Thanks to the Hip and Knee Doctor for editing assistance.
It was four years since my wife died and three years since my kids started working on me to move. It was their contention that the family home, where they were all raised, was too big for a single man, alone. I held out for as long as I could, but knew that in the end they were right. I had no desire to live with any of my offspring and they didn't really want me any way. I have to admit that as I got older, I got more ornery. Most of the time I was Okay, but I developed a short temper and a lack of tolerance for people who acted like assholes. Hell, why not? I spent my whole life being nice to people I didn't like, just so I could be socially acceptable. It didn't matter any more.
After an agreement was finally reached between my children and me, I started to get ready. The hardest thing to do was to get rid of my stuff. You would be amazed at all the junk a person can collect over a lifetime, especially if they spent most of it in the same house.
I was a little disappointed that I couldn't pawn more of it off on the kids. My son, Robert, the lawyer, took my Snap-On Tools and my daughter, Marcie, the doctor, agreed to take her mother's china. She was going to hold it for her daughter. Darcy, the teacher and the oldest of the group, took the grandfathers clock that had been my father's. I think they each took something so that I wouldn't feel bad. I had a yard sale every other week, over the summer, and finally had a wholesale, used furniture broker come in and make me a bid on what was left. It was sad to see my whole life gone, with so little fanfare. I was a little depressed and a little pissed. I wasn't mad at my kids, because they were doing the right thing. I was mad at myself for getting old.
Black Water Village had a buy-in requirement. The money from the family home covered that. I had a little left over because I opted for a studio apartment type unit. It was only one room and a bath. There was a small kitchen area big enough for a coffee pot and a microwave, but no stove. I wasn't planning on doing much cooking, since meals were included in the exorbitant monthly fees. There was also a small, under the counter, refrigerator that was perfect for my Foster's. Unfortunately, the full-sized bed dominated the room. The kids surprised me with a new HD-TV and a leather recliner. What more could a man want? A computer would have been nice, but there were several with Internet connection in the common area, available for use.
It didn't take long to adapt to a routine. Since I was always an early riser, I was able to doing my morning walk with no interruptions. It was usually just one lone lady and myself, circling the perimeter of the facility. She would smile, but avoided making eye contact. I had seen her in the main building several times, but had no idea who she was. She always wore stylish walking suits. Her hair was shoulder length and silky like a shampoo commercial. It was mixed, silver and gray. I was impressed that she was confident enough to do that. Most of the women dyed their hair ridiculous colors, in an attempt to look younger. The minimum age to get into the place was sixty-five, so it seemed stupid to me. I never understood vanity.
Eventually, I found out that my walking companion's name was Eleanor.
Eleanor was married to Frank Stryker, a retired Air Force Colonel. The Strykers lived in the biggest unit in the whole complex, and he flaunted that fact every chance he got. Just looking at the man, made my blood boil. He was the epitome of arrogance and I got pissed off every time I was around him. From what I could gather, Eleanor was a fine woman and her husband treated her like shit. He didn't abuse her or anything like that, but took her for granted and always talked to her in a demeaning way. If I had said some of the things he said to my departed wife, Emma, I would have gotten a cast iron skillet to the side of my head, and deserved it.
Now, you wonder, how did I get all this good information? The ratio of single women to single men in communities such as Black Water was very off-balanced. As soon as an unattached man moved in the vultures descended. I am being a little mean. These women are not vultures by any standard, just lonely widows hoping for a little attention. Metaphorically, circling doves would not work as a descriptive term. I was lucky enough to have a lovely female companion at every meal. It was not hard at all to get them to talk about the other women. Unfortunately, I had to learn a lot about women I didn't care about, in order to learn a little about Eleanor.
Frank Stryker liked to brag. He was always ready to expound on his magnificent military career, his great athletic skills, and his collection of fabulous memorabilia. After a few hours on the computer, I discovered he was not a Colonel in the Air Force, but a reserve Lieutenant Colonel. At the completion of twenty years, he was given a free promotion bump to Colonel, but never served in that rank. He never saw combat and spent his entire career as a supply officer. Now, please understand that I am not demeaning his position or his service, but questioning the way he presented himself and his status to other people. If you listened to Frank, you'd soon believed that he single handedly won the war in Viet Nam.
I had no trouble at all getting Frank to show me his fabulous collection of expensive crap. He had one whole room set up with display cases and shelves. I got to see his Mickey Mantle baseball card, his signed O.J.Simpson football, and a hundred other pieces of sports collectables. On the wall hung a perfectly framed etching by Whistler, aside of a Peter Max lithograph. Two scrapbooks held pages and pages of autographs and signed pictures. He was obsessed with possessions, and bragged about every one of them. Eleanor sat quietly with a book as Frank methodically escorted me through the whole unit. The most interesting thing I noticed was the double beds.
Several weeks passed. Eleanor and I still walked every morning, but never together. There was barely a nod of recognition between us. My relationship with the ladies of the manor was steadily improving, and I used the time to improve my social skills. I also spent a lot of time watching and studying Frank. There were things that he was actually good at. He played a great tennis game and was almost a pro at golf. One night, a large group of us went bowling and I was again amazed at his alley talents. I was looking for a weakness that I could exploit and maybe use it to get closer to Eleanor. I wasn't finding any.
Evening time at Black Water was slow. Most of the residents watched television or a movie. There were a few cards games usually underway, and some of the ladies played Mah jongg, which I never understood. Franks seemed to enjoy cribbage and to my surprise, Parcheesi. Emma and I spent many a quiet evening hunched over the Parcheesi board. She was deadly. I never realized how strategic the game was until my wife destroyed me, again and again. It took months, or better yet, years for me to be able to hold my own with her. On two occasions, I got so mad that I actually tore the Parcheesi board in half and threw it across the room. The next day, I would sheepishly bring a new one home and apologize to Emma for being a shit. After the kids left home, we stopped playing for some reason. I don't remember why.
The only thing I brought with me of any value was my first edition of Mickey Spillane's The Big Kill. It wasn't worth that much, but I kept it because I had bought it new and it was one of the few books I actually enjoyed reading. The grammar was terrible and it was evident that they didn't have proofreaders back then. It is amazing how many books he sold, considering. After thirty minutes on the computer, I found several autographs of my favorite author for sale. I printed out three of them and spent the rest of the evening practicing my forgery skills. I never did get it right, but hell, Frank wouldn't know that. Now I had a signed first edition. That had to be worth something.
The first thing I did was mention, and show, my new prized possession to a few of the cronies that hung around with Frank. It didn't take long for him to approach me.
"Stanley. I understand you have a first edition Mike Hammer novel. I was wondering if I could get a look at it?"
I hadn't said anything to the other guys about the signature in the front of the book, but I made sure that they saw it. "Be glad to Frank. I've had the book for over forty years and it is my pride and joy."
The Colonel spent a good five minutes looking the book over. He checked the spine to see if it was tight and carefully read the publishing info in the front. It's too bad he didn't know more about forged signatures. "That's a nice piece Stanley. Would you consider parting with it?"
"Well Frank, I don't need the money, but I might be interested in a trade or something like that. Why don't you think on it, and maybe you can come up with something to titillate me with."
I knew I brought that book with me for some reason. It wasn't a great reason, but it added some excitement to an otherwise dull existence. Over the next few days, Frank tried to get me to compete in various activities, all which he clearly excelled in. He was trying to set up a betting situation, but never did mention what he was planning to offer on his side of the wager. I was more interested in games than athletics. Poker was his first choice, but I still didn't respond. I was holding out for Parcheesi. It really didn't matter, because I was planning on losing anyhow. I just felt that I could put on a more convincing show at something I was good at. The day came when he made the offer and I reluctantly accepted. By this time, many of the residents had gotten wind of the bet. I wasn't too keen on having an audience, and agreed to one observer to clarify, or attest to, the terms of the wager, but not to observe the playing of the game.
The big day arrived and Frank was cocky as hell. He had no doubt that he would trounce me and was already strutting. We sat ourselves at a secluded table in the common area and reviewed the rules of the game.
"Mister Stryker, I am putting up my First Edition Mickey Spillane novel as my side of the bet. What are you offering?"
"Mister Clark, I made several proposals to you over the last few weeks and you rejected them all. I assume you have something in mind, so I guess I will have to hear what it is and decide from there."
I thought it was pretty neat the way we were addressing each other formally. It added a sort of ceremonial touch to the bet.
"I am willing to wager my book against one evening with your wife, Eleanor."
That got a definite reaction out of my opponent. Not a violent one, but one of amazement. With out saying a word he was expressing astonishment at my audacity. Franks friend, who was sitting with us to clarify the betting terms, was also taken aback a little.
"That's ridiculous. You don't seriously think I would bet my wife against a stupid book do you?"
"Charlie, do you mind leaving Mister Stryker and I alone to discuss this like gentlemen?" Charlie got up and left after getting a nod from the Colonel. He walked across the room and was soon in deep conversation with the group of observers that had gathered. My plan was working perfectly.
"I didn't mean to get you so upset Frank. What I propose is innocent enough. All I want to do is take Eleanor out to supper. No hanky-panky and no strings attached. I am going nuts in this place and need to get out for an evening. I have eaten meals with every lady in this complex, except Eleanor. She is the only one who could make it special for me."
"Just supper, that's all?"
"I promise and I'll even let her pick the restaurant. Of course you are going to have to approve this and make sure it is Okay with her."
"That's no problem. She will do whatever I tell her." When he made that statement, I knew I was doing the right thing. He didn't care about her. She was just another possession to him. Frank looked over at Charlie, and gave him a thumbs-up. We were ready to start the game.
Did you ever play the game when you were kids, where one person would whisper a statement to another one and then it would be passed down the line though ten or twenty people? By the time it reached the end, it was nothing like it started out to be. I was sure that the terms of our bet would get back to Eleanor in the same fashion. Now, all I had to do was wait to see what the results were. I could win or I could lose, but at least I had a chance.
The game went as expected. Stryker was good, but not that good. I had two opportunities to block and run to the finish, but passed on both of them. I was able to offer him the same situation, but he didn't even see it. We played twice as long as we should have. After his victory, I handed him the book and congratulated him on a good game. The seed had been planted. I slept well that night.
It was a beautiful morning and I never felt better as I started my walk. Before I knew it, a fuming Eleanor Stryker was blocking my way, with her hands on her hips.
"Who the hell do you think you are embarrassing me that way?"
"I am sorry, but that was not my intention."
"Did you really think that I would be willing to have sex with you just because my stupid husband lost a bet?" The rumor chain worked just as I had hoped.
"He said you would do anything he told you to do."
"What!" That definite got a rise out of the otherwise demure woman.
"I wouldn't make something like that up." I couldn't tell her that I sort of took it out of context. When poor Frank said that, he was talking about supper, not sex. It was to my advantage to let her think the way she was.
"Why would you bet such a valuable book on something you could never get?"