Human Man
Chapter 21

Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik

September turned to October and the city of Levall was celebrating its first official Oktoberfest. For reasons that Scott didn't understand, the city had historically avoided the fall festival popular with Texas's many German enclaves. Instead, the city held a very successful Jazz Festival in the spring. The Jazz Fest wasn't going away, but the embrace of Oktoberfest was a welcome boon to downtown businesses and the student population of NTSU.

The Black Horse was enjoying the celebration and experiencing new levels of success thanks in large part to every-other-Thursday comedy shows. For comedians working the regional circuit, Levall was perfectly placed to book an extra gig. The Black Horse benefited because the off-weekend booking rates were cheaper, and the comedians got an eager, new audience.

Scott rode his bike into the employee lot behind the Black Horse. A sign warned that you would be towed without an employee-parking sticker. Parking downtown was mercenary and tow truck drivers were on most business's speed dial. The new employee bike rack was popular, Scott noted, as he threaded the lock cable around his bike's frame and front wheel.

He ducked into the bar and headed for the front door.

"I see you," Shirl called, emerging from her office by the stairway.

"Passing through," he said, "headed next door."

"You don't want to look at demo tapes?"

"Shirl," Scott said, "if booking talent is eating into your time, hire a booking agent, or pay one of the employees extra to help you."

"I like doing it."

"It's your call."

"Have time to make a decision?" she asked.

"On?"

"Booth for Jazz Fest."

"We need to decide that now?"

"Spring will be here before you know it," Shirl said.

Scott sighed. "You want to do it?"

"I do, but radio also wants us to buy ad banners for the festival."

Scott rubbed the back of his head. "With as much as we're spending on radio buys, they should cut us a break on that. We'll have signs for our booth right?"

"Yes."

"If radio doesn't give us a break, pass on it and tell them why."

"It's just--"

"Shirl," Scott said. "What's our word for the month?"

Shirl sighed. "I know."

"Say it with me," Scott said.

"Delegate," Shirl replied.

"That's right," he said. "Delegate. I don't want you burning out."

"But--"

"Shirl, let your assistant manager do some assisting, or hire one who will. You hear me?"

"--okay."

"I'll drop by before I leave."

Scott went out the front door of the Black Horse and turned left. Next door, plastic covered the new street-side entrance to his future home. He could make out the doorway and interior entrance vault through the sheeting.

Across Main Street, the florist was arranging pumpkins on a display stand. The man stood to stretch his back. He spotted Scott and waved. Scott returned the wave and proceeded toward the corner of Twelfth Street. He could have walked through the park from the Black Horse lot, but he wanted to get a good look at the building's completed exterior work.

The restoration of the decorative masonry was a terrific improvement on the building's appearance. His architect thought the original limestone cornice and dentil had been removed in the sixties. Fortunately, the building was well documented in period photographs. Rita Nogawa oversaw the recreation of the pieces. Not only did they improve the looks of the building, but her work kept the city historic commission happy and they'd had no trouble with the necessary permits.

A quarry near Austin, Texas, provided stone for the reproduction pieces. According to Rita's research, the same quarry provided the stone for Saint Bart's and probably the Leibowicz building.

He appreciated the architect's attention to detail. She had even designed a period appropriate limestone fixture that would 'hide' the numerous surveillance cameras that formed the backbone of the building's security system.

Scott rounded the Twelfth Street side of the building and passed through the open gate. The lot, courtyard, he corrected himself, was mostly empty. The contractors had a rare down day so that Scott and Rita Nogawa could have yet another meeting with the project's interior designer.

Thomas, no last name the man had insisted, was based in Chicago, but had a second home in Aspen that he used to show off. Scott had liked the pictures he'd seen of the house and the man's design proposal.

Lindsey, Rita's partner, walked from the open garage and shouted a greeting. She was wearing coveralls over a bright purple turtleneck shirt. In the months that he had known her, it was the most feminine thing he'd seen her wear.

"You ready for this?" she asked.

"I don't know why we bothered," he said.

"So you can change your mind, if you want to."

"If I change my mind at this point," Scott said, "I'm either crazy or like throwing good money away."

"Good thing you understand that," she said. "I've seen some clients go off the rails. You've impressed Rita though, and that doesn't happen a lot."

"I had a good teacher. He taught me to let the experts do what they do best, and stand out of the way."

"Smart man."

"He was," Scott pointed to the main entrance, "after you."

The courtyard landing was modeled on the nearby cathedral. Wide stone steps led to oversized front doors. Inside, you faced a grand half-staircase. The wide stairs directed guests to the second floor and main living space of the home. Side steps led down to the first-floor utility spaces and what would be a professional sized gym.

The entryway would give visitors a straight line of sight to the corner focal point of the building, the living room and its soaring two-story bank of corner windows. To the left would be the kitchen and a dining area, to the right, a large open space and guest bedrooms with a full bath.

The view was obscured by scaffolding that filled the interior. A stairway waiting on its floating treads went up to the third-floor office and master bedroom. Both overlooked the living room.

Rita and Thomas were in the living room, next to the scaffolding, examining pieces of limestone.

Thomas, the designer, turned. "There you are, Scott. Come look at these samples."

The designer had white-blond styled hair and a black soul patch under his lip.

Lindsey's eyes rolled at the man's mannerisms and Scott kept his expression steady. The man said Scott's name as other people said 'darling, ' but there was no mocking his talent.

Scott followed Lindsey. A large modern leather chair was out of place amid the construction chaos. Samples of various finish materials were stacked nearby.

"What am I looking at?" Scott asked.

"Limestone samples for the fireplace surrounds," Thomas said. "We'll pick it up again in the kitchen island, and with a detail band running through the wood paneling of your office."

He took a quick look at the samples. "I like the one with more character, what do you think Rita?"

"It's a good choice," she said.

The designer made a note on his tablet with a stylus. "Now what do you think of this chair, isn't it gorgeous?" Thomas ran his hand over the back of the chair, "I had the leather tinted this color."

Scott, Rita, and Lindsey followed as the designer pointed out materials he had placed around the space. Swatches of paint were examined, each a subtle variation on the other.

Scott got a sympathetic smile from Rita as the afternoon wore on. He could tolerate it; they getting to the final stretch. In another month, the painters would be in. Tile would go down and they'd seal the flooring after it was installed. Furniture would begin to arrive and he'd have a home to call his own.


The NTSU 10k Veterans Day Fun Run had a great turnout. Scott estimated that there were a good three hundred runners at the starting line. The campus veterans group organized the event, but all were welcome. Scott adjusted the paper number pinned to his running tank and bounced on the balls of his feet. He was ready to get going.

"Marines, gather round," a voice called.

The Marines were well represented on campus and they'd agreed to run together. He counted fifteen who had shown up for the event.

"Who's going to call cadence?" the runner next to Scott asked.

Predictable groans fill the air.

"Come on," Scott said, "we've got to show the rest of these pukes how it's done."

"Damn right," said a woman ahead of Scott.

Marines were tough no matter what gender.

A voice at the head of the pack shouted, "One, two, three, four!"

"Marine Corps!" the rest roared back.

Hoots from the other service veterans echoed around, but when the gun sounded, the Marines fell into line and the other runners got out of the way. Scott couldn't have run out of step if he tried. The instinct was ingrained too deeply in his marrow.

The course wound through town and there were many spectators. The runners finished at the university's administration building. Scott was impressed that the Marine group held together as well as it did, considering their civilian status. He heard more than a few gasped promises about getting back into shape.

Walton Anders, from the NTSU Veterans Service Office, was passing out water at the finish line. Scott took a paper cup and finished it with a gulp. He rested his hands on his head and breathed.

"Great turnout," Walton said.

"Yeah, it really was," Scott said. "We had a bunch of people standing on the sidewalks to watch."

"That where you caught it?" Walton asked, pointing at the scar under his armpit.

Scott coughed. "No." He turned and lifted the back of his shorts. The misshapen 'V' with a slight divot out of one leg of the 'V' was just below his left cheek. "I was lucky, could have made me a soprano. The guy next to me lost his leg above the knee."

"I shouldn't have asked."

"It's okay," Scott said. "Like you said, we need to remind people we're here. This run was a great idea."

"You know, the commander of the school's NROTC Battalion is looking for combat veterans to address the midshipmen."

"I'll pass," Scott replied.

"I had to ask."

"You'll find somebody. See you around."


Scott dried the plate in the small sink of the extended stay suite that had been his home for the last seven months. He wasn't going to miss the place when he moved into his new home. Barring complications, that event was scheduled for the first week of December.

He put the plate in the cabinet and patted the number from the fun run pinned to the economy-sized refrigerator as he passed. Running with the Marines and other veterans had been good. He hadn't made many friends on campus. Something he needed to correct, he thought. Walton Anders' comment about his scars had him thinking about Art and the day they'd been hit. The clock read ten thirty. Denver was an hour behind Levall, it wasn't too late to call.

His cell was charging. It rang before he could reach it. Scott looked at Ed's face on the screen and punched 'answer.'

"Hey, Ed."

"How fast can you get to Dallas?" his friend blurted over the phone.

"What's up?"

"Janie got drunk at some party and needs rescuing."

"Shit."

"I don't think anything bad happened, but she called Mom crying."

"And you don't think something happened?"

"She's drunk and embarrassed, I think. She couldn't get hold of me, so she was forced to call home. You can imagine the call I got from my mother."

"Ed, I'm at least three hours from Dallas, and that's breaking the speed limit."

"Better than me, I'm in Las Vegas with Dad. Mom had to call the hotel."

"Vegas?"

"Trade convention. Will you go?"

"Of course," Scott said.

"Thanks man, I owe you."

"Hey, it's family. Can you text me the address?" He was already moving through the suite, grabbing jeans and a pair of heavy boots.

"I've exchanged calls with some sorority witch," Ed said. "She's stashed Janie in her room at a sorority house on campus."

Scott juggled the phone as he stepped into the jeans. "Isn't Southern Methodist a dry campus?"

"Yeah," Ed said, "that's part of what the sorority gal is worried about."

"Send me the address. I'll be on the road in two minutes."

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