Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Housekeeper - Chapter 17 (Part 2 of 2)

The Housekeeper
By Karen Singer

Chapter 17 (Part 2 of 2)

With Carol gone to visit her friend, Janice only had to fix lunch for herself and Roger.  Roger was currently working under the house… and she had noticed that there were now several small holes drilled up through her bedroom floor.  Well, at least he was making progress.  She was just about to cut his lunch up into bite sized pieces to put into his dog bowl, when her cell phone rang and she had to hurry to answer it.  “Hello?”
“Mrs. Oakley?” the woman’s voice on the other end asked.  “This is Imperial Imports.”
Janice immediately recognized that the call was Mr. Wu trying to get in touch with her.  “I’m sorry,” she replied, but you have the wrong number.”
“Oh dear,” the woman on the other end replied.  She then recited a slightly different number than the one that had been called.
“I’m sorry,” Janice told her, “but you’ve dialed the wrong number.”
“I’m very sorry,” the woman replied before hanging up. 
Janice immediately found the burner phone she had been keeping handy just for this occurrence and dialed Mr. Wu’s number.  She ordered the required number of nonsense items to signify who it was that was calling and was told to please wait a moment so that one of the salesmen could handle her order.  It was several moments before someone came on the line.  But when the line was answered, it wasn’t Mr. Wu on the other end.
“Mrs. Stokley?” the voice asked.
Janice recognized the voice.  “Susan?” she asked, surprised to hear her voice.
“Yes, Mrs. Stokley,” Susan Wu replied.  “I’m back to work again.”
“Oh, I’m so glad,” Janice replied.  “I mean, your father is wonderful, but I simply…”
“I understand,” Susan Wu interrupted her.  “Your preference for dealing with women is well noted.”
“Thank you,” Janice replied.
“Mrs. Stokely,” Susan said, “father told me last week that you had called.  I must say, I was not only surprised but very interested to hear that.”
“Well, I’m afraid I’ve been stuck in prison for a while… for something I did not do!”
“We’re well aware of what went on,” Susan replied.  “But whether you were guilty or not is of no consequence or interest to us.”
“I understand,” Janice said after a moment.  “So will you be handling my request now?”
Instead of replying directly to that, Susan said, “According to my father, you’re now living in northeast Georgia?  Is that correct?”
“Yes it is.  For the time being anyway.”
“Mrs. Stokley,” Susan continued, “Would you be available to meet with me sometime this week?”
Janice was shocked.  “Meet with you?”
“I realize it’s a bit unexpected,” Susan replied, “but I’m afraid that in this case, it will be necessary.”
“I see,” Janice said softly.  She thought for a moment.  “Do I need to be afraid for any reason?”  The last thing she needed was for Mr. Wu to be so angry with her that he would possibly have her killed.  And he was well capable of that.
“I don’t know, Mrs. Stokley,” Susan replied.  “Do you have reason for that concern?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Janice told her.  “I’m simply trying to transact a bit of business.”
“Which is exactly what I want to talk with you about.”
Janice immediately felt relieved.  “Then I see no reason why I can’t meet with you whenever you like.”
“Excellent,” Susan replied.  “When was the last time you had lunch at the Chattanooga Choo-choo?  You should be able to get there within a few hours from where you’re living.”
“The Choo-choo?  Um… I haven’t been there in many years.”
“Can you meet me there for lunch on Wednesday?” Susan asked. 
“I can be there,” Janice told her.
“Very good,” Susan replied, her voice showing her obvious pleasure.  “Just give the reservation desk your name.  They’ll take you to my table.  Let’s say… twelve noon?”
“I actually look forward to it,” Janice replied honestly.  “But how much money should I bring with me.  I know what I asked for is going to be quite expensive.”
“Yes it will,” Susan replied.  “But this time, don’t bring anything.  This time, we just need to go over some information.”
Janice knew very well that Mr. Wu’s organization would need further information, but not until they had received a major portion of the money she would owe them.  “Then I look forward to speaking with you on Wednesday,” Janice said.
“Very good,” Susan replied.  “I too am very much looking forward to meeting you Mrs. Stokley.”
Janice ended the call and began the tedious process of destroying the burner phone she had just called from.  Susan Wu wanted to meet with her – in person!  To the best of her knowledge, that was something totally unheard of!  And despite what Susan had said on the phone, meeting her in person was a very worrying thought. 

The almost constant banging and noise underneath the house… and especially underneath her bedroom floor were irritating Janice.  But that noise meant progress on something she needed very much.  She figured that she was mostly annoyed by it because she was still worried about the phone call from Susan Wu.  Meeting her sounded troublesome!  Another big bump came from the floor of her bedroom and she hurried out.  Carol was home now and was waiting in the kitchen for her.  Leaving the house to do some shopping right now seemed like a better idea than to be irritated by the work that was in progress. 
As she was passing Roger’s bedroom however, she heard the sound of his cell phone starting to ring.  She was surprised that he didn’t have the thing in his pocket with him.  Curious, she went inside and found it amid a small pile of his things on the floor.  It was still ringing.  She picked it up and pushed the button.  “Hello?”
“Um… is this… um… Roger’s housekeeper?”
“Yes,” Janice confirmed.  “This is Mrs. Stokley.”
“Oh.  Is Roger home?”
“He’s here, but he’s working right now.  Who may I say is calling?”
“Oh.  Sorry.  This is Stan Franklin.”
“Oh yes.  How are you Mr. Franklin?”
“Um…  I’m fine.  Hey look, will you just tell Roger that I’m on my way there right now.  I should be there in a little bit.”
“Oh,” Janice replied, concerned that he was already on his way.  But before she could try to head him off, she heard him say, “Thanks,” just before he hung up.  She was only a bit concerned about Roger’s friend coming over just then.  But the problem was that she knew this friend worked at the school with him, and right now, she had to keep things looking at least somewhat normal for anything that involved the school. 
She hurried out of his room and went straight outside to peer under the house where he was working.  “Mr. Brinkley,” she called urgently.
“Yeah?” Roger yelled back from under the house where he was currently working up a sweat to hold the large ductwork in place so he could fasten it where it belonged.
“Mr. Brinkley, you just had a call from your friend Stan Franklin.  I’m afraid he’s on his way here right now.  So I suggest that unless you don’t mind him seeing those lovely shoes you’ve got on, that you come out and change them right away.”
Stan was on his way?  Panicked, Roger let the ductwork drop down to the ground again before he scrambled as fast as he could for the opening.  He was very relieved that Janice was letting him out of the stupid shoes he was currently wearing.  Did he dare ask about the equally stupid sock balls in his bra?
“Mr. Brinkley,” Janice said as he finally got out into the open air.  “May I suggest you wear your new boots instead.  You can pull your pants legs over them this time, but your friend might be interested in knowing about your new plan for your repair business.”
Roger was totally shocked.  She wanted him to wear the boots – in front of his friend?  “Um… must I?” he found the courage to ask.
“It’s either that,” Janice replied in no uncertain terms, “or you can leave those nicer shoes on that you’re wearing now.”
Roger was faced with no choice at all.  
“Since the rain looks like it’s going to start again,” Janice continued as they hurried up the back steps, “you can cover up your cute little breasts with a raincoat or something else… if you like.”
That was something at least, but it totally paled in significance next to having to wear the women’s high heeled boots – in front of his friend!  And she was giving him no way out of it!  Still wondering how he was going to handle things, he practically ran for his bedroom to change out of the dumb high heels he was currently wearing.
“Mom?” Carol asked.  “What’s going on?”
“Mr. Brinkley has a friend coming over,” Janice explained.  “And his friend is about to see him in a whole new light.”  With her shopping trip slightly delayed, she started a fresh pot of coffee.

Roger barely had time to get his boots on before he heard Carol calling from the living room that his friend was here.  Getting out of the stupid high heeled shoes would have normally been a big relief… but were the boots he was now wearing any better?  He supposed they really were a lot better.  With his pants legs covering most of them, was there any chance that Stan might not notice?  Did he dare hope?  He quickly grabbed an old rain poncho he had among his things and threw that on in hopes that it would hide the stupid bulges in his chest. 
“Mr. Brinkley…” Carol called again from the living room.  “Mr. Franklin just drove up.”
Cursing his life, Roger hurried out of his bedroom… making sure to take the time to close the door behind him.  Stan was just coming up the front steps when he got to the door.  Bracing himself for the unknown, he opened the door and said, “Hi Stan.”
“Roger!” Stan returned cheerily.  “Still workin’ on the house?”
“Yeah, I’ve been crawling underneath it all morning,” Roger replied as he stood back to let his friend inside.
“What the heck are you doing under there?”
“Moving some of the air ducts.”  Roger started leading the way toward the kitchen where the two of them often spent their time when Stan was visiting.  As normal, he walked right next to his friend.  “How was fishing?” Roger asked, changing the subject. 
“Awful!” Stan replied.  “You should be glad you weren’t there!”
“Trust me, I’m not!” Roger said rather emphatically.  “I would have much rather been there with you!”
“Mr. Brinkley?” Janice interrupted as she purposely came out of the kitchen toward them.  “Would you two like some coffee?”
“That sounds great,” Roger replied. “Oh, Stan, this is my housekeeper, Mrs. Stokley.”  He noticed Carol standing just behind her.  “And I think you’ve seen her daughter Carol around the school.”
“Glad to meet you,” Stan replied politely to Janice.  He turned to Carol.  “You haven’t been in my classes… yet… but I’ve seen you at the school many times.”
“How are you Mr. Franklin?” Carol asked politely.
“Good, thanks,” Stan replied.
Roger was starting to hope that maybe he could get by without Stan noticing his boots.  It wasn’t until they were actually entering the kitchen that Roger remembered his stupid purple dog bowl.  But by that time it was too late.  He glanced at the corner… and was surprised and relieved to see it missing.  Whew!  But as they approached the table, he noticed Stan suddenly catch sight of his boots.  Damn! 
Stan stopped, somewhat in shock.  “Damn, Roger.  New boots?”
Embarrassedly, Roger admitted, “Yeah.”  He started for his usual seat at the table where his boots would hopefully be out of sight.
“But Roger,” Stan continued, “they look like women’s boots.”
“Aren’t they lovely?” Janice commented as she poured a mug full of coffee. 
“You mean… they are women’s boots?” Stan asked somewhat shocked.
“Uh… yeah,” Roger was forced to admit. 
“Mr. Brinkley is going to use them as a gimmick to help get more customers for his repair business,” Janice added as she stared pouring another mug of coffee.
“A gimmick?” Stan repeated, totally shocked.  “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Uh… no,” Roger replied.  “It looks like I’m actually going to give it a try.”  He cast a worried glance over toward Janice before he sat down and hid his feet under the table.
“Carol dear,” Janice said, “please take them their coffee.”
“But… dam!” Stan exclaimed.  “Women’s boots?  What the heck brought that on?”
Roger shrugged.  “It just kind of… came to me.”
Stan shook his head as he pulled out another chair and sat down. “I would think you would be ashamed of yourself.”
“I am, kind of,” Roger admitted.  “It really is very embarrassing.”
“But you’re still going to do it?”
“Uh… yeah.”
“Mr. Brinkley came up with the idea to wear the boots whenever he’s working,” Janice added as she set a bowl of sugar and two teaspoons on the table.  “He thought that it would catch people’s attention so they would remember him better.  That, and it looks like the novelty of it is already attracting interest.  We were at one customer’s house this morning, and I know she was planning on calling her friends to tell them about Roger as soon as we left.  We’re expecting to hear from a few other people who need work done, very soon.  Would you like some cream for your coffee?”
Stan stared at Janice for a moment as he digested what she had just said.  “Uh… no thank you… no cream.”  He turned to Roger.  “So this wacky idea if for real?”
Roger shrugged.  “Evidently, it’s already working.”
Stan shook his head as he stirred some sugar into his coffee.  “I still don’t get it.  I mean… you!  I never would have imagined that you, of all people, would be into something like… this!”
“Actually, I’m not,” Roger told him.  “Like I said, it’s just something that kind of… came to me.”
“Well, I don’t buy it!” Stan replied.  “To even contemplate something like this would mean that you were already interested in… oddball things!”
Roger shook his head.  “Trust me.  I wasn’t.”
“But you are now?”
“I really don’t know,” Roger finally admitted as the best way he could answer.  His real answer would have been a definite “No!” but the way things looked just then… because of Janice… it was the best answer he was capable of giving.  Then to try to change the subject away from himself he asked.  “So how was the fishing trip?”
“Ugh!  Wet!”
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Janice interrupted.  “Will you be needing anything else from Carol or myself?  We have a little shopping we need to do.”
Roger shook his head.  “No thank you, Mrs. Stokley.  Go right ahead.”  What he didn’t add out loud was the part he was thinking the most.  “And don’t come back!”  Now that Stan had seen his stupid women’s boots, he was sure that the word would quickly filter all through the faculty at the school… and no doubt even further!

It was dark outside and well after dinner time.  But Roger wasn’t bothered by the dark at all since he was now working inside… in Janice’s bedroom – his old bedroom.  He had carefully marked the floor and was now using a rotor tool with a very thin blade to cut the floorboards carefully along the seams between the boards.  It was slow going since he had to be so careful.  This was a critical part. 
He realized that Janice and Carol still hadn’t come home yet and he began to hope that they would never come back.  But though he wished it, his brain also knew that just like some terminal type of cancer, they always seemed to come back – eventually.  But the more they were gone from his life, the better!
He turned a corner, following the seam between the ends of the boards, then turned another corner to continue the long jagged shaped cut.  Thirty minutes later, he had worked his way all the way around and had come back to where he started.  He shut his saw off.  Whew!  It was tedious work.  Now he just had to get those floor boards out without doing too much damage.  But that was when he heard Janice calling from a distant part of the house.  Oh hell!  They hadn’t been killed in a deadly car wreck after all!
“I’m back here!” he called out in reply.
Janice was still wearing her raincoat as she made her way back to her bedroom.  She found him in there on the floor, where he had obviously been working.  She just didn’t see much progress in there yet.  “It doesn’t look like you’ve done very much,” she noted as she looked carefully at the floor.  “But whatever you’ve been doing, I can see that you’ve certainly made a mess!  Just how long did your friend stay here?”
Roger shook his head.  “Stan didn’t stay very long at all.  I got the impression he was suddenly rather disgusted with me.”
Janice nodded her head. “I’m sure that’s quite possible.  Perhaps even preferable!”
Roger only looked at her like she was crazy… which he already knew she was.  “Actually,” he said, “I’ve done quite a bit in here.  You just can’t see what I’ve done yet because it was very tedious work.  And I don’t want that work to show when it’s done.”
Janice looked around again.  “And was it necessary to make such a mess?”
“It couldn’t be helped,” Roger replied.  “Anytime you do any kind of construction you’re going to have a major mess.”
Janice only looked at him and pursed her lips in frustration.  “Come along, Mr. Brinkley.  Carol and I have already eaten, but we brought you back some dinner from Burger King.”  She turned to walk out, but stopped before she got out of the room.  “And please replace those boots of yours with your other shoes before you come.  And don’t forget to wash your hands, Mr. Brinkley.”  Then she walked back to the kitchen.
Roger wanted to throw the little saw that was still in his hand across the room!

His Burger King meal would have tasted a lot better if he had been able to eat it normally.  But he was so used to eating like a dog now that he still rather enjoyed it.  He chalked that up to being hungrier than he thought!  Fortunately, this time, Janice hadn’t put a bowl of water down next to him so he didn’t have to drink like a dog this time as well.  Fortunately! 
He finished his meal, and licking his lips as best he could, he sat back on his knees and wiped his face with the sleeve of his shirt.
“All finished, Mr. Brinkley?” Janice asked.
Roger nodded.  “All done,” he confirmed.
“I took the liberty of pouring you a cup of coffee,” she told him. “Come join me at the table.”
Warily, Roger got to his feet, and gratefully sat down at the table.  There was a steaming cup of coffee at his place in front of him.  He picked it up and sipped it carefully before setting the hot cup back on the table again.  “I take it you want to talk to me?”
Janice smiled.  “Indeed, Mr. Brinkley.  I need to know a little more about you and the construction business.”
Roger shrugged before picking up his cup again.  “What do you want to know?”
“You said that you’re not a licensed contractor.  So can you still call yourself a contractor?  Is there such a thing as an unlicensed contractor?”
“Yes,” Roger replied. “I haven’t really thought about it that much, but I guess that’s what I am.  Although to be honest, since I often handle much smaller jobs than a contractor would usually take, I guess I’ve more often thought of myself as a handyman.”
“A handyman!” Janice exclaimed, mulling that thought over in her mind.  “What do you mean by smaller jobs?”
“Well… I’ve fixed things like windows and doors.  I’ve even hung blinds for one woman.  Just about anything I guess that would bring in a few bucks.” 
Janice nodded.  “I think that could be very useful,” she decided.  “Handyman!  I guess the term fits.  It would probably work well on a business card as well.”
Roger nodded.  “It could,” he agreed.
The only problem for Janice, was that she didn’t completely like the entire term – handyman.  Especially the “man” part.  But… she supposed she could work with it… for now.
“The estimate you need to do for Mrs. Whittaker,” Janice asked next, “how long do you think it will take to get it ready?”
Roger considered that.  “I’ll work on it some tonight.  Then more tomorrow.  I have to do a few drawings, then make some phone calls to check prices.  There’s really quite a bit involved.  But her project, while it’s going to take a while, is really very straightforward.  I’ve built a number of decks now and hers doesn’t look to be all that different.  So I don’t think it’s going to take that long to come up with an estimate.”
“Very good, Mr. Brinkley.  I’d like to see that estimate and go over it with you before you send it to her.”
Roger nodded.  “No problem,” he replied.
“And how are things going with my little project?” she asked.
“Good, Mrs. Stokley.  Actually, so far, it’s going very good!”

A few hours later, Janice was a bit perturbed to find part of her floor missing… well at least some of the nice floor boards on top… and her bedroom was even more of a mess!  To celebrate the state of her bedroom, she asked Carol to spend a little more time making Roger “comfortable” when she put him in his room for the night!

1 comment:

sarah penguin said...

Thanks for the update!