Whisperin’ Jim

subway-station

I loved my life of an urban dweller. I embraced my neighborhood and those who called it home. I worked in an office building not far from where I lived.

 A small park was directly across the street from my office. On nice days, I’d spend my lunch break on a bench in the shade, or sun, depending on the time of the year. That’s where I first met James Beaufort Wellington. And with a name like his, I expected a Roman numeral to follow Wellington.

 I was sitting on a bench in the park, the first time we met.  He drove toward me on a motor scooter that made no noise. He and his little transport appeared to float along, with hardly a sound. He stopped at a bench that faced mine. A wide sidewalk between us.

 He flicked a switch on the bike’s handlebar, dismounted, leaned the machine against one end of the bench, removed a bright yellow helmet, plopped on the bench, and murmured “Ahhhhhh.”

 A big man. There was no room for anyone to sit next to him. He and his helmet took up the seating area. A light breeze ruffled shocks of his white hair, and he rummaged for something in a pocket of his army fatigue jacket.

 He pulled out a white plastic sack, the kind you get in that store that so famous across the country, and unwrapped what must have been a one pound slab of yellow cheese, still in its original sealed wrapper.  

 A pocket knife appeared in his hand, and he slit open the clear plastic and with his thumb and forefinger, lopped off a large corner of cheese. And with the yellow tidbit still on the blade, transferred it to his mouth.

 I heard “Ummmm” from where I sat.

 The cyclist reached into another pocket, and withdrew a stubby tube of summer sausage. He worked at the wrapper expertly with his knife. In a flash, he’d cut a disc of sausage and popped it into his mouth.

 Another, “Ummmmmm.”

 My mouth salivated and I couldn’t help it.

 His face shifted, and he looked directly at me. “Want summa this buddy? It’s damn tasty.”

 I couldn’t believe my response. “Sure. You bet. You make it look so good.”

 He waved me toward him with his pocket knife. I crossed the sidewalk as he expertly cut another hunk of cheese, and placed it on a thick round of sausage.

 “Here ya go. Enjoy.” He held his knife blade over my extended hand and flicked the food into my palm.

“Thank you” I said, and nibbled some cheese.

“You’re welcome, and my name’s Jimmy. A lot of folks around know me as Whisperin’ Jim. I’d ask you to sit down, but it’d be a tight squeeze.”

“Oh I’m fine Jimmy. I’ll stand and enjoy my food. It’s good by the way. Do you work near here? My building is across the street.”

 “I’m retired. I do some stuff in my home office, and I like to drive my bike around. I often take a break right here. I live on St. Stephen Street, about three blocks down, and to the right.”

 “You do? I live on St. Stephen Street too. Which building are you in?”

Whisperin’ Jim was an engineering scientist who’d retired a few years prior to our meeting. His area of expertise was automotive propulsion, and he invented a fuel that was easy to produce and practically less expensive than water. He demonstrated his invention at a meeting with members of the big five auto manufacturers, and representatives from the top three fuel companies. And it frightened them to death.

 They realized that if Jimmy patented and marketed his invention, they’d need to retool all their future vehicles, and even more catastrophic than that, the fuel producers would never recover from such a heavy financial hit,

Three months after their meeting, Jimmy accepted a check, drawn on a private account, for the purchase of all present and future rights to his invention. The amount was 55 million dollars.

 We were solid friends for the four years I knew him. I can see him still, in my mind, gliding up to “his” park bench on his machine.

 At least when he went, it was quick.

Jimmy didn’t wear a suit very often, but on the day he died, he wore a specially tailored three piece suit, a brand new pair of leather shoes, and a fedora hat.

Jimmy was waiting for a subway train. He stood at the lip of the platform, like we all do, to get a better look down the tracks. He was on his way to a bar mitzvah of a friend’s son, and just as the subway train began to slow he cut loose a tremendous sneeze, and his new shoes slipped on the concrete surface.

He fell over the platform’s edge, and under the wheels of the train.  I was there, holding his bike. After they carried him off in four baskets, I locked his bike in a garage in an alley behind his apartment building.

 Three years later after his death, to the date, a van driver rang my door bell. “I have a delivery for you, it’s a motorbike.”

A courier came by the same day, with a thick envelope from an attorney. I tore it open and found a handwritten note, “I don’t need the bike anymore, my friend. It’s yours, with a little something for fuel.”

 I donated the bike and the five-thousand dollars, in Jim’s name, to a neighborhood organization called KWP; kids without parents. I’ll never forget the big guy who liked cheese and sausage.

Note: The above is from a work in progress.

 

 

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