Next morning when I arrived at the academy, everyone else was already there, gathered around the bulletin board. It didn't take long for us to see who we were partnered with.
My hunch had been correct; my partner for the duration of the school was Odum. However, his manner was more in keeping with that of a person who had been sorely chastised, at least verbally.
He reached out and shook my hand.
"Looks like Frosty has us partnered up, buddy," he smiled.
I lifted my eyebrows at the nickname he had called Capt. Wintermeyer, but I had difficulty keeping from smiling at it's apt irreverence.
The captain did sometimes appear quite 'frosty'.
"You'd better not let him hear you identify him in that manner," I whispered.
"Ah, that's his nickname around the station, didn't you know? It's a natural!"
"He chew you out yesterday?"
"Yeah, somewhat, but that's okay. I been listenin' to that kinda stuff most 'a my life, what from my sister to my brother in law, people all around me."
"Your parents don't tell you that stuff as well?"
"Nah. They died in a car wreck when I was just thirteen. My sister has been in charge 'a me since then; ha, she tried to be, that is. Always 'a bossin' me around. 'Don't do that, Bobby! You'll get inta trouble, Bobby!' Yak, yak, yak!"
"Hmm. I see. How about if I just be your friend. I promise not to say anything unless I see you doing something that will cause danger or harm to someone, you included."
"Say, that'd be cool! I promise to guard your back as well, like real partners."
"One more question; are you a Christian, Bobby?"
"Nah! I don't believe in all that Jesus baloney! My sister tried to drag me to church all the time. Don't tell me you're one 'a them?"
"Yep! I sure am. I'm gonna be praying for you big time, partner, and I'm not gonna let up on telling you about Him and what He's done for me. You're gonna find how important God is in the days and years to come, if you live long enough. Just you wait and see. Now, here comes the boss."
"Okay, men, let's do some stretches and get ready to run. Next time, you better be doing your stretches before I get here. Got it?"
"Yes, sir!" we shouted. Real classes at the academy had just begun.
When I went to lunch that day, I took Odum with me to Mama Nina's.
"Who is this young man, Zebbie?" Mama asked me.
"This is my partner at the academy. Bobby Joe Odum, meet Mama Nina. Mama Nina, Bobby Joe. We've been paired up for the next four weeks."
"Very nice to be meeting you, Bobby. You gonna be eatin' here every day with our Zebbie and Jackson?"
"Hmm, yeah, I guess so. Who's Jackson?"
"He's my friend from many years ago, when I lived in Pennsylvania. It's a long story. Oh, here he comes now."
Bobby turned on his stool and when he saw Jackson come in, he looked at me kinda odd and said, "Oh, he's the one got burned out that was married to that, uh..uh.."
I frowned at him. He immediately stopped what he had been ready to say and dropped his head, apparently speechless.
"Hey, Jackson, meet Bobby Joe Odum, my new partner!" I smiled at Jackson.
"Glad to meet you, Bobby. I think I may have seen you a few times around the station house and all."
Jackson reached out his hand and grabbed Bobby's hand. I didn't know until later about the kind of attention Odum had paid to Jackson around the station house. It seemed he had been a ringleader in casting aspersions on Jackson's character, simply because of his choice of marriage partner.
We ate lunch in an air of companionship. I noticed once again that my old friend was holding his side. I was going to speak to him in private as soon as possible.
Saying goodbye to Mama Nina, the three of us left and Jackson turned in at the station house while Odum and I continued on to the academy building.
"Listen, Odum; let's get one thing straight, here and now! Jackson Finley is a good man, honest and true. I don't ever want you to speak unkindly of or to him again. Understand?"
"Sure, sure. Word of honor!"
I vowed to tell my new partner all about Jackson in the near future.
(To be continued)