Thunder shook the Missouri terrain while lightning danced across its vast scenery. Rain showered the night as if the sky was in mourning. The Golden Rush, a luxury train by all accounts, pierced through the falling water steadfast on its voyage. Ron “Slim” Carter had already been onboard for the better part of two days. In all that time, he had found absolutely no answers to his problems. He had begun to curse the day the list arrived in his mailbox. A simple piece of paper that had bred so much trouble. Lives were ruined and destroyed behind it. It was not just parchment. It was a curse. A dark omen that had haunted him on to a train. Planes were too risky. Slim had spotted more than a couple of black suits hanging out at the airport. His office and apartment in Harlem had been ransacked. Gutted to the bone and left bare. It was not paranoia when there was evidence that someone was out to get you. It was survival. Survival that had led him to the Golden Rush. A train ride that no man on the run would think to take. After all, it was 1972. Who took the train for anything other than relaxation and leisure? There would be no reason for anyone to suspect he was onboard.
Slim quietly sat in the dining car, his hands clutched a little too firmly around the edges of a newspaper. He was still wearing the burgundy bellbottoms and matching wide-collar shirt from when he had first boarded. A nice purple vest and a clean pair of Florsheim zipper boots completed his wardrobe. His full crown of natural hair had fared the two days better than his clothes, thanks to his Black Power fist comb. Normally, Slim was very particular about his appearance. Coming up in Harlem with barely anything to wear sometimes caused a tidy mentality. Yet today, on the Golden Rush, his cleanliness was the least of his concerns. His eyes scanned the newspaper from behind a pair of large circular glasses, desperately looking for a distraction. Amongst the articles was Angela Davis’s not guilty verdict and a recent scandal in Watergate. Both brought a grin to Slim’s lips.
“Shit, you think you got some heavy stuff,” he mumbled to himself as he flipped the page. A storm battered the world outside his window, but he ignored it. Reading was always an effective distraction. No matter where or when, a good read was always the perfect medicine. Slim could feel his body ease into the seat as he skimmed through the articles. Minutes flew by and his thoughts were almost jovial.
“What? I missed the premiere of Shaft’s Big Score!?” Slim said aloud with a smile. Films had become a hobby of his, thanks to the new wave of super Black movies. He figured the new Shaft flick could be a good treat for himself for when he hit Kansas City.
Down the way, the dining car door slid open. The sudden shutter made the man jump. His eyes trailed over the paper, subtly gazing just above the brim. A porter rushed through the car with a tray in hand. Slim was jumping at shadows a lot lately. He scratched his head as he thought about the list again. People had been dropping like flies for this information. Black people. Brothers and sisters in the struggle. What was he doing with it? He had never officially joined any group. As a writer, he more just hung out and rapped with the militants. Talked a bit too much, some might even say. So, why would anybody who had worked so hard to find this list send it to him? Slim had no qualifications for holding such a treasure other than he was notoriously stubborn and self-righteous. Features that his peers laughed about and said were the main reason he could never be an informant. Nobody could ever imagine Ron “Slim” Carter ever taking orders from a single human being. There were times when this was a feather in his hat. Then other times when it was a great folly. He was still on the fence on which it could be with this new chapter in his life.
“What’s happenin’, string bean?” Slim had barely noticed the woman approach his booth, having been lost in his daydreaming. Her sudden appearance startled the author in his seat.
“Sorry about that, honey,” she said with a smile. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” Before Slim could object, the woman slid into the seat across from him. She was a full-figured woman blessed with a beautiful shade of onyx-toned skin and an afro. A form-fitting pair of jeans and a green dashiki did little to hide her voluptuous body. The sistah was a healthy blend of plus size and muscle. As much as there was something alluring about her, there was also a faint sense of something dangerous.
“Hi. My name is Patricia,” the ebony beauty continued. “I couldn’t help but notice you over here. You look real nervous. I’ve seen my share of nervous cats before, and you definitely fit the bill, baby. Why so uptight?”
Her smile was captivating. Slim’s eyes focused in on her full lips and pretty round cheeks. Unimaginably beautiful. Black women were queens. The only thing that could distract the writer more than a good read was a good sistah. Patricia reached across the table and playfully pushed the man’s glasses up his nose.
“Can’t find your words, huh?” she joked, a coy grin hovering with her words. Slim’s heart was starting to thump in his chest like an African drum in celebration.
“I’m not nervous,” Slim finally said, his voice slightly cracking. “Just got stuff on my mind, is all. Folks dying in the streets for their beliefs, a country ripe with violence, and we still fighting pig politicians just to live in a decent home.”
“Uh-oh, you one of those militant types. That right?” Again, more coy. It was almost as if she knew something he didn’t. Slim wanted to be more cautious. He wanted to stay paranoid. Ride the train solo and be invisible. He wanted to be the protagonist in a new Ralph Ellison novel, skating under the radar but knowing too much. Still, this beautiful ebony goddess was just too damn intoxicating.
“I don’t know. You’re the one wearing the dashiki. That’s got to mean something, right?”
“What was it that Chairman Fred said? I believe it was political power does not flow from the sleeve of a dashiki. Right? Right.”
“So, you just like the look then?”
“No, but it does look good on me, though.”
“Sistah, I’m sure anything and everything would look good on you,” Slim replied, making the woman smile. “Or nothing at all, for that matter.”
A moment of silence passed between them before Patricia exploded with laughter. Her hand softly caressed her chin as she cocked her head. Whether he noticed or not, he had made her blush. Slim been more than what she was already told to expect.
“Wow, now, there are those fun words that Ron Carter is known for,” Patricia said as she sat up straight. “I wish we had more time to see how we would get down.”
Slim’s face slacked as he heard the woman’s words. “I never gave you my name. You said yours. Patricia, right? But I never said mine.”
Patricia sighed and shook her head. “That’s because we don’t have time to play games."
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