Human Phoenix
Chapter 20

Copyright© 2012 by Refusenik

Afternoon, November 15, 2007

Scott closed the truck door and watched as Jobe went to investigate a bush. He balanced the folded flag on top of the polished wooden box and walked toward the apartment stairs. Mrs. Monroe came out of the house and Jobe trotted over to her. He sat politely while she patted his nose.

"I thought it was a nice service," Mrs. Monroe said. "It won't be the same without him around."

"No, it won't," Scott agreed. "I thought it was a good turn out."

Mrs. Monroe murmured her agreement, "Get yourself sorted, and then come over and visit for a spell. I'll feed you some of my gumbo."

"Yes, ma'am. I'd like that."

He whistled for Jobe and the dog scrambled up the stairs.

Scott took a hot shower and changed into a comfortable pair of jeans and an old sweatshirt. The apartment needed a lot of work, but he'd have the weekend to get it into shape. There were multiple messages on his phone so he spent several minutes returning calls, reassuring friends that he was okay. He was going to have to call Chicago at some point, but he put it off. Jobe made circles in his favorite doggy bed, trying to get comfortable.

"I'm going next door. I'll be back."

Jobe completed another circle, and flopped down.

Mrs. Monroe showed him to a chair at her kitchen table, and set a bowl of warm goodness in front of him. The kitchen had a lot of character. He wanted to look around, but the flavors that flooded his mouth distracted him.

"This is really good, Mrs. Monroe," he exclaimed.

"Adele," she insisted. "It's my chicken gumbo recipe, I do a traditional version, but it's easier with chicken."

"What is this sausage?" Scott asked as he puzzled over the flavor.

"Andoullie," she said. "My sister's boy in Lafayette makes it. He's got his own store and he ships it to me special."

"Well it's really good."

He made quick work of the gumbo, but declined Adele's offer of seconds. The warmth radiating from his stomach was going to put him to sleep if he didn't get up and start moving around.

"Is the laundry place down the road any good?" he asked.

"The washateria? It's clean, and the men here use it. You need to do laundry? I've got a little washer and dryer I could let you borrow, if it's an emergency."

"Thanks for the offer, but I've got a bunch of new sheets and towels that I need wash. I am going to have to start doing some regular laundry, but not today. I don't mind going down the street."

"I go to the washateria when I change the bedding. You can't beat those big commercial dryers. If you had your own machines there's a place in the garage for them."

Scott tried to remember if he'd seen laundry hookups in the garage, "I'll look into it, thanks. What kind of people stay here anyway?"

"Temporary workers mostly. We have two oilfield men on a six month lease. You won't see them much. They leave early, and stay out late. There's another man. He's a long term renter, been here about three years now."

"I'll try to make it a point to say hello then. Thanks again for the gumbo, it was a real treat."

Mrs. Monroe told him she also made a pretty mean étouffée that she'd fix for him sometime. He didn't know how he could repay her for the meal, but told her if that she needed any work done around the house to let him know. She also agreed to keep an eye out for Jobe while he was at school.

At the washateria he got a pile of change from the coin machine and carefully read the instructions on the plastic packaging the sheets were in. He purchased a miniature box of soap from the vending machine and started loading the oversized washer.

"Don't use that much soap," a voice commanded.

The voice belonged to a middle aged woman.

"Use about a third. Then add some fabric softener."

He held up his new measurement.

"That's better," she picked up her hamper of dry clothes and started to leave.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome."

He was alone in the washateria. The bright overhead lights buzzed, and the machines put out a steady beat of noise. Somehow he found it comforting. There was too much to think about, so he did his best not to think about anything. Eventually the wash cycle ended and he moved his load to the dryer.

Back at the apartment he let Jobe out to visit the fence line while he made the bed with freshly laundered sheets. The toll of the day quickly caught up to him, and he had no trouble dropping off to sleep.

It was dark when he woke up. One side of him was warm, the other was cold.

"You have your own bed you know," he told Jobe.

Jobe jumped down and ran to the front door. Scott let him out and went to investigate the thermostat. He discovered that the heat wasn't even turned on. There was a drawer in the kitchen full of booklets about the appliances. He dug through the drawer until he found the directions for the digital thermostat.

Jobe slipped back in through the partially open door, and came to see what Scott was looking at on the wall.

Eventually he got the temperatures set and the heat kicked on. There was a musty smell as the warm air began to circulate. He put on his running clothes and went out into the cold morning. There was frost on the rooftops. He ran slowly taking in the houses around him. He needed to learn this new neighborhood. Jobe trotted along with him. He completed a circuit and picked up the pace.

After his shower he tried to make headway on the apartment. He unboxed the new kitchenware and started a load in the dishwasher. He couldn't think of any other way to configure the couch and chair so he left them where they were.

The nook where he was setting up his office was separated from the living room by a knee wall. The area was perfect for the desk and credenza. He had all of Mr. P's files in a box. He wondered if he should give them to Honour. He plugged in a power strip for the laptop and desk light. He was going to have to find out about getting an internet connection.

The sun was coming up, and he considered skipping school. It was Friday. He could start a three day weekend and get a lot done out at the house and here in the apartment. He thought about what Mr. Piotrowski would have said, and got ready for school.

Scott had never truly appreciated the benefits of living in town. He was halfway to campus before he realized he'd never have to ride the bus again. If he wanted, he could leave school and have lunch at the apartment.

A little of the black cloud that had been surrounding him faded as he considered how much easier things could be.

English composition went about as expected. The professor ignored him, and Scott was thankful. He only had five more weeks until the semester ended. Things at the high school were better. His teachers made sure he knew what to catch up on. Friday meant a home football game against their biggest rival. Scott used his pass to skip the final period pep rally. He had things he needed to do. He went by the apartment, changed into some work clothes, and took Jobe to the house.

The marked patrol car had been moved. It was sitting in the driveway closer to the house, but appeared to have done its job. The house was quiet. Jobe sniffed around, but stayed close to him. It didn't take long for Scott to assemble a few boxes. There were plenty left over from the old online auction days. He went through the kitchen and grabbed a few things he needed.

Upstairs he got all the pictures and photo albums down from the closet. Some of the photos would go to the VFW, and a few would go to the Pecos County Historical Society. He had no idea what would become of the rest. He knew he wanted a few for himself.

In the laundry room he took a good look at the washer and dryer. They were old machines, and Mr. Piotrowski had considered replacing them. Scott decided to stop at the multi-purpose hardware store in town when he had a chance and see what they had in stock. How much did a new washer and dryer cost anyway? He had no idea.

His exercise gear was still in the storage building. The heavy bag was easy to take down. He loaded it and the rest of his exercise gear onto the back of the truck. He secured the weights between the heavy bag and weight bench so they wouldn't slide around.

Jobe sniffed around his dog house and Scott went to look at it. It was bulky, and fairly heavy, but could be moved. He could lift it himself, but it would be a problem if Mrs. Monroe happened to be looking out her window when he unloaded it.

"We'll get it this weekend," he assured the dog.

They went for a long walk around the property. He was going to miss this place. He found his rock and sat down to make a phone call.

"Lauren?"

"Scott! How are you, this is a surprise."

"Where are you?"

"I'm at the apartment. Donna's out, and I'm thinking about ordering Chinese."

"Listen, I have some bad news."

He went on to explain about Mr. Piotrowski's passing. They shared a few teary moments. He assured her that he was going to be okay, but confessed it had been hard on him. He told her to tell Donna not to worry about the dinosaur tracks. Mr. Piotrowski had left provisions in his will for the land to be preserved.

He was glad he didn't have to call anyone else.

He stopped at Meritt's Corner to fill out a change of address card, and checked his post office box for the last time.

Jobe barked when Scott turned into the driveway at the apartment. There were two cars parked to the side of the driveway and the Mason and Mendoza families, minus the boys, were waiting impatiently. Jobe trotted over to greet the girls while Scott shook hands with Mr. Mason and Mr. Mendoza.

"What's all this?" Scott asked.

"You are coming to dinner with us, and then we're going to the football game," Mrs. Mendoza informed him.

"But—"

"But nothing."

"I need to unload the truck."

Mrs. Mendoza took over from there. She demanded his keys and had Lilly and Janie carrying boxes up the stairs before he could even think of protesting. The men helped him unload the bed of the truck and move the workout gear into the garage.

"How do you like the apartment?" Mr. Mason asked. "This project helped keep our heads above water this summer. I was real thankful to Alex for thinking of us."

"It's great. Listen, I have to ask, did he tell you what he had planned for it?"

Mr. Mason shook his head, "When he first mentioned renovating the garage I thought he was thinking about a ground floor apartment, maybe something to use in case his health took a turn for the worse and he needed to be closer to the hospital. The upstairs apartment was a surprise to me."

Scott ran his hands over the motorcycle parked in the corner. He wondered what else Mr. Piotrowski had planned for.

"We better get up there before the ladies rearrange your furniture," Mr. Mendoza said.

The ladies were poking around the kitchen, opening cabinet doors and making comments. The girls were stacking boxes neatly near his office area.

"Where do you want this?" Janie asked pointing to the box and flag he'd left sitting on top of the knee wall.

"That's okay Janie, I'll get it." He moved the box over to his desk, smoothing the folded flag as he set it down.

"You've made a good start here," Mrs. Mendoza decided.

"Thanks."

"It's a little dark in this kitchen, Bill," Mrs. Mason complained.

Mr. Mason walked over to the counter and moved a box of dry goods. Task lighting hidden under the counters flickered on. He pressed another button and lights over the island bar lit up that area.

"I didn't even know that was there," Scott said.

Mr. Mason spent a few minutes showing him the light controls and explained a few other features of the apartment. He also said that he could install a pet door for him, which Scott gladly took him up on.

Being at the football game was good medicine. The Masons and Mendozas were an enthusiastic cheering section, but Bo's mother put them all to shame. There was something about the pitch of her voice that carried over the crowd. Scott could see Bo wincing a few times down on the field, and that was with his helmet on.

After the game they met the tired football players and took them out for pizza. Bo and Ed were curious about the apartment, and quickly agreed to help Scott move the dog house Saturday morning.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Scott picked the guys up a little after eight and headed out of town. Conversation was awkward at first, and each expressed their condolences again.

"Let's not dwell on it, okay guys?" Scott asked.

They agreed to change the subject.

"I can't believe you're going to be living in an apartment by yourself," Bo said.

"It's not that much different than at Broken Creek."

"No way, it's a lot different," Bo said. "You have your own place, nobody telling you what to do, you could have an awesome party."

"Party?" Scott tried not to laugh. "The three of us and Jobe? We're a real party bunch. Listen, I can't have any parties, no crazy stuff. I'm going to need your help to put a stop to any of that kind of talk if you hear it going around, okay?"

"Sure man."

"How are you going to afford it?" Ed asked. "Mom wondered if you were getting some money from the state?"

Scott sighed, it was inevitable he knew. The problem was that he didn't want to lie to his friends. He settled on a partial truth, "I can trust you guys, right?"

"Of course," they both insisted.

"Mr. Piotrowski left me the house and some other things in his will. I'm going to own the apartment, so I'm not paying rent."

"Wow," said Ed.

"Yeah," Scott said. "Wow about sums it up."

"You know what you need," said Bo. "A huge flat screen."

"And a game system," Ed added.

"I'll get right on that."

Between the three of them they managed to lift the dog house and get it on the truck. The old house seemed small without Mr. Piotrowski, and Scott didn't know how many more times he could come out here. He treated the guys to an early lunch at Meritt's and then they continued on to town.

At the apartment Scott backed the truck in and the guys bailed out to unload the dog house.

"Where do you want it?" Ed asked.

Jobe was running back and forth between the garage and the house. Scott made a quick decision.

"Let's put it by the side door to the garage. That way it will be under the deck."

They struggled with the bulky dog house, but were able to set it down without anybody getting hurt. Jobe came over and sniffed around. He seemed pleased.

Scott threw open the main garage door, and showed them around.

"What are you going to do with the motorcycle?" Ed asked.

"I don't know. Everybody wants me to stop riding it. I guess I'll drain the fuel and store it. I don't think I could ever sell it."

The guys helped him set up the workout gear. They hung the heavy bag, and drilled holes to bolt the pull-up bar to one of the exposed ceiling joists.

Ed shook his head at the crudely made pull-up bar, "Scott you should come by the shop and get one the ones we're making now. This thing is rusted and I think this weld even has a crack."

Scott took the bar and looked at the weld, "Hey this was the prototype. I should probably donate it to the Fort Stockton Historical Society."

Ed laughed.

"Seriously, I like this bar. I'll run by and see Rico, give him some grief about the weld."

"This is a great workout space," Bo said.

"You weren't here with your dad's crew this summer?" Scott asked.

"I told you it was pretty slow. He idled me so he could spread the hours around to his crew. Otherwise we wouldn't have had that bit of fun with the Lewises."

Scott snorted, "Yeah that was a real ball. If you guys want to get together and lift, let me know."

They talked about working out in the off season as Scott showed them upstairs. The guys really liked the apartment, but ragged on him for not having a TV and for the serious lack of snacks to munch on.

"Man if this was my place I'd get rid of all the furniture and put in a pool table and some video games. Then I'd have a big popcorn machine in one corner and a slurpee machine in the other," Ed declared.

They laughed and talked about the crazy things he should do with the apartment. The guys goofed around for a while longer and then Scott ran them back home. After dropping them off, he drove downtown to the hardware store. He was inside browsing when his phone rang.

"Mr. Wahl?"

"Scott, did I catch you at a bad time?"

"No, sir. I'm in the appliance section of the local hardware store looking at a washer and dryer. I'm seriously thinking about getting a washboard and a laundry line."

Mr. Wahl chuckled, "Listen, I was thinking about driving down to see you this afternoon. Are you going to be around?"

"I've moved to an apartment, if you have a pencil handy I can give you directions."

"Mrs. Black gave me the address. So you don't mind if I come down?"

"Not at all, come on down. I'll take you to eat some great Mexican food if you do."

"Now I'd like that. Scott?"

"Yes, Mr. Wahl?"

"Buy the washer and dryer."

Scott hung up and turned to the salesman, "Can you deliver this today?"

The salesman took his card and ran it through the reader. His eyebrow twitched in surprise when the transaction cleared. "We'll deliver it this afternoon."


The hardware store delivery people were just leaving when Mr. Wahl arrived. Scott was surprised to see him driving a big Crown Victoria. It was a nice car, good for long drives, but it wasn't the Mercedes or BMW he'd imagined a banker would own. Mr. Wahl retrieved a large framed object wrapped in heavy brown paper from the backseat. He had a soft leather case slung over one shoulder.

"Housewarming gift," he explained lifting the frame. "I like the new washer and dryer. That's a bold color choice."

Scott smiled and shook hands with Mr. Wahl. "They've been trying to unload the pair. I guess nobody else wanted neon-turquoise. Come on up and I'll show you around."

Mr. Wahl froze when Jobe scrambled from his doggy bed.

"You okay with dogs?"

"As long as he doesn't try and eat me."

Scott had Jobe come over and make his manners.

"He's a beautiful dog. I've seen some of this same breed, but they weren't nearly as friendly as your Jobe appears to be," Mr. Wahl said.

"You've appealed to his vanity, he'll be a friend for life now."

Mr. Wahl handed the housewarming gift to Scott who started unwrapping it.

"It's by the same artist that did my painting."

Scott set the painting on the couch and stepped back from it. The star of this piece was a beautiful palomino horse and its rider. The cowboy was sitting forward in his seat gripping the reins as if he was making a decision. Saddle bags and a bed roll helped fill out the story. The rider was looking out over the prairie watching a rain shower in the distance. The clouds were lit up by the sun, and the artist's use of color had made it a truly dramatic piece.

"Mr. Wahl, it's amazing."

"I thought you'd like it. Set it against a wall for a couple of days and see if you like where it's at. Then move it to another spot. When you're happy with it, hang it up."

"I'll do that. Thank you."

Scott offered Mr. Wahl a drink, and they sat down at the bar top.

"So what brings my private banker down from the big city?" Scott asked.

Mr. Wahl nodded and removed a few documents from his leather case, "First, I wanted to extend my condolences on the loss of your friend."

"Thank you, and thank you for the flowers at the funeral. It was very thoughtful."

"It was the least that we could do. Obviously I've been in touch with your lawyer. She explained the nature of the estate, and several issues that are going to arise from it. I'm here to help sort those out."

Scott nodded his understanding.

Mr. Wahl gathered his thoughts, "Scott, I'm still not sure you appreciate your new standing. You have access to an amazing amount of resources for lack of a better term."

"You're disappointed that I haven't purchased a big mansion yet?"

"Quite the opposite in fact, and I think this apartment is perfect for you. What would you do rattling around in a big old place anyway? No, what I mean is that you don't have to worry about whether or not you can afford a washer and dryer, or anything else for that matter."

"I've been reading the materials you've been sending me. You don't think being frugal is a good thing?" Scott asked.

Mr. Wahl studied his client carefully, "No, I'm not saying that. I worry about a lot of issues for my clients; bad investments, shady people after their money, relatives who keep wanting more and more, and all the other things that can go wrong including out of control spending, but with you there are so many more things to worry about."

"Because of my age?"

"Exactly so, but I agree with Mrs. Black and Elijah Upcott. You've got a good head on your shoulders. I don't want you to go crazy, but you shouldn't be afraid to spend money when you need to, or want to."

Scott got up and refreshed Mr. Wahl's water glass.

"Mrs. Black sent me the highlights of Mr. Piotrowski's estate. Do you have any questions for me before I get into it?"

"No," Scott replied. "I'd like to hear your thoughts on it."

Mr. Wahl referred to some notes, "Let's talk about property. Normally I'd advise you to hang onto that big piece of land outside of town, but I understand its sale is a condition of the will. Do you know why?"

"Mr. Piotrowski knew me pretty well."

"I'd like to have met him," Mr. Wahl commented.

"I think you would have liked each other. Anyway, he wrote me a letter. One of the things he mentioned was that if I had my choice I'd probably stay out there in the country and become some sort of hermit. He didn't want that, but his will specifically mentions keeping this property, although he never showed it to me. He loved his surprises. I can only guess that he wanted me to move into this apartment someday."

Mr. Wahl patted Scott's arm in sympathy, "So let's talk about this property. The boarding house has some expenses; taxes, miscellaneous costs, a modest salary for Mrs. Monroe, but the mortgage was paid off long ago. Solid investment I'd say. There are some problems."

That surprised Scott, "What kind of problems?"

"Nothing we can't take care of. First issue would be insurance coverage, you could probably get it but it would be prohibitively expensive. Your employee, Mrs. Monroe, doesn't have a health plan. The utility companies won't let you put anything in your name, as a minor. In short, lots of little complications."

"I didn't think it was that bad."

"It's not really. We'll setup a small property management company for you, a subset of the firm's own company. Mrs. Monroe can remain as the agent. Anything she needs will only be a phone call to Midland away, and we'll get her on a benefits package. The management company can handle all of these little day to day issues. This setup will come in handy when you go away to college. We can even use the company to handle the sale of the other property."

Scott let a breath out that he didn't realize he'd been holding. "What else?" he asked.

Mr. Wahl looked at his notes again, "There are estate taxes to deal with, but you'll have to let probate run its course. The bank accounts and investments from the estate we'll handle as they're released to you. You've got a good lawyer so I'd say you're set."

Jobe came over and bumped into Scott's leg. He excused himself and let the dog out. He explained that he was going to have a pet door put in so Jobe could come and go as he liked.

"Show me around this place," Mr. Wahl said.

Scott gave him the grand tour, it didn't take long. Mr. Wahl nodded his approval when Scott showed him his box of receipts.

"You mind a few suggestions?" Mr. Wahl asked.

"Please."

"Get a couple of rugs to throw down on these wood floors. It will be more comfortable for you and it will help cut down on noise. Find an artist you like and get a colorful print to hang up. That will help brighten up the space."

Scott looked around, "Okay, I can see that."

"No television?" asked Mr. Wahl.

"I'm not a big TV watcher. I thought about one for movies, but what I really want is something to play music on."

"You like music?"

"I love music."

Mr. Wahl smiled, "I know some people. Would you let me handle it for you?"

"You have stereo people?"

"Of a sort. I'll have them come by soon and get you setup. Consider it a house warming gift from the firm." Mr. Wahl watched Scott's face and waited for his reaction.

"It's very considerate, thank you," Scott replied.

"You're learning," Mr. Wahl said. "Is that a display box for the flag?"

Scott walked to the desk and carefully set the flag aside, "Actually I don't know. A friend of Mr. Piotrowski's gave this to me at the funeral."

He opened the box and looked inside.

Mr. Wahl walked over for a closer look. He whistled when he saw the contents, "That is a beautiful handgun."

Inside the highly polished wood box was a glass display case trimmed in the same kind of wood. Fixed to a blood red velvet background was an elaborately engraved 1911 pistol. The pistol had an ebony finish which was highlighted by gold engraving. The grips were the same richly colored wood as the case, in a burl pattern, offset by an inlaid gold medallion representing the United States Marine Corps.

With Mr. Wahl's help, Scott carefully removed the display case from the box. They admired it in silence. Mr. Wahl reached into the box and pulled out a stand that would allow the case to be displayed on a flat surface, or as he showed him, it could be flushed mounted to a wall.

"Is it a problem for you to have this?" Mr. Wahl asked.

"I was thinking about that. I can't legally own the weapon as a minor, but it's a bit of a grey area. If it was under the control and direct supervision of an adult guardian then it would be okay. This one though, I'd say it's more a work of art wouldn't you?"

"It is certainly a work of art. Perhaps you could remove the firing pin from it? There'd be no lasting harm," Mr. Wahl said. "A call to your lawyer and the friendly sheriff seems to be in order."

They talked for a while longer and then Mr. Wahl followed Scott over to the taqueria. Mr. Wahl appreciated the simple, but honest fare. It was a great meal and Scott enjoyed getting to know Mr. Wahl a little better. Mr. Wahl made Scott promise to call if he needed anything, and then headed back to Midland.

Scott thought about calling Honour to ask her about the gun. Instead he put the display case in a drawer and put the box it came in on top of the antique dresser.

Monday, November 19th, 2007

It was a short holiday week, and it showed. People were focused on Thanksgiving. Scott had a lot on his mind, but it wasn't the holiday. Honour and Judge Upcott had their first appearance before the probate court. Scott could have gone, but he had another mission.

After leaving the extension campus he drove to the courthouse. It was late morning, but the Judge's secretary was apparently on break which made his task easier. He sat at her desk and took three of the large document mailing envelopes, and filled them. He carefully sealed the envelopes, and found the addresses he needed on the secretary's computer.

In the basement he waved to the mail guy, and held up the packets.

"Conscripted to deliver more mail? What's the good word?" the man asked.

"Power to the workers!" Scott joked.

The mail worker started laughing, "Not bad." He looked at the packets and tossed them onto the outgoing pile.

Afternoon classes dragged and Scott was more than happy to leave. He headed straight for Honour's office to find out how the probate hearing had gone. He saw Joseph first and took the opportunity to catch up.

"How's Honour been?"

"Funeral was rough. Today it was all about probate, so I think she's working through it. How are you doing?" Joseph asked.

"Mostly numb, but staying busy helps."

Honour yelled for them to stop gossiping, and to get their butts into her office. Scott found his seat and sat down. Honour glared at Joseph until he held his hands up in surrender.

"Now, how are you?" Honour asked him.

"I'm okay," Scott replied. "How did it go in court today?"

"The probate court granted my motion for a Muniment of Title. We'll be having another hearing next Friday. You'll need to be there."

"It's excellent news, Scott," Joseph said.

"I don't want to say that having friends in high places helps, but face it, having friends in high places helps," Honour said it with just a hint of a smile.

"Honour, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Scott, Mr. Piotrowski planned for this eventuality very carefully. A Muniment of Title is a unique option here in Texas that allows for a streamlined probate and rapid transfer of property. There must be a will, and there can't be any debts or dispute between heirs."

"I wish he had included me in some of those plans," Scott said. "Maybe I'd have a better idea of what I'm supposed to be doing."

"Scott, all of his plans this last year were for you," Honor told him. "I also talked with Mr. Wahl this morning and he told me about the productive meeting the two of you had. The property management company is a particularly good idea. You need to come up with a name for it."

Scott and the Blacks batted a few names back and forth. Scott wanted to name it after Mr. Piotrowski, but Honour said that would only confuse people. She wanted MacIntyre in the name, but Scott turned that down flat. Joseph kept coming up with fun names; "Lost Property Management" was his favorite.

"What about your initials?" Honour suggested.

"SWM?" Scott frowned. "It would sound like a pool company."

"Or a personal ad, what's the 'W' stand for?" asked Joseph.

"Wayne," Scott replied as he puzzled over the personal ad remark.

"Wayne Property Management," Joseph tried the words out. "That's it, I like it."

"I'll run a title search and see if it's available," Honour said. "Scott, is the name alright with you?"

"It's as good as anything I can think of, why not," Scott decided.

After he left the law office he went to go see Rico Lopez at the new welding shop. He didn't recognize any of the workers, and received a few suspicious stares when he asked to see the boss. Rico got a big kick out of seeing the original pull-up bars he had built. He had one of his guys take it to the media blaster and clean off all the rust. The welds were redone and they even painted the bars so they wouldn't rust again.

"Come back anytime and I'll teach you to weld," Rico insisted.


Thanksgiving was spent with the Mendozas. Robert Mendoza was back from Arizona State, and the family was in high spirits. Jorge and Mrs. Delgado were in attendance as well. It was a full house and Scott couldn't help but be cheered by the family atmosphere. The Cowboys were playing and the living room was packed with diehard Cowboy fans. Janie announced her support for the opposing team, and soon found herself under a pile of bodies made up of her siblings. They tickled her until she swore her allegiance to the Blue Star. Scott kept his mouth shut since he preferred the other team in Texas, the hapless Houston Texans.

He snuck into the kitchen in hopes of finding something to tide him over. He was taking a close look at what had been one of Mr. Piotrowski's favorites, jalapeno-cheddar cornbread. Mrs. Delgado slapped at his hands.

"Hungry?" she asked.

"Starving. Everything smells so good."

"Then you'll just have to wait like everyone else," Mrs. Delgado replied with a smile. "Scotty, I thought you should know, I quit working at Broken Creek."

"When?"

"I gave my notice the day after you moved out. Mrs. Rewcastle said there was no need to drag it out and told me to go ahead and clear out my things."

"The place won't be the same without you. What will you do now?"

She smiled, "With Jorge's county job I don't have to work unless I want to. Maybe I'll volunteer somewhere."

"Happy Thanksgiving, indeed," he said sharing her smile.

Scott left the Mendoza's hours later weighing a couple of pounds more than he had when he arrived, or at least he felt that way. The ladies had made sure that he had several containers of leftovers to take with him.

Jobe was full of energy when Scott got back to the apartment. The big shepherd had been on a tear since Mr. Mason had come over earlier in the week and installed the pet door. Mrs. Monroe claimed to have spotted him roaming all around town. In response Scott had purchased a high visibility collar and made sure that Jobe's tags were prominently displayed.

Jobe was keenly interested in the Thanksgiving leftovers and Scott had to buy him off with a few treats. He flopped onto the couch and closed his eyes with a groan. He was almost asleep when Jobe dropped one of his running shoes right on his crotch.

"Hey!" he protested.

Jobe sat there panting. Scott cracked an eye open and looked. The dog wasn't going away.

"Good grief."

Scott got up, grabbed his coat, and took Jobe for a walk around the neighborhood. It was cold, but the light exercise was exactly what he needed. One neighbor was already stringing Christmas lights and waved as the duo passed by.

Invigorated by the walk Scott decided to tackle a project he'd been avoiding. He opened the boxes of photos and started to sort through them. He had one pile for the VFW, and another for the county historical people. Mr. Piotrowski had taken a lot of photos of Fort Stockton in the 1960s and 70s. There were pictures of parades and various other events that might interest the historical society. Each photo had a date and often a cryptic remark or people's names written on the back.

He was keeping a photo of Mr. Piotrowski in uniform, and another of him after a boxing match. The black and white photo showed him covered in sweat, but Mr. Piotrowski had a huge smile and held one gloved hand up by his head in victory.

Scott was happy to find a photo of the Piotrowskis and Delgados posed together. It must have been taken in the mid 70s and it looked like they were at a dance. He set it aside to give to Mrs. Delgado.

Scott rubbed Jobe's head as they both sat on the floor looking at what remained.

"What are we going to do with these old family photos?" Scott asked.

Jobe didn't have any answers.

Friday morning Scott and Jobe headed out early to take advantage of the holiday break. He wasn't sure how soon the household contents would be sold, but he wanted all of Mr. Piotrowski's personal items removed first. After a short call to Honour, she confirmed that there was no reason to retain the old bills or mail. Scott moved a couple barrels far enough from the house so as not to be a danger, and started a fire in each. He sat on an old chair and fed junk mail to the fire. There was several years' worth of old bills and statements, so it would take some time.

A sheriff's deputy stopped by and told him that the department was going to retrieve the empty cruiser on Monday, but they would continue to keep a close eye on the house. Scott asked him to thank the other deputies on his behalf.

He answered his phone on the drive back to town.

"Hello?"

"It's Ed, where have you been, I went by the apartment."

"I've been out at the old house. Lot of work left to do, but I've called it a day and am heading back."

"You still need help?" asked Ed.

"Sure, if you don't mind spending Saturday moving stuff."

"Come by and get me in the morning," replied Ed.

"Will do."

Scott treated Ed to a big breakfast at Meritt's in the morning. The waitress expressed her sorrow over Mr. Piotrowski's passing. Scott didn't have the heart to tell her that he'd moved to town and wouldn't be back that way much anymore.

It was good to hang around with Ed. Otherwise spending all that time at the house would have started to get to him. Jobe went to the front room and curled up on his bed there. Scott hesitated to go into the room.

"Is this where it happened?" asked Ed.

"Yeah."

It didn't take long to check the room over. They rolled up the rug and pushed the furniture against the walls. Next they opened the pocket doors to the living room. The room barely got any use. Mr. Piotrowski avoided it, like Scott wanted to avoid the front room. The only time Scott had been in it in the last year was to dust or vacuum. They repeated what they'd done in the other room. There was a lamp that Scott decided he wanted, so he put it in the truck.

In the kitchen they emptied all of the cabinets, and stacked the plates and glassware on the countertops. You couldn't give away anything that had been opened, so they filled a trash bag with old spices and opened boxes of miscellaneous food stocks. For lunch they split a bottle of apple juice and some energy bars they'd found.

They made quick work of the bathrooms leaving a couple of emergency toilet paper rolls, and the hand soap. The rest they trashed.

The office upstairs had already been cleaned. They stopped and looked at the empty room.

"This was a really nice office," Ed commented.

"Mr. Piotrowski sure loved it."

The beds had already been stripped of linens. It didn't take long to empty the closets of Mr. Piotrowski's clothing. They left it on the bed. They took a slow tour of the house checking to see if they'd missed anything.

They finished upstairs when Ed stopped walking.

"Scott?"

"Yeah?"

"Have you checked the attic?" Ed said pointing above his head.

Scott looked up at the little square framed access hatch.

"You just earned dinner, I never would have thought about it."

The two of them retrieved a wooden ladder from the storage building and got it upstairs without damaging the walls. They both had flashlights. Scott went up the ladder first. After a shove he got the hatch open and stuck his head inside the dark space.

"See anything? Ed called.

"Yeah, there's a bunch of stuff up here," his voice was muffled by the dead air of the attic.

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