By Cindy and Walt
“That would be nice but we need to get back to the resort. You can leave your place because you have Carlos and Juan. I got guys who need their hand held daily,” Jeremy said.
“Alright we will go home, but I’m going to tell you all something, I’m going on a bike trip come summer. I have been a good little soldier for almost a year now. I’m going to take the summer off damn it,” I said.
That’s how I came to walk into the Church Camp at 1 AM the same night we closed down the DC operation. We weren’t met by anyone, just showed to a cold cabin.
“Ah, all hail the conquering heroes,” I said. I also went about laying a fire. It finally got warm in the cabin after 1:30 AM. I went to bed all stinky and exhausted.
At five the damn bugle call floated over the compound. I pulled on my clothes and prepared myself to run. I went to brush my teeth with the brush I found in my backpack. I shared the bathhouse with ten or more people preparing for the morning run. I was dressed in my running outfit from the stored backpack.
It was well over 30 degrees when we fell in for the run. I was surprise by the warm temperatures. When I left the week before the temperature was far below freezing most every morning. Maybe spring was coming. Spring always came late to the mountains I reminded myself.
When ‘X’ arrived without a word we began to run along the well worn path up the mountain. Then we ran around the top. Then back down to the compound. If it had all been up hill, I would have made it even less of the way before falling out. I did manage to get all the way to the top, but couldn’t keep up going around the top of the old worn down mountain, or make it on the run down.
I was always amazed that some of the men wore backpacks while they ran. Crazy I thought. Still it was all about doing things others couldn’t.
“You can become someone else in a matter of hours. Not many people can do that,” The sergeant major in my head advised me.”
“Well that is what Mission and Sylvia always said,” I replied also in my head. Where you been anyway?”
“You have that strange couple to help you with your self image. You don’t need me any more. Now and then I look in on you like today. I have to keep you from the depths of depression just because the Syrian girl can run father and faster.”
“I know but how is she on a stripper pole?” I asked.
“My point exactly,” Liam said.
Jeremy and Alice had showered while I ran, so I shared the bathhouse with strangers. Most of the shower heads were in use by men, so I waited my turn and took in the scenery. To bad some of the guys used steroids. It was obvious to me who did and who didn’t from my shower view.
When my turn came, I did a quick shower first, then soaped my hair three or four times to get the stink of DC off me.
I’m sure more than one of the guys had some complimentary remarks, and just as many complained that I took too long. My jeans and other clothes had been laundered and had been waiting for me in the cabin, so I brought them with me to the bathhouse. I left it dressed in jeans, a short sleeved knit tee shirt and long sleeved pull over cotton sweater.
I carried the coat to the dinning hall, where I found Jeremy and Alice already engaged in conversation. I guess that’s what they called it. They were trying to converse with the Muslim chic from Syria. I walked by them on my way to the buffet service line. I loaded down my plate with scrambled eggs and bacon. I chose the biscuit under a heat lamp, rather than the limp toast.
If nothing else the coffee was good. I considered myself lucky the coffee at the Camp was good, the coffee at the Crossroad Diner was good, and the coffee I made at home was okay. I hadn’t had a decent cup of coffee, since I left CC for DC.
I sat with Jeremy and Alice who had been joined by the whole DC team by the time I got to the table. I just got my tray on the table when it started. The mercenary soldiers began with that commandos versus pretenders shit. The argument hinged on who could have done it without the others?
“Tell me something, do you think the pros would have gone to war without being paid?” I asked.
The consensus was not very likely. At least not against armed men at the embassy. Maybe they would have beat the shit out of the priest, possibly killing him. It was at that point that I tossed the bag on the table.
“While you heroes were killing the killers in that cluster fuck of an ambush, we were arranging for them to kill each other. That, my killer friends, is the payroll for the four of them. They were not going to be paid, so they most likely would have taken the loss of their funds out on the not so Good Father.” That shut them up.
Finally the woman asked, “If you had the money, why did you let us kill them?” she asked.
“Do you really think I wanted them to come looking for their payday,” I asked.
“You used us?” one of the men asked.
“Someone was going to use you regardless. I just figured it might as well be me,” I replied.
He pushed his chair from the table so violently it turned over. He leaned across the table to grab my sweater.
“Now you can turn loose of me or pray they can get you to the doctor quick enough to save your life,” I said.
He looked down at the steak knife I had slipped through his clothes and into his flesh. It was less than a quarter inch into his chest. I held it back just short of penetrating his bone bag. He suddenly pulled back, set his chair right and began eating, while he held a table napkin to stop the bleeding from the minor cut.
“You one mean bitch,” he muttered. “You are also right someone was using us. It’s what we do.”
When we met with Sylvia, I handed her the stones. “What do you think we should do with these?” she asked.
“Weigh them, look up today’s value on the Internet, divide 90% of the value by six and call it a bonus,” I said.
“You know that little incident in the dining hall cost you over 50% of the stones sales price,” Sylvia said.
“It was worth it,” I said.
“Yeah, you guys made some friends this morning,” she said.
“I’d rather have their respect I can count on than like me or not,” I said.
“Yeah, you are right about that,” Sylvia said.
It was noon before Sylvia settled all the finances of the mission. Valuing the stones took most of that time. When we got the call to meet her in Andrew’s office after lunch, I was glad it was almost over. I was ready to get back to Farmer’s Grove.
Once we were all assembled, Sylvia said, “You will find two checks in your pay envelope in the case of the strike team it is a check for your regular pay, plus a second check for 32K. That is the bonus from the estimated value of the emeralds Lilly’s team recovered. So you better play nice from now on,” she demanded.
“You three,” she said addressing us, “have checks for your contractors fee plus the same 32K as the strike team for the Emeralds. Now go make nice then get the fuck out of here and sin no more.”
We all shook hands and then got into our cars or trucks and left Church Camp. The three of us drove back to Farmers Grove without much conversation. It was after five before I got home.
The first thing I did was lay in a fire. The sun was below the horizon and the chill inside the Country Store returned, if it ever left. While the fire was building heat, I called Luis.
“So you did get back by the end of the month,” he said without even a hello.
“I did, and hello to you too you mean old bastard,” I said. “Are you packed?” I was surprised how quickly I changed mindsets. I was truly a mental case, I decided. I had just been lucky enough to find a release for it.
“When are you going to move me?” Luis asked.
“Well I just got in. I need to see what progress Carlos has made this week. We had two houses ready to go when I left town, so you have a place, just where I’m not sure.”
“You know I have to be out by the weekend. That’s in two more days,” he said.
“If I look around the site in the morning, I’ll call you and let you know what the plan is.” I hung up before he could start with anything else. I reminded myself he was old and needed more reassuring than I ever needed.
After a dinner of fish sticks, mac and cheese served with garlic toast, a favorite from my youth, I moved on to the Internet. I was checking the email in my cover name, when I found that Rose Seabold had mail from a couple of chat acquaintances, mostly telling me they missed me and hoped I was well.
It was strange to realize I hadn’t even thought of sex. Well I hadn’t thought of having sex myself. I was constantly reminded that there was sex by Jeremy and Alice. It was impossible to forget about sex with them around.
I found myself in an adult chat room for about an hour. I became extremely bored quickly. Men had so many bad pickup lines that I was terribly disappointed in them all. After that hour I just went to bed. It was early but I told myself that I was still trying to catch up on my lost sleep.
“You know you can’t really do that,” Liam said.
“Liam please come to bed and stop that. Being a know-it-all is not very attractive,” I explained.
I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, I guess I’m really home. I found the fire dying so after my middle of the night urination, I tossed a log on the fire, then went back to bed. I was a little surprised to find the bed empty.
I was up at five so it looked as though nothing changed. Of course things always changed, even if we didn’t realize it.
I was sitting by the fire dressed for the morning ride and sipping on my coffee when the phone rang. “We are on our way,” Alice said.
“Meet you at the end of the drive,” I replied. It was a short ride from their house to my Country Store, so I had very little time to pull on a heavy sweater and my hunting coat.
It seemed as thought it wasn’t as cold as I remembered, but it was probably the same. After all it had been just over a week. While I sat on the trike waiting for the two of them to arrive, I thought about the day ahead. It was as if the last week didn’t happen at all.
I was saved from the thought that I might be losing my mind by the sight of small lights coming toward me. The lights on a trike weren’t much good, since it only projected a few yards down the road, but that was better than nothing, I supposed.
I started before they reached me so I had some momentum going when they pulled even with me and ready to race. The race was neck and neck until we got within sight of the fast food restaurant. Then it was all out war for the final sprint. I usually pulled away, but not always. That morning it was Alice who pulled ahead because Jeremy pulled in front of me and slowed just a little. It was enough to allow Alice to win. I didn’t mind it was her turn.
“You are buying,” she said to Jeremy. Then to me she said, “In your face.”
“I blame you for this Rose. Before Alice met you she was very shy and demure,” he said as a reply.
“You know I don’t believe that for a minute,” I said. “Maybe she is more vocal, but as long as I have known her she has been probably the bravest of us all.”
We were inside the warm restaurant by that time, so I went to sit with Alice who left us arguing in the parking lot. She was waiting for Jeremy to bring the food. We sat for a long couple minutes than out of the blue she asked, “Rose did you ever do it with an animal?”
“No did you?” I asked.
“No but in college I was asked to entertain at a fraternity once. I think they had that in mind, I told them hell no. Now I wonder,” she said with a laugh.
“Why Alice you are a dirty little pervert,” I said laughing as well. “You didn’t refuse, they couldn’t find a trained animal.”
When I got home the water was hot, so I took a shower and dressed. I wore the short sleeve thermal tee shirt under a pull over sweatshirt, which they were calling a cotton sweater at the time. I also wore the hunting coat. It would be over kill in the middle of the day, but at that moment it was perfect. I did leave the ski gloves at home.
It was well after eight when I got my hair dry enough to go out into the cold. The knit cap cut at least thirty minutes off the drying time for my hair. I just tried to get the standing water off with a towel and ten minutes of sitting by the fire before I slipped one of my knit caps over it.
I was caught by lots of CCTV cameras. The vast majority of them were routine. The few times the cops would want to see me I looked like I did that morning. But on a job the clothes would have been different. I wore makeup at home, not much but some, in the field I almost never did, unless the character called for it. I had no tattoos or marks of any kind. In other words I was about as disguised as a non-disguise could be.
When I arrived at the site, Carlos and Juan were working on one of the houses near the entrance to the property. They only worked on the structural parts, so at the moment the one they worked on while I was gone needed painting. All others I had arranged to be painted before I left on my ‘trip’.
The two, which had been completed before I left, also had carpet and appliances. Even though the low cost mill houses had hardwood floors, it was more practical to cover them with cheap carpet. The kitchen appliances were the bottom of the line GE. They were part of the illusion of a complete remodel.
They were meant to be the most basic of housing. I planned to refuse any government vouchers of any kind. It might be the most basic of houses, but by refusing vouchers, I would get better tenants, I expected.
For the streak of houses for sale, I planned to keep the price close to break even for the artist community. I could price them above market value slightly then cut a deal to good people. The ones I wanted in the community. It would not be subsidized, but it would be as quietly sanitized as much as possible.
“Hey did you have any problem getting paid,” I asked Carlos when I approached him.
“No the bookkeeper was very nice about it,” he said. Nice was the word he used for people who didn’t really want to deal with him but had no choice. She had been at least courteous, I thought.
“I’ll probably be around till the end of this project, but you will have to deal with her, so next time carry her a cake or something,” I suggested. “Where do we stand?”
“We will finish this one tomorrow then there will be two houses ready for paint, floors, and appliances. Juan and I are finding the houses. We choose the ones that need the least repairs. They seem to need less than it appeared on the walk through.
The builders used good lumber and did really good work in the days these houses were built. We bought many things at Home Depot using your card. Last time the card had a small balance so we held off purchasing some of the materials for the house we are working on now,” he said.
“Okay I can move some money this morning.” Since there was no WiFi near the project sight I called the bookkeeper and had her move ten grand into the prepaid card account. That should hold you a while. She is doing it now but I wouldn’t do any heavy shopping till tomorrow.”
“I need to talk to you about another problem. I’m going down to get Luis my drawing teacher. I can get everything he owns in my pickup I think. But he is going to be living here while we work, so which house will have the least maintenance and lowest utility bills?” I asked.
“The gray one had a brick hearth for the fire place chimney. We had to pull the chimney down. We went back with a wood stove in addition to the gas furnace. The house is small like the others, so it could be heated with just the wood stove. The only electricity are the lights, water heater, and kitchen appliances that would be minimal,” Carlos informed me.
“Let’s take a minute and do a walk through, then I’ll call Luis,” I suggested.
“Sure it’s a good thing you are renting to a Latino first,” Carlos said.
“Carlos that had nothing to do with it. Luis is my instructor and he needs a place to live that is all there is to it.” I said that in the small living room of the gray house. I had noticed the wood covered stainless steel chimney first thing when we drove up. I noticed what amounted to the twin to my wood stove in the living room. The placement was not ideal, but it would do the job if the fan of the furnace was to be used.
“Well it looks fine to me. Luis doesn’t do English as well as some other folks, but he does understand. He just seems to have a little trouble remembering the exact words. So I would like for you to help him when you can,” I suggested. “After he settles in we will find something for him to do here. After all it’s supposed to be an artist colony, and I want him to join the community. We also need an on site agent to show people around, and someone to run the little community store.”
“I see well I am just the builder,” Carlos said.
“Right,” I said slightly sarcastically.
It was almost nine when Carlos went back to work and I called Luis. “Luis, I want you 100% packed and ready to go at noon. Can you do that?” I asked. “Everything has to fit in the back of my pick up, so pack carefully.”
“I will be ready I have the boxes and there will not be a lot to move,” he said.
“Carlos. I’m going to take off and leave for College Hill at noon. Luis is a bit of a procrastinator, so I’m not sure when I’ll be back with his stuff. If the county electric coop comes while I’m gone, show them which house is to be turned on,” I said. “I’m going to scrounge some wood from our trash for his stove tonight. If he wants gas, it will probably be tomorrow before they turn it on.
I had a couple of hours left after I found enough wood for a couple of days. Hell there was enough lying around for a month of one man’s needs. I tried to use everything the old houses provided. I was glad to see that the place was coming along so well.
Since I was finish scrounging I called the painter. He knew me and told me he wasn’t at all busy and would come right over to look at the job. I explained tomorrow would be better but to bring his shit with him. I just wanted the two houses, which were ready for paint, to be white on the outside. The trim could be a different color. That we could pick when he arrived the next day. Since he had worked for me before, he was sure he would be paid.
We were making a good start but we had a long way to go before the project would be complete. Not only that, I still had to find a use for the large empty field that once held the factory. I took it on myself to choose the next house to rehab.
I saw at least twenty that looked like they might not be too bad. Almost all of them needed some structural repair. I chose only houses that had minimal water damage. So far we had been able to find salvageable bathroom fixtures or reuse the existing ones in the homes. The appliances were all missing and I wouldn’t trust the hot water heaters if they had been present. The heating systems were missing, probably sold for junk. I was surprised to find the bathtubs and pedestal sinks in place.
After my walk through, I went back to the house where Carlos and his brother were working. “Hey Carlos before I head out, what was the problem with rehabbing the windows?” I asked.
“It is a matter of how best to use our time,” he said. “However we can probably have Hector Rodriquez do the glazing and repainting. A new window unit like those we are using from the demolished houses cost well over a hundred dollars. They can be redone by Hector for a hundred with you buying the glass and glazing. He will rebuild them for that and prime them for paint as well.”
“Fine have him get ahead enough so we don’t get held up waiting,” I said. I’ll buy the materials and pay him when we pick them up. I can do the shuttle, so you don’t have to stop work. Do we need to demolish more houses for materials?” I asked.
“We can complete two more then stop to demolish houses,” he said. “We can finish this side of the street before we do that.”
“Good plan,” I said. “I want to use these ten houses for rentals. The other street will be for sale. I don’t know about the other five clustered around the little store building. Those may go either way depending on how it goes, I guess,” I said.
Noon came quickly so I headed out toward College Hill. I found a radio station with classical music, so I tried to listen to it. I could handle it a lot better than modern music. Yeah I was under thirty but I couldn’t call the crap that passed for music anything but noise.
It was pretty close to 1 PM when I had the guard ring up to Luis’s studio apartment. “Just tell him I’m here and to allow me to go up, so I can help him move his stuff down,” I suggested to the guard.
“We sure are glad you are giving old Luis a place to stay. He is a good guy and got a bad rap,” the guard said.
“I hope I’m doing the right thing,” I suggested.
“So you want to pull that truck around to the loading dock,” Luis said when he stepped out of the passenger elevator. “We got everything ready to bring down on the service elevator. We might be old but we know how to move shit.”
“Okay I’ll pull around to the back. So is that where I need to be?” I asked.
“Yes just back up to the big doors,” he said in heavily accented English. Fifteen minutes later we were on the way. His bed and several boxes of clothes pretty much took the whole bed of my truck. He had a few folding tables for which we managed to find room as well.