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**PRINT: 1997, by C.T. Ballentine (with an assist by Doug Milam), the first in our 8.5-by-11-inch mini-broadsheets series, easily printable on readers' desktops. We encourage active participation in distribution from any interested parties. Follow the main link above for more.

**PRINT: LIFE ON THE FRONTIER, by Chicago resident and native Kate Duva, is THE2NDHAND’s 33rd broadsheet. Duva's been plying the brains of THE2NDHAND readers for several years now, and her characteristic stylistic mix of arch-weird and arch-real in story makes for an explosively brittle manifestation of reality in this the longest story she's published in these halls, about a young woman's sojourn at what she sees as the edges of American civilization, Albuquerque, N.M., where she works as a nurse in state group homes for aging mentally disabled people. Catch Duva Feb. 8, 2010, at Whistler in Chicago at the second installment of our new reading series, So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? This issue also features a short by THE2NDHAND coeditor C.T. Ballentine.

**WEB: CHARLIE'S TRAIN, PART 2 Heather Palmer
WING & FLY: A MESSAGE FROM HAROLD RAY -- Nerves of Steel Feb. 8! | Todd Dills
MINNIE LEE's FUNERAL Anne Whitehouse
BASEBALL Alec Niedenthal

from the novella by
Heather Palmer

In the previous installment, Charlie disembarked in Chicago on an errand of as-yet-indeterminate character -- he got a haircut, made his way toward food, lodging. Things are about to get disturbing...

PART 1 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

Disturbance in a hotel
Hums in the back of Charlie's head vibrate thick. Like bees Louise swatted in the kitchen he wants the hum dead. Undone, he traps his head in his hands, scruffs the hair alongside his ears. Where was it coming from? To the west a train rolls freights. Does he have enough money? He looks to stray buildings for answers, hints:

"I am a market waiting to rise"
"I am a center, moving human"


He wants to lean on their brick like he'd done women. Franny had let him use her hip to rest. He looks in building crevices for possibility. Work. Why? This is supposed to be my getaway. Charlie passes an old hotel. A sign of white letters against black reads "Maya Hotel." He walks to the front desk.

--I need a room.

The lady's look makes him want a woman. She wears a pinstriped dress to the knees with no stockings.

--Okay. We charge fifty dollars a night, plus damages, if there are any.

--I don't have that much money.

--How much do you have?

--Thirty. But I can get more by tomorrow. I'm expecting visitors and need to prepare.

--I see.

She reaches under her desk for a key. It's chained to a pink tablet imprinted with the number 15.

--Normally we do not make adjustments.

Charlie takes the key in exchange for his last cash. His hand brushes hers, lingers. She looks up, eyes pale along the rim.

--I'm sorry, it's just...

--I'm Ann Marie.

--Not Maya?

Ann Marie thinks with a finger on her lower lip. --Oh, you mean her? She's long dead. My husband owns this hotel.

--Well, I really appreciate your kindness. Charlie adjusts the buttons of his jacket. --And I will have the full payment tomorrow night.

Ann Marie waves a cusped hand from under her chin.

--I'm sure you will, Mr...?

--Charlie's fine.

Charlie strolls toward his room. Back at the desk Ann Marie binds papers into a bundle. Her shirt slides to reveal a bare shoulder. Charlie looks away.

Cole meets Graves
Head over pillow, Charlie wakes up drowning. His dream of blue water and circles, a spiral scoops him to bottom. Charlie pulls the pillow over his head and tries to visualize dark. He remembers he needs to prepare for Louise and Franny, needs to pay that woman at the desk. Dressed, he checks his appearance, nods. In the hall Charlie passes the maid, tells her not to clean his room. Snooping a thing he hates. Franny wanted to clean his room.

--Charlie, it must be done.

Charlie kissed her check and Franny found Louise, who hugged her around the waist.

--Love, if that man wants to slop himself into a pig what does it matter to you?

Franny cried and Charlie left them both with his plate of uneaten eggs.

He had forgotten.

At the front desk sits a man a few years Charlie's senior. Charlie clears his throat and the man looks up.

--Hello sir.

--Good morning.

--I'm Charlie, room 15.

The man looks at his record book. --Ah, yes. I'm sorry, but we don't have a last name listed.


--Mr. Cole, what can I do for you?

--I'm just out for a bite to eat.

--I recommend the diner on Wells. Can't beat their omelets.

The man offers his hand.

--I'm Graves Southford.

--The owner?

--Don't know that I like it some days, but... Charlie laughs. The two men stand for a minute.

--I hope everything was in order last night.

--Absolutely, you have the most hospitable staff, Mr. Southford.

--Graves. It's just my wife and I. We used to have a small staff.

--You're lucky to have her.

Charlie pulls a flier from the front desk and opens it. Listed is an assortment of local businesses, including the newspaper. Charlie jots down the address of the paper.

--Well, I'm on my way.

Graves offers his hand again.

--Will you be staying long, Mr. Cole?

--I don't know. I'm expecting company, but beyond that, I suppose not.

Charlie hesitates, feels his insides burn at the opportunity to share doubt. This man looks trustworthy with his crows-feet eyes.

--I'm supposed to be visiting. He whispers, although the lobby is empty. --My housemates sent me by train and promised to meet me. But I don't think -- I'm suspicious -- they won't come.

Charlie pulls the skin under his thumb.

I mean...at all.

--What do you plan to do?

--Prepare, of course, for their not coming.

--Exactly as I would do. Does that mean you are without work?

Charlie begins slowly. --I'll be honest with you, Graves. Your wife let me stay for only thirty dollars last night, and I promised her full payment, plus up-front pay for a week. Now, if you do not find that acceptable...

--Not at all.

--Now, wait. You have my word, a full payment by this evening.

Graves goes through a beige door, leaves it slightly open so Charlie sees an olive-colored kitchen. Murmurs pass minutes before Graves enters the lobby with Ann Marie.

--This is the man I was telling you about.

She speaks to Graves, who kisses her and turns to Charlie.

--Mr. Cole, you are welcome here as long as you like. You made such a good impression on my wife. In fact, please come to dinner tonight.... Wait…

Graves turns to Ann Marie. She smiles and addresses Charlie.

--My husband and I would like you to come for dinner.

--That depends on what you're having.

--You'll be happy with whatever I serve, Mr. Cole.

Charlie tips his hat.

--Well then, I suppose I'll see you for dinner, Graves.

--Looking forward to it, Mr. Cole.

--Christ with this mister business. It's Charlie.

His lead
--It's harmless.

Charlie hears from across the room. He's walked into a beige office with wooden desks where a woman mans the phone. She's squeezed in a wooden chair behind the desk. Charlie taps the wood and the lady holds her hand palm-out.

--Teko, I know you said you wouldn't have the prints in till Tuesday, but Calloway is about to...what? This afternoon.... I know it's a busy time, but what would our sponsors say if their ad didn't make the...what's that? Five p.m. OK.

She hangs up, frowns at Charlie, who sits in the only other wooden chair. Her eyes are small but acute, her nose narrow, but her lips, both the upper and lower, are fish-big and painted a taupe color that reminds Charlie of his favorite pair of socks.

--Excuse me, sir, may I help you?

-- I heard you speaking of a Calloway?

--Yes, I was.

Charlie taps the edge of her desk and pulls out his notepad.

--I'm a reporter.

The lady grins. --Are you now?

--Yes. I would like to personally speak to Mr. Calloway.

She reaches into a bowl of hard candies for a butterscotch, offers one to Charlie.

--Oh, thank you but I just had breakfast.


--Early Eats.

--They have the best omelets.

--Yes, I know, I just had one.

--So what'd'ya want? Everybody working here comes through that door and I ain't never seen you. Charlie props his elbows on her desk.

--I'm Charlie, new to Chicago and quick on my feet. I know a thing about news, and would like to work for this paper.

--What makes you think you can write news?

--I used to be a stenographer, and I've seen all kinds, and I know I can write them.

--Recording and writing ain't the same gig, Mr. Charlie.

--Charlie's my first name. It's Cole.

--Alright, whatever. Cole. The point is you can't write and I don't have any proof that you can. And if you think you're gonna speak to Calloway, you got another thing comin'.

Charlie took his elbows off the desk and propped them on his knees. She smells like Franny's cologne.

--What's your name?

--Don't try n' flirt, it makes me nauseous.

--No really, I want to know.


--That's a long name.

--Probably why most call me Lina.

--OK Lina, how about you test me. I'll write you a story by the end of this week. Any kind you want.

Lina stands, paces the room and sucks water from the fountain, pushes the door open to the outside. Charlie follows.

--You smoke? She takes off her jacket and reaches for a pack of cigarettes from her skirt pocket.

--No, sorry.

--You will.

She puffs and Charlie dodges smoke, waits.

--OK, fine. But only because our last reporter just got pregnant or whatever and needs a break. There's this guy, Dole, we think he's practicing illegally.


--Yeah, like... Lina leans toward Charlie and he smells the musk -- vanilla with notes of lavender -- on her neck.


--Oh, I see. What makes you think that?

--He lives in Lincoln Square, you know where that is?

Charlie nods, even though he has no idea.

--He has this office, calls himself a consultant.

--What kind?

--Financial. But that's the annoying thing. He's actually a certified accountant. Does taxes, retirement, whatever.

Lina breaks for another puff. Charlie props his foot against the the building's window glass.

--Hey, you mind?

Charlie drops his foot.

--Where you staying?


Lina sees the look on his face, sarcastic eye-rise with tilt of smile.

--Have it here by Thursday.

--Whoa, wait. Thursday? I can't get that scoop in two days.

--Oh really? That's too bad. I'll have to find someone else.

--I just heard you on the phone, you're at the end of the line. A pregnant reporter and that dope who's late. I'd say you need this.

With hands deep in pockets, Charlie leans against the glass, both feet grounded. Lina lights another smoke.

--What do you want for it?

--$250, up-front.

--Fine, but this is your audition. I don't like that story and you're out.

--What about Mr. Calloway, do I get to meet him?

Lina smiles. --Maybe, if I like the story.

Charlie waits for her to finish the cigarette.

--OK then.

--OK then what?

--My pay.

--Come back here at lunch and I'll have it.

--Does that mean we're going for lunch?

--I'd say you have enough to do.

Charlie doesn't answer, remembers Louise and her opinion on strong women. Louise would push back her headband and nod toward a woman -- speak low into Charlie's ear.

--You see her? A woman like that, the best thing a man can do is shut up. Of course, that's impossible.

She'd press her lips together.

--And that is why most men have nothing on her. She just needs a little silence.

Charlie looks at Lina on her third smoke. She pulls something from her purse, recognizes the item: a notepad. Charlie grabs his and jots this coincidence down. Sighs.

--Now, where to find a map?

PART 1 |PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

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