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  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
    Parker Owens
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  • 5,156 Words
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  • 34 Comments

Double Concerto - 23. Intermezzo

Forecast: cloudy periods with a good chance of Heinrich Senior at midday; clearing overnight.

“Morning, Rico. You’re early today.” Jerry Guttmacher slid into the seat opposite him at Jahnke’s.

Rick smiled back at his friend. “Hiya, Jer. Nice morning.”

“Gonna be a hot one later.”

“Well, it might.”

"Morning Rick, how are ya, Jerry. What can I get you this morning?" Wanda Jahnke was right on her cue.

“The usual,” Jerry responded.

“Eggs, whole wheat toast, and the fruit.”

“Juice and coffee?”

“Sure.”

“Coming right up.” She walked away.

“Wow, healthy breakfast.” Jerry teased. “I’m surprised you didn’t get the granola special.”

Rick just shrugged. “The fruit’s fresh. Or most of it is, anyway. Wanda buys local.”

“Sure thing, Rico. Didja catch the Brewers and Cardinals game last night?”

“Nope.”

Jerry’s face was a mask of disbelief. “You’re kidding. You missed the best game this season. They pulled it out in the bottom of the eleventh with a double to left. Don’t tell me you had an emergency call.”

Rick shook his head. “No, it was quiet.”

“Ohhhh. I see. You had plans with what’s-her-name.” Jerry leered.

“Can you stop that? I just stayed home and went to bed early.” In reality, Rick had been texting with Gus. Not that he was going to say anything about that to his friend; he felt like a teenager.

In the semidarkness of his bedroom, he’d typed:

I’m still feeling that kiss.

 

It was true. Gus replied:

I’m glad. Want u to remember it.

 

I will. Always.

 

Good. I will 2.

 

Rick had hesitated a moment before messaging:

Want more.

 

The reply came back immediately.

Me too.

 

Rick remembered staring at that reply for a long time. Gus wanted to kiss him again. The cloud of happiness that had followed him around since having to depart Cedarcrest under the stars seemed to grow and glow.

He’d typed back:

Maybe tomorrow?

“Sorry about that. So, you need to tell me what you said to Caroline Lee to make her bring her car in.” Jerry grinned as he changed the subject and interrupted Rick’s reverie.

“Oh. Um, yeah. She’d kind of neglected it for a while.”

“Well, duh. No kidding.”

“I just told her I thought it was time she had things checked out.” Rick remembered the skeptical look on the old woman’s face as he warned her about the aging parts in her car.

“Did you know, she actually had a hose held together with duct tape?”

Rick subjected the battered stainless steel fork in his left hand to a minute examination. “Is that right?”

“Good thing she left it with me. Gonna need to replace the serpentine belt and that radiator hose. The alternator belt isn’t all that hot either.”

“I guess she’ll be happy you fixed it before it got bad.”

“I hope so. She’s a wonderful lady, but she sometimes hangs onto her money a little too hard.”

“Maybe. Guess living on a retirement budget can be tight. Anyway, she won’t hold it against you.”

“I’m going to set Jared to work on it today. Give that boy something to chew on.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, something’s up with him. Gotta get his attention.”

Rick raised an eyebrow.

“He seemed to spend every spare minute on his damn phone yesterday. Can’t tell you how many times that stupid thing pinged. By the end of the day it was about to drive me nuts. He messed up a tire rotation, can you believe it? Should have been a piece of cake for the kid.”

“He’s young.”

“That’s the definition of ‘kid,’ Rico. Yeah, he’s young, I admit. He wasn’t doing all that phone stuff during your job on Saturday, was he?”

“Um, no. I never saw his phone come out on Saturday.” Rick told the whole truth there.

“Yeah, well, I finally had to tell him to turn the phone off.”

“Wow. You’re a harsh boss.”

Jerry leaned in with a conspiratorial air. “I think the boy’s found romance.”

“You think so?”

“I bet it’s that girl he met up with at the car show. I’ll have to do some digging and give you a full report.”

“Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“What else is exciting in this little burg?”

“Not much.” Rick shook his head and smiled. Not much except kissing Gus.

“You didn’t work him too hard on Saturday, did you?”

“Who?” Rick asked absently.

“Jared, you dope. Who else?”

“No. No, he didn’t have to work too hard on Saturday.”

“What kind of thing was it?”

“Nothing much. Something out of town.” Rick responded in as few words as possible.

They were interrupted by the arrival of their breakfasts.

“Here you go, boys. Eggs, toast and sausage for Jerry, eggs and, um, fruit for Rick.” Her eyes narrowed a little as she placed the plate in front of him. Wanda was a creature of habit and suspicious of change.

“Thanks, Wanda.” Both men acknowledged the owner of the diner.

“I guess you were glad to get away from Heinrich Senior for a day?” Jerry wore a smirk as he took a bite.

“Haven’t seen much of him.”

“That’s unusual.”

“You want to know what was more unusual? No phone calls from Miz Mckee.”

“Look out, Rico. Is she playing hard to get? Or is she plotting something awful?”

“Either way, I’m not complaining. I worked most of Sunday – got a couple of calls,” Rick said with a smile and a lift of the shoulder.

He didn’t describe the way his heart had sung nearly all that day, despite having to deal with the plumbing emergencies of summer homes and rental properties. The memory of holding Gus close continued to light him up inside.

“Where is the old man today?”

“Out visiting friends, I think. I saw him yesterday in the shop. He was in a funny mood; kind of weird, really.” Rick took a spoonful of mixed fruit.

“Oh?”

“He was actually cheerful. He’s never that way. Dad smiled and talked with Irene for a while, then he came over and joked with me.”

“Say what again?” Jerry asked with his mouth full.

“He told a joke. A not-so-clean joke even.”

His friend chewed and swallowed. “No way. What was this knee-slapper?”

Rick blushed a little. “I’m not sure I can tell it here.”

“Oh, come on. Don’t be such a goody-goody.” His friend took a bite of toast.

“Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Rick glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was close enough to hear. Nobody was paying him or Jerry the slightest attention, but he lowered his voice, anyway.

“Why do Australian women like to marry plumbers?”

Jerry chewed and shrugged.

“Because of the way they go down under.”

“What!?” Crumbs sprayed across the table. Heads at the other tables turned in their direction. “Heinrich Senior said that?”

Rick nodded. “I’m not sure what was more unexpected, the joke itself or the fact that Dad was telling it. I just about died.”

“Jeeezus. What the heck is going on in with your dad?”

“Beats me. Maybe he found a hundred-dollar bill lying around on the street.”

Jerry laughed again. “God, it’s almost worth going down to the bank; get some cash to see if it works a second time.”

 

 

The morning proceeded in the usual way: a call to fix a leaky kitchen sink trap, a summer furnace check, take a look at a problem in the bathroom of a summer place. Nothing out of the ordinary.

He found himself back in the shop a quarter hour before lunchtime, on the phone with the owner of the summer house.

“No, I really don’t think this is a problem I can fix,” Rick said into the handset.

“You can’t just reseal it and screw it down to the floor a little tighter?” The voice from Peoria pleaded.

“That leak has been going on for too long, and the floor is just about rotted out. I don’t have anything to screw down into that’s going to hold. I can reseal it, but I can’t honestly tell you it won’t leak again.”

“Oh, hell.” The owner of the house fumed.

This was the part Rick hated. Waiting for the customer to realize what was necessary, and then deciding to pay for the fix. While the man fussed and wavered over the repair, he stared absently at the much-abused old phone. It was dusty and kind of grimy, though its keypad wasn’t as bad as what he’d seen at Guttmacher’s Auto. That thing, even he was hesitant to touch.

“Oh, well, if it has to be done, let’s do it right.” The voice of resignation filled his ear. “Can you recommend someone to fix the floor?”

“Sure thing. John Kohlbach can do that kind of work.”

“Can you give me his number?”

“Absolutely. Half a second.”

Rick motioned to Irene for the Rolodex. The nerve center of Ernst and Son Plumbing and Heating still used one. He wondered if they were the last firm in the state to do so.

His fingers found the information he needed quickly. Long practice helped.

“Here it is. You have a pen handy?”

As Rick read out the contact number for Kohlbach’s Contracting, Heinrich Senior strolled in the door to the office. He raised a hand in greeting to his father, who nodded in acknowledgement.

The odd smile was back on the old man’s face.

“I think they’ll be able to do the work you need. And they’re fair.” Rick said into the phone. “I’ll reinstall the toilet once they take care of the floor.”

After a final flurry of reassurances, Rick ended the call.

“Morning, Dad.” Rick greeted his father.

“Is it still morning? I suppose it is,” the old man observed. “Irene, my dear, how are you this lovely morning?”

Irene raised an eyebrow. “Have you been drinking, Heinrich?”

“What? Now I’m insulted. Can’t I just greet my employees in a pleasant way?”

“If you did, it would be a first,” Rick muttered under his breath.

“What was that, son?” The old man turned his unnatural smile in Rick’s direction.

“Um, I said it’s almost noon. I’m thirsty.”

“Oh, right, right. Of course. You’ve been working all morning, haven’t you?”

“That’s right. I took care of that kitchen sink call …”

“No need to go over it all again, son. I believe you, you’ve had a full schedule. Who was that on the phone?”

“Just following up with the owner of a summer place. He’s got to replace the floor in –”

“I heard. And you recommended Kohlbach’s. Good choice.”

Now Rick’s guard was fully up. Heinrich was never this nice to anyone, especially him. Had Jerry laid a C-note across the old man’s path as an experiment? He’d have to call and find out.

“Have you eaten lunch yet, dad?”

“No, I haven’t. I thought maybe we could have lunch together.”

Rick’s heart dropped a little. He’d hoped to spend part of his lunch break sending a text or two to Gus.

“What do you have in mind?”

“Thought we’d go out some place. That all right by you?”

This would make Rick’s second restaurant meal in one day. “Sure. Fine. I guess Dad and I are gonna find a place to eat, Irene. You can hold the fort?”

“Oh, it’s fine by me. Heinrich had the pleasure of my company yesterday.”

“Call me if anything comes up.”

“I always do.”

The two men walked out the door and climbed into the old company truck. They could have walked downtown, but Rick suspected his father preferred to ride.

“Where are we going?” Rick asked.

“How about the Lakelander?”

Rick tried not to show his surprise. While it wasn’t as tony as Lorelei’s, the place Rita preferred, the Lakelander Grill was still a cut above Jahnke’s.

“Am I dressed well enough for it?” Rick gave his work shirt and pants a once-over.

“Sure. You’ll pass.”

Rick put the van in gear. Its springs creaked gently as he pulled it out of the parking lot.

“This old thing has seen a lot of miles, hasn’t it?” the old man commented.

“Quite a few.” Rick agreed.

“Maybe it’s about time we thought about replacing it.”

“I’ve been thinking that for a long time.” Rick pressed his lips together, signaled left and pulled onto East Waukesha street.

“Sorry I missed you yesterday evening, boy.”

“Not a problem. You were out with your friends?”

“That’s right. Shunkes and Willetts and us.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“It was. Trudy and I have had a very good time with Bill and Kathy Shunke. We asked Rita along, too, but she told me she was going out with a friend.”

Rick said nothing. He wasn’t a damn fish, and Heinrich’s lure wasn’t going to work.

The old railroad siding slid by on their right, and Northern City Cleaners on the left.

“That place used to be owned by Caroline Lee’s family, didn’t it?” Rick asked.

“That’s right. The Lees sold it when Caroline’s husband died.”

A few blocks later, Rick turned right into the parking lot for the Lakelander Grill. He maneuvered the bulky vehicle into a parking space.

“Two for lunch,” Heinrich Senior informed the hostess as the pair walked in. The middle-aged woman assessed Rick from head to toe, but didn’t make a fuss, seating them toward the rear of the half full restaurant. The noon regulars were still in the process of arriving.

Rick glanced around the room as he pulled his chair into the table. The faux log-cabin walls reflected the light with a dull glow. Jahnke’s might be more of a diner, but Wanda’s place was brighter and more cheerful.

“Been a while since I’ve been here,” the old man commented. “Glad they haven’t changed the place.”

To Rick, the restaurant looked a little dated and worn, but he didn’t comment. “Lunch menu’s the same,” he said, perusing the leatherette and plastic covered listing.

A server in a bright red bar apron and green polo shirt appeared. Her blond ponytail bounced. “Hi, I’m Hannah, and I’ll be taking care of you today. You guys ready to order?”

“I’ll have the Reuben, with fries and a black coffee,” Senior responded.

“Um, can I have the Farm Harvest salad? And water with lemon, please?”

Heinrich wrinkled his nose and furrowed his brow. “What? You’re having a salad? What are you thinking, boy?” Unlike Jerry, the elder Ernst didn’t find his menu choice humorous.

“Hey, Dad, I’m, um, just trying to eat a little healthier, you know?”

The old man blinked a moment, and then a sly smile stole across his features. “Oh. Right. I see. That’s good, son.”

“Thanks.”

Rick was content to let his father think whatever he liked, as long as it meant they could coexist without confrontation. Still, his curiosity got the better of him.

“What’s going on, Dad?” Rick asked.

“Going on, son? What’s that supposed to mean?” Heinrich was all injured innocence. “Can’t a man take his son out to lunch once in a while? Especially when he isn’t going to see his boy for another twelve months?”

“We never go out to lunch.”

“Then it’s high time we did. And it’s high time your stepmother and I saw more of you. You never visit.”

“Who else is going to run the business while I’m gone, Dad? I don’t ever remember you taking a vacation.” Rick tried hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice. He almost succeeded.

“We couldn’t afford that luxury back then, boy. Things may be different soon.”

“Different how?”

“New opportunities are on the horizon.” The old man grinned.

“What, because of Rita’s new project? That’ll just mean work and more work.”

“Yup. Lots of work for the top plumbing and heating company in this part of the world. Maybe enough for a whole staff.”

“Guess we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out, won’t we?”

Heinrich beamed, exuding confidence. “Oh, I think it’ll be just fine. In fact, I think we’re gonna be seeing blue skies from now on.”

“If you say so.”

There was silence at the table for some moments.

“So, son. About this last weekend …” Heinrich’s tone was more serious.

Rick said nothing.

“Whatever it was you had to do …”

“Yes?”

“Was it worth it?”

“Absolutely.” Rick didn’t have to think about that. Gus was worth pissing off his father a dozen times. “I wouldn’t have missed it.”

“Well, I went to that lunch. With Rita. And afterward, I had some things … certain tasks … I couldn’t miss, either.”

“Fine, Dad. I understand.” If the old man felt honor bound to spend ninety minutes with Rita McKee on a perfect Saturday, that was his problem.

Now it was the father’s turn to stare back at his son. He pursed his lips. “Maybe you will. I hope so.”

Rick swallowed hard, but he wasn’t going to back down. He remembered his father’s words from the week earlier. I swear you’ll regret it. If he’d stood up Gus, and gone to lunch with Rita on Saturday, he’d have regretted that for the rest of his life. Whatever his father had done, he didn’t care.

“I’m not sorry.”

A slow, sly smile spread across Heinrich’s face. “I don’t expect you to be.”

Rick narrowed his eyes but said nothing. He wasn’t going to play his father’s game, whatever the hell it was. He changed the subject.

“So what about tomorrow? You and Trudy all set?”

Heinrich nodded. “You’re still driving us down to Milwaukee in the afternoon?”

Eight hours of driving on top of a morning of work. Rick sighed. “I was planning on it.”

“I don’t like this having to stay overnight before getting on the plane in the morning.”

“But you saved money on the plane ticket, right?”

“Only to have to spend it on a damn hotel,” the old man grumbled.

“Where are you staying again?”

“It’s called the Skycap Inn. I found it on the computer; got a discount down to forty-nine bucks for the night.”

“I guess staying over is better than driving down from here at two in the morning.”

“Hmph. Your stepmother wanted to stay at the Hilton, for an extra hundred dollars. Waste of money, if you ask me.”

Rick just shook his head. “But you’re okay with hiring more staff for the business? Now that’s expensive.”

Their food arrived; their server set their plates down with couple of swift motions. “Here you are,” she said with practiced brightness. “Anything else you need?”

“No thanks,” the elder Ernst responded, speaking for both. She disappeared to deal with the burgeoning lunch crowd.

“See, boy, that’s the difference you don’t get.” Heinrich returned to the subject. “Getting ready for the future? Getting set with more help and capital? That’s not spending, that’s investment.”

“Okay, fine, it’s investment. But you’re fine with investing the money now when you haven’t been willing to spend a dime on anything over the essentials for the past two decades? Sorry if I’m a little confused.”

“But things are going to be different, don’t you see that?” The older man took a big bite of his sandwich, and chewed enthusiastically. “Finally, this town is going to get turned around in the right direction, there’s a plan,” he tried to say through his mouthful, then managed to swallow. “We’re part of it, and we’ll be ready to take advantage.”

“Sounds like you’ve been talking to Rita.” Rick realized his error as soon as he spoke.

“For a good two hours on Saturday.” His father snapped. “You should have been there, you’d have learned something.”

“Like what her big, grand project is?”

“She didn’t give me all the details.” The old man looked smug. “But it’s the biggest thing Eagle Lake has seen in fifty years.”

“She’s been pretty shy on the details for a long time. I’m beginning to wonder if she’s running some kind of scam.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. Someone wants to build up this town, and all you can do is find fault. If you’d come to lunch with me, you’d think different.”

“Dad, I just couldn’t.” Rick dug into his salad with a sharp jab of his fork.

Instead of flaring, his father settled again. “It’s a pity, but you did what you thought best. So did I.” The elder Ernst brightened. “Have you heard from Rita today?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Hmm. Well. You let me know when you do.”

“Sure, Pops.”

“We’ll be moving up in the world, you’ll see. Maybe sell that poky little house of yours –"

As if on cue, Rick’s phone sang.

To his relief, it wasn’t Rita on the line, but Irene. “Rick, I just got a call from a woman named Coleen Doyle over on River Lea Drive. Wants you to come check out a blocked toilet.”

Rick made a sour face. He contemplated – first the prospect of a blocked toilet, then his unfinished lunch and lastly his father across the table preaching from the gospel of Rita. “Right. Give me the address. Tell her I’ll be right there.”

Heinrich Senior frowned.

Rick stood and deposited his napkin on the table. “Sorry, Dad. Duty calls. You don’t mind walking back to the shop, do you?” He nodded at his plate. “Ask them to box this up, and you can leave it in the fridge.”

 

 

The house was a rambling, recently built place in Eagle Lake’s southeast end. As he pulled his big yellow toolbox, plunger and bucket out of the van, Rick caught the scent of new paint.

Everything appeared to have been designed on a larger scale, from the three-car garage to the cavernous entry hall where he was greeted.

Mrs. Doyle turned out to be a slim, strawberry-blonde woman with a stylish haircut and pleasant, very white smile.

“I’m so sorry to have called you out, but the toilet’s plugged, and I’m not very good with these things.” Her hand played with a pearl earring.

“That’s okay,” Rick reassured her.

She led the way toward the stairs. “I asked my son to try plunging it – the toilet is in his bathroom, after all. No luck.”

“Nice of him to try.”

The woman laughed. “You don’t know my son. He’s not the hands-on type of kid. Very much an intellectual boy. We think he’s going to grow up to be a mad scientist. He wants to go to MIT.”

“Oh? How old is he?”

“Seventeen. We just moved here from New England. He’ll be a senior at the high school this year.” She marched down a tall ceilinged hall, painted in pastel green. Tasteful prints lined the hall.

Even as he lugged along his heavy tools, Rick felt a pang for the kid, whoever he was. He’d be an outsider. “Has he made any friends?”

“Oh, yes. Gabe met a boy his age just down the street the day we moved in. Gabe and Tyler have been as thick as thieves ever since. His parents are very nice. They looked after Gabe this past weekend when my husband and I had to go back to Connecticut to close on our old house.”

Mrs. Doyle stopped at an open door where bright light spilled into the hallway. “This is it. Again, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry. These things happen.” Rick reassured her.

As the woman’s footsteps retreated down the hall, he set his paraphernalia down and had a look at the situation.

The fixture in question was one of the new, low-flow models, as might be expected in a recently built house. It reduced the amount of water with each flush, but Rick knew from experience that even some of the latest designs were prone to clogs. The water level in the bowl was right up near the rim, but at least it hadn’t run over. Better still, the liquid wasn’t the usual brown soupy stuff he encountered. It was unusually clear.

Rick looked around the room for the plunger the Doyle boy had used. He spied it in the corner, a basic household cup-style plunger. He shook his head. Those were rarely effective.

After donning gloves, Rick used the bucket to dip out a quantity of water from the bowl; less chance of spills that way. He grabbed the flanged plunger he had brought inside from the van. He artfully maneuvered it into place in the toilet and went to work, humming tunelessly.

Fifteen minutes later, Rick sat back on his heels. No amount of variation in his technique, no new angle or force, had budged the clog, though bits of waterlogged white toilet paper had begun to float about in the bowl.

He sighed.

The closet auger was the next thing to try. Looking vaguely like a sawed-off shotgun with a crank at the end of the stock, it contained a length of cable that could be fed down the drain. Cranking the handle basically screwed the leading end of the cable into or through the clog.

Rick lowered the business end of the auger into the opening at the bottom of the bowl, taking care not to scratch the porcelain. He slowly cranked out the cable, hoping to snake his way through the clog. Instead, he seemed to run into something solid.

He eased the cable back and tried again.

No luck.

Rick swore under his breath.

Trying to torque the cable to another spot, he made another attempt.

Whatever it was in the drainpipe refused to yield.

He pondered for a few moments. He really didn’t want to haul the heavier auger out of the van and try snaking up to the clog from below. That would be a royal pain.

Rick’s thoughts were interrupted by a clearing of the throat. He was being observed.

“Um. Hi.” In the doorway stood a thin-framed, bespectacled youth. The boy wore a t-shirt with the motto Never Trust Atoms. They make up everything. His hair was so blond, it was almost white.

“Hello. You must be Gabe.”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“Good detective work.” Rick smirked.

“You’re the plumber.”

“Yup.” Rick nodded and decided to try again. He started cranking carefully.

“What’s that thing?”

“It’s a called a closet auger. It kind of drills through whatever is clogging the drain.”

“Oh.” The teen fidgeted.

He watched as Rick set to the task. Once again, Rick felt the obstruction at the end of the cable. But this time, he also sensed it might have bitten into the problem. He cranked a little more, and then some more.

“I think I’ve got it hooked,” Rick informed his audience. When he decided he’d gone far enough, Rick pulled back on the cable to bring the offending clog to light. “Now to reel it in.”

After a few more turns of the crank, he could lift it out. At the end of the cable hung a wet, limp, glistening, pasty-colored mass. Condoms, all used. There must have at least half a dozen, possibly more, mixed in with big wads of sopping toilet paper.

Rick turned when he heard a gasp at the doorway. The boy, Gabe, had turned as white as a sheet; his light hair only accentuated the ghostlike effect.

“These yours?” Rick asked. He did his best to keep his voice even.

Gabe nodded, wide-eyed.

Well, the brainy kid is playing it safe, all right. Recalling what Mrs. Doyle had told him, he pressed a little. “You and your friend Tyler?”

Again, a nod. “You won’t say anything, will you?” The boy blurted out.

“About –?”

“My parents don’t know. We’re not out. They’d freak.”

Rick schooled his features. He wouldn’t smirk at the poor kid. He understood the boy’s anxiety; he could relate. A few moments passed. He shrugged. “It’s none of my business.”

Gabe allowed himself to look a little relieved.

“But from now on, for God’s sake, bury your condoms in the trash.”

 

 

That night, Rick’s retailed the story to Gus as they lay side by side on the dock at Cedarcrest.

They had texted as the twilight faded into darkness.

The pianist had written:

Wish I could see u again.

Rick responded with:

You can if you want

How?

Go out to the end of the dock. So we can look at the stars.

 

Rick had paddled across the lake and around the point in record time.

“That unlucky boy,” Gus giggled. “He must have been mortified.”

“Shhhh. You don’t want the whole house to hear you.” Rick warned.

“What did you tell his mother?”

“Just the truth: that some of those model toilets get clogged easily, and to buy a better plunger.”

“That was good of you.”

“I’m not going to out someone who’s not ready.”

“You’re not out, are you?” Gus redirected the conversation.

“No. I think I’d be disowned. My dad drives me crazy, but he’s pretty much the only family I have. And this part of the country isn’t exactly gay-friendly. What about you?”

“I haven’t made a secret of being gay. I don’t deny it when people ask, but I don’t make a point of telling people. Magda and Zoltan know.”

Rick absorbed that information.

“I have to take my parents to Milwaukee tomorrow.” He changed the subject again.

“No star gazing tomorrow night?”

“I don’t think so. I won’t get back until late.”

“Okay.” Gus sounded faintly disappointed.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. You were incredibly sweet to paddle all the way over here just to see me.”

“And maybe get kissed.”

The answering squeeze on his hand from Gus told him he’d hit the right note. A thought occurred to him then; a wonderful, impossible thought.

Rick propped himself up on his elbow. “I had an idea.”

“Oh?”

“You can say no, of course, and I’d completely understand, it’s up to you –”

“What is it, Rick?”

“Saturday. Come fishing with me on Saturday.”

Gus was silent long enough to unsettle Rick. Of course Gus wouldn’t want to waste another Saturday with you.

“I’m sorry, that was a stupid –”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“Yes, I’ll be happy to go fishing with you. As long as you don’t mind that I don’t know anything about it.”

Relief flooded through Rick’s whole body. He beamed in the starlight. “I don’t mind at all.”

“Will I need to bring any equipment?”

“Nope. I’ll have everything we need.”

“You promise the weather will cooperate?”

“I’d go fishing in a cold rain if you were coming along.”

Gus laughed again. “You’re funny.” He brought his uninjured left hand to Rick’s cheek and stroked it a moment.

Rick captured it in his own, and brought Gus’ fingers to his lips to kiss.

“I’d much rather stay here,” he whispered.

“I’d like that, too.”

Rick leant down and kissed Gus again.

My deep and abiding thanks to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their help in making this story better. If you have a comment, observation or bone to pick, please leave your thoughts here. I appreciate whatever you may have to say.

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



4 hours ago, CincyKris said:

Loved the chapter, especially the ending.  But, I can't help but worry about what Heinrich is so happy about.  He's so smug, it's like he knows it's going to piss off Rick and that makes him happy.  What kind of father does that?!

You're right to be suspicious of Heinrich's good mood. It's sufficiently unusual that it arouses one's guard. Rick is right to be wary. What kind of father does that? One who has an agenda. Thanks a ton for reading, and for your thoughts.

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3 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Great anecdote about clearing that toilet and keeping Gabe's secret. It looks as if Heinrich has been totally taken in by Rita's act. I still think she's a scam artist. Lovely to see Gus and Rick able to spend some time together.  Let’s hope the fishing trip goes as planned.

I'm glad you liked seeing Rick at work. It must have been one of those ghastly moments for young Gabe, however. Heinrich must have something all figured out; he appears to be totally unlike himself - pleasant and accommodating. It's much more fun contemplating Rick and Gus together, isn't it? Thanks for reading and for your observations.

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3 hours ago, weinerdog said:

It is worrisome that Heinrich is in a good mood.I suspect his judgment with Rita is clouded because he envisions Rick being there with her when the project gets finished.If it wasn't for senior desire to hook Rita and Rick up he may be able to judge Rita's project with a more skeptical eye.

 I don't remember Rick saying anything  to Jared about keeping the trip to the music festival a secret so I'm worried Jerry might have a conversation with Jared about his time with Marta.Jared could unintentionally spill the beans and Jerry will know Rick was lying about what they were doing Saturday.Then that could lead to Jerry wondering about things.Maybe Rick should come clean to Jerry I think Jerry would be supportive

Rick did ask Jared to keep the music festival trip between them, but you're right to worry about it. An inadvertent slip would give Jerry a clue that all is not as it has heretofore seemed. Heinrich seems to have left his suitcase full of skepticism behind in Arizona. In any case, he surely doesn't seem to have used any of it on Rita.  His jovial mood is so unusual, no wonder people who know him have their guard up. He definitely thinks Rick and Rita will be hitched by the culmination of the project. Jerry loves his friend, but Rick wonders how far that friendship would extend. Would it survive his coming out? To this point, Rick has not wanted to test the proposition.  Thanks for reading, and for adding your comments.

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2 hours ago, 84Mags said:

I have an unease in my stomach that even the ending couldn’t abate. The chapter felt like the interlude in nature before a bad storm. I am certain Heinrich sunk the whole family business in with Rita and her scheme. He never turned over ownership of the company to Rick; Heinrich has access to all accounts.

I think Heinrich fell for what Rick rightly called a scam and Rita’s purposeful allusion of a relationship with Rick gave him a false sense of security. Heinrich values being seen as prosperous and an astute businessman. Risking the financial well being of the business without consulting Rick isn’t surprising, but it is disheartening. It explains Heinrich's upbeat mood and his lunch discussion with Rick. He sees this as an investment in his legacy and perhaps an end to a life of penny pinching. Hopefully the likely demise of the family business can be a new start for Rick and Gus.

I bet the ‘friend’ Rita spent the evening with was Willy and that doesn’t bode well. Rita has grand plans for Eagle Lake, but something tells me that when it all falls apart, she won’t be the one left destitute.


 

You're right to be uneasy. Any time Heinrich cracks jokes and turns pleasant should be cause for wariness. Jerry and Rick joked about it, and Irene has remarked on it, too. Whatever Heinrich has been up to, it certainly seems to have cemented his notion that Rick and Rita will be together at the end of the rainbow. It seems unlikely that Heinrich would ever stop pinching pennies, even if he somehow hit a large jackpot. That practice has become ingrained. I suspect that if Rita's scheme ever bears fruit, he'll still find reasons to renege on promises to hire, expand and invest. The price tags will frighten him too much. I'm glad that you read this chapter so closely, and many thanks for your thoughts.

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1 hour ago, Leo C said:

It seems this chapter builds up to the grand blow up, that I suspect is inevitable here - and which I'm very much looking forward to.....😈

The detalis could go so many ways, and that's just the thrill of it!  I have a feeling, that we are in for a few surprises concerning Rita, and about the plumbing business I can think of a few options, that will let Rick come out (ha-ha) on top of the situation.  Great story, Parker, so many layers - and I love it!

Like some other readers, perhaps you hear a very distant rumble of thunder. In any such moment, one can batten down the hatches, or ignore it, believing the lightning and storm will pass by, drenching some other unlucky place. Perhaps there will be lightning or hail, or other surprises, or maybe even bright blue sky emerging from clouds breaking up unexpectedly. I'm very glad you are enjoying the story. Your observations are very much appreciated!

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37 minutes ago, Valkyrie said:

Rita must have some sales pitch to draw Heinrich in like that.  I don't have a good feeling about the 'investment' though... :unsure:  I agree with everyone who thinks she's a scammer.  It's nice to see Rick and Gus so comfortable and familiar with each other.  And holy crap... that had to be a lot of condoms to clog the toilet like that!  :gikkle:  They've been very busy ;) 

Rita appears to be a skilled saleswoman, whatever else she may be. It appears she could sell space heaters in Death Valley. Rick is more comfortable with Gus than he has been with anyone, ever. For once, he's met someone whose company he can enjoy and who appears to equally enjoy him. That was quite a few condoms, but then, Gabe and his boyfriend did have a whole weekend to clog that toilet. As you say, it must have been a fun weekend! The boy was lucky that Rick was the person called out to deal with the clog. Thanks very much for reading, and for your comments!

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5 hours ago, weinerdog said:

It is worrisome that Heinrich is in a good mood.I suspect his judgment with Rita is clouded because he envisions Rick being there with her when the project gets finished.If it wasn't for senior desire to hook Rita and Rick up he may be able to judge Rita's project with a more skeptical eye.

 I don't remember Rick saying anything  to Jared about keeping the trip to the music festival a secret so I'm worried Jerry might have a conversation with Jared about his time with Marta.Jared could unintentionally spill the beans and Jerry will know Rick was lying about what they were doing Saturday.Then that could lead to Jerry wondering about things.Maybe Rick should come clean to Jerry I think Jerry would be supportive

There's an interesting angle...well done with that possible clue!!

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Oh, Rita is going to be doing some screwing - and it won't be with Rick!  He'd better be prepared to start his own business when she finishes with Heinrich!

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By the way, intermezzo was a wonderful musical way to get people in their places for the major act to follow....Great title!

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There's an odd triangle here...Rita, Willy, Heinrich to say the least. Willy with his 1.3 million, Heinrich hooked, line and sinker (without a customary bobber) and a great white (overly made up and perfumed to high hell, to hide the non-paying stench) shark named Rita. 

I suspect in the not so distant future we'll see a chapter heading the coming of the weather apocalypse, including famine, pestilence, locusts, slimy toads, whilst raining cats and dogs! so sayeth the forecaster.

Heinrich beamed, exuding confidence. “Oh, I think it’ll be just fine. In fact, I think we’re gonna be seeing blue skies from now on.” 

I do think both Rick and Gus will be the anchors they both need as they sift thru the detritus of Hurricane' Rita's wake. Lets hope it doesn't pollute Eagle Lake!!!

 

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21 minutes ago, Danners said:

Aw, Gus and Rick are the cutest.

I choked on my coffee when Gus pulled a mass of used condoms out of Mrs. Doyle’s toilet. Wrap that mess up in tissue at the bottom of your garbage can. Like Rick thought, at least Gabe and his friend are being safe. (The kid gets points for his t-shirt though.)

Something tells me Heinrich Senior invested in Rita’s scheme, maybe even going so far as putting the business up as collateral. Or allowed her to invest in the business. A contract was definitely signed at that lunch.

More worrisome — to me at least — was Jerry’s statement about Caroline Lee: “I hope so. She’s a wonderful lady, but she sometimes hangs onto her money a little too hard.”

I sure hope that isn’t a nail in her coffin. Despite the likelihood of her bequeathing her savings and assets to Rick in her will, I want the funny ole broad to stick around.

Or, I suppose, the mention of her money could be a kernel of hope should Rick decide to start his own business. He’d have an investor in Caroline Lee, I bet.

So much going on behind the scenes in this chapter and even more before our eyes. 

I suppose Rick has seen it all in his work as a plumber. Nevertheless, Gabe's toilet blockage will be one he remembers for a while. I'm glad you liked the t-shirt. Its message is one of my favorites :). Caroline Lee is a wonderful character to write. She's fiercely independent, otherwise she would have moved in with one of her very successful children a while ago. I suspect she finds the habits of living on a retirement income to be a little straitening - or maybe she just forgets to do car maintenance. I'm glad you are thinking as much about what is happening unseen as what appears in the text. That tells me the chapter was sufficiently engaging to keep a reader's interest. Many thanks for reading and for your observations.

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21 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

There's an interesting angle...well done with that possible clue!!

Jerry's reaction to Rick's subterfuge might be interesting. Now I have to think about that conversation.

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21 minutes ago, pvtguy said:

Oh, Rita is going to be doing some screwing - and it won't be with Rick!  He'd better be prepared to start his own business when she finishes with Heinrich!

Heinrich is convinced Rita is the wave of the future. She certainly seems to have proven herself as an accomplished seller. Is the old man as canny as he believes himself to be? He won't be around to find out - he's headed back to Arizona none to soon. Thanks very much for your thoughts!

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23 minutes ago, pvtguy said:

By the way, intermezzo was a wonderful musical way to get people in their places for the major act to follow....Great title!

I'm very glad you liked the title. I muddled about for a while over choosing it. (I considered entr' acte  and minuetI too). Thanks!

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