tagNovels and NovellasA Cautious Man Ch. 09-13

A Cautious Man Ch. 09-13


Chapter 9:

Bill returned to his church the following Sunday morning. He was welcomed personally by Pastor Markham. David Markham was in his mid-thirties, and one of the new-age ministers. He had a better understanding of the youth of the day, and he was able to communicate with them. Bill had stopped attending church when he met Zena. She had not been to church in many years. Bill thought of himself as "living in sin" in an old fashioned way, and didn't think he could sit in his church and be a hypocrite. His mother and father had been disappointed when he had dropped out, but he was a grown man and could make his own decisions.

Bill shook Dave Markham's hand at the end of the service, and asked if he could talk with him some time. The young pastor immediately agreed and they set a time for three that afternoon.

As Bill sat down in Pastor Markham's office, he felt a sense of peace as well as a strong need to explain why he hadn't been at church and what had happened in his life. As much as he could talk to his father, this was a man who could look at things more dispassionately, and perhaps give him some guidance. He badly needed a sense of direction right now.

Pastor Markham listened patiently to Bill's recounting of his meeting Zena and his feelings about living with her, and then his discovery of her other lover.

"That's quite a story, Bill. You've been badly hurt. I can't make that go away. Only you can. I think you need to talk to this woman and try and understand why she behaved the way she did. You won't have any peace until you understand that." The young pastor paused for a moment to see if Bill wanted to continue, but he seemed to have finished for now.

"About this business of living with someone out of wedlock. These are modern times. The orthodoxy might condemn it, but in real life, we know its common behavior. I'm not so much against it if it's a way to determine whether two people are truly suited to each other. There's nothing worse than finding out after marriage that you're incompatible. It may not be church doctrine, but in the right circumstances, it can help prevent a mistake. In your case Bill, it prevented a mistake. Don't feel you're not welcome in this church if you are living with someone who is not your wife. We're a lot more understanding than that.

"Thank you, sir. I feel a lot better talking to you about this. I don't know how I'm going to talk to Zena, but I know I have to. You've been a big help." Bill stood with a sad smile on his face and shook Dave Markham's hand. As he left the church, he knew what he had to do, but he hadn't worked out how or when he would do it. He wasn't looking forward to it either.


"Hello?" Her voice was soft and quiet and sad.

"Hello, Zena. It's me, Bill."

There was silence for a few moments. "Hi Bill. I've been expecting your call."

"Zena ... I ... we ... we need to talk," he stammered.

"Yes, Bill, we do."

"Where can we meet? I don't think here ... I mean ... my place ... is a good idea."

"I'm here alone tonight. Why don't you come here ... my old apartment? Say eight o'clock?" Her voice continued to be quiet and without any emotion other than the hint of sadness.

"I'll see you at eight. Goodbye." He hung the phone up quietly, overcome with a feeling of melancholy. He wasn't looking forward to their talk, but he knew he needed to try and understand, or at least allow her to try and make him understand. He didn't have much hope that she would be able to accomplish that.

He knocked softly on the apartment door and in a few seconds, Zena opened it.

"Come in," she said, again in a subdued, resigned voice.

Bill walked slowly into the apartment and looked around. It hadn't changed much from the days before Zena had moved in with him.

"Would you like something to drink, Bill?"

"Maybe some water, thanks."

Zena walked to the kitchen and returned with a glass, handing it to Bill.

"Please, Bill, sit somewhere."

Bill chose an armchair not unlike the one he favored in his living room. He took a sip, all the while watching Zena as she seated herself on the sofa. He waited for her to begin.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am that you saw what you did, Bill. I never wanted ... I would never ... try to hurt you. You are a good man and I love you with all my heart, but ... there is something about me that you didn't know ... that I didn't tell you." She stopped, waiting for a reaction from Bill. When she saw none, she looked down at her hands before beginning again.

"The woman you saw me with ... her name is Maureen. I've known her ... been friends with her ... forever, since we were teenagers in high school."

"That looked like a lot more than just friends, Zena," Bill said with an even tone.

"Yes ... I ... we have been lovers for a few years now. I'm very attached to Maureen and she is to me, too."

"I don't understand. You and I ... we were in love. I thought ... I thought you loved me." It was a bewildered Bill Orton that tried to grasp what Zena had been telling him.

"I do love you, Bill. I've never loved any man the way I love you. I was hoping we would marry. I wanted to be with you forever."

"That doesn't make any sense. How can you say you love me when you admit you and that woman are ... involved?"

"I can and do love both of you. I never thought I'd ever find a man to love until you came along. But I can't betray Maureen either. I love her as well. Bill ... I'm sure you don't understand this and maybe you never will, but I love both of you. I want to be with both of you."

Bill was silent for a few minutes. He put his head back in the chair and closed his eyes. He tried to untangle what she was telling him. She wanted both of them. Could he live with that? In his heart, he knew the answer to that question.

"I'm sorry Zena. It may sound selfish to you, but I can't share you. I want you to be with me and no one else. I can't handle sharing you with someone else, even if it isn't another man. Can you understand that?" He had spoken in a quiet and controlled voice and he was aware that he had no anger, just disappointment and sadness.

"Yes, Bill. I understand, and I expected you to feel that way. It doesn't change the way I feel about you. I do love you and I always will. But I've lived with you long enough to know what you believe in and how you would react when if you found out my secret. I am so sorry I have hurt you. I never wanted to do that. Never."

"I believe you, Zena. Thank you for being honest. It hurts ... it hurts a lot. I don't think I'm going to be able to get over this very soon, but at least I know the truth. Thank you for that." The sorrow in his voice was unmistakable and it brought tears to Zena's eyes.

He stood and slowly walked to the door, turning back to her when he reached it. "Goodbye, Zena. I'll miss you."

She stepped to him and embraced him and kissed him gently. "Goodbye, Bill. I'll miss you too. Good luck. I hope you find someone. You deserve it."

And with that, he left.

Chapter 10:

For the second time in his life, Bill Orton was on his own. First Darla had reconciled with Gordy and now Zena was gone, unable to choose him over her female lover. It was demoralizing. He could understand Darla because she had made it clear right from the beginning that she would take Gordy back. But Zena! Zena had deceived him. She wanted both of them and only his accidental discovery exposed the truth. And with all that, he still loved her. He truly believed she didn't want to hurt him and that she loved him. But, he couldn't live without her total commitment to him. The whole episode had left him depressed and morose.

He met with Pastor Markham, and told him of the meeting and the outcome. He was typically sympathetic, but optimistic that Bill would find someone. After all, he was just 23 years old, still a very young man and if he thought about it, he had packed a fair amount of living into a short period of time. Bill hadn't told the pastor about his interlude with Darla, but when he thought about it, he felt better. There was plenty of time left for love. Zena proved to him that he could be attractive to a beautiful woman by just being himself. He would just have to be more cautious the next time.

He told his father what had happened, but didn't go into any of the lurid details. He simply explained that Zena had another friend and that she had to choose between him and her. In the end, she was gone from his life and he was upset that she hadn't chosen him, but understood that she had known the other woman much longer than him.

Bill now set his mind to implementing phase two of his business plan. He needed help. Skilled and reliable help. He put an ad in the local paper and waited to see what response would be forthcoming. He was heartened when he received more than twenty applications. It was going to be a challenge to interview everyone and he needed to weed out the unlikely candidates. He would do the interviews in the evenings and if necessary, on the weekend. He couldn't afford to use his valuable shop time and fall behind.

Of the twenty three applications, he whittled away eight of them almost immediately as being either unskilled or inexperienced. He wasn't sure if he wanted a full time man yet, and he was intrigued by a couple of applications from older men who were looking for part time work. He decided to talk to them first.

Brandon "Buck" Kinsey was a retired aviation mechanic whose wife, Bernice, had virtually kicked him out of the house for getting on her nerves. She was used to his daily routine when he was working and now with him wandering around aimlessly, she was being driven crazy with his constantly getting under foot. Since Buck had been married to her for almost forty years, he knew when she was serious and when she was not. This was one of those serious times.

It took Bill about thirty seconds to determine that Buck had the skills he was looking for. On top of that, he was as meticulous as Bill. In his former occupation, aircraft tended to fall out of the sky if you weren't careful. His only shortcoming was his inexperience with the type of equipment the business was required to service, but when Bill handed him a couple of service manuals, Buck felt right at home. He was familiar with schematics and when Bill showed him the complexities of the washing machine transmission, Buck declared that it looked pretty simple, compared to helicopter rotor transmissions.

If it hadn't been for Bill's inherent cautiousness, he might have hired Buck right on the spot. However, he had an obligation to interview the other candidates and he would honor it. On the other hand, there was no reason not to prepare a potential candidate, so Bill gave Buck several spare service manuals and asked him to review them. Buck picked up the books, thanked Bill for the interview, and said he hoped he would get the opportunity to work with him.

Buck had no reservations about working for this very young man. He wasn't like any of the younger men he had encountered outside of the aviation business. He was thoughtful and his methods were to deliver on promises with the job done properly. It was an ethic that Buck could relate to, and he felt confident he could work well with Bill Orton.

Over the next week, Bill methodically worked his way through the other candidates and in the end, the two that had jumped out at him in the beginning were the two he chose. He decided to introduce the men to each other and make a proposal to both of them that he hoped they would accept.

Sam Carstairs was a retired appliance serviceman with wide and varied experience. His job had become redundant when people stopped fixing small household machines that could now be replaced with cheap new products. Bill knew this developing trend would change his business, just as it had changed Sam's life.

Sam was a widower. His wife of thirty two years had died five years ago of a heart attack and Sam had been on his own ever since. When he was forced into early retirement, he was upset. He had nothing to do and no one to do it for. If Florence had still been alive, he could have invested his time around the house, doing odd jobs and gardening. It had been their plan all along, but that was all gone now. He tried the seniors club, but ironically, he found it full of "old people" who had little ambition to do much more than watch TV and play cribbage. He needed something more challenging.

When he saw the ad in the paper, he thought this would be an opportunity. He was a bit leery of Bill at first. He looked awfully young to be running a business. But it didn't take long to realize Bill had a wealth of knowledge and experience well beyond what he would have expected. On top of that, Sam could specialize in the machines that he had been fixing his whole working life. It seemed like a perfect fit. He hoped Bill would think so too.

Bill called the two men and asked if they could meet with him to discuss a job on Saturday afternoon. He would supply some sandwiches and soft drinks and they could hear what Bill had in mind. Both Buck and Sam immediately agreed and both arrived within seconds of each other at Bill's front door. They eyed each other suspiciously until Bill opened the door and ushered them both in. Introductions were made, and Bill passed around the tray of sandwiches with a variety of soft drinks.

They sat, ate and chatted with each other about their backgrounds and even about their personal lives. Buck made no secret of his wife's desire to get him out of the house and Sam told some very funny stories about the people at the seniors club and made his point about not ending up there. When they finished, Bill decided to let them in on his plan to expand his business.

Bill intended to develop contracts with major and mid-sized institutions for service on their domestic equipment. He already had a standing invitation to bid on the service contracts for the local hospital. It was currently undergoing renovations and among the new components would be a new laundry facility which would have the latest in large capacity, heavy-duty washers and dryers. Bill had an inside track as his bid included the disposal of the existing equipment through auction. Any monies over and above the auction fees would be returned to the hospital administration.

Bill knew from experience that few, if any bidders would make a serious move for the older equipment. He also knew that with a "rebuilt", he had ready customers for them in a couple of the small motels as well as the vocational school. He would guarantee the machines for a year (with the usual disclaimers) and satisfy two markets at the same time. The contract for the new machines would bring in additional cash without much inventory.

Other contracts would be offered on miscellaneous equipment that he was confident he could properly repair and/or service. His proposal would involve Buck with the heavier equipment and Sam at the shop on the smaller, miscellaneous items. The pay was modest at $10 per hour, but both men realized they wanted the job more for the time it would consume and the satisfaction they would get from it. As the business grew and the contracts became more complex, their earnings would naturally increase.

Bill had one other incentive. With the assistance of a lawyer, and on the advice of this father, he would draw up an agreement that would issue twenty shares in a new company called Cambelltown Services Inc. CSI, as its mission statement proclaimed, would supply contracted services to companies for various repairs and maintenance. As the first employees of CSI, Buck and Sam would be issued two shares each, giving them both 10% ownership in the business. Any profits, after taxes, would be distributed to the shareholders. If either of the men were to leave the company, they would surrender their shares and they would be given the cash value based on the most recent annual audit.

Both men happily accepted. It may not have been worth much then, but the business plan, and Bill's already established reputation gave them some confidence that the company would do well and they would enjoy the fruits of that success. To begin with, they would work 25 hour weeks, with shifts to be decided between them. Sam had the most flexibility while Buck knew the best time for him was the morning when Bernice was busy with housework and most likely to be snarly. It didn't take long for the two to work out a schedule.

What neither of them knew was that Bill already had the promise of at least two contracts in his back pocket. The local hospital administrator, Thad Lindstrom, and Miriam Venables at the school board, had approached him after he had discussed the possibility of forming CSI. His reputation, reasonable costs, and prompt service were key factors in their support. Bill would now have the time to solicit new business while Buck and Sam looked after the day-to-day affairs.

Chapter 11:

CSI bloomed almost immediately. It was a success because Bill had done an immaculate job of planning and preparation. It was a success because he had wisely chosen the two men to become his first employees and partners. It was a success because the people who supported the business with their commitment and contracts believed in Bill Orton. The business showed a handsome profit in its very first year and both Buck and Sam were very happy with their first annual profit share.

No one could have been happier than Fred and Violet Orton. They never imagined their son would turn out to be the accomplished businessman he had become. Fred's part-time accounting assistance to Bill had been replaced by a professional firm. As the business grew, Bill had seen his father committing more and more time to assisting him and he quickly realized he needed to relieve that pressure.

He replaced his pickup truck with two leased vans with low-step wide-door side-loading. He bought a used, portable lift to load and unload heavier items from the shop and the vans. The pick-up was traded in on a used, low-mileage Buick sedan that was more appropriate for a businessman. He was invited, if not pressured, to join the Chamber of Commerce and while he had little time to devote to the organization, he realized it would be an opportunity to become more visible in the business community.

Bill Orton was twenty-four years old and on his way up. Unfortunately, while he enjoyed his business success, his personal life was still barren. He had thought about the church social route, but just hadn't gotten around to it. He had allowed the business to consume all of his time. His father, once again, gently reminded him that there was more to life than work.

It was a business appointment that brought him in contact with Marion Adams. He had obtained an informal contract with several elementary schools for minor repairs. It wouldn't produce much revenue, but he felt it was important to establish contact with all the possible future clients. Sooner or later, the Cambelltown School Board would co-ordinate their systems and he wanted to be at the head of the line when the contracts were considered.

The Northridge School had called about a couple of faulty heaters in the portable classrooms that had mushroomed with growth of the town. The new school wouldn't be ready until the following year and thus the portables were essential to handle all the students. They were little more than aluminum-sided plywood boxes with a few windows and some electrical heating. Bill was glad it was never part of his school experience.

Bill made the service call himself when both Sam and Buck were occupied. He headed for the administration office and was directed to Portable P105 on the west side of the main building. He found the unit and was about to open the door and enter when he suddenly thought there might be students inside and had better check first. He knocked on the door.

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