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Authors: Jerry D. Young

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BOOK: Percy's Mission
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CHAPTER SIX

 

Buddy was showered and dressed in plenty of time to pick up Charlene. He was glad he’d started early, for he decided to change into a suit, rather than the sport shirt and slacks he’d initially put on.
Having learned the hard way about suits, Buddy always got shirts and suits that fit properly. No need to suffer with a tight collar when there was no need. He adjusted the tie and flexed his arms in the suit jacket. He was quite comfortable.
Having worn a flattop hair cut for almost all of his life, and having experienced a sunburned scalp at one time, Buddy always wore a cap or a hat. When he wore what he considered to be his bank suit, he usually wore the snappy grey fedora with it. Unaware that he was whistling softly again, Buddy went out to the truck.
He usually preferred to drive, but when he got to Charlene’s and saw the nice dress she was wearing, he was both glad he’d worn the suit, and a bit concerned about needing to help Charlene in and out of the truck. The Chevy wasn’t like some of the trucks around where you needed a ladder to get in, but it did sport a two inch lift kit and had tires two sizes larger than stock.
“Uh… Charlene…” Buddy said a bit hesitatingly. “Would you mind if we took your car? I’m not sure I want to be helping you in and out of the truck with you in that skirt.”
Charlene just chuckled and said, “Why, thank you, Buddy. And we may certainly take my car. You can even drive if you want.”
“No. That’s okay. It’s your car. You should probably drive. And why did you thank me just now?”
Her dimples showing, Charlene smiled over at Buddy and said, “It was maybe a bit left handed, but I took it as a compliment. You didn’t want to embarrass me by seeing too much when I climbed in and out of the truck. Right?”

“Well… yeah… I guess so,” Buddy slowly admitted.
“Then two reasons. I’m flattered you think I’m attractive enough to want to look, and pleased that you don’t want to embarrass me.” The smile was now a grin. “Or embarrass yourself.”
A sheepish smile curved Buddy’s lips. “I guess you know me a bit too well.”
“Not too well,” Charlene replied, still smiling. “Where did you want to go?”

“I know you like Red Lobster. Let’s go there. I’m celebrating, and this is for you for helping me with the Barbarosa job.”
“You already thanked me. Lots of times,” replied Charlene. “You didn’t have to take me out to dinner, too.”
“I wanted to. You were a big help. Besides, we haven’t done anything in a long time, except for getting together for the job. I need to get out more. You should too, you know. You need to find someone. Start a relationship.”
“I’m working on it,” said Charlene, without looking over at Buddy.
“Oh. Really?” Buddy looked at her a bit uncertainly. “I… didn’t know you were seeing someone.”
“It’s just casual right now. But I have hopes.” Again she was careful not to look at him. She knew the sparkle in her eyes would probably give her away. He knew her pretty well, too.
As much as he wanted to, he didn’t ask any more questions. He certainly wanted to know more, but was afraid of the answers. He wanted the best for her, was having a bit of difficulty dealing with the fact that she had someone in her life. He was silent the rest of the way to the restaurant.
Seeing a birthday party group when they walked up to the door cheered him up. He couldn’t help but laugh at the antics of the children, waiting anxiously for a table to open. Apparently it was a very special treat for them to come here.
Besides, it was nice to have Charlene’s arm curled around his as they stood near the door waiting to be called. Buddy looked over at Charlene after a moment and asked, “You want something from the bar? No place to sit, but…”
“That would be nice. A glass of Chardonnay. I think I’ll wait here.”
“Smart woman,” Buddy responded with a grin. He had to work his way to the bar through the crowd. He was trying to remember when he’d been in and it wasn’t crowded. He couldn’t think of a time. But it was always worth it.
He wasn’t much of a drinker, but wine with dinner was nice, so he ordered the Chardonnay for himself, as well. He got all of it back to Charlene, though it had been a near thing.
They stood companionably, saying little, sipping the wine while they waited. It wasn’t all that long and they were escorted back to their booth. “We’re splurging tonight, so get whatever you want. I deposited the final check today. I plan on having lobster.”
“It is Red Lobster, after all,” Charlene said, perusing the menu. “I think I’ll have the same, since you offered.” She closed the menu and set it aside. “Something is on your mind. I can tell. What’s going on?”
Buddy set his menu aside as well, then arranged his napkin and flatware. “You know I’ve been thinking about buying a piece of undeveloped property…”
Charlene nodded, and then took a sip of wine.
“Bobby, down at the barbershop, has some he wants to sell. I’m seriously considering it. Oh. After I take a look at it, of course. But getting something.”

“Going to sell the house and move?” Charlene asked, slightly dreading the answer.
“Not right away.” Buddy looked up as their server arrived. He didn’t see Charlene’s sigh of relief.
They were occupied for a few moments with the server, and then when she left, Charlene asked. “Just investment property, or something you want to develop eventually?”
“Partly for investment, but primarily to have a place outside the city and suburbs. I miss camping. I’m ready to get away from the hustle and bustle from time to time, now. I’m financially secure enough to do it. Though there are a couple more large expenditures I plan to make right away. But those two apprentice plumbers I hired have a lot of potential. I’ve got two more large jobs lined up that will give me a similar payoff to the one I just finished.
“I’m more comfortable now handling the purchases of some of the esoteric items people tend to want now, since you helped me recently.”
Quickly Charlene cut in. “You know I don’t mind helping, any time.”
“I know, and I appreciate it, Char. You didn’t just help me get what I needed, but taught me how to do it myself.”
Charlene nodded.
“If I get just a few more jobs like the last one, over the next couple of years, I will be able to get another truck and put a couple of guys to work, full time.”
“That’s wonderful, Buddy!” Charlene laid her hand on Buddy’s. He didn’t pull away.
“That’s what I plan on doing, but in the meantime, I don’t want to get myself in a bind, with the way things are going in the world now.”
The conversation was interrupted for a moment when their appetizer arrived. But Charlene picked up the thread as they began to eat. “I know what you mean, Buddy. I’m worried about things, too. I got hit with the rolling blackout just the other day. I’m glad you suggested storing water. I have some at the house and the shop. And I’m keeping at least two weeks of packaged food all the time now. That was good advice. It didn’t happen, but I thought about what could have when they shut down trucking for a day for security reasons. It was only one day, but when I went into the store that evening, the shelves were half empty.”
“I know,” replied Buddy. “The rolling blackouts haven’t affected me much. I’m usually not home when the residential ones happen in my neighborhood. But I went into the store that day, too. There was fighting over canned goods when the store, not knowing when they’d get another delivery, put limits on how much could be bought by one person at one time.”
“I think it will get worse,” Charlene said, watching Buddy carefully.
“So do I,” he said softly, his eyes on his plate for a moment. He lifted them and met Charlene’s rather intense gaze.
“That’s part of the reason I want to get the property. Have a place to go to if things get too crazy in the city.”
Charlene nodded. “I’ve thought about it some. I don’t know what I would do. Since my sister died, I don’t have any place to run to if things get that bad. I think I should make more preparations, but the FEMA stuff on line really doesn’t get into it all that deep. Would you be willing to help me get better prepared?”
Buddy didn’t hesitate. “Certainly. And don’t worry about a place to go. If I get the property, you’ll be welcome. I’ve always planned to have enough to take care of my family’s needs. There would be plenty for you, too.”
“Your brother isn’t making preparations?”
“No. I’ve tried. Betty is inclined, but he refuses to acknowledge the fact that the government might not be able to help everyone if things really do get bad. You know him. He’s a horse’s behind of the first order. But he is my brother, and Betty and the kids are good people. I still plan on having room for them, no matter what happens.”
Again Charlene’s hand went to his where it rested beside his plate. “You’re a good man, Buddy. I’m glad I know you and that we’re friends.”
This time he squeezed back, at least a little. “So am I, Charlene. And don’t worry too much about things. I’m planning on doing quite a bit more to be prepared. I’ll be glad to help you get ready, too.”
The rest of the meal was spent in lighter conversation as they enjoyed the food and service. When they got back to Charlene’s house, she asked Buddy, “Do you want to come in for a drink before you go?”
Buddy shook his head. “No. The wine was enough. I still have to drive home.”
“Coffee, then?”

“I have to be up early in the morning. I’m giving my proposal on the next project after the one I’m starting next week.” On impulse, he leaned forward and kissed Charlene on the cheek. “Thanks for going with me tonight. I had a nice time. You’re great company. And just figure out a good evening for you and I’ll come over and we can start planning on how to get you more ready for the future.”
“Okay, Buddy. I’ll do that. Good night.”
“Good night.”

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

Charlie groaned and rolled over, and then gathered the newspapers on which, and under which, he’d slept, back around him. He was cold. He’d lost his long wool overcoat two days previously when two other homeless men and a homeless woman had taken over the drain culvert he’d been using to sleep in for the most part of the winter. He’d been able to sneak back and get both of his stashes, but the woman had glommed the coat. It would have been a fight to get it back. One he knew he’d lose anyway.
At least spring was here, though it was hard to tell sometimes. The weather the last few years had been more unpredictable than usual. Maybe it was time for him to head somewhere down south. Though he really couldn’t tolerate high heat and humidity. Maybe in a year or two, if he didn’t find something soon.
Of course, he knew he wouldn’t. He really wasn’t even trying anymore. He’d cut back the drinking, but he hadn’t stopped. A good part of the money he made from odd jobs went for cheap booze. But he had been hanging on to some of it for emergencies. That’s why getting his stashes back had been so important.
He was always careful not to have all of his money, little as it was, in only one place, whether on him, or stashed.
“Might as well get up,” he thought. He wouldn’t go back to sleep now, anyway. The sun was up. At least it hadn’t rained. He would have had to leave the culvert if it had rained during the night, or drown.
Bones aching and ligaments and tendons popping, Charlie crawled out of the culvert and looked carefully around. Nothing stirring, except some birds. He put out two rat traps the evening before and he decided to check them. Nothing in one, but the other had killed a pigeon.

 

Breakfast.
It didn’t take long to set up his tin can stove and start a few sticks burning using newspaper as tinder. He contemplated his future as he grilled the pigeon breast. He took a drink from one of his two bottles of water. He’d been able to keep them filled from partially full ones he often found in trash bins.
Things were getting bad in the city. More homeless than ever, and they were getting meaner. So were the cops. Not much tolerance anymore. The shelters were full, and he’d had to shave his head and privates after the last time. He’d wound up with lice from the blanket in the shelter. He’d borrowed a pair of scissors, and used his last disposable razor to do it. At least he’d been able to take a shower afterwards, but he’d immediately left the shelter afterward and hadn’t been back.
Maybe along the border between the city proper and the ‘burbs. Enough city stuff to keep him fed and housed, but close to good handyman work. He checked his cash. The stash in the hidden pocket inside the sleeve of his jacket, above the elbow, held a twenty in a zip-lock sandwich bag.
He had three dollars in his wallet in his left hip pocket. He never kept much in his wallet in case he got rolled. But he always kept a little in the hope that they would take it and not search much more. There was a five in the bottom of his left shoe.
Two fives were wrapped around his hickory walking staff, hidden under the leather handgrip. A ten was folded and in the palm of his left hand, under the fingerless, skin tight, leather glove he wore to hide the burn scars on the back of that hand.
Not much, but more than what many had. He still had a half of a pint of whiskey in the pocket of his jacket and the water, but no other food left. The others had got what little he’d had when they chased him from his other spot. At least he’d had his bottle of vitamins in one of the stashes.
His kit was divided between two 5-gallon buckets that had once held drywall paste. He’d made a couple of bucks helping clean up that construction job, got the buckets with lids, and a perfectly good closet rod they were going to just throw away. One of the carpenters had drilled quarter-inch holes an inch from each end for him. He bought two quarter-inch J-bolts from a discount store, two extra nuts, four washers, four feet of light chain, and two S-hooks. With the J-bolts mounted and the middle of the rod wrapped with cloth padding and duct tape, he had an over the shoulder carrier for the two buckets. Had to be a bit careful with his pace to keep the buckets from swinging on the chains and throwing him off balance, but it let him carry and use them easily.
There was a pretty decent set of Dickies tan work clothes in one bucket. It also contained an extra pair of underwear and a tee-shirt, and two pair of socks in a gallon zip-lock bag. That bucket also held his tin can stove when he wasn’t using it like now, a lidded pot, steak knife, spoon, a zip-lock with his small stash of toiletries, the bottle of vitamins, and one water bottle.
The other bucket contained the two rat traps, a small roll of duct tape, the other drinking water bottle, another pot, several pads of toilet paper in a zip-lock bag, a small box of zip-lock bags, coil of mechanic’s wire, multi-tip screwdriver, pair of water pump pliers, a very good carpenter’s hammer, and a hacksaw blade. There were a few odds and ends of screws, nails, and bolts. Another one-gallon zip-lock bag held his other change of underwear and socks, two bandanas, and a half roll of quarters for the Laundromat.
Along with the clothes he was wearing, a-bit-worse-for-wear set of Dickies work clothes, tee-shirt, insulated shirt, boxer shorts, insulated long handles, three pairs of socks, insulated gloves, stocking cap, heavy jacket, and boots, with a bandana around his neck and another one in his left hip pocket, and the contents of the buckets were the sum of his worldly goods.
Fed, morning ablutions taken care of, and buckets repacked, destination in mind, Charlie headed out.

 

BOOK: Percy's Mission
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