I remember that the elevator was playing Christmas Music as I rode the ten floors to the lobby. Everyone seemed to be in a festive mood except me. I was thinking that I probably should have taken the window to the ground. It would have been more scenic and solved each and every one of my problems.
Being unemployed at Christmas is a bitch, but being self employed at Christmas was a roller coaster. You think you have it all covered but then the contract holder call you in. "Sorry Mr. Ames but we decided to put your contract up for bid. Unfortunately your contract price was bettered by another bidder. No, of course it is not anything you did, we just felt that we should be positive that we had the best deal. We have to be as frugal as possible for our depositors and stockholders you know. Since we were sure that you were already doing the job as inexpensively as possible given the size of your business, the bank just took bids only from larger companies. No, Mr. Ames it would not be fair to allow you to match the bid. You do see how that would undermine the bid process. It just wouldn't be fair."
No, but it was fair to dump it on me without any warning. Corporations have the legal standing of a person, but they have no heart. It was a saying my brother loved. It appeared that he was right after all.
Since the contract holder was a bank, they hadn't bothered to tell me until the day before the new company would take over. They were going to buy out the remaining week of the contract so as to have the new people in place the day after Christmas. It was going to be a nightmare for me, and probably worse for Maggie. Maggie was my one employee and she was a super lady. She was married to a good friend of mine so we respected one another's space. It was going to be a real bitch to tell her. I gave some thought to calling her cell phone to tell her just to drop everything where it was and to hell with the bank. Instead, I waited in the downtown branch's lobby for her. She had a right to know what had happened before she made any further holiday plans. I just hoped that she and Jeff could survive on his pay until I landed something else for us, if I could.
"Hey Maggie, I need to talk to you a second." I said it to the woman I knew to be 28 years old. She looked to be well over 30 that day. It might be Christmas eve but she looked haggard already.
"What you doing up here Sammy? Is that meeting over already and more important do we get the raise?"
"They didn't even let me bring it up. They had already let the contract to someone else." Maggie's mouth fell open.
"You have got to be kidding Sammy?" I couldn't speak. I simply nodded.
"So how long have you known?" There was an angry edge to her voice.
"I don't deserve that. You know that if I had known, I would have told you."
"I'm sorry Sammy, this is just such a shock. It is gonna be hard next week knowing it is the last week on the route."
"They don't want us back. When you drop those bags, we are through. They want our keys back right now.
"What about the Federal Reserve run?" Who is going to take the bags down there?"
"I have no idea but it is not our problem." I couldn't bring myself to smile, not even at the prospect of the Fed fining them, for not bringing their bags on time helped my mood.
"So Sammy, what you gonna do hon?" Maggie didn't seem to be as upset as I had expected her to be.
"I am going to wait for you to deliver that bag, then I am gonna buy you a drink."
"Not tonight, I am going to need to talk to Jeff. He and I have been thinking about starting a little business. Now might be the time for it." Not only did Maggie not seem as upset as I thought, she actually looked as though she might be pleased. "I have been giving some thought to the catering business but I didn't want to leave you in a jam. This might be the right time."
I knew Maggie had always done those church reception tray kind of things. I didn't know that she wanted to get more involved in it though. I looked at her but couldn't tell if she was serious, or trying to make me feel better. Either way it worked, I felt much better than I would have if she had cried.
Maggie caught an elevator up to say goodbye to her friends while I walked into the bank's rear parking lot. Maggie would be headed home after her last drop. I sat in my tiny hatchback trying to decide where I would spend Christmas eve. I, sure as hell wouldn't be spending it in my home. Truth was that it hadn't been much of a home for years anyway.
The cell phone rang as I started the ten year old Ford Festiva. "Hello," I knew just as soon as I said it that I had done it wrong. If I was going to answer it at all on Christmas Eve, I should have used the company name.
"Sammy, this is Beth. I hate like hell to do this but I am gonna have to cancel our lunch tomorrow."
She didn't hate it as bad as I did. Beth was my sister, lunch at her house was the only holiday plan I had. With the loss of that, it appeared that I was gonna be one of those lonely looking men in the cafeteria line on Christmas day. I almost punched in my wife's number but I just couldn't face any part of Christmas with her or her family.
The phone rang again while I was negotiating traffic on the way to my small office and shop. It was also where I had been spending my nights at the time. "Hello, Sammy's package pick up." It looked as though it would be back to that phrase for a while at least.
"Hi are you the manager?"
"I am the manager, the janitor, and the owner," I replied.
"The is Hondo Lister at 'Wheels Of Glory'. Do you know who we are?"
"The biker's who run the drug rehab, right?" I had seen the articles about them in the paper. During that time of year the newspaper was filled with 'feel good' stories.
"We do a little more than that, but yes we run the drug program for the churches in town. So you are Sammy?"
"Yep, I am Sammy. What can I do for you Hondo?' I wanted to snicker at the silly name.
"I have a rather unique problem. One of those other things we do is to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving and Christmas."
"Okay let me guess, you are seeking donations? Sure put me down for twenty bucks."
"Well thanks, but we need a little more from you." His voice had changed a little. He actually was talking down to me.
"Oh, what could you need from me?"
"I have called every delivery company in town, but for one reason or another they can't do it. I need someone to pick up fifty turkeys for me."
"Hondo, I can tell you why. Oh hell, never mind where are your fifty turkeys? Are they at one of the local stores?" I figured one of the markets had donated the birds.
"Mendenhall's game farm," he replied. "It is located about a hundred miles west of here."
"Let me get this straight, you are looking for someone to drive three or four hours up there and the same back to bring you turkeys?"
"Well it is only a hundred miles," he replied.
"And it is only Christmas Eve. Have you ever driven on a Christmas Eve?" I asked it shortly.
"Actually I don't recall that I have."
"Trust me, you are talking eight hours round trip minimum."
"It is four now, if your man leaves shortly, he can be back around midnight."
"I never said I would do it. "I, sure as hell, won't ask one of my drivers to do it on Christmas Eve." He didn't need to know that Maggie, my only driver, was headed home. "What kind of condition are the turkeys in?"
"Frozen, they will be packed in dry ice I think. All you have to do is drive back here with them. I can send a guy with you to load and unload them. You won't even have to touch them."
"How much are the birds going to weigh?" I asked it because I still had an old truck licensed. It was licensed and would probably make the trip, but I would prefer to drive mini van. From all the talk of trucks and vans you would think I ran a big operation. Truth is that it had been until I got careless. I started to drink and lost it all and Lori too. I was still battling the bottle, even though I hadn't had a drink in over a month.
"I got fifty birds at twenty pounds each more or less. We had planned to pick them up in our Church van but it go stole last night."
"Nice, somebody stole the church van on Christmas Eve."
"Sure did, the cops found it, but they won't let us have it back. Something to do with needing to process it for evidence first." Hondo didn't sound convinced. What he sounded, was suspicious of cops.
When I pulled onto the lot of my converted service station, I was ready to tell him no. I have no idea to this day why I didn't. God knows I should have. "Hondo, does anybody there know the way to this farm?"
"Yeah we got somebody why?"
"Because I am going to drive the van, and I do not intend to get a hundred miles from here on Christmas Eve and be lost. So, instead of some ox to load, get me someone who knows the way."
"Okay, when you gonna be here?"
"I am going to pick up the van, get some gas, and be on the way there. Are you still using the old church camp?" I knew they were. At least they were two days before when the article came out in the paper.
"Yeah, come on over to the two story grey building just inside the fence. I will have somebody meet you out front."
"Okay I should be there in about twenty minutes." I switched vehicles, then drove to the pumps. I realized that I hadn't asked Hondo to pay for the trip. I guess we both assumed it would be my Christmas donation. Well, the twenty bucks I offered would buy the gas.
The biker in the dirty jeans and black leather jacket with the logo, 'Wheels of Glory' was waiting just inside the door. I pulled up and he ran to the van. "Light in the ass," I thought as he climbed in.
"Okay, so how do I get to this place?" I asked.
"Get out on the interstate and head west. Go to Statesville, then turn north on highway 77. It won't be too far up there. I can show you once we get off 77."
Now I know I am not too bright, but I recognized the voice first as a woman, then as an educated woman. I took a second at the next stop light to give her a good look. She wasn't very attractive, I decided. What she was though was young and dressed in jeans that cost as much as the almost new black leather motorcycle jacket. The blouse under the jacket, which she had opened in the heat of the van, was pure silk. I knew it not from experience, but from the total look of the woman.
"The light is green," she said it looking out the windshield. If she knew I had been appraising her, she did not let on.
"Oh okay," I said not knowing what else to say. "So, what do I call you?
"Most folks call me George, but you can call me George." She smiled at her witty remark. I glanced at her again. I noticed that she had freckles so thick that they touched in places. I guessed that the bandana hid red hair.
"So George are you doing the cooking?" I asked it smiling to myself. I couldn't imagine her with a spoon and mixing bowl.
"Don't think so Sammy," She grinned at me. She noticed my curious look. "Hondo told me your name. He said to be nice to you, but not too nice."
"Ah hell just my luck." I grinned at her showing my best side.
"Well Sammy, you are way too old for me anyway so the warning wasn't necessary." At that point I gave some thought to throwing her out on her ear. It was only after I calmed down and realized that she was right. She was about nineteen and I was into my forties at the time.