A Charmed Life
Chapter 30: Escape Plan
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
29 June 1993 - Wood End, Provincetown, Massachusetts
This is what I needed...
Jeff sat in the sand on Provincetown’s isolated, sandy, southernmost point. His trek to Wood End was made via Breakwater Walk, a path across a rock dike at the west end of Provincetown Harbor. Jeff had made a game of his earlier trip across the structure, hopping from rock to rock like a billy goat as quickly and safely as he was able.
The private, calming vista in front of him was the reward for his journey. Jeff sat in the sand at the edge of the dunes, trying to figure out the next move in his life. He gazed west, out over the waters of Massachusetts Bay towards Plymouth, as he reclined against his daypack. He wondered if he was as hopeful for a new start as the Pilgrims. He hadn’t known that they’d landed at Provincetown first in 1620 before continuing on to Plymouth. Jeff understood why people liked to sit by the water so much; the light winds produced a soft lapping sound as the water came ashore.
He’d checked into an inexpensive motel in the neighboring town of Truro two nights ago. It was as inexpensive as one could get for the area during the height of the summer season; at least it was clean. The drive from Enfield should have taken four to five hours. The only highway to the end of Cape Cod, U.S. Route 6, alternated back and forth from four to two lanes; it produced impressive traffic from the Cape’s “elbow” to its “fist” every weekend during the summer. His drive took over seven hours.
He spent yesterday exploring Provincetown but he’d only scratched the surface, walking just its main road, Commercial Street. The two outer ends of the street were lined with homes. The downtown area was a riot of restaurants, galleries, shops and performance venues. The people walking that street ran the gamut: old, young, gay, straight, couples, groups of friends or, like him, single explorers; infinite diversity displayed in infinite combinations.
Jeff heard laughter behind him, snapping him from his daydreams. A pair of women ran down the beach towards where he sat; they stopped right in front of him and began to make out. Jeff was sure they didn’t know he was there; he was all but hidden from view by beach grass where he sat in the sand. He cleared his throat to get their attention. One of the women screamed.
“Sorry, ladies,” he apologized as he stood, his palms out in a calming manner. The women retreated a step. “I didn’t mean to startle you, but I didn’t want to see me and think I was being a perv, either.”
The taller of the two studied him closely before taking a small step towards him again. “Jeff! Jeff Knox!” she exclaimed with a smile.
Jeff stared at the woman who’d known his name. Her hair was shorter and her skin more tan than he remembered, but he soon recognized her. “Charlene Flaherty! How have you been, Charlie?” Charlie bounded over and hugged him tight. The feel of a woman in his arms always made him feel better.
“Jeff, you look great!” Charlie said. “Have you gotten bigger?” she asked, squeezing his bicep.
“Only my ego, Charlie,” he joked, “only my ego. And you look great; your hair looks terrific, short like that.”
Charlie ran a hand through her short black hair and smiled wider. “Ego? You mean you finally found one?” They shared laughter. “Hey, Emilie,” she called to her friend, “come on over and meet Jeff.” The blonde woman hesitated, then walked over and wrapped her arm around Charlie’s waist.
“Jeff this is Emilie D’Avril, my partner. Emilie, this is Jeff Knox. Jeff was a year ahead of me in high school and I was in the same class as his younger sister.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jeff,” Emilie offered. Jeff caught the French-Canadian accent in Emilie’s voice. He also caught the distrust in her eyes.
“Enchantè, mademoiselle,” he replied, drawing a smile and nod from Emilie; the smile didn’t reach those eyes.
“How is Kara?” Charlie asked.
His gaze shifted back to her. “Kara’s good, thanks. She’s working for a graphic design firm in Springfield and dating a former coworker of mine.”
“What brings you out here to the Province Lands?”
Jeff blew out a breath, looking back out across the water. “Still running from my problems, Charlie. Still trying to figure stuff out.” She raised an eyebrow at him. He waved at at his towel as an invitation for the women to sit. They sat; he dropped to the sand, facing them.
“I left the Army after four years, in mid-’91, and moved home; I moved into the apartment above Bilzarian’s Hardware instead of back into my parents’ house. While I worked on getting my EMT certification that fall, I started doing some assistant coaching for Coach Kessler back at Thompkins. We won a state championship in hockey and made it to districts in baseball last year; we didn’t do as well this year, though. I started working as an EMT last Memorial Day and I’d been at an ambulance service out of Springfield since then; I just left that job. Now I’m here trying to clear my head and decide on my next move. There’s a situation back there I’m trying to get away from.”
“What kind of situation?”
“A co-worker went off the deep end and dragged some of my friends and I along for the ride. Then my company was sold to another ambulance company. The other company is managed by the coworker’s cousin. He blamed me for her going off the deep end; he mailed a letter to every ambulance service in Massachusetts, black-listing me, telling them not to hire me.”
“Can he do that?”
“Our assertion is no, not without consequence, but he did mail the letters.”
“My lawyer and I. We filed a defamation suit against the manager and the ambulance company ‘both jointly and severally, ‘ as the lawyers like to put it. We’re suing the manager personally for his actions as an individual, and we’re suing the company because he acted in his capacity as their manager. Many of my coworkers decided they didn’t want to work for them after that, too.”
“Well, I hope you have their balls for breakfast,” Charlie said. Jeff winced at the phrase. “Jeff, you didn’t react at all when I told you Emilie was my partner. I usually see some sort of reaction from people, especially people I know, but it was like I’d just told a stone from the reaction I didn’t see from you.”
“Charlie, I realized after I left Thompkins that life is way too short to worry about who is doing what with whom, especially when it doesn’t affect me. When my best friend was killed in the Gulf War it underscored that point for me, that life is too short. A friend at my ambulance company lost everything when her apartment building burned back in January. I didn’t care that she was gay when I offered her a spare bedroom at my apartment; all I cared about was that she was my friend and she needed help.”
“Gay? Not even a little, Charlie. That first summer I was home, Allison Newbury and I lived together, sharing the same bed; I’m still as straight as I was in high school. I’ve heard about Provincetown and its beauty all my life but I’ve never been out here, that’s all.”
“Your friend from work? She wasn’t the coworker who went off the deep end, was she?”
“No,” Jeff sighed. He looked away, across the water. “She’s one of the friends who got sucked into the drama surrounding that other one. She was the lightning rod for the crazy girl.”
“The crazy girl was fixated on me for some reason. I couldn’t stand her; something turned me off right away. I can’t prove it, but I believe she broke into the ambulance company’s personnel office to get my address. I started feeling like someone was watching me not too long after that; I found footprints outside my bedroom window soon after, and I lived on the second floor. Then, before Connie moved in, things seemed to settle down. I was on a much different schedule than Dawn, the crazy girl, so I hardly saw her. I think that may have lessened her interest in me somewhat.”
“A month after Connie moved in Dawn got fired. She wasn’t doing her job very well, and they hoped to offer her a longer training time at an evaluation meeting. But she verbally attacked my friend Connie during that meeting, so they were forced to fire her. A month after that she torched our cars in the parking lot at Bilzarian’s, trying to lure us outside so she could attack us with a softball bat. She’s going to be serving twenty to thirty years at Framingham after pleading guilty to all the charges from that night.”
“She drove Connie away because of that night; Connie heard the hate Dawn spewed when she was arrested and it scared her. While I was at work the next day, Connie packed her things and left. She left to escape the hate someone held for who she is. I don’t know where she is. I don’t know if my friend has landed somewhere yet, or if she’s even alright. Connie leaving is just one part of my comfortable life in Enfield coming apart at the seams, but it’s certainly the most painful.”
“Je m’excuse, ma cher, but we need to go soon so you can get ready for practice,” Emilie broke in.
“‘Practice?’” Jeff asked.
“I’m in a band. I sing and play guitar,” Charlie answered.
“I remember your singing now,” Jeff said. “You had a great voice back in Enfield; I’m sure it’s only gotten better.”
“I like to think so,” Charlie smiled.
“Jeff, you should come to the practice, yes?” Emilie asked. Jeff saw something different in her eyes now - acceptance.
Charlie nodded. “Yes! Please come!” she pleaded. “I think you’ll enjoy it!”
He looked from Charlie back to Emilie; she gave him a genuine smile and a nod. “How can I refuse an invitation from two lovely ladies? I won’t be bringing unwanted testosterone to the scene, will I?”
Both women laughed, shaking their heads. “No, Jeff,” Charlie said. “It won’t be a problem.”
“What time does your practice start? I’ll need to run back to the motel in Truro to clean up first.”
“How long are you here for, and where’s your car now?”
“I’m here until Friday; I couldn’t get a room for next week without paying much more than I wanted to. I lucked out with the parking today, though; I found a spot back at the rotary by Pilgrims’ First Landing Park before walking across the breakwater.”
Charlie looked at Emilie and received a smile and a small nod. “Jeff, check out of your hotel and come to our condo.” She gave him the address. “We’ve got two parking spots, a guest room, and you’ll have plenty of time to get over to our place and get washed up before I need to be at practice. We have to get going now because we were supposed to bring a fruit salad to practice, and it’s still not made.”
“What? Are you both sure?”
“Jeff, I know you,” Charlie said. “I know the kind of person you are; I doubt that’s changed in the three years since we’ve seen each other. I can tell that Emilie already feels comfortable around you, which isn’t the norm for her when strange men are involved.”
“And we both know I’m strange,” Jeff laughed. Emilie did as well while Charlie rolled her eyes.
“Jeff, you should be comfortable here,” Emilie said while she showed him the second bedroom.
“De rien, Jeff,” she smiled. “Charlie, she tell me more about you on the walk back here. How you were in school.”
“And you’re still letting me stay?” he asked in shock. He had a smile on his face when he asked.
Emilie laughed again. “The women, they must like you. It is easy to laugh with you.”
Shrugging, Jeff said, “I try to be friends with people. If that evolves into something else with women...” He shrugged again. “If it doesn’t, then I have a new friend.”
“That is a very good approach. I am finding that I already like you, Jeff; what you told Charlie, it broke my heart and showed me who you are. That is why I agreed with Charlie to offer you a place to stay, even though we had just met. There was an incident with a man, back in Québec; I left Canada because of it. I moved to Boston and met Charlie there. I do not feel comfortable with men very often, but with you I am instantly at ease.”
“I’m sorry you had that experience, but I’m glad you’re here to make Charlie happy; she was happy enough at school, but she glows now. I’m sure that’s because of you.”
Emilie shocked them both when she gave him a kiss of thanks on the cheek.
Jeff laughed when he met the rest of the band Charlie played with. “I can see why I wasn’t going to be bringing unwanted testosterone to the scene, Charlie, you’ve already got plenty here!” Everyone else in the band was male.
“Oh, did I forget to mention that part? That Emilie and I are the token estrogen in the mix?”
“Charlie, did you bring treats?“ the drummer asked.
“Simmer down, randy Randy. Sorry to disappoint you, but I believe Jeff plays for the other team.”
“Hmmm, pity.” Randy looked Jeff up and down. “Any chance you’re a switch hitter?”
“No, sir, not a one,” Jeff answered.
Randy frowned. “You, Charlene Flaherty, are cruel,” he stated while he pointed his drumsticks at her. “What is this? The carrot and the stick? You dangle this morsel in front of us to get us to play better, then you’ll hit us with a switch if we don’t?”
“And when have I ever done that, Randy?”
“C’mon, Randy, let it go,” the keyboard player said. “Hi, I’m Paul Aspinall. How do you know Charlie and Emilie?”
“Jeff Knox. Charlie went to high school with my sister; I graduated the year before them. I just met Emilie today.”
“Good to meet you.” The rest of the band introduced themselves. “Let’s play some music, folks,” Paul said.
The band ran through their set list over the next three hours; they were a rock cover band, though they strayed off-course into other genres a few times. They played pretty clean, only having to back up a couple of times to rework something. Emilie introduced the band’s significant others who’d also come to the practice. It was a social event for the ones not playing.
“They’re really good. How often do they get together?” Jeff asked Emilie while they both sat and watched.
“We all live north of Boston, so they practice almost every weekend. They went to school in Boston together and formed the band their freshman year. Except for the original keyboard player, they stayed in the area when they graduated; Paul also plays guitar, but switched to keyboards last year. We coordinate our vacations to take two weeks at this time of year, so they can perform during the weeks around July Fourth. We drive down every other weekend during the summer, too; they’ve got a loyal following down here that they’ve built over the last five years.”
“They’ve been playing down here that long?”
“The first summer was during an ‘open mic’ night with borrowed instruments. The club’s manager booked them for a few dates at the end of that summer, then encouraged them to come back the following year. Playing ‘gigs’ helps offset the rents and mortgages down here.”
“You know, I don’t think I’ve asked what the name of the band is.”
Emilie laughed, shaking her head. “You ready? They’re called ‘Charlie Flair and The Queens.’”
Jeff started laughing. An image popped into his head and he began to laugh harder. He fell out of his chair.
“Alright, Knox. What’s so funny?” Charlie asked from the back of the garage.
“I just had an image of you in a dark suit singing ‘Addicted To Love’ by Robert Palmer while the guys danced behind you in those short, black dresses with red lipstick on.”
Randy started snickering. Jace, the rhythm guitarist, laughed.
The bass player, Franz, asked, “Do you think we can get the dresses and suit by Saturday’s show?”
“Can we learn the song by Saturday?” Charlie asked. The rest of the band immediately began to play the song. All that was missing were Charlie’s guitar part and the vocals. “Alright, alright. So the question is, ‘Can I learn the song by Saturday?’ Thanks, no pressure.”
Jeff drummed his fingers on the table in time with the music. The band was forty-five minutes into their set and were playing “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. The difference between the timbre of Charlie’s voice and Mark Knopfler’s was obvious, but it worked; the acoustic version of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” they played next did too. Every song they’d played so far set his foot to tapping harder than the last. They played “Addicted To Love” but the band had decided to wait on the dresses.
“Man, Charlie was good in school, and the practice sounded great, but this is amazing!”
“This is how we met,” Emilie said as she nodded in agreement. “They were playing a show in Cambridge one night. I went up to Charlie and complimented her after they’d finished their show and were packing up. She invited me out for coffee and we’ve been seeing each other ever since. We’ve been sharing a place in Malden for three years. We bought the condo together here last year.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about heading to the Boston area and working there since things started falling apart. Are rents as bad as I’ve heard?”
“I don’t want to spend my savings on rent, but I can’t stay in Enfield. What do you and Charlie do for work?”
“Charlie is a nurse at a hospital near Boston. I’m a copy editor at a publishing house outside the city. Malden is very convenient for both of us.”
“Where is Malden in relation to Boston?”
“Just northwest, only a few miles away, but the traffic makes it seem farther at rush hour. Jeff? Your shirt? What does this ‘School of Hard Knocks’ mean?”
“I joined the Army right after high school,” he explained. “My unit had a few hard knocks during the Invasion of Panama in 1989. We lost five of our comrades; that’s what the five stars on the front and back symbolize, the friends our battalion lost. The reason the shirt gives the location of the school as Panama City, Panama is because that’s where my unit fought during the invasion.”
“And the ‘504-X-1’ on the back? What does that mean?”
“First Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, my unit; the ‘X’ is actually a pair of crossed rifles, the insignia of the Infantry. The regiment is part of the 82nd Airborne Division.”
The pair enjoyed the music for a few minutes more until the band took their first break.