|The Magical Carpetbag
Author: Foxcat93 PM
A story from Max's childhood: He runs away from home and meets the Little Tramp, Charlie. A story of friendship, with humour/slapstick, pathos, drama and a lot of sentiment. Background notes on my profile page.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Friendship/Humor - Chapters: 10 - Words: 17,296 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 04-05-11 - Published: 08-16-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5305598
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The following day, Max and 99 packed their clothes and carried the suitcases out to the sports car.
"99, if I can persuade Charlie to spend some more time with us, would that be okay?"
"Max, it would be wonderful. I like him so much…and…I want to figure out what this mystery is. There must be an explanation."
"You're right. Everything has to have a logical explanation," said Max, although he doubted there was one. He had been thinking about Charlie's odd carpetbag, too. There was never a logical explanation for that. But now he would be seeing things with the eyes of a man, not a child. Things would make more sense.
They drove the short way back to the inn and restaurant. At first, Max couldn't find it. "99, did I pass the inn? It had a huge sign The Roaring Twenties…we could hardly miss that…"
"I don't see it either, Max…oh wait, I think that's it…look to the right side…" The inn was indeed still there, or more to the point, the building was there. The sign was missing. Instead, there was a huge, tacky looking sign saying, COME INN. There was another neon sign flashing in the window of the restaurant saying EAT. The place looked dilapidated and in need of repair. Max stopped the car.
"Are you sure this is the place, 99?"
"It resembles it, Max, I don't know for sure." Max and 99 got out of the car, Max carrying the tambourine. They entered the door of the inn. A tall young man was sitting behind the desk, reading. He stood up when the Smarts entered and asked, "Can I help you?"
"Yes," said Max. I need some information. I'm looking for a man I met yesterday…it was here…he said he lives here…I need to return something to him."
"What's his name, Mister?"
"What's his last name?"
Max realized that after spending all that time with Charlie, he had never asked the tramp's surname. "I don't know his last name, but he wears a derby hat…." Max described Charlie's appearance in detail.
"Haven't seen anyone like that. I certainly would remember someone who looks that odd," said the young man. "But there is someone who might know, there's an old-timer here who likes to keep busy doing odd jobs for us. He goes way back and he might remember. Oh, he lives here too. Wait, I'll get him."
The young man went into a back room and they could hear him shout, "Old-Timer, there's some people who want to talk to you."
"You don't have to shout; I'm not deaf," said another voice.
The tall young man returned, followed by a small, thin old man, wearing a light blue vest and light-colored trousers. He wore no coat and garters held up his shirt sleeves. He had a navy blue silk tie around his neck. His white hair was parted in the middle and slicked back with hair tonic.
The old man smiled. "May I be of some service to you?" he had a soft, young-sounding voice with a hint of an English accent.
"We're looking for a friend of ours; we can't seem to locate him." Max described Charlie.
"Yes, I know of whom you are referring. He used to frequent this restaurant regularly. He lived here for many years. He was called 'The Tramp' or sometimes just 'Charlie.'"
"What happened to him, Sir?" asked Max. "Did he pass away?"
"No, no," said the old man, with a smile. "He's still among the living. As a matter of fact, he still does odd jobs now and then, and he entertains, too."
"Can you tell me where he is, right now?"
The old man smiled again. He evaded the question. "What did you say your name is?"
"Max, Maxwell Smart…"
"Mr. Smart, you didn't introduce me to the lady."
"Her name is Mrs. Smart," said Max without turning around.
"I think the lady deserves a better introduction than that. Try it again."
Max turned around. "This is my wife, Mrs….eh…Nina Smart. And your name, Sir?"
"They just call me the Old-Timer."
"Don't you have a name?"
"What is it?"
"Lad, you're being rude, asking personal questions. What did I tell you about that?"
"Now, what business do you have with the Tramp?"
During this whole time, 99 was watching the old man's eyes. They were bright blue and twinkling.
"Sir, I knew the Tramp when I was a boy. We spent a lot of time traveling together. He taught me a lot of things and helped me through a hard time in my life. I talked to him just last night and I wanted to see him again before I leave here. I sang with him and his girl last night and played this tambourine."
Max placed the instrument on the desk in front of the old man. "I wanted to return it to him."
The old man looked up at Max with a sincere glance. "Maxie, I think the Tramp would want you to keep it as a remembrance."
"How would you know that, Mister?"
"I know him well."
99 was still watching the old man. He winked at her. She smiled back. She had figured out his secret. Max was still trying to get a straight answer from the old man.
"Why don't we go to the restaurant next door and you may tell me if this is the same place where you saw the Tramp last night."
The old man put on a light colored jacket and hat and picked up a cane near the door. "Can I ask you for your arm, young man?" Max gave him his arm and helped him down the steps. The old man had small feet and nice looking shoes. His suit fit well, emphasizing his small, thin frame.
The old man unlocked the door of the adjacent restaurant. "It opens for dinner at 4:00 pm," he explained. "Feel free to look about, Maxie."
Max walked around the restaurant. It was obviously the same building where they had met Charlie last night. But it had been remodeled, seemingly overnight, into a garish diner, instead of a romantic 1920's restaurant. A bar had been put in at one end of the room and a juke box sat next to it. Over the bar was a huge painting. Max squinted at it. It was painted in soft colors and it depicted a smiling woman in a flowing dress. Why, the woman looked exactly like Charlie's girlfriend, Edna.
"Sir," said Max, "who is the woman in the painting?"
"Well, Maxie, when Charlie came into a bit of money at one time, he had his girlfriend's picture painted."
"Is that Edna?" The old man nodded solemnly.
"What happened to her, Sir?"
"Charlie met Edna when they were young and he was always in love with her, but because of his itinerant lifestyle, not much came of the romance. When he met her again, years later, the romance blossomed. Charlie and Edna married, later in life. They were extremely happy. She was the love of his life. Unfortunately, she passed away just last year. He keeps this painting here to honor her, so that everyone can see how beautiful she was." The old man dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief.
"I'm so sorry, Charlie," whispered 99 to the old man. She rubbed her hand over his shoulders in a comforting gesture. "I liked her very much." He nodded and smiled at her, but she could still see the tears in his eyes.
Max was still looking at the painting. "Maxie, would you do me one favor, please?" asked the old man.
"What is it, Sir?"
"Behind the bar, underneath Edna's painting, is the Tramp's carpetbag. Would you bring it to me?"
Max brought the carpetbag to the old man who proceeded to pull out the Tramp's violin. "Where is your tambourine, Maxie?"
"Right here," Max held up the tambourine. The old man started playing the violin. He played the first piece that Max had ever heard Charlie play. Max suddenly figured it out. He walked closer and closer to the old man as he played. At the end of the piece, Max said, "Charlie?"
"Maxie, you finally recognized me! It took you a while!" Max hugged the old man and his eyes started to get wet. He couldn't help it. Soon Charlie was sniffling a bit and 99 had tears running down her cheeks. When they could all talk again, Max asked 99 for a kleenex. He blew his nose and dabbed at his eyes.
"Charlie, how did you learn to talk so nice?"
"Lessons, my lad. Almost anything can be learned."
Then Max started to laugh. "You were calling me "Maxie" all along and I didn't pick up on that. But you look so different…what happened to the mustache, Charlie?"
"I shaved it off a while back. Since I stopped my itinerant lifestyle, I'm not the Tramp anymore. I finally bought some nice clothes; my old ones were in bad shape and my feet couldn't take wearing bad shoes any longer."
"So, how old are you, Charlie?"
"What did I tell you about that?"
"I know it's rude, but tell me anyway."
Charlie smiled. "Eighty-one on my last birthday."
"Can you tell me a couple other things, too, Charlie?" They all pulled out chairs and sat at a table.
"Like what, lad?"
"How did you do that yesterday and last night? I could have sworn that you looked fifty years old when we met you on the road, the same age you were when I met you the first time. Then last night, you seemed younger than me…"
At this, Charlie started to laugh. "I've always been younger than you, Maxie. You take things so seriously all the time."
"What about the carpetbag?"
"What about it?" said Charlie.
"There's never anything in it, Charlie, when I open it."
"Then don't open it, Maxie."
"But how do you get all those things in it, and it's still empty?"
"I told you before, careful packing."
"Then why was it always so light to carry?"
"I wouldn't have been able to carry it everywhere if it would have been heavy, Maxie. By the way, I need to ask you a rude question."
"What is it, Charlie?"
"Maxwell, how old are you?"
"I'm forty years old, Charlie."
"I disagree. I think you're still eight years old."
"What do you mean?" asked Max.
"You're still caught up in the past, in a place to which you can't return. You are still asking questions that have no answers, questions that, even should they be answered, don't matter."
"You're right, Charlie," smiled Max. "But I wish I could take you with me and we could do some of the things we used to do."
"You can't go back, Maxie. You have to keeping going forward. However, for old time's sake, let's do this again." He stood up with the violin and began to play. They sang, played and Charlie even danced a bit.
After several hours, Charlie looked exhausted. He sat down and put the violin away. "Today is my day off, lad, and you'll have to excuse me; I'm becoming a bit tired."
"What do you do here at the hotel?" asked 99.
"I count the money, file, keep the books in order and keep the pickpockets at bay." He looked at Max when he said that. Max laughed. "And a few other things…like entertaining on occasion. The one thing I refuse to do is to capture bank robbers." At this, 99 looked puzzled, but Max doubled over in laughter.
"Come with me, I'll show you where I live. And bring the carpetbag, Maxie." Charlie had a small suite of rooms at the top floor of the inn, where he lived rent-free as long as he was employed by the hotel..
"Don't they have an elevator, Charlie?"
"No, but it's good exercise," the old man insisted.
His suite of rooms was small, consisting of kitchen, bath, bedroom and parlor which doubled as a dining room. He had a small closet and a pantry. There was a table and chairs next to the window and a bed and dresser in the bedroom. There was another, smaller painting of Edna in the parlor. The largest thing in the apartment was a baby grand piano.
"You play piano?" asked Max.
"Yes, always have, Maxie. It was just too hard to carry it with me when traveling, though, so I never had one of my own until I came to live here."
"You could have put it in your carpetbag, Charlie."
"You're getting impudent, lad," said Charlie, smiling. Suddenly he put his fingers to his mouth and whistled. "I want you to meet my entertainment partner, Maxie." A small, dainty cat with long red fur and large green eyes bounded into the room. It took a flying leap and landed in Charlie's outstretched arms.
"What's her name?" asked Max.
"I call her Edna," said Charlie, glancing at Max, "for old time's sake. See what else she does." He showed Max and 99 how the cat could leap through a hoop, and several other tricks. "She helps me when I do my musical act. She does much more, but we're not set up with the props here in the apartment. People think it's unusual to have a performing cat."
"Well, it is!" said Max. "That's amazing! How do you get her to do that?"
"A little training, Max. And she likes me. She's a good companion, not asking much from life. She only needs a bit of caring for. And she takes good care of me, too."
The cat rubbed herself around Max's legs and he gave her a pat on the head and a scratch under the chin. She started to purr.
"Maxie, let me show you the best part of my apartment." Charlie led the way up a short flight of stairs to the roof. It was flat and had a stone railing around the area just above the apartment. There were pots of colorful flowers and several lounge chairs.
"This is lovely up here, Charlie," said 99. "The view is fantastic."
"Yes," said Charlie. "I can see for miles in any direction. There's even a view of the river, yonder. And I can hear the trains going by regularly, whistles blowing. There's a crossing nearby, I've heard people say that train whistles annoy them, but to me, it's a stirring, welcome sound.
"Max," said Charlie. "I'm sorry to bring our visit to an end. I know you would like to stay longer, but I'm exhausted and I have a show tonight. I need to sleep this afternoon, so I'll be ready. I'll stay out here long enough to watch you leave. If you look up, I'll be waving."
"It was so wonderful to meet you," said 99. She hugged and kissed the old man. Max hugged him too.
"Just close my front door, no need to lock it," said Charlie. Max and 99 descended the stairs, went through the apartment and walked down the several flights to the restaurant. They came out on the street and got into the red sports car.
As Max pulled the car away from the curb and started to drive away, 99 looked over at the building and gasped. "Max stop the car here." The sign on the building said, The Roaring Twenties.
Then she gasped again. "Max, look up!" Charlie was waving to them from the rooftop. But it wasn't the old man; it was the little tramp, who looked to be twenty years old again. Edna was standing by his side, waving too, her dress blowing in the warm summer wind. The tramp was wearing his derby and he tipped it to 99 when he saw her below. He touched his lips and blew her a kiss. He turned around and kissed Edna too, putting his arm around her. They both kept waving until Max and 99 were out of sight.
"Now what was that?" asked Max.
"I don't know," said 99. "Let's not ask, just accept it as a lovely experience."
"I still want to know about that carpetbag, 99."
She leaned over and put her finger on his lips. "Ssssh," she said.