Human Man
Chapter 23

Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik

Thanksgiving break arrived before Scott was ready. He was biking from campus to his building. The last class before the short holiday break was over and his thoughts were on Fort Stockton. He begged off invitations home, and claimed that he was going to spend the holiday in Denver with Art and his girlfriend. He hated to lie, but the situation with Janie was confusing.

They traded regular e-mails, and played phone or text tag several times a week. Janie told him about her plans to take the spring semester off and spend it working in Fort Stockton until she had a better idea of what she wanted to do with her life.

Scott had told her that he was moving to a new place, but not the scope and scale of what that entailed. His secrets were becoming a problem between them, even if she didn't know it. Still, he looked forward to her calls. What he couldn't do was face her and the Mendoza family over a Thanksgiving meal. How was he supposed to explain their expanding friendship to Ed?

Great, I'm afraid of my best friend's family, Scott thought as he waited for the light to turn. The wind whipped past the mountain bike, rustling leaves on the sidewalk. Levall had already received an early a dusting of snow, but it was melting as the day wore on, but Scott's hat and gloves were feeling thin.

He kept a close eye on the girl in the Prius. She was so busy yakking on her cell phone that she had no idea he was there. The light turned green, and the girl turned and accelerated through the crosswalk. A lucky pedestrian jumped out the way and the girl honked her horn, while never moving the phone from her ear.

Scott shared a look with the angry pedestrian. College students really were the worst drivers.

Despite the cold, he took the long way to the building for the exercise. The building, he thought. He still hadn't decided what to call it in his own head. An entire building wasn't an apartment, as he had told Janie he was moving into. The top floor would qualify as a loft, but that left two more floors. You couldn't call a three-story downtown building a house. Maybe a residence? His place? He shook his head, talk about a ridiculous problem.

He rode past Saint Bart's. One of the contractors mentioned that soon people would be coming from all over the county to view the church's live nativity scene. Holiday traffic wasn't something the realtor warned him about. He was going to mention that the next time he saw her.

Scott turned south on Twelfth Street. Delivery trucks were parked up and down the street. A small army of decorators had descended on the building, under the direction of Thomas, the interior designer.

Scott dismounted and pushed his bike past the trucks and through the open gate. The cobblestone courtyard was dry, unlike the street, thanks to the underground radiant heating system. Heating the outdoors to avoid shoveling the occasional snow wasn't looking so ridiculous with the arrival of winter weather.

His sole duty for the day was to show Thomas his meager personal possessions sitting in the garage. The storage pod from Fort Stockton had been delivered, the contents unloaded, and the pod removed shortly after. The designer wanted to see his things and, 'determine where they fit with the décor.' The way the flamboyant designer had presented the idea amused him so much that Scott hadn't bothered to complain. He could always rearrange things after the designer and crew departed.

Scott entered his code on the garage's external pad. The entire building was wired with 'smart' locks. He could unlock or lock doors with his phone if he wanted. One of the new garage doors, they reminded him of a firehouse, began to roll back. The door and motor were almost silent.

The interior of the spacious garage had received a complete overhaul. The floor was leveled and a durable coating applied. Where there had once been room for four and a half vehicles, there was now only space for three and some. The contractor used the extra space to build a room for an on-demand emergency generator. In case of a power failure, the generator could power the entire building and do it in relative quiet.

Even with the loss of the space, the garage was still cavernous, and the Brute Double Cab looked lonely next to the sparse pile of boxes from the storage pod.

"Mr. MacIntyre," an approaching figure said, "Thomas asked that I stand in for him."

Scott stuck out his hand, "Hello, Omar."

Omar was Thomas's assistant. He didn't ask, but thought Omar was probably more than that to the decorator. He had a sculpted chin and dressed like a male runway model. For all Scott knew, he might have been.

"Where should we start?" Scott asked.

"Small things, I think," Omar said. "Furniture last. I'll photograph the objects for Thomas."

Scott picked a box at random. The label said 'living room' but that could mean anything. He hadn't been that organized when he packed the old apartment. Almost five years ago, he thought. He hadn't turned seventeen when most of the boxes were filled.

He removed the wrapping paper and uncovered an old friend.

"Lovely veneer," Omar said. "What is it?"

Scott pulled more of the paper away. "This is a vacuum tube radio."

Omar studied it from several angles and snapped photos. "I like it. Very retro," he declared. "Perhaps for a nook near the fireplace? What's next?"

Scott unwrapped a pad from around a box. "Blanket chest," he said.

"Bedroom, definitely," Omar said as he took pictures.

"I don't know if these are worth looking at," Scott said pointing to a rolled up carpet. "Rugs I shipped back from Dubai. I bought some to send to friends and kept these three."

"Rugs can be interesting," Omar said. He pulled the carpet back and examined the weave.

"Couple of quality Persian rugs, at least that's what I was told," Scott moved some boxes and unrolled the bundle.

Omar helped him.

"We can find a place for these," the assistant said.

"This," Scott said pulling the smallest of the three aside, "is an Afghani war rug."

Omar studied the carpet. "It's different."

"Some of them are kind of crappy, but I liked this one. See this repeating pattern?"

The design assistant peered closer.

"These are Soviet tanks. Here's a machine gun. See how they used bullets and a rocket launcher to make the border?"

"Fascinating," Omar said. He took more pictures and they shoved the carpet roll to the side.

Scott kept digging. A box of office desk contents he stacked in the corner. He knew the next package, a painting.

Omar helped him remove the protective layers.

"I don't recognize the artist," Omar said, taking a step back, "but you can tell it's a quality piece. Thomas loves cowboy scenes, they're so butch."

Scott smiled. He grabbed the next frame, from the size he knew what it was. He used his pocketknife to cut away the bubble wrap. "This is a map showing where I grew up, it's dated 1867." he said. He pointed to the lettering 'Property of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment'. "This is a piece of history. I want it in my office."

"Will you allow a suggestion?" asked Omar.

Scott looked at the man, "Sure."

"Have it reframed."

"You think?"

"I do," Omar said. "You could have it sent out, but it's criminal what a frame shop will charge. I can have our people do it today, and it will look fabulous."

Scott thought about what Thomas and Omar's services were costing him. "You do framing?"

"Honey," Omar said, "we are a full-service design company."

Scott went to the rear door of the nearby truck and took a folder from one of the boxes he'd stashed inside.

Omar perused the photos of Scott and his Marine buddies. His eyes flicked from the photos to Scott. "Won't be a problem." He used his phone to call someone to the garage.

Scott went back to opening boxes. The trifolded American flag in its triangular display case was destined for the office. He cut open a flat box and found a series of three Japanese wood-block prints.

Omar looked over Scott's shoulder, "Those are nice."

"A friend who worked at the Field Museum gave them to me."

A man and woman arrived at the garage, and Omar excused himself.

Scott heard snippets of the conversation as Omar told the pair how he wanted the pictures framed. More people arrived and the few things set aside were carried away. He had a vision of exploring the building for months to discover where his things had gone.

Scott cut open another box and found the presentation case for the engraved pistol he'd been given at Mr. Piotrowski's funeral. The gold Marine Corps inlay in the grips gleamed in the light.

"This should go with the flag," Scott said.

Omar rubbed his chin. "Maybe the flag case mounted over the presentation box?"

Scott pictured it in his head, "I'd like that."

"Consider it done."

He looked around. There wasn't much more to go through. He moved a blanket protecting the antique dresser he'd been told to save by Bea Upcott. "What do you think of this?"

Omar studied it. He pulled a drawer out and turned it over. "Early American," he said. "A fine piece."

Scott patted the nearby desk and wood filing cabinet. "Office obviously." He moved a box. "Ah, here's something I've not had a chance to look at."

He dragged the wooden crate to an empty spot. Toolboxes were lined against the garage wall. He dug around until he found a pry bar. A shelving system for the garage was something he needed to look into, he added that to his growing 'to do' list.

The crate lid took some convincing. The object inside was wrapped in multiple layers and secured with wood braces.

Omar helped him remove the bracing and the wrapping until the sculpture was revealed.

"A bronze," Omar said, "and I think it's a Remington. Some copies are just terrible, but this is a good size with a lovely, natural looking patina."

The dark-brown casting was of a cowboy on a rearing horse, he held a cowboy hat to his head with one hand and the reins in the other. Scott loved the detail of the rider's curly wool chaps and the horse's reaction. He took a card from the box, "This was a gift from my financial advisor three Christmases ago, but I've never had a chance to display it. It had a funny name." Scott turned the card over. "Here it is, 'The Rattlesnake' by Federic Remington. He said it was to remind me about shady investments. Kind of appropriate don't you think?"

Omar nodded. He strained to lift the two-foot tall bronze from the box. He examined the base, turned pale, and gently put the bronze down.

"What's wrong?" Scott asked.

Omar shook his head and typed into his phone. He grabbed the crate lid, turned it over, and pointed the label at Scott's face.

"What?" Scott asked.

"Christie's!" Omar hissed.

Scott shrugged in confusion.

"You've had a genuine Remington in storage for three years?"

"Was that bad for it?"

Omar shook his head and showed him the phone screen.

Scott squinted at the tiny browser page.

"This bronze," Omar said, pointing, "sold at Christies three years ago." He jabbed his finger at the bottom of the screen. "For that price."

"Holy shit," Scott said. "It was a gift."

"One of two-hundred original castings," Omar read, "from the Roman Bronze Works in New York, 1907."

"I feel like an idiot."

"Why? It's a wonderful object," Omar said.

"Yeah, but you don't know what I got my friend for Christmas that year."

"Oh dear," Omar said.

"It goes in the office," Scott said.

"Most definitely," Omar replied, "with a diffused spotlight on it. It will make the room."

"I've got to make a call," Scott announced. He walked to the courtyard and punched the number for Midland. He waited for the phone to connect and pondered what he was going to say.

"Moved in yet?" asked Karen, Mr. Wahl's more than capable assistant.

"Thomas's people are here as we speak."

"He's good isn't he?" Karen asked.

"Yes, but I've got a little problem. I feel like a giant ass."

"What's her name and how many dozen flowers do I need to send?" Karen asked with a laugh.

"I wish it were that easy," he said. "Do you remember what I got you three Christmases ago?"

"A beautiful silk scarf," she replied immediately.

"And I got Everett that British Army shemagh and a picture of my fire team."

"That's right," Karen said. "Shemagh? That's the keffiyeh?"

"Yeah, same thing. Do you remember what Everett got me?"

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