Nat scurries over to Milvey, shakes his hand and asks: “How ya feeling, old buddy?”
“How’s that?” Milvey looks befuddled.
“About losing the match, dip-head?”
Milvey smiles that warm smile of his. “Didn’t lose no match, Nat. I just didn’t win.” While Nat stands there mulling that one over, Milvey throws us a friendly nod, gives us a thumb-up, and makes a beeline for the Y.
Milvey did two things. One came the next day. The other took longer to happen. He quit his job at the Quik-Buy and became the town recluse. Walinski, naturally not finding anybody near his speed, got so many complaints he was forced to shut down express.
Most nights, while the rest of us were busy sawing logs, Milvey was holed up in his room, typing away. On nights when he left his window ajar to take in fresh air you could hear him going at it a mile a minute. Willie Stone told me somebody in the know told him Milvey was typing his way through a library book called War and Peace.
Alice Winslow, who owns the only stationary store in town, but generally makes it store policy not to divulge her customer’s buying habits, told her bridge partner, Hazel Blatther, that Milvey was averaging over a ream a day.
After his savings ran out Milvey took a hack job as a stock clerk in a rickety fruit and vegetable stand on West Sioux Street in a suburb of Dubuque. Walinski tried to get Milvey back on express, but according to Walinski all Milvey would do is shake his head and mumble something about having to save up his speed. He stocked with a faraway look in his eyes and seldom talked to customers even when they asked fun questions.
It was something over two months less than three years to the day he’d lost first place at the 21st Annual State of Iowa Typing Championship Finals when word got out; Milvey had talked Nat into putting him back on the tournament trail.
What drove Milvey to return to the scene of such a bitter defeat? Pride? The sense of a task left undone? Something he needed to prove to himself that no amount of compliments from Dubuqians shopping at the West Sioux Street Fruit and Vegetable Stand could ever hope to satisfy?
It came as no surprise, two days less than a month later, The Morning Mail screams in bold red headlines: “Town Typer Tops Thirty Top Typists!” Milvey had won the locals with an astounding 432 words a minute!
Three weeks later, Milvey cops the districts with 2,571 words in five! Then the regionals with 6,452 in 10; and the semis with 15,438 in 20! Only the finals remained.
We all went. Most of us had wives by then so we needed two buses. Most of us had kids, but we left them at home. Frankly, the finals are no place for kids. We bought a stack of waxed cups and two jugs of red wine at a rest stop and spent the remainder of our trip emptying both jugs and jawing over the best parts of our last trip.
Milvey sat behind Gruber’s dad in the lead bus. Mattie, McPeter’s third wife, drove the second bus. Owing to a bad case of double vision, Gruber’s dad had long since lost his license, but he wasn’t gonna rent us the buses if he couldn’t drive lead.
Milvey sports blue-framed sunglasses and a pork pie hat with a feather in it. Lucille, my lovely wife, pinned a pink carnation into the lapel of his green tweed sports jacket during the victory rally in the Quik-Buy parking lot, Walinski’s treat.
It was a quieter trip than the trip before. Nobody tried to catch popcorn. Nobody threw peanut shells on the floor. Only one individual carved his initials on the back of a seat and that was poor Chet Winslow (Alice’s older brother) who had just recently lost his farm to the bank. We didn’t have to worry none about ducking soda drippings being as Clyde Riley had long since passed over to the other side.
Soon as our bus gets parked, Milvey taps Gruber’s dad on the shoulder and asks him if it’s okay to open the doors.
“Wait the heck ’til we get good and parked, else nobody’s leaving this here vehicle!” Gruber’s dad yells.
“Actually, we’re quite nicely parked, sir,” Milvey says.