Chance: A Day in May Ch. 05bythe Troubador©
Duncan had no more than pulled back out onto the road to town, when a City of Ritzville Police Patrol car slammed on it's breaks as it passed them going the other way. Making a tire screeching U-turn it spun its tires accelerating back behind them. Duncan slowed, figuring to pull over and let him go by when the Patrol Car's lights started flashing. But after pulling over and stopping, a shocked Duncan watched him pull up behind the motorhome and stop.
With his eyes fixed on the left outside mirror, he suddenly fell back onto his seat. "Oh, shit..."
A startled Helen looked at him wide-eyed. It was the first time she had heard him use language that couldn't be heard on the radio. Unless you counted what was said while they had been making love.
"Helen, I may be in the soup. If so, I need you out of the soup so you can help me on the outside. Don't jump in and demand equal time, please."
With eyes big as saucers, Helen recognized a town cop, wearing a pair of mirrored sunglasses stop outside the drivers side window. "Oh, no," she gasped, immediately identifying the big tough who had hustled her last night. The guy Duncan had dropped to the tavern floor, the one they had left lying on that same bar floor, unconscious.
Duncan rolled his window down and the cop in a brusque, emotionless voice asked, "May I see your Driver's License sir?"
Helen had never seen such an emotionless face in her life. Her heart sank, wondering what this small town thug must be like with the law behind him.
"Thank you, Mr. Handsworth," the cop growled as he handed the card back. Then suddenly his face broke out into a grin. "Hey, there's no way I can keep this tough cop charade going. I wanted to stop and thank you for last night; and no, much as I look like it, that wasn't me at the bar last night. I've been looking for you all morning to thank you. Folks told me last night that you were expecting to be around town for a couple days getting the lady's car fixed at the station. Is that right?"
"What is this all about, Officer?" asked Duncan. "Were charges filed after the ruckus last night? If I thought there was going to be a problem I would have stayed at the bar a while longer."
"Well Mr. Handsworth, my brother finally lost it, after some real shit was thrown at him over the last few weeks. I've been trying to baby sit him, but I was out on call when the divorce papers were delivered to him by the bimbo's attorney yesterday afternoon. I was hoping to keep the final explosion private, but my wife said he just grabbed his hat and went out the door. Never said a word to my wife about where he was going. He was long gone before I got back home. Chester's been staying with us since he caught the twit he married in bed with the town drunk. Ever since she's been tossing accusations at him, and her lawyer has tied up everything my brother owns."
"My brother, bless his soul," the cop continued, "still loves that hussy bitch. She was his high school sweetheart, and he has yet to see how she's changed over the past eight years. Chief Traynor, our police chief, has put him on furlough until he can get himself together. If you two hadn't been able to handle him last night, I would have had to take him to jail. He's a damn nice guy usually, but at that moment he was off his gourd. If he'd spent the night in the iron-bar motel, especially for assault, his police career would be over. That's all he has ever wanted to do, really."
"This morning, he can only remember bits and pieces of last night. When he started to bring some of the pictures up in his mind this morning, he went into the bathroom and threw up. Sounds crazy to say this, but I think you saved a good man. I'd like to buy you folks a cup of coffee, if I may. My name, by the way, is Everett. Can I call you Duncan, Mr. Handsworth?"
Duncan held his hand out to shake Everett's hand. "No real thanks needed, Everett, but we'll take you up on the coffee, if it includes a doughnut or two. And by the way, my friend here is Helen Conningham. Lead on, Officer Everett. We'll follow."
Everett led them to a happy, cheerful looking diner downtown. He pointed out a spot to park the RV, and met them at the door, holding it open for them as he ushered them inside
"Hey Clarice, you got a pot of fresh coffee, or is that still the one you made for yesterdays lunch crowd?" he called out as he sat them in a booth in the brightly painted, well lighted café.
"Ev, you wouldn't know bad coffee if I fed it to you. I've got a nice fresh pot, and I'll poor a cup for your friends. Give me a minute and I'll get out the crankcase oil you usually drink," a sweetly smiling, matronly waitress answered from behind the counter. "Do you folks want high octane, or unleaded?" she directed at Duncan and Helen.
"We'll take the octane," Helen answered for the two of them. Then looking at Duncan, "Unless you want tea, Duncan."
"Hey, I've got water so hot it's banned on Sundays, English Breakfast Tea and a couple flavors of herb teas. Whatever you prefer," the waitress called back.
"What ever's easiest," Duncan called back.
When the waitress brought over the coffee, Everett introduced them. "These are the folks who kept Chester out of trouble last night, Clarice. Thought the least I could do would be buy them a cup of coffee. What do you have in the way of doughnuts or Danish?"
After Clarice had delivered their orders, Everett excused himself a moment to check in with the dispatcher. When he came back the three of them just fell into conversation like they had been friends for years. Everett filled them in on the history of Ritzville. When asked he suggested some stops they might want to make for photography. Clarice kept coming by to refill their cups, adding something to the conversation each time she stopped at their table. It seemed to be a popular spot, with townspeople stopping by in what seemed to be a regular schedule. Before Duncan and Helen were aware of it, they had been drinking coffee and eating doughnuts for almost an hour.
The conversation seemed to be coming to a natural close when the door opened and Chester, the guy they had run into last night stepped into the café. The first Duncan knew of it was when Everett waved his hand, "Hey, we're over here, brother. Grab a cup and come on over."
Duncan eased himself back a bit in his seat, and stared accusingly at Everett who grinned back at him sheepishly.
Clearing his throat, Everett said, "Duncan, I'm sorry but you might not have stayed if I told you my brother was coming. I guarantee you won't regret staying."
"Regret what, Ev?" asked Chester arriving at the table.
"My sticking around to meet you this morning," Duncan replied for him.
Chester looked down at the floor as he turned to pull out a chair. Duncan noticed he was limping. "I'm sure glad you did stay. I have to thank you for last night."
Both Helen and Duncan just looked at him.
"Ma'am, I have to apologize to you, too. I just seemed to go crazy for a while. I really ain't that kind of man, but... Oh hell, things just haven't been too stable for me the last few weeks," Chester said to Helen. He didn't seem to be able to look her in the eye. "By the way, my lout of a brother hasn't introduced us. I guess you folks know my name, now. It's Chester. But what can I call you folks, except exceptional?"
"Oh, sorry Chester," spoke up his brother. "Helen, Duncan this is my brother. Chester, this smart gentleman is Duncan Handsworth, and the lady is Helen Conningham. Say hello, and do some groveling, big brother."
"You got that right, Ev," spoke Chester. "And Mr. Handsworth, I want to thank you for going easy on me last night. It couldn't have been easy for you, 'cause I know I look pretty imposing. But all you left me with was a sprained knee. The headache came from the booze, I think. I seldom drink, maybe even more seldom now, but I had a right skin full last night. Damn it! I made a fool of myself. Course as our daddy used to say, we're the only ones can do that, make fools of our own self. Then he'd tell us to try to do something a bit more constructive, making a fool was too easy. He sure got that right!"
Helen and Duncan soon found themselves relaxing and enjoying Chester's company. All to soon, Everett had to excuse himself to get back to his patrolling and Chester told his new friends he had to leave also. The brothers were sincere in asking to see the two again before they left town.
Seeing the morning had already disappeared, Duncan asked Helen if she wanted to meet him in a couple hours after he got his chores accomplished, say 1:00 for lunch here. He had a couple things to get done, and he was sure Helen would be happier shopping without dragging him along as an anchor.
Helen smilingly agreed, chuckling to herself about the way all men shied away from shopping.
- - - - -
It was after 3:00 when Duncan tucked Helen's arm in his before they ducked into the small café where they had enjoyed coffee that morning. Both were tired. It seemed to Helen that she and Duncan had walked every street in town at least three times. Helen was amazed at how many really interesting photos they had found to shoot in the little town. Even more amazing were the number of shots they had taken the second, third and in some cases the fourth time they walked down a particular street. It seemed every time they returned they individually and separately found new things they thought could be turned into photographic art.
The first thing Duncan had done when she met him that afternoon was to give her a gift wrapped box. She had no idea what it might be and was astounded when she opened the box to find a twin to Duncan's digital camera. Duncan explained he had a first rate printer in the RV, and they could turn any shots they thought worth it into photos whenever they chose. No delays, no worry about a photo lab botching a job. What they had were two professional level cameras and their own dark room in the RV. She didn't need to wait for a photo laboratory to process her film, didn't even have to wait until they got back to the RV. She could see what she had just taken on the small screen on the back of the camera. Not only that, but they could make prints that evening and see what the photos looked like full size. Duncan explained with the software programs he had on his computer they could crop and adjust each image to their hearts content.
Helen had been like a kid with a new toy, dragging him off immediately to take photos of the town.
The table they had been at that morning was open, and they made a beeline for it, collapsing on the comfortable red Naugahyde chairs.
Clarice, that morning's waitress, was standing at the counter and Duncan asked her if she ever got off work. She assured him she was off but it was so nice she hung around even on her time off. Duncan ordered two milkshakes, and when they were done picked them up himself to carry back to their table.
Duncan was just kind of staring off into the distance as he felt his muscles relax. He was carefully keeping the lovely Helen in the distance he was staring at, when his companion suddenly snorted and clapped her hand over her mouth. Helen's eyes got real big, and then she hissed at Duncan, telling him to listen.
A man sitting directly behind Helen was holding an animated conversation with his companion. Both the farmers were taking advantage of a short lull in their schedule to come to town and take a break.
"I tell you, Jessie, it's true!" the man behind Helen was saying. "Look, we don't see 'em very often. Less now than when I was a boy, but that was a cougar I heard last night! They come down from the forests upstate, and occasionally one will work its way all the way down here. I've heard them before, and I tell you that was a cougar you and I heard screaming last night around midnight. Nothing else around here either sounds like that or is loud enough..."
Here Helen turned red and buried her face in her arms on the table.
"...to be heard that far. I mean your place is a good five miles from mine and we both heard it. Right?" and he waited for his companion to nod.
"You have any other explanation for it, Jessie?" he asked and took another sip of his coffee.
Duncan raised his voice just a tad, and called past Helen, "Was that a bit East and some North of here you heard that?"
The man twisted around, "You hear it too, Mister?" he asked.
"Well we heard something last night, pretty late. Our RV was parked at some spring off the main road," Duncan replied.
"Hey, I know that spring. It's almost directly between Jesse's place and mine. Was it pretty loud?"
Duncan glanced at Helen's brightly scarlet face, "It was real loud where we were. What did you say it was?"
The man named Jesse spoke up, "Hilliard here claims it was a Puma, Mountain Lion you know. Didn't used to worry about them, they never hurt nobody, but we seem to be building houses where they usually hunt and there have been some nasty attacks the last few years. If he's right, and I'd guess he is, you'd best stay in town tonight. At least don't go back there. Shouldn't be a problem but that must be a big mean one judging from the scream it was giving. Could get pretty badly clawed and bitten if you were to run into it and it was in the mood."
Helen now had both hands clapped across her mouth, her eyes were huge and she was fighting to look natural. She didn't want anyone looking at her now; they might put it all together.
Duncan grinned at her, "Hey, that scream sounded awful close to me. Sounded like a whole series of screams. You sure that was a cougar? Could have been an owl, or even a woman screaming for all I could tell?"
Hilliard replied, "Trust me, mister, that was a cougar. They do sound like a woman in trouble, but it was too loud for that. Had to carry three miles to my place, and pretty near as far to Jesse's."
About that time the hamburgers Duncan had ordered arrived he and Helen dug in. In a couple minutes the two farmers left and Helen whispered, "Do you think that was me they heard?"
Duncan grinned at her, and reached over to take her hand, "No doubt in my mind, Helen. But I don't know if I'd describe you as big, now mean maybe...And you know, I DID get scratched up some last night."
It didn't seem possible, but Helen turned an even brighter shade of red. Then she kicked him under the table, hard.
Leaving the café later, they climbed into the motor home to drive to the motel. Duncan made a point of pulling some Band-Aids out of the bathroom cabinet, complaining about some deep gouges he had on his shoulders. When Helen socked him he staggered and fell into the dinette before they broke up laughing.
The motel could best be described as a motorhotel. It stood three stories high on the edge of town and only modern practice kept it from its proper title of hotel. Their rooms were adjoining and on the third floor.
Helen was surprised to discover a connecting door between the two rooms.
Duncan carried their two bags up despite Helen's protest. He just told her to practice her feminism when it was appropriate. She laughed and gave in, gracefully as ever.
Duncan placed her suitcase in her room, then carried his to the room next door. The rooms were comfortable, but hotel-beige. Both rooms were decorated in a western theme with paintings of cowboys, horses, and round-ups on the walls.
Helen grabbed her coin purse and an ice bucket before heading to the end of the hall. After filling the bucket with ice, she extracted some Pepsis and Fantas along with a couple Canada Dry Club Sodas from the several vending machines. After gathering bags of peanuts and other munchies she headed back to their rooms.
Walking into her room she shut the hall door before knocking on the connecting door, then waited until Duncan opened it. Walking into his room she put her provisions on the table standing by the window and overlooking the rolling wheat fields surrounding the town. Two comfortable looking, tan over-stuffed chairs flanked the table. Smiling at him she told him she would come back for a nightcap after her shower, promising to knock before she came in.
Returning to her room she quickly stripped, stepped into her shower and luxuriated in the hot shower. Drying off she slipped on a long yellow sleep shirt, more a long T-shirt than anything else. She bottomed that off with a pair of bright red french-cut panties. Glancing at the mirror she pulled on her white terry cloth robe before knocking on the connecting door. The red panties certainly made their presence known under the thin, soft rayon sleeping shirt.
To her surprise there was no response, so she sat down and thought about her day. In less than ten minutes there was a knock from Duncan's side of the door. Opening it she found him standing there in a wine red bathrobe, a white T-shirt peeking out from between the lapels. Smiling she joined him in his room, leaving the connecting doors open.
Making themselves comfortable at the table, Duncan fixed them each a highball using the club soda and a bottle of Jack Daniels he had carried up from the motor home. Helen opened the peanuts, chips and pretzels, and then they just sat back and chatted.
It felt so comfortable and right to be there with him that Helen had to blink several times when she remembered she had only met Duncan the morning before. She had been planning a long romantic week with her husband Gerry. The marriage had been drifting for several years, and he had agreed they needed to spend time learning one another again.
And then the skunk had pulled that stunt, leaving her with a broken car at the start of their vacation together as he had jetted off to the Philippines. It was supposed to be business, but she was beginning to wonder. That sort of thing had been happening far too often the past three years. Surely he was in a position at the company that others should be doing this initial trouble shooting. To Helen it seemed Gerry was the first called and the last home whenever an emergency came up in the company. She frowned thinking the two of them hadn't even taken a long weekend together for over a year. Gerry hadn't even been home for Christmas last year.
When she put her mind to it Helen realized it had been over four years since they had spent a vacation together of any kind. And four years ago the "vacation" had been a family gathering for Gerry's mother's funeral. They had attended her funeral together, yes, but Gerry and she had left in separate airplanes. Gerry hadn't even stayed for the reception after going to the grave site. He left early, flying off on another of his constant weeks long trouble-shooting junkets. She hadn't seen him again for ten days after she returned home. And that was his mother's funeral!
"Earth to Helen," she heard from across the table. "You went someplace Helen. Can I come along, maybe I can help."
"Oh, Duncan! Sorry, I was just gathering wool for a moment. Today Gerry and I were supposed to have been at Lake Chelan," Helen responded. Pausing she added, "I'm not sure today wasn't a lot more fun, but it sure wasn't what I was expecting to be doing. Say, do you think we could get to that old barn just outside town and get a picture at sunup tomorrow?"
"Sure, let's get some sleep now, then catch the early light. Let's say goodnight, Helen."
"Sounds great, but I need to clear up a misconception you have. You keep talking like I am a whole lot younger than you. Just how old do you think I am?" she asked her companion.
Duncan looked at her carefully for a moment, "Men aren't supposed to put ages on their ladies, Helen. Why do you want the answer?"
"Oh fudge, Duncan. Just answer the question. I think it's important."
"Well, when I first saw you yesterday I figured you were no more than say thirty-two. After spending a couple days with you, my guess is you're too mature for that. I would guess, maybe thirty-eight. Now what kind of trouble am I in?" answered Duncan.