Excerpt from Harmony Hill

July 12, 1941. The days since Clyde had stolen the glass bank were flying by. He had quickly figured out a way to pull the dollar bills through the glass slot without breaking the bank, using a pair of locking obstetrics tweezers he’d borrowed from Doc Small. The surgical tool, with tiny steel teeth, had tremendous gripping power, enabling him to bite into each greenback and pull it with some force through the narrow opening. He emptied the bank of forty-one dollar bills, triumphant that he had done that much for his boy in saving Jubal’s bank. He’d now learned just how long he could stay away from Hayesville. He had never had to manage money so carefully in his whole life.

Convincing Doc Small, a hunched little man with a flushed alcoholic’s face, to let him hitch a ride to Troy had been easy once the doctor realized Clyde held an unusual amount of cash and a nice quantity of booze. Apparently, both items were in short supply amongst the doctor’s usual clients. Doc Small informed him that Hayesville was the exception, however. For the doctor’s services, the priest always slipped him a five in cash, leaving no possible money trail.

The road to Troy was nearly new to Clyde. Years had passed since he’d been on Route 7 heading towards the city. They had ridden past the All Jersey creamery, a fancy milk business specializing in a product from the best Jersey cows in the area. Avery Ketchum shipped to them and got a premium price for his milk. Every day from his drinking chair, Clyde had watched the All Jersey can truck rumble by on the road to Avery’s farm. Of course, the Browns could never qualify, having Ayrshires, and couldn’t have passed the strict inspection required anyway.

During the car trip, Doc had offered to rent Clyde a room on the third floor of his Victorian home located on Third Street in Troy, not far from the Hudson River. Clyde had gladly accepted. But upon arrival, he discovered Doc’s boarding house was shabby and in the run-down part of town. 

Doc Small’s office was on the first floor and half the downstairs was taken up by a waiting room. Evening office hours were from six to nine, so when Clyde went upstairs to his room, he could see through the double doors an assembly of patients, mostly women, waiting their turn. Their pay for Doc’s services included an array of food items: a pie, a dozen eggs, a peck of potatoes, and a frosted cake. One girl with long, greasy hair held what looked like change she’d put together for her visit bunched up in the toe of a sock.

Doc had introduced him to his assistant and house matron, Bessie Black. Bessie ran the remainder of the building as a boarding house, serving two meals a day. She informed Clyde that his room, including breakfast and supper, would cost six dollars a week. Upon entering, he saw that the room was completely furnished and included an RCA Victor Victrola and radio. Each day, Clyde was delighted to be able to catch up on his baseball and the national news from WGY. The world news continued to stream events that were not good.

 Soviet Union: The German advance continues as tanks roll towards Smolensk after crossing the Dnieper River. 

Clyde thought about how he sat in his room drinking Jim Beam while some poor bastards were trying to fight off the Germans. He shut off the news to listen to the only phonograph record, Handel’s Messiah, that someone had left behind. 

He placed the record on the turntable and swung the needle arm into place. The music was unfamiliar, but he gave it a listen so as to forget the current state of affairs. He sat back in his chair while the high-class orchestra music relaxed him, even filling him with joy. Soon, though, it was obvious that the record had been damaged. Not far into the recording, a deep male voice began repeating over and over: the crooked straight and the rough places plain . . . the crooked straight and the rough places plain . . . the crooked straight and the rough places plain. His joy evaporated with the music sending him into a sour mood. He wondered if the same mystical force at work when he stole the bank was now blaring a message for his benefit, telling him that he must somehow make his crooked ways straight. How could he ever redeem himself, a drunk and a crook? He couldn’t see a way to become a straight and honest man.

Besides, he had deeper worries. He was running out of money, in less than a week, with the forty-one dollars disappearing much sooner than thought. After evening calling hours, Doc had been visiting his room and the two had been finishing off a pint of Lady Lamont’s Jim Beam, a fact that Clyde found hard to accept. After all, he was far from well-heeled.

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