101 Bell Whistle
Chapter 11: Reconciliation
Copyright© 2010 by JimWar
The flight into Phoenix was not a pleasant one. Audra was excited as it was her first flight and she gripped my hand until I almost thought that I was going to lose circulation during takeoff. Audra quickly calmed down after we were in the air but two squabbling pre-teens in the seats behind us made it impossible to rest. Landing in Denver, an airport I had never been to before, added a touch of anxiety as we had only 25 minutes to deplane, run halfway down a concourse to catch the airport subway, ride it to a different concourse where we had to run halfway down a different concourse to our departure gate. Then after finally making it on time we found out that our flight was delayed for an hour on the ground due to other traffic. All of this tension added to Audra's anxiety during the ensuing take-off and I just managed to regain feeling in my fingers when the aircraft began to be buffeted by updrafts which continued for most of the flight.
Elise smiled at me from the other side of Audra where she too was massaging her wrist. When we announced our intention of flying to Mesa, Arizona to meet Mrs. Anderson, Elise had insisted on accompanying us. Audra had quickly accepted Elise's offer as she was more nervous of with meeting her parent's former employers than she would admit. Clearing the air between Audra and Irma Anderson was only the first goal of the trip. Second was delivering the wedding invitation.
Actually we were hoping that our trip would tie up a lot of loose ends. It turns out that the land over both the tunnel and cavern was still owned by the Andersons. The more than thirty acres of land had been purchased after the house. An internet search had determined that the acreage was almost three years in arrears for property taxes. There was no mortgage on the land but the two tax certificates had been sold giving the buyer the right to apply for a tax deed on the property if taxes remained unpaid a third year. The deadline for that tax payment was drawing near. The owner of those tax certificates was an entity called Acorn, LLC; a well known large scale condominium and hotel developer.
I also had two cashier checks. The first obtained from a certain seller of rare books. This check was for the full value of the books that were stolen and sold. The check was in the amount of $300,000. The book dealer had screamed and cursed but when faced with most likely going to prison had come up with the cashier's check as a settlement.
I also had a rather large check from the sale of the antiques from the den and the basement of the house. Three prestigious antique dealers had bid on the items at an auction held the previous week. I was shocked when the total proceeds were over a million dollars. The auctioneer took ten percent of the proceeds leaving me with a separate cashier's cheek in the amount of $945,000.
We also carried a wedding invitation and a more personal invitation for Mrs. Anderson. Our initial contact with Irma Anderson had revealed that Chad had died less than a month earlier. His death had been almost welcomed to Irma as his illness had quickly left him ravaged and without memory or control of his bodily functions. The cremation had quickly followed with only cursory announcements made in the local papers. The small ceremony was only attended by a friendly nurse from the sanatorium and Irma herself.
Truth be known, Irma Anderson was miserable and the call from Elise and the new owners of the place she still thought of as her home brought a moment of joy into her life. Her thoughts after the funeral had been dark and somber. Always an outgoing person who valued her friends and neighbors she felt isolated and cut off from both. Several times she had come close to picking up the phone and calling Elise but had not. When she received the phone call from Elise it took her last bit of reserve to keep from squealing with joy. The information that the new owners of her home wanted to meet with her was met with puzzled delight.
She looked around at the living room of her sterile, modern ranch home. The room was spotless, bright, and cheerful and yet it was empty. The furniture was modern, clean, new, and efficient but had no history. She would trade it all in a minute for just a week in the comfortable surroundings of her old home. Chad had brought her to that home on Bell Whistle as his bride almost 45 years earlier. Her first weeks in that home had been a series of seemingly endless and foreboding days; days that would have her counting the minutes until Chad's return. At first she could not find anything to keep her interest. She had never been a television person and the mixture of soap operas, game shows and mindless trivia on TV at that time was never enough to keep her mind occupied.
Then she had discovered that the house itself could be an avocation. Her boredom led to consideration of what this new home could become. She knew their home had a history even if it was only a history that she could imagine. It was as if sometimes the home spoke to her. She had never voiced this feeling to Chad; he would have thought she was crazy. Still he supported her in renovating and furnishing the older home. As Chad advanced in the company she had poured more and more time and money into her efforts. Chad's interest had always been his books. She had to admit that the books helped transform the den into an impressive room but she had to draw the line when they began to stack up all over the place. Finally she and Chad had compromised. He could continue to collect with the excess going into the basement. What she didn't see wouldn't bother her. And to think that after all of those years, those books in the basement would cause such a ruckus.
She knew that Chad was really sick when he didn't object to their chucking it all and moving. He had only insisted bringing with him the book he was reading. She had quickly noticed that that one book would be enough if he didn't wear out the pages as he read and reread the same passages over and over. She had lost hope almost as soon as they arrived. Then a few months in her near desert house and it was all over. Chad was gone. Her home was gone. Her life was gone. She had reached the land of no hope and just as she was about to give up on her existence someone from her real life was coming here, coming back to see her. She couldn't help feeling excited.
The house was a cookie cutter companion to all of the others in the large residential complex. The sign said Mesa Retirement Villas. Each yard was well manicured and yet a mirror of its neighbors. That sameness enabled the groundskeepers to maintain the properties with minimal effort. To Joe even the homes he spent his workweek cleaning out had more character than these lifeless monuments to efficiency. How could someone retire and spend their remaining life in such a sterile environment without ending up depressed? He wondered what it was like for Irma Anderson to move from the rich old world feel of Bell Whistle to this almost barren environment. The navigation program in the rental vehicle brought him out of his reverie as the unit's female voice signaled in a sickly sweet voice that they had reached their destination.
Irma Anderson was a small, pleasant woman. She reminded Joe of the cartoon granny in the Sylvester & Tweety Bird cartoons of his youth. Joe could just imagine her thumping Sylvester with an umbrella and saying, 'Stop that, you crazy cat.' Of course she wasn't dressed like that granny, her olive green blouse and khaki shorts not totally unexpected in this forever hot environment. Irma had greeted them warmly, hugging Elise and Audra close within seconds of their arrival, and after their introduction making a point of hugging Joe in the same manner. She insisted that Audra and I call her Irma.
Conversation at first was awkward, no one quite knowing how or where to begin. Finally after they were seated in the comfortable living room Audra began talking as Joe sat next to her holding her almost imperceptibly shaking hand. She recounted the story almost exactly the way she had to Joe, breaking down several times in the process. Several times during the telling Irma Anderson interrupted with statements like, 'it's no matter child' or 'that's water under the bridge now.' By the time Audra came to the end of her story Irma's pride and admiration for this girl that she had had only a small part in raising was transformed into deeper feelings of love and kinship. Audra left the comfort of Joe's hand as she finished telling her tale and went across the room and knelt at Irma's feet, begging her forgiveness.
Irma, normally a model of decorum, was near tears herself when she asked Audra, "What am I supposed to forgive you for? I am the one who wronged you. I was so wrapped up in what was happening to my dear Chad that I allowed you to be tarred with the same brush as the rest of your family."
Audra answered, "I should have told you what was happening as soon as I suspected but I just couldn't bring myself to betray them."
Irma held Audra's face between her hands and said, "Get up, honey. You did what 'most anyone else would have done. No matter what else they are, they are still your family."
Audra shook her face free of Irma's hands as she vehemently said, "Not any more. They are greedy and selfish and I refuse to be like that. I felt so empty after you and Mr. Anderson left. When I thought about my feelings I realized that my heart was telling me who my real family was."
Irma was openly weeping as she pulled the younger and larger Audra up next to her in the chair. She said something that we could not hear at the time but which I later learned was, "My child, of course I forgive you. I'm just happy to know that I'm not alone anymore."
Elise and I were brushing tears from our own eyes as we observed the tearful reconciliation. I leaned and whispered, "If nothing else comes of this trip, this has made it worthwhile."
After a few moments Audra cleared her eyes and gave Irma a hug. Since the chair they were sharing was not built to seat two she returned to my side. I hugged her and with her hand in mine announced, "Irma, I explained to you on the phone that I bought your house from the bank shortly after it went through foreclosure. The most precious thing that I found in the house was Audra. Together we have found a surprise around every corner and almost every day we spend in the old house we discover something else about the place. Audra's telling me about her father's stealing your husband's books solved a mystery as to why the basement had stacks of cheap book club books mixed in with priceless first editions. I donated the book club books to the local library and while I was there had a talk with the librarian. Mrs. Bradshaw gave me the name of the man that I suspected was Audra's father's accomplice in stealing your husband's books. He was careless, as we found his shop's name in the flyleaf of several of the book club books and then upon a visit to his shop found several of your husband's books on display. I guess he thought he had gotten away with everything since you had moved. With Mrs. Bradshaw's help we put a value on those books. My deal with the thief was that if he paid a full restitution to you we would not prosecute. It was mostly an empty threat as without your husband we didn't have much real evidence. Anyway, he was sweating bullets and fairly easy to bluff."
At that time I took an envelope from Elise and gave it to Audra who handed it to Irma. "This is a cashier's check for $300,000 in this envelope. This covers the market value of the books that were stolen. I just wish that I could have given this to your husband."
Edna didn't even open the envelope. She put it down on the table next to her and said, "I never thought that all of Chad's books were worth that much. I guess I owe him an apology for all the bad things I said about them cluttering up the place. Who would have thought..."
I smiled and said, "That's just the ones that were stolen. The others still in the house are probably much more valuable. I had a state of the art security system installed in the house before we left to fly out here. It was quite a challenge to the security company."