tagRomanceKaren Pt. 03

Karen Pt. 03

byThickAsThieves©

______ 7 ______

I was already wearing my windbreaker and drinking a cup of coffee when Hans abruptly banged on my door at exactly seven thirty the next morning. He was wearing bib overalls with a light grey jacket and his infamous Caterpillar ball cap. He looked exactly as he had the first time I had met him, thirty five years earlier. Now at seventy five years of age and retired he was still active and enjoying life which I was glad to see.

"Mornin' Tim, all set?" Hans asked.

"Morning Hans, You bet!" I said, locking up the condo.

Hans then led me as we went down the three flights of stairs, through the palazzo and out the security gate of the condo. When we reached the parking lot we approached a nineteen seventies Chevy half ton truck which was a faded powder blue in color. I had owned many such old work horses similar to this one over the years, complete with the same assortment of varying sized scrapes, dings and rusted fenders all resulting from a long life of rough service and blatant disregard. Walking toward the passenger's door I also noticed that vehicle had new tires and that the truck was still fitted with ALASKA license plates. After seating ourselves in the cab, Hans started the engine, which from the sound, I identified immediately as GM's little two fifty in-line six cylinder or "Stovebolt Six" as it was often referred to. Hans threw the gearshift into reverse gear and we began to back away from his private parking space.

It doesn't get any simpler than this, I thought as I sipped my coffee. The forty year old truck didn't look like much and it wouldn't go very fast but it was built with such simplicity that anyone could maintain the truck and keep it operational for mere pennies a day. It didn't surprise me that Hans would be driving such a vehicle; the truck was noteworthy for its reliability and was extremely easy to find replacement parts for also. That's the Hans I had always known, no frills just what worked. Ford, Chevy, Dodge, he didn't care as long as it worked.

As we began to pull out of the parking lot Hans pointed to the glistening white lines separating the condo's parking spaces.

"Figured you'd already be out there repainting those stripes Tim" Hans joked, obviously in reference to Andrea Millhouse's crusade at Friday night's condo meeting.

Without mentioning Andrea's name I said "Pretty lady but I wouldn't want to go home to her every night."

"Naw, hell no." Hans said in agreement as we got under way.

It was good to spend some time with the old guy, I thought, as I continued to sip my coffee. Hans and I had worked on many jobs together and to be completely honest, Hans wasn't the easiest guy to work with at times but we had always liked each other and there had been some laughs here and there along the way in our history together too. Today we were going to go play and for guys like Hans and me this meant looking at iron and rubbing elbows with other people that spoke "Truck", as we ourselves did. It was a man's equivalent of going to Nordstrom and probably had held some degree of therapeutic value for men ever since the creation of the wheel. For better or for worse, it was ingrained in us and we couldn't change even if we had wanted to.

"Is that white car, in your parking space, yours Tim?" Hans suddenly asked me now as we drove.

"Yeah, picked it up yesterday for a song and a dance. Used rental car, I'm pretty happy with it Hans." I replied as I drained the last of my coffee.

I then told Hans the whole story of locating the car and then purchasing it.

"I rented one just like it when Susan and I went on our last vacation together. They're nothing fancy but they have a pretty good track record and the gas mileage is insane. Just a little run-about but they're fun to drive, easy to park too." I elaborated.

"Oh, yeah I guess they would be. You knew we lost Stucky the other day didn't you Tim? Neighbor found him slumped over behind the wheel of his car in the driveway." Hans said, changing subjects.

"Yeah I heard about it from Mickey Walsh right before I got on the plane for Vegas, too bad. How old was he?" I asked.

"Eighty one, I think those damn kids killed him with a broken heart, especially that one boy in the pen." Hans said.

Stucky or Burt Silgan, as was his name, had worked with us until his retirement in two thousand five. I felt bad about losing Stucky, he'd always been a gregarious guy to work with and possessed a seemingly endless supply of dry political humor which most of us enjoyed.

"That little gal, Karen, she your girl now, Tim?" Hans asked, changing subjects yet again.

"I'm working on it Hans, got a dinner date lined up with her." I replied, which wasn't actually true...yet.

"Glad to hear it boy, she's a pretty girl." Hans said.

"She's a hard working little shit." I said in earnest.

My phone suddenly pinged, alerting me of a text message then. Taking the phone from the breast pocket of my windbreaker, I swiped the screen to discover that Karen, herself, had just sent me a text message that read "Look at us cowboy!" There was a photo attached with the short text message which depicted Patti, Lisa, Karen and Andrea Millhouse standing abreast and leading four saddled horses directly behind them. The ladies were wearing heavy clothes and smiling widely into the lens of the photographer. Distant mountains and Joshua trees were in the background of the photo along with recently constructed buildings which were made to look like an old authentic western town like the ones seen in countless Hollywood movies. The ladies looked absolutely stunning in the photo and appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely. Obviously they were most likely spending the entire day at a local dude ranch on the outskirts of Salt Lake City someplace and having some girl-time together for which I was glad, as all of them were very hard workers - at least Patti, Lisa, Karen were.

What the fuck is Andrea Millhouse doing there? I wondered.

"She just texted me." I said to Hans, trying to sound as if Karen and I kept in touch routinely.

I quickly texted Karen back then with "AWESOME photo I LOVE it! With Hans looking at trucks See you soon Amiga and hello to the three gunslingers youre with XoXo Have fun!" I included a smiley face emoticon and pushed 'send'.

I felt the truck slow down and as I looked up, Hans bounced the vehicle over a patch of dirt and pulled up to a gas pump at a rather dumpy filling station.

"Want a coffee or anything?" Hans asked as he got out.

"Black, thanks." I replied.

As Hans began to fill the truck with gas, I quickly saved the photo that Karen had sent me to the "Personal" folder in my phone. Then pausing briefly, I scrolled through my speed dial contact list and pushed the number at the very top of the list. The phone on the other end of the line began to ring as I looked through the truck's windshield toward the horizon; it looked like it was going to be a fabulous day for Hans and me, weather wise.

"Hello?" a voice answered.

"Oh ...uh, hi Brenda is Ricky there?" I asked, wondering why she had been the one to answer his phone.

"He's asleep, want me to wake him?" Brenda yawned into the phone.

"No, no, it's not important right now; just that Ricky indicated to me, earlier this week that he'd wanted to talk to me is all." I replied.

"Oh, um ...yeah, he wanted to remind you to come get all the stuff you want out of Mom's house, it's all going to go away in a few weeks now." Brenda said.

I could hear her making herself a pot of coffee in the kitchen.

"Want to go out?" Brenda asked.

"What?" I responded.

"I was talking to Yogi. ...Yeah the contractor sent all of us a notice saying we need to have everything out by the twenty fourth." Brenda said.

"I should be there in a couple days or so." I said slowly as I thought about driving the Nissan.

I heard the familiar squeak of Ricky's front door as Brenda let Yogi outside. Then the door closed again.

"You plan to fly then?" Brenda asked.

"No I have a car now and I'll drive up, take me a while but it'll give me something to do and I really need to take one last look, Brenda ...Be good to see the two of you again anyway." I responded.

"Yeah I know, Tim. Ricky and I took our, one last look, Sunday and shot some video of the house and neighborhood; I miss her so much now. We're planning to leave for a few days so you may be here alone with Yogi, I'm not sure yet. I guess Ricky has a line on some pan-head stuff or something in Portland someplace, so we'll probably spend a day or two hanging out with Lynn and Margie while we're there before I have to go back to work again." Brenda said, yawning again.

Hans opened the driver's side door, holding two coffee cups.

"Thanks" I said as Hans handed me one of the cups.

"What?" Brenda asked.

"I was talking to my friend." I said.

"What's her name? Is she a new one?" Brenda asked.

"No, no, it's one of my buddies from work; we're going to look at some trucks today."

"Oh, cool, sounds like fun." Brenda mumbled.

"His name is Hans, retired guy." I elaborated.

"Hope you both enjoy the day and find something you can use. Oh, by the way Tim, her jewelry box is here on the kitchen table for you." Brenda said.

"OK, thanks Brenda, I'll get it when I'm there. I said.

"Brenda ...how's he doing, now that she's gone?" I asked.

"...He's Ricky, and I love him exactly the way he is, Tim, you know that." Brenda replied quietly.

I could hear the front door being opened and shut again as she let Yogi back in.

"You're a good woman Brenda." I said.

"Go look at your trucks, Tim, and I'll tell him you called." Brenda replied.

"OK, love you guys." I said.

We each said good-bye and clicked off.

Hans now had the truck's hood up and was apparently checking the oil and coolant level.

I reflected on the words "Shot some video" in Brenda's and my conversation. Brenda was always shooting videos; she shot videos of virtually everything to the point that it was almost annoying yet at the same time we all loved her for it. Her YouTube page was filled with many of our special little moments which would have otherwise been lost forever, were it not for Brenda's menacing camera in our faces. There were videos of Susan and me at our wedding and our one year anniversary and videos of Ricky and me at junkyards and car shows. There were videos of vacations, bike rides, flea markets, gardens and Yogi and Ricky playing together. There were videos of friends and neighbors gathered at the Christmas dinner table and two young people that I didn't know kissing under the Mistletoe. There were videos of sidewalk art and the flashing neon signs of Las Vegas and then there was the birthday party video of Brenda's four year old grandbaby which she had posted less a year ago, which was now in the "Personal" file of my phone.

"...now blow out the candles ...YAAAAAAYYYYY, GOOD JOB! ...Look ...what is it, do you think? ...LET'S OPEN IT! ...look at the pretty paper ...here, want me to help you honey ...A FIRE ENGINE!! ALRIGHT, VROOOM VROOOM!! ..."

The pretty lady, with the funny paper hat, was frail and well into the final autumn of her life yet the gentle eyes and radiant smile were both unmistakably evident now as she vigorously clapped her hands and basked gloriously within her true element, which was simply that of being in the presence of a small child.

"...I'll bet when you grow up that you'll be a REAL FIREMAN!! ...show it to Daddy ...here let's have some cake and maybe we can..."

I quickly closed the video and looked out the passenger window, pretending to be interested in something on the gas pump, as Hans slammed the hood down and opened the driver's door.

"Let's get something to eat." Hans said as he started the engine.

"Yeah, good idea." I said quietly.

"I sat watching the Mohave desert streak by the passenger's side window, as I so often did when I was a passenger, while Hans drove the truck and we hummed along the asphalt at a steady sixty miles an hour. The old thing really doesn't run that bad I thought as I sipped my coffee and wondered where exactly in Lake Havasu we were actually headed. Finding out is part of the adventure I reasoned as I pulled out my phone and looked, again, at the photo that Karen had just sent me. Patti, Lisa and Karen my God, they were all so stunning, I thought to myself. I then studied the photo more intently, looking specifically at Andrea Millhouse... Looking at the photo now I briefly wondered what it would be like to wake up in bed one morning with all four of them at once. That notion was probably better left as a daydream I concluded and took another sip of my coffee and put the phone away.

Forty five minutes later we arrived at the truck stop that Hans had suggested the previous day when I had been at the sandwich shop in Vegas and talking with him on the phone. It was now a quarter past nine AM and both of us were ready to sit down and eat something. After we had found a window booth and ordered from the waitress, I showed Hans the photo that Karen had sent me while we had been enroute.

"Oh yeah ...Karen you already introduced me to and Lisa I know from the insurance office, and yeah, Andrea Millhouse ...but who's the girl with red hair?" Hans now asked, looking at the photo over his reading glasses.

"Her name is Patti Anderson; she's a real-estate agent that works in Anchorage, who I've known for a long time." I replied to Hans, nonchalantly.

"Nice picture" Hans replied as the waitress brought our coffees.

We placed our orders; Hans then called someone on his phone while I looked through some of the photos on my mine. I looked once more at the photo that Karen had just previously sent me of her and the ladies at the dude ranch. Hope they have fun today, I thought.

"What kind of loads is Dick setting-up to take to Anchorage?" I asked Hans when he'd hung up his phone.

"Hell, anything he can get. He wants the reefers to haul fish this summer and just wants to pay for some of his fuel getting them to Alaska. Coy Hearth wants to take some stuff from Phoenix but the timing isn't going to work out for Dick. ...Oh, by the way, Tim, Dick wants us to look at a Peterbilt while we're out here too, so don't let me forget" Hans said, sipping his coffee.

Hans and I spent the entire day looking at trucks and reefer vans and we both got to test drive the Peterbilt that our friend Dick had shown an interest in. Later in the day Hans and I also saw several people that we knew from Alaska that had moved to the Tri-State area after their retirement. It was good to see all of them again and outwardly I enjoyed the day, overall, but I had been emotionally detached and distant. Hans and I had roast beef sandwiches for lunch at my favorite national chain restaurant and in the evening we shared a nice home cooked dinner with one of our mutual friends and his wife but I really don't remember much about what we talked about. Hans and I had then started the journey back to Laughlin at around six pm and arrived back at the condo at seven forty five pm. Bidding Hans goodnight then, I had entered the palazzo and suddenly decided to sit down on one of the benches for a few minutes. The night air felt good and it was nice to just be alone and sit someplace quiet where I could think.

I considered buying the Nissan a positive step in the right direction for me but it also meant that now I had to face myself again and it seemed like I'd been doing a lot of that lately with Mom's passing. With resignation I decided that tomorrow I would get up early and start the drive to Seattle. I needed to go through Mom's stuff and figure out what I wanted to keep and what could be discarded. Ricky and Brenda had already done so and now it was my turn. I wasn't looking forward to the task but there were a few things of hers that I wanted to keep just for me, her jewelry box was one thing I did want. I'm not a sentimentalist but Mom's jewelry box is one exception to that rule.

I took out my phone and gazed at Mom's carnival photo. In nineteen fifty five, Mom and my Aunt Elsie had gone to a carnival in San Diego during the Fourth of July weekend. Aunt Elsie had taken her camera and shot the photo which I now was looking at. Aunt Elsie had also purchased the jewelry box at the carnival and presented it to Mom as a token of love and friendship between two sisters. The photo and jewelry box had somehow been lost for several years before Mom had even brought them home. Then my Aunt Elsie, it was explained, suddenly rediscovered the lost photo and jewelry box shortly after my birth in nineteen sixty four. As a small child I remember playing with things in the jewelry box and using it as a garage for my HotWheels cars. I also remembered how much my mother had smiled then and how she would dance around the house with joy during that time period and that the jewelry box smelled like Mom. Now as I sat in the palazzo I vividly recalled the delight in my mother's eyes when she would hear the music upon opening the jewelry box. She would hold me then and we'd sing the "happy song" together.

In nineteen sixty seven my brother Ricky was born and there had been complications. When he was two days old he had contracted a fever that almost killed him, I later learned. As a child myself, I remember many people coming to visit us as Ricky lay sick in the hospital and that it had seemed like he was there for a long time. I remember people bringing flowers and talking to Mom and I instinctively remember one man with a large key ring on his belt that sat me on his lap when he talked to Mom at the hospital every day. Many people had set me on their laps and talked to Mom during that time but I only remember the face of the man with the large key ring on his belt, I had liked him very much. I asked Mom many times throughout the years, who that particular man was. I tried describing him to Mom, and I told her what he had looked like, I had even mentioned the large key ring on his belt but Mom had always answered that there were so many good people showing love and support for us at the hospital during that time that she couldn't remember a man with the large key ring on his belt.

For some reason, shortly after Ricky came home from the hospital, I found the framed photo that Aunt Elsie had taken of Mom at the carnival, now thrown away in the trashcan and the jewelry box put away on a high shelf in Mom's bedroom closet and disregarded now. I was never given a satisfactory explanation for any of this and I didn't understand why she threw the photo away and suddenly ignored the jewelry box either. I still don't. I remember taking her photo out of the trashcan and putting it back into my room only to find it in the trash once more and told, quite sternly by Mom, to leave it there in the trashcan. Later, I took the photo back out of the trashcan yet again and hid it behind some broken plaster in the closet of my room, where I also stored contraband candy that Aunt Elsie had covertly given to me during one of her frequent visits.

Mom never found the hidden photograph. I was three and a half years old at the time that all of this occurred but I still remember it all vividly. Mom would never talk about the photograph that she threw in the trash or why she put the jewelry box away either - she would hear none of it and refused to even engage in any conversation pertaining to either. It was the only time she had ever shut-out me out from anything. Aunt Elsie later explained that Mom did these things because women are sensitive about their photographs and that the jewelry box had become too old fashioned and out of style now. I never quite accepted this explanation, even as a child.

When Ricky and I had been small, Mom would sometimes look deeply into our eyes and slowly caress our faces. We knew she did this out of a mother's love but as we grew older we became embarrassed by it "Mom's being weird again, Tim." Later in my twenties and thirties as I started to mature I began to understand, when I saw the pride beaming in Mom's eyes. In my forties and fifties I began to see and understand the deep joy in my mother's eyes as she would caress my face but I also began to realize that there was also a deep wound within her that she had always hidden from us. What this wound was I still don't understand today. It certainly wasn't anything to do with the old man, my father. By that time he had, long since, killed any feelings she had ever felt for him.

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