Survival of the Fittestbyepiphany65©
A bead of sweat run down Scott Blanchard's forehead. He wiped it away before it could reach his left eye and pushed his black hair away from his damp forehead. He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt so he could loosen his necktie. It wasn't quite eleven o'clock and already it was over eighty degrees. Scott tugged his suit jacket off and tossed it through the open window on to the passenger seat of his black Volkswagen Jetta. He turned to his left and watched the amber digital numbers on the gas pump changing as it filled the tank of his car.
"Hey, do you know how to get to Grant Bradshaw's house?" Scott turned towards the man in the grey overalls with blue pinstripes cleaning his windshield. He had short salt and pepper hair and wore glasses with square, dark brown frames. Sewn to the upper left side of his overalls was an oval patch with OWEN embroidered in bright yellow thread on a white background with a red border.
"It's about three miles away," the man in the overalls told Scott. "Just keep going in the direction you were; you can't miss it. It's on the left, and the only place 'round here with a barn that's half burnt to a crisp."
Scott gave Owen a thin smile. He nodded. "Thanks. I shouldn't have any trouble finding it then."
Owen dropped the squeegee into a pail of murky brown water on the pump island and cast his narrowed brown eyes towards Scott suspiciously. "You a friend of Grant's?" he asked.
"No. I'm an insurance adjuster." Scott knew that the gas attendant's question was his way of probing him for information, but tried his best to sound friendly, without divulging more than he had to.
"I see. You must be here about his barn then," Owen said. "That was an awful thunderstorm we had. I heard it when it hit Grant's barn. I live just down the road from him. Made a hell of a crack, it did. I knew it musta hit someone's house or barn -- maybe a tree if they was lucky." The gas pump clicked off and he turned and pulled the nozzle from Scott's car. "I hope the insurance is gonna pay out on this. Grant didn't just lose his barn; he lost his tractor and a bunch of other stuff too."
Scott pulled his credit card from his wallet. "That's why I'm here," he said. "To look over Mr. Bradshaw's barn and settle his claim."
"Uh-huh... well, you can ask anyone around here -- they'll all tell you you won't find anyone in Knox County who's more honest than Grant," Owen said, sounding indignant. "He served with me in Korea. The guy's like a brother to me. They'll also tell you that storm was the worst folks has seen around here in years. You talk to Edith Baldwin; she lives across the road from Grant. She told me she was up that night. She couldn't sleep 'cause of the thunder, and she saw it hit Grant's barn. She'll tell you alright." Once he finished speaking, the man's thin lips grew taut and his eyes locked on Scott's once more.
Before Scott could reply Owen had snatched his credit card from his hand and strode inside to ring in his sale. Scott leaned against the side of his car, waiting for his credit card to be returned.
The air coming through the open windows of his car cooled Scott off as he drove along the narrow street running through downtown McAllister. His meeting with Grant Bradshaw wasn't until two that afternoon. That left Scott with plenty of time to get something to eat. He mentally scolded himself for having left Columbus so early. But until two days ago he had never heard of the town of McAllister and had wanted to give himself enough travel time so he would not have to risk getting a speeding ticket. Now he had almost three hours to kill. Still, that was preferable to being late for a meeting with a client. And Grant Bradshaw was an important client. This was the first insurance claim he had ever filed in twenty years and Scott expected it to be a routine interview and inspection, followed by him releasing a cheque to Mr. Bradshaw.
When Scott saw the diner to his left with the sandwich board on the sidewalk advertising lunch specials he slowed down. There were several parking spots available across the street from the diner and he pulled in to one of them. He pressed the button on the side of the door to close the windows, then stepped out of the car and locked it. Scott dashed across the street towards the front door of the eatery. Painted on the window of the door in navy blue lettering was BAXTER'S RESTAURANT. Below that were their business hours. He pulled the door open and stepped inside.
Scott found an unoccupied table towards the middle of the small restaurant -- far enough from the kitchen to avoid the noise and traffic of the staff, and far enough from the front door to escape the sounds and smells of the traffic on the street outside. Scott had a routine when he was working away from the office and his habits when at restaurants were an essential part of it.
Soon after he got settled at his table a waitress approached Scott. She was wearing black slacks and a white blouse. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties. The name tag pinned to her blouse above her left breast indicated that her name was Mary. Her dark blond hair was pulled back and silver hoop earrings dangled from her lobes.
"How are you today?" she said as she placed a menu and a glass of water on the table.
"Fine, thanks," Scott said. "But I won't need a menu. I'd like a clubhouse sandwich with fries and a Coke, please."
"A man who knows what he wants," Mary said with a foxy smile, running her hazel eyes down over Scott. "I like that."
Scott nodded and smiled uncomfortably.
"Are you in town on business?" she asked. Her blue eyes sparkled as they met his.
"Yes, I am," Scott said, nodding slightly.
"I thought so," she replied. "You look too young to be a cop."
Scott laughed. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"What? That you look young, or you don't look like a cop?" she asked, planting the palm of her hand on her right hip.
"Both," he replied. "And I'm an insurance adjuster, actually."
"And not a day over thirty I'd guess." The corners of Mary's mouth curled up as she met his gaze.
"I wish. I passed thirty just over six years ago," he said, frowning a bit.
"I'm dreading turning thirty," Mary said. "But it's a few years off yet, so I'm not worrying."
"More than a few, I bet." Scott smiled into her eyes and noticed how smooth her cheeks were.
"You keep handing out compliments like that and I'll have to be giving you a tip." Mary giggled as her cheeks turned red. "I'm Mary, by-the-way." She thrust her chest out and pointed towards her name tag.
"Nice to meet you," he said, noticing the faint outlines of her nipples pushing out at her taut blouse. "I'm Scott."
"So, you must be here about the fire at Bradshaw's barn then. If you work for an insurance company, that is," she said, her voice growing rapid and clipped.
"I really can't say who our clients are," Scott said. "I hope you understand. But I'm not saying you're wrong either." He shot her a boyish grin.
"I thought so," she said. "That was a huge fire. My uncle's on the volunteer fire department and he said it was about the biggest he's seen in fifteen years."
"It's a good thing no one was hurt," Scott said.
"No, no one, but they lost three barn cats. The poor things couldn't get out in time." Mary's voice faded out and she stared at the floor, looking forlorn, then cleared her throat. "I'll be back with your order in a little while," she said before turning and returning to the kitchen.
A clubhouse sandwich is the one thing that is almost impossible to ruin, and Scott virtually lived on them whenever he was on business trips. He had long ago convinced himself that they were even almost healthy. Or at least less hazardous to his health than eating at fast food burger places. Besides, he genuinely liked them and he had never been served one he considered bad. The one that Mary had brought him was no exception and he ate it quickly.
"Can I talk you into having some dessert?"
Scott was poking at one of his back teeth with a mint-flavoured toothpick, trying to dislodge a piece of bacon when Mary returned and posed her question. He looked up at her and smiled awkwardly. After getting her to list the types of pie available, he ordered a piece of banana cream. Scott rarely had desserts when he was on the road, but he was especially hungry and found it hard to resist when Mary asked. She was very pretty and had an enticing air about her which, no doubt, earned her many tips, he thought.
Once he had paid Mary for his meal and left a tip, Scott got back in his car. He began driving north. Keeping in mind the directions that Owen had given him, Scott scanned the oncoming fields and properties to his left for a burned barn. After driving for almost fifteen minutes he came upon what could only be Grant Bradshaw's farm.
Scott drove up the gravel driveway and parked in front of the charred skeleton of what was Mr. Bradshaw's barn. To his left was a spacious two-story white house with a large porch. Sheets and clothes hung from a clothesline between the house and barn, swaying in the afternoon breeze. In back of the house and the remains of the barn was a large pasture with cows grazing in it. Scott picked his briefcase up from the passenger seat and got out of his car. As he was walking towards what used to be the door to the barn he heard the sound of a screen door creaking open, then closing with a bang. Scott turned to his left and saw a man approaching him.
"You must be Mr. Blanchard," a man said.
"Pleased to meet you, Scott. I'm Grant Bradshaw."
Mr. Bradshaw smiled as he shook Scott's hand. He was tall, with a slight pot-belly. According to the file on him that Scott had in his briefcase, he was fifty-eight. He had a thin, neatly trimmed beard and greyish-blue eyes that peered from behind silver wire-rimmed glasses. His hair was grey, like his beard, and swept back over his nearly-bald head.
"I guess you'll want to take a look at the barn," Grant Bradshaw said.
"Yes," Scott said. "To be perfectly honest, it's really just a formality. We have the report from the chief of the fire department, and there are plenty of witnesses who've said it was lightning that struck your barn. I mainly want to take an inventory of what you lost and get some photographs."
Bradshaw nodded and lead Scott inside the remains of his barn. To his right Scott saw a green John Deere tractor that had been burned almost beyond recognition. It's tires had melted into the charred concrete. Beside the tractor was a disc harrow, a disc cultivator, and four-wheel ATV that Scott thought was once red. Like the tractor, it's tires had melted into the charred cement floor.
"I'll have to get pictures of these things," Scott said. He opened his briefcase and brought out a digital camera.
Grant Bradshaw stepped back, giving Scott room to work. He watched as Scott photographed the farm implements and tools that the fire had destroyed. Once Scott had finished he returned the camera to his briefcase.
"Do you have a list of what's in here?" Scott asked. "Receipts, serial numbers -- that sort of thing."
Bradshaw thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, in the house," he said. "My wife usually takes care of that part of the business, so she'd know better than me where it's all at." He turned to leave the barn, then gestured with his head towards Scott. "Follow me," he said.
Scott stepped outside and stopped. He brought a cell phone from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and looked towards Mr. Bradshaw. "If you don't mind waiting a few minutes," he said. "I have to call the office in Columbus to tell them to release a cheque for you. I've seen all I need to here. All I need are those papers itemizing what was burned."
Grant Bradshaw gave a relieved smile as he watched Scott talking on his phone. Once Scott had finished his conversation Grant lead him to his house. They sat down at the kitchen table where Scott spread out forms and papers that Grant needed to sign. He could smell a roast cooking in the oven to his left and it made his stomach rumble a little.
The kitchen, like the rest of the house, was bright and tidy. It had a tiled floor, wainscoting and floral wallpaper. Above the sink was a window with white curtains that looked out on the driveway and the road that ran by the house. Mr. Bradshaw disappeared for a few minutes, then returned with a small stack of papers that Scott had requested.
"I just need to get you to sign these, Mr. Bradshaw, so I can take them and the ones you just brought out back to the office with me," Scott said as he gestured at the forms with a pen. "Unless... you wouldn't happen to have a fax machine, would you?"
Grant nodded. "Yes. In the office," he said. "I never learned how to use the damn thing. My wife is the one who understands all that high-tech stuff. I can't even send an email." He smiled and turned towards his left. "Norma -- are you there?" he called out.
Scott could hear the sound of a television coming from the living room. Several seconds later a woman who appeared to be around the same age as Grant entered the kitchen. She was slender, with curly grey hair and alert green eyes. Her thin lips turned into a pleasant smile when she saw Scott.
"Scott, this is my wife, Norma," Mr. Bradshaw said.
"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Bradshaw," Scott said.
"You too," Norma Bradshaw said. She walked over to her husband to see what he had taken her away from her soap opera for. She nodded, listening as he explained that he needed the forms on the table faxed to his insurance company and pointed towards the number at the top of one of the pages where she should send it.
Grant smiled as he watched his wife leave the kitchen with the papers in hand. "I'd be lost without her," he said. "I rely on her to do all the paperwork and bookkeeping around here. She's really the brains of the operation."
"I guess it's true -- what they say about behind every successful man," Scott said.
"It sure is in my case," Grant agreed with a nod. "Norma and I have been married thirty-five years and they've been the best of my life."
As Grant spoke the sound of a car entering the yard, then the thud of a car door being shut could be heard. Grant craned his head to his right, looking towards the screen door. A few seconds later it creaked open, then shut with a bang.
Scott looked up from the kitchen table, unable to hide his surprise when he saw Mary enter the kitchen. His eyes grew wide as she smiled at him. She dropped her purse on the table and gave Grant a hug.
"Scott, this is my daughter, Mary," Grant said.
"We already met earlier, Daddy," Mary said. "Scott stopped in at the restaurant. And he's a good tipper!" She giggled as she looked across the table.
"I travel a lot, and I know how hard waitresses work," Scott said.
Mary picked her purse up from the table and took another look at Scott. "Well, I'll let you guys finish your business. I'm going to get changed."
Scott forced his eyes to not follow Mary as she left the kitchen. He had noticed how nice her ass looked with her tight slacks clinging to it, and how her firm breasts pushed out at her blouse and shook as she moved. But the last thing he wanted was for Grant to catch him leering at his daughter.
Grant looked up at the clock on the wall above the table. "It's getting close to supper," he said. "Why don't you join us, Scott?"
"Thanks, but I should be going soon," Scott said.
"Going where?" Grant replied. "You're all finished here, aren't you?"
"Well, then, stay with us for supper," Grant insisted. "Norma has a roast in the oven, and there's plenty for everyone. We'd be pleased to have you."
"Well, thank-you, Mr. Bradshaw," Scott said. "That's very kind of you."
"Please, call me Grant. We've finished our business -- there's no need for formality." He got up from the table and went to the fridge. "How about a beer?" he said, holding up a can of Budweiser.
"Thanks, Grant." Scott stood up and took the can from Grant's hand. He popped the tab and took a swallow as he sat back down.
The two men nursed their beer and discussed their work, their lives, and eventually the weather until the time for supper drew close. Scott could hear the muffled sounds of two voices in the living room and concluded that Mary must have come back down from upstairs.
By the time Mrs. Bradshaw had set the table and was mashing potatoes, Scott was quite hungry. As Grant gestured for him to take a seat, Scott noticed Mary join them. She had changed in to a light blue dress and her hair was now loose around her shoulders. She sat down opposite Scott, watching him from the corner of her eye. Her breasts gave a slight bounce as she moved and Scott felt himself growing hard. He lowered his eyes to the plate in front of him, trying to concentrate on anything besides his growing erection.
"I hope everybody's hungry because I cooked a big roast," Mrs. Bradshaw said.
She placed a large bowl of mashed potatoes and a gravy boat on the table, then returned to the counter to begin carving the roast. Once she had finished, she placed a large platter with the meat on the table.
"Dig in, Scott," Grant said as he pushed the platter with the roast towards him.
Scott dropped three slices of meat on his plate and helped himself to two scoops of potato. As he was pouring gravy over his food Mrs. Bradshaw placed a bowl of diced carrots on the table beside the potatoes. Scott smiled at her and dumped a spoonful of carrots on his plate.
"Thank-you again for inviting me to supper," Scott said. "Everything looks so delicious." He turned to give Mrs. Bradshaw a grateful smile.
"You're welcome, Scott," she said. "We don't get many guests, so it's nice to have some company for a change. And the best way you can show your appreciation is to leave the table with a full stomach." Her eyes flickered as she spoke in a soft, almost maternal tone.
"That won't be a problem," Scott said.
Mary waited until her parents had filled their plates then scooped some potato and carrots on to hers. Scott tilted his eyes up from his food, giving her a furtive glance. The centre portion of the roast had gone untouched by Grant and his wife. Scott had avoided those slices as well because they were too rare for his liking. Mary picked up one slice, then another with a fork and dropped them on her plate. They were pink in the centre and Scott could see ruby-coloured juice run over Mary's plate. He looked away, fearing he might lose his appetite.
As Mrs. Bradshaw had requested, Scott ate until he almost felt bloated. It had been a long day and his hunger had surprised him once he began eating. "That was a wonderful meal. Thank-you again," Scott said once he had finished. He wiped his mouth with a paper napkin and smiled at Mrs. Bradshaw.
"I'm glad that you liked it," she replied, looking pleased.
Grant stifled a belch and pushed himself away from the table. "If you're finished, come join me in the living room, Scott, while Norma and Mary finish up here." He stood up and went to the fridge. "Would you like another beer?" he asked, holding a can out towards Scott.
"Thank-you." Scott took the can of beer from Grant and followed him in to the living room. He sat down in a chair to the left of the sofa where Grant had sat down. He took a sip from the can and let out a contented sigh.
"She's a great cook, isn't she?" Grant remarked, turning towards Scott.
"Excellent," Scott replied. "I haven't had a meal that good in a dog's age."
Grant nodded and turned his attention to the evening news on the television.
The combination of the large meal and the beer made Scott slightly drowsy. He stared at the television, not really paying attention while his host drank his beer on the sofa and watched the news. It was only when Grant spoke some time later that Scott perked-up and felt more awake.