Friday, September 28, 2007

Chapter 5: Hard at Work, Part II

“Vern! Great to see you. Glad you’re here. I got to tell you, I wasn’t sure…” Worry supplanted delight as he drew closer. “Good Lord, Vern, you look horrible. Are you OK? Here, sit down.” He grasped Vernon’s arm and guided him to an armchair against the wall across from his desk.

“I’m fine, just tired. You wouldn’t believe the night I had. Raymond’s the only one who got any sleep.”

“New home getting to you a bit?”

Vernon gave a mirthless chuckle. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“If you need to go home…”

“No!” He made himself relax and unclench his fists from the chair arms. A shudder rippled through his frame. “Sorry, didn’t mean to yell. You need me here, and I don’t want to disturb the family. You know how Cheryl gets when she’s arranging the house.”

“Yeah.” He laughed. “Remember that time I came over to watch the Super Bowl when she was putting in new bedroom furniture? I think I was lucky to escape with my head.” His laughter grew, and he leaned back in the chair. “And then you came back to my house. How long did you wind up staying before you decided it was safe to go home?”

Fighting back tears, Vernon forced a smile. “Three days. The first thing she did when I walked in the door was throw a plate at my head. I slept on the couch for a week.”

“Wow.” Ethan straightened and let his mirth subside. “Still, are you sure she doesn’t need you at home? It can’t be easy, trying to straighten all that up with two kids to deal with.”

“It’s not a problem. They got a girl from there in Jennings Grove to watch the kids for the day. She’s not even charging us for it.”

“Really? That’s nice.” He leaned forward. “That’s an odd little town, isn’t it?”

His heart sped up. “How do you mean?”

“When I visited there to look at that house, they greeted me with open arms. But once they found out I was just buying rental property, they acted like I told them I planned to move to town and personally strangle all their pets.” Ethan shook his head. “One guy – Ware, I think his name was – even offered to buy me out of the deal.”

“Travis Ware?”

“Yeah, that’s him. Called himself ‘mayor’ and walked around like he owned the whole place. I refused, of course. After that, they all stopped talking to me altogether, except to tell me that I couldn’t have people working on the house after dark.”

“Sounds reasonable to me. Who wants to hear construction at all hours?”

“I guess, but they were just so snotty about the whole thing.” He shrugged. “Besides, it wasn’t necessary, anyway. Would you believe that’s built into the deed restrictions? It says I can’t have any sort of contractor ‘or anyone not residing on the property between an hour before sunset and an hour after dawn.’ I got to tell you, I almost walked away from the whole thing when I saw that clause.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Money. With the land and house on it, it was too good a deal to pass up, even with all the work the house needed. I would have had to spend at least half as much more on any of the other properties I was looking at in the south part of the county. Say, how’s the house look, anyway? I haven’t been out there in awhile.”

“It’s fine for the most part. The water heater doesn’t vent right, though. It kind of smells like rush hour in the bathroom. And Cheryl wasn’t too thrilled with the asbestos siding and lead paint.”

“I know, I know. Tell her I plan to have it taken care of by the end of the year. I’m trying to see what my options are. You know how these environmental whackos can be with that stuff.”

“Take your time, Ethan. I told her that should be fine as long as we leave it up on the wall and don’t mess with it. I doubt you’ll hear another word from her about it.” Or anything else, he thought, fighting down a hysterical giggle.

“Well, it still needs to be dealt with. I’ll have my guy look at the water heater as soon as he can. He’s busy, though; it’ll probably be next week.”

“That’s fine.”

“Good.” Ethan dug around in a drawer and pulled out two pairs of safety glasses and earplugs. Handing one pair of each to Vernon, he stood and donned the protective equipment. Vernon followed suit. “What do you say we go down to the floor and walk around?”

He led the way out of the office and through the doors at the far end of the hall. On the other side, the thuds grew into a percussive beat that played on his ribcage like a second heartbeat. The sound changed, growing more complex. Even with the earplugs, he could make out several machines running at once, clattering and thumping in an endless cycle. The air smelled of hot plastic, grease and a faint whiff of ozone.

“You got some bad wiring in here?” Vernon asked, sniffing.

“One of our stamp presses went out this morning. I was hoping you could take a look at it and see if you could figure out why it fried.”

“Got me troubleshooting on the first day?”

“It’s one of the things you did best at Franklin.”

“I’ll get right on it as soon as we’re done here.”

They spent the next two hours in a flurry of greetings and handshakes until his head spun. He watched machines twisting thin steel rods into the branches of plastic trees, men and women cutting green sheets into small, simulated evergreen needles and even a couple of people flocking trees. October and they’re already consumed with Christmas trees. Well, December is only a couple of months away. I guess they do have to ramp up now.


Part III coming Monday!

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At September 28, 2007 12:33 PM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

Another excellent chapter. Lookin' forward to Monday's dendy games  

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