By Cindy and Walt
I spent the night in a roadside motel a hundred miles from the Roaring Gap intersection of three major highways. The next morning I awoke at 6 AM. The biggest difference was that there was no smell of bacon. I headed out for my run without breakfast. I ran out a half hour then ran back to the motel. I ate breakfast at one of those chain chrome and glass restaurants that pretended to specialize in breakfast.
After breakfast I drove the two hours to Roaring Gaps plaza where I eventually pulled into the Central Perk Coffee Shoppe parking lot and went inside. It was almost noon only because I had first gone into the home depot to purchase a plastic tool box. One large enough to hold my half of the money from the drug deal. I was a little surprised to see how small a bundle sixty thousand dollars made. They fit easily in the bottom of the tool box with room left for several small tools to hide it.
I carried the tool box into Central Perk with me while I waited. I left all my other gear in the trunk of the red car. At 12:15 I figured I had been stood up, so I returned to the parking lot. There I found the red car gone and my pickup truck parked in it’s place.
My black backpack sat in the passenger side floorboard. I found the keys in the ignition. I used the small key to unlock the tool box welding inside the bed of the truck. My old computer and cell phone was inside. Both had no doubt been sanitized, or at least studied by the geek. The controller probably wanted to be sure that I was still up to no good.
“Come on old girl, it’s time to go home,” Liam said.
“You know you would scare hell out of any ordinary woman,” I said.
“But then you aren’t ordinary are you? You are a bit of a killer in your own right,” Liam said.
“You know that was a necessary thing. They were going to gang rape me,” I said in a voice completely unintelligible to anyone passing.
“Not to mention it made you 60,000 dollars richer,” he added.
“I think of that as a bonus for a job well done, nothing more,” I said under my breath. “Okay get in the truck and we will head for the country store.”
I arrived home about 2 PM. The parking lot was empty but someone had been working on the yard. It was clean and almost totally cleared of weeds. I sure as hell hoped they didn’t plan on billing me $150 a day for that job. I stood beside the truck and began to remove the computer and phone from the tool box. Along with the electronics, I recovered my own plastic tool box and the large backpack
Just then I heard a bell and a strange noise. It sounded almost like a baby crying. Since my Porter Dagger was at the bottom of the Atlantic wedged tightly into the spinal cord of a gun thug, I felt a little naked as I walked around back. When I turned the corner at the rear of the building, I heard the noise again and saw the small gray animal making the sound.
“It’s a fucking goat,” I said aloud and laughed my ass off. I recognized the insane laugh as a release of terror. The goat had a twenty foot chain connected to a large heavy wheel. You probably ate the tire didn’t you guy? Obviously it was how whoever she belonged to controlled where it grazed.
“A goat, you have got to be fucking kidding me,” Liam said.
“My thoughts exactly,” I said and laughed again. The goat looked at me as though I were crazy for a second then went back to munching on a small tree. I went inside the country store to call Carlos on my landline. It was one of the bills that I paid ahead when I took a powder. I always stay six months ahead on it and the Power Company.
“You have to be kidding me,” I said when he answered. “Did I rent or do I own this fucking goat?”
“You bought it, but once the property is cleared you can sell it. I will buy it from you as a matter of fact,” he said. “Oh, and welcome back”.
“Thanks, bring me a bill for what I owe you. You must have done some work on the place in the last few weeks,” I commented.
“Yes there is a small bill due. I was beginning to think I would have to take your building in lieu of payment,” he said.
“Now that would piss me off. Trust me you wouldn’t like me when I’m pissed off,” I said to warn him.
“I would never do that,” he said. “It was only a joke.”
“Good, can you come by in the morning, so we can discuss the next phases of the renovation.”
“Yes of course,” he said.
“Good then I will see you tomorrow. Call before you come over,” I replied then killed the connection. The first thing I did was to lay a fire in the wood stove. I also added water to the copper boiler sitting on top of the stove. With the office area beginning to warm up, I took the plastic box to the grease pit which served as a storage area. The tools wouldn’t seem out of place there.
While the water boiled I unloaded the backpack. It smelled pretty rank, so I spread everything out in the shop area to dry. Even though I would be taking them to the laundromat very soon they needed to air out. The laundry was a job I truly hated, but I also hated the smell of moldy clothes. The hatred of Laundromats was why I had twenty pairs of bikini panties. They were all plain white cotton ones, but they kept me from being forced to do laundry more often than every couple of weeks.
With the clothes spread out to dry and the water at 180 degrees I went to the shower. It had to be a quick shower, but it was better than no shower. As I let the soap work it’s magic I turned the water off to conserve it. Then after I had thoroughly scrubbed my different parts I turned the water back on and just let it run till it ran out.
The pump intake was high enough so that the tank wouldn’t run dry even when it stopped pumping. That was so that I didn’t have to worry about my giant kettle exploding. Still it was necessary to refill the tank. The tanks had a glass tube on the side which displayed the water level inside the tank. It was much like an old hotel coffee maker. Hell it might have been one once, I didn’t know or care it’s history. It was simply a Rube Goldberg contraption like the country store itself.
I slept well in my little loft. It was warm and toasty at the beginning of my sleep cycle, but got much cooler as the night wore on. Winter was over. Hadn’t anyone mentioned that to God? Even though it was early spring it cooled down fast when the sun set. I wasn’t sure about the wood stove thing after all.
I moved quickly from the bed to the former office area which was still warm. I threw some more wood on the fire and settled in to drink coffee left over from the night before. It quickly got warm enough in the room, so that the fleece outfit I slept in was too warm.
I checked the temperature and supply of the water before deciding I had time for a bike ride. I added about a half gallon of water to the tank lowering the temperature in the boiler. I thought, it should be fine by the time I returned. I knew that there were lots of valves and vents to prevent it from becoming a bomb, but it still made me nervous.
Then I put a note on the door and went for a ride. I showered immediately after I returned from my ride then I quickly dressed for the day. The temperature was supposed to get up to 55 degrees by 3 PM so I didn’t put much wood in the heater. I did bank the fire in case I needed to start it later. I had nothing left to do so I drove to Helen’s Crossroads Diner. Once inside I was greeted by the middle aged waitress. She was the one with tattoos, and for the first time she greeted me like an old friend.
“Well if it ain’t the blond with the big tits,” she said softly.
“In the flesh,” I said.
“Actually in skinny jeans and a baggy sweatshirt,” she said correcting me.
“True enough, do you remember my order or do I need to remind you?” I asked.
“One egg scrambled soft, bacon, potatoes, and a biscuit and of course Cell block six coffee,” she replied with a flirty smile.
“Of course,” I said.
She came back several times to check on me. Something sure as hell had changed since my first visit to the diner. She had been almost surly on those first visits. I had no idea what I had done. Hell I didn’t really know which I preferred the surly smart mouth waitress or the sweet but needy woman. Humans were just too damn complicated. I think I liked goats better, I mumbled.
I began to think of the old Arab saying, ‘A woman is just a woman, but a goat is a thing of beauty’. Except for the bleating noise she made, the goat out back might prove to be a better companion.
I finished my breakfast, left a regular tip for the waitress and left the diner. I was still shaking my head when I drove off. I managed to forget about the waitress whose name I didn’t even know, before I got home.
Carlos arrived an hour or so later. He noticed my dirty laundry in the shop. “What happened here?” he asked.
“Just letting my dirty laundry dry out, so I can take it to the laundromat when I get a chance,” I said.
“You do know there are people who will do this for you, if you have better things to do,” he suggested.
“Do they pickup and deliver?” I asked. I felt that packing it in the car and driving anywhere was half the job. If I got all that done, then I could start a machine and watch a movie while it washed.
“Sure just call and they will come get it. You will need a large bag of some kind to transport it,” he replied.
“If you would set it up for me, I’ll give it a try,” I agreed. “Now what about we discuss your bill for the work you did while I was gone?”
“Here it is itemized to the penny.”
“This is for $287. It really is down to the penny.” I handed him three one hundred dollar bills. “You can buy my lunch with the change.”
“My wife would not approve of me having lunch with the blond gringo with big tits,” he said with a laugh.
“It seems I have a new nickname,” I replied. “I have been called worse.”
“I hope you didn’t take offense. It really is a compliment,” he said.
“Coming from you maybe. I doubt that your wife meant it that way,” I replied. I waited for a second, then when he made no comment I continued. “So what do you think we should do next?”
“If you can afford it, you need that emergency exit,” Carlos replied. Then we need to finish the sleeping loft.
“Well I have been thinking about the emergency exit. Probably the sleeping loft needs it most,” I suggested.
“Yes, I agree. If there is a problem you could be trapped up there now,” he agreed.
“Can we cut a door into the eve?” I asked.
“Not a full size one, but yes a small door will fit there. Something like a barn hay loft door. It will also be in keeping with the look you wish.” he agreed.
“Then an iron two foot wide decorative balcony bolted to the block wall with a ladder down to the first floor,” I suggested.
“Yes that would be fine and it would pass the building code as well,” Carlos replied.
“Now about the goat,” I said.
“I paid twenty dollars for the goat. I propose we share her. I will keep her since there are people in my community who can make goats milk cheese and children who need the goats milk. I will bring her over to feast on your weeds this summer,” Carlos suggested.
“That sounds reasonable,” I admitted. “So when you get ready you can install the front windows and balcony. I might as well get the roof finished as well.”
“I just closed in the openings now you want to open them again?” he asked.
“Oh no just some long thin vertical windows that I can open, so that I don’t feel trapped,” I explained. “I am also going to need a painter.”
“I will have to order the balcony and the metal ladder. I might have to have them custom built, but I do know a salvage yard who sometimes has things I can adapt,” Carlos said.
“With summer coming I am going to have to rethink the heat and hot water thing. I might have acted hastily in having the wood heater built,” I admitted.
“If I were you I would convert the water tank to gas, like they use in campers. We can move it to the bathroom and install a gas ring under it. I kind of thought this might happen, so I have been planning for it,” Carlos admitted with a smile.
“Well you have your key, if my truck is gone just go on in and start work. I am going to the plaza now and get roofing and the windows,” I informed him.
“I will have to rent a masonry saw to cut out the windows. But I can do that on the day we install them,” he said.
“Oh yeah I am going to buy some insulation and cheap paneling for the loft. It doesn’t hold the heat well after the stove burns out at night,” I informed him.
“Let me make you a list and then you just give it to the man at the commercial counter. He will fill it and load it onto a truck. Have them call and I will send someone to help the driver unload it all,” he suggested.
“Last time they had a small fork lift, but sure send someone,” I suggested.
When I got to the plaza, I found the parking lot full. It was the end of May and school was out for the summer. Everyone had the same idea, lunch at Mcdonald’s for the kids. I managed to get far enough away so that I could find a parking space near Home Depot.
The old man who took my first order met me at the door. “Hello, I’m back,” I said not really expecting him to remember me. I wouldn’t have expected it even if he were younger than seventy. At his age I doubted he could remember anything without writing it down.
“Well hello, yes I remember. You have the country store in the Farmers Grove community,” he said confidently.
“Is that what it’s called? Farmers Grove,” I asked.
“Well it was once now I think all remnants of it are gone. There might be a convenience store and yeah the bed and breakfast,” the old man said. “I used to date a girl who lived there.”
“Why you old dog, now you know another girl who lives there,” I said with a smile. “So, I got another list.”
He took a long look at the list. “Well we got all this in stock. You want it for tomorrow?” he asked.
“Not in a rush this time, but whenever you can get to it conveniently, I could use it,” I said.
“Well by end of the day tomorrow for sure. Might even be the first thing in the morning,” he said with a smile.
“Well total it up and I’ll give you my credit card,” I explained. I knew I had enough to cover it because I had $2,000 left from my last installment and the black fund deposited another $10,000 for the two months I had been on the Ruby Ann.
My plan for money laundering was simple. Everything traceable was put on the card. Everything not easily traced was paid for with dirty cash.
Before I left the plaza I had one more stop to make. I went to the Walmart store. The parking lot outside of it was also filled with parents and kids out of school. I expected a nightmare when I went to checkout but I was still determined to make my purchases.
I could have taken the weapons from the gun thugs, who fell overboard, but they were most likely used in some crime. I would hate to have to explain why I had a gun used in a murder in my possession. I also didn’t feel the need for a pistol. They weren’t my gun of choice for household security.
Yes I was at Walmart to buy a shotgun. I chose a shorter barreled 12 gauge pump gun by Remington. I spent more than I wanted to spend but the Remington 870 with the shorter barrel seemed to fit me better than the less expensive Mossberg. I loaded it and a box of number 4 buck shot into my truck then drove it home.
When I got home I removed the plug from the magazine so the shotgun held four in the magazine. I did not chamber a shell since I figured I would have time, and the sound of it chambering was intimidating beyond belief. Nothing said, ‘get the hell out mother fucker or die’, like the racking of a pump shotgun. That should have been the advertising campaign.
I hadn’t bought a bigger refrigerator, because I really didn’t have the floor space in the small former office area for it. What I had bought during my original outfitting of the place was a dorm refrigerator. The one I bought fit on the shelf of the built in cabinets. Those were left behind by either the gas station or the country store.
I looked around the home, when I realized I needed a freezer. The need was obvious when I decided I was just too tired to drive to Helen’s Diner for dinner. I would rather have a TV dinner than go out again.
Unfortunately I had no option. It was either drive to Helen’s or drive even farther to the convenience store toward Roaring Gap.
I decided that it would be my last dinner at Helen’s for sure. I pulled into her parking lot to find a sheriff’s car among the ten cars in the parking lot. It wasn’t unusual to find a cop car of some kind in the parking lot, which was another good reason to eat at home.
I went home after dinner and searched the Internet for information. I found a two and a half cubic foot freezer that would hold plenty of frozen food for me. I could slide it under the wall shelf unit. It would require removal of the bottom shelf, but nothing more. So that’s what I decided to do.
With that in mind I went to sleep in the loft. It wasn’t hard to fall asleep since I had worked almost non stop since I got back almost a week earlier. There were decades of accumulated dirt which needed to be removed.
After my run I showered and dressed for the day. Of course I had to build a fire in the wood stove but I needed that for heat, as well as to boil water for my shower.
When Carlos’s brother moved the water heater that day, he also installed a janitor’s plastic sink in the office. It wasn’t hard to do since there were pipes and drain lines everywhere it seemed. The small office was converted to a galley kitchen by the end of my first week at home. Yes I had begun to think of the Country Store as home.
“You don’t need an electrician to change the lights in the shop. I can do that,” Carlos said after I mentioned I wanted new lights in the shop area. The place was beginning to look like a house. Sure it looked like a strange little house, but a house nonetheless.
It was the beginning of summer, but the days were still almost cool and the nights chilly. I was told that things would stay the same until July. In July the days got hot and the nights less cool. I actually looked forward to the change in temperature. I was tired of being chilled to the bone during my morning exercise.
In Farmers Grove I had the bike to ride, so it was some better but not a lot since most of the terrain was up and down hill. I was always worn out by the end of the three hours on the bike. I rode from the country store to Helen’s Diner, where I had breakfast then rode home again.
I had been hanging around the house cleaning, playing on the Internet, and watching movies for a month, when I met my neighbors. They were sitting in the parking area in front of the house, when I returned from shopping. I had driven past their house everyday since I returned from the coast, so I recognized the big fancy car. Also I had been expecting someone to stop by eventually. I reasoned that surely they would be curious about me and my connection to the country store.
“Hello there,” I said catching them before they pulled away. I’m Rose Seabold, what can I do for you?” I asked.
“I’m Jeremy and this is Alice we are your neighbors, We meant to come sooner but you seemed to be busy with workers, whenever we planned to visit.” Jeremy said.
“Yes seems like it took forever to get the place finished. Of course being out of town for six weeks didn’t help much,” I advised him.
“I can imagine,” he said with a big friendly smile. His wife seemed to be much more reserved.
“Would you like to come along with me on the guided tour of the progress,” I suggested.
“Sure,” Alice said shyly. She was a mousy looking woman. Jeremy completely over shadowed her. She seemed to look to him for permission before she spoke.
I led the couple into the country store. We entered into the shop area which Carlos had very recently finished converting into a gorgeous living room with a twenty foot ceiling. The biggest room in the building had a world class plaster job. The work had been done by a man who had worked on some of the finest churches in Mexico. It was a beautiful job. The room was gorgeous but empty.
I showed my guests the galley kitchen and the bathroom. It to had been finished by the plasterer and tile man from Mexico. The shower, which was the size of a small bathroom by itself, had beautiful rose colored tile on the walls. Carlos had managed to save the blue floor tile, and I had cleaned it about five times. The same rose and blue tiles carried over to the bathroom with the working toilet and pedestal sink. I had insisted on saving that funny shaped thing found in most public men’s rooms.
Even Alice laughed at that feature. “That is the biggest shower I have ever seen,” she said.
“Yes I know. I might add a tub someday but for now showers will have to do,” I said.
What is the thing that looks like a spaceship sitting in the corner of the bathroom,” Jeremy asked.
“It’s an on demand water heater. Originally I was going to use it on the wood stove until I realized that in the summer it would be terribly uncomfortable in the house while the wood stove going full blast to heat water not to mention a waste of wood.” We walked back into the entry as I explained.
“So where do you sleep,” he asked.
“Up in the loft,” I said pointing to the curtained off area.
“Now that is truly brilliant,” he suggested. “I have to admit you have worked wonders on this old falling down service station.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Would you like a drink?” I asked.
“No thanks,” Alice said. “Jeremy is very particular about what he drinks.”
“Oh okay,” I replied.
“Why don’t you come down to our place for dinner Friday night and I will show you what I do drink. We can invite a few friends over, if you like. You know sort of introduce you to the people worth knowing in this green desert,” Jeremy suggested.
I took a good look at them for a second before I answered. Alice was actually attractive, but she had a really bad haircut, and she dressed to make herself appear dumpy. She was about 5′ 6″ and maybe 160 pounds. She was a few pounds over weight mostly in her wide hips. Men swore wide hips didn’t matter, but that was bull shit. She most likely couldn’t get many dates, even if she were on the market.
Jeremy on the other hand was a peacock. He was very well dressed in his casual shirt and slacks, which probably cost as much as my fanciest dress. He was most likely 6′ 1″ or 2″ and weighed less that 200 lbs. He was a trifle thin. I wondered what he saw in Alice. Unless he liked his women to be submissive and not only in the bedroom. It was a thought, I supposed. I would think a man like him could have had most any woman he wanted, so I guess he wanted a mousy little lady like Alice.
“To tell you the truth I’m not much on the social graces, but dinner with a neighbor sounds good. If cooking is too much trouble for you Alice, you probably know a good restaurant. I have been so busy my meals have been either frozen dinners or at Helen’s Cross Road Diner,” I admitted.
“Oh no I love to cook,” Alice said. “Do you like southern cooking? I ask because I notice an accent.”
“I love southern food. The accent is from hanging around a lot of South American people over the last few years,” I said. “I guess it rubs off.”
“Then how about dinner at our place Friday night at seven?” she asked. “If that’s alright?” she looked at Jeremy for his agreement.
“Of course it is,” he said smiling at me.
“Then Friday it is. Can I bring anything,” I knew that was a southern tradition, even if I had strayed pretty far from my roots.
“You mentioned Helen’s. I hear she makes a first class Banana Pudding. How about stopping buy and picking up a small one of those?” Jeremy asked.
“It’s his favorite,” Alice explained as they got into the new Buick and drove away.
Just as soon as they were out of sight, I went inside. “You are going to check them out?” Liam asked.
“Where the hell have you been?” I asked.
“Renovation shows bored me on TV when I was alive. I sure as hell don’t have to suffer though that house beautiful nonsense now,” he explained.
“I see. Yeah I am going to send the geek an email with all I know about them. First I am going to ride by and get the last name off their mail box,” I suggested.
“Or you could just give the geek what you have and let him earn his fucking money,” he said.
“You don’t like the geek do you?” I asked.
“He isn’t one of us. The boss brought him in as a consultant. He seems to know how to keep his mouth shut, but that’s just a matter of understanding what happens if he doesn’t,” Liam explained. “Anyway he can find anyone or so he claims. Send control an email and copy it to the geek.”
“Okay Liam, I know the procedure,” I said. I had very explicit instructions as to what to do when approached by people out of the blue. I sent the emails explaining what had happened and giving the controller, who I knew had been changed to someone called Morris, all the information I had. The vehicle license number would probably help more than anything else, I thought.
Since we had installed security cameras on the country store, I had a picture of the Buick in all its glory. I sent that to the geek as well as the pictures of both Jeremy and Alice. I had decided to call them Jeremy and Alice in wonderland. It somehow seemed appropriate because the more I thought about them the more surreal they seemed. They were almost perfect in a weird sort of way.
Alice was a perfectly dowdy woman. I mean as the stereotype went, she was perfect. Jeremy seemed to be an equally perfect Narcissist. They were a couple made in heaven or hell. But that was a judgment after only a fifteen minute meeting. I knew it might change when we met for dinner.