The Garden, Chapter VIII

Charlie’s stomach was rumbling when he stepped into Leroy’s Caffe.  He hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before and decided to take LuAnn up on her offer of charity.  Charlie didn’t come to this decision easily; he had almost always paid his own way.  For more than a year however Charlie had lived from hand to mouth, and some meals had been shared with homeless people at the Rescue Mission or Union Gospel Mission in downtown Portland.  Others had been found at Imago Dei Community and other Portland churches, and a few churches in Vancouver as well.  Charlie hated to beg, but he had learned how to do it.

His heart dropped when he walked through the door.  The place was packed.  Every table and every seat at the counter was taken, and a small group of customers was waiting for a place to sit down.  Charlie had learned how to beg, all right, but not in front of an audience of paying customers.  This was not going well at all.

And then it got worse.  Out through the door that led to the kitchen came a young woman, maybe in her late twenties or early thirties.  She was plump, with a round red face and her hair hanging down in ringlets, like the Campbell’s Soup girl.  She grabbed two arms full of plates, balancing them impossibly, and went to deposit them on the table in front of four customers who were vocal in their admiration of her performance.

 

Charlie was starving, but there was no way that he would speak of his need to a total stranger.  He saw the young homeless man hunched over a large plate of food at his familiar table near the door to the kitchen and was at the point of cursing his luck and then leaving.  At that moment LuAnn burst out through the door and began to bring plates of food to the customers seated at the counter.

It took LuAnn a minute to see Charlie standing there and she waved at him when their eyes met.  Charlie waved back limply, and when LuAnn signaled for him to come to the end of the counter he obeyed sheepishly.

“Good morning, young man.  Are you here for your cup of coffee?” she asked with her usual cheer.

“Well, un, actually I was wondering if, well, you know, if your offer of a breakfast on credit was still good?” Charlie replied.

LuAnn didn’t miss a beat.  “It certainly is.  I don’t make offers lightly.”

Her face never changed; no betraying squint of the eyes or moment’s hesitation.  It was as if she had expected this all along, or at least was ready for it at any time.  That response went a long way to making Charlie feel better about his situation.

“You have a problem with sharing a table with Jason?”  she asked, and pointed to the empty hair opposite where the young homeless man was eating.

“The bum’s corner,” Charlie thought, and then he replied “No ma’am.  No problem at all.”

LuAnn led him to the table and said “You’ve got company Jason.”

Jason looked up from his plate and waved a hand at the empty chair.  “Be my guest” he said, showing a mouthful of half-chewed sausage and potatoes.

Charlie sat down in the chair and LuAnn asked what he wanted to eat.  “I’ll take the same as Jason” he said.

“Good choice” LuAnn replied, and left to take his order into the kitchen.

Charlie sat quietly at the table and looked first at Jason, and then around the room.  The cafe was packed like he had never seen it, and Charlie surmised that the new woman had been called in to help LuAnn.  A mug of hot coffee quickly appeared on the table in front of him, brought by that new waitress.  Charlie looked up and said “Thank you,” but the woman didn’t make eye contact with him.  Instead, she glided away to check on the well-being of a neighboring table of paying customers.

“Oh,” Charlie thought.  “This really is the bum’s corner.”  His pride said “Get the hell out of here” while his stomach said “Screw her.  This is just temporary.  Stay put and eat.”  Charlie felt his face turning red as he fought to tamp down his anger.

“Yeah, she’s not too keen on our type” Jason said, shocking Charlie out of his thoughts.  “That’s Leroy’s granddaughter.  The old boy isn’t here much any more and she doesn’t like the idea that we’re welshing off of what she thinks is her money.  I’m guessing LuAnn’s fronting you this breakfast, right?”

Charlie nodded his head, surprised that Jason was talking with him in such an open and rational manner.  He had sat next to plenty of homeless guys at the places in Portland and they were not usually talkative.  At least not with anyone that Charlie could see.  Jason sounded as rational as Walt or Rachael or any of the group at the Key and Lock.

“Yeah” he answered.  “I’m between jobs and decided to take her up on an offer.”  For some reason, Charlie wanted to make sure that Jason knew that this wasn’t his normal pattern.  “I’ll probably pay her back tomorrow.”

“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” Jason sing-songed, sounding like Wimpy on the Popeye cartoons, and then he cracked a friendly smile and said “Hey, that’s your business.  I ain’t judging nobody.  LuAnn and Tank – that’s the cook’s name – they’re good people.  They got a heart.  They always help if they can.  I’m gonna pay ‘em back too.  Maybe not tomorrow, but someday.”

“LuAnn said that you do some work for them” Charlie said, and then wondered if he had betrayed a confidence.

“Yeah” Jason replied, not skipping a beat.  “I work in the kitchen sometimes to even up my bill.  I like kitchen work.  Pulled a lot of KP in the Army.  I especially like it in winter, when it’s cold outside.  Maybe not so much in the summer.”

“Well, I’m not worth squat in the kitchen” Charlie said.  “I’ll just have to leave her a big tip some morning.  I can work with a lot of tools, but a sink and stove are not two of them.

Jason then began to chatter on about something, but LuAnn appeared with a large, hot plate heaped with sausage and eggs and hash brown potatoes and toast, and then she laid down a bowl of country gravy.  “You’re going to need some gas in your tank to go out and conquer the world” she said with a smile.  She left and returned with her coffee pot and topped off both of their mugs.

Charlie was still admiring the small mountain of food in front of him when Jason broke into his reverie once again.  “LuAnn and Tank love to pile it up like that for us stray dogs when Peggy’s around.  It just pisses her off all the more.  Well,” Jason pushed himself away fro the table and picked up his mug of coffee.  “I have to go earn my breakfast.”

Charlie said “goodbye” and watched Jason disappear through the door into the kitchen.  He then returned his attention to his breakfast, and was soon sopping up the last of the gravy with his last triangular piece of toast.  LuAnn flashed two smiles for every one of Peggy’s frowns, and soon he was sitting very comfortably in front of several empty dishes with a very full belly.  “Panza llena, corazon content” a Mexican worker in his old company used to say; “Full stomach, happy heart.”  Charlie agreed.

The cafe was still doing a roaring business and so Charlie decided that he should leave and vacate the table.  He rose and walked to the door, waving to LuAnn and then to Peggy as he did so.  Peggy was clearly not impressed.  He would have liked to thank LuAnn more, but she had no time for that.  He had intended to make some phone calls at the table but decided that it would be better to leave and make them from the cab of his truck.  When he reached the cab he pulled his phone out and entered Carolyn’s number.  After three rings she answered.

“Hi Carolyn, this is Charlie.  How are you today?”  They got through the pleasantries and then Charlie got down to business.  “I’ve done the rework on the plans that you wanted and I think that I’ve captured the feel that you’re looking for.  Can I bring these over to you?”

Carolyn agreed to see Charlie in an hour and a half and then hung up.  Next he  pulled out the card that contained the phone number of Evergreen Counseling.  He expected that he would have to think more about this, but to his surprise he punched in the number without a second thought.  After several rings, and just as Charlie began to expect that his call would go to voice mail, he heard somebody pick up on the other end.

“Hello” came a voice on the line.  Charlie answered awkwardly.  “Hello.  Un, my name’s Charlie.  Is this Evergreen Counseling?”

“Yes.  This is Evergreen Counseling.  I am D’Andra Chummley.  Did you say your name is Charlie?”

“Yes.  Charlie Hamer.  I was given your number by Rachael – – -.”  Charlie stopped.  He realized that he didn’t know Rachael’s last name.  “By a person named Rachael who has a garden plot next to mine.  She works with troubled kids in Portland.”

“Of course.  Rachael.  Wonderful person.  If she hasn’t shared her last name with you, I’ll leave that for her to do when and if she wants to.  What brings you to be calling me, Mr. Hamer?”

“Well, un, I think I need you services.  I’m kinda, well, I’m sort of messed up in my thinking.  I mean, I’m bothered by some stuff that I can’t let go of, or maybe it won’t let go of me.  But it’s not like, un well, oh hell, maybe it IS like I’m not in control.  Really, Mrs. Chummley, I need to talk with someone and get some things straightened out.  Rachael said that you are good at that.”

“I would be happy to help you any way that I can Mr. Hamer.  When could we get together?  I am not terribly busy right now, so it should be easy and very much at your convenience.”

“Well, I need to discuss something else first.  I’m between jobs, and I am not rolling in money right now.”  Charlie chose not to add that he had just eaten a charity breakfast.  “Rachael said that perhaps you might need some services that I can offer.  I am a contractor, and can do just about anything that a house needs to have done.  Would you be willing to trade services?”

There was silence for a moment, then at last D’Andra spoke again.  “I will speak to my husband about that.  We do indeed need some work done on our house, but he would have to be consulted first.”  D’Andra paused another moment and then added “Perhaps we could have one introduction session.  You could bring me some references and I will speak to my husband.  Would that be acceptable, Mr. Hamer?”

Charlie agreed to that deal and promised to be at the Chummley’s house at 10:00 the next morning.  Then, with a little more than an hour to kill and very little gasoline in the tank of his truck, Charlie pulled out the diagrams and plans that he had redrawn, looking for anything that might need more fine tuning.  He found several very small items and was busy erasing and rewriting when he at last looked at his watch and saw that he had fifteen minutes to get to Carolyn’s house.

“Crap!” Charlie shouted.  He fired up the motor and pulled into traffic on Main Street.  Carolyn did not live too far away, but Charlie felt like he had left her house the day before on thin ice.  He didn’t want to push his luck today.  Traffic was light however, and Charlie pulled up and parked in front of her house with a good 30 seconds to spare.  He used those thirty seconds to put his papers in order, take in and exhale a deep breath, and try to get the butterflies in his stomach flying in formation.  At length he exited his truck and walked up the cement path that led to the front porch.  Carolyn was in the open door, waiting for him.

“Good morning Charlie.  How are you doing today?” she asked.

“Pretty good, I think” he answered.  “And yourself?  How are you?”

“Fine, Charlie.  I’m doing just fine.  Come on in and show me what you’ve got.”

“Formal” Charlie thought.  “Damned formal.  This could go south in a heartbeat.  Oh, God, please don’t let me screw up now.”

Carolyn waved Charlie to his usual position at the kitchen table and asked if he would like some coffee and something to eat.  “I would love a cup of your coffee” he responded.  “But I just had breakfast a few hours ago.  I’m fine, thank you,”

Carolyn poured a cup of coffee and placed it in front of Charlie.  She then asked “What have you got for me today?”

The coffee had become cold long before Charlie finished drinking it.  Carolyn was reserved at first, but as she reviewed the plans, diagrams and drawings she warmed to the task at hand.  She asked pointed questions – good questions, Charlie thought – and Charlie answered with either solutions or an honest “I don’t know.  I’ll have to think about that.”  Carolyn accepted that openness and honesty and after more than an hour sat upright and faced Charlie squarely.

“Charlie” she began.  “This is good.  I believe that you have gotten the idea that I wish to pursue in this remodel.  I’ve pointed out some issues that I’m a little unclear on and I think that I can trust you to clear them up for me.”  She paused at that moment, cleared her throat, and then continued.  “Now we get to the crunch.  How much would this cost me?”

Charlie sat still as a stone but his insides were shaking.  “I could do this for $35 thousand” he replied.

Now it was Carolyn’s turn to sit still and look at Charlie.  “Oh shoot” he thought.  “Did I bid too high”  I thought I was still on the low side.  I’ll come down if I have to, but that’s still not going to leave me very much.”  Charlie was about to break the silence with his offer to come down on the bid when Carolyn spoke again.

“Charlie, I told you that I wanted you to be fair with yourself.  At least I think that I did.  Is that the bid that I would get from another contractor?”

That caught Charlie by surprise.  “Just a minute” he said, and did some recalculations in his head.  Carolyn waited patiently as he worked and reworked those numbers in silence.  At last he said “$45 thousand would be closer to what you would see from most contractors, at least it was two years ago.  I’m not aware of prices going up dramatically since then, unless you want to go really designer on the project.”

Carolyn nodded as she heard Charlie speak.  She was not visibly shaken by the number that Charlie had given to her and at length she said “That sounds like a fair bid Charlie, and I am inclined to accept.  Just to be fair though, I have two concerns to clear up first.  The first is that you work alone.  I don’t want the job to drag along until next year.  I want to know if you will be able to complete it in a timely manner.”

Charlie waited to hear the next concern but the ensuing silence made it clear that Carolyn wanted an answer to her first before she proceeded.  “This won’t be a problem” he said.  “Nothing in the process will require more than one person.  I can use some jacks and braces to help with the tough, heavy work, and the cost will actually be less than paying wages for a second set of hands.  No, there will be no delays on that account.  I’m expecting this to take up to two months from demolition to completion.  Other contractors may tell you less, but this is based on my experience.  There’s the unexpected in ever job though, and that’s just a law of nature.”

“OK Charlie.  I appreciate that.  I had hoped for a little quicker job but you’re right; contractors promise the moon but rarely deliver.  Present company excepted, of course” she added with a smile.  “I’m satisfied with that.  Now I want to get to my second concern, and that deals with what I said yesterday.  Charlie, are you feeling personally stable enough to complete this job?  This will involve a lot of disruption of my life and home, and the answer to that question is something that I need to know.”

Charlie had known that question was coming and was glad that it had arrived.  He reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew the stiff paper card that said “Evergreen Counseling” and laid it on the table.

“Yes, I have thought about it.  I have an appointment with this person tomorrow, and we are going to begin to help me get some things straightened out.  A friend of mine who counsels children recommended her, and I trust my friend’s judgment.  In fact, I was going to ask you for a favor.  I may be paying for her time by trading for remodel help in her home, and I wondered if I could use you as a reference?”

Carolyn looked the card over and then handed it back to Charlie.  He couldn’t read her face, and began to fear that she might tell him to hit the road, which would be hard to do at that time since he was pretty sure that he didn’t have enough gas in the truck to drive back home.

“Charlie, I think that’s wonderful.  I’m glad that you’re taking this step.  A lot of people wouldn’t do it.  They’re too proud or too stupid or something, but they wouldn’t take the chance.  Of course you can use me as a reference.  Here, let me give you my card.”

Carolyn dug in her purse but couldn’t find what she was looking for.  “Wait a minute.  I’ll get one out of the office.”

Charlie waited while Carolyn retreated to her office in search of a card.  He was glad to get the referral, but still hadn’t heard what he needed the most: if he got the job.  At last Carolyn returned and took her seat opposite him at the table.  She pushed her card over to him and said “Here it is Charlie.  Tell this person that she can call me anytime for a reference.  And you can also tell her that I get first dibbs on your work.  Charlie, I want you to do my kitchen.”

The words sunk in slowly.  Carolyn continued to talk about details of the job, most importantly payment, which would begin today, but Charlie only barely heard her.  Inside he felt as if a couple of pieces of his life had just come together.  He had been at the end of his resources before, and had parked his truck and walked until he could borrow or beg a few dollars to get to another job.  He had been hungry before, and spent dull and unfeeling days between the end of one job and the beginning of another.

Today felt different.  This was not the beginning of another hand-to-mouth job intended, more than anything else, to kill empty time.  Charlie wanted to begin to live again, and maybe do a better job of it this time around.  LuAnn, with her generosity, had fed Charlie’s empty belly and his soul this morning .  Now, Carolyn Mason and D’Andra Chummley had offered to help feed his soul even more.

Emotions swirled inside Charlie, and once again he felt the tears begin to rise to the surface.  He was afraid that this show of weakness would shake the confidence in him that Carolyn had just expressed but instead, when he looked up, he saw tears in Carolyn’s eyes too.  He also noticed that she had pulled her checkbook out of her purse and was writing a figure that had more than two zeros after it.  She tore out the check and pushed it across the table to Charlie.

“That’s a first draw.  I know that you’ll need to get plans filed and then approved, and then demolition.  When you need to start buying materials let me know.  We can go look at appliances and cabinets and tiles and such any time next week.  I’ll be very busy for the rest of this one.”

Charlie looked at the check that lay before him as if he couldn’t believe that it was there.  Without further conversation, no start date, indeed not even approval from the county permit office yet, Carolyn had just written him a check.  The penniless state in which he existed when he drove up in front of her house had been wiped away by a check that this surprising woman had just pushed across the table.  He looked at her mutely, trying to take it all in.

“I trust you Charlie.  My late husband would call me an idiot, but I trust you.  Now you can pay your counselor so that I won’t have to compete for your time.”

Charlie made no attempt to hide his tears.  Unlike so many others that he had cried in the last two years these felt healthy and clean.  He placed his fingers over the check and drew it toward himself.  Four thousand dollars was written on the long line in the middle.  Four thousand dollars more than he currently possessed.  More money, actually, than he had seen for a very long time.

Charlie excused himself and then blew his nose on a paper towel that Carolyn had used for a napkin for his coffee.  Then, with drying eyes, he looked directly into Carolyn’s and said “Thank you.  Very much.  You have no idea how much I want to earn this money.  I’m going to go now.  I have to file some papers at the permit office.  That process could take as long as six weeks, but I think that it will take a lot less.  I want to get on it right away so that we can get going on the project.

Carolyn reached into her purse once again, this time withdrawing a key.  “Here Charlie.  You can come and go as you need.  I am always up and dressed by nine o’clock and I want the house to be quiet by five, unless there are special circumstances.  Call before you come over, but if I don’t answer feel free to come anyway.  Now I have got work to do also.  I have to earn some money to replace all of those dead presidents that I just gave you.”

She said that last sentence with a warm smile, and Charlie knew that it was meant as a jest, even if it was true.  He rose, thanked her again, gathered the check and his plans and walked to the door.  He turned, wanting to say something else, but nothing came to mind.  Carolyn understood his need however and said “Go ahead and do what you need to do Charlie.  I want my kitchen.”

Charlie exited the house and climbed back into his truck.  On this day, when he was half a block away from Carolyn’s house, it was cries of exultation that streamed from Charlie’s lips instead of curses.  His bank had a branch no more than a mile away and he drove straight there.  He deposited the check, keeping a few hundred dollars in his wallet.  He filled his gas tank at the first station that he could find, and then drove to the county permit office to begin the process of getting local government approval.

 

By one in the afternoon he had done what he could for the day and went to the store to stock his kitchen.  After bringing in his groceries and making himself a bowl of soup and a couple of sandwiches, he saw the napkin with Billy’s phone number on the corner of the kitchen counter.

“Oh, yeah” he thought.  “I promised to give Billy a call.  I’ll do it now.”  He sat in his chair, his window open and letting the late spring air come into his apartment.  “With what I’m making on this job I’ll probably have to move out of here” he thought, and the thought gave him little comfort.  This apartment had been a tomb for the last year and a half, but it had done what it had to do.  “I won’t miss it, but I don’t hate it either.”  He entertained these thoughts as he punched the numbers that had been written on the napkin into his phone.  At last, the sound of a ring tone came through his phone, followed by a voice which he assumed was Billy’s saying “Hello.”

 

“Hey Billy” he began.  “This is Charlie.  You got time to talk?”

“Yeah” Billy replied.  “Walt told me last night that you’d be calling.  How ya doing Man?”

“Good.  Good.  I’ve had a lot on my plate lately and would remember and then forget to call you” Charlie said, lying through his teeth.  “The truth is that I straight-up forgot about you” he thought.  “You still up for me taking a look at your place?”

“Yeah.  That would be great.  It’s no big thing if you’re busy and can’t fit it in, but if you have time there’s some stuff that really needs work, and I don’t know how to do it.”

“Well, I’m getting permitted on a new job and that could take a couple of weeks.  Say, I know that you were at the tavern last night.  Any chance that you are you going to be there tonight?”

“Yeah.  It’s not going to be a formal group night.  We bumped that up to Wednesday for this week.  Just Dom and Joe and me are going to have a couple of beers.  You want to come along?”

“I think I will” Charlie said without hesitation.  “In fact, I’m not really doing anything now, so how ‘bout I come over and give your place a look-see, and then we can go to the tavern together?”

“That sounds good” Billy said.  “I’ll pick the place up a little.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it.  I’m not bringing a camera crew from HGTV with me.”

Billy laughed at that and said “OK, I’ll leave the mess where it lies.  Let me give you my address.”

Soon Charlie was on his way to Billy’s house.  He lived only a short distance from the tavern, and in only a little while Charlie was pulling up the long driveway that circled around Billy’s parents’ house to end at the small cottage out back.  Billy opened the door as Charlie pulled up and came to a halt.

“So you found me.  Good for you!  Come on in.”

Charlie eyed the outside of the house as he approached the front door.  The siding looked intact but it was badly in need of paint.  He tried to put his mind back onto Billy instead of the house.

“How ‘bout a cup of coffee?” Billy asked as Charlie entered, shook Billy’s hand and sat in the chair Billy had waved at.

“I’ll have one if you are” he replied.  Again his eyes began to survey the room that he sat in.  A bubble had puffed up in an upper corner of the room; evidence of a leak somewhere in the roof.  The carpet was old but clean and still in pretty good shape.  The plug of the one table lamp in the room hung loosely from an outlet that had seen too many years.  Charlie was making a mental list when Billy returned with the steaming mug of coffee.

“Man, you make a decent cup of Joe” Charlie exclaimed after taking a sip.  He had expected hog swill such as he made in his own apartment.

“The joint’s a dump, but I have to have good coffee” Billy explained a little bit proudly.

“I have to learn your secret” Charlie said.  “The stuff I make is like drinking paint thinner.  How do you do it?”

“I grind my own beans.  I ground some just before you got here.  And then I do a pour-over.  Best damned way to make a cup of coffee.”

Charlie agreed and asked Billy to show him the setup, and while they played around in the kitchen with Billy’s coffee system Charlie learned more about this young man who he found so easy to like.  Billy had been a good student and had hoped to be a teacher before he joined the Army a few years after the terrorist attack on September 1, 2001.  He had seen plenty of combat, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, where he was injured by a roadside bomb.  He now had trouble walking long distances, and carrying heavy loads caused that leg to ache after a short while.

His worse disability however was his reduced ability to concentrate.  Before combat he could study for hours, or even days straight, and perform at the top of his classes on examination.  Now, his mind and memory were still sharp, but his ability to focus on a task had been greatly diminished.  Studying for a test had become a test of endurance itself, and things that he knew simply wouldn’t come out of his head the way that they used to, and that frustrated Billy all the more, adding to the problem.

Now, after joining and staying with the counseling group with Joe and Dom and the others, and taking medications to slow down the riot in his head, Billy was getting himself ready to give school another go, this time in a two year program to become a radiology technologist.  The community college in Vancouver had a program in that field and Billy’s veteran status gave him a leg up on landing a slot in a pool with many applicants and only a few slots.

“I’m really excited” he told Charlie.  “It pays good, it’s indoors, and it’s helping people.  I’ve found that I really like helping people when I can.  Right now though, I’m living on just a little disability that I have coming in from the Army and can only barely help myself.  The folks help as much as they can, but they don’t have much either.”

“Thats good news about the school, Billy” Charlie said.  “I wish you a lot of success.  When do you start?”

“Fall.  three months to go, and a few days left over.”

“You should probably do everything that you need to get done before then.  They’ll keep you busy, I’ll bet.”

“Well, there’s not much that I have to do,” Billy waved at the walls of the house.  “Except kept this from falling in on my head.  I would love to go hunting again, but I can’t really make it happen with my leg,  That’s something that really pisses me off.  Maybe after I graduate it’ll feel better.  I still get some therapy at the VA hospital.”

“You like to hunt?” Charlie asked.  “I do too.  Or I used to before I, well, ran into some tough times of my own.  If I had a gun I would love to give hunting a shot.  No pun intended.”

Billy looked at Charlie for a minute, apparently wrestling with a thought.  Finally he said “I have some guns Charlie.  I don’t have much else, but I have some guns.  You want to see them?”

“Yeah, I’d love to!”

Billy led Charlie into his bedroom and in the closet, behind a row of shirts and a few pants, was a locked rack with two modern rifles and one black powder piece.  “Holy crap,” Charlie exclaimed.  “These are beautiful.  What are they?”

“Winchester 370 on the left.  Remington 798 in the middle, and that beauty on the right is my Hawken flintlock.”  Billy reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring of keys.  He then unlocked the rack.  “Try them out” he said.

For the next half hour all thoughts of home improvements fled as the two men sighted down the barrels, opened and closed the bolt mechanisms, and ran their fingers appreciatively over the smooth wood and steel of the hunting rifles.  Charlie was fascinated by the flintlock, and images of Daniel Boone played in his head as he turned the gun over in his hands, pulled back the hammer, and allowed a vision to grow in his mind.

“Billy, elk season starts on August 1 over on the east side of the state, or at least it used to.  If my work will allow it, you want to go see if we can fill our freezers?”

A light gleamed in Billy’s eye, but he was struggling to say ‘yes’.  “You know that I can’t go very far, and rough terrain is not my friend.  I wouldn’t be much of a partner on a hunt.”

“That’s OK Man.  I know about your problem.  We can do what you can do and not any more.  The odds have never been all that good that I would bag an elk anyway, but it sure would be fun to sit in the brush and try, wouldn’t it?”

Billy thought that over and agreed that it would be nice to get into the woods in whatever capacity the he could, and agreed that if Charlie could go, he would be thrilled to tag along with him.

“Great,“ Charlie said.  “We’ll have to go into the woods nearby and sight these in, and I don’t know jack about black powder.  This’ll be good.  Yeah.  I’m looking forward to it.  Now, we better take a look at this house.”

Billy put the rifles back into the rack and locked them up, then they both walked around the house inside and out.  Charlie crawled into the attic to try and find the source of the leak but, predictably, he was not successful.  “I’ll have to get up there when it’s raining to find it” he told Billy.  After an hour and a half he had a pretty long list of things that should be done to the house, and a shorter list of things that should be done sooner rather than later.

“I can’t pay for a tenth of that” Billy protested when he saw the list.  “That’s like a major remodel.”

“Not to worry” Charlie replied.  “I an do some of this pretty cheap.  In fact, I might have some materials left over on my job that we can plug in here and there.  The building is sound enough, and we just have to get you through two more years, right?”

Embarrassment at his current financial state of affairs and hope of getting some of the defects in his house played across Billy’s face simultaneously, and Charlie was happy that he could be a part of increasing the hope and decreasing the embarrassment.

By now it was getting close to time to go and meet the other men at the Dirty Socks.  Billy set the lock on his front door and they climbed into Charlie’s truck to meet the others at the tavern.  Charlie was feeling hungry again; “It’s funny how easily I get hungry when I can afford to eat” he thought, and looked forward to some pub grub and a pint of beer.

The two men chattered about hunting and construction and even a little – a very little – about the difficulties that they faced in life.  By the time they got to the tavern they both felt like they had found somebody they could lean on.

 

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