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The Lincoln Highway

Quick Recap & Summary By Chapter

The Full Book Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles are below.

Quick(-ish) Recap

The two-paragraph version: Emmett (18) has just gotten out of juvie and is now planning to drive down the Lincoln Highway to move to San Francisco with his younger brother Billy (8). Billy hopes to find their mother (who left them 8 years ago) there. However, two guys (Duchess and Woolly) have snuck out from juvie and have followed Emmett home, hoping to convince him to help with a caper in New York to take back Woolly's $150K trust fund (which Woolly has been deemed "unfit" to access). When Emmett declines, Duchess "borrows" Emmett's car, forcing Emmet and Billy to stowaway on a train to New York to find Duchess and Woolly and reclaim it. They are aided by Sally, a family friend, and Ulysses, a black man they meet on the train.

Meanwhile, Duchess is also trying to settle some debts against along the way, and he attacks their former warden and other people. When they finally all reach Woolly's grandfather's lakeside house (where the safe with the money is), it turns out Woolly doesn't even know the combination to the safe. Woolly kills himself (which Emmett thinks was his plan all along since he was unhappy and misunderstood by his family), and Emmett and Duchess have a confrontation that turns violent. Ultimately, Billy is able to guess the safe combination, and Emmett puts Duchess (who can't swim) in a leaky boat on the lake with his share of the money. The book ends with Billy, Emmett and Sally heading off to San Francisco, while Duchess drowns trying to save his money from flying away (rather than floating back to safety).

(The book chapters count down from 10 to 1.)

Chapters 10 and 9 open with Emmett Watson (18) returning home to Morgen, Nebraska (dropped off by Warden Williams) after having spent a year in juvenile detention for killing Jimmy Snyder. Jimmy was a troublemaker who had goaded Emmett into punching him. It caused Jimmy to fall and hit his head on a cinder block, resulting in his death.

In present day, Emmett learns his father's farm is being foreclosed upon by the bank. When Emmett tells his younger brother, Billy (8), that they will need to move, Billy suggests they move to San Francisco. Billy has recently found some old postcards indicating their mother (who left them 8 years ago) once took the journey there down the Lincoln Highway. Billy hopes she might still be living there now. While Emmett thinks his brother's plan of tracking down their mother in California is crazy, he knows that California (due to its high population growth) is a good place for him to pursue his goal of achieving financial stability by renovating and selling houses. After some research, he agrees to the plan.

They're soon interrupted by the presence of Duchess and Woolly, two guys Emmett knows from juvie. Duchess spent a few years in an orphanage, being raised by nuns, after his father abandoned him there for two years when he was 8. Meanwhile, Woolly is a troubled rich kid.

They explain that they stowed away in Warden Williams's trunk and have a proposition for Emmett. Woolly is the beneficiary of a trust fund that should have come under his control now that he's 18. However, his brother-in-law Dennis had him declared "unfit". There's also a wall safe at his great-grandfather's house in upstate New York that contains roughly the same amount of money as his trust fund, $150,000. They want Emmett to go with them to help Woolly get the cash, and in exchange they'll split the money evenly among the three of them. Emmett immediately declines.

The next morning, Sally Ransom, their neighbor and a former romantic interest of Emmett's drops by. She's upset to learn from Duchess that Emmett plans on leaving. In town, Jake Snyder (brother of Jimmy Snyder) accosts Emmett, trying to goad him into a fight and then punching Emmett a few times, though Emmett doesn't fight back.

In Chapters 8 and 7, they hit the road with the plan of dropping Woolly and Duchess off at the bus stop in Omaha before Emmett and Billy continue on to San Francisco. However, Duchess derails the plan. He asks them to make a pit stop at the orphanage he stayed in for a few years as a child (because his father abandoned him there temporarily). There, he causes a commotion and then drives off with Woolly in Emmett's car (and inadvertently with all of Emmett's money), headed to New York. He promises to be back soon and to give Emmett his share of the cash when they return.

With no money and no mode of transportation, Emmett and Billy hitch a ride on a train to go to New York to track down Duchess and Woolly. On the train, Billy nearly gets his silver coin collection stolen from him by a fake pastor, "Pastor" John, but Pastor John is stopped by Ulysses -- a black WWII vet who is also hitching a ride on the train. Ulysses is a seasoned boxcar traveler, who has been iterant ever since he returned from the war to learn that his wife left him.

Billy gets to know Ulysses, and he tells Ulysses the legend of the Greek hero Ulysses. Billy has been reading an abridged version of from a big red book authored by someone named Professor Abacus Abernathe. The book features a number of great travelers and adventurers, both real and fictional.

Meanwhile, Duchess and Woolly have driven as far as Illinois by now. Duchess plans to start a new life after all of this and wants to clear out any debts he owes or owed to him before he does. They make a quick stop at the house of the retired former warden, Ackerly, who used to beat them. Duchess hits him on the head with a cast-iron skillet and leaves, noting that Ackerly's debt to him has been paid.

In Chapters 6 and 5, they all make their way to New York. Duchess's goes looking for his father (Harry), who is trying to evade him after learning that Duchess escaped from juvie. Duchess finds Fitzy FitzWilliams, an old friend of Harry. We learn that when Duchess was 16, he framed by Harry for a number of thefts in the hotel they were living in (which Harry had actually committed). Fitzy lied in a statement to corroborate Harry's lie. In present day, Duchess guilts Fitzy into giving him Harry's current address in Syracuse.

Afterwards, Duchess goes to visit Townhouse, who was released from Salina a while ago. He wants to settle accounts with him, since Duchess owes Townhouse for having gotten Townhouse in trouble once. The two get squared away, and before Duchess leaves, he impulsively gives Townhouse's cousin Maurice the keys to Emmett's Studebaker (he thinks of it as a good deed that he's doing).

Elsewhere, Ulysses takes Billy and Emmett to a vagrant camp where they can stay for the night. Emmett goes into the city to track down Duchess, who knows is looking for his father. He gets Harry's former address from his agency. It leads him to Fitzy, who tells him about Duchess's past and also gives him Harry's Syracuse address.

Meanwhile, Woolly visits his sister Sarah who says that she has talked to Warden Williams, who is offering Woolly minimal consequences if he returns to juvie immediately. And back at that camp, Ulysses and Billy are attacked by Pastor John. However, Ulysses kills him and drops his body into the river.

In Chapters 4 and 3, Emmett goes to visit Townhouse, who warns that the police recently came by looking for Duchess. He thinks it's about something more serious than Duchess's escape from Salina. He also returns Emmett's Studebaker to him, and his friends offer to repaint it since the police seem to have associated as blue Studebaker with whatever crime Duchess committed. Townhouse then directs Emmett to where Duchess will be that night, which turns out to be a raunchy circus show attached to a brothel. Emmett confronts Duchess and tries to get him to leave. However, Duchess drugs Emmett, leaves him at the brothel and ducks out.

Before heading to Sarah's place, the group passes by the location described in Billy's big red book as the offices of Professor Abacus Abernathe. They go to visit him and see that he's a real person. Billy tells Abacus about his own adventures. Abacus asks to meet Ulysses, and the two become acquainted.

Back at Sarah's place, Emmett eventually shows up. However, because he wasn't able to check in with Sally as he'd promised earlier, Sally ends up heading to New York (after attempting to call them) to check on Emmett and Billy. She arrives soon after Emmett. They all have a delightful dinner, but soon Dennis and Sarah come home. Dennis is furious to learn that Woolly is not at Salina. He demands that Woolly go work for one of his stockbroker friends after he finishes his sentence.

In Chapter 2, Woolly and Duchess sneak out early and make their way to Woolly's great-grandfather's house in the Adirondacks in order to take the $150K from the safe. However, when they arrive, it turns out Woolly doesn't know the combination (and it never occurred to him there would be one). Then, as Duchess tries to hack open the safe, Woolly takes a bunch of pills and kills himself.

Elsewhere, Abacus thinks about how Billy has reawakened his desire for adventure. He decides to go with Ulysses to travel via boxcar and seek out his own adventure.

In Chapter 1, Emmett arrives at Woolly's great-grandfather's house to find Woolly dead and Duchess still trying to get the safe open. Emmett and Duchess scuffle, and Emmett knocks Duchess out. (He doesn't kill Duchess because he had made a promise to Billy not to lash out again.) Meanwhile, Billy guesses the safe combination based on something Woolly had said about his great-grandfather loving the 4th of July. They also find Woolly's will, splitting up his $150K trust fund equally between Billy, Emmett and Duchess.

The book ends with Emmett leaving Duchess in a leaky boat with no oars and with his $50K share in cash. As Duchess tries to get to the money before it flies away, he drowns. Meanwhile, Emmett and Billy head for San Francisco. Sally joins them (platonically) so she can start a new life out there as well.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Chapter 10
Chapter 9
Chapter 8
Chapter 7
Chapter 6
Chapter 5
Chapter 4
Chapter 3
Chapter 2
Chapter 1

Chapter 10

Emmett — June 12, 1954

Warden Williams drops Emmett Watson off at his house after being released from juvenile detention at Salina after completing his sentence. A year ago, Emmett killed another young man, Jimmy Snyder. He’s being let out a a few months early from his 18-month sentence because his father has passed away. Warden Williams reassures Emmett that everyone knows that what happened wasn’t an indication of Emmett’s character and that bad luck played a role in what happed. He reminds Emmett that he has paid his debt to society and to “make the most of your liberty”.

Emmett thinks to himself that he fully intends to do so and to take good care of his younger brother, Billy. However, Emmett disagrees that he has paid his debt. He still feels guilt over the killing.

Mr. Ransom, a neighbor and family friend who has known Emmett his whole life, meets them outside. The warden then leaves to make the 3-hour return trip back to Salinas. Meanwhile, Emmett and Mr. Ransom go inside to the kitchen to talk with Tom Obermeyer, a banker.

A while ago, Emmett’s father, Charles “Charlie” William Watson, took out a second mortgage on the farm. However, the last few years the harvests have been bad. Emmett’s father also got sick, and this year he passed away. Tom informs them that the bank has “no choice” but to foreclose on the house, meaning that Emmett and his brother have to move out.

Before Tom leaves, he asks Emmett to hand over the keys and registration to a car outside, but Emmett resists, says that the car is his. He shows him the registration and explains that he worked for two summers for Mr. Schulte doing roofing and carpentry work to pay for it. Tom leaves without the car’s registration.

Afterward, Emmett looks around the house nostalgically, looking at Billy’s model planes and surveying his father’s land which he’d farmed for twenty years. Emmett thinks about how his father had always had plenty of bad luck, but also bad judgment, too.

Back in 1933, Charlie had moved to Nebraska from Boston to be a farmer, but never had much luck with the weather nor skill at farming or business. When Emmett was 15, he asked Mr. Schulte, the carpenter, to work for him in the summers.

In present day, Emmett thanks Mr. Ransom for watching over Billy while he was gone. Mr. Ransom warns Emmett that if sticks around here, Jimmy Snyder’s family is likely to give him trouble. Emmett agrees, and says he plans to leave. Mr. Ransom offers Emmett some money, but Emmett declines. Mr. Ransom’s daughter Sally soon shows up with Billy and a casserole for them in tow.

After the Ransoms leave, the brothers catch up, and Emmett explains to Billy that they should to move. Emmett plans to move them to Texas, a plan he has carefully researched. However, Billy wants to move to California. Billy says that after their father died, he found a collection of post cards addressed to them from their mother, who left them 8 years ago. The postcards from right after she left were sent from cities all along the Lincoln Highway, which stretches to San Francisco. The last postcard she sent also talks about how the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park has a huge firework show on July 4th each year. Billy insists they can find her by going there.

Emmett is momentarily upset that their father kept these postcards from them, but then thinks that perhaps it was the reasonable thing to do after she’d abandoned them. Emmett recognizes the numerous flaws in Billy’s plan — if she’s really there and whether she wants to see them — but he agrees to think about it.

Outside, Emmett checks on his powder-blue 1948 Studebaker Land Cruiser. The battery is dead from being idle too long. On the spare tire, he finds a letter from his father. In it, it explains how Charlie had managed to squander his sizeable inheritance by moving here to become a famer. He then says he leaves to Emmett “two legacies, one great, one small, both a form of sacrilege”. The first is a page torn out of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays, describing the value of farming your own land. The second is a stack of bills, approximately $3,000, which his father had set aside instead of paying to his creditors.

Emmett’s father describes his “legacies” as being a “form of sacrilege”. The first one is because Emmett knows his father doesn’t believe in defacing books, which he had clearly done in this instance. The second is because his father knew it technically belonged to his creditors.

Emmett and Billy are then visited by two people.


Emmett is shocked to see Daniel “Duchess” Hewett and Wallace “Woolly” Martin, two guys he knows from Salina, walking up to them. Duchess (nicknamed because he was born in Dutchess County) explains that they hid in the warden’s trunk to hitch a ride here. Emmett is not pleased to see them, knowing they should just finish their sentences. They’ve both turned 18 recently, which means that if caught they could end up at Topeka (prison) instead of Salina (juvenile detention).

(Later, we’ll learn that Duchess was not born in Dutchess County, but instead got his nickname for a different reason.)

He offers to drive them back in the morning, but Duchess says that Woolly is unhappy there after Warden Williams fired the nurse that used to supply Woolly with drugs. (Duchess makes up a story about Woolly finding a knife and threatening to leave, violently if necessary, until he helped him find a peaceful way out.) Woolly is someone who grew up wealthy on the Upper East Side, but was troubled and got himself expelled from various boarding schools.

Over dinner, Duchess further explains that Woolly has a trust fund, for which his brother-in-law, Dennis Whitney, is the trustee (the person who makes decisions on behalf of a minor). Woolly should have control over the money now that he’s 18, but his brother in law had him declared “temperamentally unfit” in order to retain authority over it.

The trust fund is worth roughly $150,000. Woolly also happens to know that his great-grandfather has a wall safe at their house in upstate New York that contains around $150,000. Woolly has proposed that if Duchess and Emmett agree to help him “claim what is rightfully his”, then he’ll split the proceeds equally between them.

Upon hearing this, Emmett flat-out rejects the plan, saying he wants no part in it and that he’s going to drop them off at the greyhound station in Omaha on Monday. Duchess is certain that Emmett is saying no only because he made the proposition in front of Billy. He assumes that Emmett wants to shield Billy from what he considers to be “the intricacies of modern life”.

When Emmett goes to ask the Ransoms to jump his car, Duchess takes the opportunity to talk to Billy. He talks about The Three Musketeers, and they talk about what he would do with $50,000. Billy says that he’d want a house in San Francisco. Woolly chimes in with ideas about an imaginative and huge house that delights Billy, and they sketch out a floor plan.

Afterwards, Duchess goes snooping around the house. He finds a drawer filled with unpaid bill notices. In Emmett’s father’s room, he finds Billy reading a big red book called “Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers“. Duchess tells Billy that he’s been to hundreds of cities because her father was a traveling actor. As a bedtime story, he ends up reciting to him the story of Macbeth.

That night, Duchess sleeps in Emmett’s room, and he notices how barren the walls are, as if Emmett “had been preparing to walk out of his house with nothing but a kit bag for a long, long time”. Laying in deb, Duchess reminisces about traveling with his father in August of 1944 when he was 8. His father been part of a revue that was raising money for the war effort. He recalls how his father pretended to be upper-class get himself into the presidential suite of the fanciest hotel. Then, he took full advantage of it before finally sneaking out the back stairs when it was time to leave.

After leaving the hotel, they met up with Miss Maples, the magician’s assistant in their troupe. They’d had a delightful picnic. He’d then dropped Duchess off at an “old stone building”, asking him to wait with the nun there for a moment. His father then proceeded to drive off with Miss Maples, leaving Duchess behind as he “realized [he’d] been had”.

Duchess’s father abandoning him when he was 8, and him seeing his trickery helps to explain his manipulative personality and willingness to lie.

He also seems to have a soft spot for Woolly and seems to feels that he’s been similarly screwed over by his family or been treated unfairly by life.

Chapter 9


Emmett wakes up to the smell of the breakfast that Sally had come over to cook for them. She brings over a jar of home-made strawberry preserves as well. Duchess comments on how great the preserves are, while Emmett says they already have jam. Over breakfast, Billy asks Emmett if he ever went to the movie theater in Salinas, since Duchess had mentioned going. Duchess explains that it required some “initiative” (i.e. sneaking out of juvie) in order to go. Emmett then asks to change the subject. Afterwards, Emmett hears Duchess telling Billy the story of the Count of Monte Cristo and the character’s escape from prison.

Later, Emmett finds Sally, who is upset with him. She is unhappy that he didn’t mention that he was planning on leaving for California tomorrow and that she had to find out from Duchess. She is also unhappy to learn that her father was the one that suggested that perhaps Emmett have a fresh start elsewhere.

Afterwards, Emmett goes for a drive to clear his head. He understands why Sally is upset, knowing that there was once the possibility of something between them. However, since going to Salina a year ago, he had purposefully not been reaching out or responding to her. He feels grateful for what she’s done for him, but not “beholden” to her.

As he drives by the fairgrounds, it reminds him of Jimmy Snyder. Jimmy had always been someone who liked to stir up trouble, trying to say anything he could to get under your skin. That night at the fair, Jimmy had set his sights on Emmett, saying insulting things about Emmett’s father.

In response, Emmett had punched him. It resulted in Jimmy falling over and hitting his head on a cinder block. Jimmy ended up in a coma for two months before finally succumbing to his injury. In the meantime, the Snyders had told everyone that Emmett had punched Jimmy for accidentally bumping into him. Against his attorney’s advice, Emmett had plead guilty on March 1, 1943.

In present day, Emmett goes to the public library. His father had started getting various illnesses two years ago, in 1952. In spring of 1953 his father had a flu he couldn’t recover from. Finally, in April, he passed away. Right after, Emmett had started formulating a plan to move him and Billy into a fixer-upper that he could renovate and sell. He then hoped to use the proceeds to buy two more run-down properties to renovate, one to sell and the other to rent out, and so forth. He hoped to eventually have four properties to maintain and rent out for income.

At the library, he looks up the numbers tracking the population grown in Texas and California over the decades. He knows that population growth is crucial to his plan of ensuring the profits of possible rental properties. He sees that California’s growth had exceeded Texas’s impressive growth over the years. So, even if his brother’s idea of finding their mother seemed crazy, his plan could work in California.

Before he leaves, the librarian, Ellie Matthiessen, introduces herself, recognizing him as Billy’s brother. She says that Billy has spent a lot of time at the library reading stories since he’s been gone.

Outside the library, Emmett is accosted by two guys he knows — Jacob “Jake” Snyder and Eddie Anderson — and one he doesn’t wearing a cowboy hat. Jacob is Jimmy’s brother. Seeing them, people start to gather. Jake starts punching Emmett, and Emmett doesn’t fight back. Finally, Sheriff Peterson shows up, telling Jake to stop, and his deputies disperse the crowd.

Sheriff Peterson offers to drive Emmett back in his Studebaker and to let him clean up at his house before dropping him off. Sheriff Peterson comments on how Emmett doesn’t appear to have fought back with Jake at all.

He gently warns Emmett that while it might be understandable (given his situation) to never want to put up a fight again, people who let themselves be defeated often end up turning to alcohol. He advises that Emmett will eventually need to “stand up for yourself like you used to”. He also offers to tell the Snyders to leave Emmett alone.


After surveying Morgen, Nebraska, Duchess notes how small the town is, only four blocks in either direction. He’s passing by when Jake attacks Emmett, and he watches as Emmett doesn’t fight back. Duchess watches as the guy in the cowboy hat walks away right when the Sheriff shows up. He follows the cowboy hat guy.

Duchess thinks about the teachings of Sister Agnes, a nun at St. Nicholas’s Home for Boys where his father had dropped him off. She had taught them how the wrongs people do to one another “become your chains” by binding you with either indignation or guilt. (And the teachings of Jesus Christ can free you through atonement for guilt or forgiveness for others). When Warden Williams later had them all take an accounting class about balancing your accounts, Duchess started to understand what Sister Agnes had been teaching them. Duchess sees wrongs as misdeeds essentially put someone in another’s debt, which can only be put right by finding a way “to balance the accounts”.

Duchess thinks about how Emmett clearly felt he owed a debt which is why allowed Jake to beat him up. However, he feels certain Emmett did not owe a debt to the man in the cowboy hat (“the cowboy”). Instead, Duchess marches up to the cowboy and confronts him. When the cowboy dismisses him, Duchess grabs a 2-by-4 from a trash can nearby and hits him with it, saying “consider your debt repaid in full”. He leaves with a “sense of moral satisfaction”.

Duchess seems to have misinterpreted Sister Agnes’s teachings (by ignoring the parts about atonement and forgiveness) and instead seems to be using her words as an excuse to justify retribution towards others. And obviously the accounting class was about balancing your debits and credits, not about doling out vigilante justice.


Back at the Watson home, Billy reads the summarized version of The Count of Monte Cristo from his big read book. He then asks Woolly about Salina. Woolly explains that it wasn’t too bed there, except that every day there was an “every-day day” meaning that the days were structured so that each one was exactly like the last. He thinks about how his boarding schools had been like that, too.

One day during his junior year of school, he impulsively found a way to ditch school and take a taxi to visit his sister in Hastings-on-Hudson. They spent a nice afternoon together, but when Dennis, a VP-level banker at J.P. Morgan, at gets home he is furious that Woolly’s sister spent the afternoon chatting with Woolly instead of getting dinner ready. As Dennis yells about needing to catch the 6:42 train each morning, Woolly had realized that his boarding schools had been designed to train them to become adults who had “every-day” days as well.

Woolly then muses that it would be “magnificent” to have a “one-of-a-kind kind of day”.

Woolly and Billy both have a desire for adventure. Billy is just discovering his, but Woolly’s has long gotten him into trouble.

You could probably argue that Woolly’s longing for adventure mixed with his wealthy background which ensure a comfortable life which could lead to boredom (since he doesn’t have the stress or worry about needing to get by or developing a drive to achieve certain things) might be why he ended up starting to get into trouble.


Over at the Ransom home, Sally thinks about a parable that Reverend Pike had read to the congregation where Jesus chides Mary’s sister Martha when she complains about doing all the housework while Mary sits at Jesus’s feet. (He tells Martha that she is “troubled by too many things when only one thing is needful”.) Sally considers herself a good and believing Christian, but thinks of it as proof that the “Bible was written by a man”. Sally muses that men seem to think that meals just make themselves.

Sally also thinks unhappily about how Emmett had described her going through the time-consuming process of making homemade preserve as “unnecessary”. She thinks to herself that she does it because it’s time-consuming, old-fashioned, and unnecessary. She likes that it requires effort, that it’s a process passed down from her mother. She feels that doing something unnecessary is about kindness.


That night at the Watson’s home, Duchess is snooping around looking for Emmett’s car keys when a car pulls up and drops a shoebox on the front porch. It the drives away. Duchess sees that the box is labelled with his name.

In the next chapter, we learn that the box is from Sally and contains 6 jars of her strawberry preserves.

Chapter 8


Early the next morning, Emmett, Billy, Duchess and Woolly head for the road. Emmett has carefully planned the trip so they can make it to Omaha to drop off Duchess and Woolly and then to San Francisco in four days flat. Emmett originally planned to take Route 34 to Omaha, but Billy wants to take the Lincoln Highway, which would extend their trip by 17.5 miles. Emmett reluctantly agrees. Woolly is excited to see the statues of Abraham Lincoln which Billy says have been placed along the road, since Woolly is a “great admirer” of Lincoln.

When they pass by a large stone building, Duchess says he used to live there and asks to take a look for just a minute. He disappears inside, and eventually Emmett goes looking for him. Emmett is angry with Duchess but he thinks about how before they left, Billy had asked Emmett to promise that “whenever you feel like hitting someone in anger, first you’ll count to ten”.

The building turns out to be St. Nicholas’s Home for Boys. Emmett sees that Duchess has broken in through the back, used chairs to barricade the nuns inside their rooms and has stolen spoons to distribute the six jars of strawberry preserves to all the boys there.

Emmett removes the chairs barricading the doors and tells the nuns what happened. When he exits, Billy informs Emmett that Duchess and Woolly have taken the Studebaker and are on their way to New York. They’ve promised to return by June 18. Stranded, Emmett calls Sally to pick him and Billy up.
Before they leave, Sister Agnes gives Billy a medallion of Christopher, the “patron saint of travelers”. She also tells Emmett the story of how Duchess wound up with them. Duchess’s father had lied about Duchess being his nephew and him being an army officer who was unable to care for him. Two years later his father came to reclaim him, but Sister Agnes knows how damaging it must’ve been for him to be abandoned out of convenience.

Sister Agnes then asks Emmett to stand by Duchess’s side as a friend even though Duchess has “taken liberties” with his car. She asks him to try to help Duchess find his purpose. She also talks about the parable of the Good Samaritan and how “we do not always get to choose to whom we should show out charity.”

Initially, the plan for Emmett to go after Duchess and Woolly alone, but Billy insists on going to New York, too. Sally drops them both off at the train station, and she asks him to promise to call and check in (on Friday at 2:30) when they get to New York.

Afterwards, Emmett thinks about how he had been free of “debts and obligations” that morning, but was now encumbered by two promises he’d made that day. He also realizes that by taking the car, Duchess and Wooly had also (inadvertently) taken all his money with them as well.

The two promises Emmett has made are to help Duchess and to check in with Sally. When Sally asks him to check in, he initially balks, but she points out the he had no problem calling her when he wanted to demand her assistance.

The idea of debts. responsibilities and encumbrances runs throughout this book as well as the competing ideas of exploration, travel and imagination. There is a constant push and pull of wanting freedom and the things we owe to others.


As Duchess and Woolly head to New York down the Lincoln Highway, Duchess assuages Woolly’s guilt over taking Emmett’s car by reminding him that with the money they recover, Emmett will be better off and Billy can come closer to having the house they dreamt up.

Duchess notes now as they drive, Woolly listens intently to the commercials. He is genuinely curious about the dilemmas the various actors describe and is relieved when a product is introduced to help solve it. Meanwhile, Duchess chats about Leonello’s in East Harlem, where is father had been a maître d’ for sic months, describing the delights of having an Italian dinner there.

When they accidentally run out of gas, Duchess realizes he has very little money for gas. When they stop, they happen to find the envelope with the $3,000 that Emmett’s father had given him, still stored in the car.


At the train station, Emmett decides they’ll need to hitch a ride on a freight train since they don’t have money for a train. Billy offers up his silver dollar collection to pay for passage, but Emmett declines. Emmett feels unsure about how to explain what they’re doing to Billy.

Billy compares them to stowaways and seems to romanticize the whole thing, referencing Edmond Dantès journey and how Duchess had stowed away in the warden’s car. Emmett then takes a moment to talk about the story Duchess had told Billy about sneaking out to see movies. He makes the point that while oftentimes nothing bad happened, in one instance Duchess got one of his friends in trouble because of it. In that case, it was Townhouse, Emmett’s bunkmate. Emmett tries to impress upon the consequences of Duchess’s actions.

(The full story is that Duchess had convinced Townhouse to sneak out to see a movie. It had been raining, and the river they had to cross was high. Townhouse ended up crossing without him. Duchess had instead flagged a car to hitch a ride back, but the driver was a cop who had reported him to the warden. When Townhouse later returned, the guards were waiting, and Ackerly punished Townhouse severely. Townhouse was also black, which meant his punishment was twice as harsh as Duchess’s since Ackerly felt that Negro boys were only half as suited to learning as white boys, their lessons had to be twice as long”.

After hearing this story, Billy suggests that Duchess doesn’t know how to swim and didn’t want to admit it, which is why he had refused to cross the river.)

Emmett seems worried about Billy over-romanticizing breaking rules and whatnot since he wants Billy to understand that your actions have consequences which can often effect others as well.

The story about Townhouse comes into play later on in the book (in Chapter 5).

In the station, Emmett tries to approach one of the workmen at the station to try to get advice on the best way to hop a train, but he’s dismissed. Instead, a nearby panhandler tells him that he’s the one to ask since he worked on the rails for 25 years. The panhandler tells Emmett that the Sunset East is the best train to board discreetly at night.

Emmett returns to Billy to find that was given two sandwiches from a stranger, Mrs. Simpson, in his absence. Emmett reminds Billy that it’s not necessarily safe to take food from random strangers. Billy says they weren’t strangers since they’d spoken for a while. He says that they became friends. When Emmett says you have to know someone for longer than that to be friends with them, Billy asks how long and (instead of trying to explain the “intricacies of how relationships evolve over time”) Emmett finally settles on “three days” in order to end the conversation.

Afterwards, Emmett looks at Billy’s big red book. He sees that it was given to him by Ellie Matthiessen, the librarian. Each chapter covers one hero, adventurer or traveler. There are blank pages under the “You” chapter for the reader to write their own story as well.


That night, Woolly and Duchess stay in a motor lodge called Howard Johnson’s (“HoJo’s”) roughly 50 miles west of Chicago. That night, Duchess tells Woolly that if he had 50 grand, he’d open up a place like Leonello’s.

Duchess then imagines where he’d open up his Leonello’s if he could. He wonders if perhaps he could open it somewhere in California, maybe Los Angeles. However, he also thinks that he needs to settle his debts before he can truly have a fresh start. For him, there are three main “debts” — one he owes to someone else, and two debts that are owed to him.


The panhandler had explained to Emmett that the Sunset East transports metric tons of flour and crackers back and forth from Nabisco’s processing facility in Manhattan. However, flour is much more dense than crackers, so on the way to New York, there is extra space (and empty train cars at the back) although it carries it same weight back and forth.

That night, situated in the train’s empty car, Emmett and Billy open the car’s hatch (with warning from the panhandler to shut it when they near the Chicago station mid-way). Billy quickly falls asleep. The sight of the postcards from their mother in his pack reminds Emmett of how unhappy his mother had seemed.

He also thinks about how his mother had loved firework shows. He recalls going to see the show in Seward on the 4th of July when Emmett was 8. His mother had gone to the attic to fetch a perfectly packed wicker picnic set. That afternoon, they’d found a perfect spot, and he listened to his mother laugh at his father’s stories, and “it had seemed to Emmett that the three of them would be attending Seward’s Fourth of July celebration for the rest of their lives”.

However, the following February, a few weeks after Billy was born, his mother seemed tired all the time. In July, his mother didn’t seem to want to go see the fireworks. Emmett had brought down the picnic set to urge them to go, and his mother had reluctantly agreed. The ride there was wordless, but when the fireworks finally started, she “reached out in order to squeeze her husband’s hand, and gave him a tender smile as tears ran down her face”. They smiled back at her, and Emmett slept well that night. However, by the next morning, she was already gone.

In present day, Emmett thinks that she cried during the fireworks because she was reminded “of what joy could be, if only she were willing to leave her daily life behind”.

It seems that Emmett’s mother suffered from depression, which was exacerbated by post-partum depression, which is part of the reason why she left.

Chapter 7


The nest morning over breakfast, Woolly takes an interest in their paper place mats, depicting the state of Illinois, local landmarks and all the other HoJo locations. Meanwhile, when Duchess sees a traveling salesman keep track of his receipts, Duchess thinks to himself that he should do the same because he plans to pay Emmett back any cash of his they’ve used once their plan is completed.

Duchess also uses a pay phone to call Salina to ask for the address of the retired former warden, Warden Ackerly, by pretending to be his uncle. (Previous chapters have referenced how Warden William had taken over from Ackerly and made reforms like trying to educate the kids and firing the nurse who was illicitly dispensing drugs. Ackerly is describes as someone who “wasn’t inclined to put into words a piece of advice that could be delivered more efficiently with a stick”.)

At this point, it’s not clear what Duchess is up to in asking for Ackerly’s address, but by now his mischievous personality should indicate that he likely has something up his sleeve.

When Duchess goes to the bathroom, he strikes up a conversation with the traveling salesman. When he comes back, he sees that Woolly has driven off with the car. Remembering Woolly’s admiration for Lincoln, Duchess notices that one of the landmarks on the maps is a Lincoln statue.

It’s worth noting that Woolly is described as being somewhat child-like, easily fascinated by things and also easily distracted by or led away by things that interest him. It’s likely part of the reason why he struggled so much with the routine in boarding school.


Sure enough, Woolly is headed for the statue. With some difficulty, Woolly is able to locate it. Standing in front of the statue, he thinks about how his great-grandfather had always loved the Fourth of July and insisted that the whole family gather on that holiday at his place in the Adirondacks. On that day, the youngest child over 16 would be tasked with reciting the Declaration of Independence, followed by the Gettysburg Address being recited by the youngest child over 10. When it was his turn to recite the Gettysburg Address, he remembers how the whole family had chimed in happily when he forgot the words.

At the park, Woolly notices a man feeding the birds and some squirrels (the “Birdman”) by placing kernels of popcorn all over himself. When he heads back, he’s dismayed to see a police officer placing a parking ticket on Emmett’s car.


When the train reaches Cedar Rapids, Emmett goes to find food for him and Billy. As the crosses through the boxcars, he finds a empty private car, littered with remnants of a day’s full of festivities, undoubtedly attributable to the passengers in the nearby sleeping cars. When Emmett enters, he notices a passed-out man (who he soon learns is named Mr. Packer)sleeping on the floor, and he’s soon addressed by another man standing there.

The standing man — who identifies himself as Mr. Parker — is very drunk, and Emmett lies and says that he’s a brakeman. Mr. Parker explains that the two of them are accompanying their friend Alexander Cunningham the Third, the grandson of the owner of this passenger car who is sleeping in the car next door, to Chicago for his wedding.

Emmett finds himself regarding the drunk man with some measure of disdain, while thinking about how Mr. Parker is probably someone who has always been able to get anything he wanted his whole life.

When a hiss of steam indicates that the car is going to move again, Emmett rushes out. The moving train makes it difficult to cross the gap between the cars. Finally, as the train picks up speed, Emmett realizes he has no choice but to wait for the train to slow again before making his way back to Billy.

Pastor John

Pastor John happens to be walking by when he spots the open hatch and Billy sitting alone in the boxcar, reading his big red book by his side. He greets Billy as he enters the boxcar.

Pastor John initially sounds like someone who is approaching Billy over concern about his well-being, but it quickly becomes apparent that that’s not the case and that he’s more interested in what he can get from Billy. It also becomes clear that Pastor John isn’t really a pastor, but perhaps someone who uses the moniker to his benefit.

Yesterday, Pastor John been pretending to be part of a Christian revival meeting, but he’d attempted to romance “a lovely young member of a Methodist choir”, angering the girl’s father, and had to leave quickly. Pastor John initially strikes up a conversation in hopes that Billy will share any food he has with him. When it seems like Billy doesn’t have any food on him, Pastor John is about to leave until he hears the sound of coins — Billy’s silver dollar collection — jangling in Billy’s backpack.

Pastor John asks to see what’s in there. When Billy hesitates, Pastor John grabs it from him. Scared, Billy backs away, clutching his backpack and calling for Emmett. Pastor John is about to collect the coins and leave when he starts to wonder what else Billy has in his backpack. When Billy refuses to give it up, Pastor John hits Billy.

In that moment, a black man named Ulysses who knows Pastor John enters the boxcar. He tells Pastor John to leave Billy alone and demands that Pastor John exit the moving train, saying that he “rides alone”.

From the moment that Pastor John says the name “Ulysses”, Billy seem fascinated by the man. Pastor John assumes that it’s because Billy has never seen a black man before, but the next chapter makes clear that Billy recognizes the name “Ulysses” as one of the heroes from his book.


Ulysses (a man in his early 40s) then turns to Billy and tells him (more gently) to leave as well since he wasn’t kidding about riding alone. He says that the train will soon slow down and that Billy needs to get off then.

However, Billy starts asking Ulysses questions (since he recognizes the name from his book of adventurers) about whether he was at war, whether he crossed the sea, whether he left a wife and son behind, etc. Ulysses is thrown off by his questioning and wonders how Billy knows these things about him (which all happen to be accurate). Billy then pulls out his big red book to show him the story of Ulysses.

As Billy reads to him the story, Ulysses weeps, thinking about his own past. He met his wife Macie Dixon during the depression. When they got married, he was working as a lineman at the phone company. Not long after, World War II had started. Macie hadn’t wanted him to enlist, but as time passed Ulysses had been unable to stand stares of everyone else who judged him for that decision. Finally, around Thanksgiving in 1943, with Macie a few months pregnant, Ulysses decided to enlist.

Macie had threatened that she wouldn’t stay there waiting for him if he did it, but he proceeded anyway. Two years later, when he returned from war, he learned that she’d left two weeks after giving birth. That was eight years ago, and Ulysses had been aimlessly riding the train back and forth ever since.

In present day, Billy tells Ulysses that according to the book, it took Homer’s Ulysses ten years to be reunited with his wife and child, so he thinks Ulysses will be reunited with his own family in less than two years.

When the train starts to slow, Ulysses tells Billy he doesn’t have to leave and invites him to stay. Emmett then returns to find the two of them there (there’s a moment of confusion when he and Ulysses meet, but it gets sorted out).


In Illinois, Duchess had gotten to Woolly just before an officer was about to cuff him for driving without a license, among other things. Duchess manages to convince the officer that Woolly is mentally deficient, so the officer lets him go with a warning to keep a closer eye on Woolly in the future.

Afterwards, Duchess and Woolly head for 132 Rhododendron Road in South Bend, which is the address Duchess had gotten for the retired warden Ackerly. Meanwhile, Woolly mentions wanting to make a pit stop to see his sister Sarah Whitney when they get to New York.

At Ackerly’s place, Duchess tells Woolly to wait in the car as he goes inside. In the kitchen, Duchess looks for an appropriate weapon, settling on a black cast-iron skillet. He finds Ackerly asleep in a BarcaLounger in the living room with a smile on his face. Next to him is a picture of Ackerly with two boys, presumably his grandsons.

Duchess thinks about the times Ackerly had hit them as he as brings the skillet down on Ackerly’s head. Ackerly’s body jolts, slumps lower and his bladder releases. As Duchess leaves, he thinks about how he considers Ackerly’s debt to him to be repaid.


By now, Ulysses, Emmett and Billy are settled in the boxcar together with Billy reading from his book the story of Jason and the Argonauts. As Billy reads, Emmett wonders why the book contains stories about real men like Galileo, da Vinci and Edison alongside stories about mythical heroes. Emmett thinks about how the difficulty of distinguishing between “fact and fancy” was what drove their father to end up bankrupt pursuing his dreams.

Emmett’s thoughts turn to how to track down Duchess. He knows that Duchess and Woolly plan to see out Mr. Hewett, Duchess’s father. Mr. Hewett tends not to have a steady address, but he leaves word with the various booking agencies as to where he can be reached. Duchess had referenced a building that houses all the big agencies, but Emmett can’t remember what the name was. He thinks it might begin with an S.

Chapter 6


Duchess’s next stop is room 42 at the Sunshine Motel, a room where his father, Harrison “Harry” Hewett, used to stay. There is now someone else staying there. The old man says Duchess’s father recently vacated the room and left something behind. He presents Duchess with a black leather case, which Duchess recognizes. Inside, are four objects: a goatee, a golden earring, a small jar of blackface, and a (retractable) dagger.

Duchess thinks back to how you used to be able to make out the word “Othello” printed on the case. It was also accompanied by five other cases — Hamlet, Henry, Lear, Macbeth and Romeo. Each of the cases had contained accessories for that respective character. However, various cases had been lost or sold over the years.

When the old man tells Duchess that his father only recently vacated the room on Monday, Duchess understands that his father must’ve left after learning Duchess had escaped from Salina.

At this point it becomes clear that Duchess’s relationship with his father is is even worse that we previously realized, since his father felt the need to disappear when he learned Duchess was not at Salina. It seems to indicate that his father knew Duchess would come looking for him and did not want to be there when that happened. Given what Duchess did to Ackerly, we can only imagine what Duchess’s current relationship with his father is and what he might do when he does catch up with him.

Back downstairs, Duchess books rooms for him and Woolly for the night. When Duchess inquires about his father’s whereabouts, the attendant Bernie says that the person to ask is Fitzy FitzWilliams.

Duchess remembers Fitzy, who was an old friend of his father’s and also an actor. Fitzy loved reciting Walt Whitman, but gained a reputation as the go-to Santa Claus around the holidays for the wealthy and fashionable New York crowd. One day, he was asked to do a recitation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto at a large event, a gig he undertook with diligence. However, the police broke up the event. When it was reported on in the newspapers, anti-communist sentiment ensured that Fitzy’s career as a well-paid Santa was over.


When the train reaches New York, Billy, Ulysses and Emmett all disembark. This morning, Emmett had recalled that the Statler building was where Duchess had said all the big agencies were housed. So, he plans to go there to ask about Harry Hewett’s whereabouts and hopefully find Duchess in the process.

Ulysses shows them the way to get to a camp where they can stay for the night and offers to watch Billy while Emmett takes care of business. They arrive at an area near some abandoned tracks with a makeshift encampment. Ulysses instructs a man named Stew who was cooking some food to give some to Billy and Emmett, and Ulysses pays for their food.

Emmett tries to pay for the food instead with some cash that Mr. Parker had tipped him (on the train), but pulls out the bill to find that it’s a 50-dollar bill and Ulysses sternly tells him to put it away. When Billy additionally mentions Emmett’s car, the other tramps start hassling Emmett, and Ulysses has to intimidate them into leaving.


In New York, Woolly sees a man selling old newspapers. Current events make Woolly anxious, but Woolly likes now in old newspapers you can find out what happened. He purchases three old newspapers. He’s especially fascinated by a story about them doing a civil defense test that resulted in them shutting down all activity in 54 cities across America for ten minutes. The day after, the paper showed an image of New York city looking completely still.

Towles works in pieces of actual history into his story to give it a stronger sense of happening in the time that it’s set in. This chapter also shows a little more about the types of things that interest Woolly and shows off his child-like fascination in certain things.


Over in Hell’s Kitchen, Duchess heads to a dive bar called Anchor on W. 45th St. Bernie had tipped him off that Fitzy and his father had often met there at 8 pm each night. Fitzy soon shows up as expected. Duchess asks him where his father is, but Fitzy claims he doesn’t know.

Knowing the Fitzy is an alcoholic, Duchess offers to buy him a drink in an attempt to loosen his tongue. As Duchess questions Fitzy, Fitzy apologizes for a statement he had written and signed for the po9lice. Fitzy explains that Duchess’s father was the one who had “refreshed” his memory when he wrote that statement.

Here we get a little more information on why Duchess’s father may have taken off when he heard that Duchess was free. It seems there was some incident involving the police where Duchess’s father had told Fitzy to lie to the police. While we don’t know the details of it yet, it seems clear that it somehow implicated Duchess.

As he says this, Duchess picks up a whiskey bottle and thinks possibly hitting Fitzy with it. However, he quickly decides that there’d be no point to it. Instead, he would rather use Fitzy’s feelings of remorse to guilt him into telling him where his father is.


Meanwhile, back in Nebraska, Sally confronts her father at work. She has learned that he has purchased the Watson farm and all their land from the bank during the foreclosure. She points out how he never lifted a finger to help Charlie Watson as he struggled with his farm for years and years, but then rushed to buy it from the bank. Her father defends himself, saying that Charlie was too proud to want help and that buying the land is what any rancher would do.

Sally also confronts him about suggesting that Emmett leave. Mr. Randsom says Emmett was always going to leave. When Sally implies that she wants to leave, too, Mr. Randsom comments angrily about how he’s given Sally too much lee-way and that she’s become too “willful”. He says that she is “accustomed to nursing her furies and speaking her mind” which makes her “unsuited to matrimony”. Sally angrily drives home, only to see the sheriff sitting on their porch at home.


Back at the camp, Ulysses tells Stew that he’ll be staying another night there. Stew is surprised since Ulysses has always had a rule about not staying in the same place two nights in a row. However, Billy told Ulysses about Emmett’s rule that he needed to have known someone for at least three days before considering them a friend, so Ulysses agreed to spend another day with them (in addition to today and yesterday) so that they could part as friends.

This is kind of a cute chapter. It references an earlier conversation that Billy and Emmett had (in chapter 8) about how long you have to know someone to be their friend. It also shows us how Ulysses has a soft spot for Billy (perhaps out of some sadness having to do with being apart from his own child) so he’s willing to break his own rules for him.

Chapter 5


Duchess and Woolly arrive at Sarah’s place in Hastings-on-Hudson. They aren’t home, so they enter though the (four-car) garage. Woolly admits that one of the four cars, a Cadillac convertible, is his, something he inherited from his father.

In the house, Woolly gives Duchess a tour. He finds the room that he’d stayed in for a while after his mother remarried and moved away, since he needed somewhere to stay during breaks from boarding school. He notices his dictionary, and it reminds him of the thesaurus it had come with. Woolly hated the thesaurus and the unnecessary amount of alternative words it offered. One day, he’d decided it to burn it, dousing it with gas in the football field. However, he’d accidentally set the grass around it and the goalpost on fire, resulting in him being called to the disciplinary committee.

In present day, Sarah eventually comes home to find Woolly there. She tells him that she has spoke to Warden Williams and that he’s willing to give him minimal repercussions for running away if he returns immediately. Woolly doesn’t respond. He instead changes to subject and starts reminiscing about their childhood. When the subject of their mother comes up, Woolly gets upset when they mention her second husband, Richard. He seems upset that she remarried after their father died, but Sarah gently reminds him that she waited four years and either way “you can’t begrudge your mother the comforts of companionship”.


Duchess now turns to setting accounts with Townhouse, who was the one had gotten in trouble at one point after Duchess convinced him to sneak out to see a movie, Hondo. Townhouse didn’t make a big deal about it, but Duchess knows he owes Townhouse.

Additionally, one of the other bunkmates in Bunkhouse Four (where they all lived) was Tommy Ladue, an Oklahoman who is racist. Tommy was friends with Bo Finlay, who shared his sentiments about race. One night, Duchess had seen them sneak two boxes of Oreos from the pantry into Townhouse’s locker in order to get him in trouble. However, Duchess had sneaked it out and put it into Tommy’s locker. When Ackley investigated the missing food the next day, Tommy was punished, and the boys shared the other box of Oreos which Duchess had hidden.

In present day, Duchess considers how the Oreo incident was a “credit” in his account, but not enough to offset the entirety of what he owes to Townhouse for the Hondo incident.

Duchess goes to Townhouse’s place on 126th Street in Harlem and finds him sitting there on the stoop with some other boys. Duchess can tell that Townhouse is their leader. He brings up the Hondo incident. Duchess tells Townhouse that he figures he owes Townhouse about three punches (8 for the Hondo incident minus 5 for the Oreo incident), and he invites Townhouse the punch him, promising not to fight back.

Townhouse’s friends and his cousin Maurice goad him on. However, Townhouse is reluctant to hit Duchess at first, and he tells them to shut up. Maurice looks dejected. Once he starts punching though, he seems to recall the indignity and injustice of the Hondo incident and hits more vigorously.

Afterwards, they both agree that they are “square”. Duchess looks at Maurice, who still looks unhappy, and feels badly for him. He sees that Maurice is mixed race (part black and part white) and imagines that he struggles to fit in. Feeling good about having squared things away with Townhouse, Duchess thinks about how “good deeds can be habit forming”, and he decides to give Maurice the keys to Emmett’s Studebaker.


In the city, Emmett tries to track down Duchess’s father, and he struggles to navigate the busy city. He initially doesn’t to ask anyone for directions, but he thinks about how his father had been too proud to ask the other farmers nearby for advice (“Self-reliance as folly, Emmett had thought”). Determined not to make the same mistakes, he asks people for directions and makes his way to the Statler Building.

He first heads up to the Tristar Talent Agency. Emmett asks the receptionist for Harry’s information, but is firmly rebuffed. Instead, as he heads to another agency, a man name Mr. Morton (along with his African grey bird, Mr. Winslow, who is part of his act) stops him. He advises Emmett that the only type of person these receptionists are inclined to help are producers, since they hold the “purse strings”. Looking at Emmett, though, he says he doesn’t look like a theatrical producer, and he recommends that Emmett pretend to be a rodeo owner.

At the offices of McGinley & Co., Emmett does as he was instructed, which gets him a meeting with Mr. McGinley. Emmett claims he is interested in hiring Harrison Hewett, and Mr. McGinley directs him to Mr. Cohen, an agent at another agency (Mr. Morton had explained that they all work cooperatively and take commissions from each other for referrals).

Mr. Cohen’s information leads Emmett to room 42, where he learns that Harry is gone, but that Duchess had there stayed last night. The hotel clerk (after asking for compensation) then directs Emmett to Anchor where Fitzy FitzWilliams can be found. That night, Emmett approaches Fitzy. Fitzy tells him that Harry is at the Olympic Hotel in Syracuse, and that he imagines Duchess will be headed there as well. He also mentions Duchess going to Harlem first (which Emmett seems to understand was likely for the purpose of visiting Townhouse).

As Emmett is about to leave, Fitzy tells him about Duchess’s mother, Delphine. She was a singer who got sick and died. This surprises Emmett since Duchess had always implied that Delphine had abandoned them. Fitzy explains that Delphine had always doted on Duchess and bought him fancy clothes, which is why Harry started jokingly referring to his son as “Duchess”.

Fitzy then starts to cry as he reminisces. He starts telling Emmett the story of how Duchess ended up in Salina.


Back at the camp, Ulysses asks Billy to read him the story of Ulysses again. When he’s done, Billy asks to hear a story about Ulysses’ own life.

Ulysses tells him about ending up in Iowa on foot when the boxcar he’d been traveling in was stopped. He’d decided to walk the 40 miles to the nearest junction in Des Moines instead. However, he soon realizes a tornado is approaching. A caravan of cars speeds by and a nearby farmer rushes his family into a shelter. The farmer sees Ulysses, but declines to let him into the shelter. He directs him to the Unitarian church nearby.

As Ulysses attempts to run there, the winds and rough terrain fight against him. He ends up in the church’s graveyard and trips over a gravestone. At that moment, he had felt abandoned by God and by fate. (He tells Billy that “For only when you have seen that you are truly forsaken will you embrace the fact that what happens next rests in your hands, and your hands alone.”)

He then sees he’s next to a freshly dug grave with a casket at the bottom. He realizes the rush of cars must’ve been people at the funeral. It was a solid casket belonging to a man (who must’ve been well off) named Noah Benjamin Elias.

Ulysses gets into the grave and opened the casket. He yanks out the corpse and gets inside —

(the page cuts to black)

Pastor John

In that moment, Pastor John whacks Ulysses on the head with a staff, breaking it in two.

Flashing back to before, Pastor John had been pretty torn up after being forced off the train. However, he’d found a stream to clean himself off and eventually made his way to some empty boxcars. It took him on a train that later arrived in New York. He’d then spotted the encampment due to the campfire, and saw that Billy and Ulysses were there.

In present day, Pastor John sees Ulysses slump over. He then grabs Billy by his shirt collar. However, in that moment, Billy says to himself “I am truly forsaken” (referencing what Ulysses has told him) and then proceeds to kick Pastor John in his injured knee and run off.

Pastor John grabs a shovel to steady himself so he can run after Billy, but instead another man approaches after hearing the commotion. Pastor John knocks him out with the shovel. Then, Pastor John spots Billy’s rucksack. Scrounging around, Pastor John locates the tin box containing the silver dollar collection. Triumphantly, he gets ready to depart with the bag until he realizes the shovel is missing and —

(the page cuts to black)


After Ulysses was knocked out, he slowly regained his consciousness. After hearing Pastor John yelp in pain (when Billy kicked him), he got up to move toward Pastor John, though not before he heard Stew get knocked out as well. He had then grabbed the shovel to wait for the right moment to knock Pastor John out.

As as and Billy now stand over Pastor John’s unconscious body, Stew gets up as well. Ulysses advises Billy not to tell Emmett what happened, at least for now, since Emmett has a lot on his mind. He then claims that he’s going to take care of Pastor John by taking him to the police station. However, he actually goes down the steps to drop his body in the river.


At Sarah’s house, Duchess notices Sarah about to put the contents of a little brown bottle into her mug of tea, but he interrupts her. Instead, she asks how he ended up at Salina.

In 1952, Duchess had just turned 16 and was living with his father at the Sunshine Hotel. His father was between jobs. Marceline Maupassant was living there as well. Marceline had been one of the most famous clowns in Europe in the twenties. In 1929, Marceline been offered a lucrative contract in to perform in New York for six months, but while he was on the ship there, the stock market had plunged, the U.S. had fallen into a depression and his contract was cancelled. Marceline’s account in Paris was wiped out, too. With no money to get back and being unknown in America, he ended up as a pantomime street performer living at the Sunshine Hotel.

One day, Duchess had gone to check on Marceline to find him hanging from the ceiling fan. When he told his father, Harry instructed him to go downstairs to call the police. When they arrived, one of the tenants asked about his watch, since Marceline had a solid gold watch that had been part of his act which he refused to sell, even when he was broke.

The police soon pat Duchess down, and to Duchess’s shock, they find it on him. It turns out that his father had sent him downstairs so he could take the watch, and when he realized the police were interested in its whereabout, he had slipped it into Duchess’s pocket to avoid being caught with it.

While it was a first offense, the value of the watch made it grand larceny. There were also other reports of thefts at the hotel, and Fitzy swore a statement saying he’d seen Duchess exiting rooms where he shouldn’t have been. When the juvenile judge additionally learned that Duchess hadn’t been in school for five years, it was decided it was best to have Duchess in a juvenile reform program until he turned 18.

In present day, Duchess takes the little brown bottle from Sarah, saying that “These won’t do you any good.” He places them on the spice rack in the kitchen.

Chapter 4


Woolly makes his way to FAO Schwarz. His favorite part of the store is the huge dollhouse. One of the tables remind him of a table they used to have in the house. His sister Kaitlin Wolcott Wilcox had been angry when his mother had given it away.

Sarah finds Woolly looking at the dollhouse, and they reminisce about past holidays. He recalls how Grandma Wolcott would take them to FAO Schwarz to buy Christmas presents, and then they would go to the Plaza for tea.

Before they leave, the manager waves down Woolly, who had forgotten a giant stuffed panda bear that he’d purchased for his sister’s baby. Afterwards, Sarah wants to ask him a question, but he implies that he’s rather she didn’t. Instead, they agree that they will go to tea at the Plaza, and then Woolly promises he’s going back to Salina after his visit to New York.

It’s not clear what Sarah was going to ask Woolly, but it can probably be inferred that there’s something he doesn’t want to talk about or answer to based on his response.


With Woolly in Sarah in the city, Duchess is in the house alone, surveying the various rooms. He notes how Dennis’s office has all sorts of photos, but doesn’t have a single photo of Sarah. Elsewhere, he finds a Louisville Slugger baseball bat and marvels at its design. He takes the bat with him, and he takes some clothes from Dennis’s closet as well.


Emmett soon shows up at Townhouse’s place. Townhouse greets him warmly. Townhouse tells Emmett what transpired with Duchess, and Townhouse warns that two cops showed up yesterday looking for Duchess. He says that it seems to be about something more serious than Duchess skipping the fence at Salina.

Townhouse then takes Emmett to a body shop nearby. Belonging to to a man named Gonzalez, Gonzales’s two twin teenage sons Paco and Pico would often help out there. When they were 17, they started a side business of renting out the cars to the boys nearby. When Townhouse was 16, he rented out one of the cars — a Buick Skylark convertible — for a date with a girl, Clarise. However, they were soon interrupted by some officers because the owner of the Skylark had spotted them out driving.

When questioned, Townhouse didn’t squeal on Paco and Pico by saying that they’d rented him the car (in which case, he probably would’ve been let off with a stern warning). Instead, Townhouse said that he’d snuck in and taken the key from the body shop. As a result, he was sentenced to 12 months in Salina.

In present day, Townhouse calls out for Paco and Pico. They show Emmett that they have his Studebaker, and Townhouse explains that Duchess left it there. Emmett takes a quick look and is dismayed to see that the envelope with the money from his father isn’t there. (At one point, Maurice walks in and is upset to see that Townhouse is giving the car back to Emmett, but Townhouse just tells Maurice off, who stalks off angrily.)

Townhouse warns, however, that the police looking for Duchesss were asking about a blue Studebaker. Instead, Paco and Pico offer to repaint the car to make it less recognizable, saying they can do it by Monday morning. Emmett agrees. Before Emmett leaves, Townhouse tells him that Duchess had mentioned that he and Woolly were going to watch the Circus show in Red Hook at 6PM that night.


Back in Nebraska, Sally thinks about how his father has always spent Fridays chatting with his friends and ending up at McCafferty’s Favern. Then, six months ago like her father had met a woman, Alice Thompson, and he’d broken his routine. She was a 28-year-old-ish widow with no kids who worked as a teller at the bank.

After that, for weeks on end, Sally had prayed that her father would marry Alice, so that he’d have someone else to do his housework. However, in April, he’d come back from home on a Friday smelling like whiskey, and she sensed it was over. She thinks about how “they say the Lord answers all prayers, it’s just that sometimes he answers no.”

The night, Sally looks up the number for Father Colmore.


Emmett ventures into Brooklyn to attend circus show that Townhouse had mentioned that Duchess and Woolly were going to. He has Billy with him and knows that bringing him was a mistake, since the area appears very “rough”.

At the show (which features two women riding on horses and shooting each other’s clothes off), Billy spots Woolly. Woolly says that Duchess is nearby, and Emmett leaves Billy with Woolly to go look for Duchess. Emmett finds him in another room playing piano. Emmett confronts Duchess about taking the car, the money and the cops looking for him. However, Duchess claims that the money is safe and sound at Sarah’s place, and he offers to give Emmett another car (Woolly’s 1941 Cadillac convertible). He also claims that the cops were only concerned about the car because Woolly almost got a ticket.

Emmett tries to get Duchess to leave (this place that appears to be a brothel), but before he can, a woman there (Ma Belle) shoves him into a room with one of the prostitutes, Charity.


With Emmett busy at Ma Belle’s place, Woolly and Duchess have Billy in tow. Duchess realizes that they’re at the intersection that is mentioned in Billy’s big red book (“I write to you from the junction of Thirty-Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue on the isle of Manhattan”), the location that’s described as the office of Professor Abacus Abernathe, the author of the book.

They go to visit the offices and find a little old man who identifies himself as Professor Abernathe. Billy explains how he loves his book, and the Professor asks Billy about himself. Billy soon launches into a story about his own travels. Billy also asks if heroes can “return”, and he talks about Ulysses. When he finishes, Professor Abernathe asks to meet Ulysses.


On the way to Professor Abernathe’s, Woolly had thought about how there are certain places that “one was supposed to see” when traveling, and he knew to be diligent about visiting all those places when he traveled. Passing by the Empire State Building, Woolly felt that should be included on the list.

Now, as they go looking for Ulysses, they all end up at the abandoned railroad camp. After Ulysses tells his story, Professor Abernathe considers it and says that the infiniteness of the universe means there must be duplicates (or even triplicates) of people and their experiences. He says that he thinks Ulysses’s “life could be an echo of the life of the Great Ulysses, and that after ten years you could be reunited with your wife and son”.

He also adds, however, that the abridged version of the legend of Ulysses’ in the book left out the part where the Great Ulysses was told that he “was destined to wander the seas until he had appeased the gods through an act of tribute”. For the Great Ulysses, that meant planting an oar in the ground in the countryside in Posideon’s honor, but Professor Abernathe surmises that for the present-day Ulysses the tribute would be something different that’s relevant to his own travels. Nearby, they spot a spike in the ground, and Ulysses picks it up.

Chapter 3


As it gets late, Billy starts to worry since Emmett hasn’t returned yet. When the phone rings, it’s Woolly’s sister who sounds unhappy with him. He quickly hangs up and hides the phone. Later, it rings again, and he lets it keep ringing. Later, the doorbell rings, and Woolly hurries to get it.


Meanwhile, Duchess sets Billy to work to distract him from Emmett’s absence. He decides to plan a special reunion dinner with Billy, promising that Emmett will be back before dinner to join them. Duchess also takes an inventory of the expenses that are owed to Emmett.

When it starts getting late and Emmett still hasn’t shown up however, Duchess starts to worry. He calls Ma Belle and it turns out the night went poorly, since Duchess had drugged Emmett with Woolly’s “medicine” and it was apparently too strong for him. Also, he realizes that he never gave Emmett an address for Sarah’s house.

Finally, just before 8 o’clock, Emmett shows up at Sarah’s door.


Earlier that day, Emmett had woken up with a headache, naked, and Charity at his side. Ma Belle tells him that Duchess drugged him, but asks him not to be angry with Duchess. Ma Belle tells him about how Duchess’s father used to leave Duchess with them as he worked in the lounge downstairs.

They also determine that Duchess failed to leave an address for Sarah’s place. However, based on Woolly’s schooling background and family name, Ma Belle is able to deduce that Woolly must be from a very well-to-do family from the Upper East Side. And because his family are society people, she uses the Social Register to find an address for his family. Emmett sees that the book is from 1951, but Ma Belle tells him that with society people, the addresses never change.

Emmett ends with two two addresses, one for Kaitlin in New Jersey and the other for Sarah in Hasting-on-Hudson. He goes to Kaitlin’s first, who is not happy to see him there, asking why so many people are suddenly coming around looking for Woolly. He leaves and takes the train to Hastings-on-Hudson. He then takes a taxi partway to Sarah’s place, but he sees that he’s out of money to pay for the rest of the trip. He ends up heading there on foot.

At the door, he asks to speak to Duchess in private.


Upstairs, Woolly shows Billy his own collection of stuff. His is a collection of thing that people rarely use, but should be set aside safely anyway. He points out an officer’s watch that had once belonged to his grandfather — it has a black background and white numbers. He offers it to Billy, who initially declines it, saying that it’s too precious. However, Woolly says that it’s too precious just to keep, saying that it’s a watch that should be handed down to others. Billy puts on the watch.

Then, they’re interrupted when they hear a loud noise coming from downstairs.


Emmett initially makes a first to punch Duchess, but then thinks better of it and doesn’t. Duchess takes the opportunity to apologize for everything. He then hands back the envelope of money. He admits it’s not all there, but he shows Emmett that he’s taken a careful accounting of how much they spent and on what. He says he’ll pay him back as soon as they get to Woolly’s grandfather’s place in the Adirondacks. Emmett insists he has no intention of going there, but Duchess points out that he’s stuck here until Monday anyway.

They’re interrupted by a loud noise outside.

It seems like the loud noise was probably Sally’s car making some type of noise.


After Emmett had failed to check in with her on Friday, Sally had reached out to Father Coleman at Episcopalian church the in New York, knowing that Woolly’s family is Episcopalian. She makes up a lie about needing to inform her cousin of her father’s passing, which gets her the information she needs. Sally first calls Kaitlin, who is unfriendly when she brings up Woolly. Then, she calls Sarah’s place, but it keeps ringing and no one picks up. Finally, she packs a suitcase and heads out.

In case it’s not clear, her phone calls explain the calls Woolly received at the beginning of the chapter. When Sally called Kaitlin, Kaitlin ended up calling Sarah’s place and was unhappy when it sounded like Woolly might be there. Then, Woolly hid the phone. So, when Sally called Sarah’s place, no one picked up and it kept ringing instead.

It takes her 20 hours to get to New York. When she shows up, they all come out to greet her. Emmett apologizes for forgetting to call her, but he says that her coming here was unnecessary. However, Sally says that the sheriff came to see her. Before she can explain further, they’re interrupted by Duchess announcing that dinner is served.


They all sit down to have dinner which Duchess and Billy had prepared. It’s an Italian dinner of Fettuccine Mio Amore inspired by Duchess’s story about Leonardo’s. The dinner is delightful, and they ask Duchess to do a magic trick. It involves getting a cork out of an empty wine bottle. Afterwards, they open three bottles of Dennis’s wine to try the same trick — suddenly, Dennis and Sarah walk in. Dennis is horrified to see that they emptied four bottles of his fancy wine (Château Margaux ’28).

Dennis demands to speak to Woolly in private. Dennis says that they came back because Kaitlin told them people have been calling looking for Woolly. Kaitlin also told them that she’d called Sarah’s place and Woolly had answered, but hung up on her. Dennis then yells at Woolly about how irresponsible he is. Dennis talks about the three boarding schools that Woolly had gotten kicked out of and about how they’d lied about Woolly’s age to keep him from being sentenced as an adult. Finally, he tells Woolly that he’s going back to Salina to finish his sentence, and afterwards Woolly is going to work for his friend at the stock exchange to teach Woolly some responsibility.


After all the commotion, Emmett feels ashamed for making a mess in Sally’s house and drinking their wine. However, Sally is gracious about it. Emmett works on cleaning up, and Sally joins him.

Chapter 2


On Sunday June 20th, Duchess and Woolly slip out at the crack of dawn and head for Woolly’s great-grandfather’s place. They reach a huge house next to a lake. They make their way to the study, and Duchess asks Woolly what the combination to the safe is.

Woolly looks at him with “genuine surprise”, and Duchess laughs until he cries.

After all this effort, all Duchess can do is laugh when he realizes that Woolly doesn’t know the combination and that it genuinely didn’t occur to Woolly that they needed a combination.


The next morning, Emmett sees that Duchess and Woolly drove off in the Cadillac. Woolly left a note behind apologizing for everything. Meanwhile, the Studebaker won’t be ready until tomorrow morning.

Sarah is painting one of the rooms, and Emmett offers to help. As they work, Sarah tells him about how Woolly ended up at Salina. She says that he was off at boarding school when he was wandering around in town and spotted a fire truck. There were no firemen around, and he somehow became convinced that someone accidentally left it there. Woolly ended up getting in, and he tried to drive around looking for the fire station.

In the interim, a call had come in regarding a stable that was on fire. Four horses died in that fire because the firemen (who had been in a grocery store nearby) weren’t able to locate their truck. The police ended up tracking Woolly down, and he ended up in Salina.


At his great-grandfather’s house, Woolly reminisces about the various parts of the house. He then goes into the room that he had stayed at the longest. He unpacks his collection of stuff that he’d shown Billy. He also pours some water into a glass. Next to it, he places his “medicine” as well as a little brown bottle that he’d found in his sister’s spice rack.

Downstairs, he hears some clanging, but he ignores it and climbs into bed. He takes his “medicine”, and then he takes the pink pills from the little brown bottle. He then thinks about happy memories of their adventures.


Elsewhere, Abacus thinks about his own life. He had been named Sam as a boy. His father was an insurance adjuster for damaged ships and his mother was a seamstress. Sam would go with his father to travel to see various shipwrecks, and he felt his world expand and broaden. He later attended Harvard, married a woman he loved named Polly and had two children. He renamed himself Abacus.

As he got older, Polly passed away and his children grew up and moved on. Abacus notes that at some point his life had begun to shrink and move inwards. He then thinks about how encountering Billy had reawakened his love of life and adventure.

In present day, Ulysses asks him if he’s “still coming”, and he follows Ulysses up to a boxcar “that was destined to take them who knows where”. (Basically, Abacus decides to go traveling with Ulysses via boxcar.)


That night, Billy opens up his big red book, considering where to start his story. He wants to start “in media res” (in the middle of the story), and he considers what the best starting point would be. He finally settles on beginning the story with Emmett being released from Salina.

Chapter 1


The next morning, Emmett heads to Harlem to pick up his now-yellow Studebaker which has gotten some other upgrades as well. Meanwhile, Townhouse says that two detectives dropped by the night before. They mentioned that former warden Ackerly was attacked and a blue Studebaker was spotted nearby.

Before they part ways, Emmett asks what Townhouse plans to do next. He says he’s considering joining the army. He says that “as a black man”, he’ll likely end up wearing some type of uniform, so he “might as well choose the one that suits you”. He hopes he might be able to become an officer or at least see more of the world.

Afterwards, Emmett picks up Billy to head out, but Sally says her car isn’t working and she needs a ride, too. As they drive, Sally says that the sheriff came by her place because the cowboy hat guy that had confronted Emmett (along with Jake Snyder) had been attacked. Sheriff Peterson knew it wasn’t Emmett, since they were together at the time. However, Peterson had asked if Emmett had visitors from out of town. Sally had lied, saying he didn’t.

In present day, Emmett and Sally piece together that it was likely Duchess who did it. Emmett then thinks about how Duchess has been saying he has “unfinished business” with his father and worries what he plans to do. He decides he needs to go find Duchess in the Adirondacks. He doesn’t know the address, but Billy says Woolly marked a spot on his map.


Emmett brings Sally and Billy to stay at a motel while he deals with the Duchess situation. Before Emmett leaves, Sally mentions that when they do finally hit the road, she plans to go to San Francisco as well. At first, Emmett is hesitant, telling her that he doesn’t want her to have “expectations” regarding the two of them. But Sally makes it clear that she’s not interested in trying to get involved with him. Instead, she just wants a life of her own where she doesn’t have to take care of her father.

After Emmett departs, Sally goes to check on Billy to see that he is gone.


Emmett makes his way to the Wolcott house. As he looks around the house for anyone, he sees a checklist entitled “Closing the House”, describing procedures to go through before leaving (like locking the doors and windows, etc.). Upstairs, he checks the bedrooms.

Finally, he finds Woolly, but Woolly is already dead from overdosing. Emmett feels sad and then angry. He goes looking for Duchess and finds him hacking unsuccessfully at the safe with an ax. Duchess says that he already found Woolly, but that it was too late to do anything about it.

As he keeps hacking away, Emmett goes to call the police, but the phone is dead. He then says he’s going to drive to the police station with Duchess and leads him outside, but Duchess resists. When Duchess starts talking about going to San Francisco with Emmett, Emmett insists that Duchess needs to go back to Salina. Emmett tells Duchess that he’s taking him to the cops, and things start to get physical between the two of them, but he’s interrupted by Billy showing up.

Duchess uses the opportunity to knock Emmett out. Emmett awakes to see Duchess take Billy inside and close slam the door.


The day before, Duchess had gone to the hardware store to look for tools to help get the safe open. When he returned, Woolly was dead. Today, he’d be looking around the house for other tools. He had just found an axe in the boathouse and had resumed trying to get into the safe just as Emmett had shown up.

Now, after Duchess has knocked Emmett out, Billy is upset after seeing Duchess hit Emmett. Duchess tries to calm him down, saying that he needs time to get into the safe so that Emmett and Billy will have the money for their dream house. But Billy merely kicks him and runs away.


Earlier that day, when Emmett had said he was taking off on his own to find Duchess and Woolly, Billy had thought about how in his stories heroes liked to take off on their own. However, they often ended up needing help from others. So, Billy decided to sneak into Emmett’s car as he was talking to Sally, which is how he ended up at the Wolcott house.

He’d ended up the the room with the safe (while Emmett was upstairs with Woolly’s body and while Duchess was in the boathouse). He saw that it was locked, but he’d managed to guess to combination easily since he remembered what Woolly had said about his great-grandfather loving the 4th of July.

It took him six tries to get it open. He’d found the $150,000. Then, in the kitchen he’d found an envelope marked “To Be Opened in the Event of My Absence” in Woolly’s handwriting (which we soon learn is Woolly’s will).

He returned in time to see Emmett and Duchess arguing with each other. He thinks about how Emmett is not reckless, but tends to lash out when angry. When he sees Emmett shove Duchess, Billy decides to interrupt to prevent Emmett from continuing to lash out.

Now, after kicking Duchess, Billy hides in a space under the stairs that Woolly had previously described to him.


Outside, Emmett smashes a windowpane to get back into the house. He find Duchess in the hallway pointing a rifle at him. Duchess warns Emmett that he’s willing to shoot him if he’s left with no other choice.

Emmett then sees Billy appear nearby. Billy tells Emmett not to worry. He tells Billy that he doesn’t think Duchess can read (but isn’t willing to admit it), citing various incidents where Duchess had used some excuse not to read something, He says that “Duchess doesn’t know the rules for closing the house”. (the first item on the list was to “Remove firing pins” from the guns so it’s likely the gun Duchess is holding can’t actually shoot).

With that, Emmett grabs the gun away from Duchess. He thinks about the promise he made to Billy about counting to 10 before hitting someone. Then he thinks about it and forcefully knocks Duchess out.

Afterwards, Emmett sees Woolly’s will which was duly signed and dated. It left his $150,000 trust fund to be split between Emmett, Billy and Duchess. Next, Billy shows Emmett how he got the safe open (it was 1119, since the Gettysburg Address was November 19). Emmett then considers that if he calls the cops, with Woolly dead in the house, it will quickly complicate his and Billy’s future.

Instead, Emmett works quickly to clear up and traces that they’d been there, and they deal with Duchess. They say a last good-bye to Woolly, and then get in the car to pick up Sally and leave. It’s now June 21st, and Emmett tells Billy they should be able to make it to San Francisco by July 4.


Duchess wakes up on a row boat with no oar in the lake next to the Wolcott residence. He sees that a bunch of bills ($50K) is stacked up on the opposite end of the boat. He reaches over to grab it, but realizes that because the boat is slightly damaged, moving towards the money causes water to seep into the boat.

He starts using his hands to row towards the dock (which is a few hundred feet away), but the wind works against him and the water is cold. The wind also causes some bills to fly away. He decides to lunge for the money instead to try to save it. It causes him to fall into the water. He drowns.

He sees a scene with Sarah, Sally, Woolly, Billy and Emmett. As a clock chimes, he bows to each of them.

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Bookshelf -- A literary set collection game