By Cindy and Walt
“Yes Carlos,” I said into the phone.
“Are you upset with me Senorita?” he asked.
“I think you have that all wrong. You were upset with me,” I suggested.
“Yes of course you are right. For that I am truly sorry,” he said.
I had a feeling it had less to do with remorse than with economics, but I said nothing about that. “Well let’s just move past it,” I suggested.
“I am agreeable,” he said. Big of you, I thought. “I was wondering how much you know about this area?” Carlos asked.
“Not too much,” I admitted.
“There once was a Furniture plant here. The plant made chairs for the big dining rooms. The tables were made in different plant,” he said.
“You mean here in Farmer’s Grove?” I couldn’t help being curious about that.
“No, the plant was outside Roaring Gap. About three miles north of town I think,” he said.
“I see,” I said. I wondered if he was suggesting I take the plant itself down. That was far more demolition than I wanted to do. “So is the plant for sale or something?”
“No the plant is gone now. It was gone when I came to this country almost ten years ago,” he replied.
“So why are you telling me about it?” I asked.
“Because the family who inherited the plant and other things is now trying to avoid bankruptcy. They want to sell off their real estate outside the old plant site,” he informed me.
“I’m sorry, but why would that interest me?” I said.
“Because you can buy fifty houses very cheap. I’m sure you could do something with them. If you do something, then we can work together again,” he said.
“Call me tomorrow in the morning. I will give it some thought,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to do that kind of thing again.”
“Very well,” he said.
I went back to work on the wine bottle ink drawing. I liked the progress I was making but I had a long way to go. Maybe I should take a look at the fifty houses. It would give me something to do.
I toasted a sandwich on the wood stove. I guess it was more like grilling it in butter. The difference was my cheese sandwich had bacon on it. After I discovered one could freeze bacon, I repackaged two slices in a pack then froze them. That was just so I could make bacon and cheese sandwiches.
Part of the obsessive compulsive lifestyle said I had to fry the bacon, while I drank a cup of coffee, then I had to wipe the grease from the pan with a paper towel, which would make a hell of a fire starter when tossed onto smoldering ashes. When I finished with wiping the pan, I added butter then popped in the bacon and cheese sandwich.
That sandwich, some corn chips, and a can of diet coke was my dinner. The coke cans I kept on the deck in a cooler to avoid freezing as much as possible. The cold mountain air made a natural freezer which was a little too cold, if left unaltered. The summer was a different problem, since my refrigerator was a small dorm unit. Most everything stayed in the larger chest freezer in the kitchen, who’s top had recently been converted into a chopping block counter. It was a feat accomplished using a couple of the oak boards from the church’s floor. Everything in the Country Store had Carlos’ hands on it. Well everything except me.
I called it ritual, a shrink might call it obsessive. I wasn’t at all obsessive outside the confines of Country Store. So I didn’t worry too much. Maybe life inside Country Store was my real life and everything I did outside was less than real in my mind. Either way I made the sandwich the same every time, right down to the number of times I turned it.
The lightweight cast iron pan was filled with water after use, then put back on the stove to boil itself clean. That made it easier since it didn’t have Teflon or any other miracle surface. It came from an antique store and probably shouldn’t have been used for cooking. I didn’t ask or care whether it was safe. If it gave me cancer, it gave me cancer, I thought.
I flopped the sandwich on a paper plate, even though I have a full set of restaurant dishes also from the same antique store. The owner supposedly bought them from a local restaurant. The restaurant dated back to the thirties. It had gone out of business several years previously. I seldom used anything other than paper plates never those crappy foam ones. I sometimes put them on a restaurant plate, if the food was sloppy, but the paper plate was almost always at least a liner. I did not like to wash dishes even back then.
It was dark but not bedtime. Since I was getting tired of Joan and Jose, I put on my ‘fuck me’ outfit, then drove to College Hill. There were at least two college clubs there with live music. I figured to try them both. I moved the shotgun inside the house, since it was too obvious a target for a smash and grab robbery. Dance clubs for young people were almost as bad as gang clubhouses for having shit stolen from your car.
It was really too cold for short skirts and thin blouses, even though I supplemented it with pantyhose and the mustard colored hunting coat. The difference between my coat, and a work coat, was the additional horizontal pocket for dead animals. None of my dead animals would fit in the pocket, so it had never been used.
The drive to College Hill took half an hour which I used to get the truck nice and toasty. That lasted for at least ten seconds after I opened the door in the parking lot of club 21. It was a dance club for college kids. At least ones who showed an ID proving themselves to be 21 or over. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t ask to see my ID. It was too damn cold to object though.
Inside the place it was really loud. The music was live which I guess was supposed to make it better, but it was just loud. I drank coffee or cola of some kind since I had a long drive back home. Even after the college age young man bought me a glass of wine, I did not drink it.
“My name is Tommy,” he said as he placed the wine on the table.
“Thanks Tommy, I’m Lillian,” I said using my alias. Just in case things turned sideways. I knew they often did without any warning in night clubs. “So Teddy what’s your major. They do still ask that to break the ice?”
“Yes and I’m a Phys Ed major,” He said.
“Doesn’t that usually mean you are some kind of jock?” I asked.
“Guilty, I play football,” he said.
“Oh you going to the pros?” I asked.
“Not a chance, I can’t even be a star in a division two school. I’m varsity and I play in every game but the runners and pass catchers get all the recognition. I’m a free safety, we just get our ass kicked,” he said with a laugh.
“So where are the heroes,” I asked looking around.
“They don’t hang out in clubs with us peons,” he said.
“So what are your plans after graduation?” I asked.
“Probably be a high school football coach somewhere,” he said.
“That has got to be a downer,” I said.
“Yeah,” a second later he asked. “You ever been married?”
“No I never have. Why?” I asked.
“Married women are the best lovers,” he said. “Divorced ones are even better.”
“You don’t say,” I replied. “Well I guess you are out of luck then.”
“So what do you do for a living?” he asked.
“Real Estate,” I replied.
“That’s cool, do you live in College Hill?” he asked.
“No, I live in Roaring Gap,” I said. It was only about a ten mile lie, I thought.
“So you want to dance?” he asked.
“Sure, but that band isn’t really a dance band,” I replied.
“Yeah that is true I guess. That’s the problem with live bands, they do what they do,” he said. The kid could actually think.
“Do you live on campus?” I asked.
“Yeah, in a dorm. I have a friend though, he has an apartment. Now and then I take a friend there,” he said.
“Friend or one of those married women?” I asked.
He just grinned. “I guess I shouldn’t have mention the married woman thing to you,” he said. “You haven’t even touched your drink.”
“No I haven’t. I have a friend with the new state police. I thought I would have him run a drug screen on it,” I said with a smile.
“Oh, if you think that of me, I guess I should leave,” he said.
“Yeah, and take the wine with you,” I suggested. I knew better than to drink anything handed to me in a bar. It was my hope that other women did as well.
After Tommy left, I was ready to go myself. I didn’t mind so much that he tried to date rape me. I did mind that he was so bad at it. I probably should bust him for it. Just so some other girl, who was more innocent, wouldn’t fall for it. I didn’t simply because it wouldn’t help my cover to get mixed up in the good deed business.
“You met Tommy,” the older man said.
“Yes I met Tommy,” I said.
“He is a jerk, but he is one hell of a free safety. You know smart and athletic,” the man who was at least ten years older than me said.
“Frankly I know men who are smarter and a hell of a lot more athletic,” I said without going into detail. X and Killer at Church Camp came to mind.
“Really, have you been with college athletes before?” he asked.
“No and I didn’t know he was anything more than a horny college boy,” I said.
“Yeah, he is that too. My name is John,” he said extending his hand.
“Lillian,” I said. “So John you obviously are not a student here. Are you a teacher or something.”
“Nothing like that. I’m kind of an adviser,” he said.
“Oh is that a mobster or a sports agent,” I asked.
“The kid wants to be a pro ballplayer, I’m going to try to help him. Get his films to the right people that kind of thing,” he said.
“I see. Do you keep him out of trouble as well?” I asked.
“If need be. Tommy seemed to think you were some kind of cop,” John said.
“Not a chance, but as I told him I do have some friends who are cops,” I said.
“Do you fuck them,” he asked.
“What?” I asked.
“I just wanted to know how dangerous it would be to buy you a drink,” he said.
“I see, no I don’t fuck them, so you can go back and tell you client that he is safe,” I said.
“You don’t fuck your cop friends, but do you like to fuck?” he asked.
“Yes I do. Do you?” I asked him sarcastically.
“Of course, I would even fuck your smart mouth,” he replied.
“If I said no, would you slip a ruffie into my coke?” I asked.
“Never had to resort to that, since one lady is as good as the next,” he replied.
“I feel that way about men. One cock is as good as another,” I said.
“Well then we agree on some things anyway,” he said.
“It would seem so,” I agreed.
“I would feel better, if you were the one with him,” The older man suggested.
“I don’t get this. You are not a sports manager for a kid in a division two school. There is no way he could sign an NFL contract that would pay him the kind of money to get this much attention at twenty years old,” I said thinking fast. “You don’t seem like a relative.”
“And you don’t seem like an undercover cop. If you were, you would never say the copper word in public,” he suggested.
“So, I’m a simple Realtor like I told the kid. So the question remains what are you, a small time hoodlum?” I asked.
“That is a good guess, you really are good,” he said. “I work for the kid’s mother. His father is Big Al from Patterson New Jersey. I’m kind of his keeper. If you give me your word no cops, then our business is through and I can buy you a drink.”
“So are you mobbed up,” I asked “or a retired leg breaker?”
“Right now, I’m just an old guy who managed to live long enough to enjoy the good life. I’m what you might call a hired companion for the kid,” he said.
“So the kid gets in so much trouble he needs a nanny?” I asked.
“You sure you are not a cop?” he asked.
“No just a curious bitch,” I said.
“Remember what curiosity did to the cat,” he said.
“But before that happened, she was the smartest cat in the alley,” I said. “Speaking of smart, you are pretty well spoken for one who is mobbed up.”
“His mom chose me from all of Big Al’s men because I read a lot. I recently had a lot of down time. Where I was there was no drinking and whoring, so I read. She figured I wouldn’t attract as much attention to the kid.”
“Shit, you are gay,” I said with a small laugh. “Just my fucking luck. The most interesting man I have met in weeks is a gay enforcer.”
“Retired, after my one small bit in prison,” he said. “You are not gonna find a record anywhere of me being mobbed up.”
I noticed he kept his eye on the kid while we talked. “So what was your small bit for?” I asked.
“The restaurant of an reticent friend of Big Al’s caught fire,” he said.
“Better his business than his legs,” I suggested.
“No it wasn’t. I could have broken his legs without leaving any DNA. That bit in prison probably saved my life though. I retired for real when I got out. I spent the last two years with the kid over there.”
“So you were his high school graduation present,” I said. I knew I should stay away from this guy. He was sure to be trouble. However as I told him he was the only interesting character in the club.
“Kind of, at least till his college career is over. It’s not for two more years though,” he said. “And I’m bisexual not completely gay.”
“But you are classy enough for Big Al’s estranged wife to hire you. Does Big Al know?” I asked.
“You are very curious and very insightful,” he said. “Nobody knows and I would deny it, if you were to try to rat me out.”
“Or try to kill me,” I said.
“Me never,” he said. I did note he laughed.
“Well, I think that is my cue to go home alone,” I said.
“Home to masturbate?” he asked.
“Well I don’t do that so much any more. It just happens in my sleep these days,” I said.
“Ah the ghosts of lover’s past and future. The finest kind,” he said.
He at least seemed to understand. “Something like that, but it’s also kind of scary, since I have no control over it. I do when I’m awake,” I admitted.
“Now that would indeed be a problem,” he suggested.
I looked at him and began to wonder what it was that attracted me to bi sexual men and them to me. Maybe it was as simple as the birds of a feather kind of thing. Then again who knew what was really going on. One thing I had learned from being under cover was that things were seldom what they seemed to be.
“Too bad you are baby sitting,” I said with a smile even though I didn’t mean it.
“There are other nights. If you give me your cell number I can call you and work out a time?” he suggested.
“Give me your contact information. I’ll give it some thought and maybe we can work something out,” I suggested.
“Why not give me yours?” he asked.
“Please, there is no chance I will stalk you but a strange man whose charge had date rape on his mind, might do anything,” I replied.
“So you are saying you don’t trust me?” he asked.
I stood up and turned for the door without even answering that one. “Wait a minute,” John said producing a card. The card read, ‘Johnny Rome security consultant”. It then gave a phone number and Email address, but not a brick and mortar address.
“Security consultant, I like that. Do you recommend that they pay you to avoid lost time from work?” I asked.
“No way this is strictly legit,” he said.
“I might give you a call one day this week,” I said.
“And I might remember you,” he said.
“Fair enough,” I replied. I left him standing talking to me, but keeping his eye on Tommy across the room. Tommy looked at me and smiled. “Asshole,” I whispered as I reached the door.
Follow me outside and give me an excuse, I thought. It might be fun to kick his ass.
Nobody followed me out, so I got into the freezing pickup and headed home. Some nights a girl just can’t get laid, I thought. It was a long drive back to the Grove and the Country Store. I was cold when I first started my drive, but the truck did warm up after a while.
As had been the case for the past few weeks Joan and Jose visited my dreams. It had gotten less than pleasant. At first it had been just weird, then pleasurable in a weird sick way. By that night it felt as though they were punishing me for being alive. It was that weird dream with Joan trying to convince me to do the dirty with Jose. Which would demolish whatever chance I had to restore my relationship with Jose’s family.
It was still dark at 7 AM when the morning trike race began. It just wasn’t total black ink skies. There were indications that Spring was on the way. It was still cold enough for thermal gear, but it was also not mind numbing cold. I know in some places minus two degrees was almost balmy, but I never planned to go there. The temperature outside the Country Store had been ten degrees according to the Pennzoil thermometer hanging on one of the posts which held the deck railing in place. Everything was pointing to an early spring.
After breakfast and the more leisurely ride home, It was into the warm shower for me. I dressed in one of the short sleeve thermal tee shirts under my long sleeve knit top. Over the long sleeve thermal top I placed a wool sweater vest. That particular one appeared to be made from a rug. It was important in the mountains to keep the core body temperature up. The torso was where the body’s really important shit was located.
Before I drove to meet Carlos in Roaring Gap, I replaced the pump shotgun in the truck’s gun rack. Not because I ever expected to use it, but because I just might need it someday. If not for the obvious reasons, then for the occasional deer I tried to avoid at the last minute. There might come a time when my reactions were not good enough. Then the shotgun would put an injured animal down. Why I carried an almost full box of shells locked in the dash of the car, I couldn’t explain. When I got to Roaring Gap, I met Carlos for coffee.
“Good Morning Senorita Seabold,” he said upon my entering the dark little restaurant with mostly Latino customers, men in work clothes and unshaved faces. I had noticed that the Latino men tended to shave only on weekends. Well not all of them surely, but all the ones I worked with.
“It’s still Rose, Carlos,” I said putting him on the spot.
“Yes Senorita Rose, I wasn’t sure after our recent problems,” he said.
“Let’s speak of it one time then forget it. Is Nita and the rest of the clan still pissed at me?” I asked.
“It will take the women longer,” was his only reply.
“Very well, I’m not going anywhere,” I said. I was ready to move on, but I sat down to have a cup of strong black coffee first. It was close to noon when we left the cafe for the mill village tour. I found the village interesting. There were four connect dirt streets isolated in an almost rural setting. At the end of the connecting dirt street was what must have been the company store. I had heard of these isolated mill villages, but I had never seen one.
The fifty houses were tiny two bedroom, one bath frame houses. They were all still owned by the Wetherly Family. There seemed to be five of the fifty houses occupied. The others had fallen into disrepair, if not total ruination.
“Shit, how can anyone allow this to happen?” I asked. Carlos had no answers for me. That was left to Janice Wetherly Allen.
“Miss Allen nice of you to meet me on such short notice. I don’t believe in beating around the bush, or haggling like a used car dealer, so I’m interested in the village land. The houses have no value except as firewood. So what is your bottom price?” I asked.
“You mean the entire plot, that is much more than just the village,” she said. “The family and I have decided that the entire plot of fifty acres is worth one hundred thousand dollars.”
“I don’t want it all. I want both sides of the four dirt roads and the lot where the store is located,” I suggested.
“That is the best fifteen acres in the plot. I don’t think we would cut that out,” she said.
“If you change your mind, give me a call,” I said and headed back for my truck.
“Just a moment, let me call my sister,” she suggested.
I nodded. While we waited I looked at the field behind what had likely been the country store. Then back to the store its roof had pretty much collapsed, but the block walls were still in place. The field behind the store must have been the plant site. It was large and flat. There is probably a gravel parking lot hidden under the grass, I thought.
“We discussed it and we are willing to cut the site into two parcels. The parcel you want will have to include all fifteen acres, but will not include any of the old plant site,” she suggested.
“Like I said, I’m not a used car salesman how much?” I asked.
“Forty five thousand,” she suggested. “There are twelve thousand back taxes due on the property.”
“Janice sweetie, the forty five thousand is for a clear deed, not an encumbered one. Let me know what you decide. I’ll have you a check when the deed is ready for transfer,” I said. I should have crunched the numbers but I felt sure it would fly as a private community of low cost homeowner housing.