It was the old man’s eyes that made Frederick nervous.
They were tired, fixed, cloudy … blind. Yet they riveted to Frederick from the other end of the Salty Swan Saloon as he nursed his whisky.
Frederick had seen those eyes before.
It had been a moment of opportunity more than anything. Two young men alone on a dark platform as a train bound for promise rumbled to a stop.
The stranger held a duffel. Frederick owned nothing.
The night was black, the locomotive bathed in thick steam. No one would see.
In one motion, Frederick took a long stride, clutched the duffel in one outstretched hand, and shoved his unspoken companion with the other.
As the young man disappeared into the dark teeth of the rushing iron, his eyes caught Frederick’s … not pleading … not accusing … knowing.
Just like the old man’s eyes behind the veil of cigar smoke in the recesses of the Swan.
“I’ve seen you somewhere before,” the graybeard cackled above the crowd murmur.
“Don’t mind Sully,” Max the barkeep said as he slid another mash towards Frederick. “He ain’t been right since his boy disappeared in the war.”
“Say, you’re Teddy’s pal, ain’t you?” Sully called across the bar. “He’ll be here any time now.”
Frederick fingered the dog tag he’d carried in his pocket for years. He knew every letter by heart — “Theodore Sullivan.”
“Hush up, Sully,” Max said, rolling his eyes at Frederick.
“Why, there he is now!” Sully pointed to the door at Frederick’s back. “There’s my boy.”
Heavy boots scraped across the floor, and cold, bony fingers slipped around Frederick’s neck.
No one seemed to notice as he struggled for breath, as his face turned purple.
“Just ignore Sully,” the barkeep said again. “He ain’t right.”