Coming of Age Adventure American

My Dad says I’m paranoid. I think that’s like someone who’s connected to the paranormal. Like on my favorite shows. I like sci-fi. Those stories are so interesting. They feel real. Not like day-to-day life, which gets kind of tedious sometimes. And boring.

You never know what adventure will happen in sci-fi. Add a splash of fantasy and all bets are off. Literally, what’s going to come through that door?

For instance, you can’t believe where I am right now.

Sometimes Dad takes me on business trips with him. Every few weeks he travels from New York to Washington DC, by train. He thinks it’s good to get off my phone and see some reality. Whatever that is. Right?

Like reality is so much better.

We watch four men carry some guy through the car. He kicks and screams, but they hold tight. They wrestle him out the door and that’s the last I see of him. Did they throw him off the train? What did he do wrong? The train doesn’t stop.

Hope he had a soft landing. If he got on without a ticket, just sell him one. But no!

My Dad says, “Frat boys.”

How does that explain throwing someone off a moving train? What the heck is a frat boy?

Was he a spy?

Anyone who ever read a book knows trains are crammed with spies. Anyone in this car with us could be a spy. Who would know? What if they all are? That would be intense.

Those two whispering, little ladies sitting at the end of the car. Hello? They could be from anywhere. No one checks these things. Who knows what they might do?

And the so-called conductor. He moves from car to car, punching everyone’s tickets. And no one bats an eye. He knows everyone’s destination. But who watches him? What’s his real game?

The car is half full of men in suits. Each carries a briefcase and laptop. Tell me, who wears a suit anymore? And this car carries a couple dozen?

Could anything be more obvious?

They can’t all be spies. Or could they? Odds are one, or two are. Maybe more.

But I’m a kid. Nothing I can do about it. But if I see it, why not someone else?

And here’s my dad, with his briefcase and suit, fitting in. He wants to show me how the world works. But he doesn’t see what I do. What a goofball.

The guys who just threw the guy off the train pass back through. They laugh and make a commotion like nothing happened. Like they didn’t just murder some poor spy who crossed their path.

The train slows. I stare out the window to see the same little houses with tiny, walled back yards with rusty swing sets. The view heading north looks the same. I never got why anyone cared which side of the tracks you lived on. The grass is green on both sides. Or not.

Cars wait at the crossings for our train to pass. The lights flash and the bells ring the Doppler tune. Every time. That guy wrote one song. Everyone liked it so much, he never wrote another.

I like the syncopated clack of wheels on tracks. Top-heavy grown-ups stagger down the aisle. Being short, I can run up and down all day.

I think about when bandits chased trains on horseback to rob it on the upgrade. I don’t have that to worry about. Things were simpler then. Now it’s spies.

I always remember Grandpa at this point on the trip. He used to tell me about flying a fighter jet in the Korean War. He’d smile about how gratifying it was to blow up a supply train before it entered a tunnel.

We don’t have tunnels on this trip, so I don’t worry about that. Not one mountain from New York to Washington. Just flats.

And spies.

“Dad, I’m thirsty. You want anything from the diner?”

“Yeah, good idea.” He closes his laptop and pulls out a twenty. “Coffee…black, and we can split a pastry if you see a good one.”

I walk to the dining car feeling flush. The space between the cars moves like crazy.

Being before lunch, the diner’s pretty empty. A couple of teenage girls are playing cards with a guy in uniform. I buy Dad’s coffee and a coke for myself.

Walking past the card game, the girls are giggling. I notice something strange.

I’d swear the guy sitting with the girls is the same one they threw off the train. Only now he’s shaved and wearing an Army uniform. What’s going on? And why’s he sitting with these girls? They’re older than me, but no way are they his age. He must be in his twenties.

I stop and they look up.

“Mind if I join you?”

I set Dad’s coffee on the next table and sit. The girls giggle. The Army guy couldn’t care less. You know…

“Whatcha playin’? I know lots of games. But I don’t bet.”

The girls giggle. That was the funniest thing they ever heard.

The Army guy says, “You know Hearts? It’s like Rummy…”

“Cool. I’m killer at Hearts. Just deal.”

He makes a funny look. “Yes, sir!”

The girls crack up. He shuffles and deals. Everyone focuses.

I look at the older girl and say, “Okay we’re partners?”

The girls laugh. I never realized how funny I am. Watching those Seinfeld reruns is paying off.

“I mean, we’re sitting across…”

She says, “That’s fine. You and me, BFFs.”

The younger girl loses it. I don’t get it.

I introduce myself and they do too. Gary and Jill are partners. Sharon is mine.

We settle into the game and the Army guy is way better than anyone. He wins several hands. But I don’t care.

He tells Sharon how pretty she is. He tells her he’s lonely and asks for her phone number, ‘to stay in touch.’ She finally writes it on a napkin and pushes it across the table.

The thing is, she looks at me before giving it to him. I try to warn her with a look. I’ll never know if she wrote her real number.

The train pulls into a station and the guy takes the cards and leaves.

I remember Dad’s coffee. I apologize for needing to leave too. They assure me it’s okay, and giggle.

I tell Sharon, “Careful with that guy.”

She nods and says she will. I take the coffee. They laugh behind my back.

People enter and line up for lunch. I find Dad and give him his coffee.

“The pastries looked bad.”

“Thanks. Thought you got lost.” He sips and nods. “Coffee’s good. Thanks. Have the change?”

I give him the bills. He waves away the coins.

“Our stop’s coming up. Glad you found me.”

The car fills with more suits. The train starts rolling again but never gets up to speed. We roll through the suburbs and into the city.

We both know the routine. When the station is announced, he hands me his coffee and packs his laptop. When it stops, we stand. He grabs his briefcase and slings his laptop strap over his shoulder. We make our way to the exit.

As we go down the steps, a guy rushes up, pushing his way by. He and Dad jostle for a moment. He frees himself and we step to the landing. Tons of people herd onto the platform. Others drift toward the station.

Dad walks fast. I struggle to keep up. But I stop.

“Dad! Where’s your briefcase? You lose it?”

He checks his laptop and says, “I didn’t bring a briefcase today. Just the laptop, son.”

“But you had it the whole way… I saw it.”

“Sometimes. But not today. We’re good. Let’s get lunch.” He begins to walk and urges me on.

I remember the guy coming up the steps, the jostling. Dad had it. And then he didn’t. Oldest trick in the book.

My hand starts shaking. I drop the coffee. I stoop to retrieve it.

Dad says, “Leave it, kiddo. Let’s go before the lines get too long.”

It’s so obvious. My Dad is a spy.

October 21, 2022 16:39

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Tommy Goround
20:34 Oct 21, 2022

Love how the story is unfolding.. "Anyone who ever read a book knows that trains are crammed with spies." Ha Tripped me for a sec: He wants to show me how the world works. But he doesn’t see what I do. What a goofball Laughing at ending. Good stuff.


John K Adams
23:09 Oct 21, 2022

Thanks Tommy. It's always a pleasure to read a comment that shows it all worked as intended.


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15:28 Oct 27, 2022

I really like the way the world is presented: distorted with childish paranoia. I was really hooked from start to finish. I liked the deduction ability of the boy, how everything ties up and fits the way he looks at the world. There were some pretty funny bits of dialogue that I found to complement the child character quite well. The interaction between the girls and the man was funny, except for the number part, which might be a bit creepy if they were underage. I'm not sure if I have a criticism since I don't precisely know towards what en...


John K Adams
16:42 Oct 27, 2022

Thank you very much for reading and your comments. You make some good points. I wanted the creep factor to support the kid's sense that there are things to be afraid of. I opted to keep the father a non-entity so as not to diffuse the first-person narrative. The reader kind of fills in their sense of reality for the father. I will read your stories.


17:57 Oct 27, 2022

I appreciate it, J.KA.


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Mary Lehnert
21:10 Oct 26, 2022

Entertaining and enjoyable. Was thinking Seinfeld and you came up with it. My humble suggestion. Brevity being the soul of wit, condense and let that perfect ending explode. Well done, John


John K Adams
22:38 Oct 26, 2022

Thanks for reading Mary. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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