The Damp, Gray Gone Ch. 02byRehnquist©
Introduction. Okay, if you thought Part 1 was long, then this one's longer. Like I said, though: There only seemed to be two logical cutoff points. The good news for you, the reader, is that you only have to suffer through three boring chapters instead of four.
As luck would have it, I noticed in a comment to Chapter 6A of WWWM that it looks like Chapter 6B is being released at about the same time as this story is coming on line. (P.S. It's about time, DQS!!!) If any of you are like me, you'll be too busy reading about and analyzing how the Angel of Death has survived the nutjob cop to spend much time even thinking about this. Still, if you do have a few moments, I'd appreciate your comments and thoughts.
We were up bright and early the next morning.
Actually, Kyle was up bright and early, and he was doing his best to get me moving along as quickly as possible.
"Settle down," I said with a mouthful of toothbrush.
"But Dad," he said, standing next to me and combing his hair again. The kid had a thing for neat hair. "You promised."
"Nothing's gonna be open for a while, little man," I said, rinsing the toothpaste from my mouth and spitting it into the sink.
"But nothing," I said, rubbing scalding water on my cheeks to soften the stubble for my shave. "We'll have some breakfast, then we'll start searching for the perfect dog. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough," he said, running out of the bathroom to parts unknown so I could finish getting ready.
* * * * *
By one, we'd been to two pet stores in Rockford and the Winnebago County Animal Shelter. None of the dogs had excited Kyle all that much, though, and we decided to stop for lunch at the Grant City Tap before driving over to see if the Lincoln County Animal Shelter was still open.
We had just ordered some burgers and sodas when Kyle waved at someone behind me.
"It's Miss Palmer," he said.
"Uh huh," he said.
I turned around and damned near fell out of my seat.
Two women who looked like sisters were waving toward us and smiling. I managed to raise my hand back, but I knew it came off as a feeble effort at best.
One of the women whispered something to the other, and they both grinned in unison.
"Pretty, ain't she?" Kyle said.
"I thought she was old?" I said, turning back to Kyle.
"Still," he agreed, "she's pretty. Even if she is old."
"Which one is she?"
He looked back at them, smiled and nodded his head, and looked back at me.
"She's the one in the pink shirt," he said.
"Who's the one in the pink shirt?" I heard from behind me. "Hello, Kyle."
"Hi, Miss Palmer."
I looked up at sparkling eyes and a bemused smile.
"I was asking him which one was his teacher," I said.
"Kristin Palmer," she said, holding out her hand.
"Luke Patterson," I said, taking her hand and holding it.
She was gorgeous, and I knew what Whitney had meant about her being the head cheerleader type. She looked like she could still be in college. Her face was oval, unlined, with bright eyes and an upturned nose. Her lips were expressive and all mysterious at the same time, like she was thinking something about you, and you only hoped she was thinking what you were thinking about her. Her face was framed by short-cut, light brown hair parted slightly off center and framing her features perfectly. And her body? Just. Fucking. Wow. Think healthy. Really, really healthy.
"So you're the famous Professor Patterson?" she said. "It's an honor."
I chuckled. "Just Luke. And I'm not so famous."
"I don't know about that," she said. "Kyle here says you're a war hero with the medals to prove it."
"Too stupid to duck," I said. "Nothing heroic about that."
"We're looking for a puppy," Kyle blurted.
She looked at him, and a softness came over her face. She adored children, I realized. You could see it all over her.
"And what kind of puppy are you looking for?" she asked.
"Not a clue," I said. "We were just going to have some lunch and go to the animal shelter. See if they've got anything there."
"Sounds like a plan," she said.
The waitress arrived with our burgers and sodas.
"I'll leave you men to it, then," she said. "Happy hunting."
I watched her walk away.
"See what I mean, Dad?"
"Huh?" I said, turning and looking at Kyle.
I had to force myself to keep my eyes on him.
"Sure," I said. "I guess so."
We were almost done with our burgers when Kristin reappeared at our table.
"Sorry to bother you," she said.
I tried to finish chewing and gulp down my mouthful of food.
"No," I finally managed. "No bother."
"It's just that I was talking to Allysin. My cousin over there? She says she knows someone with a litter of puppies. There are three left."
"What kind of dogs?"
She smiled. "Pugs."
"Like from Men In Black?" Kyle asked.
"Where'd you see Men in Black? It's rated--"
"At Tyson's house," he said, then turned back to Kristin. "That kind of dog?"
"Those're the ones," she said, grinning widely.
"They're cool, Dad," Kyle said to me.
"Who's the friend?" I asked.
"Tim and Nicole Franklin," she said. "They own the Bar and Grill?"
I nodded. I'd been there a few times, and I was pretty sure I knew the owners by sight. They were about my age, and their kids helped out around the restaurant. Good food.
"So . . . ."
"Allysin knows them pretty well," she said. "You want, she can give them a call and see if it's all right for you to drop by?"
"Where do they live?"
"Out on Seven Oaks."
I looked at Kyle. "Well?"
"Let's go see 'em, Dad," he said, his half-finished burger and fries now pushed to the side.
"If it's not too much trouble," I said to Kristin.
"No prob," she said, and walked back to her table. I noticed she wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
"Dad," Kyle whispered, "you're staring."
I turned back to face him, a lopsided grin on my face.
His eyes went to the heavens. "Jeez."
I left the money on our table, then stopped at their table on the way out.
"Have a seat," the other one--Allysin--said.
"I don't want to interrupt--"
"We'll go with you," Kristin said. "Show you how to get there."
"They're expecting us in a half hour or so," Allysin said. "We've got time to finish our lunch, okay?"
I looked from one to the other, amazed at the resemblance between the cousins. Sure, I could tell them apart. Still, they were both absolute knock outs. And they both had that evil flash in their eyes and that way of expressing untold carnal promises with their lips.
* * * * *
We all watched Kyle giggling on the lawn as the three puppies--none larger than a gerbil--climbed over him and licked and nipped at him.
"They all like him well enough," said Nicole Franklin, "that's for sure."
"Maybe you'll take all three?" her husband said, his arm over her shoulders.
They were easy together, comfortable and happy and content. Talk about a devoted couple, I thought with a flash of pain.
I caught Kristin looking at me, and her face looked a lot like mine must've looked at that moment. Gone was the playful smile and sparkling eyes. Instead, she had a sardonic smile, a smile that told me she'd had this once and lost it.
"What d'ya think?" I asked her.
"I think you've got a choice to make here."
"The male," I said to Tim. "If it's okay, I think we'll take the male."
"Problem with women?" Allysin snickered, but Kristin shot her a glare. Something passed between them in a split second; something that turned Allysin's look to a forced smile.
"That's great," Tim said. "Let me go get you a crate to take him home in."
"That's not really--"
"Never bought a puppy before, have you?" he cut in.
He laughed, shaking his head. "Poor bastard."
"Tim," Nicole said, "don't talk him out of it yet."
"I'll get us some beers," he said, walking toward the garage. "Tell you all about how to train a puppy and take care of him."
I started to protest, but Kristin spoke before me.
"Sounds good," she shouted, her eyes on me as she said it. They were eyes that said, 'Sit down and shut up if you know what's good for you.'
I decided not to argue with those eyes.
A half hour later, I was comfortable with my newfound rudimentary knowledge of how to potty train and care for a puppy. The most basic lesson learned from Tim and Nicole was simple: I was fucked. For the next six months, until the tiny pug was older and trained some, I'd be busier than hell trying to raise a baby in addition to my own son.
I know what most of you are saying. Well fucking duh, idiot. What did you think it would be? To tell you the truth, I didn't think about it at all. I'd never had a dog before. As a child, the issue never came up. With Kyle, the issue arose and was shot down by Whitney. So there you go, sometimes things aren't as simple as we think.
The look on Kyle's face as he played with that tiny, wheezing ball of fur, though, told me there was no going back. He hadn't looked this happy--this full of unbridled joy--in months.
"I've never seen him like this," Kristin said, walking up beside me and watching Kyle play.
I sighed. "Yeah. Been awhile."
She put a hand on my arm, and I turned to face her. "Hang in there, okay? I know what you're going through, and it's tough."
I wanted to ask her how she could know, but then I remembered about her own checkered marital history. I couldn't remember if Whitney had mentioned it, so I wondered if she had any kids of her own. By the look on her face, though, I suspected she did. Either way, it was clear she knew just how tough this was on me and Kyle.
"Thanks," I said. "For everything." I looked back at Kyle and nodded toward him rolling around in the grass. "Especially for this."
* * * * *
The Franklins had given us enough food to get us through the night and the next morning. Also, we had a crate for the little fellow to sleep in until we could get to the store the next day and get all of the puppy-raising, dog-owning essentials. So Kyle and I just enjoyed ourselves in the backyard when we got home.
"What're we gonna name him, Dad?" he called out from the yard.
I pondered the question as I flipped the barbecued chicken and corn on the cob roasting on the grill in front of me.
"Well?" he said, scooping the little black-faced bundle of tan fur into his arms and walking to the deck.
"You got any ideas, little man?" I said, worried the squirming little pup would break free, fall, and die at any moment. Kyle kept a solid hold, though.
"Not really," he said. "I was thinking of a general or something. You know, like the stuff you're always reading about."
"Like General Lee?" I said.
He shook his head. "No. They said he's China."
"Chinese," I corrected. "He's from China, and things from China are called Chinese."
He ignored me. "So are there any famous China generals?"
I searched my memory, discarding most of the names that came to my mind.
"How about Sun Tzu?"
"Thousands of years ago," I answered, "he was a famous general who wrote a famous book."
"What was the book called?"
"The Art of War."
"And it's still famous?" he asked.
"Still used today."
He grinned. "And we can call him Sonny for short."
I ran my fingers through his head, then reached down and scratched the snorting midget behind his ear.
"Sonny it is," I agreed.
School for me started the next day. Not classes, but an endless series of meetings to get ready for classes.
When the afternoon meetings ended, I found myself in my office behind my desk flipping through resumes trying to weed out the finalists for my two research interns for the upcoming semester. They were paid positions--though the pay was, to be honest, beyond paltry--and the competition was fierce. More than forty students had applied, which represented about two-thirds of the seniors majoring in history or related areas.
After an hour, I had weeded it down to three finalists who would be interviewed for the two positions. Randall Meeks, Jeremy Scott, and Heather Farley. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, but you'd be wrong. Besides being incredibly beautiful, she was a solid writer and researcher, and she'd made Dean's List every semester so far. Her drop dead gorgeous looks were just a bonus.
I phoned the three of them and arranged for interviews the following morning, then shoveled some books and notes into my briefcase and made for home.
"Luke," I heard from behind me as I unlocked my car door.
Turning, I saw Doug Morrissey running up behind me.
"Wow," I said, taking in his now clean-shaven face and slimmed down figure. "Looks like the summer's been good to you."
He grinned. "Time to get off my ass and make a go of it again."
"Sounds like a good plan," I said, trying to keep the pleasant smile and failing.
His eyes narrowed. "Where you at in it?"
"It's over," I said.
His eyes widened. "So soon?"
"Yeah. Couple weeks ago."
He nodded, his face clouding over.
"I got Kyle," I said. "Joint custody, but he lives with me."
I shook my head.
"And the finances?"
"House was mine, so she didn't get any of it. Our incomes were close enough, so there's no alimony. Well, I let her keep a hidden 401(k), which is really why there's no alimony."
"And the rest?"
He gave a bitter chuckle at that. "Told you that bitch Rebecca was good."
"She was," I said, "so thanks. Really. I would've been clueless. And she may have been a bitch to you, but. . . ."
He nodded at my implication. "Tell me about it. Hotter than hell."
"Like she could trip you and beat you to the floor."
"With her panties already down," he added.
We savored our own visions for a moment.
"So," I said, then looked him up and down. "Looks like you're finally getting past it, though."
"I finally met someone."
His head bounced as the grin returned. "She's great."
"Do I know her?"
He shrugged. "Maybe."
I laughed. "What is this? Grade school? You want me to pass her a note in home room, you'd better clue me in."
"We'll see," he said, turning to leave me standing there.
For whatever reason, that's the first time I had hope. Hope that it would get better and somehow back to normal. Doug's divorce had been brutal, and he'd been down in the dumps about it for a couple of years. Now, though, he was almost back to his old self. He now looked a lot more like the easy-go-lucky, happy, bouncy guy with a zest for life and for living that I'd not seen in three years or more. He'd finally gotten over it.
It seemed to bode well for me. For the first time, I believed what everyone said: Someday I'd get over the anger and regret and bitterness and go back to being happy.
Of course, I thought as I pulled into my garage, Doug hadn't been spending all of his spare time as a single parent to a little boy and his even littler puppy dog.
* * * * *
Heather Farley sat before me, her legs crossed all prim and proper, the appropriate look of academic seriousness on her face. In her navy blue slacks and long-sleeved white blouse, she appeared to be a young professional rather than the bouncy Valley Girl-type she usually looked like.
"And what would be your duties as you understand them?" I said.
"Research and memos," she said. "Whatever topic you assign, I'd be responsible for researching the topic thoroughly, then preparing and submitting a memorandum encapsulating the salient points."
Encapsulating the salient points. See? There was a legitimate reason why she was a finalist. She was one hell of a lot smarter than most of her peers. And judging by her dress and demeanor--Jeremy Scott had shown up for his interview in jeans and a Phish tee shirt--she was one hell of a lot more mature, too.
"You've spoken to past interns?"
"Absolutely," she confirmed.
"And you know you could probably work for Professor Whitman?"
"I understand," she said, her eyes staring straight at me and holding the look. "But I don't want to work for him."
"He's the chair of the department," I countered. "It would certainly be far more prestigious on your resume for graduate school."
"True," she said. "But you'll soon be Dean of History, so that won't matter."
I leaned back in my chair. "And you know this how?"
She gave an enigmatic smile and brief shrug. "I just know."
I stared at her, but she didn't flinch. Yet, the look on her face told me she was dead serious, and that shocked me. I'd been in meetings on and off throughout the summer, and no one had mentioned the retirement of Hubert Whitman, a colossal figure at Chadwick who'd been teaching there since my parents were in diapers. Sure, he was certainly well past retirement age, but most of us agreed they'd be carrying him out of the school in a casket, and that was as it should be. He was still sharp as a tack and had more energy than many professors half his age, so the thought that he was stepping down was a bit farfetched.
"Fine," Heather finally said, "if you want to know I'll tell you. But this stays between us, okay?"
"He told me. Professor Whitman himself. I already interviewed for him yesterday. And while he offered me a position, he still recommended I meet with you. This may be his last semester, and he says you're likely to be the one taking over."
"Is he okay?" I stammered. "I mean, he's not sick or anything, is he?"
"Not a clue. He seemed fine to me. Same old Professor Whitman."
I nodded. "And he's already offered you a position?"
She snorted. "If you want to call it that. It would mostly just be cleaning up his papers and sorting things out. A career's worth of notes and that sort of thing. That's why he recommended I meet with you instead. He said most anyone could do it for him, and I shouldn't pass up the chance to actually get something out of this."
I looked at her, down to her resume, then back to her again. She raised her eyebrow, waiting for my decision.
"Fine. You're hired."
In a flash, the professional demeanor was gone and the schoolgirl giddiness was back. Intern positions could make a big difference in graduate school applications, and the higher up the professor for whom she interned, the more difference it made. As such, this was a big deal, and her excitement was common.
"Thanks, Professor," she said. "You won't regret it. Really."
"Now I'd like your opinion on the other two finalists," I said. "Mr. Meeks and Mr. Scott."
"Meeks," she said immediately. "Jeremy's way smarter, but he's lazy, too. Randy's a hard worker. A better writer, too. Jeremy will try to skate by, but Randy will bust his ass."
I nodded. That was my assessment, too. Almost to the letter. The problem with Jeremy Scott was that he'd never had to work for his grades. It had all come easy to him, and he wasn't used to going the extra mile on anything.
"Well, Ms, Farley," I said, pushing back from my desk, standing, and reaching my hand across to her. "Welcome aboard."
She pumped my hand in response. "Thanks, Professor."
"Don't thank me yet," I said. "I'll need you here tomorrow morning by eight-thirty."
"No problem," she smiled. "What're we gonna work on?"
"Don't know yet," I lied. "We'll know tomorrow morning."
"Fair enough," she replied, then gave a dazzling smile and sashayed out of the office.
It was going to be a very trying semester if I had to watch that ass on a regular basis, I thought, adjusting my package once she'd gone.
* * * * *
At five-thirty Wednesday, the doorbell rang.
"Your mom's here," I called into the back yard before going to answer the door.
"Hi," Whitney said when I opened the door.
"Come on in," I motioned with my head, stepping aside.