Thanks to the knee doctor for editing assistance.
It was only a twenty-third anniversary, but I was still hoping it would be special. Unfortunately, a last minute business conference threw a monkey wrench into it. I finished packing a bag for the next three days in Baltimore, and sat down to grab a quick bite before leaving.
"Marcie, I promise I'll make this up to you. Torrenson insisted that I attend this seminar. I looked over the agenda and didn't see anything especially important, but he is the boss."
"Don't worry about it, John. I'll get even when we go to Europe for the twenty-fifth. We can go someplace nice this weekend when you get back."
Marcie and I have been married since college, and have two daughters, Janet and Rachel, who are both in college. I started working for Beeman's International about ten years ago and was doing well. I put in a lot of hours and was required to travel quite a bit. Marcie didn't seem to mind and found ways to occupy her time while I was gone. Our marriage was good and our sex life was fine. Other than my demanding work schedule, I assumed everything in my life was fine. We socialized occasionally, usually at office functions, but sometimes with neighborhood friends. The girls were both fairly independent, and only relied on us for tuition and some expense money. Both of them were working while they were on campus.
After Marcie and I met, we started dating, and the transition to marriage was a natural thing. There was no whirlwind romance, or storybook episodes. It was all just matter of fact and sort of boring. While I was average in appearance, Marcie was fairly good looking. I was a little more than six foot and towered over Marcie, who was a good six inches shorter. She usually wore heels when we went out, to even things up. She had dark brown hair, which was just starting to get a few gray streaks. They made her look sophisticated. She jogged about three times a week to keep her weight down. Marcie was a fine looking woman and any man would be proud to have her.
"I'll call you when I get settled in and give you the room number. We will probably be busy most of the afternoon and evening. They have some things scheduled pretty late. I won't call tonight if it goes on too long."
"Don't worry John. I have plenty to keep me busy. The girls dropped off some laundry this weekend, and the new book club edition arrived yesterday. Don't fret about me. I'll see you Friday evening."
After a quick kiss, I was off to Baltimore. It was a three hour drive, because I usually took the back roads. I hate the Interstate. The meetings started after lunch, so I had plenty of time to get settled in. I called Marcie to let her know I arrived safely.
The irritating thing was that there was nothing new being presented. I read the agenda before coming, but I was still expecting more. I couldn't figure out why they would send me to a redundant conference.
I was really annoyed after the last session of the afternoon, when they announced that we were all going out for a special celebration dinner to a Ruth's Chris Steak House. Although there were two in Baltimore, they were taking us to the one in Philly, where we had a corporate acount.
It was raining when we arrived in Philadelphia. They had two special tables set up for the group, in a special meeting room. At the prices they charge, I am sure they didn't want a rowdy bunch annoying the paying customers. After we all ordered, I excused myself to go to the men's room.
The lighting thoughout the restaurant was subdued, but I was still able to make out my wife, Marcie, sitting at a secluded table with Bob Torrenson. She was dressed to the nines. It looked like she had even had her hair done. She only goes to the beauty shop on special occasions, two or three times a year. Then I remembered, tonight was special, because it was our wedding anniversary.
As I stood across the room, things became much clearer. Now I knew why I was making so many overnight business trips and seminars. I had no idea Marcie was that close to Bob Torrenson, especially since he was married. We had never socialized with Bob and his wife and I didn't even know when or how they were able to start up a relationship. At this point, it no longer mattered. Looks like our trip to Europe would never happen.
It was a nice restaurant and I didn't want to spoil anyone's meal so I decided to be discrete. I walked to the side of the room by the restroom hallway. From there I could see Marcie and also view the conference room. I thought for sure Marcie would turn her cell phone off under the circumstances, but she didn't.
"Hi honey, it's John. I tried the house phone but there was no answer."
Marcie was trying to use her cell phone without being obvious. That is hard to do in a crowded, expensive eating establishment.
"Sorry John. I am down in the basement and didn't hear the phone ring. I thought you weren't going to call. What is going on?"
Bob had a disgusted look on his face as Marcie tried to keep her voice down.
"Just wanted to let you know that I am on my way home. The conference ended early. I should be home in about an hour. See you soon."
"What? Hold on a minute, John. The washer is acting up."
Marcie quickly put her hand over the phone and was talking to Bob. You could tell there was a degree of urgency in the conversation, by her facial expression and hand gestures. Bob whipped out his phone and hit a speed dial in two seconds flat. Across the room, the conference director was answering his cell phone. The conversation between Bob and the party room was very short. A look of fear crossed Marcie's face as Bob relayed what he had just heard. She put the phone up to her mouth slowly.
"John, where are you?"
"I think you know the answer to that. You look nice in that black dress. It goes good with the pearls that I got you last Christmas. Don't bother coming back to the house tonight. I will be moving out tomorrow. By the way, happy anniversary."
"John, wait, we have to talk."
They always say that. That must be the stupidest expression a women who is caught cheating can make, but they always say it.
It was raining like hell when I walked out of the restaurant. My car was in Baltimore and I was stuck in Philly. I started walking towards the downtown area. In less than a minute, I was soaking wet. Somehow, I didn't care. I felt my phone ring several times but ignored it. Finally, I turned it off. I decided it might be more prudent to save the battery. I felt bad about missing out on the free Ruth's Chris steak until I came to the cheese steak shop. I was depressed, but that was the best steak sandwich I ever had.
I guess the easiest thing to do, would be to rent a car and drive home, but I didn't really want to go home. Home was a comfortable place and all my toys were there, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't convince myself that going there was necessary. From the steak shop it was only a short walk to the nearest bar. After six drafts, I was ready for bed.
I woke up in a sleazy room that I am sure usually rents by the hour. My suit was totally wiped out from the weather the night before. Three blocks away was the bus station. I got a razor with a tube of some sort of shaving cream out of the vending machine, and a few minutes later looked half way presentable. A pair of chino pants and a polo shirt came to less than twenty bucks at a shop closer to town. The Goodwill got my suit and white shirt. By that time, the banks were open.
I don't live in Philadelphia, but most of the banks and other companies I deal with have offices or headquarters there. I quickly closed out my checking and savings accounts. I even took the girls college fund money. The mortgage department in the bank was not happy when I told them I wanted to concede my home loan. What confused them was the fact that I had over sixty thousand dollars equity, and there was no need to let the house go back. They had to agree it was a good deal for them, so they let me sign the release forms. They also said I had to get my wife's signature. I smiled and told them it was their problem. I canceled my bank credit card after paying off the balance.
I had a nice bundle built up in my whole life insurance policies. The company agreed to mail the checks to my sister in Savannah. Fidelity Mutual Funds also agreed to mail the checks for my closed out account. My cell phone battery died, but I was able to borrow a phone from a friendly secretary to call work.
The head of my department at work was not happy about my leaving. After the counter-offers he made to keep me failed, he politely demanded to know the reason why I was going with such short notice. He was not pleased to hear that Bob Torrenson had been keeping me busy so that he could nail my wife. I explained that it was already done and he couldn't fix it. Before transferring me to the personnel office, he promised that Torrenson would be dealt with. Personnel was more than willing to mail my final checks for pay, profit sharing, sick leave, and accrued vacation pay to my sisters place. A sympathetic secretary was also willing to give me Bob Torrenson's home phone number.
I made two more phone calls to cancel two additional credit cards. An hour later, I was on the bus to Baltimore. I decided to pick up my car and get the few things I had in the hotel room.
It would take me a full day to get from Baltimore to Savannah. My sister, Grace, and I were close. I decided to explain everything to her and also let her know that I had some checks coming to her house. I turned the cell phone on so I could charge it in the car. There were several calls while it was under charge, but I didn't answer any of them. As soon as I got settled, I would get a new number.
That many hours on the road, gives a man a lot of time to think. I was at a complete loss as to what motivated Marcie to go with Bob Torrenson. I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out when it might have started or how. Was I somehow an active participant in what happened or was I completely passive? It appears that I came up short as a husband in some fashion. After a few hours, I decided that I didn't really care. I no longer felt the need to place blame or find fault. What was done was done and could not be undone. Time to move on.
I regretted not having my birth certificate, passport, and car title. I would make do, or figure out how to get them. I had my laptop and briefcase. I could live with the car charger for the cell phone, because I wouldn't be using it that much anyhow. My medical insurance was still in effect for ninety days but I wasn't planning on getting sick.
About an hour out of Baltimore, I called Bob Torrenson's wife. It seemed that Bob had been let go that morning, for unspecified reasons, or so he told his wife. She thanked me for explaining things to her in a little more detail, and promised further retribution, for her and for me. I felt it was the least he deserved. I called Grace and let her know I was coming.
"Welcome, my wayward brother." Grace was sitting on the front porch as I pulled up. "Your wife called twice, trying to run you down, but would not say why it was important, or why you might be coming to see your sister. I suspect you will be telling me now, or I will have to kick your butt."
There were four rockers on the porch and an ice chest, which I knew would hold some beer. Grace was older than I was, and a little smarter, or should I say wiser. I plopped myself down beside of her.
"From the expression on your face, I can only assume that it was something that you did not see coming?"
"Didn't see it coming and never expected it. Your little brother got blind-sided and needs some comforting words." Grace handed me a cold, long-neck along with a pathetic smile. The rockers were positioned just right so we could prop our feet on the porch railing and watch the traffic go by. Grace and her husband, Carson, bought the old brick, two story, twenty years ago. Luckily, Carson was pretty handy, because he had to replace half the wood in the lower structure. Termites are hell in damp coastal areas. It paid off for them, because it was now part of the Savannah Historical District.
"I am guessing infidelity. Am I right?"
"And who is the cheating bastard: Marcie or John?"
"Well I am too socially inept to ever even meet another woman so it must have been her." Grace thought on that for a moment. I wasn't trying to be cute, but I found it difficult to come right out and say my wife cheated on me.
"Gee John, that wasn't expected. I never thought that Marcie would do something like that. How did it all come about?"
"Don't know and don't care. It appears that she hooked up with my boss, and he started sending me out of town, on business trips, so they could be together. It was just dumb luck that I found out about it. I had no clue. I didn't discuss any of it with her. I just left."
"Is there a chance you might be wrong?"
"No. She lied to my face about it while it was happening. She was sitting in a restaurant with him while she told me on the phone, that she was at home doing laundry. I was thirty feet away, watching her. There was no mistake. Of course I never caught them in the sack or in a motel room, but I am pretty sure it happened at some time."
"I assume there will be no reconciliation?"
"It will never happen." We started a second bottle and said nothing for about ten minutes. This was the first time I acknowledged what had happened and I didn't feel good about it.
"Why don't you get cleaned up for supper? Carson will be home in a couple of minutes. You two can catch up on old times while I get some shrimp boiled. He doesn't know anything, so it is up to you if you want to tell him. I won't say anything, if you don't want me to do."
"Just tell him Grace. It is better not to keep something like this under the rug."
I stayed with Grace and Carson for two days. They had two sons, who were both married and on their own. Carson had put on a few pounds so he had lots of extra clothes to push off on me. I needed them. Grace agreed to hold the checks and any other mail that arrived, until I could get a forwarding address. I had no idea where I was going to end up. Marcie called once the next day, but Grace said she hadn't seen me. I asked Grace to call the girls, at college, after I left, and to explain the situation as best as she could. It was important that they knew that the tuition would be taken care of. I wasn't ready to face the girls myself. Before leaving town, I got a new cell phone number and picked up two pairs of comfortable shoes.
I hated the Interstate, so I ended up on old 301 headed South. The best thing about being in the area was the availability of Krystal for lunch and Waffle House for breakfast. What else could a man want? I slept in the car the first night, on a Wal-Mart parking lot, between two enormous RV's.
Other than the sliders, one of the nice things about Krystal is the free Wi-Fi. I really didn't have a desperate need to use the Internet, but it was nice knowing it was available, if I did need it.
I was driving along the St Johns River, somewhere around Palatka, when things changed for the better. It was mid-morning, and I stopped to refuel at a small gas station, dock, and restaurant combination. It was a ratty place about a hundred yards off the main road but visible from the bridge crossing the river. The parking lot was all gravel and the dock, which had seen better days, looked like it had once been a marina. The restaurant was a two-story building, half on the dock and half on land. It hadn't been painted in at least ten years. Across the street were three mobile homes, which were at least as old as the paint job on the restaurant. The gas station appeared to be set up for the benefit of boaters who happened to be cruising the waterway. The sign in front said: "Sadie's Catfish House." I worked all through high school at a Captain D's, so I felt a twang of nostalgia.
I stepped my way down toward the river, carefully. The place needed maintenance. Two boys in their early teens were sitting on the dock just looking at the water. Loud voices were coming from the back of the restaurant, one male and one female. I got the feeling the boys were there to avoid what was going on inside.
"Sounds like somebody is going at it pretty good in there." I was trying to be polite without being intrusive.
They both looked up at me. The oldest one cracked a smile: "Charlie showed up drunk for work again. Mom wants to fire him, but he is the only cook she can get. If he goes, she will have to shut down. She can't cook and wait tables at the same time."
"I assume you guys help out."
"The restaurant sells beer, so Josh and I can't work in the dining room until we are eighteen, by state law. We can help in the kitchen, but that doesn't help Mom too much."
About that time, Charlie fell out the back door of the kitchen. It was obvious from his unsuccessful attempts to get up, that he was drunk. "And don't even think about coming back, you bastard." That was my first contact with Loretta Fields, a Cajun woman, lost in Florida. She stood at the kitchen door with fire in her eyes. It was lucky for Charlie, that she didn't have anything in her hands, because she most surely would have thrown it at him. Loretta stood close to six feet, and was all muscle. The uniform she wore was not flattering and it was evident that she was not well-endowed. I don't normally look at ladies breasts, but the absence in this case was noticeable. I chided myself for being such a clod, and tried to put the childish observation out of my mind. She had auburn, shoulder length hair and sharp, cheekbones that emphasized her dark, brown eyes. The absence of makeup, added to her less than feminine appearance. She was a hard woman who definitely had a hard life. She stood akimbo, as Charlie made his way off the dock and across the parking lot.
"What the hell are you looking at?" She sounded as mad at me as she had been with Charlie.
"My name is John Wilson. I was looking for a job." I don't know what possessed me to say that. I wasn't looking for a job, but it seemed like the best thing to say at the time. Something about the whole conversation gave the two boys a giggle fit.
"Josh, Terry, get your butts inside and start getting ready for lunch.
There is nothing funny and I don't appreciate your attitude." As the boys scampered inside, the wicked witch of the South turned her attention back to me. "My name is Loretta. Do you have any restaurant experience at all?"
"Two years at Capt D's, in food prep and cooking. I don't know everything, but I can find my way around a kitchen." I cannot explain why I persisted in playing this game, but I found her intensity to be fascinating. I was sure it would grow old fast, but at the moment I was mesmerized.
My first day as a cook at Sadie's Catfish House, went fairly well. I messed up a few orders, but it was nothing serious. The boys were a big help, explaining the standard procedures and locating stuff for me. It was mostly a bread and fry operation. I was more familiar with batter-fried fish, but it was all pretty much the same. The biggest pain in the butt for me was cleaning the fryers after the lunch rush. I don't think they were cleaned in the past year. They had an oil filter system set up that was pretty simple to use, but still was messy. Loretta and I spent most of the afternoon prepping for supper. I got a quick lesson in making Cole Slaw, her way. She went over the entire menu to see if I had any questions. It was mostly catfish. Although nothing had been discussed, I got the feeling that she was going on the assumption that I was a permanent fixture. I was flattered and intrigued. I had time to kill and this was fun.
After the evening clean up, Loretta gave me a cold long-neck and we sat to talk.
"In case I forget, I want to thank you for helping me out of a bind today. I really appreciated you being here."
"No problem, for twenty dollars an hour, I am willing to do just about anything."
"Whoa, pony. Where the hell did the twenty-dollar figure come from?"
"Just trying to get a feeling of just how thankful you really were."
"Charlie got six bucks an hour. I don't have to, and I can't afford to pay that damn minimum wage. I can bump it up a little, but don't get greedy on me."
"Six is fine, Mrs. Fields. My big problem is a place to stay."
"The boys and I live in one of the trailers across the street. Mabel, the lady that owns the whole shebang here, lives in the big one. I rent the restaurant from her. Her son Clyde runs the gas station. He lives in the third trailer. There is a storage room upstairs, but no furniture or plumbing. You can use the toilet in the restaurant and I can let you shower in the trailer."
"And how much are these luxurious accommodations going to cost me?"
"How about free overtime. I pay you for a forty hour week and anything over that you do for free."
"Are you open everyday?"
"I close Mondays. It is my day at the beauty spa."
I found her humor to fit her personality. How could I not like this woman?
The first night in the storage room was rough. It was dusty, dirty, and the floor was hard. Beat the hell out of the Subaru though. The nice thing was that I had a full kitchen to cook my breakfast.
After a week, I was pretty well settled in. I called Grace and gave her the address. She had a half-dozen pieces of mail to send down, that I hoped held checks. The first Monday, I went into Palatka and opened a bank account and a safety deposit box. I finally got rid of all that cash I was carrying around. I took the boys with me and got some used furniture. They enjoyed helping and I enjoyed their company. Using Loretta's trailer to shower was uncomfortable for me. I felt as if I was imposing on her. With some PVC pipe and a little time I was able to put up an outside shower behind the restaurant. It looked like a cabana set up and worked out pretty good, as long as it wasn't too cold out. The boys helped me with the shower and even tried it out first.
Loretta's husband was killed on an off-shore drilling rig eight years ago. He stayed on the rig during a hurricane and things didn't go well. She got some insurance out of the deal and used it to get the restaurant started. Mabel and her seemed to get along fairly well.
Josh and Terry spent a lot of time with me. I guess they were looking for a father figure. My relationship with their mother remained strictly professional. There were a few times when I thought about her a little differently, but I didn't want to chance ruining a good thing.
It was time to check in with my daughters. Luckily they were both at Penn State, so I would only have to call once. I could tell by her voice that Rachel answered the phone.
"Hi. It's your dad. I just thought it was time to give you guys a call. Is Janet there too?"
"Janet's in class. We were wondering when you were going to call? Mom is hysterical, but also evasive. Janet and I think we need your side of the story. What the hell is going on?"
"Sorry for the screw up, honey. To start off, what is your mothers explanation of what is going on?"
"She claims that she set up a romantic anniversary diner for the two of you at a steak house. Your boss helped her make the arrangements. When you got to the restaurant, you saw them together and freaked out. She didn't get a chance to explain to you what happened. She seemed to be really upset."
"Wow. That is a great story Rachel. Unfortunately, that's just what it is, a story. Your mother had no idea I would be at that restaurant. When I showed up she was shocked and surprised. I called her inside the restaurant, before she knew I was there. She told me that she was at home doing laundry. When she found out that I was watching her from across the room, she was frantic. It was no surprise party. My boss and your mother arranged for me to be out of town, so they could get together. I caught her and she is scrambling to cover her ass."
"That makes more sense than her version. What do you want us to do, and why are you calling from Savannah?"
"I am not in Savannah, that's just where I got the phone from. Try not to be too rough on your mom, but see if you can get her to tell you the truth."
"That's it. Nothing else that we should do?"
"If you are going home for Thanksgiving, go into the den and dig out my passport, birth certificate, and the title for the Subaru. Mail them down to your Aunt Grace's place. She can make sure that I get them. Don't let your mother know and for goodness sake, don't give your mother my cell phone number. I don't want to have to change it again."
"Sorry about everything Dad. Janet and I are here for you, if you need anything."
"Thanks. Oh, by the way. I have all your tuition money, so you don't have to worry about that."
I felt better having that all taken care of, although I did not like having to tell Rachel about her mother. There was no doubt in my mind that Rachel believed what I told her. Marcie's story was interesting, and I guess the best she could do under the circumstances, but it would not hold water. I was dying to know more about the affair, but it was not worth the agony.
Things continued to go well at the Catfish House. I got the checks from Grace and also the documents the girls sent down. I would be able to get new Florida car tags when the PA tags ran out. I put my paychecks from the restaurant into my bank account, but all the other money was in the safety deposit box. The interest rates were so low that I didn't feel I was losing out on anything, and the money was safer there.
All week long I was eating at work, so on Mondays I looked forward to going out for something different. I had no trouble getting the boys to go with me. Loretta just naturally tagged along. It was my treat and although neither one of us would admit it, it was sort of a date. Chinese buffet's seemed to be the favorite, but they were all getting to like sushi, too. Sometimes we ended up driving quite a bit, but I didn't mind.
Loretta had mellowed out a lot. I had not seen her nasty side again, since that first day. At times, I thought I caught her looking at me while we were working, but she would quickly avert her eyes. I was still married, but Loretta was starting to look good.
The restaurant did a steady business, but hardly made enough to meet expenses. I was living on next to nothing. The money that Loretta paid me went into the bank. I had virtually no living expenses. A tank of gas every month and Monday night out, with the family. I have no idea why I started to think of Josh, Terry, and Loretta as family. It just happened. Mabel ate lunch at Sadie's everyday: gratis of course. You could tell she was getting a little tired of the menu. I was just an employee and the place belonged to Loretta, so I kept my mouth shut, but my eyes and ears open. Most of our clientele were local boys, who, I think, were more interested in the beer, than the catfish.
Just before Christmas I got a call from Janet.
"Dad, how is everything going?"
"Okay, I guess. I have no complaints. Is it tuition time again?"
"Next month. Just wanted to make sure you were going to be all right for the holidays."
"I'm good. I assume you and Rachel will be with your mother?"