SMALL WORLD

by leigh williams

starmaid21@aol.com

          Alex, sitting beside Walker on a stool at C.D.'s Bar and Grill, glanced over her shoulder for the second time in as many minutes.  The object of her curiosity was a booth toward the back, where their friend, Jimmy Trivette, sat apparently deep in conversation with a silver-haired lady. 

          According to C.D., the woman and Jimmy had begun chatting after she'd mentioned that she was from the east coast and visiting friends in Dallas.  At Alex's questioning, the bartender had admitted he'd paid very little attention as the idle conversation had continued until the woman and Trivette had left the bar area.  He'd watched them find an empty booth toward the back, where the noise level was usually somewhat lower, and sit down together once again. 

          That had been over an hour ago, shortly before Walker had arrived with Alex, and the blonde's curiosity had been growing steadily. "Who do you suppose she is, Walker?" she queried for the fourth time.

          The red-bearded Ranger sighed.  "I don't know, Alex," he replied, also for the fourth time.  "But if you're so dadgum set on finding out, why don't you go on over and ask?"

          The lovely ADA gave him a stare of genuine shock. "Walker!" she protested, "I couldn't do that!"  Still, her next glance toward the booth made it appear she thought the suggestion bore definite possibilities.

          Any further consideration was halted as the younger Ranger rose from his seat, then helped his companion stand as well. 

          The matronly woman reached out and gave Trivette a hug before stepping back, taking one of his hands in hers as she spoke again.  Finally she turned and made her way to another table, where several occupants rose to greet her.  The small group talked quietly together for a minute before apparently making a decision and leaving C.D.'s.  The woman paused once more outside the window, waving a farewell to the black man watching, before rejoining her friends and disappearing out of view.

          Trivette remained focused on the now-empty sidewalk for a few more moments before turning and noticing his watching friends.  He headed over and sat on the stool next to Alex.  Shaking his head with a look of stunned disbelief, he said only, "Small world."

          Alex gave a small smile, quickly taking the opening he'd offered.  Tucking a stray tendril of hair away, she queried, "Old friend, Jimmy?"

          "No."  He again shook his head as though clearing cobwebs.  "No.  I've never met her before.  But . . . sometimes the oddest twists of fate. . ."  The young man paused, reaching for the coffee mug that C.D. had placed in front of him.

          "Dangit, Jimmy," C.D. sputtered after it became obvious their friend wasn't going to elaborate without prodding. "Are you gonna tell us what you meant by that, or just leave us twistin' in the wind?"

          Turning back with a slightly startled look, the black man realized he'd lapsed into silence and grinned.  "Oh!  Sorry, C.D.  Sure, I'll tell ya.  It's not really a very long story." 

          Taking a sip of his coffee, Trivette continued, "The lady's name is Doris Ryan.  We started talking because she mentioned living back east.  I figured maybe she was from home, y'know?  But it turns out she's from a bit farther east than I am.  Northeast, actually . . . up in Maine.  Well, I've never been to Maine so I asked where she was from exactly.  Mrs. Ryan told me she was from a little town I'd probably never heard of, a dot on the map called Owls Head. 

          "That was when we really got talking.  See, I have heard of the place.  A long time ago, when I was just a kid.  That got her curious, so we sat down and I told her the story."

          Glancing briefly at the expectant faces surrounding him, the young Ranger went on, "This happened . . . oh . . . somewhere in the mid-sixties.  My Dad hadn't been gone long and we'd moved in for a while with my mom's Uncle Joe while she tried to get back on her feet.  Things were tight, with mom looking for work and Uncle Joe trying to help us scrape by on what he brought home from crabbing or whatever fishing site he could get.  Sometimes on the weekends, he'd take me out in a friend's small boat, just to see if we could catch something to put on the table."           

          Trivette fell silent, hunching his shoulders slightly as he concentrated on twirling a coaster between his fingers. 

          The black man's discomfort painfully reminded Alex of her own teen years, and she found herself reaching out to grip his hand. "Jimmy--" she whispered softly.

          "Hey, it's okay," Trivette said, smiling at her as he returned the squeeze.  "Long ago and far away, right?"       

          Picking up the thread of his tale, Trivette continued, "So, anyway, one Saturday afternoon, Uncle Joe pulled up a small net he'd dropped over the side.  My job was to clear it fast so he could put it back over, and I hopped right to it.  Well, caught up inside with the fish and crabs and such was a wallet.  I opened it up and my eyes must've about popped out of my head when I saw there was money inside.  There wasn't much, maybe twenty-five or thirty dollars and some change, but right then it looked like a king's ransom to me. 

            "When Uncle Joe saw what was up he stopped the boat and came back and reached for it to have a look himself.  I was really excited, I suppose, and jabbering away about the stuff we could buy with the money. 

          "It took me a while, but I finally realized my Uncle was just looking at some stuff in the wallet and he'd gotten real quiet.  Then he just set the whole thing up by the wheel and told me it was time we got back to work."

          The Ranger halted again for a moment, caught up in the old memory.  Mentally shaking himself out of it, he continued, "I remember we had a pretty good afternoon, pulled in enough to put fresh food in the refrigerator.  Even had some extra to sell for cash so we could get bread and milk.  But I wasn't thinking about that at all, I was dreaming about what we could buy with the money we'd found.  In my eyes, that was the catch of the day.

          You can imagine my shock when, on Monday, my Uncle took that wallet, wrapped it in brown paper, then addressed it to the place listed on the ID card inside.  Some place in Owls Head, Maine.  The only thing he took from it was enough change to pay the postage, because we didn't have enough money to even cover that ourselves then. 

          "I guess he must've seen the question in my eyes, 'cause when we got to the post office I remember we stopped outside the door.  Uncle Joe told me he figured the man who lost that wallet might need the money a whole lot more than we did.  I hadn't thought of it that way, and it sorta stopped me in my tracks.  Then he handed me the package and asked me what I thought we should do with it.  After what he'd said, I didn't even think about it, just marched it inside and gave it to the mail clerk.  But I can still see how proud he was of me when I got back outside again."

          Reaching out, C.D. touched Trivette's forearm gently. "Sounds like your Uncle Joe was a mighty wise man, Jimmy."

          "I think so, too, C.D.," the black man agreed, nodding slightly.  "Anyway, I told Mrs. Ryan that story because it was why I recognized the  town of Owls Head, and that was surprising for both of us.  Then I got another surprise.  Cause when I was done, I sure didn't expect to see her crying.  But she was, and that was when she told me her story. 

          "It seems when she was just twenty-six her husband was killed.  He was working a ground-fishing boat off the George's Bank."  Glancing around, Trivette realized that his friends didn't recognize the term he'd used.  "That kind of fishing boat drops big nets into the water, lets them run across the bottom till they're full, then hauls up the catch," he explained briefly.  "Most folks that work in or around them, call them draggers. 

          "One day an old World War Two mine caught in the ship's net.  Some of those mines planted to protect the coast during the war had never been recovered after, and the men on that dragger were unlucky enough to find one.  It was still live, and it hit the side of the ship.  Almost everyone on board was killed.  Sixteen men, most of them from the same home town.

          "Mrs. Ryan was left with four children, the youngest wasn't even a year old and the eldest barely seven.  So, there she was, grieving her husband . . . no support, no job experience.  Even with help from her family, there were rough times ahead. 

          She told me that a few weeks later, a package arrived in brown paper, her husband's wallet, with everything intact.  She never knew who returned it, the note inside wasn't signed and there was no return address.  So she'd never had a chance to thank the sender, or tell them how much it meant to her to have it back.  And Uncle Joe was right about the money, she took that out 'cause any little bit helped.  But she put the wallet away for years.  When her oldest son got married, she gave it to him.  She says he treasures it to this day."

          Shivers coursed down Alex's spine.  "My God, Jimmy, that's amazing.  Who would have ever dreamed after all these years the two of you would even meet?  Let alone have the story come out between you."

          The black Ranger shook his head, "Not me, Al."  After a moment he added, "I wish Uncle Joe was still alive, so I could tell him.  I think he'd be glad to know how much it meant to her."

          Placing a hand on his partner's shoulder, Walker said softly, "I think he knows, Trivette.  I think he knows."

          Raising his mug high in salute, C.D. gazed at each of his three friends in turn.   "Here's to loved ones lost, and how a small world can bring them home again."