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    Parker Owens
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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.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Double Concerto - 1. Rites of Spring

In that brief time between winter and summer in the small towns of the north, there's barely time to say the word 'spring.' Life's details sometimes keep one from being ready for the season ahead.

Rick stood in the glare of the late afternoon sun, one of the first truly warm days to bless the north woods in May. A cold and rain-slashed April seemed to fade in the face of this softer side of spring. It can't last. Maybe we'll get snow next weekend. Anyhow, I'll probably think this is cold weather, come July. He made a wry face to himself.

Late afternoon, and time to stop at Guttmacher's to pump gas into the ever hungry tank of the old, but serviceable van which took him on his daily work. Heinrich Ernst and Son, Plumbing and Heating, emblazoned in somewhat faded red and blue lettering, adorned either side of the once white vehicle. It needed a wash. Rick always gassed up at Guttmacher's Auto Service. There were a couple of cheaper convenience store places in town, but he and Jerry Guttmacher were friends.

He inserted the nozzle into the filler tube and squeezed the handle. The pump whirred and hummed to life. Unmistakable clanking noises told of fuel being moved from below ground to the tank. He passed a hand over his face in a vain effort to hold weariness at bay.

Rick took an old fashioned notepad out of his pocket and consulted it. He squinted. Damn. Forgot my reading glasses again. But even without them, he could take satisfaction from the very full list of jobs crossed off. Things were getting busier.

Hey, Rick, enjoying the weather?

He started. Oh, hi, Jerry. Didnt see you. Hows business?

Its May. Gonna start gettin busy in a month. Howd you do in the ice breakup pool?

Rick shook his head. Missed again this year. I guessed way too late. That damn lake always seems to know my guess for the ice-free date ahead of time.

"I got it wrong, too." Jerry grinned. "Don't know who guessed the right day this year, but Stottlemeyer's IGA was doing the prize."

"What's the prize?"

"Don't know, just as long they didn't ask me to be the donor this year."

Rick smiled. "Chamber of Commerce gave us both a break, then." He knew Jerry's business was good, but the past couple of years had been tough on him and Cheryl.

"So did the weather, maybe. Warm spring might mean a nice summer. We could use one."

"I'll believe it when I see it."

"That's my old pal, Rick. Always the optimist."

He changed the subject. "How's Cheryl doing? Feeling better?"

"Thanks for asking. Yeah, now that the radiation's done with, she's doing way better. Gaining weight."

"Hey that's great. Does that mean she's gonna be thicker than you next time I stop by?"

"Wouldn't take much," Jerry laughed. "I still weigh what I did in high school. Found some of my old pants from tenth grade in an old suitcase the other night. They still fit."

Rick patted his middle and put on a crooked smile. "Not likely here. So what's with the suitcases? Planning on moving south?"

"No way, man. And leave our little north woods paradise? No, now that Cheryl's better, we're talking about taking some vacation, maybe at the end of the summer, if her parents can watch the kids. She's always wanted to see Hawaii."

The pump completed its task with a thunk of finality.

Rick replaced the hose and nozzle. "Sounds wonderful. Let me know if there's something you guys need to make it happen. I can watch the kids if you need me to."

"Don't worry, Rico, we've got it covered. When are you gonna have some kids of your own?"

"Gotta have a wife for that, first. My dad keeps asking me when I'm gonna get down to finding a girl."

"And what do you tell the old man?" Jerry grinned.

"Same thing I always tell him. Just waiting for the right one to show up in town."

"Come on, Rick, summer is coming. There's gonna be a hot babe here on vacation just waiting to catch you."

"We're getting a little old for that, Jer."

"Okay, how about a hot middle aged widow - "

" - in need of a plumber. Right."

Rick's cell phone went off in his pocket, a ringtone that seemed precisely not the sound of an old rotary phone ringing. He fished for it in his dirty coverall.

"Oh, cripes. Now what?" Rick made a face at the name on the screen. "Irene Inksater." With some reluctance, he accepted the call, as Jerry rolled his eyes and smirked.

"Whats up, Irene?

That womans calling for you again, his dispatcher said, sounding more snippy than usual. Shell be on when I hang up. And Rick? Im going home after this.

Sure thing, Irene. He grimaced. Talk about unattached middle-aged women. Ernst and Son Plumbing and Heating," he rattled off into the little device as soon as he heard the telltale click. "Hi, Rita. How's real estate?"

He listened to the brassy voice on the other end of the connection. Loud. Loud enough for Jerry to hear. He held the phone away from his ear. "Ricky, hi, so glad I caught you. Listen, I got a call from a client who's thinking about renting the Kohler house on the north shore. You know it?"

His mouth set in a grim line. "Yeah, I know it."

"Of course you do, Ricky. Well, the Kohler family asked me to represent them this summer, and I got a response to my ad."

Ad? Where was there an ad? Didn't see anything in the paper.

But Rita McKee was still speaking: "...and it would be so sweet of you if you could go out there and get the water turned on and the hot water tank going and all that sort of thing."

He sighed. "I can manage it maybe the day after tomorrow. It isn't a big job, is it? Just getting the well pump going and turning the water on, right?" There was real reluctance in his voice.

"Oh, Ricky, I was so hoping you could do it this afternoon. The prospects are coming tomorrow, and it would make such a difference to see the place with things working."

"You want it done now?"

"Oh, yes, please, Ricky, it's just this one little thing, hardly anything, really, and it would be such a favor, and things have been so slow, and this is such a big place to move, and - "

"And have you had the place cleaned?"

"Well, no, Ricky. That's happening tomorrow morning. And they can't clean until they have water, right?"

He cursed himself. "Uh huh."

"Let me guess: the clients will be there in the afternoon," Jerry whispered.

Now it was Rick's turn to do an eye roll.

But the voice on the phone continued. "Now please, Ricky, I know I can count on you. You've been so good with other things, you're a real champion. And besides, I'll do my very best to find a way to make it up to you."

Rick just closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He realized he was trapped. If he let Rita McKee down, word would get around that Rick couldn't be counted on. Little towns could be like that. Small business owners would take note. And if that same piece of information got back to the old man in Arizona, there would be hell to pay. His father still owned the business, after all. Rick was just an employee, just like he had been for the past twenty-five years.

He just didn't want to deal with Rita.

"Okay, Rita, okay. I get it. If it's not in too bad shape, and not a major production, I can work on it now. But no promises.

"Thank you, Ricky, I just knew I could call on you. You're a trouper, a real trouper. Such a load off my mind." Her tone changed. "Now, I know this restaurant in Madison we could go to - "

"Right, Rita. Look, if I'm going to do this, I'd better get to work. I'll let you know if there's a problem."

"Of course, Ricky. Just let me know how you want me to pay you back, okay?" Rita's voice was sweeter than pancake syrup.

"Um, right. Okay. Bye."

Jerry Guttmacher contained his mirth. Barely. "Ricky? Really? I thought you hated that."

"I do. Even more than my real name."

"But you let her get away with it. Heinrich."

"She's a customer, Jerome. She's sent me some business from her client list. Rita's just new in town, that's all," Rick said, obstinacy written on his face.

"And an eligible, widowed woman with loads of money," Jerry put in.

"She's divorced."

"A technicality." Jerry waved the inconvenient fact away.

"Are you saying I'm chasing her?"

"Well, you're crazy if you don't. It's not like successful, good-looking women throw themselves at you every day here in Eagle Lake. It's not like the big city."

Rick glowered. "She's not throwing herself at me."

"The hell she isn't. Ricky, I knew I could count on you, you're such a trouper, Ricky, oh, you're god's gift to poor, defenseless realtors like me - " Jerry's contralto impersonation was cut off. Rick had grabbed the hat off his head and started whacking him about the ears with it. "Ow! Hey! Is that any way to treat an old friend?"

"You're lucky we go way back. Otherwise, I would have used a pipe wrench," Rick panted. But at least he was grinning now. Sure, they were behaving like high schoolers. But they'd been friends for so long, who cared?

"Admit it. That woman wants you and your hot, sexy plumber's body, Ricky."

Rick snorted. "What Rita wants are my hot plumbing skills. On call, twenty-four-seven."

"So what if she does? Capable men like us are in demand. That doesn't mean she can't want you for activities outside of work. The trouble with you, Rico, is that you have no imagination. And no guts, either."

Rick smiled. "No guts? Geez, Jerry. I think you were the guy with cold feet. Didn't you say something about commitment issues ten, fifteen years ago? How long did it take you to propose to Cheryl?"

"Too long, I admit it. But God help you if you take as long with Rita as I did with Cheryl. You'll be collecting Social Security before you ask her out on a date."

"Yeah, well right now she's asked me out on a date with turning on Kohler's water."

"Easy job. Cheap date." Jerry laughed.

"If she's lucky. Nobody's opened that house in years. Can't remember the last time I saw a Kohler in town. God only knows what I'll find there. And it's not a place I ...I mean, Grandad didn't put in the well or the pipes there, and Dad sure as hell didn't. I remember Dad saying that Kohlers had some big shot contractor come out from Milwaukee to do the whole house, I think."

"You've never been inside the old Kohler place? Man, Rico, I thought you'd seen the basement of every house in Eagle Lake. Twice." Jerry's disbelief was genuine.

Rick shrugged. There was a silence between the two friends. "Well, Jerry, I'd better get going if I'm going to have any daylight for this."

"You're not telling me you think there are ghosts out there, are you?"

"No. Not saying that. But who likes groping around in an old, dark basement?"

"You ought to know. You do it so well."

"What dark basements?"

"No, groping. You haven't groped anyone in thirty years," Jerry laughed.

Rick shook his head and climbed into the van. "Funny guy. Give my best to Cheryl." He turned the key and the old Ford roared to life.

But as he cruised through the town of Eagle Lake, passing under lengthening shadows on roads leading to the north shore, Rick cursed inwardly. Why did someone want to rent the old Kohler place? Couldn't they have found some other house? The lodge is huge, and it has to be a mess. And why did Rita McKee have to be their agent? None of his questions had an answer.

Rick felt a chill in contrast to the lovely warm May evening. He wasn't looking forward to this task, no matter how simple it turned out to be.

Because he had been inside the Kohler place before. He hadn't exactly lied to Jerry about that part. He just hadn't disputed his friend's assumption.

But it wasn't anything he wanted to talk about. For him, the ghosts at the Kohler's grand summer retreat were very real.


My thanks to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their constant help with this story. Thanks for reading. If you have a comment or response, I'm always glad to see it.
Copyright © 2020 Parker Owens; 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.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
You are not currently following this author. Be sure to follow to keep up to date with new stories they post.

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As usual, well written and intriguing enough to pull me in immediately.  Having grown up in a small town myself, it felt right at home.  Will you only be posting once a week?

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2 hours ago, pvtguy said:

As usual, well written and intriguing enough to pull me in immediately.  Having grown up in a small town myself, it felt right at home.  Will you only be posting once a week?

I’m glad you felt the spirit of the small town in this first scene and chapter. I thank you for reading it. Yes, I plan on posting once each week. 

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3 hours ago, CLJobe said:

A lot goes on in sleepy towns, blinds drawn closed, lights on low, hush whispers in the dark, smiles telling you they know something and not telling. If they are sleeping, that is only on the outside, they are covering up something on the inside.  Looking forward to next chapter.

RNN

And Rick gets to see a lot of the homes in this town. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing them through his eyes. 

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1 hour ago, Geron Kees said:

Promising start! I'm intrigued! :)

 

I’m glad you started this. I hope you continue to enjoy it. 

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