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    Parker Owens
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Double Concerto - 12. Obbligato

A Rita Warning has been posted for this chapter.

"Thanks for coming so fast."

Rick started. He'd been on another planet, daydreaming. It wasn't the first time that day, either. He'd spent far too long getting dressed that morning, thinking and yearning. Memories of amused brown eyes and honey brown skin kept occluding the front of his brain.

"It was real nice of you to come on out."

Now that he really heard them, Rick appreciated the words. It was nice to know someone was grateful when he dropped whatever he was doing and jumped in his truck.

In this case, the speaker was Louis Schwarz. The long-faced old man still stood erect and tall after eighty-three years.

"No problem, Mr. Schwarz."

"It's quite a ways to drive from Eagle Lake just for a clogged pipe."

"You've been customers for fifty years. You can't get rid of us that easily."

"We tried moving out of town after I retired. Built this house. Still couldn't get rid of you."

Even through the wry smile and the joking, Rick could hear the sadness in the old man's voice. The kitchen in which they stood was clean and bright, but it had been designed for a couple with a crowd of grandchildren.

"Well, it wasn't too bad today, Mr. Schwarz. Not sure what blocked that drainage line, but it's clear now."

In reality, it had been a real bitch of a job. The line had been packed with some kind of paper towels, all wadded and compacted. There was a very good chance the old man was becoming forgetful. At least the line was clean, even if he looked like a mess.

He tried to change the subject. "Any of your kids coming back for the Fourth of July?"

"Amy's coming back with her husband, and maybe their new grandbaby."

"Wow, great-grandchildren, Mr. Schwarz?"

"Yup. Little Kayleigh is the second. Wish my missus were here to see it. She'd have loved them."

Rick continued to pack up his equipment. "Sounds like you do, too, that's for sure. Will you take them to the fireworks?"

Mr. Schwarz brightened. "Oh, sure. Can't miss that. It wouldn't be Independence Day without going to see the fireworks."

"Nope. It sure wouldn't."

The older man shifted. "Maybe you can tell me what I owe you."

Rick smiled. All the old-timers found an indirect way to sidle up to the subject of the bill.

"Well, it shouldn't be too bad. You want me to send it to you?"

"No, thank you, Rick. I'd prefer to settle up now."

"Okay, sure."

He withdrew his notepad and a pencil from his pocket and jotted down some figures. He pretended to do some arithmetic, but Rick already knew he wasn't going to charge the lonely old man the full rate. He was a longtime customer, after all. He could get a discount.

"I figure it to be about $180, Mr. Schwarz."

"Let me get my checkbook." The old man walked out of the kitchen.

Rick liked the look of the house. Big double-insulated windows let in plenty of light, and gave a great view over a wide expanse of lawn to the woods which surrounded the property. Still, he wondered if the place wasn't just too much for Mr. Schwarz, all alone.

He sometimes thought the same thing about his own house. It was kind of big for just one person. He never used the so-called dining room, and he rarely used the living room except in winter. And the spare room upstairs would go unoccupied until his father visited in July. That dreaded event was coming up soon. Rick frowned. Cleaning that space out represented just one more chore to get done.

He let a long breath escape.

It would be nice to be able to share his own house with someone, Rick reflected. How would the place feel with another person living there? His daydream conjured a summer morning; he'd be drinking coffee at the little table with… Gus. Rick shook his head to clear it. He wasn't going to go there, not again today. Gus was far, far out of his league, let alone partnered to someone else. But the cast on Gus' arm what was it the man said? – they'd had a disagreement? What did that mean? Maybe Gus would change his mind about women.

Rick grimaced and sighed. Such dreaming was completely futile. Chances were good they'd never cross paths another time, unless he did something completely obvious like paddling over again to Cedarcrest some evening after work.

"Here you go." Louis Schwarz had returned. His outstretched hand held a light blue check.

"Thanks. Call me anytime if you need something." Rick smiled as he pocketed the flimsy paper rectangle.

"I'll do that."

Rick went out to his truck. He grabbed his cell phone off the seat and powered it on. He saw a pile of missed calls on the screen, and ignored them. There wasn't much he could do about them right then and there.

Instead, he took a moment to log onto X-Pants.com. Sure enough, his contact from the past few days, ‘SexyHunk,’ had sent him several messages.

“Looking forward to meeting up soon.”

“Coming to Eagle Lake. We should meet.”

Each was accompanied by a photo: a broad, fully-fleshed chest and belly, an obscured, heavy-featured face in profile, and with the third, a snapshot of a thick, flaccid cock.

“I’ll know where to find you.”

Rick blinked. He felt a chill in the hot confines of the van. This was getting weird. Did Rick know SexyHunk? How could he have figured out Rick’s identity? There was nothing recognizable on his profile; at least, he didn’t think so. Rick turned the ignition, suddenly eager to be on the road, as if he could leave those messages behind as he drove off.

The van rocked as it sped down the road. Second growth and tall forest flashed by, alternating with open farmland along the route back towards Eagle Lake. It was pretty country, rolling with low hills. Toward the south, the land got flatter and flatter as it opened up into real dairy country, but this this was patchy and rougher terrain.

Rick's phone sounded over the noise of the engine and pavement. One glance at the screen told him he had to take the call. He was a man in demand.

"Hang on, hang on a second, can't you?" he complained as cranked up the window. His must have been one of the last vehicles in Wisconsin not to have power windows. He reached over and hit the button on the gizmo he'd fitted to the old truck so he could take phone calls safely. "Hello?"

"Rick? It's Irene. I swear if that McKee woman calls me one more time today, I'm going to…"

"Whoa, whoa, hang on a second. Slow down. What's going on?" Rick sighed. He'd had a stretch of two or three days that were relatively McKee-free.

"She's been calling every ten minutes; says she can't find you, and your phone is off, and she doesn't know where you are."

"I left it in the truck. Didn't want to mess with it cleaning out a drain line. I don't really want to check my messages while I'm driving."

"I know, I know. Listen, can I at least tell her when you'll be back in town?"

"I'm about forty minutes away. What does she need?"

"She won't tell me, dammit."

Rick smiled. That was the real problem. Irene Inksater hated not knowing.

"Well, I guess she's going to have to wait until I get back."

"I told her that. What do I tell her if she calls again in the meantime?"

"How about you remind her to pay her bills?"

Irene cackled over the line. "Oh, sure, you bet! That'll teach the deadbeat…" The signal faltered as the truck passed along a steep dip in the road. "…a great idea."

"Glad you agree. Now I'm going to turn the phone off, so she won't call me." Rick wore a satisfied smile as he ended the call. That would deal with both Rita and Irene.

With the phone off, he could try to tune out the world on the rest of the drive back to town. He let his mind wander back to Sunday. Rick savored the memory of taking Gus for a spin the canoe. It hadn't been very long, but details still lingered in his mind: the taut muscles on the man's arms, the transition of shoulder to collarbone to neck, and the way his eyes conveyed a sense of excitement and joy. Rick was certain Gus appreciated his time in the canoe. The open smile on the man's face gave it away.

There was a tense excitement in the pit of his stomach whenever he thought about the other man; and he'd been thinking about Gus since he rose not long after daybreak. He had a crush, and he knew it. It was completely unreasonable, dangerous, even. Willy Kohler had been a disastrous infatuation – others had followed over the years, but none as catastrophic.

Gustavo Morales.

The previous night, Rick hadn't sat out on the lawn watching the sun turn the sky pink and purple and orange as it set over the lake. Instead, he'd been at his old computer, searching the Internet for anything on Gustavo Morales. As it happened, he found pages of hits.

He followed dozens of links to glowing reviews in newspapers from around the world. New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Berlin, Mumbai, Tokyo, Hong Kong – it was a very long list. And there were links to several social media sites, with a selection of photos added. Rick had pored over these. Gus looked fantastic in a tux, or with his hand upraised in the spotlight on a concert stage. Then he'd Googled images of Gus – and spent a long, long time looking at an incredible album cover. The camera caught him in a ray of sunlight cast over a piano, transfiguring his face and neck. It didn’t hurt that Gus' shirt was artfully unbuttoned, either.

Rick felt embarrassed after a while. He felt like he'd been spying, perving on the man who had taken him up on a chance to go out in his canoe. Of course, despite his own efforts not to stare, Rick couldn't help having looked at Gus in the boat, either.

Then he felt ridiculous – of course it's okay to look, isn't it? Weren't those pictures put on the Net with Gus' permission? And besides, it's not as if you haven't been on the Internet before.

More troubling to Rick was the Wiki page displaying a brief biography.

"Gustavo Morales was born in Guatemala in 1979. The Chicago-based concert pianist maintains a high international reputation and busy travel schedule. In symphonic and concerto work, he has played with numerous orchestras across the world. Frequently appearing in concert with his longtime partner Helene Deveaux…"

Rick barely glanced at the rest. Longtime partner. The phrase echoed in Rick's mind. Then there were the pictures of Gus with the black-haired woman Rick had seen at the Meadowview Inn. Several showed them receiving ovations at concerts. She held a violin in one hand, while she held Gus' hand with the other. Rick frowned at a series of photos taken at a swank charity party somewhere. In each of them, the woman – was this the Helene who put Gus in a cast? – had a possessive arm wrapped around Gus.

Rick didn't understand everything, but he understood the woman's message in those pictures. Gus was hers.

He chewed his lower lip at the thought.

This is just plain stupid. I don't need a summer obsession with a guy who wouldn't want me. I've got enough trouble with the Old Man coming and Rita McKee wanting this and that – and not paying her bills. There’s mister SexyHunk out on the internet itching to get together for a hookup. That ought to be more than enough.

Thinking about Rita thoroughly spoiled Rick's mood as he drove into town. He could try stopping at her office on his way back, but he inwardly cringed at the idea. The last time had been bad enough, and she hadn't even been there. Soon the houses became closer together; traffic picked up and the road wasn't lonely anymore. The road changed its name from County Route 46 to Riverside Street. He slowed the truck.

The smartest thing to do would be to call her back. Keep it short that way.

Rick hesitated. He could also ignore her and just go back to the shop; let Irene handle it. Except Rita didn't want to trust Irene with whatever she thought was so important. She wanted Rick on the line. Over the scrubby bushes and young trees, he caught a glimpse of a tall, bulbous pale-blue municipal water tower in the distance. He was back in Eagle Lake.

On Rick's left, a flat space opened up. There had been a railyard for lumber and ore trains between the road and the water once; timber that floated down the lake could be loaded up right from the shore. Those days were long gone; the railroads had gone bankrupt and weeds ruled the open acreage now. But there was no curb, and it was a good open place where he could pull the truck over and get off the road; a great place for a cell phone call. Rick maneuvered to cross the other lane, pulling the old truck onto the gravel and grass.

He pulled out his phone and powered it on; he tapped in Rita's number.

She answered on the second ring. "Ricky! It's about time you called! Where have you been? That awful Irene woman – "

"I've been up to my armpits in drain line, Rita, over in Essex."

"But you couldn't even return my messages after you cleaned up?" At least Rita sounded excited, not angry or demanding.

"Not while I was driving. I'm pulled over on the side of the road where I have some good signal." Rick conveniently neglected to mention he was in Eagle Lake already.

"Well, the reason I've been calling is that I've made a huge sale, Ricky. Absolutely huge."

"That's great."

"Ricky, you don't understand, this is the start of it – all my plans – with the commission from this sale, I can get to work on financing the project. I’m going to remake Eagle Lake!"

"It's that much, is it?"

"It's enough capital to draw in some private financing, if I can sell it right. And you know I can sell it! Then I can talk to my contacts at Chase and BMO in Madison. Oh, Ricky, it's really going to happen!"

"Uh, that's good news then, Rita. But can I mention something? You still owe Ernst and Son eight hundred dollars for work I've done over the last month. That's getting close to a thousand."

"Oh, don't go spoiling everything. Of course you'll get paid."

"I'm sorry, but I've got to get all the accounts reckoned up and cleared by July."

"Why July?"

"Our fiscal year ends on June 30th." Rick didn't explain that the date was chosen to be convenient for his father's summer visitation.

"Isn't that very soon? I don't know…"

"Sounds like you ought to have the funds. What place did you broker?"

"It's that beautiful old summer lodge on the north side of the lake – Cedarcrest. I found a buyer for the Kohler family. You fixed their furnace, remember?"

Rick suddenly felt as if the sun had dimmed. The blue sky appeared to have gone a dull grey. The old railyard seemed to crumble a little more.

"Yes…yes, um, I remember."

"Well, it sold for one-point-eight million dollars, Ricky! When it closes, I can take that commission and get started. There are some big investors I know…"

Rick let the woman talk. If Cedarcrest was sold, Gus would be leaving town, off to his career in Chicago or London or wherever. He'd forget all about little Eagle Lake and the hour he spent in Rick's old canoe.

And Rick would be alone again, with his impossible dreams. SexyHunk looked more and more likely.

"…but the first thing is going to be getting the people in town on board, don't you agree?" Rita was still gabbling.

"Yeah, sure."

"And that's where you're going to come in, you can be generating enthusiasm. But even all that's going to have to wait until after the closing."

Rick felt a ray of hope. Maybe he still had a little time. "The closing? When is that supposed to be?"

"Not until July, Ricky, but it will be here before you know it. Oh, there's so much to be done before then, so much. And there will be business, too, lots more!"

"I'm happy for you, Rita."

"You know what? We need to celebrate. We can get a group together and have a party. What do you think?"

"I think you can celebrate by writing me a check for eight hundred dollars."

There was silence for a moment. "That's not a very nice joke, Ricky. But I understand. You've been working in a slimy pit all morning, so you're forgiven. Why don't you go home and get cleaned up and meet me for lunch at the Hob Nob Café near my office? We have so much planning to do!"

"I don't know, Rita. I still have…"

"Great. I'll see you there, in maybe half an hour?" The woman clearly wasn't listening.

"But…"

"And did I tell you I had the nicest card from your father? He said how much he appreciated our working together, and he looks forward to meeting me when he comes to visit in a couple of weeks. He’s already starting the ball rolling!"

Damn, damn, damn. Heinrich Senior just had to get involved, didn't he? And why hasn't he called me with his travel plans?

Aloud, he said: "I'm glad he's telling you so."

"Well, I won't keep you any more, Ricky. I'll see you soon at the Hob Nob."

The call ended.

He wanted to turn the truck around and drive back to Essex and the Schwarz house. He wanted to get started on the rest of the jobs for the day. He wished Irene would call with a crisis, an emergency. But none of those things were going to happen.

Rick was going to speed home, clean up, and eat lunch at the Hob Nob – and no doubt half of Eagle Lake would know about it, along with his father. At least the news might keep the old man quiet for a few days.

If Rick was lucky, he'd get food poisoning.

My ongoing thanks go to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their kind help in making this story better. If you feel moved to leave a comment, diatribe or diversion, just know I appreciate anything you may choose to write.

Copyright © 2020 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



3 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Glad that Rick was so insistent to Rita about her outstanding bill, but I guess the lunch meeting will give her some time to talk him round as to why she can’t pay it right away.

I wonder if Helene is one of those people who is totally possessive about her partner. Maybe Gus was trying to escape from her when their disagreement occurred.

Rick is straining the boundaries of small-town propriety by mentioning the outstanding arrears not once, but twice in a conversation. Rita plays it off, changing the subject. She may be so full of her plans that she forgets to mention the bill at lunch, and Rick may be so much on his guard that he misses it, too. Thanks very much for reading today's installment, and for your thoughts.

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2 hours ago, Tonyr said:

Grow a pair Ricky and din't keave that restaurant before collecting !

Rita may drive Rick sufficiently nuts that he will be glad to get out of lunch with his sanity intact. She appears to be a sort of person he's never encountered before, and his innate kindness and self-effacement are ill-suited to her personality. He's unlikely to walk out of the restaurant with her payment, I fear. Many thanks for reading, and for encouraging Rick.

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2 hours ago, Ivor Slipper said:

Seems like Rick needs to tell Heinrich senior that Rita isn't paying her bills. That should quickly change his view of her - or is he the sort to fall for her charms and spiel?

Heinrich Senior won't like that news at all. Maybe that's why Rick has put off telling him. The old man certainly seems to be willing to give her the benefit of some doubt. In the meantime, the summer and regular residents are keeping Rick busy. I'm glad you read this chapter, and thanks for your comments.

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2 hours ago, KayDeeMac said:

OK - Rita is very good at sidestepping her financial obligations!  Red flags should be going up in Ricks mind!  Also a lot of intrigue about the relationship of Helena and Gus! Great story Parker - thank you!

She sidesteps and deflects really, really well. Rick has so many red, orange and yellow flags going up, he probably thinks he's at a halftime show. Gus and Helene have spent plenty of time together; if her appearance at the Meadowview Inn was any indication, she misses him. I hope you are enjoying the story, and thank you for your thoughts.

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2 hours ago, weinerdog said:

"I don't know Rita I still have...""Great I'll see you there " if that's not classic Rita. I guess that means you won't need to give us another Rita warning next chapter. I see the timing of Rita's closing date and Senior's arrival coinciding could lead to some incident that could possibly involve Gus.

Maybe Marta's family is buying the property. If I interpreted Rick reaction right he seems to think after reading the Wikipedia passage about Gus that Gus is straight but it referred to Helene as a partner nothing more than that a business partner.While he was at it he should have checked  if there were any YouTube videos of Gus

Wherever Rita appears, you'll get an advisory.

Any author would be as delighted as I am at your close reading of the story. Rick definitely wonders if Gus is straight. Even so, he is drawn to the man, and couldn't stay away if Gus were as straight as a Kansas highway. Your comment about YouTube videos made me do a face-palm; he probably would have looked. If I re-edit the chapter, I could write something of that, too. Perhaps his old computer or slow internet service might have curtailed video watching.

I'm very  happy you continue to read this story, and your insightful comments are fun to read. Thank you.

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2 hours ago, 84Mags said:

I love a good mystery!
I’m worried about who SexyHunk is, and that he is coming to Eagle Lake at the exact same time as Rick’s dad. I am very intrigued about who bought Cedarcrest.  Seems to me a world renowned concert pianist might have the funds to do so.  Perhaps that’s hopeful thinking on my part.  I wish Gus had googled Helene; I want her backstory.  After the last chapter I assumed she caused Gus harm, intentional or not, and wonder that even more now.  What if Gus is looking for a way out?
And then there is (literally) poor Rita.  Without the Cedarcrest sale she won’t be able to move forward with her plans to ‘remake’ Eagle Lake. She obviously trusts Rick with details and has been in contact with his dad.  She needs Rick for her scheme.  I hope he sees all the red flags soon. 

I'm glad you're enjoying the development of this small town story. You bring up so many unknowns, and I'm happy you find them intriguing. Rita is certainly elated by the Cedarcrest sale. Rick's question about his bill is certainly reasonable under the circumstances. She has kept all the details of her project very close; all Rick knows is that she considers it to be a big deal. You're right that she seems to want to keep him onside, however. Heinrich Senior is becoming increasingly interested.  I enjoyed reading your perceptive comments. Thank you for continuing to read this story.

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2 hours ago, Tonyr said:

I'm sure Helene is a performing partner... And the broken arm was just an accident.

I love speculation. Alas, my lips must remain sealed.

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14 minutes ago, Headstall said:

I get the feeling things are coming to a head of sorts. Rita, his dad, and Gus... and sexyhunk. I hope Rick can start to take charge of his life. Even Irene treats him like an employee. After all these years, does he even know how to be happy? Great chapter, Parker. Cheers!

Rick seems to have many things to keep his mind busy when he’s not fixing faucets or chasing chickens. Your question is apt. He may not know how to be truly happy, though he knows where to seek refuge from his inner discontent. They say familiarity breeds contempt.  I don’t think anyone in Eagle Lake look at Rick that way, but perhaps everyone sees him so much as part of the fabric of the community that he’s seen through the lenses of expectation. I’m grateful you continue to read this story, and for your observations. 

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45 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

I think what's needed here is some Testicular Fortitude, its sold in Home Depot, Dergstores, Package Stores in six-packs as well.

 

Thanks for the Rita warning, I think the warning should have been modified to state, A small Ritaquake takes place later this afternoon with the possibility of several minor aftershocks...everyone is advised to seek shelter and make sure they have more toilet paper than their neighbors.

Next time I head over to the Home Depot, I will be sure to ask the bright young associate to show me where the TF is found. Perhaps one must have a six-pack to buy it. Was it a Ritaquake or a Ritarecho? I won't ask why her appearance necessitates stockpiling toilet paper...

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2 hours ago, Valkyrie said:

Rita is spending money she doesn't have yet and should be honest with Rick about it instead of blowing him off.  She needs to make some kind of good faith payment, or set up a payment plan.  Expecting Rick to work for free is ridiculous.  And that's what she's doing by not paying her bill.  At least Rick is finally demanding payment, although I have a feeling his efforts will be fruitless until her payday comes in.  

I think Helene is Gus' performing partner.  I'm willing to bet the broken arm was an accident.  Sexyhunk is starting to get creepy.  I'm really curious as to who he is, and I have a feeling his identity will have a devastating effect on Rick.  

Oh, and I think either Gus or Magda bought Cedarcrest, but I could be wrong.  Maybe having new ownership will wash away the sins of the past. 

You raise lots of interesting discussion points - many of which I really shouldn't answer.  You mention Rita, though. She must feel that she will have the money soon, so Rick can afford to be patient. At least, that's the blandishment I would expect her to make. Rick has enough other work to stay more than afloat, but Rita does seem to be abusing her friendship with him. So you're getting a vibe from SexyHunk? I wonder if Rick feels the same way. I hope you're enjoying the story, and I look forward to knowing what you think later on. Many thanks for your comments!

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40 minutes ago, Sweetlion said:

I know we can't always have an assertive and confident character, but I think Rick is the person that is starting to get on my nerves. I know he had trauma in his life, but he really should learn to say no. I suspected, and this chapter all but confirmed, that Rita is a con. She needs Rick for credibility, as I suspected she doesn't have funds in the end. I thought no she wants to buy, not pay immediately, sell with a profit, and only then taking care of bills. She probably think the rural ppl as naive and a good target.

Rita is definitely up to something. Your thought that she needs Rick for credibility seems to ring true to her comments when she took him out to dinner at the Meadowview. She may think the good old boys of Eagle Lake are easy marks. I don't blame you for your unease with Rick. There must be many times when he feels the same way about himself. That can't be good.  Thank you for reading the story, and for your thoughts.

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3 hours ago, Valkyrie said:

Oh, and I think either Gus or Magda bought Cedarcrest, but I could be wrong. 

Me too! 

Rick is starting to frustrate me, though! When is that guy gonna blow up?? 

But anyway, that is what a good story should do - make you feel something. This one surely does! Thank you, Parker!

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47 minutes ago, Leo C said:

Me too! 

Rick is starting to frustrate me, though! When is that guy gonna blow up?? 

But anyway, that is what a good story should do - make you feel something. This one surely does! Thank you, Parker!

You’re most welcome. Rick is one of those  men who has a long, long fuse. It can burn low and smolder for so much time, an unwary person might forget to run. He is so used to being a doormat that he only notices the biggest boots. He resists passively, rarely acting out much. Thanks very much for reading and commenting. 

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