Keller's Fedora (Kindle Single) (11 page)

BOOK: Keller's Fedora (Kindle Single)
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“Timothy,” a woman said, “this is the man who saved your life. Do you have something to say to him?”

“Thanks,” Timothy said, predictably.

“Is that all you have to say, young man?”

“It’s enough,” Keller said, and smiled. To the boy he said, “There’s something I’ve always wondered. Did your whole life actually flash before your eyes?”

Timothy shook his head. “I got this cramp,” he said, “and it was like my whole body turned into one big knot, and there wasn’t anything I could do to untie it. And I didn’t even think about drowning. I was just fighting the cramp, ’cause it hurt, and just about the next thing I knew I was up here coughing and puking up water.” He made a face. “I must have swallowed half the pool. All I have to do is think about it and I can taste vomit and chlorine.”

“Timothy,” the woman said, and rolled her eyes.

“Something to be said for plain speech,” an older man said. He had a mane of white hair and a pair of prominent white eyebrows, and his eyes were a vivid blue. He was holding a glass of brandy in one hand and a bottle in the other, and he reached with the bottle to fill Keller’s glass to the brim. “‘Claret for boys, port for men,’” he said, “‘but he who would be a hero must drink brandy.’ That’s Samuel Johnson, although I may have gotten a word wrong.”

The young woman patted his hand. “If you did, Daddy, I’m sure you just improved Mr. Johnson’s wording.”

“Dr. Johnson,” he said, “and one could hardly do that. Improve the man’s wording, that is. ‘Being in a ship is like being in jail, with the added hazard of being drowned.’ He said that as well, and I defy anyone to comment more trenchantly on the experience, or to say it better.” He beamed at Keller. “I owe you more than a glass of brandy and a well-turned Johnsonian phrase. This little rascal whose life you’ve saved is my grandson, and the apple—nay, sir, the very nectarine—of my eye. And we’d have all stood around drinking and laughing while he drowned. You observed, and you acted, and God bless you for it.”

What did you say to that, Keller wondered. It was nothing? Well, shucks? There had to be an apt phrase, and maybe Samuel Johnson could have found it, but he couldn’t. So he said nothing, and just tried not to look po-faced.

“I don’t even know your name,” the white-haired man went on. “That’s not remarkable in and of itself. I don’t know half the people here, and I’m content to remain in my ignorance. But I ought to know your name, wouldn’t you agree?”

Keller might have picked a name out of the air, but the one that leaped to mind was Boswell, and he couldn’t say that to a man who quoted Samuel Johnson. So he supplied the name he’d traveled under, the one he’d signed when he checked into the hotel, the one on the driver’s license and credit cards in his wallet.

“It’s Michael Soderholm,” he said, “and I can’t even tell you the name of the fellow who brought me here. We met over drinks in the hotel bar and he said he was going to a party and it would be perfectly all right if I came along. I felt a little funny about it, but—”

“Please,” the man said. “You can’t possibly propose to apologize for your presence here. It’s kept my grandson from a watery if chlorinated grave. And I’ve just told you I don’t know half my guests, but that doesn’t make them any the less welcome.” He took a deep drink of his brandy and topped up both glasses. “Michael Soderholm,” he said. “Swedish?”

“A mixture of everything,” Keller said, improvising. “My great-grandfather Soderholm came over from Sweden, but my other ancestors came from all over Europe, plus I’m something like a sixteenth American Indian.”

“Oh? Which tribe?”

“Cherokee,” Keller said, thinking of the jazz tune.

“I’m an eighth Comanche,” the man said. “So I’m afraid we’re not tribal bloodbrothers. The rest’s British Isles, a mix of Scots and Irish and English. Old Texas stock. But you’re not Texan yourself.”

“No.”

“Well, it can’t be helped, as the saying goes. Unless you decide to move here, and who’s to say that you won’t? It’s a fine place for a man to live.”

“Daddy thinks everybody should love Texas the way he does,” the woman said.

“Everybody should,” her father said. “The only thing wrong with Texans is we’re a longwinded lot. Look at the time it’s taking me to introduce myself! Mr. Soderholm, Mr. Michael Soderholm, my name’s Garrity, Wallace Penrose Garrity, and I’m your grateful host this evening.”

No kidding, thought Keller.

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BOOK: Keller's Fedora (Kindle Single)
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