Just minutes before, the four of them....Sally, Robert, Marla, and Lane....had welcomed Maureen Kenyon into Sally’s humble trailer. From the beginning at least three of them had wondered why she was there and what she had to say.
Now, even after her not-so-brief introduction, those questions remained. To further muddy the waters, Maureen seemed to be suggesting that Lane, of all people, was the key to the Mission House’s distressing financial dilemma and its possibility of expansion. No one understood better than Lane himself how unlikely that sounded. Still, he must try to explain.
Pulling his chair a bit closer to the couch, he took a moment to glance from one expectant face to another before settling on Marla’s perplexed frown. He sensed the urge to reassure her. But that was not the role Maureen had assigned him. Instead, it was time to help them understand.
“Like Maureen said,” he began. “We had the city’s tentative okay to go ahead with the project....to add dormitory rooms across the alley. Erin Brock was a big help in making that happen. But without access to some serious funding the City’s approval wouldn’t be enough. And of course the necessary dollars would have to be private money. No government was going to put their resources into something like we had in mind.
“To make matters worse, I’d been away from Tanner for forty-some years. Who the heck did I know who would be willing to help out on that scale. I thought about that for a while and came up with just one candidate. It was absolutely the longest of long shots. But it was my only choice, so that’s where I went.”
Lane was grinning at his sister, wondering if she had guessed who he was talking about. “You see, I had this really far out hunch. You’ve probably all heard of Cat Barrington. He’s a big man in town....a very successful guy any way you measure it.
"The thing is, Cat and I go back a long way together....all the way back to grade school. We were never the best friends or anything like that. But we’d always got along.”
Sally was nodding by then, chuckling at the thought of it. “That was back at Riverview Elementary,” she interjected as she remembered. “Cat was a nerdy little kid in those days. Used to get picked on a lot. I remember that in grade school Lane might have been the closest thing to a friend he had.”
“Maybe so,” Lane nodded, returning to his story. “Anyway, like everyone else, I’d heard about how well Cat had done for himself. Actually, what he’d done was carry on what his dad had started. I knew that he owned a few businesses and a lot of real estate, like his old man.
“I hadn’t seen him in ages, but when Maureen explained how our project would depend on getting some serious financial help, I decided I’d give it a try. The odds weren’t good, of course. But the worse he could do was say ‘no.’ So I decided to call on Mr. Barrington and hope that he’d at least talk to me. And he did.”
“Did he say he’d help Mission House?” Robert asked. “I’ve never met the guy, but when people talk about him he comes off sounding like a real hard-nose. Not the kind to be doing handouts.”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” Lane continued, shaking his head at the thought of it. “I was kind of anxious about going to his office. Of course, he knew right away that I’d come looking for something. Apparently he gets a lot of that. In fact, I asked him straight out if it sometimes felt like the only reason people wanted to talk to him was to pick his pockets. He kind of grinned and said there were times when it seemed like that.
“Anyway, there I was, coming to ask the great Cat Barrington if he’d be willing to help us. Before I said a word I could see his antenna go up. But that didn’t seem to turn him off. We started off talking about the times we'd spent together as kids at Cub Scout camp, about some of the guys we knew back then. Then, all of sudden he looked up and asked me point blank, "Tell me, what the hell is this about?’
“So I tried to explain....about how so many folks need help....and how it seems there are folks, like him, who could afford to help make things better.
"Then I got to the hardest part, telling him that even though the City seemed to be behind us, it was going to take more than that. Finally I just told him flat out, that he was the only person I knew who might be able to offer the kind of help we were looking for.
Pausing to assemble his thoughts, Lane was shaking his head, remembering his own surprise at Cat Barrington's reaction.
“About then I was wondering if he was going to throw me out. But he didn’t. He was actually smiling when he asked how much it would take. I had to tell him I had no idea. The building we were looking at was a warehouse, an empty warehouse. So there was the cost of the building, plus whatever renovation and upgrading the Mission House needed to do.
“By then I wasn’t holding out much hope. I couldn’t even answer his most basic questions. Though I couldn’t tell him how much it would be, I knew it would be expensive. But then, when he looked up he was grinning again. He told me that he’d heard good things about that ‘Kenyon lady,’ which sounded hopeful. Then, before he could say more his phone rang.
“Next thing I knew Cat was in the middle of some business conversation. He took a couple seconds to tell me he’d check out my Mission House idea and get back to me. I left, intending to get back to him. But then, a few days later I was off to Medford, to the packing sheds. So I haven’t talked to him since. But apparently Maureen has.”
By then Maureen Kenyon sensed their stares turning back to her. There was no need for further background. It was time to spring her surprise.... which would, in fact, turn out to be more than one surprise.
“As you well know,” she began. “This economy has been hard on lots of people, as well as places like the Mission House. There is so much to be done, more than we can possibly do. I suppose I’d still be moaning about that if our friend ‘The Dreamer’ hadn’t come along when he did.
“It was absolutely amazing how it played out. Lane started the process by planting the seed of an idea. He got me excited about it, then introduced Erin Brock and Cat Barrington to what he had in mind. Having done all that, what did he do? Why he ran off to Medford.
"My best salesman had flown the coop. At that point I had no idea how things would turn out. The best I could do for him was assure him that if everything came together the way we hoped, it would be his job to make it happen.”
By then Maureen was talking directly to Marla. “And it seemed like that’s all it took. For reasons I didn’t understand at the time, he’d gone to Medford to earn a decent paycheck. When he heard me talking about the possibility of a job here in Tanner he perked right up.
“So here’s what happened while he was off at the packing sheds. This is the part that Lane’s been waiting for, because he hasn’t heard about it either.
“To begin with, Cat Barrington came calling. I spent an hour or so showing him around the Mission House....what we do now and how much more we could do with the additional space. It was a very productive visit. He was asking questions, wanting to know more.
"Like one of you said, I expected him to be a real hard-nose guy. In fact, he was very nice.....but very thorough. I could tell he had paid attention to what Lane had told him. He told me up front that Lane had always treated him right....'Never tried to get in my pockets,'....was the way he said it. That seemed to mean a lot to Cat.”
Maureen paused, chewing her lip, aiming her stern, no-nonsense glare in Lane’s direction. “Still, in the end, Cat decided not to buy the warehouse.”
“I thought you told me he was on board.” Lane inched forward in his chair, ready to take exception. “That’s what you said.”
Maureen was reading Lane’s disappointment. Rather than string him along any further she hurried on. “Actually, as it turned out what he did was trade for it. In fact, I’m told it took three investors, trading three separate properties and one business, to finally get the warehouse in Cat’s hands.
"This week the Mission House board signed the papers....the ones that will allow Cat to claim a rather sizable charitable deduction for contributing not only the building, but also the funds necessary to do the renovations....including a new, enlarged kitchen.”
“A kitchen?” Lane asked. “That was never part of the plan.”
“That’s because you weren’t the only dreamer working on this project.”
There was no holding back Maureen’s happy grin. “The building that Cat used to start his three-way trade had been a restaurant. The kitchen equipment was old, not exactly state-of-the-art....but a lot better than the antiques we use at the Mission House.
"So he insisted that the kitchen gear be part of the trade. He did that on his own. And he was so proud of pulling it off. Anyway, in another few days our ‘new’ kitchen will be arriving. Before long our old kitchen will be outfitted with new ‘used’ fixtures.
“Then finally, to top things off, Cat arranged for what he called a ‘consortium’ of local businesses to help underwrite the increase in our operating expenses. I’ve heard rumors that he ‘persuaded’ them to contribute, though I’m not sure I want to know how he did that.”
At that point Marla signaled her impatience with a loud sigh. She had heard more than she wanted to hear about Mission House, and almost nothing about Lane’s employment prospects. “Did you say there’s a job in all that for Lane?” she finally asked. “A real full-time job?”
“Oh yes, Lane’s job. That is an important consideration, isn’t it?” That had Maureen turning serious. “And I can assure you it’s still there. In fact, we hardly got off the ground before the darn thing had grown.”
“What does that mean?” Marla asked.
“Well, as you may know, the Mission House is open from seven in the morning until we lock the doors at ten o’clock each night. There is a Night Clerk on duty overnight, but he’s mainly there for security and emergencies. Altogether we have the staff in place to cover all the functions of what I’m calling the ‘Streetside’ operations....the existing day room, kitchen, showers, and sleeping rooms. ....overseeing all that amounts to a full-time job. That’s what I do.....along with my night-shift supervisor.
“But now we’ll be adding the ‘Backside’....the new dormitory and day room across the alley. We’ll need additional staffing for that, as well as on-site supervision. Then, when Lane picked up on that....the need for additional supervision....he had another of his ideas.
“We’ll want that Backside supervision on board for fifteen hours a day, just like the Streetside. That means we’re talking about two people, who can share what has to be done. Fortunately Cat Barrington had foreseen that need, along with part-time coverage on the weekends. He had built all that into the budget he and I put together.”
Maureen took a moment to scan her audience, asking herself if they could see where she was leading them. That in turn had Lane turning away, avoiding Maureen’s glance, uneasy at being singled out the way he was about to be.
Finally Maureen turned back to Marla. “So yes, we have that job for Lane. Actually we’ll have what I’m calling a ‘Lane job’ and a ‘Robert job.’ That was Lane’s latest suggestion, that the two of them share that supervision, splitting the fifteen hours any way they want, as long as one of them is always on hand.
“I happen to think that was one of his best ideas,” Maureen continued. “By the time we’re up and operating the Backside my workload will have grown too. So having the two of them on board will take a huge load off me and my team.”
It was Robert who had raised his hand, calling for an explanation. “You mean Lane lobbied to have a second job included. Are you sure that’s necessary. I’m not looking to be a charity case, you know.”
Maureen was trying for an unsmiling, matter-of-fact reply. “Then don’t take the job,” she said calmly. “I assure you, it has nothing to do with charity. I’ll need to to fill that position with someone. Lane thought you’d be a natural. I happened to agree.”
“Wow.” Robert had sunk back on the sofa, digesting his unexpected promotion to full employment. He was still shaking his head as he turned to Lane. “Are you sure, old buddy? Does this really make sense?”
“It makes perfect sense” Lane replied, coming to his own defense. “To begin with, getting the renovation done will be a complicated deal. You’ve got a ton of construction experience. Lots more than me. We’ll need to use licensed plumbers to install the restrooms and showers in the warehouse. Even though you can’t do that work yourself, you’d be the perfect one to see that we’re getting what we want.
“And now that Maureen’s talking about a new kitchen there’s bound to be some serious plumbing there for you to oversee. All in alI I think it’s a great fit. And I’m absolutely sure the work will suit us better than planting trees and pruning shrubs.”
Half laughing at Robert’s bemused frown, Lane offered his trump card. “Besides, we’ve got these not-so-helpless ladies to keep happy. I’m thinking that each of them probably wants the same thing....a steady paycheck and having us out from under foot at least part of the day.”
“I suppose you’ve got that right,” Robert nodded. “But who would have thought it would turn out like this?” Turning to Maureen he asked, “And you’re sure it’s a go. It’s actually going to happen?”
“Oh, it’s going to happen,” she answered. “In fact, it’s going to be the two of you, along with that Cat Barrington fellow, who will make it happen.
“Look,” Maureen continued, turning to the ladies. “As near as I can tell the four of you are in fact two couples. Right? Two couples trying to get by. We all know that can be a challenge in the best of times. And these are not the best of times.
“From the beginning I promised myself that if anything came of Lane’s crazy idea, I’d ask him to help with the renovation and later, with the supervision. When he suggested bringing Robert on board, that solved my last staffing shortfall. I’m absolutely certain it’s the right thing for all of us.”