By Cindy and Walt
Upon our arrival at the dining hall the sentry advised us, “The dining hall is closed, however you may prepare anything you liked using the microwave. It is the procedure for operatives, who arrive late for meals.”
Nobody went away hungry it seemed, but they also didn’t leave a mess for the kitchen crew. Inside the freezer there were several things that could be microwaved. Most were in plain white boxes with large black lettering. Closer inspection told me that the boxes were not printed, but they had those self adhesive labels applied. They could be made on any ink jet printer.
I decided on a cheese pizza since my stomach was still churning. It isn’t easy to cut a man’s throat, no matter how much of a pig he is. The General had been my first. The Porter Dagger was a much cleaner weapon. It would be my first choice from that moment on, I decided.
Jeremy and Alice chose the Pepperoni Pizza, so we pooled them along with our diet sodas. The conversation was utilitarian at best. Pass the hot sauce, kind of thing. We were each going to have to deal with it in our own way. I was the one who cut the pig’s throat, but they knew the secret and had to deal with it in their own way. Talking about it might help, but we agreed that we had to be very careful who we talked with. It had to be either each other or someone from the camp, no others.
The pizza was gone too soon only because I wasn’t ready to face the music. Jeremy and Alice left me to meet Andrew alone. I climbed the stairs to the offices above the kitchen. I wondered how Andrew made it up those stairs.
When I first met him he was using one of those frames on wheels. He graduated to two canes for a while. Before we left for New York he was down to one cane. Since he was Commandant of the Camp he could surely have commandeered a first floor office somewhere, I thought.
“Come in Rose,” the voice came from the inner office.
“So did you fire Magda, or does she work nine to five?” I asked.
“Magda was proficient enough to move on to the swamp,” Andrew said.
“Oh?” I asked.
“My receptionists come from the Swamp, because their English isn’t good. They stay here while they learn more English. We both struggle while they learn enough English to not be a danger to their fellow operatives. Most of the people we run from the Swamp are contracted to do security for high profile people, or embassies, that kind of thing. It helps if they can communicate with the clients at least some,” Andrew explained. I didn’t really need to know, so I didn’t really make any effort to understand.
“So Rose what happened?” he asked.
“Nothing really it went down clean just as I planned it. We left the area leaving no trace,” I explained.
“Yes you did an admirable job, but we still have a problem. Two million dollars worth of uncut diamonds are missing. Do you know anything about them?” Andrew asked.
“It really hurts my feelings that you would even ask such a thing,” I said.
“You do know that no reputable diamond merchant will touch those stones,” Andrew said.
“Blood diamonds?” I asked.
“One of the other crimes of which General Bad Juju was guilty. The world has condemned the use of slave labor to mine the diamonds. So no one will touch those stones. Trying to sell them will bring you to the attention of the police. That will bring me to the attention of the police, so I would not be happy,” he said.
“I really didn’t want to see one of those thugs walk off with these,” I said tossing the bag on the table. “I also wouldn’t mind having two mil.”
“I think we might get you a finders fee, in lieu of our standard ten grand payment for services rendered,” he suggested. “It won’t be two million, but it will be considerably more than 10K.”
“How do you arrange that?” I asked.
“Sylvia has her ways. She called me last night when she heard from the guys, who monitor such things, that the diamonds were missing. Also that it was the only clue the cops had. So she went to work to solve the problems thinking you probably found them laying about,” Andrew said.
“Okay, well are we through?” I asked.
“Unless you would like to try kicking the shit of our Killer,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“Some operatives find it cleansing to go a couple of rounds with Killer,” Andrew suggested.
“I still have injured ribs maybe next time,” I said.
Andrew nodded, “Then next time? Get your ass out of my camp.”
“My god you didn’t even say get my beautiful ass out. Now I’m really offended. First you assume I’m a thief, now I’m a thief who has lost her good looks,” I commented in a whiny voice.
He did smile but he did not say a word. I might should think about my future since my looks were going to fade one day. All the surgery in the world couldn’t postpone it forever.
“So we can go now, and sin no more,” I said when I reached the cabin. “I for one am going to drive the hour home right now.”
When I got home, it was almost midnight. By the time I got the fire going it was midnight. There was just time enough to build a fire and get into bed on the sofa, before the witching hour.
When I lay in the familiar surroundings, I realized Jose and Joan hadn’t visited while I was gone. Maybe it was true that an idle mind was the devil’s workshop, I thought. Either way, I fell asleep and some time there after I had a visitation. Joan was again baiting me with Jose’s only average looking appendage.
“You know you want to,” she said with a smile.
“Even if I did, which I do not admit, I would not do that to his family,” I said.
“There are so many things wrong with that excuse. One; in case you hadn’t notice we’re dead, so I don’t think those rules no longer apply to us. Two; they already blame you anyway. In for a penny as you always say,” the apparition stated the obvious.
“Well you enjoy yourself,” I demanded. “But leave me out of it.”
“Oh I do. The young ones so want to learn. They even want to learn things that bring them no pleasure at all,” she admitted.
When Joan decided to leave me alone, it was time to get out of bed. The house wasn’t really warm, but the fire had heated the air. The walls and furnishings would take a little longer to really warm.
I put another split log on the fire, then went back to start the fire ring under the hot water heater. The morning ritual calmed me. It also helped me work through any depression from the last 48 hours. There is nothing quite so depressing as committing a murder, going on the lam, as they say in the movies, and losing two million bucks. All in all, I was having a bad couple of days. I really need the routine and the ritual this morning,” I thought.
The phone rang, “Be there in five minutes,” Alice said. I was not surprised the two of them were ready to go back to the morning work out. I would also not have been surprised, if they had opted out. Since I was in my thermal outfit I pulled on the jeans, a sweatshirt, and my hunting coat. My knit cap and ski gloves I slipped on while seated on the trike.
When I reached the end of the driveway, I saw only one set of lights. “Where is Jeremy?” I asked.
“He stayed home to dress for the day’s work. He is determined to go check out the cabin’s progress. He is going to pitch in just to see why there is a hold up, if there is one,” Alice said.
“In that case how about a nice leisurely ride today?” I asked.
“Yes please, Jeremy is so competitive,” she said.
“It’s a set that men have. With the cock comes competitiveness,” I said.
When we got to the restaurant the SMP Officers were in the restaurant. “You do look much better when you are not out of breath and sweaty,” the older one said.
“Then don’t ever have sex with us,” I said as I walked on by.
“So does Jeremy think that Carlos is cheating him?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” Alice said. “You want to ride up there to see what is going on?”
“Sure why not,” I replied. “But I do want to take a shower and put on something less smelly. I can start a load of clothes after my shower.”
“You are so domestic lately. I used to think you had such a wonderful life. Back when Carlos and his family were working for you. You know they did your laundry and took care of your grass.”
“Don’t forget Jose went with me to buy wood, and did most of the loading and unloading. It was pretty good relationship,” I admitted.
“Jeremy and I were so sorry about Jose. Also the split it caused between you and Carlos’ family,” Alice said.
“Well you know what they say, it is what it is,” I said.
“Yes, I suppose so. I will pick you up in an hour, or would you rather drive,” she asked.
“I’d like to drive, I think,’ I replied.
After Alice left the Country Store, I took a shower then dressed for the day but not in baggy jeans and a sweatshirt. I dressed in skinny jeans, even though I probably was too old for them, and a thermal tee covered by a sleeveless red sweater vest. It was the brightest red I could find at the time of its purchase. The buckskin short boots added to the grunge look. With the mustard colored hunting coat, I really was almost a cross dresser. Only the tight jeans saved me from being accused of being a lesbian for sure.
I took a moment to recover the emails from Luis my tattoo mentor. I wanted to read them, but I held off till after the trip to the resort under construction. I wanted to savor his letters, so I didn’t even open the emails.
“Well Alice don’t you look sexy,” I said.
“Careful Rose, you will turn my head,” she said with a laugh.
I drove the truck down the road, then down the path. Alice and I walked in the last few yards since I didn’t have a ‘ATV’. I had seen the first cabin which had been done remarkably well. I stood looking at the second cabin which wasn’t nearly as interesting looking.
“What happened to this one?” I asked Jeremy when he appeared in the doorway.
“Carlos quit and this guy decided he knew more than anyone in the whole world about building. So now I have a cabin that has a very out of joint foundation. It goes up hill for ten feet. Then it runs ten feet level, then down hill for ten. Someone told him that a cabin’s foundation follows the contour of the lot,” Jeremy said.
“Well it wasn’t me. I always let Carlos set the foundations. It looks like there are three different cabins attached to one another,” I said. “So what you planning to do?”
“Well, I’m not going to tear it down for sure. I’m thinking about going with a sunken living room and then leveling the other two floors. I checked and because of the post every ten feel the house is stable, just really strange looking.”
“Someone will like it,” I said. “Jeremy you will sell it as a special feature, I’m quite sure.”
I did not say, that I myself would never buy it. I saw several of his brochures in cabin one and I thought they were very classy.
Alice touched my shoulder and whispered, “Let’s leave. Jeremy is impatient to get back to work.”
I nodded and turned to the car. “I figure it will be an hour before he notices we have gone,” I said.
“Yes I know,” she replied while driving out of the pit Jeremy called a community. I was sure that he would sell the cabin to one of the return to nature crowd, but I didn’t think I would want one of them.
I dropped Alice and begged off going into the house. Alice was the consummate homemaker. She would have cookies, a pie and a cake sitting about. Neither she nor Jeremy was more than mildly overweight. Alice only looked a little heavy naked. She had good taste in clothes, so it was pretty much unnoticeable except to a gym rat maybe.
I returned to Country Store to work on my drawings. Since I wasn’t getting paid to do the work, it was hard for me to stay at the kitchen table working. There were a lot of distractions. Okay, there weren’t really, but the drawing was a hobby. I wasn’t quite sure what my real occupation would be called, but it wasn’t drawing pictures.
I had five email messages from Luis. He had found plenty to critique. I forced myself to do a new vector drawing of an empty wine bottle in one of the windows. I made a digital picture first, then put the square over it. After that I went to work on it. I lined the drawing paper off in one inch squares. That made the picture about 200% larger. Then I made a pen and ink draftsman type image of it. It was a fairly competent rendition of it, but it showed no imagination and nothing to call it art.
For that I began to read Luis’s messages. Finding things in them that I could immediately try on the drawing I had just made. I put them on the drawing in pencil first. I didn’t feel comfortable using ink on the artwork. When I got what I thought was a much more artistic rendering, I scanned it, then sent it to Luis. There was no way he could print it but he could look at it and tell me what I needed to do. He could also make a quick drawing to show me if necessary, then scan it. I got one of his drawings with each of his lessons. They came with about every other email.
I found out that day, I could sit still for about an hour at a time. Then I needed some kind of diversion. There wasn’t a lot going on in the physical world to divert my attention. To occupy a couple of hours between my catch up lessons, I drove up to the model cabins. The plan was to just check on the winter damage.
Since it had only been a week since my last visit and since we had never pumped any water into the inside tank, there would be no standing water in the cabin to freeze. I knew better than to leave water. It was colder inside than the outside air. The cabin was well insulated, so it tended to remain at the lowest temperature until it received a great deal of heat. The windows were even double pane since we had Plexiglas panels attached to the inside. Those could be removed easily in the summer months.
The wood stove in the cabin was much smaller than the one in my house. Three pieces of split wood easily filled it and heated the cabin. That being the case, I put ten pieces from my own wood pile into the rear of the truck. I also carried an old fashioned metal mop bucket to store the ashes. There was still plenty of scrap lumber from the construction I could use as fire starter. Only the good stuff had been moved to my house, then sold to Jeremy for his project.
When we decided to split company Jeremy had removed all his rented furniture from the two cabins. I was glad that he had. When I arrived, I checked both cabins. Cabin two was no longer fru fru. It was just as cold and empty as cabin one. I checked my phone and found I had no bars in cabin two. Outside there were a couple but nothing inside.
I didn’t build a fire, but I did bring the firewood inside, then stacked it in the corner. I started a list of things I would need to furnish cabin two. High on my list was a wood box. Which was followed closely by a drawing table. Yes I had intended to use it as a studio. I could always use the drawing table for firewood, I thought with a smile.
I would need to add a sofa bed like the ones I had at Country Store. It would be for napping, and hopefully one day model posing. I rather liked the idea of not cluttering it up with anything else. Just the basics for now, were included on my list.
The only water I would need was drinking water to make coffee. So I thought of those two gallon water bottles sold in the dollar store. Those I decided would be ideal to transport water. They wouldn’t be too heavy for me to lift.
I had my list, so I went back home. I worked more on the drawing of the wine bottle then said to hell with it and sent it to Luis. I also sent an apology for taking so long with it.
“I have been out of town for a week. I just got home and started the drawing again.”
I had a message in about an hour. ‘When you get a chance come down for a little chat. You can pick me up and we can go out for coffee and I can show you a few things. Yes it’s my charge for the lessons. They are worth more than a simple computer,’ Luis wrote.
‘Bullshit, but the coffee sounds good, I get bored. How about tomorrow at 10 AM? If you want a free cup of coffee, and god knows what else, then getting your old ass out of bed is the cost.’
The answer came before I gave up on the drawing and went to bed. Ten AM will be fine. Did no one ever tell you that old folks do not like to sleep late, too much like death.’
I slept with the dream of Joan and Jose again. To pressure me that night Joan said, “If you do it, maybe we will leave you alone.”
In my dream I said, “You know that is shit. You will drive me insane,” I explained.
“Maybe insanity would be better,” Joan replied as she finished working on me. I orgasmed very hard indeed. That ended the dream as it always did. I also found that it was within ten minutes of when I would get my ass out of bed anyway, so I got up immediately.
At 6:45 I was ready for the day’s ride. Jeremy called at seven, “We will be leaving in a moment.” He hung up without further conversation. It was his way in the mornings.
In our never ending struggle for supremacy of the trike race, it was his turn to win. “You know you cheated?” I said only half joking. “You cut me off after drafting all the way from my house.”
“So, it’s called strategy. It is not my fault that intelligence wins over brute force,” he said.
“I don’t know why you two have to make everything a competition. Can’t we just ride for the sake of our bodies?” Alice asked.
“I have to admit, I have never seen you look so athletic,” Jeremy said.
“If you mean I have lost ten pounds, yes that is true,” she said all proud of herself.
“Yes Alice you look good enough to eat,” I said.
She ended that line of conversation with,” Promises, Promises.”
After our leisurely ride home I still had to get ready for my ‘date’ with Luis. I showered then dressed in a pair of the sloppy cargo pants and a red tee with a black leather vest. I also wore the camo hunting coat. Modified grunge, I called it.
The half hour drive it required to reach College Hill, then his building was a bit of a pain. His advice better be worth it, I thought.
Luis came through the front door, when I stepped out of the truck. He had been waiting in the lobby because the temperature was only twenty two degrees. It had been in the teens during my trike ride with Jeremy and Alice. I was getting acclimated pretty well, I thought.
“So where to, Starbuck’s?” I asked.
“God no, I hate yuppies. How about Dunkin Donuts? I only get fast food when I’m with you,” he replied.
“So be it, I prefer their coffee anyway,” I admitted.
The dining room tables were small, but he managed to lay out the drawing he had made. He explained why the background I had used on the wine bottle wasn’t as good as it could be. Mainly he said, “You have to learn to see the details that make things seem real. That is the secret to generic backgrounds. You also need to learn to do shadow details in the right depth. Your drawings had the same detail all over. It was as if they were lit by a studio light. They don’t seem real without some shadow detail.”
“Okay, I can give that a try. Could you scan all the examples and send them to me,” I said.
“You are not offended by the critique?” he asked. “It has been a bit harsh.”
“Really, I think it has been fair,” I said honestly.
“Good for you. We are going to be able to work together after all,” he said.
“I never doubted it for a minute. My only problem is I can’t stay focused on drawing all day,” I explained.
“Then find another interest. Also take photographs of things you see while doing it. Then go home and draw them from the photograph,” he suggested.
I nodded my head and finished my third coffee of the day. I also bought a dozen donuts packaged half a dozen in each of two boxes, one for him and one for me.
I was back in Farmer Grove community by two, and sitting in the kitchen with yet another cup of coffee and a chocolate cake donut on which I had spread peanut butter as an icing. That way I could fool myself into thinking it was healthy.
The phone played music so I knew to answer it. I saw that it was Jeremy and almost didn’t answer. I was in my artist mood, but I remembered he wanted to buy cabin one at a nice profit, so I answered.
“Hi Rose, just calling to let you know my surveyor finished the deed prep. It’s with the lawyer now. He is drawing the bill of sale. I was hoping that 64k would do it for every thing,” he said in one burst,
“Alright, but only because you have seen me naked.” I waited a few seconds then added, “I should charge extra for that.”
“Why, seeing you is like those ads on all the free Internet sites. You should wear a sign ‘body by fisher’, or whatever his name was,” Jeremy replied.
“Jeremy be careful or I will cancel the sale,” I said only half joking.
Just as soon as he hung up the phone rang again. I saw that it was Carlos. I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer it.