Monday, August 30, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 34

While Lane is working in Medford, Marla wonders if he has left for good. After all, he seemed so eager to leave.

Meanwhile, sister Sally and Robert have apparently formalized their evidenced by his move from the living room sofa to her bedroom.'

Still, in spite of his growing cash stash, Lane has yet to convince Marla their time apart is worth the nest egg he hopes will see the through the winter.

                                                        Chapter 34

On Sunday morning, in the company of Joseph Ferry and his eighteen wheeler, along with a load of irrigation pipe bound from Tacoma to Sacramento, Lane made his way south to Medford, near the Oregon-California border. Though they were riding together the four-hour ride was largely a solitary time. Busy traffic sounds and the muffled roar of the rig’s massive diesel engine limited the opportunity for casual conversation. From Lane’s perspective that was just as well. He had other things on his mind.

A few years earlier, when the job-killing recession first took hold and sales jobs were drying up, he had briefly wondered if a new career as a long-haul truck driver was a practical way to stay afloat. A few weeks of driving school might have earned him a Commercial License and a shot at driving for a second or third trier trucking outfit.

In the end he decided against going in debt for the dubious opportunity to spend day after boring day stuck behind a steering wheel, hurrying through country he had no interest in seeing toward a place he did not want to go. 

Now, after a few highway hours with Joseph, he realized that those long hours on the road were not only boring, but exhausting. That was enough to confirm his earlier decision. Still, though it was not a practical career path for him, when it came to finding an affordable way to return to Medford, Joseph’s company was more than welcome.

The next day, for the first time in months, Lane was gainfully employed, at least on a semi-permanent basis. It felt as though for at least a few weeks the natural order of things had been restored.

The packing-shed work was, in fact, more hypnotic than hard. For long hours he stood beside the slow-moving conveyer belt, sorting the passing fruit, sometimes apples, more often pears, into one of four trays....destined for the company’s good, better, or best holiday gift boxes, or the trash barrel.

Once settled into the mind-numbing routine he managed to survive the two-hour stints between breaks by reminding himself of the dollars stacking up in his mental piggy bank.

His first evenings at the Carroll home were quiet and casual times. He dined with Ron and Cindy, watched the news with them, and perhaps a ball game with Ron, before retreating to his basement sanctuary. During the months he had spent on the fringes of their household the previous spring Lane had made a point of not intruding on their private time. Now a hot shower, an engrossing book, and a good night’s sleep was enough to have him ready for the early-morning walk to the packing shed.

By the end of his first week Lane was getting acquainted with some of his work mates. High on that list of new buddies was Billy Farrow. Though young Mr. Farrow was not particularly friendly and they had little in common, there was one important thing to recommend his company. A substantial part of Billy’s modest paycheck went to pay for his cell phone and its unlimited minutes. After hearing of that undeniable asset, Lane had made it a point to know Billy better.

On Friday afternoon, during their last break, Lane stepped out into the quiet of the upstairs hallway. With Billy’s borrowed phone in hand he paused, wishing again that Marla had a phone, so he would not have to call her on Sally’s phone. Still, he reminded himself, it was better than no phone at all.

“Hi, Sis,” he said when Sally answered. “It’s me. How’s it going?”

“We’re doing pretty well,” Sally answered. “Though we have one lady who spends a lot of time moping around. There are days it seems like she’s only half here.”

“That’s mainly why I called. Could you get her over to the phone? I need to talk to her.”

“I would if she was here. She and Brenda went downtown an hour or so ago. I don’t know when she’ll be back.”

Lane was pacing, grumbling at his bad luck, having called when Marla was gone. Then, before he signed off he recalled another piece of business. “Sally. From your phone book can you look up the number for Mission House? I need to get in touch with Maureen Kenyon.”

A moment later, he was taking notes as his sister repeated the number. With that Lane was ready to move on. “I’ve got to hurry,” he said. “I have to get back to work. But you need to tell Robert that he should settle in with your for good. I won’t be coming back to your place.”

“You have other plans?”

“I hope so.”

“But you’re still coming back to Tanner?”

“Of course I am.” That stopped him for a few seconds, wondering why she would be asking that. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “It’s just that Marla’s not so sure you intend to come back. She’s wondering if this was just your way of making an escape.”

“But I’ve told her over and over .....”

“I know,” Sally interrupted. “But you left, didn’t you. One phone call and you were gone. What was she supposed to think?

“Look, I have to go. Please tell her I called. Tell her I miss her. Tell her I .......” He paused, knowing that was not a message to be delivered second hand. “Tell her I’ll call again. It sounds like I need to straighten that lady out a bit.”

With the last two minutes of his break time Lane checked in with Maureen Kenyon. There too the good news he hoped to hear had yet to arrive.

“I haven’t heard a thing. Not from Ms. Brock or Mr. Barrington,” Maureen said. “If you’ll give me your phone number I’ll call you if I get some word from either of them.”

“I don’t have a phone,” Lane explained. “I’ll call you next week, probably Thursday or Friday, to see if you’ve heard anything.”


With Lane’s departure, life in the trailer park had turned quiet for Marla. She was struggling with the loss of her new if her earlier five nights spent with Lane had qualified as a new lifestyle.

Next door Sally and Robert were in the process of forming their own ‘normal.’ Robert had recovered from his near-pneumonia, and in the process had graduated from the front sofa to the welcoming comfort of Sally’s bedroom.

By Tuesday morning he was strong enough for a return to his hillside penthouse, a final tour to be sure there was nothing of value left in his recently vacated home. A half an hour later, when he returned to the trailer, Sally met him at the door, asking what he had found.

“Was your jacket still there?” she asked. “Or anything else you’d left behind?”

“Nah. I didn’t expect to find it. Out on the Bluff, if you’re not around to keep an eye on things they have a way of disappearing.”

“I’m sorry. We’ll have to find something at the thrift shop. You’ll certainly need a decent coat for winter.” 

By then Robert had turned quiet, drawn into his own thoughts. “What is it?” Sally asked. “Are you remembering how much you miss your penthouse?”

Looking up, he was shaking his head. “Not at all,” he said. “I was just thinking about the guys there, the ones who are holed up there now. I’d seen one of them before. The other one must be new in town.

"But the penthouse is their home now. And they were feeling pretty darn good about that. It’s the best place either of them has had for a while. The one guy was bragging that they’re ready for winter now. They’re dry and reasonably warm. Seemed to him like they couldn’t ask for more.”

“I suppose they both know fellows who aren’t that lucky.”

“Exactly,” Robert nodded. “But I didn’t have the heart to tell them what ‘lucky’ really looks like. When you hit the jackpot, like I have, there’s a warm trailer, enough to eat every day, and a TV that gets four channels on a good day.” He reached for her hand. “Not to mention the best company a guy could hope for.”

“Why, thank you, sir. I will certainly second that. It’s been a long time between ‘good company.’ I don’t ever want to be in that place again.”

He pulled her to his shoulder and planted a kiss on her forehead. “That’s exactly what I was thinking on my way back from the good it was to wake up like I did this morning, with you lying there beside me. When I look at what we’ve got....a few dinky paychecks, your Social Security, some food stamps and a food may not look like much, but it’s the best deal I’ve had in a very long time. Even better than the penthouse.


Meanwhile Marla, in Sally’s perfectly-descriptive words, continued to ‘mope’ around. There were days when she could scarcely manage the few steps to Sally’s next-door trailer. When she did, she was bound to be something less than good company. 

At the same time, Robert and Sally were becoming a couple. Their trailer had become a happier place....home to an abundance of laughs, smiles, and caring. Though the pantry was nearly bare and the money jar was running on empty, they accepted that as enough. It was their new-found connection, the spark that each of them had needed so badly for so long, that made the difference. 

While her friends were coming together, Marla was left to bemoan the nagging absence of the one who was not there. From her perspective recent events had only accentuated the emerging contrast, the unfairness of it. Though she scolded herself for feeling that way, there was no denying her envy of what Sally and Robert were creating. There were days she dreaded going next door. Watching them together simply hurt too much.

Since Eric’s depressing departure, Marla had survived on a small pension, an even smaller office-cleaning income, food stamps, and the food bank. In the course of that time her expectations and lifestyle had contracted to fit her circumstances. They had to. As she learned to live that new life, she found it suited her. Having ‘more’ had become ‘less’ important.

Then, in a surprising turn of events, ‘he’ had stumbled into her life. The trust deficit she had nursed for so long had been overcome, cautiously at first, but no less real for that. In time her own timid disinterest and Lane’s stubborn resistance had been swept aside, leaving the common ground on which to build a relationship. 

True, in some ways they were still strangers, still in the process of learning about each other. Yet there were moments when it seemed like she had known him forever. He liked her. She could tell. Their lovemaking had been natural and right. Except for his maddening preoccupation with earning a paycheck everything about him was right. But what did that matter? He was gone. He had been away for twelve days. The longer she waited the more she wondered, until wondering gave way to doubt. 


On Saturday afternoon, the end of his second week in Medford, Lane was again outside the break room with Billy Farrow’s phone in hand. He had two calls in mind. The first would be to sister Sally. Hopefully, after the prior week’s bad timing, he would be able to get through to Marla. And sure enough he did. Perhaps his luck was turning.

“Thanks for coming over to the phone,” he said when Marla took the wireless phone Sally handed her. “I was afraid you’d decided not to talk to me.”

“Don’t be silly. I was hoping you’d call again. I’m sorry I missed you the first time.” By then she was at the far end of the hallway, away from Sally and Robert. “I wanted to hear about Medford, how it’s going. I guess I was wondering......”

“You were wondering what?”

Marla stopped short, leaving him to make sense of her sudden silence. When she finally returned, her voice was hushed and hesitant. “I was wondering if Medford was beginning to feel like home again. You know, a place where you might want to stay.”

“Where’d you get that crazy idea? It sounds like something Sally said last week....asking me if I was coming back. Who the heck is hatching that silly stuff?”

Setting aside her whimpering timidity, Marla was ready to take exception to his not-so-flattering labels. “Well, you were certainly in a big hurry to get away. In fact, I’d say you were eager. Then, once you got there we didn’t hear a thing from you. What was I supposed to think?”

“Will you just stop and listen to what you’re saying? You’re right. I was in a be making some money for a change. As for calling you, I’d already promised Ron I wouldn’t be running up his phone bill. I had to wait ‘til I met a guy at work with cell-phone minutes to spare.”

He moved a bit further down the hallway, to where he was less likely to be overheard. “Marla, you wouldn’t believe how lonely it is down here.”

“You have friends there, don’t you? You’re staying with that Ron fellow.”

“Yes I am. And I’m darn glad it worked out that way. But I hope you understand that it’s not the same as being there with you.” He stopped short, dwelling on that undeniable truth before moving on to the heart of the matter. 

“Ron and Cindy are good people and I really appreciate their help. It’s the only way I could make this pay. They’re the reason I have nearly seven-hundred bucks stashed in my suitcase. If I keep getting an extra day of overtime for the next few weeks that will add up to a serious nest egg by the time I’m done. That’s money I can bring back to Tanner. ”

“I’d rather have you here than seven-hundred dollars.”

“Come on, lady. We have to be practical. We need those dollars.”

We need those dollars,” Marla repeated to herself. At least he was talking about the two of them. She liked that.

“Anyway, Ron and Cindy have been a big help,” Lane continued. “But they have their own lives to live. Part of my deal with them, just like the last time I was there, is to stay out of their way. Last night I got so bored that I snuck off to a movie. I can’t even tell you what I saw. I just remember that it was a real bummer to be there alone.”

He let that truth sink in. After years of living in his own ‘alone’ space it was a bit surprising....the returning realization of how hard that was. At that moment, however, it was the ‘why’ of it he wanted Marla to understand. There were better ways to express those feelings, but for now he must rely on mere words.

“I miss you, Marla,” he said. “That’s what it boils down to. So please don’t get sidetracked by those silly ideas of yours. It’s just a few weeks more. We can do it. By then I’ll be back in Tanner with some bucks in the bank, enough to see us through the winter.”

Her reply was tinged with tears and hard to hear. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For telling me what I wanted to hear.”

Punching the cell phone to end his call, Lane checked his watch and did the mental math. He had four minutes before he was due on the belt.... enough time to try Maureen Kenyon’s number.

“Are you home already?” Maureen asked when she heard who it was. “Hold on a second while I get to my office.”

Glancing again at his watch, Lane waited nervously for Maureen to make her way through the reception area to her window fronted cubicle. “When did you get back?” she asked as she closed the door behind her. 

“I’m not back. I’m calling from Medford. I’ve only got a couple minutes, but I thought I’d check in to see if you’ve heard anything.”

“Not as much as I hoped. It’s been two weeks, you know.” Leafing through a manilla file she located the page she was looking for. “I haven’t heard a thing from Mr. Barrington. But Erin Brock called. The City Council hasn’t made any decision yet. They won’t vote on it until we make a formal request.”

“I suppose that’s how they do it,” Lane said.

“Actually, I think she was trying to tell me that it’s a go....whenever we’re ready to ask, and have the funding in place."

Maureen was reminding herself not to forget Erin Brock’s  compliments. “By the way, you must have made an impression. Your friend, Ms. Brock, was full of nice things to say about you. I didn’t hear any reservations on her part. She’s sure the Council will support us. That’s assuming, of course, we have the funding issues covered. That’s why I’m so anxious to hear from Mr. Barrington. I just hope he hasn’t bailed on us.”

Lane was on his way down the stairs to the packing shed floor. Just ahead, Billy was holding out a hand, ready to retrieve his phone. “I’ll call again towards the end of the week. Hopefully you’ll have heard from Cat by then.”

Saturday, August 28, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 33

An unexpected phone call, an intriguing offer.....too good to pass up. While it felt as though his luck was finally changing, she saw only the dark side of what might be.

Try as he might, he could not convince her that his leaving was the one thing that might save their hopeful relationship.

                          Chapter 33

The dinner dishes were in the sink. The four of them were gathered around the table and the cards had been dealt. Then, before the first card was played, the telephone was ringing. Their pinochle game was momentarily on hold as Sally raised her question.

“Who could that be?” She was on her way to the kitchen to retrieve the wireless handset. "Who else besides Lane and the property manager even know I have a phone.”

A moment later the phone was at her ear when she turned back to the table with a new question. “You want to talk to Lane? Why yes, he’s here. Just a moment.”

With a hand over the mouth piece, Sally was asking her brother, “Who knows you’re here? And how did he get my number?”

Lane was wondering the same thing as he slipped out of his chair to take the phone. Seconds later, from the relative privacy of the back hallway, he asked, “Who is this?”

“It’s Ron Carroll,” the electronic voice answered. “From Medford. I got your number from Hal. He said this is where I could reach you. I hope it’s okay, calling like this.”

“Of course it’s okay. Just a bit surprising. That’a all.”

“I understand. But I really wanted to get ahold of you. I came across a job lead this afternoon that sounds like it might be right down your alley. It seemed like I ought to call while it’s still available. If you’re not working right now it might be something you’d like to check out.”

That was just like Ron Carroll, Lane reminded himself. The two of them had met years before playing softball for the same Medford tavern. Long after their playing days were over they had stayed in touch. Only months before Ron’s garage had served as Lane’s last permanent Medford address, until he was effectively evicted to make room for Cindy Carroll’s new car. Now it seemed his friend was going out of his way to contact him with word of a possible job opening.

“Here’s the deal,” Ron continued. “The packing sheds are going full bore down here, doing holiday gift boxes and stuff like that. But they’ve got a problem this year. So many of the Mexican guys have gone south already that the packers are scrambling for help. I’ve managed to save a spot for you if you want it.

“It’s for eight hours a day, at ten-fifty an hour, for at least six weeks. It’s inside, on the packing belt. You’d be on your feet all day, but it’s warm and there’s no up and down to it. The only glitch is that you’d have to be able to start Monday morning.”

Ron paused, waiting for Lane’s response. Hearing nothing, he asked, “So what do you think? Would that work for you?”

“Would that work?” Lane repeated to himself. His initial reaction was a resounding “yes,” until a second round of questions bubbled to the surface.

He was doing the mental math....eighty-five dollars a day, less taxes. That would leave perhaps seventy or seventy-five for him. But what about room and board, and all the other incidentals?

“I’m not sure how that would pencil out,” he finally admitted. “Seventy-some bucks a day after taxes, less a motel room and a few meals, doesn’t leave much to show for a day’s work. 

"There was a time when I could have done that by camping out. But I’ve spent the last few weeks inside, where it’s warm and I’ve got a comfortable bed. I’m spoiled rotten. Having to camp out again doesn’t sound too appealing. I suppose the best way would be to find someone to share a room with.”

By then, from the front room Marla, Sally and Robert were hearing enough of Lane’s conversation to understand what he was talking about. 

It was his mention of “sharing a room” that had Marla chewing on her lip. After days of cozy togetherness, it seemed as though her house guest was planning his escape. In fact, from the sound of it, he was looking forward to that possibility.

Meanwhile, Ron Carroll was carrying on with his none-to-subtle sales pitch. “I’m way ahead of you, old buddy,” he explained. “You don’t need a roommate. The thing is, I can’t get you back in the garage. Cindy’s not ready to give that up.”

“I can’t blame her for that.”

“But for a few weeks she’s okay with setting up a cot in the basement. There’s a half-bath down there. It would beat the heck out of camping.”

By then Lane was laughing. “Don’t you con me. That wasn’t her idea.”

“Maybe not at first. But she agrees it would work. What do you say?”

“How about this?” Lane was returning to his math, looking for a middle ground. “Would twenty bucks a day, for a bed, a couple meals, and shower privileges, be fair?”

“You bet it would.”

Lane paused for a moment, unsure how much the others, especially Marla, had overheard. It was important that she understand what he was doing, and why. With that in mind, he walked back to the kitchen, still talking to Ron, loud enough now for everyone to hear.

“So you’re saying I could net something like fifty bucks a day for six weeks. That’s what, maybe sixteen or seventeen hundred dollars? Man, it would be nice to start the winter with that kind of nest egg on hand.”

Having made his formal pronouncement for the others to hear, he turned quiet as he asked, “Ron, Are either Joseph or Elmer still driving long-haul runs from up north? If so, could you find out if either of them are coming this way, heading toward Medford, between now and Sunday? 

"I don’t know where I’d come up with the cash for a bus ticket. If either of them is coming through Tanner I’d like to grab a ride. If they’re available give me a call.

“And Ron, thanks for tracking me down. And be sure to thank Cindy too. Tell her I promise to be a model house guest.”


Lane set the phone back in its charging stand, perfectly aware of the uncomfortable dilemma his brief call had set in motion. By the time he returned to the table Marla was already on the verge of tears. The others were looking away, unwilling to meet his gaze.

Let them think what they want, he told himself. After weeks spent waiting in the morning cold of the Job Market and traipsing up and down mountain hillsides, what did they expect? A few days work with the Hansen sisters was not nearly enough. The two hundred dollars his tree planting had earned would soon be gone. Except for Maureen Kenyon’s vague talk of creating a job, there was not a single encouraging sign on the horizon.

What was the sense of letting Ron’s ‘sure thing’ slip away? It was work he could do, in the relative warmth of the packing sheds. His already vulnerable back would not be at risk. Best of all, with Ron’s offer of room and board he could expect to set some serious money aside....a sort of luxury had been a long-time gone.

That in turn had him considering a new and most unusual possibility. He could scarcely remember the last time he had looked forward to the holiday season, or more particularly, shopping for Christmas gifts. It was an appealing idea....the promise of money in his pocket to be used that way. Surely he owed Sally and Marla that much and more. The only way to make that happen was to return to Medford.

When Lane finally settled in at the table it took a while for their card-playing energy to return. Without any further explanation on his part the three of them....Sally, Marla, and Robert....realized exactly what he had just agreed to. No further explanation was required, at least not until later that night, when he and Marla lay side by side in the bedroom dark.


“I thought it was going to work out,” Marla had whispered a minute or two before. “It seemed like that’s what you wanted.”

Though Lane could not read her expression in the dark, the fact she had finally stopped crying seemed to him a good sign. Perhaps she was finally ready to listen to reason. That notion lasted as long as it took her to ask her next question, and hear his first stumbling reply. With that her unseen, but not- so-silent tears had returned, and he had withdrawn into the darkness.

Why was she being like that? For the first time in months he had stumbled onto a winner. He had spent weeks looking for something that good in Tanner, and come up empty. All he had to show for his efforts were Maureen’s hopeful ‘maybe’....a long shot that depended on the likes of Erin Brock and Cat Barrington. Now, with Ron’s call, had come the promise of something very good, that was his for the asking.

Again Lane reached out in the darkness to pull Marla closer. Once more she resisted.

“It is working,” he said, returning to her earlier observation “It’s working now, and I want to keep it working. What’s changed is I have a chance to fill in the missing pieces. It’s come right out of the blue. And if it turns out the way Ron said, it will earn enough to see us through most of the winter.”

“But you’d be gone for six weeks.” She had finally found her voice.

“Six weeks,” he repeated. “To set us up for months. For six weeks apart we could be together the whole winter. Doesn’t that sound like a good trade off?”

From the sound of it, Marla was not ready to answer his question. Instead, she offered one of her own. “Is that your idea of keeping us going away? Where’s the logic in that? Where will you be going next, just to keep us together? And what happens when you decide it’s easier to just stay there....wherever ‘there’ is?”

Lane’s frustrated sigh was louder than her complaint. And then they were quiet. Side by side on her bed, anxious to comfort each other....yet separated by a logic, or lack of logic, that seemed to allow for no middle ground.

“Marla. This will get us to that place you want us to be. If I can’t pay my own way I’ll end up being nothing but a charity case, no better than a house pet. How could that work? 

"Can’t you see, this showed up at just the right time. It’s one of those ‘there are no accidents’ things you were talking about. That’s how it seems to it was meant to be.”

An instant later he was overtaken by a startling sensory overload....nearly blinded when Marla switched on her bedside lamp, ready with her loud, hard-edged protest.

“Lane Tipton, you just stop right there,” she half yelled. “You’re leaving. You’re going away because it’s what you want to do, pure and simple. So just go. But don’t be making it sound like it’s ‘meant to be,’ because it’s not.” 

She paused for a deep breath, then, “Don’t you think for a minute that I care about how much we have, or don’t have, or how much extra money you can put away. That doesn’t matter a bit. We could get by just fine without it.

“So don’t waste your breath telling me you’re going away so we can be together.” Reaching over, she turned off her lamp and rolled onto her side, facing away from him. “Now go to sleep. You’ve got a long trip ahead of you.” 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 32


Though she was hoping for more, Maureen was a bit heartened by Lane's "Cat Barrington' report. If only things were coming together more quickly.

Why did it seem as though any Sally/Robert alliance must first wait on Lane's decision to move? Was that apt to happen.....especially now that he has turned unexpectedly secretive?

  Chapter 32

Maureen Kenyon was touring the modestly-disheveled Mission House reception area.... gathering empty cups, paper plates, and plastic forks. Rounding the last row of chairs she looked up to see Lane coming through the front door.

She had been expecting him. More to the point, she was anxious to hear what she hoped would be an upbeat report on his visits with Erin Brock and Cat Barrington. In her mind the future of Lane’s ambitious idea depended on his ability to win their support. 

She had placed their dream in the hands of the dreamer. That was, in fact, his primary qualification for the job. Had that been a wise choice? Hopefully she was about to find out.

Perhaps she was looking for a noticeable spring in his step, maybe a hint of the silly grin she had seen before. There was, however, nothing about his approach that offered any sign....good or bad. Had he struck out, or made some headway? There was certainly nothing to suggest outright success.  

“I’m thinking you could use a cup of coffee,” she said as Lane stopped in front of her. “You’re not looking too perky. I’d offer you something stronger if I had it. From the looks of you they must have given you a bad time, eh?”

“Could have been worse, I suppose,” he answered, forcing an unconvincing grin as he followed her to the coffee counter. “I had a nice visit with Erin Brock. She didn’t laugh at me or throw me out. In fact, she seemed willing to listen.”

“Did she offer any encouragement?”

“Only that it wasn’t her call to make. She did say that before she took it to the whole City Council, before she got that formal, she wanted to run it by a couple of the members to see what kind of reaction she got. That sounded a bit encouraging. Though, when I told her I was planning to talk to Cat Barrington she was laughing pretty good. She warned me that he hadn’t got where he is by being a soft touch.

“But there was another good sign,” Lane added, remembering Erin’s unexpected compliment. “The lady had some nice things to say about you and Mission House....about your good work. I’m not sure she even knows what you do here. But she’s heard people talking about it, and what she’s heard is good .”

“That was nice of her,” Maureen noted. “Though it’s hard to know if that translates into the kind of City Council action we would need.”

“Who knows. It can’t hurt. Anyway, I could tell she really meant it.”

“So tell me about Mr. Barrington,” she asked, prodding him to move ahead. “I don’t suppose he had any nice things to say, did he? I’ve never met the man, but the stuff I’ve heard about him hasn’t sounded too encouraging. Everyone says he’s a real hard-nosed guy. Even if he was willing to help, he’d probably drive a hard bargain. Chances are we’d still be out in the cold. After all, we don’t have many chips to bargain with.”

Maureen’s anxious scowl had Lane smiling to himself. “You might be surprised,” he said. “But of course you’re right, he didn’t get what he’s got by being a pushover.”

“I know that when you first mentioned his name it seemed like a long shot,” Maureen offered. “My God. C. T. Barrington of all people. It was like you were starting at the highest rung of the ladder.”

To Maureen’s surprise Lane was actually grinning at her descriptive metaphor. “I suppose so,” he nodded. “He told me straight out that he gets hit up all the time for what he calls ‘financial favors.’ I think he feels that everyone is looking to get their hands in his pockets.”

“That doesn’t sound too hopeful. It sounds like he saw you coming.”

“Oh yeah. He knew why I was there. And I didn’t try to hide that. It wouldn’t have done any good. I was hitting him up cold. This idea of ours was something he’d never heard of before. Still, he listened to the whole pitch, and said he’d think about it. It wasn’t exactly an endorsement, but it felt like something positive.

“Anyway, by the time I left he was sounding a bit like Erin Brock, which struck me as a good sign.”

“What does that mean? What did he say?”

“Cat told me, in so many words, that ‘of all the people who keep the wheels turning around here, that Kenyon gal seems like the only one who isn’t out to line her own pockets.’ I could tell he meant that to be a compliment.”

“Does that mean he’ll help us,” she asked.

“I suppose that will depend on how things shake out. If the City Council got on board, and a few other things went our way, he might lend a hand. We’ll just have to see. Anyway, I told them both that I’d get back to them in a week or so. So for now, he hasn’t said ‘yes,’ but he hasn’t said ‘no’ either.”

“I’ll admit,” Maureen nodded, pushing her cup to the side. “I was hoping for something a little more concrete. If I’m going to run this by my board and our sponsors, I want to be able to tell them the City is on board, and that we can expect at least some level of outside funding. Sounds like we’ll be waiting a bit for that.”

A moment later she turned to another thought, the bait she had first used to solicit Lane’s help. “And don’t forget what I said before. If this works out you just might be creating a job for yourself. If what Robert tells me is true, that might help set things straight with your lady friend. Eh?”

By then Lane was asking himself again why he had ever mentioned his ‘Marla’ dilemma to Robert, and wondering why Robert had told Maureen. 

“Yeah. I guess it might help. But right now the important thing is to get this project off the ground. If we can do that everything else will sort itself out. We just need to keep pushing until it happens.”


Robert was on the mend. That was reason enough for Sally to schedule a Wednesday-night pizza party for the four of them. Except for the fortunate coincidence that the discount grocer was running a two-for-one special on frozen pizzas it could have just as well been a lasagna party, or mac and cheese.

Yet as she hurried about the kitchen preparing for Marla and Lane’s arrival, Sally’s thoughts were taking her far beyond the realm of pizza, small talk, and the pinochle game that was certain to come later. 

In a word, she was ‘conflicted’....wondering, as she had for days, how to convince Robert to make his move to her trailer a permanent thing. To further complicate matters, she was not sure how to begin that conversation when Lane had yet to declare his intention of leaving the second bedroom for good. 

Her brother had been staying at Marla’s during Robert’s recovery. But each time the two women talked Marla recounted Lane’s stubborn insistence on having a job before he was willing to finalize their living arrangements. Until he did, there was no escaping Sally’s frustrating dilemma. For days Robert had listened to her not-so-subtle hints....but until Lane decided to move out what more could she do?

In the course of their own increasingly-personal conversations she and Robert were coming closer to a significant understanding. What each of them wanted most of all was the right ‘someone’ in their life, the one who could be both a helpmate and companion....someone with whom to face an uncertain future and the daunting prospect of growing older in a teetering economy.

They were well acquainted with the territory. Each of them had lived first-hand with financial hardship, and understood that failing health or financial vulnerability ought not be faced alone. Even before considering the virtues of sleeping alone or together, each longed for the security of a caring partner.

Somewhere in the course of her wondering Sally had been overtaken by another consideration. At some point, if Robert did move in, she would have to tell the girls....daughters Sarah and Sue. 

For decades the two of them had lived on the fringes of their mother’s life. Besides the predictable Christmas cards and an occasional letter, Sally had last seen them at their father’s funeral, when they traveled to Tanner from their California homes. Though there was no need to win their approval, if there was a new man in their mother’s life they ought to know.

Later, as the four of them gathered to enjoy fresh-from-the-oven pizza, Sally took a moment to note Lane’s surprisingly withdrawal. He was strangely quiet, with none of his usual upbeat banter. While the others carried on with the news of their day, her brother seemed lost in his own thoughts.

“I noticed that too,” Marla replied when Sally put her puzzlement into words. Poking at Lane’s arm, she offered a convincing new bit of evidence. “He’s been like that all afternoon....quiet but helpful. He even dried the dishes after lunch. That had me wondering what the heck is going on. ”

That was enough to have Robert asking his own questions. “Come on, buddy. What’s with the dishpan hands? Don’t tell me you’re getting domesticated.”

“Don’t be reading too much into that,” Lane answered, hoping to deflect their attention. “It just feels like things are finally coming together. That’s all. At least they might be. I’ll know better in a few days. It may not be much. But it’s the best prospect I’ve come across in a long time.”

“What is it?” Marla was not about to settle for vague possibilities. “Surely you can tell us. Can’t you?”

“No, I can’t.” He had already said too much, especially in light of the way Marla was grabbing at straws. “I had to promise that I wouldn’t. Besides, there’s no sense getting our hopes too high. We’ll know in due time. For now, why don’t we clear the dishes and see if Robert and I can finally win a game of pinochle.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

GOING POOR - Chapter 31

The City's Attorney had been willing to hear him out. Perhaps his latest hopeful idea might fly after all. was likely to be a high-cost venture.

He was new in town, after forty years away. What did he know about the big-money crowd? It was bound to be a long shot....especially since his best possibility hinged on a now-hazy series of Cub Scout favors.

Still, having been warned about a possibility icy reception, Lane was pleasantly surprised by Cat's seemingly cordial welcome. Was that a good sign?

                            Chapter 31

Lane had called Monday afternoon, hoping that Erin Brock, the City Council’s attorney, would be able to fit him into her Tuesday morning schedule. 

“I wouldn’t need more than a few minutes,” he told Cary Whelan, Ms. Brock’s office manager. “I’ve seen her before, you know.”

“Oh yes, I remember.” He must have noted her not-so-subtle sarcasm. “Are you still on that crusade of yours, the one she couldn’t help you with?”

“Not exactly. I guess this is a new one.”

“I see. And you say a few minutes would do?” Lane waited while she consulted her appointment calendar. Then, “I’ll tell you what. Could you be here a little before ten in the morning? She’ll be in between a couple of meetings. It’s the only time I can see all day.”

And there he was Tuesday morning, sitting in the corner of Cary Whelan’s cramped office, sipping the coffee she had offered, waiting for Ms. Brock’s arrival. It was nearly ten-fifteen when the  attorney hurried through the room with little more than a nod and, “Give me a couple minutes to make a call.”

A ‘couple minutes’ had stretched into ten before Ms. Whelan’s intercom summoned Lane into Erin Brock’s inner office.

“Tell me,’ she asked as she nodded toward the chair across the desk from her. “Are you still on your ‘empty house’ mission? Is this more of the same?”

“I suppose you could call it a mission. But not the same one.” He sensed a casual informality in her voice, something he did not remember from their first visit. She was not as defensive, and certainly less intimidating.

“What I have is pretty straight forward,” Lane said. “It won’t take more than a couple minutes to explain.”

Without interruption Ms. Brock heard him out.... pausing occasionally to take notes, but otherwise simply nodding her understanding as he spelled out the presentation he and Maureen Kenyon had settled on. In a matter of minutes he had stated his case, and still it was hard to tell if the Counselor was buying. All he could do was wait anxiously, until she finally leaned forward to explain, 

“You know, of course, that I can’t sign off on something like this myself. Only the City Council could do that. And before they would ever consider it they’d have to run it by the code people, to be sure it passes muster with them. Then, of course,  there would be the question of whether it was going to be properly funded.

“It wouldn’t do to start something like that, then leave it unfinished because the money ran out. That would definitely leave the Council in an awkward situation. And if that happened they would be asking me all sorts of awkward questions.

“However, if you’ll give me a few days I’ll see what I can find out. I’d like to run it by a couple folks. Would that be okay?” 

By then Erin Brock was actually smiling. “Why don’t you check with Cary around the middle of next week. By then I should know if there’s a reason to schedule a follow up. Would that work for you?”

“That would be perfect.” Lane was biting his lip ....reminding himself that laughing out loud was probably not an appropriate response. Then, as he started for the door, Ms. Brock offered her final observation.

“By the way, would you please let Ms. Kenyon know how much we appreciate her good work? In these hard times, when the City is so strapped financially, and State and Federal funds are limited, we rely more than ever on places like the Mission House.”

At last Lane’s laugh escaped. He was grinning from ear to ear as he replied. “Thank you. I’ll be sure to tell her.” What else could he say. There he was, listening to one of ‘them’ compliment the Mission House and its work. Surely that was a good sign.

In the outer office, Lane’s broad smile was enough to catch Cary Whelan’s eye as he walked through the front office. “My,” she said. “You’re looking like a happy camper this time. Must have been a good meeting, eh?”

“I think I caught her in a good mood.” 

“The lady likes to help, you know. When she can. Maybe she was just glad that you showed up with something that wasn’t impossible.”


Although Lane had approached his meeting with Erin Brock with a degree of trepidation, there was at the same time a certain comfort in knowing they had met before. Even though she had not supported his earlier ‘empty houses’ notion, she had been willing to listen. She had not dismissed him out of hand. If anything, he was pleasantly surprised by her willingness to offer him a fair hearing.

In all likelihood the Thursday afternoon visit he had scheduled with Mr. C. T. “Cat” Barrington would be a different matter. 

Truth to tell, Lane was surprised that he had managed to make the appointment. Apparently his claim of being an “old school friend” had been enough to penetrate Cat’s first line of defense....the cold and very proper secretary whose job description probably included shielding her employer from unwanted distractions. 

Of course, the lady may have been thinking in terms of a former college friend. If so, Lane saw no reason to explain that he and Cat had been grade-school classmates.

Actually, Lane knew better than most folks how Cat Barrington had come to rely on such protective measures. After all, the two of them had attended the same schools from the first grade through high school....the result of a demographic quirk that placed the Barrington mansion, in an affluent ‘top-of-the-hill’ enclave, within the same grade-school boundaries as the Tipton’s working-class ‘bottom-of-the-hill’ neighborhood. 

Though they had been long-time classmates, that was never enough to foster a close relationship. Even in the primary grades, when most youngsters were scarcely aware of differences in status and affluence, young Carl Thomas Barrington was already learning to view the world, and his favored place in it, in light of those distinctions.


Now, decades after those boyhood years, Mr. C. T. Barrington might have been hard pressed to explain the fleeting thoughts his secretary's casual mention of Lane Tipton's name triggered as it drew him back to an earlier time....a much earlier time.

"He said he was an old school friend," Miss Carter noted. "I thought you would probably have time to see him."

Nodding silently to himself Cat Barrington was perhaps reminding himself of the pride he normally took in what he considered his impersonal directness....his tendency to dwell on the emotional detachment necessary to carry out the duties that came with being a community and business leader. In those lofty roles he had usually found that impersonal, arms-length relationships worked best.

So now, decades after they had last laid eyes on each other, why was a nearly forgotten name, and the vaguely familiar fellow standing before him, drawing Mr. Barrington into such an unexpectedly comfortable a time and place he rarely an era when at least one of his operative friendships had not been built on favors asked or payoffs expected.


In the course of the twelve years they spent sitting through the same classes and playing the same schoolyard games, only once had Lane and Cat found themselves in a shared space that felt something like being friends. 

That was in the third grade, when both boys were members of a Cub Scout den that held its Wednesday-afternoon meetings at Mrs. Baker’s home. 

As fate would have it, Wednesday was also band day at school, which meant that Cat Barrington carried his trombone from school to the Cub Scout meeting and then home. For most of his classmates that would have been little more than a minor inconvenience. Truth be told, for young Cat it was more than that.

Everyone in the school knew about Willy McGrath. By the third grade Willie had already been held back twice, repeating both the first and second grades. As a result he was older and bigger than his classmates, with an aggressive ‘I want my way’ attitude. 

He was, in fact, a classic bully, who took particular pleasure in the undisguised fear he saw on his victim’s face. Though he was apt to hit on any of his intimidated classmates, with demands for their lunch money or March of Dimes contributions, Willy had long before settled on Cat Barrington as his favorite target.

Sadly, young Mr. Barrington had neither the inclination. or ability to stand up to Willy. That was simply not his natural response. Yet, by the third grade he had learned there were other ways to deal with that sort of aggression. It was at that point when Lane Tipton stepped in to play his modest role.

Though Cat’s father dropped him off at school in the was on the way to the senior Barrington’s work, his son was expected to walk home after school....a matter of a dozen or so blocks up Missionary Hill. At the base of the hill, about half way along that route. he would pass Mrs. Baker’s modest home.

Earlier that year Cat had settled on the first of his anti-Willy defensive measures. He began running home. At the first sound of the release bell he was sprinting down the hall and out the door, leaving a plodding Willy McGrath in his wake. It was an inspired tactic, born of the need to avoid and evade, and it worked very well, except on Wednesday afternoons, when his bulky trombone case served to slow him down.

Enter Lane Tipton, recommended by the random fact that his desk was next to Cat’s, and that he too was off to Mrs. Baker’s Cub Scout meeting after school.

“Could you carry my horn?” Cat had asked. “It’s worth a quarter if you would.”

A quarter! Twenty-five 1944 cents? It would have been enough to buy a week’s supply of candy and gum, had not wartime rationing made them unavailable. Still, by any measure a quarter went a long way in those days, which made Lane’s response something of a surprise.

“Hey. I’m going there anyway. You keep your quarter. I’ll bring the horn. That’s no big deal.” 

Lane understood exactly what Cat was dealing with. There was no reason to be taking his money for lending a hand. For the rest of that school year Lane had carried Cat‘s trombone to every Cub Scout meeting, with never a quarter changing hands.

By the next fall, when the boys returned to start the fourth grade, Willy was still there. But over the summer Cat had formed a new alliance. Clarence Ryan was a fifth grader, a large, intimidating soul in his own right. Though he appeared to have little in common with the Barrington boy, they had apparently formed a bond over the summer. Though Clarence was not a pal....Cat was not the kind to have ‘pals’....he had become a valued friend.

The rumor around school was that it took Clarence just one brief visit with Willy McGrath to end the bully’s tormenting attention. There were other stories making the rounds about the price Cat paid for that help, and how much it took to maintain his arm’s length friendship with Clarence until the older boy moved on to junior high school. Whatever the cost, Cat Barrington had never been bothered again. And in his own modest way, Lane had been there at the beginning.


“I’ll have to tell you,” C.T. Barrington exclaimed, motioning Lane to a chair across from his cluttered desk. “I was scratching my head when she told me it was you. It’s been a long time. Probably forty-some years at least.”

Mr. Barrington’s handshake had been firm and his welcoming grin appeared genuine. In sum Cat’s welcome was enough to have Lane wondering. Was his long ago schoolmate actually glad to see him after all that time? 

Of course, standing there in an expensive tailored suit, the current version of Cat Barrington, bald and bulky, bore little resemblance to the slender youngster Lane remembered. Still, from all appearances the years had been good to him.

“It has been a long time,” Lane agreed. “I left town not long after high school. Spent most of the time down south, in Medford and Redding. Heck, I never made it back to a single high-school reunion. So I haven’t kept track of anyone.” 

Cat was nodding, offering a grim little laugh as he explained, “I can relate to that. I’ve been right here in town the whole time, but I’ve never bothered with the reunion stuff. Actually, there wasn’t much about those times I wanted to remember. 

"I see Terry Rawlings and Ken Wright from time to time. They both worked for what used to be First National Bank. Johnny Waters came back to town after medical school. I see him occasionally at the club. That’s about it. So, how about you?”

That was a bit unexpected. Cat Barrington was asking about him, as if he actually cared. “Not much to talk about there,” Lane admitted. “Spent most of my time in sales. Building materials mostly. Did pretty well during the good times.” He had no interest in elaborating beyond, “Lately things have been a little slow.”

Thankfully Cat was willing to settle for that, at least until his curiosity got the better of him. “So what brought you back to Tanner....and knocking on my door?”

“Well, if you must know, I’m being something of a daredevil. At least that’s what folks tell me.”

“A daredevil? Aren’t you getting a little old for that?”

The unexpectedly casual tone of their conversation had Lane relaxing a bit. Though that alone might not close the sale, it surely made the trying a more comfortable thing.

“Well, I’m pretty sure you realize that you frighten a lot of people,” he said. “I’m guessing that’s what you have in mind, at least some of the time. 

"Maybe that’s good for business. Anyway, the thought of approaching you seems to intimidate some folks. So when I told them there was no reason to be afraid, even if they didn’t get what they wanted, they decided I was the one who should come calling.”

“So it’s about money, eh?” The big man stiffened, his natural reaction to a lifetime spent dealing with every known appeal to part him from his fortune.

“Not exactly.” Lane raised a palm to quiet his friend’s protest. “It’s an idea. That’s all it is at this point. Something I hope you’re willing to hear about, maybe even consider. I don’t know what it might cost. That’s not my part of the deal. I’m here because I was pretty sure that talking to you about it wouldn’t be bad for my health.”

Five minutes later Cat Barrington had heard Lane’s pitch. By then his arm was draped over Lane’s shoulder as he escorted him through the front office. 

“I’m not saying ‘yes,’ you understand,” Cat cautioned. “But I will look into it and give it some thought, like you asked.”

The unlikely sight of Cat wearing a smile was more than Lane could have hoped for. “I hope you will. I’ll check back next week like you said.”

At that point Mr. Barrington’s reply was hijacked by the ringing of a telephone. He answered the call with a few quiet words then pulled the phone from his ear and turned to Lane.

“Thanks for stopping by, my friend. I’ll look into your idea. I promise you that much. Beyond that.....we’ll just have to see. Okay?”