tagLoving WivesWenatchee Ch. 07-08

Wenatchee Ch. 07-08

bycoaster2©

Ch. 7 The Unthinkable

As Thanksgiving approached, I found myself conflicted with thoughts of Gisele and Joyce. Gisele was the desirable woman who was quite forward about admitting her interest in me. I was still married to Joyce, however. That might be more of a technicality, but just the same, I felt an obligation to my vows. Until our divorce was final, I was a married man and I intended to act like one.

Pete had formally filed the divorce papers citing irreconcilable differences. If ever there was a proper name for what had destroyed our marriage, that was it. It would be six months before it was final since we did not expect any response to the petition. I wasn't happy signing the papers, but I knew it was inevitable and I had to get on with the rest of my life. At least with Gisele in the picture it didn't look quite as bleak as it might have.

I was delighted that my parents had asked to host the Thanksgiving dinner and had invited Nora and Mike Fielding as well. The two parents were quite friendly to begin with, but I thought it was a wonderful gesture on my folks' part. Matt was unable to get away for the long weekend, but sent his best and let me know that everything was going well so far. His biggest adjustment was living away from home, but he wasn't alone and sounded like he would be fine.

I was in despair over what to do at Christmas. Matt would be home, but I wasn't sure what to do about the Fieldings. I thought about inviting them, but then I worried that it might not be very comfortable for them. In the end I decided to have them over on Christmas Eve, while my parents would come on Christmas Day. I also had a thought about the shop.

"Terry, this time last year this business was just you and I. Now, we have Jana, Jimmy, and Red. I'd like to suggest a staff Christmas party, our first. Christmas Eve is a Friday, so we could do a lunch and close up early. What do you think?"

"Sure. Sounds like a hell of an idea. Just don't make it a big turkey dinner, okay?"

"Agreed. We could do Chinese ... or maybe Mexican ... or something different."

"Why don't we take a vote? See what they want?"

I agreed. I went out to the front of the shop and gathered the three young people together.

"We've decided to have a Christmas party for the shop and we were wondering what we should order for food. We can do sandwiches, or Chinese, or Mexican, or who knows. Everyone gets a vote, so speak up."

"I'm for Chinese," Jimmy said immediately.

"I'm good with that," Red said quickly.

"Fine with me," Jana said.

Well, that's a majority right there and I know Terry and I won't disagree, so Chinese it is."

I reported back to Terry and he seemed pleased. "I'll leave the menu to you, Geoff. Just make sure you get lots. Why don't you invite that feller from the college? He did a hell of job findin' those three.

"Damn good idea, Terry. I'll do it right now."

I called Lowell Drummond, and while he had some duties scheduled that day, he said he'd be pleased to put in an appearance for the lunch. I let him know it was Chinese, but that didn't deter him at all. The party would be in a little over two weeks time, so there was plenty of time to get organized. It would be a little crowded in the shop, but with some rearranging of the desks and tables, we would be fine.

The following Monday, we had a visitor. She was an attractive blonde with a dark suntan and a slim build. Dressed in a cotton military-style blouse and chinos, she was a very nice package. She appeared to be in her late twenties or early thirties. She spotted me and decided I was the person she wanted to talk to.

"Hi, I'm Anne Szmanski. I'm looking for Red Redmond. Is he here?"

"No, actually, he's out on a call at the school board. He should be back any time now."

"Oh. Would it be a problem if I waited?"

"No ... but aside from coffee, we don't have much to offer in the way of hospitality."

"No need. I can tell what's happening here. Red and I served together in Afghanistan. We were both techies and we worked together off and on."

"So you were there when he was wounded?"

"Yeah. I'd just re-upped for another two when he took the hit. I was sick about it. I've just finished my tour and I thought I'd look him up and see how he was doing. I heard some rumors back there."

"You from around here?"

"Ellensburg. Just got home a week ago. Thought I'd drop by and say hello."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate that. He's kind of a loner as far as I can tell."

"Really? He was married when he was over there."

"She left him when she found out he lost his legs. He went through a bad patch for a while, but he's fine now. He's a hell of an addition to this little outfit."

"Oh, man, that's harsh," she said. She appeared to be thinking about something for a moment or two. "You said he was out on a call. That means he's getting around?"

"Yeah. Artificial legs and special crutches, but he's got a van and he's great with the customers, so hell, he's a field man now."

The smile on her face was a mile wide. "Damn that's good to hear. I can't wait to see him. We spent a lot of time together. He's a great guy," she enthused.

I got the impression there was more than admiration for Red in her mind. It would be interesting to see what happened when he got back. I didn't have long to wait.

She saw him as he pulled the van up to the front of the store. You couldn't miss the red hair. She stood in the middle of the shop with her hands on her hips and her feet spread. From the back I could almost see her in uniform. She was a soldier. As Red pushed his way through the front door, he didn't see her right away.

"You always come to work this late, soldier?" she said in her best military voice.

His head snapped up and a look of complete surprise covered his face.

"Annie? Is that you?" He began to stumble and rush forward to her awkwardly. She quickly moved to him and grabbed him in an embrace.

I saw tears in both their eyes and knew it was time for me to go back into my office and leave them for a while. There was more to this than just comrades-in-arms.

I was working on a proposal for the police to modernize their communications with onboard computers in all the patrol cars. We would supply the units and the service, making sure they had the best system available. Their budget was coming up early next year and I wanted them to put this proposal into their submission. It would be a very nice piece of business for us.

I was busy thinking about what else we could include to make the package more enticing when there was a soft knock on my door. It was Red and Anne, standing together, looking very happy.

"Geoff, you've already met Anne, but I just wanted you to know that she is the best computer analyst I've ever come across. If you hear of any work around here that could use her, we'd appreciate it."

"Are you working now, Anne?" I asked.

"No, sir. I'm staying with my folks in Ellensburg. I'm looking for a job like Red has. Something I can use my training on."

"What do you know about PLCs?" I asked.

"Quite a bit. I did some repairs and reconditioning in the field. That place was what you would call a hostile environment."

"What about moisture and cold?"

"Same problem. Instead of sand it's water. Instead of a hundred and twenty degrees, it's freezing."

"Let me think about it. We might be able to use another person beginning next year. We've fairly busy right now, but I'd like to see us busier. If there's a job, it would be in January. Can you wait that long?"

"Yes, sir. Especially if I was working with Red. He's the best, sir."

"Uhhm, Anne, it took me a while to break Red from calling me 'sir,' so if it's okay with you, please call me Geoff."

She grinned. "Sure thing, Geoff."

"So you think this girl has got what it takes, do you?" Terry asked.

"Yeah. Pretty sure. She and Red are close buddies and I think she has the skills. On top of that, she's says she's a pro at PLCs, so that would fit right into our plans to get more business at the packing houses."

"Well, it's a bit of a gamble since we don't have that business yet, but ... if you think so ... I'm willin' to take a chance. You haven't been wrong very often. Go ahead if you want to hire her for January."

"You realize that will up the body count to six don't you?"

"Yeah ... I know. This damn business is gettin' too big for me. Why'd you do this to me, Geoff?" he grinned.

"Just couldn't help myself, I guess. On the other hand, what are our sales for this year look like compared to last year?"

He looked at me with a characteristic squint, then chuckled. "Better than double. We might not make as much profit this year, but next year ... shit ... I'm afraid to think how much we might take in."

"So ... you're okay with what we're doing?"

He nodded. "Yeah ... I'm okay with it. It's kind of like we were just waitin' for something to happen, then it did. We're goin' to be fine, Geoff. Just fine."

I met with Anne Szmanski for an hour the week before Christmas and let her know that she would have a job effective January 3rd. She was delighted, and couldn't wait to tell Red. I was happy too. I could now confidently work with the many packing houses, cold storage operations, and miscellaneous manufacturing plants on servicing and repairing PLCs. It would add to our growing arsenal of services.

Two days before Christmas, I got a call from Sam Hildebrand. It turned my Christmas into something I'd rather forget.

"Mr. Nelson, I'm calling to inform you that your wife has been arrested in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and is being held for extradition back to the United States. She will be held in detention in Seattle until her arraignment and trial. I'll try to keep you informed of the times and dates as they become available to me."

"Thank you, Mr. Hildebrand," I said weakly. I hung up the phone in a trance, wondering what was to come next.

I sat in my office for an undetermined amount of time before Terry came in to see it I was still there.

"What's goin' on, Geoff. You look like you've seen a ghost."

"No ... not a ghost. The FBI just called to say that Joyce has been arrested in Brazil and will be extradited to Seattle."

"Oh ... I'm sorry to hear that, Geoff. I'm guessin' that's got to hurt somethin' fierce."

"Right now, Terry, I'm numb. It all seems like some strange movie that I'm in. I don't have any control over what happens or who it happens to. I'm just a spectator. I almost wish they hadn't caught her. At least then, she wouldn't be around to drive me crazy."

"Yeah ... I can see that. Hell of a Christmas present that is."

"This is no present, man. This is the original lump of coal when Santa is pissed."

He laughed softly at my wisecrack, then went back to his office.

I called Pete to let him know the latest development and he said he'd keep an eye on the court docket in Seattle to see when Joyce would be arraigned. He was not advising me to be there, but he did want to know what her plea would be and who her lawyer was. He would keep me informed.

For the first time in my memory, Christmas was a downer. I was missing Joyce, as were her parents and the boys. We tried like hell to make it a nice occasion, but the overriding mood was gloomy. I felt bad for Matt. He was home for the first time since he'd left for Eugene, but it wasn't a happy homecoming. He was doing fine in his classes, but the trauma of his mother's arrest was hanging over him just as it was for all of us.

On the Tuesday following Christmas, Agent Hildebrand called to tell me that Joyce had been arraigned in the Seattle Federal Courthouse and had entered a plea of guilty to all charges. Because of her extradition, she was considered a flight risk and bail was denied. She would spend the next weeks in the federal detention centre.

I called Pete to tell him what I knew.

"They didn't waste any time, Geoff. She was barely off the plane when they held the arraignment. Since she pled guilty, I'm guessing she might get anything between three and ten years. If she makes some restitution, she might get the lesser. Otherwise, she's going to be put away for a long time."

I had tears in my eyes when I was talking to Pete. It was the end of a big part of my life. For more than twenty years I had loved Joyce and I felt I had given her everything she needed for a happy life. How I had failed her I couldn't figure out. Part of me wanted to believe that she was mentally ill ... not responsible for her actions. It was very unlikely that she could claim that in her defense. I hoped that she had a good lawyer. I didn't want to see her suffer any more than the law allowed. Even a day in jail would change her, and not for the better.

Matt went back to school the day after New Years and our life, Ross' and mine, returned to what passed for normal. Since Joyce had pled guilty, there would be no trial. There would be a sentencing hearing, then the sentence would be handed down. I really didn't want to be there for that, but I felt an obligation, even if for the last time, to see her.

The sentencing was scheduled for January 25th, a Tuesday. I checked with Pete and learned that I would be permitted to attend the court. I made my plans and left for Seattle on the Monday, trying desperately to prepare myself mentally for what I knew would be a traumatic experience. The sentencing would take place about ten the next morning and I spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning, knowing this would be the most unhappy moment of our lives. It would be little different from a death, I felt.

I sat in the courtroom as the judge and the lawyers called the room to order. Then I saw Joyce, led in by a matron and seated by her lawyer. She looked like hell. Thin, drawn, dark shadows under her eyes, hair graying, shaking I thought ... perhaps in fear. My heart went out to her. I never in my worst moment wanted this to happen to her, but there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.

She was sentenced to three to five years in the Dublin Federal Women's Institution in California. Without causing any problems, she would be out in three years and could get on with her life. I later learned it was a medium security prison, and that gave me some relief that she wasn't going to be in with the worst dregs of society. Nevertheless, it would be a painful and soul-scorching experience for her. I wondered who she would be when it was over.

I drove back to Wenatchee that afternoon, knowing that a big part of my previous life was now over. Although the divorce would not be final for another two months, this was truly the end of my marriage to Joyce Fielding. She never saw me in the court room, so she couldn't know that I was there for the last chapter in our lives. I wonder if, in three years, she would return to Wenatchee, at least to see her parents. Somehow, I doubted it.

I drove directly to Mike and Nora's home. They couldn't bring themselves to attend the sentencing. In fact, Nora was so distraught that she was undergoing therapy with a psychiatrist to help alleviate her depression. Mike was equally distressed, but managing it better. We shared a couple of beers when I filled him in on the proceedings at the courthouse.

I think the principal tragedy of it all was that Joyce was an only child, and there was no sister or brother for their parents to transfer their love to. She was their one and only. Mike talked about driving to the prison to visit their daughter, but Nora wasn't in any condition to meet with her yet. I had given some thought to the same thing. I was beginning to think I might have to do it just for my own peace of mind. But not just yet.

In the meantime, Gisele and I were keeping in touch with various coffee, lunch, dinner and social events. I was studiously avoiding any physical relationship with her until I felt I was free of my marital obligations to my wife. Old fashioned maybe, but that was the way I felt, and I think Gisele respected me for that. In any event, we enjoyed each other's company despite the lack of intimacy.

Ross had settled down and was dating a young woman he had met last year. Sandy Pantuzzi was a dark-haired beauty with a very Italian complexion and temperament. I got the impression that Ross was under her thumb, despite the fact that he was sure it was the other way around. Anyhow, she was a nice girl from a good family and kept Ross on the straight and narrow. He was angling for a car of his own since I had given the truck to his brother. I was considering it, but I wanted something in return; good grades.

I'd stayed in touch with Pete as I would anyway. He found out that very little of the money Joyce stole was recovered. That may have an affect on her parole, he told me. The FBI was sure it was hidden off-shore, but had nothing to substantiate their beliefs. They wouldn't quit trying to find it and would be watching Joyce when she was released.

I went back to work, remembering we had somehow grown from a little two man operation with Terry and me, into four full-time staff and two part-time. All of this in just a few months. Red and Annie (I'd succumbed to calling her that) were working as a team to promote our PLC service plan and already had several customers. Terry spent most of his time prospecting for new business, and I was pretty much on my own to look after the day-to-day routine.

Terry's prediction that the business was going to be something quite different was proving to be accurate. We seemed to be growing more quickly than ever before. Perhaps because we had the people resources, but also because we had the time to look for new opportunities. On top of that, we were becoming a much bigger factor in the affairs of the Wenatchee Valley business community. I could see a time coming when we would need to move into more suitable quarters, and of course, hire more people.

I was working Tuesday to Saturday now, with the occasional visit on Monday if I needed to complete some work on time. It didn't matter to me at that point. I was alone at the house while Matt was away and Ross was in school. I had taken to dropping in on Gisele and her brother, Paul, just to talk and share a coffee.

Paul was an interesting fellow. He was a big man, probably six-four and easily two hundred and fifty pounds. But it was almost immediately obvious that he was a friendly giant. A full head of sandy, curly hair, bright blue eyes, and an ever-present smile made him an easy guy to like.

He had purchased a small apple orchard over fifteen years ago and had gradually replaced all the mature Red Delicious trees with specialty apples of higher value. Most were not eating apples, but used in the production of cider, some wines, and liqueurs. The soil and climate up on the hillside were ideal for his varieties, most of which were sold out of state. These varieties were virtually free of the ups and downs of the food apple market prices and provided him with a steady and substantial income.

He was Gisele's older brother, and he was quite sociable with me. He knew Gisele and I were friends and seeing each other now and then. He was a widower, his wife having contracted spinal meningitis many years ago in Maine. Gisele informed me confidentially that he was quite close to a woman who lived not far from their orchard, but they had no plans to marry. It was a friends with benefits arrangement, she told me.

It took me a while to realize how comfortable I was with Gisele. We just seemed to be so compatible and easy to be with each other. One minute I was thinking of her as a friend, the next I was imagining her as a lover. I didn't have to wonder what she was thinking. She made it plain that I was in her sights for a longer term relationship, but she was patient.

As she so often said, "I waited this long for the right guy to come along, I can wait a little longer."

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