No More Swedish Meatballs Pt. 02byKrenna Smart©
Evelyn was just plain bored. Her life had fallen into a mind-numbingly dull pattern of work and Karl and kids. Just when she thought she was going to lose her mind with boredom Max turned up. He appeared at her office at noon one day offering to take her to lunch. But instead of going out to eat Max took Evelyn to a nearby motel where they caught up on old times.
Evelyn didn’t ask Max why he was back. She was just so damned happy to be with him. They talked about a lot of things but mostly Max was curious about Karl’s work. He asked a lot of questions which became more and more technical. He was surprised and pleased at the depth of Evelyn’s knowledge.
Lunch with Max became a ritual. He would leave her a note the night before telling her where they were to meet. Their love making was bliss for Evelyn. She’d been feeling old and used up. Now all of a sudden she was vibrantly alive. Talking with Max made her feel so intelligent. She told him all about Karl’s work. They discussed his projects at length. Max was quite pleased when he discovered how involved Evelyn was with Karl’s work. Karl’s company was a pioneer, making new discoveries all the time.
Evelyn was surprised at how much Max knew about the new technologies. Of course she never mentioned Max’s re-appearance to Karl. Time passed and Max and Evelyn’s meetings fell into a regular pattern.
It was a hot late June Saturday in 1967. Rita and Kristen went on one of their adventures. Rita was always coming up with new places to explore. Without their parents’ knowledge the two girls regularly ventured far from their suburban cul de sac on their two-wheelers. This particular day they’d left their bikes by side of the road and followed the course of a little stream for hours as it became wider and deeper and faster. Finally, it became a broad creek. There was a tree with an overhanging branch just made for swinging. Kristen and Rita were thrilled. Their clothes were already soaked so they spent the next couple of hours diving and splashing and laughing. They forgot about the time and didn’t notice there was a storm brewing until it burst over their heads, spitting out hail and huge raindrops.
Kristen and Rita swam to a bridge where they took cover and waited out the storm. The air was full of thunder. The rain sounded like pebbles thrown against aluminum siding. The wind shrieked through the nearby woods. Cars on the bridge made a hissing splash and a low rumble as they passed. The creek became angry and swollen with rain. The storm gave no sign of abating.
Kristen was chilled through and becoming frightened. “Wwwhat are we going to do?” She complained through chattering teeth. “I’m fffreezing.”
“We have to wwwait it out.” Rita’s lips were blue with cold. “The storm’s gggotta let up soon.”
There was a bright flash followed by a loud clap of thunder, then another flash and a big bang as a nearby tree was struck by lightening.
“Tell that to whoever’s running things upstairs.” Kristen said. “Come on Rita. Do something. You got us into this.”
“Me?” Rita said indignantly. “How come I’m always the one to blame when things go wrong?”
“Because you’re the one who’s always coming up with these great ideas,” Kristen replied.
“Well, it was a great idea until a few minutes ago. We were having fun, weren’t we?”
“Yeah, until you let the storm in.” Kristen said.
“That’s right, blame it on me. You were the one who wasn’t paying attention to the weather. That’s why it rained.”
They started up their favorite game. They pretended they had magical powers like the ability to call a storm or talk to animals or move things with their minds.
“Well you can’t expect me to do everything,” Kristen said pertly. “It’s a lot to keep track of, you know, the stream and the breeze and everything in the water. I’d like to see you do better.”
“I would, but my magic doesn’t work that way,” Rita responded.
“Well at least you could have conjured up a couple of umbrellas,” Kristen complained.
“You know I’m best at making things disappear, not bringing things forth. That’s your territory. Besides, we didn’t need magical help. It would have been a waste. You know we’re not supposed to squander our magic,” Rita said grandly.
“Well,” Kristen said, “I think its time for us to get out and dry off. So I’m sending the storm away,” She made a grand gesture with her left hand. Rita burst out laughing. Kristen joined in. And lo and behold five minutes later the storm was over.
“Good job!” Rita said
They swam out from under the bridge and made their watery way back to where they left their bicycles. It was very late afternoon by the time they were back in their neighborhood.
Elizabeth was on the front porch looking mean when Kristen and Rita rolled up.
“Uh oh, something’s up,” Kristen said to Rita.
“I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes,” Rita said, knowing there was trouble when Elizabeth had that look about her. “See you tomorrow,” she said as she pedaled on towards her own home.
“What’s got you looking so happy?” Kristen asked as she wheeled her bike over to the side porch.
“We’ve got company,” Elizabeth said somberly following Kristen to the porch.
“I don’t know. Some guy they haven’t seen in years. Mom got all excited when she saw him. She ran upstairs and dolled herself up.”
“You said it.”
They peered through the porch window hoping to get a glimpse of the mystery guest. They saw Karl enter the living room with a tray of drinks.
“Uh oh,” Elizabeth said. “They’re drinking. Dad never drinks. Who is this guy?”
“Why’n you go in and get yourself introduced.” Kristen suggested. “Maybe they’d tell you who he is.”
“Huh un. You go.”
“Huh un, no way. What’s Dad doing bringing out the booze? I hope mom doesn’t get drunk. It’s only Thursday. If she ties one on tonight it’ll be a triple header weekend. I don’t think I can stand three days of it.”
“You got that right. I wonder what they’re gonna do about dinner. It’s past five. Dad gets sick if he doesn’t eat on time,” Elizabeth said worriedly. “This guy must really be somebody to get Dad drinking and off his meal schedule.”
“I wonder what they’re talking about,” Kristen said curiously. “Open the window Lizzy; I want to hear what they’re saying.”
“That’s eavesdropping,” Elizabeth said primly as she opened the window and stuck her head halfway into the adjacent room.
“Like you’ve never….”
“Oh shut up. Listen. Shh. They’re talking about Dad’s work. What the heck does he know about it?”
“Him. The mystery man.”
On his way through the dining room Karl caught the girls peeking in the window.
“What are you girls up to?” Karl asked with a phony scowl. “Spying and eavesdropping, huh? Well, you might as well come in and meet our guest. He’s been dying to meet you for a long time. Where’s your brother. I want Ned in on this too.”
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth said. “I haven’t seen him since this morning.” Kristen followed Elizabeth through the door into the dining room. Karl looked at Kristen askance. “What have you been up to today, puss? You look like a drowned rat.”
“Thanks a lot,” Kristen replied, stung. “I love you too, Dad.” She stuck out her chin and started to walk away but ran head first into Ned, who had just sprinted through the door. “Ouch! Cripes, Ned, why don’t you watch where you’re going?”
“Where’s the fire? Aren’t you a little late, son?” Karl asked.
“Sorry Dad,” Ned said sheepishly.
“Well, now that I’ve got the three of you together come on into the living room. There’s someone I want you to meet. Max, here’s our tribe.”
Max had on his most winning smile. Evelyn, seated next to him, put a proprietary hand on his sleeve. Karl noticed the gesture and started to feel a little uncomfortable. Why do they seem so familiar with each other, he wondered as he ushered the kids into the living room.
Karl refreshed their drinks as introductions were made. “This is Ned,” Karl said, as presenting his son. Max and Ned shook hands.
“I can’t believe it, Karl,” Max said. “He’s as tall as you are. How old are you son? Seventeen?”
Ned blushed. “Sixteen, sir.”
“Sir! You’re going to make an old man out of me. And who are these two lovely creatures?” he said trying to win over the girls.
Elizabeth was pleased but Kristen was disgusted. I look like something the cat dragged in. Who’s he trying to impress?” She scowled and refused to meet Max’s eye when he tried to greet her.
“The tall one’s Elizabeth.” Evelyn said brightly. “She’s 14 already. And that’s little Kristen, always ready with a smile.”
Kristen glared at Evelyn. Why’s mom acting so weird? Who is this guy?
Evelyn was flushed and jittery. She had two cigarettes going in the ashtray. She knew Max had something important to talk to Karl about. That’s what he’d said the last time they were together. They’d been talking about Karl’s current project and suddenly Max had become very serious. Then he said he wanted to talk to Karl. Evelyn hadn’t wanted the meeting. She was perfectly happy with the way things were. Now things were going to change. She could feel it in her bones.
Max was never one to waste time. He opened the subject right up. “Karl, I need to talk to you about the Downing project.”
Karl was perturbed. “The Downing Project? How do you…? What do you mean?”
Evelyn felt a cold stab of fear. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so forthcoming about Karl’s projects. Somehow when she discussed them with Max she forgot they were supposed to be secret. She started to say something but thought better of it. She looked at the kids, then at her watch. “Maybe I’d better start dinner. Max, you’re staying aren’t you?” She grabbed her drink and slipped out to the kitchen.
Max watched her go. “Yes,” he said looking at Karl. “I’ll be here for a while.”
It’s surprising how intuitive kids can be. To Ned, Elizabeth and Kristen it felt like the barometer bottomed out. They looked at each other and made a bee line for the side door.
“Who is he, that’s what I want to know,” Ned said belligerently.
“Why’s mom acting so funny? Maybe he’s her long lost lover, come to carry her away,” Kristen suggested, not seriously.
“Don’t say that,” Elizabeth said, sounding frightened. “He’s just some guy they used to know. That’s all.”
“Then how’d he know about Dad’s project?” Ned asked. “He’s not supposed to know about it. Dad’s work’s secret.”
“Maybe he’s a spy,” Kristen said excitedly, “like I heard about on TV. He’s going to sell Dad’s secrets to the enemy.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Elizabeth said, sticking her nose up in the air. “He’s probably a salesman. He’s trying to sell Dad insurance or something.”
“No he’s not. He’s a secret agent. And he has a mind probe. He’s going to steal all of dad’s secrets.”
“Oh Kristen, you’re such a child. Where do you get such ideas anyway?” Elizabeth said grandly.
“Jesus. I don’t know how you can watch that stupid box all the time. You’re going to go blind from it. That’s what I read in Teen Magazine. Too much TV is bad for the eyes and makes you stupid.”
“You’re the one who’s stupid,” Kristen retorted. “All the crap you read in those teen magazines rots your mind.”
“You shouldn’t say crap. It’s a dirty word.”
“I don’t care.”
“Oh, shut up,” Ned said angrily. “I want to hear what they’re talking about.” Ned had his head stuck all the way in the side window and was listening intently. The two men were in a deep discussion. Neither one was happy about the way the way the conversation was going. At least that’s how it looked from where Ned stood.
Karl had brought the bottle of scotch in from the kitchen. It had been full but was now almost three quarters gone. The men were arguing in low voices. Ned couldn’t make out what they were saying.
Twenty minutes passed. Ned was still straining to hear the conversation. Elizabeth sat beside him under the window. Kristen had given up and was on the glider reading her book. The smell of hamburger and onions grilling on the stove filled the air. There was a clatter of dishes in the kitchen.
“Kristen and Elizabeth, come help me set the table,” Evelyn called. “We’re going to eat in the dining room. Ned, pack up that…, whatever your project is and take it upstairs. Use the good china, Elizabeth. And the silver. Kristen, help me bring the food to the table.”
Evelyn was on her third drink. She was scared. She was trying desperately to remember what she’d said to Max during their lunches over the past months. God, she hoped she hadn’t compromised Karl’s position. That possibility hadn’t occurred to her when she was talking to Max. How much had she said? What were Max and Karl talking about?” She was in a fever to know what was happening between the two men.
And indeed what was happening was not good.
“What are you saying?” Karl asked harshly. “You’re saying that you’ve given my work, MY work over to your ‘Cabal’? And you stand here now asking me to join you in some..., some Goddamn plot to get the rest of my work to your fucking group of…, some committee? What are they exactly?” Karl wanted to punch Max in the face. “That’s horseshit, Max. I’m supposed to stand and smile or run laughing into the arms of these people? And you used my wife to get the information? What else did you do to my wife? Did you subvert her to the “Cause?” Karl saw the look on Max’s face and bitter understanding almost dropped him to the floor. “Or did you fuck her while you were taking notes about my projects. Jesus Christ. How long has this been going on, anyway?” Karl was having a hell of a time keeping his voice down. God help him, he didn’t want the kids to hear. He felt like a cuckolded fool. The seriousness of the situation was just starting to sink in.
Max swallowed a strangled oath. “Christ Karl, what do you take me for? I care about Evelyn. I always did. But this thing is big. I need you on board. I’ll back away from Evelyn if you want for the sake of the kids. Just listen to me. You’ll have everything you need if you play ball.”
“Why are you coming out in the open Max? Wasn’t the pillow talk enough to keep your handlers happy?”
“Shit. You don’t know what’s at stake here.”
“Sure I do. My job, my wife, my family, you bastard.”
“That’s not what I mean. There’s going to be a whole new world order.”
“Not if I can help it. I want you out of my house. Now. Fucking Christ, if I had a gun, I swear….”
“No.” Max dug his heels in. “I’m not leaving. There’s still Evelyn to think about.”
“Shit. You can take the silly bitch with you. I’m done with her,” Karl thundered. He was past caring if the kids heard.
“You don’t mean that,” Max said, trying to calm things down. He poured more scotch into both of their glasses. “Let’s be rational about this.
“Rational? I’ll give you rational.” Karl hauled off and punched Max in the face. “That’s about as rational as I can be at the moment.” He nursed his knuckles for a minute.
Max’s head snapped back but he always could take a punch. “Maybe I deserved that. For not being up front with you about Evelyn. But now you’ve got that out of your system can we start a new dialogue?”
“No. I have nothing to say to you. Are you going to leave?”
Actually, no. I was invited to dinner. A good fight does wonders for the appetite, doesn’t it?”
“You’re one cold son of a bitch,” Karl said, shaking his head in dismay. “Alright, if you must stay go out to the kitchen and tell Evelyn to pack a bag. She’s leaving with you after dinner.”
“She’s welcome to come with me if that’s what she wants.”
“Well, she’s not staying here, that’s for sure.”
“What about the kids?” Max asked.
“Oh. Do you want them too? Well forget it.”
Max laughed ruefully. “I don’t want your kids, Karl,” and walked off into the kitchen.
Evelyn was trying to make order out of the mess of food and dishes she’d thrown together to make a meal. She’d done the hamburger with Campbell’s Mushroom Soup deal, but the rice had burned. The broccoli was overcooked and the tossed salad was limp and wilted. She couldn’t find the damned salad dressing and her drink was almost gone. She needed more scotch. “Find the damn salad dressing,” she snapped at Elizabeth who was just trying to help.
Max came into the kitchen and kissed Evelyn’s neck right in front of Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s jaw dropped and she stormed out of the room. “Well, that didn’t go very well,” Max said as he leaned into Evelyn’s back. “He’s madder’n a hornet. How do you feel about traveling with me for a while? Until Karl’s had a chance to cool off and look at things more rationally.”
“Are you kidding? Karl’s not going to cool off. That man can hold a grudge better’n anyone I’ve ever known.” Evelyn whispered, not wanting the kids to hear. “He’s stubborn as a mule” she added. “Jesus, Max. Why didn’t you warn me…., Let me know what you were up to. I could have helped. Maybe things would have gone better. You kind of blind sided us with all this.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t plan to do it this way. Things happened which were out of my control. I had to act faster than I wanted to. I thought I’d take a shot at getting Karl on board.”
“On board of what? Who are you working for? Why couldn’t you tell me up front, instead of using me like you did?”
“I’m sorry. I really am. I’ll explain it all later. Let’s get through dinner. Then you’ll have to pack some things. I want to be out of here by eight.”
”Eight o’clock?” Evelyn was dizzy. Her entire world had just been turned upside down and she had to be ready to leave in two hours? “What’ll I tell the kids? Oh, Jesus, I don’t think I can do this.”
“I don’t see you have any choice,” Max said coldly. “Karl made his position clear. And you said it yourself he’s a stubborn son of a bitch. Anyway, could you stay after all this? It would be torture for you, Karl and the kids. A clean break is best.”
“Oh God, I don’t know. I guess you’re right. I feel like a ping pong ball. Do you care about me at all Max? Or was I just means to an end?”
“Of course I care,” Max said solemnly. “As best I can. Trust me.”
“Oh Jesus,” Evelyn started crying. “Why did it have to come down to this? I don’t understand. Why couldn’t you have kept things the way they were? And where are we going?’
“I can’t explain it all here and now. There isn’t time. You have to look to the kids. Christ. If they’ve heard even half of what’s been said here today….”
“Oh, God, maybe they should come with us. I can’t just leave them.”
“They can’t come with us. Maybe later.”
“Really?” Evelyn’s heart was in her throat. So much for boredom and middle-age angst she thought. Be careful what you wish for. She felt more alive than she had in years. I can do this. I really can. Thank God Max is willing to take me with him. I wonder where we’re going to end up.
After Elizabeth stormed out of the kitchen the three kids had run for cover and ended up in the old tree fort. They’d heard enough to scare the wits out of them. They were too charged up, however, to understand the full ramifications of what had just transpired inside the house.
“Kristen, you must be a mind reader or something,” Ned said. “You were right on both counts. He’s her lover and a spy. This is unbelievable. Who would ever believe Mom had a lover? Who the hell is he, anyway? I never heard about him before.”
“I did,” Kristin said. “He was best man at their wedding. They used to play cards together and stuff when Mom and Dad lived in Philadelphia.”
“Some friend he turned out to be,” Elizabeth said angrily. “Christ, I can’t believe Mom was sneaking around behind Dad’s back. I wonder when they did it. And where?” Elizabeth got kind of a rush at the thought of her mother having sex on the side with a handsome stranger. And a spy, no less. The kids at school will never believe it. Wait’ll I tell Katie and Marjorie.