Adventures of RealtorMan

125 Old Gust Front

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Kitty figured she’d be well ahead. Not only did the Minosas have the watery and darker return to the condo dock but also the car trip back to the west side. And more likely than not, after dropping Thea and Erin, they’d head straight for the barn, their McMansion, not the training center. The women all hoped Kitty was dead. Herbie, if uninvolved in the caper as she supposed, would first look for her in the morning; it wasn’t Monday night, so there would be likely no session with Moth. Chapter 125 Old Gust Front

She drove directly back to her Gospel Hostile, mentally packing up her few belongings, and hoping she’d find at least one of the boys on hand to help remove her things from the storage unit. If Myrtle and her henchmen believed they had drowned her, they probably wouldn’t toss out her stuff until morning but she wanted to be out of there by then, deprive them of the satisfaction, turn the tables on them, and set them worrying about what would happen if she had ‘miraculously’ survived.

It was very dark when she pulled in the driveway, though way off in the distance she’d observed occasional flashes, lightning no doubt, hardly surprising on a warm summer night. When she stepped out of the car, it was breezy and cooler than it had been down at the lake, an odd meteorological reversal. She went in calling Moth’s name, nearing the office. He didn’t answer; he must be out, another odd thing. She was going up the stairs up to her room when the smell of smoke assailed her. Coughing, she tried to call again but the call died in her throat as the haze tread beside her up the stairwell. She covered her mouth with her hand and hit the floor, crawling through the less smoky tunnel of air likely to be there. The carpet wasn’t hot but it was hard to see. She felt her way to the doorway of her room and turned inside.

Her candles were burning, all of them, set in a ring on the floor, and by their smudgy flames, and through her smarting eyes she perceived Moth, passed out beside them. Smoke menaced from the pile of tracts on the chair, like a stationary haboob, skulking and ready to convulse. Kitty was all too familiar with smoke damage; there would be nothing here left to save, except Moth. She pulled at his feet and he slid easily, lightly along as she dragged, as though there was nothing to him at all. It would be a bumpy ride for him back down the stairs but it was the best she could do. She swallowed her rising panic, even as she uncovered her mouth, using both hands to haul him along behind her as she crawled back the way that she’d come.

When she reached the head of the steps, she rotated him, swiveling his head to go down first, cupping her arms under his shoulders in an inverted adaptation of lifesaving in water, so as to slightly cradle his head on the descent. It would take her longer to go down that way, backwards for thirteen steps but with each riser descended, the smoke seemed to thin. No sounding smoke alarm yet disturbed them. Had Herbie had ever bothered to install one? Moth gasped and gagged. Kitty risked half-standing, and taking a new hold, cupping his shoulders above her arms, she spluttered her way to the front door, and out. It seemed like hours since she’d entered the house. The breeze had since become a wind. She stood and breathed it in before she stooped back down to Moth.

“Moth? Moth?” She pinched his cheek, tossed his face from side-to side between her palms. He opened his eyes, saw her, and erupted into a throaty rattle before he stumbled to his knees. “Moth, the upstairs is on fire. Do you understand?” Moth nodded. “Is there anything on the main floor you need? We don’t have long to try and find it.” Kitty knew it was absurd to suggest re-entering the house; minutes collapsed to seconds in a burning building. She looked up at the second story. There was a glow but neither flames nor smoke were yet visible.

“Everything. Nothing.”

“Moth, there’s no time for this. Think, quick!”

“Money. There’s lots of money.”

“Let’s get it, then. Go, I’ll be right behind you.” Kitty detoured into the kitchen to wet them each a dish towel to cover their faces, tossing them over her elbow as she tore off a plastic bag from the box under the sink. She turned into the office, where Moth was bent, unlocking the safe. Kitty wrapped a towel round Moth’s heaving shoulders, and opened the bag under his shaking hands to collect the goods, deliberately dropping several bundles of bills. Smoke, wooden and thick, stung its way in from the hallway, forming an obstacle to their exit.

“Cover your face. Go, go, go!” She propelled Moth from behind, as he stumbled reluctantly forward, blinded and choked by the denser smoke, toward the outside and the saving wind. On the drive, they found themselves enveloped in the stunned and receiving arms of Woody and Tad.

“Don’t call!” Moth beseeched, as he saw Tad toying with his phone.

“What? Why? It’s on fire.”

“No, don’t.” Kitty knew they all needed to be gone, before the neighbors witnessed the fire and raised the alarm.  “Meet us at the storage place.” She could only hope that stubbornness would not rear its ugly head, like the flames now showing clearly through the upstairs windows. And as she pulled out of the driveway, with Moth in tow, she heard the shattering of glass and saw the stabbing flames charge the roof, forced by the gusting winds.

Once in the car, memory served, and her pre-conflagration agenda sped back to mind, quicker and more alive than any flicker of flame. Away from her second ‘accident’ scene of the evening, and a second escape, her headlights confirmed that the church truck was leading the way to her requested destination. Both vehicles pulled into the now familiar space. Tad tumbled out of the truck, staring, and mute. Moth emerged from the passenger side of her car, a poor creature beside its intense red, brandishing a large kitchen bag. Woody spun testily out of the driver’s side of the truck and lit in to her.

“You’re just letting the house burn down?”

“It was me. I accidentally started it.” Moth tried to explain but Kitty interrupted.

“Listen. Your mothers, and your snitty cousin, all tried to drown me tonight.” Tad inched closer, unwilling to believe his ears.

“What? Where? How?” Kitty supplied the missing answers, opening the envelope in this imaginary game of Clue, coming rapidly to the known Conclusion and revealing to all the players the location, the weapon, and the perpetrators.

“On the boat, with a net, all of them. While your Dad was below. They hustled me into a net they thought was closed. Pitched me over the side to drown. You figure it out. So I don’t much care if the house of torture burns. Right, Moth?” Moth gave her a sharp glance. Kitty winked her reply, willing him to understand that she knew everything. Moth signaled his comprehension, and relief.

“Burn, house of torture, burn.” He began a chant, raising the white bag as an offering to appease any singed household gods. Kitty smiled at Woody and Tad, and pointed at the trophy.

“The contents of the office safe. A good time to make a break, boys?”

124 A Curious Incident

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Before Kitty hit the water, protesting that her insulted hair was clean, the survivor, not the victim, got the upper hand. She took in air. Some people might not be able to fight their way out of a paper bag but she was damned if she would be held in tow by a plastic one. She had observed Thea’s attempt to trap her in the net and had kicked at that end to loosen the knot. The other end, swarming with the make believe, blown-up fish, tended to rise. Beyond them was the other, barely secured end that she herself had pulled closed but never tied. So she swam with the pretty fish and slid past them to their end of the net, yanking open the enclosing mesh. Another pull, and she was free.

She surfaced, breathed in, and swam again, just below the surface, until she could stand. She had the advantage now of relative darkness. Lights gleamed only on the boat deck. She watched as Herbie sought her, shouting her name and aiming a flashlight sternward and around the boat, then back and forth, searching the way to shore. She ducked under again, as the beam raced her way. Let them think what they may; she was done with them, now. She was supposed to be treading the boards in this charade, not treading water.

Dogs are not allowed to be off-leash at Miwaukee County Parks, or beaches.

Dogs are not allowed to be off-leash at Milwaukee County Parks, or beaches.

She knew the way forward. This was a magical place, with whimsical characters. Kitty was not alone on the shore, not on such a summer night as this. The random and occasional smudges of light were little twists of fire, not fireflies. A faint breeze wafted aromatic smoke across the strand. Fireflies never smelled this good. There were lovers as well as watchers, and as she passed them she made out their blanketed moans of ecstasy. The star gazers were out in force, relaxing their shoulders, normally strained against the Wisconsin evening chill, into the balm of a night in June. The pyromaniacs had also descended, decrying the dearth of burnable wood, their attempts to set a bonfire alight thwarted as they saw the easiest to fetch kindling, appropriated earlier for games for dogs, left afloat by those same flagging retrievers.

Who else was here? With the rock hunters and shell seekers away until light and waves renewed their pastime, shadows and their inoffensive occupants all sought another state of being, whether love or drug induced. Those she recognized as truly here remained barely seen, or entirely unseen. What then of those unseen that she only vaguely felt might exist: the ghosts, the fairies, the demons, the imps, all lurking in the folded shroud of night? She’d just barely escaped the harpies onboard by means of a rope trick, an oversight on their part.

Her feet found the concrete slabs that lay off-shore, ledges running often just below the surface, and all the way north to the rocky point; she was accustomed to wading their erratic lengths by day. She inched across now, feeling rather than seeing her way, calculating to get beyond the scope of Herbie’s flashlight. Once far enough north, she could easily cross over to the shore, and make her way up the bluff by any number of paths. Once among the leaning trees, she would be safe from any detection from the boat.

On board, Si achieved full consciousness, after his post-nap daze passed. The commotion upstairs had been going on for some time, breaking in on and disturbing his slumbers. He peered out into the darkness, dreading the return trip, unaccustomed as he was to night-time navigation, and determined to take it very slowly, whatever the pressure from above. It was his boat. His eye caught a movement towards the shore. He turned out the lamp, the better to see. As he squinted, he perceived a figure on the glassy surface of the lake, a figure with a halo of palest gold, upright in stately silhouette and walking on the water, parallel to the shoreline. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, and looked again. He was certain it was not moving on the beach. His passengers continued their unceasing babble. He alone was witness to the waking vision; he yielded to and blessed the sight, then turned to face his short-sighted guests, the ministers with the motes in their eyes.

Chapter 124 A Curious Incident

The R.M’s climbed the sidewalk that rose along the palisade formed by the bluffs below. A beat-up, Buick Century raced past, windows open, a raucous, quasi-musical blare escaping to rattle the night. The thumping diminished, R.M. observed a parked, red BMW.  It looked familiar. Though not a fool-proof system, R.M. did ‘see’ cars. He often wished he had the same skill with people, an instant recall of buyers at open houses just as he had with cars. He must not ‘see’ people in the same way. He liked to match up personalities and cars and to discover who went with what.

He had seen this car before, though some time back. It had sat, illegally parked, bright red in a snowstorm, in the lot of the place where he’d had to go listen to Kitty Doyle address his suggestible colleagues. An unfortunate event he’d taken pains to forget, culminating in a swarm of fake butterflies. He much preferred the occasional fireflies of summer, emerging deep in the dusk. There was at least a moment to enjoy each one, not be inundated with paper and unprofessionalism, all at once.

As he came closer, he also recognized the bumper sticker. ‘Be More Like Me’, it boasted. Must be hers, then. He had no recollection of seeing the car in the garage at the POPS, during his recent interview with Martin and Martinelli. Perhaps her space was in another section, or more likely, she’d been out at the time.

He was old enough to remember that Elvis once drove a leased, red BMW. Red was an unusual color for that make and model, though it wasn’t impossible to have one painted. Not impossible, just expensive. He passed hers, idly wondering why it would be here. Lots of people used the beach; it was a County park, after all. He’d never seen her here before but that didn’t mean she didn’t come. He was about to ask his wife if she’d ever seen Kitty, on her daily trips to the lake, but she wouldn’t know Kitty. She was his at-home assistant, didn’t have to go to sales meetings, or participate in all the nonsense, all the politics.

They reached the top of the park. The dog stopped to sniff and as they waited, R.M. turned and looked back down the street. Under the streetlights, he observed a figure, dressed in skin-tight black, like the otter creature he’d seen swimming earlier, emerge from the woods and hurriedly cross the road, stopping by that same car. Though too far away to be sure, he figured that this was Kitty, just up from the beach, performing under the spotlight the most fluid, from the top down quick-change act he had ever witnessed, before the car roared past them up the one way street.

“Why is everyone in such a rush on such a peaceful evening?” Mrs. R.M. pulled protectively on the leash, as if to defend the dog from the passing noise.

“Maybe it’s not so peaceful for everyone. She’s hell bent for someplace.” Before they turned for the westward walk home, and into the brighter lights of the village, they paused to look east and watch the wind blow galaxies of bright and fateful stars away and across space and time.

123 Swiftly Flow the Days

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

R.M. decided to take a walk. Actually, his wife had decided. He lived on a corner where a succession of dog walkers, coupled with baleful looks from his dog and his wife, served as a constant reproach. He preferred to leave them to their regular rambles, though she often prevailed and dragged him along, for his health, as she persisted in explaining. As to walk was easier than to listen, and as the evening was a fine one, this sunset excursion might be less death-like and dog-doo bearing than the humdrum, daytime trudge. She had earlier made that round trip, so the dog might be empty of further offerings.

R.M. led his pack over to the lake. The thirty minutes gave him time to think, unless of course his walking companions or encounters with neighbors distracted him along the route. His wife rarely pushed conversation, even for these public appearances. He was walking and that was concession enough. So he thought about business, reviewing points – mostly fine – that he’d stashed away, in the heat of the customer-centric moment, for his further consideration. The Shells had decided to write an offer on the unit they’d seen two weeks ago at the POPS. As promised, he’d taken them out to view other buildings that offered a morning lake view, their priority. Apples to apples, there were other units they liked the layout of somewhat better, but for the price, and building to building, they preferred the POPS.

It never surprised him anymore, what people thought was important. For some, like the Shells, it was a certain view. For another buyer, it was the soundness of the finances of the association, those able to follow, or able to pay for the services of an attorney or accountant to follow the chain of minutes and budgets back to a faint certainty that few surprises would meet them at the door when they moved in. For others, the concern was their dog. They’d had a terrible experience in their previous rental, felt like pariahs every time it barked. Or, somebody else had to know if their SUV would fit in the assigned garage space, and could the doors open, once it was parked? Little things meant a lot; they were just different little things, each to each.

A three-way view from a Milwaukee Gold Coast condo, encompassing both lake and city views to the east, south, and west.

A three-way view from a Milwaukee Gold Coast condo, encompassing both lake and city views to the east, south, and west.

R.M. had informed the Shells that it was possible, sometime out into the hereafter, or even perhaps next week and at the whim of the owner, that an entirely east-facing unit might come on the market. But they had resolved to buy in this market, not the one over the rainbow, and this was music to his attuned, realtor ears. They had thrashed out their original wish list, decided together what they should do, and R.M. felt on surer ground with them. There came a time when a buyer knew that of all the potential units this was the one to buy, that this was as good a deal as it could be.

After all the conversation about sedately welcoming in the dawn, the Shells had been misled by their dream of sunny mornings gazing eastward. Turned out it was too hard to look at, and anyway, they had little time for gazing. If they could grab a few minutes of sparkling sunshine when the weather offered it, before they headed out each morning, that would suffice. Retreating from their original stance and opting for a place offering a wider variety of exposures, to the east, south, and west, in a range of seasons, they could command longer, and less blinding views.

That, plus they appreciated that this unit was in move-in condition. They had zero time for ‘HGTV’ related activities, no matter the clarion call of ads reinforcing that without a home improvement agenda, and new wallpaper – preferably of their own design – they could not find happiness. They had to get up and go to work, and re-pay their student loans. He was pleased that they had seen it through, and that the color of the granite counters was now immaterial.

R.M. and company crossed Lake Drive. It was too late to run the dog down on the beach but they could enjoy the view of Lake Michigan from the grassy top of the bluff, where there were benches for those requiring a rest before the return leg of a jaunt. And the panorama was a remarkable one. Even at this time of the year, nearing midsummer, as the light faded to twilight on the eastern shore below the bluffs, obscuring the strand at the shoreline, the sun still played out over the lake, far out to its Adam blue rim.Chapter 123 Swiftly Flow the Days

Balanced against the blue, a triumvirate of white boats skirted this horizon, riding the altar cloth that split the heights from the depths. As the hulls rested below this edge, mast fingers prayerfully lifted skyward, their illuminated sails like hands folded in supplication, revealing a sunset-gilt triptych. R.M. recollected himself as an altar boy at St. Agnes, schooled to revere such beauty but easily diverted. A swallow, another watcher, churred from its twisted, cliff-side perch; R.M.’s eyes tracked its dart as it swooped towards the scene playing out in the bay below. He’d observed events of many kinds in the bay; weddings by the score, family photo sessions, even a bounding chorus of teenage boys whooping out a show tune, oblivious to onlookers, spurred to a quick run-through by the chilly waves from which their circle sprang.

This was different, a drama played out upon a single boat anchored just offshore. He absently took it in, through the thickening gloam. A cluster, largely female, manned the deck. One of the women hailed an unseen ‘sister’, her megaphone-d demand reverberating across the water. A golden head surfaced near the boat, followed by a black body; some new variant of otter, perhaps. No, it joined the line-up on deck; human, then. Voices rose, this time unaided he assumed, as the resonance was hostile, not mechanical. The action reached the forefront of the crowded, miniature stage, with something heaving at the far side before he heard an irregular splash. It grew too dark to see, even as he squinted, waiting for more. He gave up and stood to go.

“The train of Oberon.” said Mrs. R.M.

“Eh?”

“The train of Oberon, remember, from a Midsummer Night’s dream?”

“Um…oh that train.”

“Really R.M. Do you just pretend to be awake when we watch old movies?”

“Remind me, then.”

“At dusk, Oberon, the King of the Fairies, lets loose all his folk from his vast, black, trailing cape, as night falls behind him, until dark surrenders to dawn and he gathers them in again. It’s magnificent, and set to Mendelssohn.”

“I remember the Mendelssohn.” R.M. fancied himself a devotee of classical music but devotion did not extend to fairies. His wife was more fanciful than he. His ‘ocean-front’ buyers imagined a deep sea before them, not a shallow, benign lake. Condo dwellers lived above the fray of creatures of the deep, and perhaps of evil lurking in those depths. “I don’t remember that bit.” He confessed; his thoughts today were destined to be framed by others’ pre-occupation with sunrise and sundown. The newly installed sign at the top of the walk insisted that the park was closed at 10 p.m. He supposed it was always too dark by then for anyone to see the sign but in any case the rule was typically overlooked.

“Morning comes early, especially at mid-summer, and we should head back.” she said. “But I’d like to walk up the park, take the longer way home.” Resistance being futile, they took to the sidewalk again, heading north.

122 Widening the Net

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Si maneuvered the prow closer to shore but north of the groin, maintaining one rule of proper distance while breaking another, until the sound experiment produced an audible, with benefit of megaphone, consistency.

“Si, can you keep us in this spot?” The weeds on the surface seemed further onshore; Si dropped the anchor.

Chapter 122 Widening the Net

“I’ll be in the cabin. Call me when you need me.” Si wanted to avoid being cast in this drama. He retreated down to his comfortable chair, and looked out towards the beach where the Pastor’s partner lingered, awaiting instructions on this training ground for newbie miracle workers. What these instructions were eventually to be was the subject of some disagreement, if the tone of conversation on deck was anything to go by. She perched, apparently impatient of the delay, on what must have been a larger piece of driftwood, that in the gloaming undulated as a sea serpent, raising dragon sharp talons and lashing tails. It rose up on the north side of the wall that severed the beach in two, and with she its black rider, it merged into a fearsome apparition, a creature of oceanic, not of lakeside, depths.

He closed his eyes to it. As he drifted off, the shadows rubbing out the ever-darkening face of the bluff shooed the beach going public reluctantly up the ramp, as the beautiful day ended. Silhouettes criss-crossed the top of the bluff, dissolving as night arrived. He dozed, aware of voices and movement above him, as in a dream.

“It’ll be too dark soon to do anything, now, thanks to your bickering. She’s not going to be able to see my signals.” Herb lectured at all three of them. His plan had been to figure the distance between boat and beach at which the sound level was consistent over a number of tries, with a range of speaking voices and with set pieces: prayers, songs, readings, and preaching, as they’d have to use all of these, in the event.

The culmination was to let out the nets over the side, and to haul them in overflowing with fish. Kitty had researched nets and proposed using lightweight, plastic mesh ones. The only fish substitutes that Myrtle and Thea had found, their assignment, were in bright tropical colors, inflatable and expensive. Kitty had then made a suggestion to Herb to just use beige packing peanuts; surely, at that distance, the eye wouldn’t perceive. Her sensible and cost-effective alternative ensured another round of back-biting for Herb, and more rehearsal time wasted as they railed on at him about real ropes, then segued to false gods; he didn’t see their point, only felt their rancor.

“We can’t see how to make this ugly net work in the dark, either, so we have to do this right now. I’ll call her in, if you won’t.” Myrtle raised the megaphone to her mouth and before Herb could protest, crowed, “Sister Kathy, swim out.” He was puzzled by her use of the word ‘Sister’ as applied to her nemesis. They all waited for their Sister to appear. She materialized, sleek in her suit, at the foot of the boat ladder.

“Sister Myrtle.” Kitty mimicked the Pastor’s wife, ignoring the other two women jockeying in on the exchange. They towered behind Kitty’s brand new Sister – in post position – at the head of the short flight of steps.

“Sister Kathy, it’s time to check the nets. Climb up and demonstrate.” As Kitty rose from the water and stepped onto the deck, Herb interrupted his wife’s run-on agenda, and attempted to re-establish his own, now in a more deferential tone.

“Kathy, while I remember to ask, before you go back to the beach, will you please quick check the propeller, make sure we haven’t picked up any weeds.” This politeness to her only served to whip up more rage in the under-served hearts of the other three. “Si was concerned we might be catching some. That would stop the propeller from working, so he says. I’m no sailor.”

“Certainly.” Kitty knotted a length of twine she pulled up behind her to mark the length of the distance from shore, where she’d left the other end tied to a stake firmly set in the beach. “I’d estimate that we’re still in the ball park. I’ll pull this in when I get back to the beach and measure, to be sure.” With a precise and supple arm, she aimed and hurled the ball of twine back toward the shore. Turning her attention to the bale of plastic netting strewn about her feet, she commented, “Actually best, Sister, if you untie this up here on the railing, or in the water, otherwise you might trip up. It springs at you. Future reference strattera 40 mg.” She faced Herb. “What’s next, Pastor?”

“My timing hasn’t worked out as well as I’d hoped. We didn’t get to rehearse many of the sound issues we’d pre-arranged to try. Now that night is falling, unfortunately we’ll have to wait until another opportunity. All part of the learning curve, yes?” His attempt at excuse came out with an unconvincing snigger. Not one of them echoed his expectations. His family was glaring, closing in, encircling Kitty, though she seemed to rise, standing head and shoulders above them, her hair a glowing halo, re-directing the remains of the dying light. “Mrs. Minosa, Thea, and her niece, Erin – have you two actually met, well you have now, haven’t you? – are suggesting that before we head back, that we test the fishing net portion of the event. Can you show us how that will work, while we can still see?”

“Yes. This should all be done on the side of boat, or boats, facing away from the shore, of course, so that we can work the miracle unseen. We’ll have to secure the net to the side, to be able to haul it back up.” Kitty maneuvered her way under the plastic bale, finding the openings as she wrestled the expanding net over to the railing. “Are there any fish to put in?” Erin huffed, and stuffed in their paltry sample. Kitty tossed an end of the net up on the rail, and pulled up on the attached drawstring. Smiling, plastic fish eyes peered through the mesh. “Are there any more lights on the boat? Can you find out?” Herb nodded and went below where he found his pilot, fast asleep. The moment Herb’s back was turned, the women let go, their anger a hissing quiver of speech, first Thea, then Erin, then Myrtle.

“You harlot.”

“You shape shifter.”

“You whited sepulcher.” They formed a chorus. This was an unfamiliar portion of the script to Kitty.

“Wait, is this a re-write?” Maddened by Kitty’s belittling, Myrtle wound up again.

“Who violates my son, is evil!” At this, Kitty just laughed in her face.

“Look closer to home, Sister.” With that taunt, the angry birds descended, and man-handled their startled prey into the net.

“False unbeliever!”  Thea pronounced, as she lashed a rough knot in the drawstring, while Kitty kicked.

“Let me go… you can have all of them back again.” Kitty recanted, reaching her fingers through the mesh. Myrtle spit at them.

“Keep your foul hand and your unclean hair. Drowning is too good for you!” They heaved the closed net and its castigated contents overboard into the dark waters.

“My hair is clean…” was the last they heard of her. Herb stumbled back over the cluttered deck, flashlight in hand.

“This is it for light, Kathy. Where is she, Myrtle? What was that splash?”

“She had to go.”

121 The Sound and the Furies

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

“So, ladies, what’s the plan for this lovely evening?” Si greeted his guests at his boat slip, Pastor and Mrs. Minosa, her sister Thea, and a younger woman introduced to him as their niece, Erin Yees. “Good and calm, at least. We heading anyplace special?”

Milwaukee River harbor entrance beneath the Lake Expressway, with lighthouse, Hank Aaron State Trail and Erie Street plaza to the left.

Milwaukee River harbor entrance beneath the Lake Expressway, with lighthouse, Hank Aaron State Trail and Erie Street Plaza to the left.

As they came aboard, carrying large plastic bags of props, Si learned that their destination was a beach on the northern Milwaukee county shoreline. He’d first have to navigate the Milwaukee River eastward under the Hoan bridge and out into the harbor, then northward past the festival grounds and the marina, skirting the city beaches upto the suburban ones. Even on his sleek cabin cruiser, he could only pick up any real speed over the open lake waters, so it was going to be a be a fairly long ride, at least eight miles each way with a return journey in the dusk or more probably dark to slow them down further. This trip should take care of a lot of his guilt.

His four guests had their heads together most of the way there. They seemed almost conspiratorial; the Minosas always looked that way to him. At least this saved him from making small talk. He needed to pay some attention to where he was going; he was a bit rusty after a winter away from his helm. It was still early in the summer, with most of his boat time spent down in the cabin, his home away from home, reading and resting up for the really fine days to come. He was a fair weather fiend when it came to boating.

“Uncle Herb?”

“Yes, Erin.”

“My interview with Mr. Thuss is tomorrow, remember? I’m still the only candidate you’ve recommended, right? You didn’t suggest Kathy Doyle, did you? Linwood thought you might be thinking about it.”

“Linwood did?” Of all things, Herb intended to keep his Kathy away from Thuss, not expedite their relationship. Erin asked too many questions. “Mr. Thuss has hiring guidelines he needs to follow, dear. You just do your best to show well. You have no work experience, so you should emphasize your other, um, qualities.” Erin simpered back at him but was sure she should be offended by this avuncular advice.

“People like her, with her kind of experience, don’t deserve to go to Heaven, isn’t that right?” Erin had seen but never met her and resented the comparison.

“I teach that Heaven is for the helpers and heroes of this world, Erin. But I don’t decide who gets into that lovely and peaceful place. I hope it’s full of people we love.” Herb’s glib platitudes reeked of hypocrisy.

“Who loves Kathy Doyle?”

“Kathy Doyle deserves to be punished, not rewarded, for her misdeeds.” Myrtle had her own ideas about what should be taught. “She’s a sinner and it’s our job to catch her out in her artifice.” Herb had a few diddles of his own at stake as far as Kathy was concerned and wasn’t sure how much they all knew, or guessed. How far out on this limb should he go crawling?

“She’s supposed to be working for you, not against you.” Thea put in her two cents and received an ominous look from her brother-in-law, who preferred to keep his teaching in house. Bad enough he had to endure Myrtle’s pronouncements but he intended to squelch Thea’s entrance to his limelight. She belonged in the choir. He changed the subject.

“We don’t want to be punished for the sins of omission, either.” Herb needed to get at least one venue under his belt this week or he might lose his own job with Thuss, as well as Kathy, if this kept up. “We do have a job to do, here, remember?” Herb admonished his wife, then regretted it. “All of us, here, tonight.” He tried to amend, too late to sidestep the public reproach, the curse of marriage.

“And you mean to listen to that whore, that Babylon, and not to us?” Myrtle stood and drew herself up to her full height, so that she was nose to nose with her seated husband. He was getting a whiff of professional jealousy in her breathy judgement.

“Sit down, Myrtle, it’s a bumpy ride.” Herb was trying to keep an even keel himself, unused to the chop of the waves much less the murderous look in the eyes of these women. Despite his appeasements, all three appeared to be working themselves into a silent and deadly fury. He took the moment to consider his own position. True, Kathy was good at this job but after her defiance last night, he was less and less sure of her compliance. Would she still hold any value for him if she continued to do that? He’d excused it last night because the boy was there, and he assumed it was a show on her part. But if she was totally uninterested in bonding with him, what use would she be, especially now with Myrtle so dead set against her? He’d never change Myrtle’s mind and he couldn’t run the parish without her. He’d been so convinced that Kathy would become his private doll, his very own toy, his secret plaything, to keep in his little house, in the same toy box he kept Moth. His choice of playmate, to take out at will.

“Pastor?” Si was hailing him. “We’re almost there. What do you want me to do next?”

“Thanks, Si.” Herb went out on the deck, scanning the beach for signs of a whore in a wetsuit. A creature in black emerged from the waves, beckoning to him. His heart gave a final thump, then turned inevitably as cold as the water around him. He felt his own tragedy playing out before his disbelieving eyes. He rejoined his wife.

“Si,” he instructed, “apparently there’s a restriction here on how close you can come to that groin. Can you show me what fifty feet away looks like?” Si really couldn’t but he made a guess, to play the Pastor along. “And now, fifty feet from the shore?” Si repeated the charade.Chapter 121 The Sound and the Furies

“Herb, get her here, onboard.” Myrtle hissed her command. Herb saw that the three had unpacked the bags and stood huddled amidst the nets and fake fish.

“All in good time, yes. Save your breath to blow up those fish.” Herb then spoke across the water, not raising his voice.”Kathy, can you hear me?” She stood back from the shore, in the middle of the beach. They had practiced the steps of this dumb show in advance, with an agreed signal system. She gave him a thumbs down. Same when he cupped his mouth and spoke again. Herb reached for a megaphone, tried at the volume of his own voice speaking normally into a microphone. Again, she gave the thumbs down. He cleared his throat, and raised his voice to the pitch he sometimes reached at the culmination of his sermons. This time, she pressed her open palms up and down, an indication that she could hear some but not all of what he said. The boat would simply have to be closer for this to work, without amplification.

“Anything I can do, Pastor?”

“Can you get in any closer to the beach?”

“Well now, Pastor, I could get closer but then we might not get out again. See all that seaweed floating in the bay? That gunk gets in the propeller, and then it won’t turn. Could we ask that wetsuit lady of yours to come out and untangle it all from below, if you want to take the chance?”

120 Cheep Cheep Cheep

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

As they did their self-appointed inspection of the church each week, Myrtle Minosa and her sister Thea enjoyed an unrestrained exchange of views, a respite from their endless round of publicly meek service to the all and the sundry in their pastoral care. They had to be sure, as they went from room to room, that they were alone but as that perception was second nature to them now, after years of listening at doors, the quick hush and the candid vocalization flew freely. This Tuesday morning, they ignored their more typical, humdrum Plenty For All gripes; they had a new target. Chapter 120 Cheep Cheep

“Did you see that Kathy showing off up there onstage? Parading like a prom queen? Disgusting.” Thea led the waltz, as they entered the auditorium.

“At least you couldn’t see her tits. When she’s with Herb, she sticks out in a church t-shirt that’s six sizes too small for her.” Myrtle was unaware that her suffering husband had himself selected the size that Kathy was to sport in his presence.

“She must be a terrible trial for him, throwing herself at him that way. You’re lucky he’s so loyal.” Thea reassured her smirking sister. “I mean, she’s so fake. That hair! At morning meetings she looks blank, like nobody else is there. Here she’s all smiley and happy. And she can’t sing a note right, either. Everybody in the choir said so.”

“I think she must be stupid, or slow. How can it take that long for anybody to learn a few miracles, I ask you? They’ve been holed up for weeks now.”

“Bet she’s trying to make it last longer, to tempt poor Herb. And, it’s not just Herb she’s been tempting, either.”

“I know. Herb said he’d found Linwood up in her bedroom, last night.”

“Alone? Not?…”

“They were praying – ha! Herb’s a fool if he thinks that.”

“What did Herb see?”

“They were kneeling, or something. He ordered the boy to leave, he said, and warned the woman. I demanded an explanation from Linwood this morning. All he said was that she was the answer to his prayers, whatever that’s supposed to mean, and that she was ‘nice’ to both he and Timothy.”

“Nice, he calls it? Can’t Herb dismiss her or cut her pay, or something?”

“Not without trouble. She’s paid out of a separate account set up by Thuss. And he’s too good to be true, too, if you ask me. ”

“He’s flashy, not like Herb. Herb works hard. People are way too taken in by flashy, in my opinion.”

“But what else do you know about her?”

“Well I do know something, but I’m not the only one. What I know is that I heard Linwood boasting to Thaddeus about kissing a blonde – I think he said ‘kissing’ but now you’ve got me worried – at our storage place. I didn’t hear it all, of course, though I tried too. Something about a pizza. That didn’t make any sense, kissing a pizza. Do you think Kathy is the blonde? She’s so old. Could it even be possible?”

“A whore in my own house, seducing my husband and both my sons.”

“Sons? Not Timothy, too?”

“She was huddled up with him the other night looking at porn on the computer, I’m sure of it, now. It’ll be your son next, if you’re not quick.”

“Sister!”

“This is what comes of letting into our midst a harlot who keeps shocking underthings in drawers and puts nasty, cloying scents in my bathtub.”

“You found those upstairs? You searched her room?”

“Wouldn’t you? Stinking candles everywhere, too.”

“Come on! And I still haven’t told you what Erin told me. Timothy’s been asking her a lot of questions about getting a job with Thuss, and if there were other positions open. And even worse, Thaddeus and Linwood were asking her about how it was to get away from her family, what kind of things she did without parents around. Poor, innocent Erin didn’t understand what they were talking about, she confided to me, as she was so, so happy to be back amongst us again after all the corruption she saw at her college. Myrtle, something must be done.”

“Erin is most suitable for the new position. I told Herb so and that’s why he hasn’t recommended anyone else for it. The job belongs to Erin, not an upstart floozy like Kathy Doyle.” Myrtle, as a sensitive wife properly would, increasingly discouraged Herb’s unwanted personal attentions but she drew the line at his making a fool of himself at her expense. She had far too high an opinion of herself as Mrs. Pastor to allow that to happen, not right under her tiny and domineering feet. Her family history was private, an unopened book of tyranny and merciless fidelity, not available to strangers and harlots, nor to sisters either, not in its entirety. “There must be some way to get rid of her, and fast.”

“She doesn’t look to me like she’d scare easy.”

“She should learn to be afraid of respectable people like us, and not be putting ideas, or whatever else, into young boys’ heads.”

“It’ll have to be more than a hint. She’d never take a hint.”

“A push, then. A big push. To get the message through to her. A little pebble in a sling shot would just bounce off all that pile of yellow hair. Never get near her forehead.”

“And she could sweet talk any lions, in any den, easy.”

“The walls of Jericho will have to collapse before she’d notice a thing.”

“Let’s blow the horn at her then, and hope she’s standing on them when they fall. But how?”

“We’ll go along to that rehearsal, the one for the miracle of the fishes. Bring Erin, too. I don’t trust Herb and Petersen to fend off her calculating claws.”

************

Simon Peterson owned a speedboat, the ‘LakeSea of G’, docked at his riverfront condo downtown. He and his wife had purchased the condo when they retired from his manufacturing business in Waukesha, thinking that they would enjoy life more as empty nesters in the city than all alone in the big house in the same old subdivision. He was glad he’d bought when he had; then, the dock was an $18,000 upgrade. Today, the same private dock was running at least twice that amount.

A view from across the river of a condo dock. Despite it location along the public MilwaukeeRiverwalk, these docks are privately owned by individual residents or associations. sresidents

A view from across the river of a condo dock. Despite its location along the public MilwaukeeRiverwalk, these docks are privately owned by individual residents or by associations.

His wife liked to shop. Many days, when she hopped the train to embrace retail Chicagoland, he took off for a day in his boat. Increasingly, he went on days when she was home, too. It was a great place for an uninterrupted read of a few newspapers as well as an unsupervised nap. To make up for his twinges of guilty conscience for his idleness, he occasionally offered days on the river or the lake to other members of his church. The Petersons didn’t attend as often as before, when they’d had kids, but they kept up their membership, and gave generously. Pastor Minosa had called him just last week to see if he’d be willing to share his boat for use in the church’s upcoming Miracle Tour. If it worked out, there might be multiple times over the summer but there would be only a few people on the boat each time. All highly controlled, and all he’d have to do was be captain. Unlike his more socially skilled wife, Si didn’t know how to refuse. He was on tap for what they were calling a rehearsal, this evening. Four of them, Mrs. Minosa confirmed, would meet him at his publicly accessible, RiverWalk dock at 7:30.

119 After Words

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

“Can we go up to your room?” Woody wanted someplace to speak freely and, as he never knew with her, perhaps a simultaneous roll in her hay, or straw mattress, or whatever. “Where we can talk?”

Woody often parked the truck and then took off with Tad, in Tad’s car. On Mondays, though, he stayed with Moth, to pick up the battered, barely Chapter 119 After Wordsfluttering, pieces of his brother, after their father’s ministrations. Herb, even on the off chance that he might notice the truck outside, would never expect to find Woody upstairs and it hadn’t occurred to Woody that his father might want to be in Kitty’s room, too, especially after a vigorous session with Moth. With his pastoral visit complete, he usually scurried off home to Myrtle – though why, Woody didn’t comprehend.

“Sure.” Kitty was curious, after all. There was no lock on her door. Anybody could wander in at will so she’d kept her possessions there to a minimum, as the very thought of Minnie Minus fingering through them revolted her. She left only things that would surely annoy that aura of sanctimony; unlit, scented candles (in scrupulous succession, and to forestall accusations of a reckless pyromania, she swapped in candles with virgin wicks for the ones she’d lit the previous night, relishing the deception), the flimsiest of sleepwear, a vial of musky perfume, a Bible religiously open to the designated daily passage. Each day, to escape detection, she almost cheerfully lugged the rest of her stuff up and down the steps to her car; it was so, so worth the effort to thwart her prim hostess.

Once in her room, she would firmly click shut the door and quickly light up a dresser top of candles before dousing the merciless ceiling light. If Herbie showed up, she’d claim to be at prayer or already in bed to dissuade him from entering although there had been nights when she’d sensed him hesitating outside, after returning an unconvinced goodnight through the door, stalking awhile before creeping back down the stairs.

This time, with Woody in tow, she switched off the unflattering overhead lighting first, while he removed his dripping coat and draped it across the back of the chair stacked with Bibles and promotional materials. Kitty struck a match and lit a single candle.  She sat cross-legged on the bed, and patted the space beside her, unsure as to the degree of difficulty this further extraction of family truth might prove. Woody scanned the floor for an available seating alternative. Other than standing, there was none save that one fully loaded chair. Memory served; he perched on the bed, hoping.

“Tell me.”

“It’s a mess.”

“Is it just Moth?”

“He tried it on with me once, a long time ago but my Mom found us. He told her he was saving me but then he stopped and left right away with her. After that, I started working out, so I could defend myself, if he tried again. He didn’t and Mom never said a word about it.”

“Aren’t you supposed to tell somebody when stuff like this happens?” Kitty wasn’t up to speed on child-rearing skills but she vaguely recalled some advice about reporting abuse.

Woody scoffed. “Tell? Like, who? My kid brother, my parents, my teacher – when we were both home-schooled – my pastor?”

“Did you ever tell anyone?”

“Moth, after it happened to him, too, and he told me. See, awhile after my turn, Dad moved Moth into this house, as a caretaker, a satellite office person but it was really so he could work Moth over. He was barely sixteen. Moth says the drill is that Dad tells him he’s bad and needs to be punished and Moth’s supposed to say back to Dad, over and over and fucking over, that he’s sorry for everything he’s done, and admit that he needs to be healed, even though Moth hasn’t ever done anything, just Dad has, pretending he’s Elijah, or something. It’s all bad shit.”

“And Moth?”

“He doesn’t know how to get out of it, though he knows it’s all crap.”

“And your Mom?”

“As long as it’s not under her roof, she doesn’t care. Moth’s very good at keeping the books straight and he keeps quiet. Why am I telling you all this?” Woody, like many, wanted to tell and then regretted having done it.

“I didn’t try and find them, Woody. It was all happening when I went in the office, to drop off some paperwork. I had no idea, really. I was shocked.” Kitty hadn’t realized that things were this bad for Moth but for her it was an unexpected boon. The riveting details were undoubtedly the means to her end. “You say this happens often?”

“Let’s say regularly, scheduled, like church services. He comes Monday nights to review the receipts, when Mom leads a prayer group at the church. Just lately, there have been more times, like he’s getting crazier.”

Kitty regarded the burning candle, as if for insight. “Do you ever want to hurt him, your Dad I mean, not Moth?”

Woody gazed into the fire, as if to be inspired to answer. “Hell, yes. I love my brother.” Woody gulped. “I’ll need to go down after Dad leaves. My parents are total frauds.”

“That must have been hard to say, Woody.” She’d endured analysis herself. Woody wiped away the obligatory tear. She moved to hug him. He offered no resistance. As they moved silently together, still fully dressed, a tap came at the door.

“Kathy, are you still awake?” Kitty moved instantly to a kneeling position on one side of the tract bearing chair, beckoning Woody to the other side of it; he at once obeyed.

“Kathy, it’s Herbie. Can I come in?” They barely breathed. Woody raised his eyebrows and mouthed the question, “Herb – ie?”

The door cracked open. “I want to be with you…” Woody stood up, abashed. Kitty, still kneeling, spun to face the pastor.

“Why Herb! Here we are, your devoted son and I, so deep in prayer for our impending mission that we didn’t hear you. Come, join us.” Like son, like father.

“Whoring? Linwood, leave at once.” Herbie spluttered at the sight before him, indignation rising faster than lust.

“This is my room and we are at work for our ministry.” She reared up, virtuous before the pastor. “You are the intruder here, not Linwood. I invited him here to pray with me. If you will not join us, leave us at once.”

Herbie raised his hand above his shoulder, as if to strike her. Her unexpected defiance defeated his purpose. She knew he’d been there for more of something else, and knew he knew it, too. His hand dropped, as did his tone.

“Of course, Kathy. We’ll speak at another time. Please be sure to put out the candle. We don’t want to start a conflagration, do we? Linwood, good to see you at prayer again.” Herbie was bailing out this boat as fast as fast could be.

After the front door slammed shut, they listened for the cough of his car, watched the headlights scour the drive, and only then did they douse the candle, and Woody’s prayers were answered while the renewed rain threw itself at the windows, staccato-ed on the drum of the roof, and competed with the rhythm thrummed in the bed just below.

118 Topping and Tailing

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

The pint boxes were spilling over, so full that the lids barely stayed on. Betty had rethought church, and instead taken a weekend trip south, where the produce came in earlier. She made a quick, noon-hour delivery to Ivy on Monday, expressing her hope that these gooseberries would bring back only good memories of Ivy’s own garden. After all, with the plucking from their thorny bushes already done for her, Ivy would escape those inevitable scratches on her hands and arms.Chapter 118 Topping and Tailing

Relieved to have already put in her penthouse hours, Ivy set aside the rest of the day to deal with the little treasures. It was important to rinse and sort first. Small ripe ones for the freezer, for the winter making of muffins. The plumpest, grape-like look-alikes were perfect for eating fresh out of hand, or with a green salad, though their somewhat mushy texture was not to everyone’s taste.

It generally wasn’t worth it to bother about the youngest, hard green or the oldest, wizened ones; nothing much going on with these. In her previous gardening life, the discarded ones went to the compost pile – no such communal pile in a condo. And although they might do for making a flavored vinegar, she’d experimented and found that disappointingly tart; raspberry was so much nicer.

Gooseberries sometimes grew in clusters and often in pairs. The tiny green, stripy ones were translucent; you could almost see right through them. There were always a few large green ones that had apparently forgotten to grow up properly, avoided the normal stages to pinky maturation. With the riper ones, size didn’t matter, flavor did; some of the ripest ones were on the smaller end of the scale.

All the berries required topping and tailing before use. It was a repetitious job but it was only once a year. She would dread doing it everyday. It took considerable time to get through a pint and she often changed her position, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting. With her fingers occupied, she took the opportunity for long contemplation of some larger issue, or anything she liked, really.

The topping and tailing technique was all in the wrist, R.T. had concluded as he’d watched her, annually amazed at the patience applied to each tiny, or not so tiny, berry. She’d winked, and observed that if you wanted the pleasure then you had to do the work. To get the most out of each berry, what you had to do was this. The tailing took place at the blossom end of the berry where the woody and thicker tail appeared suspended from the bottom. At the tip of the bottom was a little, harder knob and the trick was to probe for and extract it, carefully exposing, without releasing them, the glistening contents held inside by the taut enclosing skin. Some exploded the minute she touched them, popping like the seed pods of an impatience flower, bursting in the grasp of warm fingers. Then she had to interrupt the rhythm of the thing, to wipe the goo from her hands and her paring knife.

To deal with the topping at the other end, one had to roll the ball of fruit, holding firmly, delicately, precisely, once again being careful not to allow the squishy, pale, and seedy jelly insides to escape through the opening just created, while putting slight pressure on the tail and nicking off the slender green stem. The purpler, softer ones were easier to grasp and turn over. Some required more special handling. It often needed coaxing and quite a hard pull to release the top and with the larger and riper ones, if you pulled too hard all the fruit came out at once.

If you did all this just right, the reward was one still full berry. Then, on to the next one. After topping and tailing, the berries quickly lost their firm, round shape, so it was best to get on with the recipe and use them up right away. Today, she would make plum and gooseberry curd. She liked the monotony of the slow stirring, watching the curd thicken, like the plot of a murder mystery.

A bedroom, office or den doesn't always have to have a window but by definition a bedroom must have a closet and at least some indirect access to natural light.access

A bedroom, office or den doesn’t always have to have a window but by definition a bedroom must have a closet and at least some indirect access to natural light.

Kitty had some receipts to turn in to Moth. Herbie’s car was there but no others. It was pouring; she parked as close as she could and sprinted inside. Though it was dark in the house for the time of day, no lights were turned on. Even she found this oppressive. She stood in the tiny foyer, her eyes adjusting to the obscurity. She heard a muffled sound coming from the direction of the office. Somebody must be there, with any luck Moth; she could be quickly reimbursed for her expenses, before Minnie Minus got her calculating hands on them.

The office door opened in from the hallway, and from the office through the opening of a door left ajar, just a corner of Moth’s bedroom was visible, the end of the bed, a window, a chair. As far as she’d ever seen, Moth lived like a monk, confined to his cell, moving between bedroom and office in twelve hour shifts. His visit to her room must have seemed like a fantasy cruise, and unimaginably far from the ordinary routine. Oddly then, he wasn’t apparently in the office. She was about to call out his name when she heard a groan.

She sensed someone moving in the bedroom, and waited for Moth to come out. Herb’s backside hoved into her full monty-esque view, framed in the doorway, his buttocks and thighs exposed and his trousers rippled in folds at his feet as his knees inched crab-like, across the side of the bed. He was wearing his signature gold t-shirt with the ‘Plenty for All’ logo proclaimed in purple on the back, wielding a belt and bringing the business end of it down hard on a naked Moth, who squirmed along the top of the mattress to keep up, chasing the leading genitals, following in his father’s sideways steps. She could not see their faces. It was like an auto-response with her now. She whipped out her phone and grabbed a flash-less picture, retreating into the hallway, praying to the photo-editing gods for clarity. The moaning continued, louder now.

She went back in to get a better look. Their backs still to the door, they had migrated to the end of the bed, with Moth face down, spreadeagled, his legs skewed apart like the tines of a deranged serving fork around his father’s heaving bottom. With each downstroke of the belt, Herb hissed, “Bad, bad, bad” while Moth whimpered, “Sorry, Father, I’m so sorry.” Then he stretched and stood over Moth three times, raised his arms up, as if in exaggerated prayer. Herb threw aside the belt, pinioned Moth, leaning into him, his hands to mattress on either side of his son, and began pushing, oblivious to the other intruder, as their call and response litany pervaded the space. She set her receipts on the desk and withdrew, before Herb did.

She was heading up the stairs to her room to check the quality of her pictures – if these didn’t turn out, she surmised there would be other photo opportunities at regular intervals – when Woody came in the front door, jacket soaked.

“Still raining out there, Woody?” she teased.

“Funny. You’ll have to move your car, you know. Dad’s a stickler with assigned positions.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“Are you here alone?”

“No, I’ve just come from the office. They’re quite busy in there.” Woody stared and reddened.

“You saw them, didn’t you?”

“Briefly. What’s up with that, Woody?”

117 The Psalm before the Sturm and Drang

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

“Mrs. James. Rod Thuss again.” It was Sunday morning, 8-ish. “I’ve left my door ajar and a key for you to use. Looks like you made some progress. Anything I can answer for you, before I’m on my way to services?”

In new construction condos, custom upgrades are typivcally offered by the developer-above the base price-on items such as cabinets, flooring, counters, appliances, and fixtures.

In new construction condos, custom upgrades are typically offered by the developer - above the base price - on items such as cabinets, flooring, counters, appliances, and fixtures.

“Thanks for the key. Of course, I’ll always call before I come up, make sure it’s a convenient time for you, first. So far, the work is raw organization, setting up a workable space. Perhaps in a few days I’ll have more specific questions about how you’d like things arranged. By the way, and this is a silly question, but do you have scissors anywhere?”

“No, I don’t. I borrowed some from Gervase but gave those back. There are scissors on an order form someplace. If you come across it, it should really be sent in at once.”

“I’ll bring my own then – so useful aren’t they? – and keep an eye out for your order. What time will you be back?”

“It’s a big day today. So not until mid-afternoon, I expect.”

“I’ll work for several hours and let you know what times this week, all right?”

“We’ll have to co-ordinate on that, yes. And, leave me your hours for this weekend. I’ll pay you in cash, every Monday.”

If she went up soon, she figured she could get in a good six hours today, with one break for a quick lunch. She’d already packed up a box of tea things to carry along and stash in one of many empty kitchen cupboards. She’d added a lunch to her tea box before setting off to her labors on the Thussian heights, like Sisyphus, condemned to roll the same rock up the hill in perpetuity, a cousin of Jack and Jill with their pail of water. Putting her lunch in the refrigerator, she noted a goodly supply of ice cubes in the freezer, along with a flimsy plastic bag bursting with the cookies she’d brought him two weeks ago.

Today, she thought she’d tackle some of the heavier boxes that she’d been unable to shift the previous afternoon. She had room now to open them and lift out the contents in smaller weights before she decided where to place them. She proceeded, getting up and down until she thought she would be hearing from her knees.

Her poor swim-less knees. The question of whether to re-open the pool was still unresolved, a full month later. Martin and Martinelli were at a standstill on both their ‘cases’ at the POPS, the likely drowning and the certain snipping and unable to ‘clear’ either, she was informed was the way they said it, not ‘solve,’ the way she’d learned, probably from mystery stories. In any case, and here she giggled at her own small pun, there was nothing doing, according to Gervase. She hadn’t spoken to the detectives in over a week so if there was any headway, she knew nothing about it.

The association would need to make a decision about the pool; whether to re-open after some modifications, or improvements, depending on who was talking about it, or close it and adjust the monthly fees to reflect that choice.  Now in the fairly constant company of Sebastian, Hans  assured her he could run some numbers, in between bouts of renovations in his new unit, or his old one.

In the meantime, she’d heard only good reports about the ping-pong activity in the solarium. Well, one old biddy had grumbled to her about stumbling over loose balls all over the floor but that was before the barriers had been set up. And Mr. Hazell, who regularly retreated to the solarium to escape his wife’s chronic telephone discussions with her friends about their respective health issues, hazarded his opinion that the constant pinging and ponging disturbed his reading and or, slumbers. Mrs. James had encouraged him to consider the equally annoying alternative to this relative peace, and to think of it instead as restful white noise, or possibly to take up the game himself with his wife.

She went back to the penthouse foyer where she’d hastily dropped her bag on the entryway table, while still juggling the box of tea things. At previous workplaces, she’d always had to secrete her purse or personal items in a lockable drawer, such was the level of modern trust. But she was a creature of habit; leaving her place without a bag was unthinkable, and she’d need her own unit key. She might just as well leave the bag here when she came in; there was nothing that she really needed, and there was certainly no convenient spot to set it in the office, at least in its current state. If she were working here alone, her things could be in nobody’s way. She fished in her bag for the scissors and summoned up R.T., once more quite happily, with his penchant for scissoring every room. He would approve of her beginning a collection here, in this many-roomed, though father-less, mansion. She’d found a blue-handled pair she could easily spare, pending the arrival of her employer’s lost order – a multi-purpose type – and still reasonably sharp.

Chapter 117 The Psalm Before

Today was a big day for the mission. Rod was to do his awaited tout, revealing some additional details as a teaser. For his text, he had chosen a Psalm. Not the one designated for the day, but Psalm 140. He’d been trying to find some additional connection with the first miracle on tap for the tour, the fishers of men, the one Kitty had given her initial report about when she’d been with him on Friday. He was used to following guidelines for sermon or address topics, not thinking it through on his own. Formulas worked, so he used them most of the time.

Switching gears at the last minute, he hadn’t taken much time to prepare but he’d found this Psalm verse, and it had to do with water and nets so he thought he could make it work, with a few twists of his own devising. The 5th verse read “the proud have laid a snare for me, and spread a net abroad with cords, yea, verily, and set traps in my way.” It would make a nice juxtaposition to the reading of the miracle of the full nets, that he would interject into his announcement while pitching the Miracle Tour, rounded out with the action song readied by the choir, “I will make you fishers of men.” Not the snares and traps of the Old Testament but the generosity, plenty, and abundance of the New Testament, with their Savior in full control of the forces of the deep. Nets not only full of fish but teeming with men, women, and riches, too. No matter how prosperous they already were as fishermen, James and John would again opt to give it all up to serve the Lord. This was the spirit the mission intended to inculcate, the well to tap.

On the stage with him were the crowd from last Sunday, including the Minosas, and Kitty playing at her Kathy role. Her transformation amused him but that Mrs. Minosa unnerved him, especially with her glasses on. He was reminded of some shrewish creature illustrated in a book he must have known as a child. Myrtle invoked a Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, minus the generous nature of the original hedgehog, glaring, disapproving above the steel rims, listening intently to every his word, hoping to trip him up, perhaps into one of the meshy nets in the miracle he was busy declaiming.

116 ‘Binnorie, Oh Binnorie’

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

“How do you get the holes in this, Mrs. James?” Poppy fingered the doily in one of Mrs. James many workbaskets. It was Saturday morning, before their trip to the library. “When we get holes in our stuff it’s wrong but this is on purpose holes. I want one for my thumb. Like this.” Poppy pushed her thumb through a buttonhole to demonstrate. “But in a scarf.” Chapter 116 Binnorie

“If you intend to make a hole, then you first wrap the yarn around the hook, before you insert it, and then make the stitch. The more times you wrap it around, the larger the hole becomes. I’ll show you, next time.”

“O.K. But I can do it, too?”

“Yes, if you pay attention. Pansy, when you said ‘Sisters’ for the list, what did you have in mind, do you know?”

“Kinda. Mom and Gina are sisters, and we’re sisters and sometimes we fight and other times we’re best friends. Is that what happens to other sisters?”

“You’re very lucky. I never had a sister, only an older brother, so I have no real answer. But there are lots of stories that do. Stories, and poems, and songs. When I was your age, my mother made it my chore to wake him up in the morning. She didn’t have the time, she said, because it took him so long to get up and he was a bear when he finally did. So I used to hide behind his bedroom door and read a poem out loud. It was a poem about two sisters. He hated that poem. But when he started to throw things across the room at me, to get me to stop, I had the door to protect me, and I kept right on reading.”

“Do you remember it, now?” said Pansy.

“The refrain, anyway. ‘There were twa – that’s two, to you – sisters sat in a bower, Binnorie, Oh Binnorie.”

“What’s a bower?” said Pansy.

“What’s a bin…ory?” said Poppy.

“I remember being pretty confused about all that myself, at the time. We’ll look for a copy of it this morning, and I’ll read it to you some morning when you don’t want to get up, how’s that? But the gist of the poem is that two sisters both loved the same man and what happened when he chose one of them. I don’t want to give away the ending – it’s a surprise. In the meantime, a bower is a little bench in a garden, all surrounded by beautiful flowers. And Binnorie is the name of a place in Scotland, where the story happens, with a large body of water, with a dam and a mill at one end of it. It’s time for us to get going, though, to catch the bus.”

That afternoon, after lunch, and upon request, she read them the poem. It was often sung to a lively folk tune but she wasn’t quite up to that. She omitted some of the many repetitions of the chorus that made the song so long. It told the story of two sisters, and of the suitor who chose the younger for his truelove. In a jealous rage, the older enticed the younger to the water and pushed her in – by the bonny mill dams o’Binnorie – and watched her sink, even though the younger and fairer sister stretched out her hand to her older sister and pleaded for her life. The girl washed downstream and was found dead by the miller at the dam, and laid out on the bank – by the bonny mill dams o’Binnorie – where she was mourned by a passing minstrel. Years passed – by the bonny mill dams o’Binnorie – and when the minstrel returned, it was to enter a musical competition sponsored by the King. The musician passed by the grave of the maiden and retrieved her breastbone, for a harp. At the castle, as his turn came, his harp played of its own accord, sighing out a dirge for the lost lady, and naming the sister, now the Queen, as her murderess.

“Oh Mrs. James, that’s so sad. I’d never let Pansy drown, no matter how much I hated her. I mean, was mad at her.”

“Let us live in that hope.”

“I might pretend to let you drown, Poppy, if I got really mad, just to show you. But then I’d save you.”

“Do sisters always fight over other people, Mrs. James?” said Poppy.

“Not in my experience, no. But it can happen that they both care for the same person, as we just read. You’ll come to learn, though some people never do, that there are different ways of expressing love, and hate.”

“Could that actually happen, Mrs. James? I mean, that somebody’s bone could be just lying there and be a harp, and sing a song to get somebody in trouble?” said Pansy.

“It’s called a legend. It’s a story that lets us think about our feelings, or our past experience. So no, the details aren’t as important as they sound. But, is it better to save someone, and figure out later on why you did it, or to let someone get hurt because you think you know they deserve it?” The phone rang. It was Greg.

“Afternoon, Mrs. James. Coming to collect them now, please. And we’ll keep them for the rest of the weekend, if you could organize that.”

After their departure, over which she’d heard nary a scheduling word, she had a think about Sunday; whether she’d prefer to accompany Betty out to hear Rod Thuss in action mode at the church and betray herself throwing thirty pieces in his collection plate, or to handle his heavy files and collect from him, instead. She almost heard R.T. laughing. She called her new employer.

“Mr. Thuss. Ivy James. I have an opening in my schedule this weekend, as it turns out, and have a few hours available this afternoon, and tomorrow, too. Would that be convenient for you?”

“Excellent, yes. Wonderful. I’ll be here for awhile. Do please.” She packed up her purse, though she could hardly imagine what she would be needing, except her wits or possibly a back brace, made excuses to Mull, who merely stretched a paw out into the sundialing afternoon sunsplash, and made for the elevator.

A penthouse occupies the top floor, or floors, of a building of whatever number of storeys. Condo prices typically go up per floor in units with similar floor plans.gher floors

A penthouse occupies the top floor, or floors, of a building of whatever number of storeys. Condo prices typically go up per floor, even in units with similar floor plans.

A few hours into the job, and alone in the penthouse, she took a little stretch herself, and a quick look around. Across the hall from his office room, there was a bathroom. It was the first time she’d ever worked in an office with a whirlpool bath. Perhaps if she got tense or a sore back from lifting, she could stop everything and jump right in, to relax. She’d been invited to use the kitchen, carte blanche, enjoy anything she wished, and she went in to discover the tea making potential, before her next stint. She wandered upstairs, finding self-contained, glassy suites of bathrooms and bedrooms, complete with mini-bars and refrigerators, entertainment centers, and other, to her, unusable luxuries. A guest might spend days before having to descend. But she was a worker at heart, not a fleeting Goldilocks, and returned to the office.

It had all been fairly straightforward, so far, and the hardest part was to find a space to pile the preliminary sort out. She’d spread horizontally, into the hallway. She left Thuss a note explaining that this was temporary, and to please not disrupt the stacks. Once she’d carved out an operable space, she’d put them all back, and in order. She’d return in the morning, and request a key, to permit her to freely come and go.