The sound to the rain hitting the metal roof woke me. It took me a while to figure out just what it was. I hadn't heard that sound since my childhood. It took a special kind of rain to make the noise. One with big heavy raindrops, not that fine misty stuff. It had to be a pelting rain. That's exactly what was falling at 3a.m.
I thought about rolling over and listening for a while. I might have except that I'm an old man and need to use the bathroom whenever I awake in the night. I listened to the rain while I did my middle of the night thing, then let it lull me back to sleep.
When I awoke the next morning it was well after sunup. The sun was blindingly bright as it can only be after a hard rain. The air must really be dirty, if rain makes that much difference. Living in a tiny mobile home, ie trailer, didn't have many good things going for it. That nostalgic sound, and the low maintainence were the only two that came to me that morning.
The coffee was good and the toasted bagle was filling. The morning seemed to be starting out well enough. Now if my daughter or her husband wouldn't call to check up on me, life would be good. Yes I resent them calling and I resent the intrusion on my time. Somehow I was always in the middle of something when one of them called. Yes, I know they meant well, but come on I don't need a babysitter. My god I'm older than dirt. If I die, the neighbors will know from the smell. From the time I actually stop breathing until I stink, what good could my daughter and her family do?
When the phone began to ring, I checked my watch. It was 9 a.m. It seemed that my complaints hadn't stopped them, but at least set the morning check in call for a later time. Right after I started living alone, they called at eight every single morning. I was having a hard time getting to sleep at night. Which meant that their morning calls woke me from a dead sleep more than once.
"Hi dad, did you sleep well?"
"Sammie, I slept the same as I do most nights. You really don't need to call me every morning. I promise that if I die in the night, I'll have the woman with me call you."
"That isn't funny," she was dead serious of course. She was always dead serious.
"Yes, I guess it was a bad thing to say. I'm sorry."
"Okay, it is just still painful."
"Yeah, for me to."
"So Dad, you want to come for dinner?"
My first reaction was, can I have a root canal instead. But what I said was, "How about you check back with me later in the week. I really would like to have some time alone. You really need to give me that." Okay it was a little rude, but all the calls and all the invitations to have dinner were making me crazy.
"Sure, I can give you space. Call me when you want to see your grandson." She hung to the phone up with a sharp click. I planned to wait a week and if she hadn't called by then, I would call her. It was my plan anyway.
I looked out at the twenty year old Dodge econbox. I expected it to let me down on any given day. Of course, I had been expecting it for years. Since I drove very little, I expected the battery to go first.
After breakfast I checked my computer for messages. I had a few. I used a couple of programs on the computer to answer the messages, burn three cd's and print out four labels. The cd's I planned to put in the outgoing box at the Moble home (trailer) park office. I had a small box that I would drop at the post office when I next made a trip, which was scheduled for the next day. I seldom stayed with the schedule. When I varied it, I always went a day early never had I been late. At least I had until that day, I had no reason to think I would be then either.
After I had everything ready to mail, I took a look around the room. As usual it was a mess. I had converted the larger of the two bedrooms into an office/workshop of sorts. I had stopped doing the most intense of the conversions. By that time I had gone to nothing more than a couple of antigue camera upgrades and now and then a lens removal. Even so I had several boxes of camera cadavers around. I knew that I needed to sort through and then toss the worst of them.
I needed to but not that day. That day I was going to the park to shoot pictures. Pictures of the lake with one of the antique cameras that I had kept. I might even carry one of the really big ones to shoot. I enjoyed tinkering with all the controls, not to mention the attention I got playing with it.
While I was making my picture, one of my many constest entries was being pulled from a box. It wasn't like on a tv stage the men in the ad agency pulled three. They would then most likely evaluate the information, and then chose the first, second and third places based on the advertising value of each name. Now I entered for the second or third place prizes to sell on ebay. I had no idea that I would win, not did I want to win the first place prize.
The first place prize was a night on the town in Nashville with a rising female singer. Dinner, dancing, and of course honky tonking.
I really didn't think my poor heart could stand that kind of thing but then again odds were about a million to one against me anyway.
I had been home about twenty minutes when the phone rang. "Hello."
"Hello Mr Taft, I have some great news for you."
"Oh you found that you made a mistake, I'm not pregnant after all."
"What?" He sounded like he was going to be ill.
"Just a joke Sonny. What's the great news?"
"You won first place in the Nashville now sweepstakes."
"Oh did I win a car?"
"No sir, don't you remember the sweepstakes?"
"Sonny, I enter about ten a day. Comes from having too much time on my hands. So anyway what did I win?"
"You won a date with Alexandra."
"Alexandra who?" I asked it because I really had no idea. I don't listen to music of any kind much and music made after 1970 not at all."
"Just Alexandra, she is a country music singer. Very popular. Hold on a second."
I was hoping they were shuffling the order of the prizes. He was probably getting a second opinion. In the end I think they decided that an old fart with Alexandra on his arm would be good for a couple of lines in the national gossip sheets. To bad, I could have sold the second prize boat for a nice bit of change.
"So Mr Taft when can you come to Nashville."
"You mean I have to come to Nashville on my dime?"
It took him a second to respond. "No of course not, we will send a plane ticket. Someone will meet you at the airport and take you to a first class hotel. Then later that night you will meet Alexandra and have dinner and then see her show."
"If she is a big deal star, seems you would want me to fit into her schedule. But I can come out there most any time. Just give me a date and I'll try to make it work."
"Well then how about Saturday. You could fly out in the morning and we could have you on a plane for home the next day."
"Sure why not," I replied.
"So what you gonna' do this weekend?" It was my daughter who asked.
"Oh, I think I'm going to fly to Nashville and have dinner, maybe see a show."
"Sure, what are you really going to do?" she asked.
"Okay, then I guess I'll go camping." If she wouldn't believe the truth, I had no problem lying to her.
"Ah where to this time."
"Some where west of here I think."
"Yeah, you always seem to be going to the coast."
"I know, this time I think I'll just head west maybe stop when I get to the Mississippi.'
"Oh good, you will be home on Sunday?"
Somehow over the next couple of days it got worked out. I caught a plane out of the local airport and flew into the Memphis international airport. The flight wouldn't have taken all day, if I hadn't been routed through Atlanta. Somehow I wound up on an airplane until late in the afternoon. There was a heavy set black man holding up a sign with Taft on it. Since the president by that name had been long dead I approached him.
"I'm Edgar Taft. It that for me?"
"It is, come along Mr. Taft you aren't going to have a lot of time." It was at that point that I had my second bout with wishing I had won the boat. Oh well it happened all the time. They give you something you don't want and cant use, then they want you to pay for it. Who exactly 'they' were I had no idea.
The driver waited for me while I checked into the room and showered. Then he took me to a meeting with the guys who ran the sweepstakes. They were both far to young to have a real job. I had an idea they owned the agency or some such thing.
"Mr. Taft, it is good to meet you. I think you are going to have a ball in Memphis tonight."
"You do huh?"
"Sure aren't you having fun yet?"
"Not a bit of fun. I have flown all day with just time to take a shower before this meeting. I have a feeling you haven't changed your mind about giving me the boat after all, so why the meeting?"
"Want you to meet Sam." He pointed to an even younger man who had remained seated the whole time. "Sam is a local photographer. He is going to be following you and Alexandra around. Not that there won't be a ton of press around. There always is when she goes out."
"Just in case they get sidetracked you want to make sure you have a picture of the country singer and the old fart. Okay with me." I turned my attention to Sam. "So kid what kinda camera you shooting me with."
"Nikon Digital SLR," he said.
"Oh one just like the grownups use." I smiled to let him know I didn't mean any harm. It didn't seem to matter he looked really pissed. Well, he'll get over it or die pissed off, I thought.
The kid with the camera didn't smile but the man in charge did. I found out later his name was Hal. We went out for coffee since dinner wasn't going to be till nine. I was going to have dinner with Alexandra between shows. Well so much for the picnic idea. Hal wanted maximum exposure for the dinner. It turns out that I should have been charging them. All I won was a chance to promote a singer I never heard of.
After a light snack in a coffee shop, I got hustled off to a small theater for a show. No not Alexandra, the performer there was an even more unknown. Some reject from a tv talent show of some kind. I knew then that I should have watched more tv.
It was close to 10 p.m. when I finally met Alexandra. I'm past old enough to draw social security and she look barely old enough to be paying it. It was ludicrus trying to pair us up. It was a publicity stunt of course, but even so it was a stretch.
She pretty much blew me off conversation wise. She had ten more people talking to her while we were being introducted. I knew that she was no more interested in me than one of the roaches that ran across the floor of her dressing room. Alexandra was a bit of a rude bitch it seemed. Still she was quite beautiful, but I wondered how she looked without the painted on makeup.
Hal had a conference with her but not quite far enough away. "He's old enough to be my father, hell my grandfather." The words didn't sting as much as you would have expected. I was old enough and I really just wanted the damn boat anyway. "I am not going to be seen with him. Hal I don't care what you say or what he says to the press."
Good idea I thought, I might get that boat after all. Just then the door burst open and a young man about her age rushed in.
"Damn it Alex, you can't treat people like this." Somehow I knew he wasn't objecting to her words about me. I watched him reach into the pocket of his white dinner jacket.
"Gun," I shouted as he raised his arm. He pointed it at her. At that point I did a remarkably stupid thing. First of all I didn't like the woman, second of all she most likely deserved it, and finally I was far to old to be doing anything so stupid. Nonetheless I tacked him from behind. He fell forward and the gun went off.
"Are you okay?" Hal asked.
"I'm fine, now tell me that wasn't part of the show?"
"No that was for real. Good then he won't be suing me."
"No but you might have to talk to the police."
I looked down to see the white dinner jacket turning red. "Oh Christ," I said. "Who the hell is he?"
"His name is Michael Dutter. He is some kind of stalker."