What Goat Farm?byPAPATOAD©
Thanks to the Hip and Knee Doctor for editing assistance.
There is no sex in this story. Sorry.
Malcolm James was not the blackest man I ever met, but he was in the top ten. Actually, he wasn't very black at all, he just seemed that way. Although he was not even six feet tall, he always left quite an impression. Maybe it was the perpetual snarl that was on his face, or the numerous scars that seemed to have a bluish tinge to them. He was definitely not a man that you would want to meet in a dark alley. I was lucky to have him on my side.
My name is John Ellison. I manage a small company called Divinity Parceling, that packages and distributes large quantities of DVDs, CDs, and other similar products. It is labor intensive work and getting people to do it for minimum pay is next to impossible. Don't be fooled by the name. There is nothing divine about it. By making use of several glaring loop holes in Federal and State laws, we are able to hire people who appreciate the opportunity, but are borderline legal. At the present time, my work force consists of mostly Jamaicans, including Malcolm, with a few Dominicans and Haitians thrown in. Although they were all appreciative of the work, sometimes they slacked off a bit. It was difficult to keep them all working to their fullest potential until I realized the power of Malcolm James.
I watched him carefully for about two weeks and then finally made the decision to approach him. He was articulate and spoke with what I thought was a perfect British accent, but what did I know about those accents? He grinned broadly when I offered him the job of shop supervisor. It was, to say the least, a little unnerving. The new job came with a nice raise and of course a few fringe benefits that none of the floor workers had. I got the feeling that there was more to him than appeared, but I was not interested enough to ask any questions. Productivity increased almost thirty percent. I was happy. The company was happy and Malcolm was happy. He seemed to be where he was meant to be. It was hard to explain.
The company was now running smoothly. If things went as planned, we would be able to continue to operate for at least another eighteen months until we were closed down for some State or Federal violations. This was my sixth similar enterprise in the last ten years. It paid good money, but was not what you would call a career opportunity. I stashed away as much as possible in anticipation of leaner times. The good thing was that I usually had another operation ready to go when one closed down.
I don't really remember how I got into this line of work. I was never really a mainstream type of guy. Doing things the normal way was boring and predictable; not what I was ever looking for. My younger brother, Bobby, was just the opposite. The most important thing in his life was his union job with the local electric company. He always knew where and when his next pay check was coming from and he was comfortable with that. I was happy for him, but never envious.
Bobby and I both married our high school sweethearts. Now that is boring and not nearly as romantic as it appears to be. Bobby and Cora had twin boys who just turned sixteen. My wife, Doreen, and I had a daughter, Aerial, who had just been accepted at Duke and a seventeen year old son, Roger, who was trying everything that he could to get into a military academy. He wasn't really particular about where he went, but he was determined.
Cora worked at one of the local insurance claims companies. They processed claims for over twenty small insurance agencies in the Tri State area. Doreen was never interested in going to work and I was happy with the way things were. We had enough to live on and I felt that a comfortable, happy, home life was more important to the family than extra money.
And that was about it. Life was good in Pleasantville. It wasn't really Pleasantville, but I remembered the name from an old movie and always seemed to relate it to things that were perfect.
Life was good, that is, until I decided to run down to the Super Mall and pick up a few office supplies. I had a girl to do that, but I was always looking for excuses to get out of the office.
The shopping went quickly because I knew what I wanted before I even left the office. I don't usually browse. I grab what I need, pay, and go.
The Keystone Mall was a two story behemoth, with an open atrium in the middle. I guess it is an atrium, as I am not sure of the actual word for it. I was sitting at a table in the second level food court overlooking the first floor when I saw Cora and Doreen coming down the center. Apparently, Cora had taken off work so that she and Doreen could do a little last minute shopping prior to their mini-girl vacation.
After much begging, pleading, and bribing Bobby and I consented to let Cora and Doreen take a five day vacation to an all exclusive resort in Jamaica, near Montego Bay. Bobby and I were not crazy about the idea, but finally agreed to it if they promised to stay at the resort and not wander about the island unescorted. They would be leaving in two days.
I was just about to call out and wave to them when something stopped me. They paused in front of a Victoria's Secret shop; not a normal venue for either of them. I sat back down and quietly watched as they entered the store with little hesitation. Interesting! Quite interesting! I got a fresh cup of coffee and made myself as comfortable as I could in one of those crappy plastic chairs.
It was at least twenty minutes later when they came out. I was not within hearing range, but I could easily tell that they were joking and giggling when they exited. Instead of leaving, they sat on the bench in front of the store. Each of them took some items from the Victoria's Secret bag and dropped them into a Wal-Mart bag. They dropped the Victoria's Secret bags into the trashcan placed at the end of the bench and then proceeded to walk down the mall towards the exit. They were still giggling as they left.
It took me less than a minute to get down the escalator and over to the waste container. I didn't even try and be discreet; I just took off the top of the can and reached in. I left the mall without replacing the top on the trash can. I guess that was an inconsiderate thing to do. Chuckle! Chuckle!
I waited until I got out to the car to look inside the bags. I don't know what I was looking for because they had removed whatever it was that they had bought. I also didn't know which bag was which, but inside each of them were a few sales handouts and a receipt. They had each bought two pairs of baby doll sleepers. One bill was for $65 and the other for $72. They were both paid for with cash. Now Doreen never pays cash for anything. It all goes on the credit cards. Needless to say, she had gotten my attention.
I didn't want to jump to any conclusions until I had a chance to confront her. Actually, I wasn't going to confront her, but rather to let her have an opening to explain the purchases. I had to conclude that they were bought specifically for her upcoming trip, which Bobby and I were not going on. On the drive back to work, I saw dark clouds on the horizon, but the sun was still shining.
I was sulking at my desk while trying to figure out where I had gone wrong when Malcolm James walked in.
"Mister Ellison. I sense that something is wrong. Is it a problem that I should be aware of?"
"No, Mister James, it is not a problem that should even concern you. Everything is fine with the floor and with the work. You have nothing to concern yourself with." I motioned for him to sit.
He was smiling, but still had a look of anxiety on his face.
We sat in silence for a few moments.
"Mister James, where in Jamaica are you actually from?"
"I am from Falmouth, but I spent most of my time in the Montego Bay area. Why does this interest you?"
I paused a short while and rocked back in my chair.
"Do you have any friends in the Montego Bay area?"
"I have lots of acquaintances, but only a few friends. I also know a few people there who are not very friendly. In fact that is why I find myself here at this time."
I reached into my bottom desk drawer and got out a bottle of Jack Daniels and two glasses. The glasses were not what you would call clean, but they were definitely usable. Malcolm James did not refuse when I pushed the filled glass in his direction.
"Is it a money problem?"
He sipped and smiled. "Yes. It is not much; only ten thousand dollars US, but enough to impel me to seek safer surroundings."
He noticed that I was smiling and I think that he knew that it was not because of his situation, but because of what I was contemplating.
"I get the feeling that Mister Ellison needs my help and is trying to figure out how we can benefit each other. Am I correct?"
I thought it was funny that he referred to me in the third person and laughed a little.
"Mister James, are any of your friends or acquaintances of disreputable character?"
Now he was laughing. "Of course, Mister Ellison. They all are."
We were both smiling as I filled the glasses a second time. We sat quietly for what seemed like several minutes, but might have been less.
"Tomorrow, Mister James. Tomorrow we will help each other."
He smiled again as he got up to leave, and I noticed the gold tooth on the right side, toward the rear. I thought it was a little ominous.
It was a family dinner that night. Aerial let everyone know that she could start a summer session at Duke if she could leave within a week. Doreen wasn't thrilled with the idea, but was outvoted. Roger had decided that he wanted to complete a year at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas before starting college. I had previously rejected the idea because of the expense, but tonight I was feeling a little different. Doreen gave me an odd look when I supported Roger's idea, but didn't say anything. After the kids left the table, I asked her about her day.
"Cora and I got the last few things that we needed for the trip. I got the cutest little flip-flops. We decided not to take a camera because we were worried about losing it. We each got new swimming suits; two piece ones, but a little on the modest side. We are not young you know."
I smiled a little at the way she was chatting. She was nervous and when that happens she has a tendency to talk too much. If I let her rattle on she might eventually trip herself up, but I already got the answer I was looking for. She said nothing at all about the trip to Victoria's Secret and didn't even hint at it. She was still talking, but I was no longer paying attention. She finally realized what she was doing and shut up. It was too late. She gave it away without even admitting anything.
It would have been so easy to confront her, but that would have accomplished nothing. There was a lot more going on than a trip to a fancy ladies store.
Doreen was fairly quiet for the rest of the evening. I could tell that she felt a little uncomfortable about her talk session. Any further discussion on her part would have just made it worse. Doreen was setting up the DVR to record her programs while she was gone, while I started checking out tuition fees and our total assets. It was not a pretty picture. I would need at least $55,000 a year for Aerial and the one high school year for Roger would be $34,000. I decided to prepay four years for Aerial, but just the one year for Roger. That would leave me with less that $50,000 in the bank. I could figure out Roger's college program later. Hell, he didn't even know where he was going to go.
I gathered up all the addresses that I would need and prepared letters and envelopes. All I would need to do the next day would be to make a trip to the bank and a few phone calls. Maybe I was rushing things. Maybe there was no problem. All I had to base my concern on was a trip to the mall and a bad feeling in my stomach.
Doreen had already gone to bed when I decided to call Bobby. He always stayed up to watch Letterman.
"Bobby. Are you still up?"
"Yes sir, brother John. What can I do for you?"
"Is Letterman on yet?"
"Nope. Ten minutes to go. Talk fast."
"Bobby, I don't mean to get you upset or anything, but has Cora been acting funny lately?"
"Don't jerk me around, John. What is going on?"
"You know. Little stuff that just doesn't seem kosher."
"You mean like the Tupperware Parties and Magic Chef Parties?"
"Maybe. Why are they funny?"
"John. Cora and Doreen have started going to these things on a regular basis along with book club meetings and card parties."
"Yeah. So what?"
"Cora doesn't read much, she hates to play cards, and she never buys anything at those damn parties."
"Did you say anything to her?"
"Hell no. I didn't want to take the chance of ruining my marriage."
"What do you mean?"
"John, if I accuse her of something or even hinted at it and I was wrong, my life would be a living hell. I ain't saying a damn thing until I have a little more to go on."
"Did she show you what she bought while she was shopping today?"
"Yeah. A swimming suit, a pair of sandals, and a floppy hat. Why?"
"I just wondered." There was an awkward lull in the conversation which I finally broke.
"Bobby, does that guy you know from high school still work in the personnel department at Continental Claims Associates?"
"Yeah, I think so. Why?"
"Could you call him tomorrow and ask him if any other company employees are taking vacations at the same time Cora is?"
"John, what the hell is going on?"
"Bobby, I don't know. I just know that something is not right. Doreen doesn't have a whole lot of opportunities to meet guys, but Cora does. This trip to Jamaica seems a little fishy to me."
"Maybe I should just talk to Cora?"
"No way, Bobby. What ever you do, don't say anything to her."
"Okay! Okay! I'll call him. Gotta go now. Letterman is starting."
I slept on the couch that night. No specific reason, but I just didn't feel like crawling into bed with Doreen.
I closed out two money market accounts and cashed in three certificates of deposit. I called all of the appropriate agencies at Duke and the Harlingen military school before getting the cashiers checks drawn up. What wasn't needed for tuitions and such, I took in cash. I left a thousand dollars in the checking account. Before lunch I had four years of Aerial's collage paid for and a year of fancy military school for Roger. As I was leaving the post office I got a call from Bobby.
"John, you were right."
"All of it. Will Curry in the personnel office told me that Cora has been playing patty-cakes with one of the auditors, a guy named Calvin Bostic. It is common knowledge in the company and I don't know why I haven't heard about it before. Anyhow, Calvin and a friend of his, Addison Eberly, are taking vacations at the same time that Cora is."
"Damn it! I was afraid of something like that. Can you get me any info about those guys other than their names?"
"Got it already, John. I'll send you a couple of company ID photos over the phone. The guy with the glasses is Bostic."
"Thanks Bobby. Hey bro, I am sorry about all of this."
"Don't apologize to me John. It's my wife who got Doreen into this mess."
"Bobby, meet me after work at the Peanut Bar. We have things that we need to talk about."
"Good afternoon. It must be nice to be the boss." Malcolm James was smiling as I walked into my office.
I just smiled back without saying anything as Gloria, my secretary, brought in two cups of coffee.
Malcolm waited patiently as I downloaded the two photos from my phone to the computer. In two minutes, he had a hard copy in his hand and a photo of each man on his own phone. There was a wicked little grin on his face as he sat in anticipation for what was coming.
"Can we get down to business now Mister James?"
"Most certainly, Mister Elliot."
It took less than an hour to come to an agreement and settle on a price. He was happy and I was happy. However, Bobby might not be too pleased when I told him what his share of all this was going to cost.
Bobby dropped a small bomb on me when we met after work. He had decided that he was going to be visiting our Uncle Grant in Tennessee for an indefinite period of time.
"Bobby, that is a little drastic under the circumstances, don't you think?"
"I was awake all last night thinking about things. Today, I made a half dozen calls to people to verify my suspicions about Cora's activities. It not too drastic, John. If anything it is a little too late."
"Sorry, Bobby. I never realized. It appears that I didn't have a clue about what was going on in my own marriage either."
"What is wrong with us, John? Why did they do this and how come we didn't see it coming?"
For the next few moments we sat quietly, eating peanuts and sipping on warm beer. I ordered a couple more cold ones and smiled at my brother.
"How can I help you out, Bobby? What can I do?"
"We are okay, John. I got a small trailer lined up. The boys and I are going to pack up most of what we will be needing and we should be in Tullahoma by the end of the next day."
"What about your job? You loved that job."
"I know. It was a hard choice to make. I already called Grant. He said I won't have any trouble getting some type of work there. Whatever it is, it won't have all the fancy union benefits, but the boys and I will be able to get by. I'll be taking all of our savings and investments with us when we go."
"What are you going to tell Cora?"
"I am going to leave her a note that we went to Alaska. I always talked about going there, so she might be gullible enough to buy it; at least for a while."
"Oh yeah, that reminds me Bobby. You owe me $4,000."
"What? What the hell do I owe you 4,000 dollars for?"
"You got to trust me, Bobby. It is money well spent and it is better if you don't know any more than that."
"Will I get it back?"
I decided to give Doreen another chance to come clean after supper that evening. The results were no better this time. She did happen to mention that since her cell phone would not work there, she was going to be leaving it at home. She told me to just assume everything was okay, unless I heard otherwise. If there was a problem she promised that she would find a way to let me know.
Since Doreen was going to be spending the evening packing for her trip, I decided to take the kids out for a night of bowling. The suggestion was met with a lot of groans and eye rolling, which stopped as soon as I shook my head and drew my finger across my lips. We did go to the bowling alley, but we never did bowl.
It was not something that I wanted to do, but something that I had to do. At this point I didn't actually know anything, but I did feel strong enough about what was going on to take action. I explained to the kids what was going on. Aerial seemed to understand, but Roger, was not happy.
Both of the kids were excited about the school preparations, especially Roger, who had no idea up to this point that I had set everything up. Aerial was ready to leave as soon as possible and was tickled pink when I told her she could take Doreen's Volvo. She was not expecting a car at all. I thought that it was the fair thing to do. Roger was going to be staying with my parents until arrangements could be made for him to go to Harlingen. He would probably still be here when Doreen returned from her vacation. We would just have to wait and see if that caused any problems. The kids would be able to store all of their personal belongings at my parents place for as long as necessary.
I was not sure what I would be doing.
Bobby and I both arrived at the departure terminal at the same time. We didn't talk, but did nod to each other from fifty feet away. Cora and Doreen were laughing and giggling as they entered the facility together. They did remember to turn, wave, and smile at both of us before leaving the platform. Bobby and I did not smile back.