled. “Yeah, ya right,” he said. “We can afford it, and we do need it,” As the car pulled away from the store, he carried on about his new camera. “Look guys, it’s a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye with a single mirror reflector view finder. It makes 6X6 pictures. Ain’t she a beauty?” Charlie and Smitty had no idea what Zach was talking about, but they continued to humor him. All the way to the bus station they heard Zach talk about the camera and all the photos he was planning to take of the World’s Fair and New York.
When the car pulled up to the bus station they all climbed out. Zach and Charlie took their suitcases and were about to head over to the buses.
“Hold on guys,” Smitty said, “this is as far as I go. I’m not good with good-byes. Uh, one-second.” He opened the front passenger door and reached for something inside. He turned and handed a small wooden box to Zach. “They’re Cubans. It’s a little something from me and Mr. Graziano. Ya know how Mr. Graziano loves his cigars. He thought you’d like them too.”
“Oh, how nice. Nothing like a good cigar, huh?” Zach said. He shook Smitty’s hand.
“Hold on, I have something for you too, Charlie,” Smitty said. He handed Charlie a white box with a string tied around it. “Hope ya like gingerbread cookies. I got them fresh from the bakery this morning. Something for the trip.”
“Ya didn’t have to do that,” Charlie said and shook Smitty’s hand. He remembered the first time they met Smitty back at the run-down hotel. Charlie knew he was going to miss Smitty, he always treated him well.
“No problem Champ,” Smitty said. “Ya got a lot of potential. Ya could have gone all the way and been a world champ. But I know fighting ain’t your thing. Ya made the right choice ... getting out while ya can was smart.”
“We’re gonna miss ya,” Zach said. “We’ll make sure to write ya. Give our regards to Mr. Graziano, will ya?”
“You bet, and ya better send some postcards,” Smitty said. “Okay, well, take care fellas.” He climbed back into his car.
“Hey Smitty,” Charlie said, “was that story of Watkins and Big Al really true?”
“What do you think?” Smitty said with a wink. Then he tapped on the lens of his watch. “Ya gonna miss your bus.”
Zach and Charlie gave Smitty one last smile and waved good-bye. Then they turned and headed for the bus terminal. When they reached the doors they stopped and looked back at Smitty. They could see him in the car driving away. An empty feeling and sadness suddenly came over them. They became good friends with Smitty and Mr. Graziano, and now they were on their own. They had some money now, and wondered if they were ready for the world. Or better yet, was the world ready for them. They wondered if they would be taken serious and seen as legitimate businessmen, or just a lucky negro and a little white freak who had money to burn.
Ready or not, here we come!