Well, it is early morning (12:25 a.m.) on launch day, and truthfully I am not quite done.
I managed to get sick as I was racing toward the end, too. Since I want to make sure and do this right, I am calling a halt for the night. I will finish and turn in my files tomorrow, and all other things being equal, REMAINDER will actually launch by Wednesday. The announcement will appear here and on the Facebook page.
Keep watching, and I won’t disappoint. Really.
And so…. here’s the opening:
Computer user: Wilson Parker10/21/2002 logon 07:30:00
Inbox: 57 messages, 4 unread
From: Irene Hazelhurst, VP Acquisitions <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: October 18, 2002
To: Wilson Parker
Our most recent information dictates you should attend town meeting. There is one scheduled soon after your arrival.
Rem: $2000 limit. Deadline: February 14. 80% local compliance.
You may be our youngest salesman, but you’re also our best. Do not let us down. We expect the Wilson Touch.
Wilson Parker didn’t know if it was the pain from his small toe chafing inside his new shoes making him uncomfortable, or the intimate scene unfolding at the front of the cafe. He’d come in here to meet up with a guy about some land, and here he was standing witness to the exit of a potential hero. The young soldier pulled his shoulders back, gave his mother a smile, and exited to roar off in the bright black pick-up truck he’d pushed past Parker’s Camry a half hour earlier.
Seeing men younger than himself going off to war always made Parker feel guilty, as if he ought to be suiting up to go fight terrorism, too. Guilt, he figured, born of his own feelings of inadequacy. Who wouldn’t feel inadequate next to the clean-shaven young man with his green T-shirt stretched over solid trained muscle? His eye was steady and his grip firm. There was an overall air of just-scrubbed strackness about him and his conduct that told you exactly who he was.
His departure left a vacuum in the diner. The two elderly men who told him good-bye shuffled back to their seats. From farther back in the room, Parker could hear the mountain men pull up their chairs as they sat, clinking silver against plate. Parker himself – moved to standing by the actions of the others – sat down as the young African-American woman patted the waitress’ shoulder and spoke soft reassuring words to her. At least, that’s what Parker assumed she was doing. What else? Given that the young woman had been waiting at the cafe expressly to see off her friend’s son.
The women had been deep in conversation when Parker arrived, walking in behind the young soldier, catching the jingling door on its backswing. The young woman, Gwanyca he thought they called her, was hugging the boy. Already tears shone above her broad smile.
“You behave yourself over there, Pablo. Do your Mama proud, or she’ll be worryin’ us to death and I won’t never calm her down.”
“Yes, Ms. Gwanyca. Mamacita will not have to worry.” Pablo released Gwanyca and turned to hug the short, plain-faced waitress tight. Then they’d taken stools and started talking quietly while his mama served them pie and milk, tea for the woman Gwanyca.
Wilson chose a seat a few stools down from the conversation. The waitress, Francesca, cast a professional glance his way. As he read the price of the very last item she slipped a cup of coffee under his menu, saying, “The pecan pie comes in extra-large slices.”
“I’ll take the coffee first, thanks. Is the pie fresh?”
“Warm and good as your mama made.” She swept a plate in front of him and handed him a spotless fork. “What brings you to my Leftover Cafe so early in the day? You have heard of my food?”
“I should have,” he mumbled through his pie. “This is wonderful! Actually I’m supposed to be meeting someone here. Ray Boone?”
Francesca nodded, swiping at streaks along the counter.
Pablo snorted. “You’ll be lucky if he shows up. Boone’s not known for his punctuality – or his reliability.”
“He’s the one who said to meet here.”
“Good luck with that. Mamacita?” He set down his empty glass with a clatter. “I’d better shove off.”
Gwanyca stood with him and hugged him again. Francesca ducked out from the counter and held up her arms for an embrace, her head barely visible above Pablo’s shoulder. “You told your sisters good-bye when you took them to school, yes?”
“Yes. And I made sure they had their ride for while I’m away.” He shook his head at her fussing,
“You’re a good boy, Pablo. Stay that way. Keep out of trouble,” she added, her voice muffled in his chest.
“I will, Mama.”
“Obey orders. Be careful.”
“I can’t do both, Mama,” he joked, and ducked when she swatted her hand at him.
Two old men dressed identically in shirtsleeves and suspenders came to the front of the cafe. The pair of hefty scruffy-looking men he’d seen in the back stood up, dropping their napkins on their plates. Wilson felt compelled to get to his feet.
Pablo’s mother blinked furiously. “Write to me when you can. I know better than to ask for every day. But tell me how you are, what you need.”
“I will, Mama, I will.”
“I love you, Pablo.” She snuffled one more time, clapped him on the shoulder, then released him.
“I’ll look out for her,” Gwanyca told Pablo.
He settled his cap on his head, then turned to face the two old men, one slight, one large and pear-shaped. They each held out a hand.
“Good luck, Pablo. You’re a good soldier,” said the tall one, his over-sized body at odds with his high-pitched voice.
“Go get the bastards,” said the shorter man, “but be careful.” He clasped both hands over Pablo’s wiry brown one,
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I’d appreciate it if you’d help Gwanyca keep an eye on Mama.”
“We will, son, we will.”
And then, with a smile, young Pablo was gone. They all remained standing, watching as he jumped into the truck, gunned the engine and swung north onto the highway towards Nashville, I-65, I-24, and Clarksville. Fort Campbell, supplying the world with young people who believed in country, duty, and serving others; ready, they believed, to die for their way of life.
The large man paused beside Parker as he was returning to his seat. “That’s one of the finest young men you’d ever want to meet. Pablo ‘Picasso’ O’Hare. Goin’ off to fight terrorists. That’s his mama,” he added, nodding toward Francesca as she stepped back behind the counter. “You be nice to her. Don’t be givin’ her a hard time.”
“He ain’t here to see her, Thomas.” His companion spoke to him sharply. “He’s a-waitin’ on Ray Boone. Ain’t that what you said?”
“Yes, sir.” He put out his hand. “Boone said to meet him here. My name’s Wilson Parker.”
The big man squinted at him, stepping back a pace. “Don’t know no Parkers. Know Boone all right. He’s from around here. Don’t know no Parkers.”
“Sit down, Thomas.” His companion sighed. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem.” They moved on, and Wilson resumed eating his pie, keeping an eye on the clock, watching as Francesca kept on with her duties, noting the woman named Gwanyca had slipped out. She reminded him of someone. Even though she hadn’t spoken to him, had not, probably, even noticed him. There was something in her that was apparent the minute you saw her. A nurturing sort of quality that not every woman had anymore.
He set that thought aside to ponder how difficult it was to be in Francesca’s situation, the parent of a soldier, reflecting that there had to be thousands of them now. Another new role created in this past year.
He couldn’t go fight himself. He had no interest in disrupting his own career for a military one, and he hadn’t the skills or the temperament either. What he could do was to keep working here, helping to find the land and broker the deals that put up new, secure homes for those whose freedom was being protected. Ultimately his customers would include those doing the protecting as well.
His job with Aaron Bedlowe was to procure land necessary for the developments Bedlowe Developers built. To Wilson, however, it was more than a job. Like those soldiers, Parker had a mission, a ministry even, to find homes for people who needed them and to fit the communities to the people. He knew the designs of the communities inside and out. He should; he helped plan them. He knew how much land and what type of topography suited a Bedlowe community. He knew how to assess a parcel of land and purchase it for a fair price. Bedlowe communities were known for their quality and their enhancement of property values in general. All this knowledge and ability had earned him his reputation for “the Wilson Touch.” And he was set to bring it to bear on the Middle Tennessee community of Remainder.
If Ray Boone ever got there.
His cell phone buzzed. He checked the I.D. Already?
“Boone there yet?”
“No, Aaron I just got here.” Well, almost. No need to mention the patriotic departure.
“Well, where is he? Look, never mind. I’m nearly there.”
“I don’t want to waste any more time. We need to move.”
“Then let me get to work. You don’t need to come -”
“I want to see what this place looks like. Get a feel for the people – they could be employees, you know. Besides, I want to see the great Wilson Parker in action.”
Wilson flushed. This was unexpected. “Look, Aaron, wouldn’t it be better if I just report in , call you back after -”
“Be there in ten minutes. Order me some breakfast.” He cut off.
Bedlowe made Parker antsy. Where was Boone anyway?
“Can I get you anything else?” The waitress seemed to have regained her composure.
“Um, how about another coffee? Someone’s joining me – besides Boone, I mean. Food’s great by the way.” He smiled at her, open-faced, friendly, all those things Wilson Parker had to be to gain people’s trust and exercise the Wilson Touch. “Tell me about Remainder.”
Okay, so he’d been in town a couple weeks, but so far, outside of Boone and one or two others, no one really knew why. He’d set up a store-front office, but he hadn’t ordered any signage. The words ‘developers’ or ‘real estate’ did not appear inside or outside his office. He’d avoided socializing, not even coming into the café until today, although he’d studied it enough to know it was a central hub of the erstwhile ‘downtown ‘ of Remainder. Up ‘til now he’d looked at things externally. Now it was time to dig deeper. Discreetly.
Francesca wiped and straightened as she talked, her hands never resting. “Remainder is a good place, Mr. Parker. Not very big, not even a town, officially. That is all right with us. We like our independence.”
“So it’s mostly residential? Homes?” Something he already knew. He needed more; he’d get to it.
“Pretty much. Some farms. A few businesses, like mine.” She spread her arms and beamed. “And I think I would say we are a community with a heart. We don’t have any churches, or even our own school, but we meet every month to talk over what is going on and to see if anyone needs anything.”
The smaller of the two shirt-sleeves edged along the counter and paused to settle his bill. “That’s somethin’ I was meanin’ to ask you about, Francesca. Tonight’s meeting. You reckon Lyle’s gonna open up about what’s goin’ on with him?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Reiser.” She ran his payment. “He did ask me to remind anyone I saw. Seven o’clock. My girls and I are providing the food.”
“We’ll be there. And don’t you go worryin’ ‘bout that son of yours. Pablo will be fine.” He eyed Parker. “Young man, you asked Francesca about Remainder. You saw her son leave here. Well, he’s the third person from this small community to respond to 9/11. One young man went up and joined his fiancée’s family in New York City. He stayed up there to help with clean-up and rebuilding. One of our young women joined the Air Force right out of high school. And then there’s Pablo.”
Francesca crossed herself, tears filling her eyes. “Bless them all,” she whispered.
“Amen that,” said Reiser. “I don’t know what your business is, young man, but you couldn’t find a finer place to do it.”
Thomas came up behind his brother. “Can we go now, Sydney? I need to feed the chickens.”
“Yes, Thomas. We’re ready. Come along. We’ll see you tonight, Francesca.”
Thomas followed along in his brother’s footsteps, a giant penguin mincing behind a darting sandpiper.
“Hey, thanks, guy.” A tall balding man grabbed the door behind Thomas. He yanked it wide and burst into the cafe.
“Parker? There you are! Oh hey, thanks,” he called to Francesca, who returned him a bewildered look. “Got my coffee? Where’s this Boone character? What else is there to eat?”
“Will you bring us another piece of pie, Francesca? Aaron, calm down. Quiet down for God’s sake. I’m trying to keep a low profile here.”
Aaron glanced about them. “Why?”
“Because that’s how it’s done.”
“I repeat, ‘Why’?”
Wilson sighed. He liked Aaron. Really, he did. The man was ambitious, believed in quality, and had a dynamic drive born of a passion equal to Wilson’s own. But their personalities differed vastly, and Wilson knew with conviction and from experience that his personality was the right one for this job. That was why it was his job. Aaron would be, simply, disastrous.
“Aaron,” he began, wondering how he was going to say this and finish unscathed.
Francesca brought a wide wedge of the rich pecan pie over, placing it in front of Aaron with a smile.
“Excuse me. Mr. Parker, perhaps you would like to know about that meeting tonight?”
The interruption startled Wilson, giving him pause, but not so Aaron.
“Meeting? What meeting is that – Francesca?” He leaned over to read her name tag and then turned on his charm.
“We hold meetings here in Remainder whenever Lyle calls them. There is one tonight over at Independence Hall. Mr. Parker was asking about our community, so I thought he would like to know.”
“So who is this Lyle person that he gets to call the meetings? The mayor? Or is this like a lodge or something?”
Wilson sighed again. This was another runaway freight train. He could just tell. Francesca was wearing that bewildered expression again. He couldn’t blame her. He frequently found Aaron hard to follow.
“Lyle is a sort of community leader. It is nothing official. We are not a town , and he is not our mayor. But he provides some organization, maybe some guidance. And he is a good man. Everybody loves him. When we all need to know about something, he calls a meeting.”
“And you have a meeting tonight?” Aaron pressed on. “What’s this one about?”
“I do not know. It may be that Lyle wishes to let everyone know about his illness. He has cancer.”
“Cancer? Is he dying?”
Francesca glanced from one to the other, wiping the counter with a hand that moved slower and slower. “I do not know.”
She moved away, and Aaron turned to Wilson.
“Maybe you can take advantage of this.” At least this time he lowered his voice.
“No,” said Wilson shaking his head. “That’s not how it’s done. Look. Aaron. Coming into an un-” he searched for the word, “unsuspecting community – I mean one that is unaware of your intentions – is delicate business. Bedlowe Developments have a way of changing the face of entire communities, and making that come about peaceably is, I repeat, delicate business. It’s why you hired me.”
“Well, if you say so. Still, this Lyle guy – man in that situation is bound to need money. Give him a fair deal. We always do. If he’s needing cash, and he sells to us, you can bet it will lead some of these others to do the same. And – hey, you know this pie is good. Wonder if the owner would sell us the recipe?”
“I think Francesca is the owner.”
“Well, maybe we can let her stay on here. People would love this!”
“I thought this was an all-or-nothing proposition, Aaron. You told me you needed all the land for your project.”
Aaron nodded, chewing on pie. “Basically I do. But there’s always room for an exception. Like Jello.” He winked then, swallowed the last bit of pie, and stood up. “Look, I just remembered an errand I’ve got ahead of me. I’ll come back to see the site another day. Once you’ve gone over it and made damn sure it’s the right one. No need jumpin’ the gun.” He grinned a little sheepishly and threw down his napkin. “Good-bye Francesca. The pie was wonderful. Thank you!”
The door swung shut behind the tornado that was Aaron Bedlowe.
A table-leg scraped the floor as Wilson turned his fork through his remaining pie, admiring the combating textures of chewy nuts and velvety filling. A thick broom handle of a finger was laid along his shoulder, and a brown face leaned in close while a sheet of hair blacker and straighter than Wilson’s own swung down between him and the exit, creating an intimate little cell. The man’s face was smooth, and his skin glowed with a strength and health that rivaled Pablo’s. His voice was thick and low, with a sing-song quality.
“Be careful what you bring with you into Remainder. A man must be careful what he carries.” The man drew his hand away and followed his silent companion out the door.
What the hell was all that about?