Life After Death Ch. 01bySlirpuff©
I'd like to thank Capshroud2000 for his help in catching my mistakes and making it easier to read. This is the first of three chapters, and when the other two are done being edited, only then will they will be posted. The story is loosely based on something that happened to someone I know very well.
As I dropped the birthday card in the mailbox, my mind wandered for a split second. Had it already been a year? That fact, and not the cold September wind had just put a chill down my spine.
"Oh well, life goes on," I said to myself, as I started my daily half-mile walk to my office.
When I went looking for my new condo, I had wanted to make sure it was within walking distance of my office. In that way, I could sell my car, drop the insurance, and if I needed transportation, I always had my Harley. I had shops, restaurants, and anything else I needed within a mile of my new place.
It was still dark at 6:00 am. I didn't mind since there was hardly any traffic and no panhandlers to contend with. At my normal walking pace I was in my office building in less than fifteen minutes. I made a fresh pot of coffee, grabbed a cup, and went into my office.
"How could I have eighteen e-mails already this morning," I asked myself as I reviewed them.
Most of them were garbage, and jokes, but two had information that I had been waiting for. I printed them out, and replied to the rest, which took me until about 7:10. After that I started looking at yesterday's sales, what had been produced on the second and third shifts, and if anyone had run into any problems during the night. It was now just after 8:00, and the rest of the office people were starting to mosey on in for the day.
I was the purchasing manager for a Minneapolis based manufacturing company. I was the office manager and in charge of about a third of the 175 employees. I had been there for six years, and after the last eight months, I was the company's rising star. Hell, if you put in as many hours as I did, you would be a star, too ... unless you were a total idiot. You can bet that I wasn't. Well, not any more.
I normally got in between 6:00 and 6:15 in the morning and was never out until at least 7:30 at night. Weekends were hit or miss, but normally you could count on me putting in at least another eight hours. I had become a workaholic, but my job was all I had left now.
Today was the month end closing of the books, and I wanted to make sure that everything went smoothly. I checked my inventory levels, put off two trucks of material until Monday, and told everyone to make sure that all of their shop orders were closed by day's end. I was doing a final review of my inventory when my boss, Ken stopped by my office on his way out.
"What the hell are you still doing here? I'm the only one here that you need to impress, and I'm leaving," he told me.
"Ken, just looking at my inventory and production numbers before corporate closes the books tomorrow morning," I replied.
"Steve, your numbers are good, and your month-end numbers are always good. Close your computer down and go home," Ken pleaded with me.
"I will. I just have one more thing to do, and I'm out of here."
"Good, and I don't want to see you here tomorrow. The bug man is bombing the office Saturday morning, and no one can be in here for 24 hours after that. So go home, relax, and have a good weekend for a change," Ken told me as he walked out.
I did leave, but it was well past 8:00 before I finally walked out.
As I walked home, I watched all of the couples having a drink in the local pubs, eating dinner in the restaurants, and just walking arm and arm through the now busy streets. I just shook my head, and headed back to my condo, alone as usual.
It was a two bedroom, two bath, second floor unit I had completely renovated prior to my moving in. I had hot water heat and a large balcony on the backside that overlooked a park with a lake. There was a walking and biking path around the lake, which was about three miles in length. I loved to get up early on Sunday mornings and do three or four laps before breakfast.
As I opened my door and threw the keys on the counter, I could see the blinking of my answering machine. Without even looking at the numbers, or how many messages there were, I hit the delete button. Moving over to the refrigerator, I took out an already-opened bottle of my favorite wine, pulled out the cork, and went to the china cabinet to grab a crystal wine glass. I had started using them about a couple of month's back, after asking myself one night, "What was I saving them for?" They were beautiful, but what good was that if they just sit there gathering dust. If I dropped one and it broke, oh well, I had another seven left anyway.
With a glass of wine in hand, I flipped on the TV and opened my laptop. I pulled up AOL, and it announced that I had six new e-mails. Two were from E-Bay about items that I was bidding on; one was from my parents; two were from my best and only friend, Nick; and one was asking me if I'd like to make $1,000.00 a week working from home.
"I'll get to them tomorrow," I said to myself as I went into the kitchen.
I had redone the kitchen shortly after moving in. It was now like something out of a gourmet magazine. It had a six-burner gas stove, a separate double oven, a large stainless-steel refrigerator, two copper sinks, granite counter tops, and an island with a built-in wine cooler. All of this over-looked the dining room, and the balcony.
A while back, I was having a lot of trouble falling asleep. I just couldn't clear my mind no matter how long I lied there in bed. I found that the only sure fire way to sleep, was to be 100% physically exhausted, so I had converted the second bedroom into a home gym. So every night, between the hours of 9:00 and 10:00, I drove myself into the ground. After that, I would take a quick cold shower, have a final glass of wine, and then go to sleep. Day in and day out, that was my schedule. I had trimmed down over the past year and no longer had an ounce of fat left on my 5'10" frame. I had gone down from a soft 195 to 175 pounds. I wasn't big, but I was rock solid.
Dinner was the same as it had been all week. I wasn't about to start cooking dinner when I got home at 8:00 every night, so I found one of the local restaurants that would cook and quick-freeze five meals every week for me. Tonight it was steak, peppers, and rice. A couple of minutes in the microwave and it was ready to eat.
Grabbing another glass of wine, I went into the living room and turned on the news. There never was anything good anymore. All the networks ever showed were those items that would boost their ratings ... murders, bombings, terrorists, and various prominent politicians sleeping around on their wives. It never changed. The local stations it weren't any better. Reality shows seemed to be all there was anymore. The majority of them insulted my intelligence, and the few that did look interesting dragged on for weeks until they mercifully ended.
"Reality; they had no idea what reality really is!" I said to myself as finally turned it off and headed to my workout room.
Twenty minutes on the treadmill got my heart rate elevated and my legs warmed up. After that it was fifteen minutes of hard stretching before the real workout began. Thirty to forty-five minutes of hitting and kicking the heavy bag was more than most people could handle. I was focused and made each punch and kick count. It was as though I was giving up a piece of myself with every strike.
As a kid, I had trained in a Chinese Kung Fu style in a small dojo only four blocks from where my family lived. Growing up I had watched all those cheesy karate movies and thought how cool it would be to be able to do what I saw. After pestering my dad for months and faithfully promising him that I wouldn't quit, I became a student of a local school. However, it was nothing like what I saw in the movies.
The Sensei ruled his school with an iron fist. You never questioned what he told you to do unless you wanted to feel the sting of the bamboo rod he always carried around. He literally worked our butts until we couldn't raise an arm or leg any longer. After about two months, I'd had enough and wanted to quit.
"I paid for a year, and you're going to finish," my dad told me. "What are you, some kind of baby?" my dad said in a mocking voice. "So it's a little tough. Suck it up! Life is tough. Finish the year, and if you want to quit after that, so be it. However, I expect you to give it your all. I don't want some half-assed effort on your part. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir," I replied.
After that I sucked it up, and gave it 110%. That's when I met Nick. He was a year older than I was, but we went to the same school. Even back then, he out-weighed me by forty pounds, though he wasn't nearly as motivated as I had become.
"My dad enrolled me, to give me some self confidence and character," Nick told me one day. "I don't want to be here, but I've got no choice."
We became best friends. We hung out and played together, but most of all, we trained together. We would hold the pads for each other, and his biggest complaint was that I was trying to kill him with all the kicks I was throwing.
"Ease up damn it. You don't have to throw me through the wall with every kick," Nick pleaded.
But I was on a mission. In two months we would be allowed to spar in class, and that's what I was really looking forward to. My first sparring session was a major disaster. I got my butt kicked by no less than three other students; so much for my big head. It took me another three months of hard work before I won my first match. After that, I never looked back.
I did train for an additional four years before I finally hung up my belts. Nick did a total of two years before he dropped out. I had my second-degree black belt, but then I found a new interest ... girls. My Sensei begged me to stay on, but I had made up my mind. He told me that the dojo was always open to me, and we parted as the best of friends. For a while, I would stop in to say hi and see what was going on, but after a year or so I finally stopped. That was, until a couple of months ago.
Looking at my watch, it was almost 11:00. I was soaked in perspiration head to foot, and I moved slowly towards the bathroom. Pealing off my wet shorts and top, I threw them in the hamper and stepped into the shower. For the first couple of minutes I just let the cold spray bring me back to life. While looking at my red and swollen hands, I grabbed the soap and washed the grunge from my body. I had cut my hair short after the incident and was now sprouting a ten-day old beard. Shampoo, conditioner, and brushing my teeth finished my shower. Grabbing a warm towel from the cabinet, I dried off and wiped the mirror. I saw my reflection, so I knew I was still breathing. But was I alive?
Saturday morning I sent a brief e-mail to Nick, "Unless Lisa has already talked you into selling your bike, please meet me for breakfast Sunday morning at 8:00. That is, if you can still can get up that early. The Mom and Pops on 321. You know the place."
I loved my bike. I had either driven or owned many of the affordable sports cars in the last five years, but nothing compared to being on my Harley. The rumble of the engine, the wind in your face, the vulnerability of being out there, just you and the bike, was something at this point that I really needed. I had dumped my helmet a couple of months back and wore nothing more than my shades and maybe a ball cap once in a while.
It was still a little cool, when I took off at about 9:30 on Saturday. I saw only one other biker who greeted me with the downward peace sign. By this time of the year most of the weekend riders had already put their bikes away, but the rest of us hard-core riders would wait until the first snowfall.
It had been a while since I'd had an oil change, so I headed over to the dealer, knowing that he wouldn't be busy on a cold Saturday morning.
"Just an oil change," I told the service tech.
"You going to wait on it?
"Well, unless you want to give me a ride home, I'll wait. About how long?" I asked.
"Give me an hour and I'll get you back on the road," he told me.
I had time to kill, so I decided to check out the new and consignment bikes on the dealer's floor.
"You looking for a bike?" The salesman said, as he walked up to me, with his hand out stretched.
"Nope. Just getting my Ultra serviced."
"Well, if you have any questions, just let me know," he said walking back to the group of salesmen shooting the breeze by the row of offices. After a couple of minutes, one caught my eye. I threw a leg over and up-righted it.
"This is what I call a sweet ride," I said to myself while, admiring the lime-green, custom chopper.
At one time, I had thought about getting one, but I had given into Carol's demands and traded my Road King for the Ultra. She kept telling me how uncomfortable it was, but that was now in the past. "A beauty, isn't it?" The salesman said walking up behind me. "It's got a 2008 engine with only 2200 miles on it. Everything else is custom Harley parts except for the frame, which was hand-made. You want to take it for a spin?" he asked.
"I don't think I can afford something like this," I told him.
"Well, the guy is looking for a cash sale, or he will consider a trade with cash. What are you currently riding?"
"A black '08 Ultra," I told him.
"Owe anything on it?"
"Nope, free and clear," I said while now giving the green chopper more than a once over.
The next thing I knew, I was tooling down the road on the green monster. It handled like a dream, even with the Springer front end at a 60-degree front rake. After about twenty minutes, I pulled back into the dealership.
"What do you think?" the salesman asked.
"A little more vibration in the seat than I'd like, but it handles pretty decent," I told him.
"You interested in talking to the owner?" he asked.
While taking another look I said, "Get him on the phone."
"Why in the hell are you selling it?" was my first question.
"My old lady is tired of sitting on the rear, fender pad, and gives me nothing but grief when I go on a ride without her. So to keep peace in the family, I've got to sell it and get something more appropriate ... as she calls it."
"I did that once. Never again," I told him. "You got any saddle-bags for it?"
"I've got a set of leather bags and even a small bolt on wind-shield if you're interested."
Thirty minutes later he and his wife drove to the dealership with the rest of the accessories, and the three of us went outside to talk. Forty-five minutes later and $8,000.00 lighter, I drove off with his bike and the happy couple with mine. As they say, a win situation for both of us.
I set up an appointment with the dealer for the following week, to change out the seat and add a rear shock, to get rid of most of the vibration. Call me a candy-ass, but after a hundred miles or so, my back could no longer take the ride of a hard tail.
Nick was sitting by the window, having a cup of coffee, when I pulled in. I had barely turned off the engine, when I noticed him standing next to me.
"When did you get this beauty?" he asked.
"Just yesterday. Traded my Ultra and a few bucks for her; what do you think?"
"Damn, what's there not to like?" he replied.
He spent the next twenty minutes looking it over, asking me questions, and wishing he had the balls to do something like what I'd done.
"Lisa would have my ass, if I pulled into the driveway with something like this," Nick said as he continued to check it out. Even though she hardly ever rides with me anymore, she would still never go for it. Before you leave though, you've got to let me take it for a ride. You owe me that much," he said as we went inside.
After ordering breakfast and telling him the long version of how I traded my Ultra for the green monster, we settled down to updating each other on what we'd been up to.
I told Nick that even though business was down about 15%, because of the economy being in the toilet work, was going well for me. Last month we had lured two distributors away from one of our competitors, and as a result, we should have a great fourth quarter.
Nick said that his company had laid off almost 10% of the work force, and that they were doing every thing in their power just to survive this year without going chapter 11.
"I never thought I'd be happy just to have a job, any job, but that's how it is right now. I tell the guys on the floor to keep their mouths shut, do their jobs, and be thankful they're working because there are no jobs out there," Nick told me.
I asked about Lisa's work, and how secure her job at the hospital was.
"People are still going to get sick, and the hospital are always going to need good nurses. The only thing I hate is that she has to cover for people who lay out sometimes. Hell, I've had to pick her up at 3:00 in the morning because she was too tired to drive back home. I guess we have to do whatever to keep food on the table."
"You know that Lisa and Carol are still friends, and we see her every once in a while," Nick said more than a little hesitantly.
Holding up a finger, all I said was "Don't."
"Just thought you'd like to know, she still asks about you," he told me.
"If it were anyone but you, I'd all ready been out of here," I quickly replied.
"Just thought you should know. I understand you had a little trouble at the dojo two weeks ago," Nick said with a laugh. "I heard sensei told you to stay away until you could control your temper."
"It was no big deal. I was sparring with the kids when his new full contact fighter opened his big mouth. He had just dropped another fighter in the ring and was feeling a little cocky, that's all," I told him.
"Well, rumor has it, he called you a wimp, and that you were only good enough to spar with the little kids," Nick said with a laugh. "Kenny said you got into the ring, and cleaned his clock in less than five minutes, and that sensei had to pull you off him."
"You know how stories get blown out of proportion," I told him. "I did a front leg sweep and gave him a back fist. I guess that pissed him off, because he went a little nuts. Hell, he had his hands up way too high, so I just gave him a couple of sidekicks, to show him why we protect the body ... that's all. I guess I should have pulled my kicks a little because I understand I cracked a couple of his ribs. Maybe next time he'll keep his elbows in tight," I said with a little smirk on my face.
"Well, if you want to spar with anyone else, don't call me ... been there, done that," Nick told me. "You still never do anything half ass do you?" Nick said all ready knowing my answer.
We shot the shit for another hour before Nick told me that he had to leave.
"Going over to Lisa's parents for dinner tonight. You want to come along? It's no bother, and Lisa would love to see you. It's been almost six months since we've all gotten together."
"Not today," I told him. "I've got some work I've got to get done before Monday morning, but thanks for the invite any way. Maybe next time," I replied.
"Buddy, you can't hide forever," Nick said as he gave me a shot to the arm before taking my new bike out for a test run.
After about ten minutes, a wide-eyed Nick pulled back into the parking lot.
"I've got to get me one of these," he said getting off my bike. "The only problem I can see is that it's a lot faster than my wide glide. I sure as hell wouldn't want to take a sharp corner flat out on it," he said unzipping his jacket and taking off his helmet.
I told Nick to play it cool, and not to do anything I'd do, because I was half crazed. He went back home and I took off on my green monster, for a long afternoon ride.