by Anthony Dobranski
(When we last saw Corporal Enos Olsen, he was enjoying a holiday meal with Dorothy Sharpe and her family, and unexpectedly getting a clue that might help him in his mission: Find the man he caught spying in Chapter 1.)
On Saturday afternoon, Enos put himself through his own physical training on the treed hills of Rock Creek Park. As a soldier he was responsible for his own fitness for duty, but the events of the last weeks had brought the need into sudden focus. Enos certainly didn’t want to meet the man in black again unprepared.
He ran an eight-minute mile up the park, from Klingle Road past Peirce Mill and Broad Branch Road. In a narrow field by the creek he did squat jumps, push-ups and sit-ups. He paced out a hundred fifty yards and practiced two three-hundred-yard runs, walking off the first by looking for a suitable pull-up branch.
After pull-ups, Enos forded the creek and jogged up into the eastern hills, a slow pace there after the gentle uphill run and fast straight sprints. Below him on Beach Drive, many cars were out for drives and picnics, but his only companions in the hills were scouts on a hike. The leaves were still green but autumn had crept into the woods, in longer shadows and a mushroom’s moist smell. The cool air refreshed him. Instead of turning back at the golf course, Enos ran down to the creek and crossed at Milkhouse Ford.
Enos circled west, behind the plots along Daniel Road tended by the Good Will Garden Club of Chevy Chase, now sprouting the first leaves of fall broccoli and carrots. He followed the faint hiking trails south to Fort DeRussy, a Civil War defense. After eighty years only earthen walls and ditches remained. It had been eighty years from Revolution to Secession, then another eighty years from Secession to a real national union, a single people of wild variation. In New Mexico, Enos would never have imagined joining a Jewish supper. On this day it seemed the most common thing to him, no stranger than eating Mexican food. The war was doing that everywhere, shaking America like a snowglobe toy.
From the high, abandoned vantage he considered the big stretch of Military Road. Eighty years ago it had joined the defensive forts, now a quick route to the park. Enos made his own veiled way out of sight, a little like a spy. He felt more manly and purposeful than the common picnic-goers and drivers – but to be in public was risky and guarded, like a pedestrian crossing car traffic.
To be in public was risky… The man in black had taken a risk. Why go looking in windows? Power or fear?
Enos bought ice on the way home, and in his dank cool basement, he took his lemon-water cold. Mrs. Danvers had dropped Friday’s Evening Star on his stoop. In Friday’s news, the British had taken three ports in Vichy Madagascar, and the Royal Air Force was diligently bombing Dusseldorf industries to rubble. In India the British had arrested a troublemaking saboteur named Gandhi. The British were having a good day.
At the bottom of the front page, Enos read that President Roosevelt planned to lower the draft age to eighteen. The news woke his fatigued body. They wouldn’t call up men if they didn’t need them. Enos still had a chance at getting into this war. He just needed to be patient.
Before he washed up, he rustled through all his drawers and clothes for spare change. He found forty-seven cents, a good haul. It was turning into a fine evening.
Fine, but hot. The M6 bus saved Enos the blocks uphill to the National Cathedral, where he caught the crowded 30 trolley. The farther south the trolley rolled down Wisconsin Avenue, the more crowded it got, soon a great hot funk of sun and bodies and the oils and scraping metals from the carriage below.
Georgetown, down by the river, was a Negro district of narrow brick buildings, modest but appealing from the trolley. Over dinner, Leo mentioned white families who had come to work for New Deal agencies had been moving into Georgetown over the last few years. Enos saw few whites on these sidewalks.
But at the stop for the 20 trolley to Glen Echo, there were hardly any Negroes, just a scrum of white families returning from their day at Glen Echo and groups of white young people heading to it. Many of the outbound crowd wore uniforms, Navy and Army, all smiling at each other as they piled on board.
The trolley route along the C&O Canal was steamy, with no relief from the open windows. Enos talked a little with a Navy fellow across the aisle, but it was hard to bother in the heat. With stops, Glen Echo was half an hour from Georgetown, and by the time the trolley reached Cabin John, Enos had sweated through his uniform shirt.
The great neon sign of Glen Echo Park cheered him.
He stood in the relative cool and took in the great view of the park, from the enormous rollercoaster to the grand carousel to the arcade. After a quick look around for Dorothy, he studied the park map as he waited.
Ten minutes later he saw Dorothy on the arriving trolley – and Shirley next to her. Dorothy got two paces ahead of her family and smiled gamely. “Look,” she said through clenched teeth, “my whole family came!”
Enos didn’t mind, and he expected the Ashes wouldn’t keep Benny out all that late. “Benny can teach me how to roll a skee-ball. All right?” He shook Benny’s hand and Leo’s. “Is your mother not with you?”
“She says it’s jungle-hot up in Forest Hills,” Shirley said. “She’d wilt here.”
Leo went to buy their tickets, with Enos giving him his own forty cents. “Sorry about the family,” Dorothy said quietly. “If we can keep an eye on Benny and let Leo and Shirley enjoy a stroll, they won’t mind my coming in late.”
Leo came back with tickets and change for Enos. “Uniform discount,” he said. “Wave to the lady.”
As Enos did, Benny ran ahead toward the arcade entrance. Enos and Dorothy followed after.
At the arcade entrance, Dorothy caught Enos’s arm. “Wait, wait, slow down. Look at this. Art Deco.”
“Art what?” Enos asked.
“The style.” She pointed along the stucco parapet above the arcade building. “These circles, the long decorations, the lines and even the lettering. You see it in fancy city buildings, usually in etched metal or gold leaf, but not playfully like this. My, this is a huge park, isn’t it? Boat rides, cruise rides. Or are you more the sort who likes rollercoasters?” Clearly she hoped he was.
“I’m game,” Enos said, “but I’ve never ridden one that tall.” He pointed at the round swooping structure. “What is that, seven stories? I might need a good stiff lemonade for that. How close an eye on Benny?”
“This is close enough. Is that where the dancing is?” Across the plaza stood another stucco building, with red roof tile and exposed timber ends.
“Spanish mission,” Enos said.
“Another architecture scholar?”
“My state capital, Santa Fe? Whole place looks like that.”
Inside the great ballroom, the band was tuning and testing. Gals twirled barefoot, their summer dresses floating, while slick-haired men in blacks and stripes rehearsed steps. “We have competition,” Dorothy said.
“I forfeit,” Enos said. “These folks mean to dance. But it looks like they’re not starting for a while. Let’s try the coaster.”
They found Benny, bought flavored ices, and walked across the plaza to the great Coaster Dips.
The line was long enough that they had to wait two rides before climbing into the red cars, and Enos could have waited longer. The wooden structure clacked and rattled, the certain feeling that it would disintegrate almost as scary as the careening plummets downward. As they rolled back to the starting point, Dorothy poked him.
“I don’t know what’s whiter,” she teased, “your face or your knuckles.”
“That’s why I didn’t enlist in the Air Forces,” Enos said.
“Can we do the Flying Skooter next?” Benny asked.
They went back to the main plaza for the Flying Skooter. On seeing the long line, Enos and Benny went first to the men’s toilets. On the way out, they met Leo.
“We rode the coaster!” Benny cried, running to Leo.
“Did you? Will you take me again?” Leo picked up Benny and nodded at Enos. “Shirley herself is doing some wilting,” Leo said. “I put her on a bench with a lemonade. I know you two want to get to the dance, so Benny and I will go play now.”
They said their goodbyes. As Enos approached the carousel he saw Dorothy, her back to him, talking to a man in a gray suit and fedora hat. Unsure why, Enos turned left and walked around until he could see both their faces. They spoke politely, but with broad smiles. Dorothy was pleased to speak with this man.
The man was dark-haired and lean, with a square face and a sharp nose. He was draft age, and more than fit. He had a city manner, his motions fluid, but his stance was wary. He glanced around uneasily whenever he smiled. Enos kept walking, circling left as if to go to the bumper cars. When Enos’s path brought them back into sight, the man was saying goodbye, with a slight bow and a tip of his hat. He walked toward the long line at the World Cruise ride, his gait slow but sure. Soon Enos lost him in the dark crowd.
The lights on the buildings and rides glowed as bright as the evening sky. Enos joined Dorothy. “We met Leo,” he said. “He took Benny for the night. You all right?”
“You look flushed,” Enos said.
“In this heat, no wonder,” Dorothy said. “I’m tempted to dip into that Crystal Pool right now.”
“How about the boat ride instead?” Enos suggested.
He offered his arm and she took it. He decided not to ask. If he saw them together again, he’d ask.
NEXT WEEK: Dorothy gets a new job!
© 2015 Anthony Dobranski