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    Geron Kees
  • Author
  • 2,502 Words
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Thief of Small Things - 10. Chapter 10

Granddad sat back against the sofa, his eyes going from me to Mark, and back again. "That's quite a tale." But then he smiled at Mark. "I thought you looked familiar. Your dad was Tom Houghton?"

"Uh huh." Mark looked at me. "Sorry. Mullaney is my aunt's last name."

I shrugged, and tried the new name, pronounced like Haw-ton, and found it rolled off my tongue just as pleasantly. "I like it."

He grinned at me, but then turned back to granddad. "I'm sorry I lied about everything," he said sadly. "And that I took your stuff. I'll try to find a way to pay you back."

It was nearly one in the morning, and Granddad had looked tired when he'd come in. But now his eyes were bright and interested, and his smile gave me a lot to hope about. "I don't think that's necessary. Considering the opportunity for real theft you had with gaining access to all the condos up here, I think that just missing a few slices of bread is ample proof that your conscience and morals are all working from the right place."

Mark looked stunned, his gaze going around the living room. "Oh, I would never have --"

"I know," Granddad cut him off, waving a hand dismissively. "That's what I mean. So we'll forget about the small stuff, okay? I see no reason why the neighbors should know of it at all. My feeling is that they will simply be happy to be rid of their ghost."

I smiled when Mark looked perplexed. "Ghost?"

"You were in the hallway, that first day I was here, weren't you?" I asked him.

He rolled his eyes and looked embarrassed. "I had no idea you were visiting. Talk about being freaked! I was sure you were going to nail me."

"I was pretty freaked, myself," I explained. "I guess I waited just long enough to react for you to get back to the closet. I was sure I saw the door close that last little bit, but when I opened it, there was no one there." I laughed. "But I did hear that spooky sound the springs on the ladder make. It sounds like the call of a big bird, when you hear it through the closed door."

Mark laughed. "I oiled the crap out of those springs, too, but couldn't totally get rid of that noise. Your trap was the only one that did that, too."

"Karma," Granddad said, smiling. "It has a way of bringing things together."

Mark and I grinned at each other at that.

"That first time spooked me," I went on, "but I was able to talk myself out of it being real. But when you came in while we were at the park and moved my tablet, I was sure someone was getting in here."

Mark looked guilty. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to see what kind of stuff you were reading. I thought I put the tablet back where I'd gotten it."

I smiled. "Fantasy, mostly."

He also smiled. "I like fantasy."

My heart skipped a beat at the way he looked at me, but I managed to continue. "We bought some motion sensitive cameras and put them around to watch the hallway and the doors. They recorded your last visit, and that's how I knew to look for the hidden door in the closet."

Mark's jaw dropped. "I was going to ask you how you found it!" He considered the idea a moment, and then put a hand to his forehead. "Damn. I never even thought about something like cameras. I'm glad it was you that did that, and not one of the other tenants." He looked unsettled now. "I could have wound up in jail!"

"There is that," Granddad conceded. "While your lifestyle up until now displays a certain inventiveness, it cannot be allowed to go on."

Mark and I both laughed, and I circled my arm around his and hugged it. Granddad watched us, his smile slowly broadening. "So...what to do with you?"

"I don't want to live this way," Mark said immediately. "I need a job. And a place to stay while I do it. I've already learned that it's impossible to have one without the other."

"A place nearby," I added gently.

He smiled at me. "That would be best."

Granddad nodded. "What can you do? I mean, besides wait tables? Detailing your experience is usually the first step."

Mark looked briefly taken aback. "Well...I don't have a lot of experience with anything."

"I didn't, either, at your age," Granddad said. "But what I mean is...what are you good at?"

Mark frowned. "Well...I helped my dad around here a lot. I'm good with tools, and good with my hands."

"I'll say," I put in, leaning against his shoulder again.

"You're really distracting me," he whispered, but took a moment to rub his cheek against mine. I could feel his fondness, and it was energizing.

Granddad laughed. "Ah. Now that's something. And...hmm...an idea comes straight to my mind, too."

Mark and I both leaned towards him. "What?" I asked.

But Granddad just smiled, and leaned forward and patted my knee. "Patience. Let's not jump the gun." He frowned, and then nodded to himself. "I'll need to make some calls in the morning...or...no, better to go in person." He stood, and motioned for us both to stand. "For tonight, just relax. Mark, you are more than welcome to use the extra bedroom tonight."

I brightened at that. "I'm sure it will be better than that cot."

Granddad nodded. "In fact, bring your things down and put them in the extra room for now. Because tomorrow I want to see about getting those trapdoors sealed up again."

Mark looked contrite at that. "I can do it. The caps were just bolted in place, and I saved all the hardware." He looked at me, and then back at Granddad. "I'd rather Mr. Santini not know I removed them. He'll worry unnecessarily, and I don't want that for him."

"I can help you," I offered. "It's not like my day is going to be busy or anything."

Granddad nodded. "I'll accept that. Just so they're closed up again."

I leaned against Mark. "Come on, and I'll help you get your stuff down."

But Mark paused, looking at Granddad. "I...thank you, sir. I really don't deserve this."

"I think you do." Granddad reached out and laid a hand on Mark's shoulder. "Your dad and I shared something special in common, son. We both loved The Boltfort. I used to compliment him on the effort he made in keeping this place up, the extra things he would do to keep the building beautiful. And he used to smile, and say, "She's worth the trouble, you know?"

Mark looked surprised, but then smiled. "I didn't know that. But I feel the same way."

"I know. And that is going to help you with what comes next."

I wanted to ask what that was, but Granddad's expression said he was not telling any secrets tonight. He waved at us to go, and then shook his head. "That's enough for now. I'll need to get up early tomorrow to talk to a few people and see what can be done. The two of you get a good night's sleep, and tomorrow, seal up those closet entries."

Mark thanked Granddad one more time, and then followed me down the hallway. "I knew I liked him," he told me, once we were out of earshot.

He seemed happier than I had seen him in some time - maybe even since I had known him. Or, maybe it was just more relaxed. There had always been a slightly wound up quality to Mark that probably had come from existing on his own in a city full of strangers. I tried to imagine what that would have been like, and couldn't. I had a mom and a dad, and I saw now that I didn't want to lose either of them. So I would be making some allowances myself in the coming weeks.

We brought Mark's stuff down, and then folded the ladder back into place. When we closed the trapdoor, the springs groaned, and didn't sound so much like a big bird close up. It would be the last time I heard that particular sound, I supposed, the last time we would use that hidden door.

But it would not the last time I would think of it, I was sure.


* * * * * * *


I paused as dad and I exited the front doors of the building. The new maintenance assistant had the pressure washer out, and was deftly cleaning the ornate stonework on the other side of the doors. He was wearing a clear plastic face mask, and I didn't think he could see us out of the water-speckled side of it.

"Can you wait a moment, dad?"

He smiled at me, and nodded. "Sure. I'll be over there, on the bench." He nodded at the concrete and wooden seating that formed the squared sides of the little plant-filled area beside the main walkway, and then moved off.

I approached the maintenance guy, and saw him become aware of me. I immediately pointed at a still grubby area of stonework, and raised my voice to be heard over the power washer's compressor. "Hey, buddy. You missed a spot."

He looked my way, then let off the trigger on the washer's wand and bent over and turned off the compressor. He hung the wand over it, and raised his mask. "Yes, sir. I'll get right on that, sir."

I laughed, and moved closer. "You're doing a wonderful job, really."

Mark grinned at me. "It's a labor of love."

"Love?" I tried to look blank. "What's that?"

He moved closer and looked over my shoulder at dad, who was intentionally not looking our way, and then he looked at the people going by on the sidewalk, who just plain didn't care what we were doing here. He reached out a hand and laid it against my chest. "It's when you care more about someone else than you do about yourself."

I gave a sigh at that. "I know what that's like."

We smiled at each other, and Mark moved a little closer. "I'm going to miss you. I was just getting to know you."

I nodded. "It's just for two weeks, while we get this thing settled with my mom. My dad said I can come back for a while after that, and you already know that Granddad is in favor of it."

"Yeah. He's a miracle worker, your granddad."

Who would have known that Mrs. Lendlhoff, one of the owners of the Boltfort, was a fan of Granddad's cooking, and a regular diner at Ludie's? And that Granddad knew so many people and could get so much done in so short a time? There was really a lot of truth to that old saying that it wasn't what you knew, but who you knew.

"I love your granddad," Mark said seriously. "He's really special."

"He likes you, and that's all it takes with him."

A smile crept into his eyes. "I love his grandson, too."

I felt my jaw tighten briefly, and nodded. "I think we're going to be good together."

He shook his head, looking amazed. "I can't believe I got this job. My dad always did all the maintenance here alone."

"That's not true," I said. "And as Granddad pointed out to Mrs. Lendlhoff, you helped your dad keep up the building for free for years. You know every inch of the place, and what's more, you love it."

"Yeah." He shook his head slowly, as if he still couldn't believe the way things had gone. "Mr. Santini sure was shocked when he heard he had a new assistant. But I think he likes the idea already. He's been pretty cheerful, and whistling a lot."

I nodded. "You're good there, in his spare bedroom?"

"Sure. I think he likes the company. And...he was really fond of my dad. He says I remind him of dad a lot."

I sighed. "I hate to go. But I'll call you every evening, okay?"

"If you don't, I'll call you."

I looked around quickly, saw no one watching, and leaned forward and kissed him. He gave back as good as he got, and I could feel the magic of his touch. "See you soon," I said, drawing away and rubbing his arm.

He nodded. "Be careful out there. It's a wild world."

I gave his arm a last rub, and turned back to the walkway. Dad must have been paying more attention than I thought, as he immediately rose to his feet and smiled as I came up. "Ready?"

"Yeah. Let's go."

Dad had left his car at the Icon parking on West 70th street, a short walk away. It was another warm day, and would soon be hot. But it felt good to be out in the sun, good to be moving on with things. The future seemed a lot clearer now, a lot less frightening.

"I'll bring you back after court, okay?" Dad said. "You can stay here part of the summer, or all of it, if you like. Granddad said he'd be happy to have you."

"You won't be lonely?" I asked, watching him.

"Maybe a little. But I'll be happy knowing that you're happy." He reached over and squeezed my arm. "I'm already happy that this all worked out so well for you and Mark. I like him, and I think he'll be good for you."

I laughed at that. "Granddad said the same thing."

Dad nodded. "Your grandfather loves you, David. He's a good one to have on your side."

I looked up at him. "You're not so bad, yourself."

That seemed to please him, and he looked content.

We reached the corner of the next building, and I realized then that here was the last possible place I could turn and still see the front door of The Boltfort. I stopped, and did just that, spinning around to see if Mark was looking.

He was. I could see his face light up in a smile, and he stuck his arm up tall, and waved it mightily. I grinned for all I was worth, and raised my hand high, and waved back.

We mugged at each other for a full minute, probably looking stupid to anyone watching, but neither of us caring in the least. Finally, aware of dad standing patiently beside me, I waved to Mark a final time, and turned to go.

"Sorry," I told dad, smiling.

He laughed. "You shouldn't be."

"Okay, I'm not."

We grinned at each other a moment; and then he sighed, and took me gently by the arm, and started me for home.

Copyright © 2020 Geron Kees; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

Well, I sort of got the ending right. I hadn’t thought about Mark being the maintenance assistant, but that makes more sense than waiting tables. And it makes sense that he’d share the apartment with Mr Santini.

A nice happy ending with no Elf interventions or unexplored doorways to other planets…

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36 minutes ago, empresslovesreading said:

That wasn't the end? Was it?!?! Nooooooooo😭

No, it was a beginning!

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2 minutes ago, Geron Kees said:

Yep. I was not sure I wanted to end this story here. But I think a lot of things are best left to the imaginations of readers.

Maybe! :)

We never did meet grandpa’s boyfriend! Did we ever learn why they don’t live together other than the fact that they both have busy lives? Maybe we could get a prequel focusing on their relationship!

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2 hours ago, droughtquake said:

We never did meet grandpa’s boyfriend! Did we ever learn why they don’t live together other than the fact that they both have busy lives? Maybe we could get a prequel focusing on their relationship!

Wishes sometimes come true. :)


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