tagNovels and NovellasTipping Point Ch. 04

Tipping Point Ch. 04

bycoaster2©

Chapter 4: A Different Kind of Stan

I didn't wait to get started. I e-mailed each and every contact I had with a formal announcement that Copely Services was in business. I attached a copy of my rates, mirroring Dave Thomas', as well as my experience history and my new business phone number. I had subscribed to a new cell phone plan which gave me a bulk rate on any U.S. calls.

I ordered some business cards on line that I designed myself from the templates provided. I kept the appearance simple and straightforward, hopefully reminding people of what kind of guy I was. I was really relying upon my reputation to gain a foothold in the business. My phone did not "ring off the hook" that first week.

I met with Terry Rhinesdorf at the rink on Tuesday evening to watch his hockey team in action. It was pretty ragged play, but I thought with a bit of practice and conditioning, I could help them. I told him I'd see him same time next week with some equipment and let him form his own opinion.

I had picked up hockey equipment during the week, opting for some "previously experienced" pads and pants, but new gloves and helmet, along with a couple of sticks. I bought a practice jersey in case they didn't have a team jersey available. I probably didn't need to spend the money at that point, but I wanted something to look forward to, and I was feeling a bit like it was my right to be a little selfish for a change.

I spent the weekend getting our apartment more "livable" with some prints for the bare walls, and with Jilly's help, curtains for our four windows. The ones that had been left behind by the previous tenant were in poor condition, not to mention very feminine. Jilly took the new ones home and hemmed them to fit properly, arriving back at the apartment just before dinner. We decided on a nearby Mexican restaurant and had a nice meal and a pleasant evening.

Sunday afternoon, I went back to the rink for a skate, but Teresa wasn't there. Too bad, I was looking forward to her company. She was a very attractive woman and didn't seem to mind my hanging around with her. Perhaps next week, I thought.

I was getting a little antsy that I hadn't heard from any of my old customers when Monday morning rolled around. I figured that at least some of them would call to let me know they got my e-mail. I had received a couple of e-mails acknowledging my notice, but nothing else. So when my phone went off about 10am on Monday morning, I jumped in surprise.

"Copely Services," I answered.

"Hi Stan, it's Sue Palotti at Winston Candy." It was a familiar voice. Winston Candy was a large national candy producer and packer with three plants in the U.S. Sue was dayshift supervisor in Kansas City. I'd been in her plant several times in the past few years.

"Hey, Sue. How are you?"

"I'm fine Stan, but I can't say the same for a couple of my pieces of equipment. One of the F & C units won't seal and that piece of Italian crap they call a twist-wrapper is driving me crazy. Think you can help me?"

"Sure. When do you need me?"

"Last Friday would have been good, but I'll settle for as soon as you can get here. Your old company said they might be able to get someone here next week. I'll really be behind the eight-ball if I can't get going sooner."

"No problem. I'll get the first flight out I can and should be there tomorrow sometime," I said, excited with my first job."

"Hot damn, Stan. That's great. Just let me know when you're getting in and I'll get someone to pick you up at the airport. No need for a rental car. Don't worry about the hotel reservation either. I'll look after that."

"That would be great. Thanks a lot for giving me a call, Sue. I really appreciate it. You're Copely Services' first customer."

"I'll bet I'm not the only one. I'll look forward to seeing you and you can tell me all about what's going on," she said, sounding very happy.

I signed off and immediately got online to find a flight. I found a non-stop that left at 9am and arrived at 10am, Kansas City time. I booked it with an open return and paid with my credit card. I called Sue back.

"Hey, Sue. I got a good flight that will get me in by 10am tomorrow morning. That will give me most of the day to get at least one machine back on line."

"That's great, Stan. Boy, you've really helped me out. I'll make sure my boss knows about this. See you tomorrow morning, then."

It felt good to be able to help someone that quickly and I immediately pulled out my small travel bag and toolkit and checked them over. I called Terry Rhinesdorf to let him know I would be out of town on Tuesday and unable to attend the game. It only took me five minutes to pack for the trip and confirm I had all my necessary equipment. I was charged up to have my first billable business, and I was hoping this would just be the first of many in the future. I wondered when I would get that second call. I didn't have long to wait. My cell phone went off just before noon.

"Copely Services."

"Hello, Stan. It's John Mankowitz in Plano. How are you?"

"Fine thanks, John. Just getting my new business up and running."

"That's what I was calling about. I've been having some intermittent problems with a couple of my machines and I could use some help. Any idea of when you might be around this way?"

"John, I'm headed for Kansas City tomorrow and I should be wrapped up there Wednesday afternoon. If I can catch a late flight, I should be in Dallas that night and at your place Thursday morning. Is that quick enough?"

"Hell, yes. That's plenty fast enough. It'll be good to see you again. I'd like to hear about you settin' up your own business."

"Well, we should have some time, so let me got off the phone and find a flight and I'll let you know when you can expect me."

"That's great, Stan. Thanks for jumpin' on this. I 'preciate it."

I flipped my phone closed and smiled. I was in business! I checked the flights to Dallas from K.C. and found what I needed. There were three beginning in the mid-afternoon and I booked the latest, hoping I could move up if I was finished early at Winston Candy. I repacked my bag for an extra two days, and wondered if I'd get another call this week.

When Tommy came home from work, I greeted him with a big smile and a "Guess what?"

"You've got a job," Tommy guessed immediately.

"Two, in fact. One in K.C. and the other near Dallas. I'm in business for myself, son."

"That's great, Dad. I'm really happy for you."

We had some chili I bought at the supermarket deli, along with a tossed salad and a beer to celebrate my first two contracts. It couldn't have tasted better if it was a prime Porterhouse steak. I felt more energy that I had in a month of Sundays. An early bedtime would make sure I was in good shape for my trip and the work ahead of me.

When I got off the plane in Kansas City I was surprised to see Sue herself waiting for me at the baggage carousel.

"Hey, Sue, you didn't have to come out to get me," I said, happy that she had made the effort.

"I couldn't let you ride with just anybody, Stan. Especially not after you came as quick as you did. Besides, you can tell me about your new business and what's goin' on in your life as we drive to the plant.

My bag arrived and we hoofed it to the parking lot and Sue's car. The weather was cold, but there was no snow on the ground yet. Just the same, the prevailing color was brown. Sue drove the twenty minutes to the plant while I told her about what caused me to strike out on my own. I didn't tell her that I had separated from my wife, and she didn't ask any questions, just listened.

We arrived at the plant and we walked onto the production floor after I'd pulled on the obligatory white smock and hair net. Sue led me over to the two machines that were giving her trouble and I set down my tool kit and asked her to show me what was happening. Within ten minutes, I was underway with my adjustments and repairs. I would fix the F & C unit first before starting on the Italian twist-wrap machine.

Sue tapped me on the shoulder at 12:30 and asked me if I wanted lunch. I nodded and cleaned up, heading for the lunch room. Once upon a time they dispensed hot lunches at Winston Candy, but no more. I could buy a sandwich, a salad, and one of a variety of drinks at the counter. Salted snacks and candy bars were available from the vending machines. I settled for a sandwich and a pint of milk.

I sat at one of the empty tables, but was soon joined by Sue and three other ladies I recognized from the operating floor.

"Hi, Stan. Good to see you again," Flo Meekins said happily. Flo was one of the operators on the twist wrap machine. She was middle-aged and reasonably attractive. She wore her brown hair tied up in a bandana along with the mandatory hairnet.

I nodded, my mouth full of sandwich.

"Stan's on his own, now," Sue told the three women. I called him yesterday, and here he is today. How about that for service?" she grinned.

Flo didn't waste a second. "Aw, he's just here cuz you called him, Sue. No man can resist your charms," she laughed, as did the other two.

I damn near choked on my sandwich at that. At least that would explain why I was red in the face.

Sue was quick to proclaim, "Now girls, you know Stan is a perfect gentleman. Not like some of those pussy hounds that like to troll the floor around here."

"Yeah," agreed Iris, a husky, frizzy-haired woman, her smile showing crooked teeth. "He ain't nothing like my old man, that's for sure." The three other women joined in the general laughter.

We went back to work and I finished on the F & C machine just after 3pm. As usual, the settings had been fiddled with by someone without the knowledge to know what they were doing. We called these people "knob twiddlers," since they couldn't resist changing machine settings despite the fact that it was running perfectly. They created all sorts of problems, but no amount of education or threats seemed to change their bad habits. Oh well, they would keep me in business, I suppose.

I started on the Ferrinetti twist-wrap machine to see if could figure out what the source of the problem was. The operators were sure it was the film, but I wasn't convinced without checking it myself. They started it up and almost immediately I told them to shut it down. It was making a god-awful sound in its innards, and I didn't want to do any more damage than had already been done. I began the laborious process of taking the shrouds off the machine and getting at its mechanical guts.

I had a pretty good idea of where the problem was located, but it was going to take me some time to get at it. When Sue tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the clock on the wall, I saw it was almost five o'clock. I nodded. Time to quit. I'd start again in the morning.

"You get cleaned up and I'll meet you out in the parking lot. I'll warm up the car," Sue promised with a smile.

I was feeling pretty good. I was pretty sure I'd only need three or four hours to fix the Ferrinetti, so I could catch an afternoon flight to Dallas and be on the job in Plano first thing Thursday morning. I was operating on residual adrenalin energy, happy that I had a couple of revenue producing jobs to begin my new career.

"Do you mind if you stay my place, Stan? I've got an extra bedroom and the rent's cheap. Breakfast is served too," she said with a sly look.

"Oh ... Sue ... I couldn't do that. I mean ...." I didn't know what I meant at that moment. She had caught me completely off guard.

"Relax, Stan. I couldn't get a reservation at the Holiday Inn, so I decided you could stay with me. I'm a decent cook, so you won't have to put up with restaurant food. Besides, I live alone and I'd enjoy the company of a handsome man for a change."

"Oh ... uh ... I don't know, Sue." I really was stuck in neutral for a few moments. Sue, however, wasn't going to take no for an answer.

"Come on, Stan. I won't bite. Maybe just nibble a bit," she laughed. "Seriously, you're a good friend and someone I trust. I wouldn't invite you otherwise."

I turned and looked at her in the darkness of the car. The lights of the passing cars illuminated her face and I could see that she was serious. This wasn't a joke or a tease.

"Well ... as long as I'm not a problem for you," I said lamely.

"Oh, you're definitely not a problem. Trust me," she said. I thought I saw the hint of a smirk when I looked at her in the intermittent light.

We pulled up to a small bungalow in the middleclass neighborhood south of the plant. As far as I could tell in the dark, the house was in good condition as was the yard. She parked in a one car garage and we walked into a mud room attached to the kitchen. Sue was flicking on the lights as we went.

The house was tidy and organized. No sign of dirty dishes or anything out of place. That wasn't a surprise. That was how Sue ran her shop floor. She was a stickler for keeping the machine areas clean and uncluttered. After all, they were making a food product and she was very conscious of that fact. Working in her plant was a pleasure compared to some of the places I visited.

"How does homemade lasagna, garlic toast, and a tossed salad sound?" she called as I looked around the living room.

"Great."

"Put your bags in the bedroom on the left, Stan."

I followed her instructions and took my bathroom kit out, placing it on the dresser. The two bedrooms were separated by a bathroom. I hung up tomorrow's shirt, flicked off the light, and headed back to the kitchen.

I walked in and Sue passed me a glass of red wine. "Here, the lasagna will be a few minutes heating in the oven. In the meantime, we can talk. You can tell me all about what caused you to make this big leap."

I took a sip of wine, collecting my thoughts. "I got to a point where I couldn't live the way I was living any more. I was traveling all the time, and not getting any pleasure from my job. I hated my boss and didn't respect my company any more. I could see them failing at some point, and then I really would be out of a job."

"What did your wife think when you wanted to quit?"

"I didn't ask her. She and I hadn't been getting along and it all came to a head when I got home from a long road trip. She'd been out with her girlfriends and didn't get back until sometime after 2am. I got on her case the next morning and got a lot of nasty feedback from her. I guess that was the breaking point right there. I'd been thinking about how unhappy I was, and she was acting miserable towards me, so when she started to getting snarky about answering my question, I lost it. I grabbed some clothes and left right then and there."

"Wow! That doesn't sound like the Stan Copely I know. So, you not only walked out on your wife, but you quit your job too?"

"Yup. Walked out Saturday morning and handed in my notice on Monday morning. I was amazed how good it felt."

Sue was shaking her head in surprise. "Boy, you must have really been pushed to the wall."

"Yeah. That's what I had been thinking about on that Friday night. Things were coming to a head and I couldn't see how they were going to get any better. Sylvia pushed me too hard and the rest was inevitable. Now ... I wonder why I didn't do something sooner."

At that point the bell went off on the oven and Sue got up to serve our meal. I refilled the wine glasses and we sat for dinner. There wasn't a lot of conversation during the meal. The lasagna was hot and delicious, and that kept us occupied.

I had never really paid much attention to Sue as a woman over the years we had been associated. The first time I called on Winston Candy, Sue was the machine operator. She had paid careful attention when I repaired and reset the controls on the machine. That caught my interest right away. Most of the time, the operators disappeared into the lunchroom until the machine was fixed, then came out to resume their jobs, having learned nothing. Sue watched, absorbed, and succeeded accordingly. Small wonder she was promoted to supervisor.

But the Sue Palotti that sat at the kitchen table with me that evening was a different person. She wasn't tall, probably five two or three, but she was definitely all female. On the job she wore and shapeless smock and a hairnet that really masked her appearance. Here in her own surroundings, she was an attractive dark blonde in her late thirties, I guessed. She had a very rounded body with prominent breasts and backside. She didn't possess an hourglass figure, but to me she was very sexy.

"I don't see any rings, so I assume you aren't married," I said, wondering if I was being too nosy.

"Nope. Never been married. Still looking for Mr. Right," she said without emotion. Then she looked up at me. "Why? You want to apply for the position?" I was sure she was teasing.

"No, just curious. You're a very attractive woman and I thought you would have lots of opportunities to find Mr. Right."

"Mr. Right is very hard to find. Believe me, I've seen all the variations of Mr. Wrong, so I know the difference." She was silent for a few moments until, "What about you, Stan. You're a good looking guy. You shouldn't have any trouble finding someone to replace your wife if that's what you decide to do."

"Me? Good looking? That's a laugh."

"I'm serious. You're a very sought-after article for a single woman. You look good, you're not overweight, you don't act crude, you're polite, you don't drink too much, and you work hard. You are more attractive than you realize."

"You forgot ... I'm kind to animals too," I laughed.

"Okay, okay, you don't believe me, but I'm not wrong. I know the difference, and you are the real deal."

"I'm very flattered you think so," I conceded.

"If you lived around here, I'd be after you in a flash," she said. I didn't doubt her for a moment, but I was surprised.

"Well, for the time being, I'm still married, so ..."

"So what? When you make up your mind what you want to do about your marriage, let me know. I'll be here," she smiled.

"Yeah ... when I make up my mind. In the meantime, Sue, please don't mention it to anyone. It's pretty personal, you know.

"Sure. I'm surprised you told me, but ... thanks. I'm touched that you confided in me."

We watched a little TV, but Sue was an early riser, so we both headed off to bed at ten, knowing that 6am would come soon enough. As I lay in the bed that night, I thought about Sue and Sylvia. It was probably unfair, but I was comparing them. Sylvia was taller and slimmer, but Sue had a down-home attractiveness that made her very likeable. It made me think a little harder about the decision I knew I would have to make about our marriage, sooner or later.

The next morning I was up and ready to go in plenty of time. I helped myself to a bowl of cereal, and Sue had the coffee maker on a timer, so we had fresh coffee before we left for the plant. I noticed she put the dishes and utensils in the dishwasher, then emptied and cleaned the pot before we left. She had a couple of donuts for us to munch on in the car. I thanked her for the meal and the bed. It was an unexpected bonus on my first job.

I went right to work on the Ferrinetti, and it wasn't long before I knew the machine had jammed and someone had tried to force it to run. I was hoping that I could repair the damage without having to rely on the notoriously slow factory in Italy for parts. About an hour into the tear-down, I found the problem. It was a bent control arm, and I doubted that it could be straightened without weakening it. I took a walk to the maintenance office and showed the problem to Fred Connors, the supervisor.

We talked about it for a while, realizing that whatever we did, we would need to order a replacement part right away. The short-term problem was how to get the machine up and operating with a temporary fix. Luckily, Fred was a pretty clever guy. Between us, we figured a way to straighten and reinforce the shaft by welding a sister piece to it. It wouldn't be pretty, but it might do until the proper part arrived.

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