Author: N.D. Clark
Book: Troop Train
Release Date: April 30, 2016
Michael Gunderson comes of age just after WWII ends. He wants nothing more than to leave behind an oppressive life of rural farming to strike out on his own and discover what the alluring world has to offer to men who love other men. Michael’s big break arrives when he’s offered a porter’s job on a troop train with the Pennsylvania Railroad and begins a journey of sexual discovery that culminates in his meeting the love of his life.
Hordes of servicemen crowded back aboard the train, returning with ravenous appetites after hours of running wild and free. They rushed the dining car like panicked cattle, quickly filling the place to capacity.
Hoping to talk freely and avoid Cromwell, Michael and Keith had arrived first and nabbed the only table that was tucked away in a semiprivate corner in the rear of the car. As the train lurched forward, getting underway again, they braced themselves against their seats with one hand. The cutlery, along with the thin wire caddy containing the salt and pepper shakers, vibrated and slid across the table, teetering on the edge. Both men extended their free arms in a reflex attempt to avert the inevitable. Their fingertips grazed and neither was willing to withdraw for a few seconds, the tenderness evoking mirrored smiles from each man. But discretion required that they pull away; emitting long, deep breaths, they did so, and went about the distracting business of returning everything to its proper place, ending their sweet moment.
A dining car porter, Michael didn’t recognize, filled their glasses with water and took their order, after which, he and Keith offered him perfunctory nods and smiles. “So,” Michael began, “tell me more about Petty Officer Keith Hearn.”
After taking a sip of water, Keith returned his glass to the table with a slight chuckle. “Thank you, Mr. Gunderson, for granting me the honor of going first.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Hearn.”
“Let’s see . . . where to begin? I’m from Westminister, Vermont. My family owns a bed and breakfast there. Father operates a little side business, making and selling maple syrup. And I have two younger brothers, annoying little shits, the both of them.”
“Sounds like a great life, Keith. What attracted an obvious landlubber to the Navy?”
“The family vacations usually involved the outdoors and boating; I guess it was all the great times we had out on the water. That . . . and,” Keith cleared his throat, glanced down at the table and lowered his voice even more . . . “all the rumors I kept hearing about lonely sailors at sea, you know, on duty for months at a time . . . seemed just the thing for a young guy, coming of age, longing to explore the world and his . . . curiosities.”
Michael couldn’t have held back his laughter if he tried. “Can’t wait to hear each and every one of those stories.”
“Yes, hear them you shall, all in painstaking detail, but later, in private.”
“Sorry, you’re right, of course. Now that the war’s over, what’s next?”
“My hitch in the Navy is up in three more months; I wanted to make the most of the time I had left, use it to travel, so I volunteered for the restoration efforts in war-torn Germany. I was hoping by the end of that assignment, I would have reached a decision to reenlist or not.
“Well,” Michael winced, fiddling with his fork and knife, “I guess that explains your destination to Camp Kilmer.”
“Yeah. I’ll be quartered there a week or two until I ship out to Germany. Forgive me, Michael, but am I detecting . . . disappointment?”
“No, it’s nothing of the sort; it’s just . . . okay, yes! I’m afraid I’m being rather transparent, aren’t I?” Michael let out a long breath. “I know it’s stupid,” he continued. “Let’s chalk it up to my lack of experience; I mean after all, we’ve only just met.” Averting his gaze, Michael cleared his throat. Forgive a young man’s infatuation?”
“I’ll do no such thing. Do you want to know why?”
His eyebrows meeting, Michael swallowed hard. “Go on.”
“Before I met you, my usual response to a guy developing feelings for me was to treat him as a leper and immediately move along to the next conquest. The only variable in this scenario being . . . you . . . Michael. So, here we are, having dinner, getting to know one another. You’re up to bat; I want to know everything there is to know about Michael Gunderson.”
With his pulse racing, Michael smiled using only his dark brown eyes to channel his happy thoughts across the table as he went on to tell Keith about his life on the dairy farm in rural New Jersey, and how he’d summoned the courage to leave it all behind to discover what else the world had to offer.