Greetings, readers. For today’s blog entry, I decided to give my regular readers, and the folks who read me when I link the blog entry to the Bear Spring Camps Facebook page, a one chapter taste of the novel Four’s a Crowd. Darren Taylor did a remarkable job on this novel, adapting it from my play Kimberly. We collaborated on this work, touching base on his progress and plot points as he wrote it. I think you will be pleased by this sample of the first chapter. There is a small chance that it is not quite the final version that was published, but if it isn’t, it is extremely close to the final. If you would like to read the entire book, it is available for sale at Amazon.com for $14.99, a decent price for a 300 page novel. We do not yet have it as an ebook, so for now it is in print form only. It is also available locally at Webster’s Bookstore Café in downtown State College, PA.
Four’s a Crowd
“Well, that was a waste of my time,” Alice thought to herself as she got dressed.
After going through the embarrassment of disrobing and donning the paper-thin gown that allowed nothing in the way of modesty, she waited for a solid twenty minutes for the doctor to grace her with his presence. And when Doctor Keeting finally did breeze in, he spent a total of fifteen minutes with her, if even that. He did a rudimentary physical examination, asked her a few asinine questions, and was gone again before she could say, “uncaring, incompetent moron.”
She never would have agreed to come here in the first place if it hadn’t been for the fire. It wasn’t a big fire, but it was her fault. She’d simply gotten distracted and left a pan of bacon unattended on top of the stove when she went to answer the phone. It had been Mrs. Donohue, from next door, calling with wonderful news regarding the total profits from last week’s church pie sale.
If it hadn’t been for Henry, and his quick thinking with the flour jar, the whole place might have gone up.
Taking one last look in the mirror to see that her blouse was straight, she pulled her jacket on and buttoned it up, making sure the collar lay properly. Next, she produced a small comb from out of her bag and smoothed over any visible imperfections in her steel-grey curls. Satisfied with the results of her efforts, she shouldered her purse, opened the door, and stepped into the chilly hallway.
The stench of industrial strength carpet shampoo and antibacterial cleansers made her want to sneeze and the clamor of voices and ringing telephones, emanating from the nurse’s station, assaulted her ears. A toddler being pulled down the hall by one tiny hand as she screamed at the top of her lungs, only added to the din.
Turning to the right, she walked to the first junction, took a left, walked to the next, and paused. Suddenly, all the hallways and doors looked the same, becoming a never-ending labyrinth of hideous grey carpeting, taupe walls, and severe fluorescent lighting. The posted signs, meant to act as a guide, only succeeded in confusing her further. To her horror, it was then that she realized, she had no idea where she was.
“Mrs. Detmore?” a soft, feminine voice asked from behind her. Alice turned toward it.
A petite red-head, an obvious bottle-job to Alice’s experienced eye, smiled at her with way too many teeth. The bright pink scrubs the girl wore, adorned with dancing teddy bears, offended Alice’s every sense of good taste.
The girl’s mouth moved but her words were lost in the ambient noise that filled the hallway.
“Excuse me?” Alice replied indignantly.
“I asked if you were alright,” the girl said. “You look a little lost.”
“One is never lost if one maintains her sense of self,” Alice pronounced with false confidence. She turned back around and took several steps, not wanting to make her fear and confusion readily apparent.
“Mrs. Detmore?” the nurse said.
“Yes? What is it, child?” Alice asked, her back still to the girl.
“Your husband is in waiting room three and…”
“I know where he is. I don’t need some little miss know-it-all to tell me where I left my own husband.”
The young woman closed the distance between them and put a gentle hand on Alice’s shoulder, “But Mrs. Detmore,” she said with soft patience, “waiting room three is back this way.”
* * *
With her escort leading the way, Alice found her husband of almost fifty years asleep in one of the poorly padded wooden chairs. His legs were stretched out in front of him with his feet crossed at the ankles and his nose was buried in the lapels of his heavy brown jacket. His chest rose and fell with each deep breath and a low, growly snore rumbled through his hairy nostrils. A copy of last year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue lay open, face-down, on his considerable belly.
The girl bid her a good day and departed. Alice just shook her head and rolled her eyes in exasperation before she approached the sleeping man and loudly cleared her throat.
He snorted, blinked awake, and looked up at her with a sleepy smile.
“Good old Henry Detmore, always on point,” Alice grumbled. “I’m ready to go.”
“I was just resting my eyes,” Henry proclaimed.
“And dreaming of swimsuit models I see.”
Henry sat the rest of the way up. The magazine took a dive for the floor, but he caught it and tossed it onto the jumbled pile of other periodicals; the newest of which was an issue of Time from May of that year.
“No, I was reading an article in there about Ben Roethlisburger’s car collection,” Henry retorted but Alice had already turned away and made for the elevators. She was practically half-way there by the time he was on his feet and out the door. Leaning heavily on his cane, he picked up the pace and caught up to her. Ignoring the mild case of pins and needles in his left foot, he took her by the arm.
“You move pretty fast for an old gal,” he said, nestling against her. “What say I buy you breakfast? But only if you’re willing to fool around on the first date.”
“Who are you calling old?” Alice asked. “And don’t be vulgar, Henry.” She frowned at her watch. “It’s half past ten. Breakfast is over.”
“Lunch then,” Henry countered and pushed the button for the elevator.
“It’s too early for…look, can we just go home?” Alice barked, her blue eyes flashing angrily.
“Sure thing, babe,” Henry admonished, looking a little down-trodden.
The elevator arrived, the doors opened, they stepped in, and Alice pushed the button for the ground floor.
* * *
On an oddly warm Friday in mid-September, Alice and Henry Detmore pulled out of the labyrinthine parking structure that serviced St. Claire Memorial Hospital, a large medical facility that served the residents of Mount Lebanon, a medium-sized suburb about thirty minutes south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Detmore’s home town.
They turned off Bower Hill Road and onto Route 19, heading south. Henry, growing weary of the mind-numbing silence, reached over, and clicked on the car radio. He ran through the pre-sets until he came across W.Z.O.O. and the morning sports talk show; The Morning Zoo with Hal and Al. The two throaty hosts, Hal Nelson and Al Kelly, were ranting about the up and coming Sunday afternoon match-up between the Steelers and the Bengals. This decision earned him a look of disapproval from his wife, so he turned it back off. Alice simply turned back toward the window and they continued the trip in silence.
About ten minutes of angry quiet later, Shari’s Dairy, a small ice cream stand, came into view as they topped a small hill. A red, white, and blue OPEN flag rippled in the warmish autumn breeze.
Henry’s face lit up.
“Hey! Shari’s is still open. She usually closes after Labor Day. It’s been forever since we’ve been in there.” He snickered and smiled to himself. “You remember the time we accidentally left Lyle there? We were so busy arguing, that we got about halfway home before we realized that he wasn’t in the car.”
Alice didn’t respond.
“And when we finally made it back, we found him where we’d left him, sitting at our usual table just as calm as could be. We expected to find a hysterical, crying child, but he was so engrossed in his electronic football gadget, he never even realized we were gone. You want to stop for a cone?” Henry asked, letting up on the gas in anticipation of pulling into the small, gravel parking lot. “They might still have your favorite; butter crunch. I think I’ll get black raspberry.” Secretly, Henry wasn’t in that much of a mood for ice cream. He would just be glad to see his wife smile again and ice cream always used to cheer her up. He activated the turn signal.
“No,” Alice finally said. “We really don’t have time to stop for memories. There’s just too much to do.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” Henry agreed, and his heart sank. “We still have a lot of packing to get done before the movers get here.” He disengaged the turn signal, put his foot back on the gas, and they hummed past the small ice cream parlor, headed for home. He looked over at his wife, who had gone back to staring quietly out the window.
Maybe it was the fire. Maybe it was something the doctor had told her. She would talk about that in her own good time. Maybe it was the move. And maybe it was the realization of everything that awaited them over the next few days and weeks. Either way, something had caused her to go quiet in a way he’d never seen before. And he couldn’t say that he blamed her one bit. Neither one of them responded well to change and neither one of them was looking forward to leaving the home they had both grown to know and love.
* * *
At about half past eleven Henry turned the Buick into the narrow gravel driveway and pulled in under the car port; nothing more than a simple tin roof nailed onto a wooden frame, just something to keep the worst of the rain and snow at bay. A large, dark stain and deep tire grooves in the gravel marked the place where they’d parked many vehicles, in the same spot, over many years.
He put the car in park and shut it off.
We’re home, Mother,” he said. When she didn’t respond to being called mother, something he hadn’t done in the years since their son, Lyle, still lived at home, he reached over and touched his wife’s arm.
She jumped a little, as if being jolted out of sleep.
“What?” she asked grumpily
“We’re home,” Henry repeated. “You know, that place where we keep our stuff while we go out and get more stuff.”
“I can see that,” she huffed. Collecting her purse from its place on the floor between her feet, she opened the car door and started to get out before she realized that she was still belted in. With a grunt of frustration, she hit the release button for the seatbelt, and climbed out, slamming the door shut hard enough to rattle it in its frame. Henry couldn’t hear what she was saying. He could only see her lips move as she muttered to herself and walked around the front of the car, digging into her purse for the house key.
Henry didn’t get out right away. After his wife disappeared inside, he sat for a moment, staring up at the 19th Century Colonial that he, Alice, and Lyle had called home for the better part of four decades. The two coats of sunlight yellow paint he’d paid Greg Farmer a small fortune to put on the old place, not one year ago, were already beginning to show signs of sun-fade and cracking along the foundation and around the windows. And that really toasted Henry’s ass. People say it over and over because it’s an undeniable truth, “You just can’t find good help these days,” and, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
And before his health had begun to fail him, he had lived by that very policy. He had done the painting and all the other maintenance himself. Sure, most of the time, he would get Lyle to assist on things like cutting and maintaining a yard that spanned almost an entire acre around all sides of the house. And maybe he would even hire one of the neighbor-kids to pitch in on the bigger jobs; like painting the house or changing out the storm windows in preparation for another hard Pennsylvania winter. But, for the most part, he had done it all himself. And, like any other man, he took a lot of pride in that fact.
However, as he got on into his later years, and Lyle grew into his late teens, he found that his legs would no longer take him up a steep ladder or that he couldn’t chop fire wood without becoming winded. More and more Lyle had to take over.
After Lyle graduated high school and went off to college at The University of Pittsburgh, he took to hiring local kids to do things like raking the leaves. Eventually, even that pool of employees dried up as some of those kids followed his son’s path and went off in search of higher education.
Like Lyle, they left Mount Lebanon for the excitement of dorm life; parties, girls, booze, and all the other things that the college experience had to offer. Others joined the military and went off to serve their country. And others simply threw caution to the wind, packed up, hit the road, and lit out for parts unknown. A few made some very bad decisions and went nowhere. Like little Eddie Gilbert, who ended up in Pittsburgh’s Correctional Institute for armed robbery.
With no cheaper labor to bring in, Henry was forced to hire professionals and contractors to do the difficult work. People like Greg Farmer who possessed the unreasonable expectation that, just because they owned a business and a truck with their name decaled on the door, they had the God-given right to charge the moon and stars to perform simple tasks; such as putting a coat of paint on a house, changing out storm windows, or drying out a flooded basement.
Again, this brought him back to the paint job on the house. The five-hundred dollars he’d given Mr. Farmer should have bought him a much longer lasting result. A good quality outdoor paint should not fade or crack in the span of ten months.
Then again, ultimately, it didn’t matter anymore. Because, as of a week ago, the place had gone on the market. A reflective aluminum sign from Franklin Reality Inc. stood planted in the grass on the edge of the front lawn with a FOR SALE plate hanging from the bottom. He and Alice finally had to face a hard truth and admit to themselves that they were no longer able to take care of the house or the property. It was just too much work. And too much worry.
Especially after the fire. While it had only charred part of the wall behind the stove, melted two of the control knobs, and ruined the curtains above the sink, the damage had not been that extensive. The insurance had paid for all repairs, a replacement stove, and new curtains, but the one thing insurance could not bring back was their piece of mind. Alice would never admit it, but Henry knew that the fire had put the fear of God into her. For at least two weeks afterwards, she didn’t want to go into the kitchen to make so much as toast. What other mistakes was she going to make? Maybe next time no one would be there and something worse would happen.
Finally, despite all her initial objections, the call to Dr. Keating’s office was made and an appointment was set up.
Their realtor, Janet Franklin, called the day after the papers were signed and the house was posted on the company’s website thing. She informed him that she already had not one, but three, potential buyers on the hook. That was the good news. The bad news was that he and Alice were going to have to take a bit of a beating on the price to facilitate a quick sale. Also, the kitchen fire would have to be disclosed even though it had caused no structural damage. She’d list it as a fixer-upper with a ton of potential and a starting price of eighty-thousand. After some debate, he and Alice decided to vacate the property and leave the sale and other final doings in Mrs. Franklin’s capable hands.
Regardless, he sure was going to miss the old place.
* * *
No sooner had Alice stepped back into the house, surrounded by their lives packed into dozens of cardboard boxes, six suitcases, and four trunks, when she decided that now was not the time to dawdle. After a brief restroom stop and a glass of water to wash down her medication, she set to work in the small parlor where dozens of small, ceramic figurines stood, row upon row, within the confines of a locked, glass and wood curio cabinet.
She had been very clear about the fact that she was to be the only one to take them down, wrap them, or box them up. No one else, including her husband, was to touch them. She unlocked the cabinet, gathered her supplies, and set to work, taking them out one by one, brushing each with a yellow feather duster, rolling it into a layer of plastic bubble-wrap, and placing it, ever so carefully, into its own compartment within the moving box; a box that would come with her in the car and would not be loaded into the moving truck or the tow trailer.
Each figurine contained its own memories:
The grinning clown, holding a colorful swarm of balloons in one white-gloved fist, purchased on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, where she and Henry had taken their honeymoon.
The whistling boy with a fishing rod on one shoulder and a bundle of school books over the other, a 25th birthday present from Henry’s mother, Grace.
The slobbering, diaper-clad baby, holding a rattle and grinning a one-toothed grin, a gift from The Connors to commemorate Lyle’s birth.
The winged angel with a golden halo, a house-warming present from her Cousin Martha to celebrate the acquisition of this very house.
As she dusted the angel, wrapped it, and placed it in the box with the others, she found herself struggling to hold back tears. The thought of leaving this place and leaving everything and everyone she knew behind suddenly became too much. She looked around to make sure Henry wasn’t lurking anywhere about and then she let the tears come, allowing herself to weep for a good minute before she drew out a clean, white handkerchief and expertly removed her tears without so much as smearing her make-up. No sooner had she started back on task, when she heard the front door open and close. Followed by Henry’s familiar footsteps on the hard-wood floor.
“Alice?” he called, his voice echoing eerily through the mostly empty house.
“In here, Henry,” she called back.
* * *
The next day, Saturday, Teddy Sheldon and his Merry Movers pulled into the Detmore’s driveway at 8 A.M. on the dot. One solid business policy that Teddy stood by was, “If we’re late, we’ll move you for free.” And Teddy made sure his Merry Movers were never, ever late.
Henry and Alice were already up, packed, and ready well before the truck ever pulled in. As a matter of fact, neither one had slept much at all that night as the laundry list of things that needed done, and details that needed to be remembered, seemed to grow longer and more daunting with each passing hour.
The throaty whisper of the box truck’s diesel engine and the steady pulse of the backup alarm cut through the chilly, early morning, autumn air. Henry watched from inside as the large vehicle drifted to a stop with a hiss of air brakes, not ten feet from the bottom of the porch steps. The cab doors swung open and six burly men bubbled out, their breath forming clouds of white mist in the air around their heads.
Teddy Sheldon, at an impressive six feet, four inches, climbed down from behind the steering wheel and came to the front door with a clipboard in his hand. Henry opened the door just as he was reaching for the doorbell.
“Hey, Ted,” Henry greeted. “Come on in.”
“Morning, Henry,” The big man replied. Wiping his boots on the doormat, he stepped in, and Henry offered his right hand. Ted removed one work glove and accepted it, shaking with a firm grip. “Are you and Mrs. Detmore all set?”
“You bet,” Henry said, closing the door. Ted flipped the clipboard around and handed it to Henry. It held several sheets of paper with the Merry Movers’ letterhead printed at the top. Each sheet contained a numbered list of Henry and Alice’s belongings,
“This is an invoice of everything we’re packing into the truck and bringing with us,” Teddy said, running one wide, calloused finger down the edge of the first page. “If you could look it over, make sure everything’s on there, and sign at the bottom of the last page, I’ll put the guys to work.”
Henry quickly skimmed each page.
“I saw a tow trailer parked out front,” Ted added. “You need help loading anything into that?”
“If you could,” Henry replied. “We have four trunks and some luggage. Alice travels like the Queen of Sheba.”
“I heard you there,” Teddy agreed, and the two men shared a laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Alice asked briskly from the top of the stairs. She was dressed in her gray pantsuit, cut so that it hugged her figure quite nicely and the blouse buttoned all the way to the collar. A stylish lavender hat, pinned in place no doubt, sat askew atop her head.
“Nothing, dear,” Henry replied sheepishly.
“Mrs. Detmore,” Teddy greeted with a slight nod.
“Mr. Sheldon, see that nothing gets a scratch. There’s still a curio cabinet that needs prepared for the move in the small parlor.” Alice ordered.
Satisfied with what he read, Henry took the attached pen, noted the items to be loaded onto the tow trailer, and signed the bottom of the last page with a flourish.
“Not a scratch. Yes, ma’am. I guarantee it. We’ll crate and wrap the curio before it goes on the truck.” Teddy assured before he reclaimed the clipboard, signed his own name under the customer’s, tore off the pink copy and handed it to Henry. Then, stepping back outside, Ted signaled his guys with a piercing whistle. And the men of the Merry Movers went to work like a well-oiled machine, making the trunks and luggage a priority.
No sooner had Henry backed the Buick onto the trailer hitch, then the men had the items in and set to go. They even double-checked the trailer’s connection to make sure it was secure. By the time the box containing Alice’s ceramic figurines was secured onto the Buick’s back seat under her specific supervision and she was in the car with her seatbelt fastened, Henry was already behind the wheel with the engine warmed up, the heater on full, the interior nice and toasty, and the windows clear of autumn frost.
Ted knocked gently on the driver’s side window and Henry hit the button to lower it.
“Okay, Henry,” the man said, leaning down to the open window. “Just to confirm, we are taking these items to 2141 Revere Lane in Danbury, Connecticut.”
“Right,” Henry agreed. “The best way to get there is to take…”
“I already have it programmed into the GPS. We’ll find you easily enough.”
“GPS,” Alice scoffed quietly from the passenger seat.
“Alright,” Henry said. “We’ll see you this afternoon then.”
“Count on it,” Teddy replied confidently.
Henry closed the window and took one last, long look at the old homestead. He looked over at Alice, who was busy pretending to adjust the knot on her scarf. He reached over and touched her shoulder.
Let’s go, Henry,” She growled without looking at him. “Let’s go before I change my mind.”
Henry drove to the end of the driveway, pulled out into the street, and pointed the car toward Connecticut.
end of chapter one
Well, there it is. We all hope you enjoy it thoroughly and it entices you to want to read more.
I bid everyone a wonderful weekend, prayers to all who need it, and happy reading.