The call came to me as I crouched down, working under the cabinet that held computer equipment. I squirmed around and finally reached my cell phone, bumping my head as I did so. Not happy at all, I barked, "Yeah."
"Aaron, I just received a weird call from some woman who said she was your wife's half-sister. She said she wouldn't be able to care for your twins as your wife had just traveled north and it was up to you as the kids' father to provide. I didn't know you were married and I didn't know you had any kids either. Are you holding out on me?"
"Not really, Burt. I did have a wife several years ago, but she chose to play with another man while still married to me. I gave her money for a divorce at the time. That is the last time I have had any connection with her. I assumed she was dead long before this. Her lifestyle pointed that way, anyway. I certainly didn't know I had children and I doubt that I do now. What was the woman's name who called? Did she give it to you?"
"She did, and she named herself as Karen Olson."
"Well I guess that part fits. The address would be someplace in one of the Dakotas, right?"
"Yeah, Fargo, North Dakota."
"Well, break Sam loose and send him over here to finish up for me. I might as well see what this is all about. She said twins you say? Boys or girls?"
"She didn't say."
I continued working on installing the components, but my thoughts were in the past. I was saddened for I had loved Neica Byrd with all of my heart. She had been gone from me now for five years. Stupid bitch! If she had only channeled all of her energy into helping me build the business I was starting at the time, she would have been set. Well maybe not in that business.
She pretty much sunk that one by leaving; taking away the chance of me making a go of something I had looked forward to building since I was a teenager. I was on easy street now that my uncle asked me to join him in his business. I felt my great chance had been taken out of my hands. I liked working for him, but he built this business here and not me.
Sure, I was still working as much now as I did back then, but it wasn't as if I needed to. I could and did hire the best and the brightest and could sit back and let the world go by. My wife at the time, wanted instant gratification. I couldn't give it to her, not if we were to have the comfortable life I had promised her when we married. Her leaving meant I had to rob the equity from my life insurance policy to give her money so she wouldn't come after my fledgling business. I lost it anyway and I guess I still missed her sometimes.
Would I handle the situation differently, now I probably would? At least I would have found out more of what she was doing earlier and for how long. At the time I was a hard-ass and had zero tolerance for a wife found with another man. She begged me to listen to her explanation, but I just wouldn't or couldn't, I was hurt that bad. Still, maybe she was sorry she got found out. Did I make a mistake?
This Karen, her half-sister, I had never met. She wasn't at our wedding because of another commitment. I had been introduced to her mother at the time. She had come in on a train and stayed three days at a motel, so I couldn't say I knew her. Neica had seemed a little ashamed of her mother and seldom mentioned her sister.
When Neica left, I assumed she either went to one of her relatives or had gone with the man in the picture. Hurt, more than could be imagined, I had vowed to move on alone.
Sam came in and I explained how far I had got on installing the new equipment here. He got down under the cabinet I had just come from and said he knew where I was, saying, "I'm on top of this. Take off."
It was only three miles to the office and I didn't have much time to think about the call that had been made. But it didn't keep me from remembering the photographs that had come to me in the mail five years ago. They showed Neica in bed with another man and as explicit as could be. We had only been married eighteen months. I thought we were still in the discovery stage with each other, for we had married soon after meeting.
Neica was a tiger in bed and showed more experience sexually than me. I thought this was all to the good. I was working hard and putting in long hours. She was always waiting for me to come home. Food was always on the table and immediately following the meal, I would shower and it was time to play in the bedroom.
We hadn't got to the point about discussing having children yet. I was thankful for that now. When the pictures arrived showing her with this other man, I confronted her that same evening and this brought forth many tears. When she tried to explain how this happened, I cut her off and left, telling her we were all done.
It took me a week to get money from the insurance company and have the divorce papers produced. I was staying in a motel room and I suspect I shed as many tears as she did. Knowing Neica went out Tuesday mornings to see her friends, I waited until I knew she would be gone, and then I went home and left her a note.
Neica, I'm sorely disappointed we will not have a life together. I know we role-played to some extent, but you did know my certain feelings not to open up our life to include others. This tells me you do not love me as much as I have always loved you. I can never trust you again. I am leaving you some money to pay for a divorce. There should be enough remaining for you to start your life over somewhere else.
There was more I wanted to say, but I decided there was no point. I signed my name, Aaron, and got on with my life. I went back a week later to see if my wife was still in the house. It was empty of all of her belongings. I had no word of her until today when I received the call from my office manager about the woman phoning me.
"Tell me what this Karen Olson said."
"It was pretty garbled. It didn't help that I didn't know you were married, so it took awhile for me to get it through my head. The woman was belligerent, I'll tell you that. I think she said your wife is dead and she needs you to take care of the kids. Anyway she finally left a number for you to call."
"I'll see what is up. I have never met Neica's half-sister and I know nothing about her, except the two had the same mother." I took the number into my office and sat for a minute before dialing.
"Karen Olson, please?"
"This is Aaron Baker. You called my place of business a short time ago."
"It took you long enough to get back to me. I almost was ready to call Social Services."
"Tell me why you called. I got it that my ex-wife is dead and her claims to have children by me. As far as I know I never had any by her or anyone else."
"Got you going didn't I? She is alive, but injured. Here's the deal. Neica is in Alaska and I'm here with her two kids and broke. I can't get any public assistance because I was busted for prostitution years ago. If I call the authorities they will take the kids because of that old charge. I don't have anyone to leave them with to go out to earn any money. So what it boils down to is if you don't want to lose your kids, send me some money."
"How would I know if the kids were mine? As far as I know, the last time Neica had sex before she left it was with someone different than me."
"That may be, but she claims she was already preggo and didn't know it when that happened. She wanted to be sure whose kids they were so she had their paternity checked. I have the papers here."
I mulled this over in my mind. "What's the matter with Neica?"
"She was in Alaska on a month-long job and her Skidoo crashed while on the job site. She has two broken legs. She was supposed to be home last week, but is going to be up there another five weeks before she can travel. The company she works for won't cover her hospital stay if she leaves before she is discharged.
"Meanwhile I'm down here broke with two four-year-olds and with no money. I'm just about out of food. I imagine though, she will kill me when she finds out I called you."
This seemed like a scam being pulled on me, but I couldn't tell. "What are the kid's names?"
"Billy and Betty Baker. Actually it is William Aaron and Elizabeth Neica Baker. You said ex-wife. Unless you divorced her she's still married to you. She never got any papers from you."
"I never got any from her either, and it was she who was supposed to divorce me. I gave the papers to her when I left money for it. I can't say I ever checked to see if she divorced me."
"Well there you go. You got a wife and you got two kids. It's about time you lived up to your responsibilities. First thing you got to do is send me some money so I can feed the kids. Are you rich enough to send me five hundred? Maybe that would give me enough to squeak by until Neica gets back here. We won't be eating steak, but I'm pretty good at shopping smart."
The amount Karen asked for was so little, this in itself brought doubt to my mind. "I don't see as I can get it to you before tomorrow afternoon. That would be the earliest and I'll need your address."
"That's good. The landlord will spot me a twenty for doing him a little favor. That'll get us by until the money comes. He's a pig, but maybe I won't have to see him again before Neica gets home. FedEx comes by. Put the money in an envelope, send it, and I'll be watching for it."
"Karen, I wish you didn't have to do that. Promise your landlord fifty bucks tomorrow afternoon if he'll give you a twenty now."
"Can't, he'd rather have me than a fifty anyway. I'm pretty good you know. 'Sides, I've been off the street long enough so I'm getting a little antsy myself. Don't worry, I'll wait until your kids are asleep before I go downstairs to see him. They'll be fine."
"I'm going out now to get your money on your way as soon as possible. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
There was a long pause. Then, "You could come up and talk to your wife when she gets here. She made a couple of bad decisions back when you told her to leave. One, she was in trouble and was getting in deeper before talking to you about it. Two, she should have told you about the twins when she found out she was pregnant."
I didn't know what to say to this. "Aaron, she is my sister and we have always watched out for each other. I just thought you might like to know that. Anyway, thank you for what you are doing for me. I am up against it and I didn't know which way to turn. She has never trashed you, you know. I'd like to see how someone as good as Neica says you are, could throw her out. Oh well, send the money. That'll make me feel good. Bye."
I sat there in my office after Karen hung up. Did I believe her enough to send $500? She rang true. I knew I had time to arrange for FedEx to make a pickup. I'd check as they might even make a morning delivery. I glanced at my day planner.
I had nothing too pressing except for the Christmas party that was planned for the staff at the end of next week. It hit me in the stomach, those kids weren't going to have much of a Christmas with their mother not home. Even if those two kids weren't mine, I could afford to do something nice for them. It would be just my mother and me this Christmas. Dad had died last year.
We would be going over to my uncle's house after dinner. If I wasn't here, Mom could go spend the day with him and his family. All of a sudden I started making plans. Those finalized, I found I wanted to do more.
"Karen, it is me again."
She broke in, "Don't tell me you can't get the money? I need it, I really do."
"The money will be on the way shortly. Tell me what hospital Neica is in. Also tell me the name of the company she works for. What kind of company and what does she do for them?"
"It is an energy company. She checks pipelines out in the field for an oil division. Meters and connections and stuff like that. Why?"
"I thought I would send her a card, that's all."
"You can, but I doubt she will thank you for it. Here is all I know about where she is. The company is one out of Texas."
The company was a small specialized outfit that did work for several oil companies. I ended up with the phone number of the company president. Just as I hung up from talking with him, Pete, the pilot of our company airplane, said he was ready to take off as soon as I got to the airport. The flight plan had been filed and it was a go.
My secretary drove me to the airport and I was soon in the air. "Pete, I almost scheduled you in for a flight to Alaska. I have made other arrangements, but I do want you to hang around Fargo until I decide what to do. It may be tomorrow or maybe not until the day after before my final decision. After I'm dropped off at the address I'm headed for, you can find a motel. I'll keep in touch."
"Okay. I want to be back in Moline next week though. I'm taking the week off for vacation."
We made good time and it was just nine o'clock that evening when I was standing in front of a decent looking four-floor apartment house. Being a call girl must pay pretty well to afford an apartment in a building such as this. I entered a hall and there were numbered mailboxes along one wall. I would have to call up to Karen's apartment to gain admittance.
I was wearing jeans and a sweat shirt with a parka over it. This was unbuttoned. I had suspected I would be going to a poorer section of the city, so dressed accordingly. Just then a man opened the manager's door and stepped out to challenge me. "Who are you and what are you doing here at this time of night?"
"I'm Karen Olson's brother-in-law. I have some papers for her."
"Is she expecting you?"
"Not really, but she is expecting a package from FedEx tomorrow. I was coming here so I said I would deliver it."
"Come back tomorrow. She is tied up tonight."
"I don't think so. I think she said she will be coming down to see you in a little while. I suspect she would rather see me than you. Just to make you feel better about not seeing her, I'd be willing to spring for fifty bucks."
"You got a deal. Tell her though she has to get those two kids out of here by Monday morning. Kids ain't allowed to live here and they've been here too long already. The bitch also owes me for last month's rent. I'm going to start collecting on that pretty damned sudden, too."
"She said you were a pig and I'm getting to believe her."
"Whatever. I have to get paid same as anyone else. I'm giving her a break taking it out in trade. She made the deal, so don't blame me." We could hear the elevator descending. I had seen pictures of Karen, but had never met her.
A woman stepped out from the lift and paused to look at the manager, before even noticing me. I waited to see what the exchange was going to be. She addressed him, "You ready? I don't want to be long."
"Nope, not ready. I cut a deal with this gentleman here. He gave me fifty dollars so he could take my place. Have fun."
He whirled and went through his door, shutting it firmly. A crushed look came over her face. I smiled. "I took his place and I took the FedEx driver's place as well. I'm Aaron."
"How'd you get here so soon?"
"I took a plane. You said you needed the $500, so I just decided to deliver it myself, that's all."
"I guess there is a picture upstairs that looks like you. Come on up." She went back into the elevator and waited for me to enter.
This woman, who was my wife's half-sister, was very attractive. She looked somewhat frazzled, though. I was thinking she might have thought of the landlord as a pig, but she had made herself up as if she was going on a date. I tried to make conversation by asking, "Are you older or younger than Neica?"
"If I told you, then you would know how old I am. I don't share my age with anyone. I guess though, you have a right to know as I am in a terrible bind. I'm two years older."
"I know you are in a bind. I talked to the manager for a few minutes. He says the twins have to be out of here by Monday and he is going to start collecting rent one way or another next week."
"Maybe he will and maybe he won't."
Karen unlocked the door. It appeared to be a one bedroom apartment. I walked into where the kids were tucked into a king-sized bed. Evidently the three inhabitants were sleeping in the one bed.
"May I see the paternity papers, please?"
"You get right to it, don't you? Why so soon?"
"If I'm going to be staying here tonight, I want to make sure they are my children. Oh, here is the five hundred dollars I said I would deliver. Also here is the twenty dollars you were going to earn."
With no word of thanks, Karen took the twenty dollars and stuffed it into her bra. The rest she put into her handbag. "What's the plan now? You know what the situation is here. The kids can't stay and I'm about to be kicked out of the apartment."
"What I would suggest is that you pay your back rent plus one month in advance. I'm taking the kids with me. They need a woman's presence and I'm thinking that would be you until Neica is able to join them."
"And where would the money come from for me to pay the rent? Rent here is expensive. I have had to turn down all of my customers for more than a month while Neica has been gone." v "Hey, you're family. Who would you rather owe me or the landlord?"
"Rent is $900 a month." She threw this figure at me.
"That is reasonable. It would be more in Chicago. So you owe for November, half of December and we'll say all of January. The total would be $2,700. Let's say you'll become a nanny for my children until the first of February. We can settle on regular wages after Neica gets home. By that time, I'll know if I'm going to have a life with my wife or not. Who knows you might even want to change your lifestyle if I help you. That would be your decision."
"You're rushing me. When is this going to happen?"
"Maybe I am rushing you, but I can't stay away from my job very long. Also, Christmas is coming and I want the twins to have a happy holiday. Their grandmother could give them just a little extra love and it will make her awful happy to have grandkids in the house.
"Why don't you start packing and I'll write a check for the rent? There will be only room for two small carry-on bags. One is for you and one would be for the kids. We can't take more because it is a small plane. Mom will take you all shopping for most everything that you can't take with you. Tomorrow morning, we'll take the kids out for breakfast and then should be on our way by eleven."
"What about Neica? She won't know where we are."
"She will be boarding an air ambulance, complete with a nurse, and leaving Alaska about eleven their time. I arranged it. When the plane arrives in Moline the decision will be made whether she needs to be in a hospital or can stay at home with the kids and you."
"Who the hell are you? You don't sound like the man my sister married."
"I'm not. I failed in the business I started shortly after because Neica screwed me over. The money I gave her would have saved it, but then my uncle took me in with him when I went belly up. Good for me in one way. I'm now one of his vice presidents. My dad died a year ago and I moved in with my mother. She has a large estate and I have my own wing. I think the kids will love it there, especially if Mom dotes on them as I believe she will."
"How will she like a prostitute living in the house as a nanny?"
"If I was you, I wouldn't mention it, but suit yourself. If you are discreet, she will probably think Neica is more of a prostitute than you appear to be. Neica has already been tagged with that label. Mom isn't the type to throw it up to her, so all of you should get along fine, especially when Neica has produced two grandchildren for Mom to love."
"You have it all figured don't you? Neica may not go along with the plan, you know?"
"I know, but I will have the five weeks before she gets well and physically able to leave. Let's go to bed. We have a busy day tomorrow."
"You're planning on sleeping in my bed with me I take it?"
"It is big enough for all of us, I checked. The kids can sleep in the middle with us on each side. I'm not into sleeping on that little thing you probably are call a couch."
"Aaron, why are you doing all of this? With the money you gave me, we could have survived until Neica was able to take over."
"Karen Christmas is coming. The kids weren't going to be able to have their mother with them and I didn't see how Santa Claus was coming to this house either. I got to thinking about those two little tykes. Even if they weren't mine, I was going to make sure Santa would visit them this year. Why, you ask? The only reason why is because I can. Also, this will be a Christmas present to my mother. I love to make her happy and kids in the house will do it if nothing else will."
Just as I settled into sleep, from across the bed came, "Aaron, I think Santa has come early to this house."
"Yes and I think he is coming to mine as well."
"Aunty Karen, wake up. There is a man sleeping in bed beside of Billy."
"I know. Santa brought him here last night. I talked with Santa and he said he is your father. You go get the picture that your mom shows you sometimes what your daddy looks like and see if it isn't him." I watched Karen get out of bed and the two kids scrambled up and went rummaging for an album. They stared at me until I smiled.
I spoke, "Is it time for breakfast? I'm hungry. Karen, where is the best place to eat?"
"There is a deli that serves breakfast just down the street. We can walk there. Billy and Betty, I have some good news about your mother. She is being flown from Alaska to your daddy's home where you will meet her, maybe as soon as tomorrow. We are going out for breakfast and then we are going to fly see a grandmother you have never met either." The kids were getting excited now.
"We will have to hurry because after breakfast we have to catch a plane, so you kids go to the bathroom and then we will come back here and I'll pay some bills and then it is off to see your grandmother today and you're Mom by tomorrow."
"You know those kids are going to be heartbroken if Neica and I don't make it together again. You told them Santa brought me. If we don't make it, it is going to destroy a big part of their childhood dreams of Santa."
"I guess you will just have to stay with her then, won't you. Aaron, I get the feeling that it has been arranged for Neica to come home, but you haven't actually talked with her."
"No I haven't. I struck a deal with her company president to transport her to the Rock Island/Moline area, which is a lot closer to your home than Alaska. There should be time for the kids to meet their grandmother and then you and I will meet the plane she is on. The nurse that is with her will tell me whether she will be in a hospital or at home with all of us."
Just then both kids came back with their heavy coats, wanting to go to breakfast. The phone rang as we were closing the door.
Karen turned back and answered, "Hello." It was Neica wanting to talk to Billy and Betty.
"Hi Kids. My boss said I'm going to be flying closer to home. I'll be leaving in about an hour. Maybe we can see each other at Christmas time. I don't know how, but I'll try hard to get you there to see me. I still don't know how this happened."
"Mommy, Aunty Karen said we would be seeing you tomorrow. Santa came last night and brought a Daddy to be here with us. He is taking us down the street for breakfast right now."
There was silence on the line as Neica was trying to get it through her head what her daughter was telling her. "Betty, let me speak to your Aunt Karen"
I took the phone. "Neica, it is me, Aaron."
"Well, well, this is a surprise. I suppose you found out somehow you had kids and are there to take them away from me."
"Neica, please calm down. This is all new to me, but I do think I have some rights. We can settle that when you get down here to the lower forty-eight. Your flight is scheduled to land at the Quad City Airport. That's only twenty minutes from my home. I have hired Karen as a nanny, so she will be with the kids. We were going to surprise you if you hadn't called. I or someone will meet your plane. The nurse with you will tell me if you need to be hospitalized.
"How do you know all of this? Did Karen call you? I told her never to contact you."
"Yes she did call me. Karen couldn't work at her profession and it appeared you were in no position to be of help. I arranged everything when I found out she was out of funds and the kids couldn't stay any longer in her apartment. I flew up with money. I also found out we were never divorced and you had identified the twins as mine.
"Neica, I just want to give our kids a good Christmas. This is the time of year for them to be with their mother. Can we wait for any lengthy discussion of our issues until after you arrive?"
"That would be best." There was a catch of breath on the other end. "I'm really going to be with Billy and Betty for Christmas?"
"Count on it."
"Bye for now, Aaron. Thank you."
"Bye, Neica. Okay kids, your mother is happy and we will be seeing her soon. What are we having for breakfast?"
"Pancakes and bacon."
Karen and I were talking over the kid's heads. "So Aaron, where do you stand with my sister?"
"I have no idea. At this point, I'm not even thinking about it. Christmas is for the kids. I want to give them one they will remember."
"I think we all will. Neica was in Alaska and far away. I couldn't tell her how bad it was, me here and without any money. She didn't need that. There is nothing worse than being injured, lying in a hospital and not being able to do anything."
"Karen, I'm so glad you called me yesterday. I'm glad you went against your sister's wishes. It shows you had the kids' interests at heart. I think just as soon as we finish here, I'll call my pilot and ask him to start the flight check and to warm the plane. You can pay the landlord while I'm getting a cab and then we'll go.
"I'll call Mom and tell her when to expect us. It will be she who is meeting us." Fifty minutes later we were lifting off the ground in the company jet.