I was investigating a golden dollar scam last week — people were buying golden dollars from the U.S. Mint to earn points on their credit cards and taking the dollars to their banks, which sent them to the Federal Reserve, resulting in a billion coins bearing images of Sacagawea and U.S. presidents stacked up in a warehouse in Baltimore — when the phone rang. Two country dames needed an escort to the Amtrak station in Alliance. The eastbound Capitol Limited was scheduled to leave at 2:07 a.m.
“I’m not an escort service,” I said, but the first dame offered to cook my food and iron my shirts for a week. I naturally said yes.
We drove to Alliance the night of departure and pulled into the deserted but well-lit Amtrak lot. The Review had recently printed an article about a new passenger station, but all we saw was fresh blacktop topped with new stripes; the old station, which looked like something straight out of the Bowery Boys, a haven for all sorts of ugly customers; and Conrail vehicles. Buildings were marked A-1, A-2 and A-3, but nothing looked shiny and new.
We watched the tracks under the overpass for eastbound trains, and we tensed in expectation when a diesel horn blew in the distance, the gates on East Patterson went down and the bright lights of a locomotive came into view. But the train was a freight, and we relaxed. After a brief wait in the car, I walked to the edge of the tracks, looked east and saw the new station east of the old station, its bright lights glowing in the dark. We walked past the old station, its decaying platform that in decades past was the sight of many a sorrowful farewell and happy reunion looking even more dilapidated in contrast to the bright, shiny chain link fence that lined the sidewalk, to the new station, made of red brick and wood painted a nice off-white, its style an imitation of the old wooden depots. Two men were waiting, and they told us the train was more than two hours late.
Needing relief, I drove to The Review to use the john, getting curious looks from the nighttime circulation workers, and while there I checked the Amtrak listings, and I grabbed some papers to give to the beleaguered train waiters back at the station, hoping The Review would make its way to the nation’s capital. Soon after my return to the station an older couple joined us, and I felt comfortable leaving the country dames. I returned home at 3:30 a.m.
The next day I went to the Canton Police Department to pick up some photos for the golden dollar scam. The cop behind the glass barely glanced up from his paperwork, held his hand to his head with thumb up and pinkie down in imitation of a phone, and told me to have a seat when I gave him my request over the wall phone. I passed the time proofreading the department directory, sitting among city residents who hung their heads in boredom or lost hope — I couldn’t tell which it was.
I got my photos, and I stopped at my favorite tavern, run by my friend Joe Betz. I put a penny in the old music box and listened to a metal disc play “Bicycle Built For Two” while I drank a dark German lager. Watching the bubbles rise in my beer, I thought back to an interesting encounter the night before when I drove to The Review for relief. I was pulling out of the station parking lot and saw a black and white cat on the opposite side of the road. It was chasing something, stopped to watch my car, and, seeing I was waiting, chased a mouse into the road and caught it.
I’m not getting anywhere on this golden dollar investigation, I thought, but last night, while Jupiter and a slice of moon rose in the east, I helped two country dames catch a train and a city cat catch a mouse. We’re always chasing after one thing or another. Some days we don’t catch our quarry, and other days, with the help of a shadowy benefactor, we manage to nab our prey.
I finished my lager, bid farewell to Joe until tomorrow and went home.
Or something like that.