Thanks to the Hip and Knee doctor for editing assistance.
The roar of a lawn mower and edger, both running at the same time, rudely disturbed my Saturday morning sleep-in. A moan from the other side of the bed indicated that I was not the only one being annoyed. Darla sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She sort of stretched and yawned at the same time. "Sorry, Brian. I totally forgot. The boys wanted to get an early start on the yard work so that everything would be ready for this afternoon." As she walked to the bathroom, she tossed her dirty blonde hair to work out the knots and rats from sleeping on it. Her ass wiggled provocatively through the thin cotton nightgown. After twenty years, she still looked good.
Today was my birthday. It was tradition to have a Bar-B-Q and invite the whole world. Well it wasn't that bad: just family, friends, and neighbors. For a birthday party, it was a little overdone. We had to borrow a few grills and smokers to handle everything. Even thought it was my day, I always felt obligated to do most of the cooking. I wasn't that good at it, but it turned out to be as expected. The best thing about it was that the cook always had a cold beer in his left hand. I had to keep the right hand free to work the meat.
"Would you like your birthday present now, or do you want to wait until tonight? The shower is warm and ready." Darla was grinning as she looked around the bathroom doorway. The nightgown was gone, and she was playing at being coy.
"I'll see you tonight little lady, Right now, I am going to go down and help the boys. I'll shower later."
Todd was eighteen and would be leaving for Texas A &M in two months. Terry was a year younger, and already had a scholarship locked in at Auburn. They were good sons and I gave Darla all the credit for raising them right. About the only things I directly gave them were a comfortable house and a good work ethic. I always regretted not being a better, more involved father.
We worked the yard and the patio area over pretty well for a couple of hours, and then fired up some of the grills. I wanted to get the ribs started on the smokers first. Hamburgers, hotdogs, and steaks could be done as needed, but the ribs had to be pampered. Todd got the smokers started up while Terry smeared the dry rub all over the meat. Hell, the way things were going, I could probably sit back, and let them take care of everything this year.
Darla arrived just as we finished all our prep work. Her two sisters were coming over to help her with all the extras. There would be over fifty people to feed today. It is funny how friends show up when there is free food.
I was forty years old, but still felt like twenty, and next month, Darla and I would celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. It was a good marriage. The sex wasn't as hot as it had been during the earlier years, but it was still great. It seemed to drop off about a year ago, shortly after Darla started work. The fear of an empty nest pushed her out of the house. I was happy, if she was happy. We didn't need the money, but she needed the social interactions.
The boys and I hit the showers. I had a new shirt just for the occasion that my mother had dropped off earlier in the week. It wasn't exactly my style, but I was obligated to wear it. I looked like a Hawaiian pimp. Darla wisely insisted that I wear an apron. Of course I had a nice one that said "Don't Kiss The Cook."
It wasn't long until our guests started dribbling in. Some brought dishes of food, some brought presents, and some brought liquid refreshments. The weather was perfect and it was going to be a beautiful day.
Darla looked great and as usual was the perfect hostess. Next year she would be forty, but could pass for thirty with no problem. She kept her figure and her looks. I was looking forward to a few exotic weekends and vacations after the boys left. I watched as she flitted around the tables, making sure that everything was perfect. The ideal wife and the ideal mother: what more could a man want?
At last, the anxious mob started to feed. Plates of food suddenly appeared and disappeared all around the yard. Most of the guests brought their own lawn furniture, which made things easier. The beer was in one washtub and the sodas in another. I knew that the cake was safe in the kitchen, waiting for its time of glory.
I don't know where he came from and I definitely didn't recognize him. He was tall and wore a dark blue jacket. He stopped at the fringe of the party area and leaned over and said something to one of the neighbors. She pointed towards Darla. He thanked her and walked our way. Darla noticed his approach and seemed a little uncomfortable. I said nothing as he walked past me.
My wife nodded and said, "Yes."
He handed her an envelope that he removed from inside his jacket. "Darla Connors, you are served."
That was it. He turned and walked away, as quietly as he arrived.
Of course, by this time, everyone at the party was watching. Darla stood there without moving. There was no emotion on her face. She glanced at me and slowly turned and went back into the house. I watched and said nothing. The normal chattering of the guests had turned into hushed mumblings and whispers. In a desperate effort to break the spell of the moment, I shouted out. "Does anybody want more ribs? Come and get them."
Todd and Terry wandered over to my side. "What the hell is going on, Dad?" Terry was trying to be discreet. All I could do was shrug my shoulders. Todd started to go into the house and I touched his arm. He stopped when I shook my head to indicate "no."
"Why don't you guys check to see if we need any more beer or drinks?"
As the conversation around the yard started to return to normal, I relaxed a little. After ten minutes, I decided that it was time to confront my wife. I didn't get the chance.
"Dad. Mom is leaving with the Mustang." Terry pointed toward the front of the house. My black Mustang convertible was racing down the street, faster than it should have been. The backyard got quiet again as everyone watched her speed away.
Darla normally drove the minivan, but it was parked in. The Mustang was handy. There were a lot of unanswered questions, but I guess that they would have to wait until my wife got home.
Things went downhill after that. Darla's sister, Peggy, brought the cake out and I made a half assed attempt to look happy. Without Darla there seemed to be a cloud over everything. The friends and neighbors left first. The families stayed a little longer, but eventually there was nothing else left to put away or wash. Amazingly, Darla's sudden departure was not a topic of conversation. There was a definite effort on everyone's part to avoid any mention of it. I was alone with my two sons and the house was quiet. They both looked at me for some kind of a sign, or explanation. I had none to offer. I sat on the sofa alone as they went to bed. I was still there in the morning.
Todd and Terry were up early and started the day by returning the grills and other paraphernalia to the neighbors. The smell of fresh coffee got me off the couch. Darla had not returned. Whatever was in that envelope must have been pretty important. I tried her cell phone several times, but it was turned off. Of course I was awake half the night trying to figure out what was going on.
The boys finished returning everything and took off. They had no trouble figuring out that I wanted to be alone. A long hot shower helped, but not much. There wasn't much of anything that I could do on a Sunday. Tomorrow, I could see if the police could help in any way. I didn't know any cops or detectives, but I had a few friends in the courthouse. Hopefully they might be able to help.
We had one credit card and one debit card. The debit card was used for the day-to-day stuff and the credit card was used for larger purchases. We paid both of them off monthly. If Darla were in trouble, she would need to use them. It took a couple of days for the credit card purchases to show up on the bank account, but the debit charges were usually posted in a couple of hours. I checked the credit card activity first and found nothing. The debit card was another story.
About two hours after Darla left the house, she bought gas at the Pennsylvania and Ohio state line. Two hours later, she got some in Illinois, and the last transaction was an ATM in Cedar Rapids, where she withdrew three hundred dollars.
I was on my third cup of coffee when I realized that she was not coming back. She was not just killing time: she was running away. I loved my wife and I didn't want to do anything to hurt her, but I also didn't want to encourage her in whatever she was doing. Even though it was a Sunday, I was able to cancel both cards in ten minutes.
About an hour later, I called the police department and reported my Mustang stolen. I didn't tell them my wife took it. I explained that there was a gas card in the car and that it had been used in three states headed west. I felt bad about lying to the police, but I thought it was the only way that I could get any attention. It was weak, but they seemed more interested in getting rid of me, than in questioning me about the circumstances.
I did a quick inventory of the house and the only things that seemed to be missing were her purse and a small overnight bag. I had no idea what she packed in it. For several hours, I debated with myself about what to do with her cell phone. Since I cancelled the cards, I was hoping it would force her to call home and explain things.
I never got around to eating lunch. Before I knew it, it was suppertime and my sons showed up with a couple of pizzas. There was a ton of food left from the day before, but I have to admit the hot slices tasted good. We finally got around to talking about what had happened. I briefed them on what I knew and they offered support. I slept in my bed that night. Darla never called.
Todd and Terry were working over the summer for a local tree trimming company. It was hard work, but they seemed up to it and enjoyed the macho image that came along with the job. I waved to them from the porch as the Jeep moved down the street. After finishing my coffee, I wandered back into the empty house, still trying to figure out what when wrong.
I called work and took a weeks vacation. I was getting a little sick of the job, but it paid well. I delivered gravel for one of the local rock quarries. It was hot and dirty, but didn't require a whole lot of decision making. I just picked up the loads, dropped them off, and collected my paycheck.
Right after Darla started work at Prescott Casualty Company, we attended several company functions. They had parties and picnics where I met some of the folks she worked with. I just realized that during the last six months or so, we were no longer attending any gatherings. In fact, she never even mentioned them. They were important to her when she started with the company, and then all of a sudden, they were not. I am not very good at remembering people that I meet, but I did recall Bob and Margie Gilson. Bob was a carpenter and Margie worked in the same office as Darla.
A phone call to Prescott Casualty seemed to be in order.
"Margie, this is Brian Connor. Do you have a minute to talk?"
"Hi Brian. I am pretty busy right now. I hope it isn't anything important."
"Darla didn't show up for work today, did she?"
"No. We didn't really expect her to."
"Oh really. Why is that?"
There was a long pause at the other end of the line. It was obvious that Margie was not comfortable talking to me.
"Brian, I don't think I want to discuss any of this with you. I think you should talk to your wife."
"I would be glad to, except I have no idea where she is."
There was another long pause. "Brian. I'm sorry, but I have a lot of work to do. I have to go." Before I had a chance to say anything else, she hung up.
All of a sudden I got the feeling that something was going on Prescott Casualty that Darla did not want me to know about. That explains why we were no longer attending any company functions. She was afraid that somebody would accidentally say or do something that might give her away, or lead me to believe she was up to no good.
I grabbed a cold beer and went out on the porch to think. There were a few things that I noticed the past few months, but I didn't give much thought to them. Darla started to work overtime a few nights a week. Not enough to wave red flags, but it had become a regular thing. She stopped talking about work when she was at home, and then there was our avoidance of socializing with anybody from the company. On the other hand, she had not changed her appearance or dress. She hadn't bought any new clothing or fancy underwear. There were no suspicious phone calls or e-mails that I could recall. I trusted my wife, so there was no reason to think twice about any of the things she was doing. She didn't turn into a bitch at home and she didn't cut me off romantically. It was time to make a few more phone calls.
Donald Curry was an old high school friend who worked at the courthouse. I didn't know what he did, but I knew he was involved with computers. I explained the problem to him and planned on meeting him at the Glass Door when he got off work. Before leaving the house, I called Ronwell Home Builders and found out that Bob Gilson was working on an apartment complex near by. I planned on seeing him right after lunch. I usually finished the Taco Bell burrito, but today I only got through half of it. I was anxious to talk to Bob.
The crew was still on lunch break when I arrived. Bob smiled and came over to the car. He seemed a lot friendlier than Margie had been.
"Brian. Good to see you. I assume you want to talk about Darla."
"Bob, I talked to Margie this morning, and she refused to tell me what was going on. You have to let me know, man-to-man, with no bullshit." I liked Bob because he was blue collar like myself, but if he tried to jerk me around, I knew I would get pissed.
"Brian, I usually tune Margie out when she starts in with the work gossip, but this much I do know. Darla has been messing around with a married guy at the office, for almost six months now. They tried to keep it quiet, but it became common knowledge in no time. Margie stopped talking to Darla when she found out about it, and so did a lot of the other girls. We missed you at the company affairs, but we figured that Darla was keeping you away on purpose. That is about it. I am sorry I can't do more for you."
"Do you know who the guy is?"
"No. I don't pay attention like I should. I can find out for you."
"Don't worry about it, Bob. I'll sort it out."
That pretty much summed things up for me. There was no misunderstanding. It was just a stupid husband who had no idea what was going on in his own house. Ten minutes later, I cancelled her cell phone service. Now, she couldn't call home.
I was on my way back to the house when I got a cell phone call. The police in Cedar Rapids found the Mustang parked in the bus station depot parking lot. It had been towed to an impound lot and I could pick it up any time after paying a three hundred dollar fee. I stopped by the police station and they gave me a hardcopy of the report. The only conclusion I could draw was that Darla had abandoned the car and switched over to the bus. There was no way that I could find out where she went, but I assumed it was Westerly. I didn't even know that she knew anyone in that area.
I stopped by the bank and closed all the joint accounts and opened new ones in my name only. I changed the beneficiary on my insurance policies to the boys. I got to the Glass Door early and I had too many drinks before Donald arrived.
"Brian, there was a divorce hearing today and Darla was called to testify. Of course, she didn't show up. Marsha Ridgeway was divorcing her husband Kelsey using adultery as the grounds. Mrs. Ridgeway wanted Darla to testify that she was the woman that her husband committed the adultery with."
"So the divorce did not go through without Darla's testimony?"
"No. It all went just as planned. It seems that Mrs. Ridgeway had photos, videos, and taped phone calls that all supported her claim. She didn't really need Darla's confession. I think that she had her called just to embarrass her."
"Sounds like it worked. What is Darla's status now?"
"The best I can tell is that nobody cares anymore. There is nothing new that she can contribute and it doesn't matter anyhow. Kelsey Ridgeway, more or less, admitted to everything after his wife's lawyer presented all the evidence. The judge granted the divorce on the spot. It becomes final in six months. He is getting reamed on child support and alimony."
"He had kids?"
"Three: all under ten years old. He will be paying for that mistake for a long time."
Donald and I talked for a while, until he begged off to get home to his family. I thanked him for the help and asked the barkeep for some coffee. I was going to get one of the red pickled eggs out of the jar on the bar and then I remembered the party leftovers.
I had a little more to drink than I should have, but still managed to make it home without killing myself or anyone else. It was a stupid thing to do under the circumstances. I wrapped six ribs in tin foil and popped them into the oven, while I took a shower. By the time I got back to the kitchen, all that was left was a pile of bones. Todd and Terry got home and headed straight for the pork. They pulled my leg a little and then took a second batch out of the stove.
Todd was all excited about the Mustang situation. After a twenty-minute discussion, I finally agreed to let both of the boys take a bus to Cedar Rapids and drive the car home. I gave them six hundred dollars to cover expenses. Terry drafted up a note, on the computer giving them permission to pick up the car and to drive it home. He seemed to know what he was doing, so I kept my mouth shut, and signed it.
The nest morning we all had breakfast at IHOP and I dropped them off at the bus station. I giggled a little as they boarded. They had no idea what two days on a Greyhound would feel like. It was a great life lesson. I called the Cedar Rapids police department so that they would be expecting them. They promised that there would be no problems.
There was one more thing that I had to take care of.
It didn't take long to find out where Kelsey Ridgeway's office was. Margie immediately reached for her phone when she saw me. It was too late. I didn't bother to introduce myself: I just started beating him about the head and shoulders. He made a few weak attempts at defending himself, but ended up behind his desk on the floor. I kicked him in the gonads a few times before the security guards pulled me back. He was a bloody mess and I felt a lot better. Things moved fast after that. Before I knew what happened, I was at the police station, in front of a judge and on my way to the county jail. There was no trial, just the judge and me. I got sixty days and didn't give a damn. First chance that I got, I called the boys to bring them up to date. I could swear that I heard Terry laughing over the phone. The house would be okay to sit empty for a few days.
Well, things weren't quite like they appear on television. I mean it wasn't a walk in the park, but I didn't feel like my life was on the line or that I was going to be gang raped at a moments notice. Mostly, it was a bunch of nasty farts that couldn't play nice with others, and a bunch of stupid kids. The kids and the farts didn't mingle much. A private room was out of the question. I ended up sharing a cell with a three hundred pound gorilla, named Jocko, who beat his wife when he found her in bed with his brother. I didn't know what happened to the brother. Jocko and I got along fine. I took the top bunk of course. The dining hall food was heavier on carbs than I liked, and Jocko was more than willing to help me out with what I didn't want. Other than the fact that he farted more than any other man in the state, he was an ideal roommate.
Three days later Terry and Todd paid me a visit. The car recovery trip went perfectly, but they were not looking forward to any bus trips in the near future. They didn't have any information about Kelsey or about their mother. They brought me two cartons of cigarettes, even though I don't smoke. Todd said he thought they would be valuable for trading. He saw too many movies. Jocko however was overjoyed when I gave them to him. He said he needed to smoke to keep his weight down.
I had no trouble leaving the boys in the house alone, and apparently neither did anyone else. Todd left for school the week before I got out of jail. He took the minivan and left the jeep for Terry. Terry and I celebrated my homecoming by going to a Red Lobster. He was excited about starting his last year of high school. Unfortunately, he was going to have to struggle through it without me. I had other plans.
Margie couldn't believe her eyes went I walked past her desk the next morning. I winked at her and went straight into Kelsey's office again. Three hours later I was back on the bus to the county jail: six months this time. Terry thought it was funny and immediately called his brother at College Station. Jocko welcomed me back with open arms. Phew.
I did a better job on Kelsey this time. I actually think I broke something. Of course, I never got any type of feedback, so I can't know for sure. I got fired from my job: big surprise. There was enough money stashed away to make the house payments and cover living expenses. Terry took care of everything with no problem.
In addition to Terry, all the other members of my family stopped by to see me on a regular basis. Terry made sure that I always had cigarettes for Jocko. Darla's sisters both came to visit, and offered sympathy. Neither them, nor anyone else in the family, had heard from Darla. We actually had a family Thanksgiving and Christmas celebration at the jail. I still had a month to go when I lost Jocko. I didn't really lose him, as he just got released before I did. His wife and brother had left for Florida and he didn't have any idea what he was going to do. Terry thought it was cool to have Jocko for a houseguest until he could get settled. He offered to get him a job with the tree trimming company, but Jocko decided he was going to move south, where it was warmer. I was thinking Florida.
The night before Jocko left, Kelsey Ridgeway was found in a downtown alley, beat to a pulp. He told the police he was attacked by an ape. I thought it was funny, because I had an iron tight alibi.
After my release, I decided that I had enough flesh from Kelsey. In fact, he was no longer working in the area and I didn't feel like looking for him. I took a course to learn how to drive big rigs. It wasn't much harder than the dump trucks that I was used to. I had to kill a few months until Terry started at Auburn, so I spent the time fixing up the house. I wanted to sell it, but it was in both of our names, and I didn't want the hassle.
No one had heard a word from Darla since she left.
Terry took the Mustang with him to Alabama, because it was a chick magnet. Never did much for me, but I wasn't young and good looking like he was. I found a couple that was willing to buy the house with 'a cloud over it.' I wasn't sure what that meant, but they got a good deal on the price. Their lawyer assured them that Darla's signature was not necessary and I wasn't about to argue with them. I just wanted out of it, free and clear. I used the down payment to buy a rig with a sleeper. Before I knew it, I was on the road and free.
I never bothered to apply for a divorce from Darla, because I never saw the need. I wasn't interested in getting married again. You don't meet a lot of interesting women in jail and Jocko turned me off to the alternative. It appeared that Darla wasn't interested in divorcing me either, because I didn't get a surprise in the mail.
I didn't have any trouble getting work. I wasn't desperate for money, so I was able to be a little picky about my loads. I never carried anything frozen, alive, toxic, or explosive. I also avoided any trip north of the Mason Dixon line in the winter. It didn't take long to learn the tricks of the trade, and I was actually enjoying my new life.
Things got interesting while I was delivering a load of farm equipment in South Dakota. It was June, so the weather was no problem. I dropped off the load and was moving south, about five miles off of I 90, when I stopped at the Belly-Up diner. It was a hole in the wall, but the parking lot was full of big rigs and cars. The attraction turned out to be breakfast, all day long and over the top in size and taste. Most of the customers were locals, but it looked like a few long haul drivers had gone out of their way to stop there. I just told the waitress to bring the house favorite and coffee.
Three big screen TVs were showing three different programs that nobody was really watching. The one closest to me seemed to be running mostly political ads, and one of them caught my eye.
John Hemmingway was running for the U.S. House of Representatives. He was good looking and seemed to have a silver tongue. Standing aside of him, dressed like Jackie Kennedy, with a big smile on her face, was his new wife, Darla: my Darla. My reverie was disturbed when the biggest plate of hash I ever saw was plopped down before me.
"There you go, big boy. Do you need anything else?"
The hot sauce was hidden behind the peppershaker. My server, Betsy, giggled a little as she moved it from its secret place to my plate.
"Are you good now?"
"Almost. Who is that woman standing beside that slick talker?"
She gave a little snort. "That's Hemmingway's new arm candy. He needed a wife so he could run for office. There was a rumor going around that he was not straight, if you know what I mean."
I started dumping the Tabasco on the pile of hash. "She looks a little old to be arm candy."
"I guess you can't be too choosy when you are in a hurry. She is pretty, however, and I think older women make better lovers, don't you agree?"
She did look good. Her blonde hair was now auburn and looked liked it had been styled at a fancy salon. Her make-up was perfect and the dress fit her like a glove. It wasn't exactly a dress, more like a tailored suit.
I took my eyes away from the television and noticed that my waitress had gone back to work. The hash was great and it was easy to see why the parking lot was full. My coffee cup got filled twice, before I cleaned my plate. The pie looked good, but I didn't have any room left.
Betsy took my empty plate and slid the check in front of me.
"Is he going to win the election?"
"Not if we can help it. He has big money behind him from important people in Sioux Falls. None of the locals want anything to do with him, but we don't have the votes or the money to stop him."
I was snickering as I pulled out my money clip.
"You know something, don't you?"
"Are you sure they got married?"
"Yep. They actually did it on TV, like it was a reality show or something. No honeymoon though. They said they were waiting until after he was in office."
I was still smiling when I dropped the ten on the counter.
"Mister, you better tell me something before you walk out that door."
"I am not looking for trouble and I am not sticking my nose where it doesn't belong. I would like a favor however?"
"Can I catch a couple hours of sleep out front before I hit the Interstate."
"No problem, but watch out for those coke whores. They sneak up here every now and then. They are dirty, nasty bitches."
I nodded my appreciation and I was still smiling as I walked out the door. Betsy was watching from the window as I climbed into the rig.
I was just starting to enjoy some well-deserved sleep when the banging started on the door. I ignored it for a few moments, but it didn't stop.
"Go away. They said it was Okay for me to park for a couple hours." Whoever it was did not leave, so I was forced to open the door.
"Betsy said I had to talk to you. Do you have a few minutes?" It was dark and it was raining. All I could see was a hard looking woman in a poncho."
"I didn't break any laws. Leave me alone."
"Just give me ten minutes." She looked and sounded determined.
"Sorry lady. I am not interested. Go get one of the other guys."
"I am not a hooker, damn it! I need to talk to you about Hemmingway."
"I'll meet you inside in ten minutes." That seemed to placate her. She had half a smile on her face as she closed the door.
Maybe it would have been better to just let her get into the rig, even though she was soaked. I checked my watch as I pulled out the rain gear. I only got three hours of sleep.
The restaurant still had a decent crowd. There was an area by the door that held all the rainwear. In a couple of months, that would all be snow gear and boots. She was sitting in a booth, by the front window, with two cups of coffee. Her hair was straight, and shiny black, with a small white streak on one side. Judging by her complexion, she was an outdoor type of girl: well tanned and not soft. Actually, she was nowhere near to being a girl; she was at least thirty-five, maybe pushing forty. The whole image was rounded out with high cheekbones and no makeup.
I held out my hand as I sat down. "Brian. Brian Connors."
"Sally Wilmot. Do you want anything to eat?"
"No thanks, I just had the hash special: three hours ago. I don't think I will be eating for a while."
She responded with a polite smile. "Betsy said that you might know something about Darla Hemmingway. I wanted to talk to you, before you took off."
"What the hell is so important about Darla Hemmingway?"
"My brother, Franklin is running against him in the election."
"Oh, I see. This is a personal thing."
"Not really. Franklin represents the people in the area: the farmers, ranchers and Native Americans. Hemmingway is looking out for the Sioux Falls businessmen. We are not anti-business, but we don't feel that a lot of people will get a fair shake if Hemmingway gets elected."
"Okay, but I still don't see what his wife has to do with any of this."
"We don't either. All we know is that something is not right. Our election committee tried to do a background check on her and ended up with nothing. His campaign people are not releasing any information about her. This might all be nothing, but we are getting desperate and Betsy said she thought that you might know something."
"I guess I better not become a professional poker player, if a waitress can read me that easily."
She leaned back in her chair. "Ah hah. She was right. You do know something. Are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?"
I finished my coffee and grinned. I found her choice of words amusing. In fact it was downright funny. I waved my empty cup at Betsy and leaned forward. " I think I like the second option best."
I have no idea what possessed me to say that. It was not in my nature to be a wiseass or use innuendoes. I guess it was because I liked her demeanor. She was confident and straightforward. I got the feeling that she always knew what she wanted and knew how to get it. Betsy finished the refills and Sally Wilmot was staring at me.
"I am sorry. That was rude and impolite of me to say that. I'll answer any questions that you may have."
Sally covered her mouth and let out a little laugh. "It's Okay Mister Connors. I am not that damn sensitive and I thought your answer was cute. I never should have asked the question the way I did."
"Oh good. That means the second option is still open."
"No damn it. How do you know Darla Hemmingway?"
"She is my wife. We have been married over twenty years and never divorced. I haven't seen her for a few years, but unless she got a divorce somewhere that I don't know about, we are still married."
Sally seemed to be at a loss for words. She didn't say anything at all. She just sat there staring at me.
"What did she use as a maiden name when she got married?"
She stammered a few seconds before speaking. "Oh my gosh. Her maiden name was Connors. The bitch didn't even try to cover it up. Whoopee!"
Of course Betsy came running over and all the heads in the place were turned towards us. I was a little embarrassed at the attention, but Sally seemed elated.
Sally jumped up and kissed Betsy right on the lips. She walked over the foyer area and took out her cell phone. Betsy was blushing a little and leaned over toward me. "What the hell did you tell her? I haven't seen her this excited in five years."
The smart ass that was hidden inside me for many years was starting to emerge. I looked up at Betsy and said, "I told her that you are I were going to get married." She immediately realized that it was a joke and I was rewarded with a punch on the arm. "Are you going to tell me?"
"No, I'll let Sally tell you. I am going to go back to my rig and see if I can get back to work. It's been nice meeting you Betsy."
The rain had stopped, but I never made it to the rig. Sally had me by the arm before I was half way.
"You can't leave yet. You have to talk to Franklin. It won't take long, just a few minutes."
"I'd really like to drop this whole thing. I am sorry now that I said anything to Betsy. How long will it take for him to get here?"
"He is going to met us at my place. Do you want to ride with me or follow in your truck?"
"I'll follow you." I felt better not having to depend on somebody else for transportation.
The Jeep wagon that Sally was driving was at least ten years old, and probably older. After a couple miles of macadam, we ended up on a worn out gravel road leading to an equally worn out doublewide trailer. Somebody was there, because the place was well lit up. There was no lawn, just more gravel, and not much of that. I tried to stay out of the mud, but it was difficult. There were no other cars around, so I assumed that Franklin was still on the way.
Just inside the trailer door was an area for wet coats and boots. It looked like a good idea, especially because there were plenty of coats and boots there already. It was an interesting layout, mainly because it looked more like a classroom than a living room. Instead of end tables there were desks. Instead of table lamps there were computers, and staring right at me were three teenage boys.
"Hi guys. This is Brian. He is here to help Uncle Franklin." Sally walked right over to the kitchen and started making coffee. I gave my audience a small nod, instead of saying hello. I felt a little awkward under the circumstances. I looked around the room, but saw nothing to indicate the presence of a 'Mister Wilmot." Having two sons, it was easy for me to see that the boys were close in age: I was guessing sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen. There was no TV or music playing. All three of them seemed to be either on a computer or reading a book. The odd thing was that they did not look bookish or nerdy, but like normal, robust, and active kids.
"Brian. These are my sons. The older is Tracey, next is Tyler, and the youngest is Tanner." They each smiled and nodded to me in turn. I could not resist grinning, to the point where my amusement was obvious.
"I know. It is a little odd that we gave them names that all started with the letter 'T.'
"No. No. That's not why I am amused. It is just that I have two sons named Todd and Terry. I thought that that was a hell of a coincidence."
Tyler was the first of the boys to speak. "Where are your sons?"
The question got him a stern look from his mother, which he seemed to ignore.
"Todd is at Texas A&M and Terry is at Auburn." That simple statement lit up the whole room. All of a sudden Tracey came alive, as if the energizer bunny zapped him.
"I am leaving for College Station in August. How long has he been there? What is he studying?" Sally finally touched his shoulder. "Slow down, boy, slow down. I am sure that Mister Connors has time to answer all your questions."
As it turned out Tracey had a full football scholarship, and was already signed up for ROTC. Tyler had been accepted at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and was leaving in a year. Sally's husband had been in the National Guard and was killed in the gulf, five years ago. She didn't offer any more details than that, and I didn't push for any. Tanner, the youngest of the boys hadn't decided what he wanted to do yet, but his mother was still making sure that he hit the books on a regular basis.
I had no idea what was holding Franklin up, but for the next hour I was busy talking to Sally's sons about anything and everything. Sally just stayed to the side and watched as I connected with them, just as I had connected to my own. Being with Sally's kids made me realize how much I missed my boys.
Franklin Honeycutt finally arrived with two associates. After the introductions, Sally put the boys back to work while the adults gathered around the kitchen table. There seemed to be some doubt about my claim to be Darla's husband and it was not important enough to me to get into an argument about it. As I got up to leave, I thanked Darla for the coffee and told the boys that it was nice to meet them. Sally would have no part of it.
"Damn it Brian, sit down." The rest of the faces around the table sat silently.
Sally took over the conversation as if she was the one running for office. "Brian, do you have a marriage license or something to prove that you are married to Darla Hemmingway?"
It only took a few seconds to pull a wedding picture from my wallet. She was older now and her hair was different, but you could still tell that it was Darla. I looked over at one of Franklin's flunkies that had a laptop in front of him. " Go to the Berks County, Pennsylvania office of records. You should be able to log on to marriage licenses from 1960 to 1990. Just do a search for my name: Brian William Connors."
Sally brought me a fresh cup of coffee and a small smile. She seemed glad that I didn't quit.
Flunky number one turned the laptop screen toward Franklin. "August 17th, 1979, is that right?" Franklin seemed a little happier now.
I nodded and sipped my fresh brew. "Good luck finding any kind of divorce record. As far as I know, or anyone else knows, I am still married. Feel free to investigate any of this as much as you would like. It makes no difference to me."