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."
.... There is more of this story ...