I parked my old Ford Ranger pick up truck in the North Carolina Baptist Hospital furthermost guest parking lot. From the seat I removed the cardboard coffee holder and the paper bag. I sat there parked between two work trucks to eat my animal fat on a biscuit. I also contemplated what had brought me to that place at that time. It was a chore I dreaded even though it marked the end of a twenty year wait. Nothing really concerned me about the visit except how I might react. I had some unfortunate violent reactions in my past. I just never knew what might trigger one. Once the cold food and hot coffee were consumed I considered some practical issues.
The distance from my old truck to the entrance would have been daunting for a man half my age. Fortunately the greater part of my almost fifty two years had been spent in the military, otherwise I might never have been able to make that walk. Since I am basically a ‘lazy as dirt’ individual, I can make that statement with confidence.
For proof I needed only weigh myself. I have gained five pounds during the three months of my retirement. I had spent that time eating my way across the United States. From Travis Air Force Base to West Jefferson North Carolina it had been one beer and high calorie meal after another. I recognized my short comings without offering any apology for them.
My jobs in the United States Air Force had all been mostly with force security, or the training of new airmen. Even after I had attained the rank of Master Sergeant, it required me to stay physically active. I wasn’t required to run with the recruits, but I always did. “Never ask a man to do anything you wont do yourself” was an unwritten law of the training cadre. That being said, I did my last five mile run on the day that I walked my papers through the retirement center. By the end of that one single day, I was a civilian after thirty two years of service. I was also fifty one years and a few months old.
I eventually returned home, since I had nowhere else to go. Home was a deserted homestead outside the deserted North Carolina Mountain community of Bear Creek. Bear Creek no longer had the small general store, or the FCX farm supply store of my youth. The remains of the buildings were more or less standing, but completely rundown. There still was a post office zip code for the town, but no real town left.
When I first arrived at the crossroads, I found huge weeds growing inside both of the wooden buildings. Even so I parked the truck and carefully examined the condition of the buildings. After a few minutes I left the abandoned buildings of Bear Creek. I pulled the Ford from the overgrown parking lot onto a bad county road. Then I pulled from it onto the worse gravel road, and finally I pulling onto a not at all maintained dirt drive leading to what should have been our old farmhouse.
Since my Military specialty had been force protection, I had lived in some pretty crappy places over the years. I knew that I could work something out it even though the homestead was nothing more than weeds, and a pile of burned out lumber. It had been abandoned most of the twenty one years my brother had been missing. My parents just gave up when the light of there life either ran off or died.
I had come home a few years after his disappearance to bury my dad. He had spent his last few years in an assisted living facility. I have to admit I lacked the courage to visit him there. Even then I knew the home place was worthless. It had been empty since our mother had pass several years before. At the end of that trip, I removed the front and rear doors from the old place, then just walked away. I expected that it was too far from anything for anyone to want to live there, even rent free.
The county Sheriff tracked me down after three more years passed. He left a message on my phone. It was to tell me the house had burned to the ground mysteriously. He suggested I return home and clear the lot. I completely ignored his advice.
“It’s not on any main road, so it wont attract any vagrants. I think I’ll risk the lawsuit for any personal injury,” I said out loud to myself. I never looked back except for once on my way to a Florida, for a temporary assignment. On that one trip by truck, I did return to the home place. The very first thing I did on that trip, even before I put up the no trespassing sign, was to kick the one standing wall down. That wall had once held up the corner of the building. It was also possible that the fallen roof held it up. When I left that day, it was no longer standing.
I did not return again until it was all over. It was however my plan all along to return there to live. I decided that for sure after a visit to my ex wife. The decision to move to the homestead was so that I could forget her and her new family. I just wanted to be alone for a while.
Since I had paid the two hundred bucks and change to the county tax office every year, it was mine free and clear. I never did ask for a new evaluation of the place, even though I could have. It was worth nothing at all in my opinion, but I knew the tax department didn’t want to hear that.
On the night before my visit to the hospital parking lot I had check into the West Jefferson flea bag motel. It was left over from the 1950s at least. After I checked in I drove to a very distant cousin’s house. “Hello, are you Alice Martin?” I asked of the older lady who greeted me.
“I used to be,” she replied. “and who are you?”
“I’m still Andy Martin, John and Inez’s youngest.” I replied.
Then we went through the I remember your family period of catching up. There were a few cousins still living in he area, she informed me. Then she filled me in on each of them and the locations of their house trailers.
“Did the Sheriff ever get in touch with you?” she finally asked.
“Not recently did something new happen?” I asked.
“Yes somebody found your brother Fred’s remains. The Sheriff was trying to find you to make a notification. You need to call him,” she said.
The call to the Sheriff led to a second call to the anthropology department at Wake Forest University. That call led to a visit to the North Carolina Baptist Hospital the next morning. After I made the long walk from my parking space to the front door, I found my way to the hospitals anthropology lab. There I met with Doctor Sharon Tate for the first time.
“I’m sorry about your Brother,” she said. “I was team leader for the group who disinterred his remains,” she informed me.
“And you are sure it is my brother?” I asked.
“Yes, he was a familial match with a sample in the national DNA data base. As a matter of fact it was a match with you. They tried to make a notification, but you couldn’t be found. Now I know why you were in the process of retiring and your records were in limbo no doubt. Your only forwarding address was a post office in Ashe County. Unfortunately the Sheriff there couldn’t find you either.”
“Okay, I’m sorry things are still up in the air now. I’m living in a flea bag motel till I get my family’s homestead re established. So what can you tell me about Fred’s corpse?” I asked. I forced myself to be professional about it. I had done my walk down memory lane during my drive down to Winston Salem that very morning.
“I am sure he was the victim of a homicide. I can’t know the circumstances of course, but he had significant stab mark on his sternum and two ribs. After all this time there was no other evidence at the scene,” she said.
“Do you have any idea who did the original missing persons investigation?” I asked.
“No, but the park rangers have the case under review now. A Captain Brown is doing the review before it gets closed,” she said.
“Review or investigation?” I asked.
“Aren’t they the same?” she asked me.
“Not exactly,” I replied. “One you try to figure it all out. The other you try to make sure no one can accuse you of screwing it up.”
“I wouldn’t know about that kind of thing,” she replied.
“I guess not,” I agreed.
“Would you like to review my complete file?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Badly enough to buy me lunch?” she asked.
“Well that depends on the price of lunch, and the amount and quality of the information,” I said with good humor.
“Okay, it’s probably worth a pizza lunch,” she said.
“Fair enough, I like pizza,” I advised her.
“I never met a man who didn’t love pizza and nachos.” she said.
“Well maybe not served together,” I agreed again with what passed for a smile.
“So what did you do in the Air Force?” The not very attractive anthropologist asked.
“A little of this and a little of that. Mostly air police the first twenty five years,” I answered.
“So you guarded the gates and airplanes?” she asked.
“We call that force protection, but yes I did a lot of that,” I replied.
“Did you ever get to the middle east,” she asked. I decided she was a very blunt woman but harmless. She was however severely lacking in the social graces, I decided
“Yes, but I don’t talk much about it when I’m sober,” I replied.
“So what about the last five years?” she asked.
“This and that,” I replied.
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked bluntly.
“I spend some time in CID, then I did a transfer into training command to pad my pension,” I explained.
“Huh?” she asked simply.
“There were no new Master sergeants being made in the air police sector, but there were slots in the training command. So I spit shined my shoes and joined them,” I explained.
“It’s just a coincidence that we found your brother around the time you came home?” she asked.
“Well I didn’t plan it that way,” I said.
“So what now? I mean, do you want us to Fed Ex his bones to you?” she asked as bluntly as ever.
“What are my choices?” I asked.
“You could donate the bones to the school’s archeology department. With a stipulation that the bones be available to you for viewing,” she commented.
“I expect you have learned all there is to learn from Fred’s skeleton,” I commented.
“We still don’t know who killed him,” she said. “We probably never will know since it’s not something we normally concern ourselves with.”
“That’s true, I suppose. I feel I owe it to him to look into it though,” I admitted. “You can store the bones here. It is no longer Fred.”
“I’ve been thinking about that since your called, even before I met you and found out who you were. I have an idea floating around in my head,” she informed me.
“Does your plan include a home cooked meal?” I asked.
“If you cook it, I’ll bring the wine,” she responded. “Absent that I was thinking of writing a screenplay.”
“Why a screenplay?” I asked.
“When I was between digs a couple of years ago, I actually wrote one. It went on cable TV,” she informed me.
“I cant see a movie in this at all. What would it be about?” I asked.
“About three hours, or maybe thirteen hours as a series,” she said with a smile.
“Aside from the smart ass comments, what would you base it on?” I asked.
“Why our search for your brother’s murderer,” she said. “We could get a ‘made for TV’ movie from that story if we are successful, if not a documentary. You know a do it yourself guide to a cold case investigation.”
“It sounds interesting, but I’m going to be working on my homestead. I might look into Fred’s death, if I have time,” I explained.
“Sure I get it. Why don’t you take a look at my report on your brother, then we can decide on our next move,” Doctor Tate suggested. She just wasn’t going to go quietly into that long night.
“I guess I wasn’t clear enough. There is no we. There is me, an out of work pensioner, and you an under employed anthropologist,” I said with a dark edge to my explanation.
“If I were a less professional, and a less confident woman, I might consider sleeping with you,” she said.
“Please don’t,” I was pretty sure I meant it. Tate was about thirty pounds over weight with damp stringy blond hair. She also wore no make up so her face was washed out.
“So how about we go back to my place and discuss what I know about your brother. Then you can tell me me what I don’t know,” she demanded.
“I have things I need to do,” I suggested.
“Sure you have to get back to your fleabag motel with it’s plumbers, drug dealers, and whores,” she said. “Spend a couple of hours with me. The fleabag will be there when we finish our chat.”
“I think it is a waste of time, but I’ll give you two hours,” I agreed. I admit I didn’t think much of her plan, but she did seem harmless. After I finished the work on the homestead life was going to be boring as hell. I would need things to occupy me. Besides when you get down to basics a woman is still a woman. She also seemed pleasant enough.
Before I began to spill my guts, we drove to her apartment. I insisted that we each drive our own car so that I could leave at anytime. I wanted to be able to drive back to my motel before it got too late. I explained to her that I had a big day starting when when the sun came up the next morning. It was a lie but she didn’t need to know that.
Once I got to Sharon’s apartment, she wasted no time. “So what was it like growing up on a mountain farm in the seventies?” she asked.
“Believe it or not, I’ve thought a lot about that lately. We were poor, but not on welfare. My dad did all kinds of things to keep us off of welfare. Welfare separated the rural classes back then,” I explained. “You weren’t really poor unless you were on welfare.”
“What kinds of things did he do?” she asked.
“When I was small, I mostly remember him being gone at night. He worked with a friend catching chickens,” I stated flatly.
“What the hell does a chicken catcher do?” she asked.
“They go into commercial chicken houses to capture sleeping chickens. Then they load them into a truck to head out for processing. When the houses are empty the farmers clean them, then it starts all over. The chicken distributor delivers more chicks, the farmers feeds and waters them for about six weeks,” I explained.
“And your dad made a living doing that?” she asked.
“No, but it was a part time job that was available year round. When the leaves were on the trees in the summer, he and his friend made liquor. He and his friend did that every year. It helped get us through the winter. Actually mom filled an out building with food she canned in the summer. That food mostly came from her little garden. Some things were also bought from the store when they ran sales. She stored them to get us through the winter. The liquor money and the chicken catching managed to keep us fed. There was also enough money for me and Fred to get a new pair of jeans each for school.
Fred was ten years older, so he was in school before I was old enough to remember him much. Since he won a full scholarship to Appalachian State University, he was obviously smart as hell, and a hard worker. It was a huge deal in the small community where we lived,” I explained.
“How did that make you feel?” she asked.
“I was jealous of course, but I found out quickly I didn’t have the same brain. I couldn’t make the next leap from what was being taught, to what it all meant. So I slipped along from one thing to another like all my friends. I never really had my eye on the prize. Because of that I never knew what the prize was, or what winning it felt like. I guess that’s because I have a minimal imagination. Which, believe it or not, proved an asset later in life,” I suggested.
“How so?” Sharon asked.
“The jobs I had in the service required low tech answers to everyday problems. For those I had to think inside the box. It required I use the tools which I had, not invent new ones. That’s how I made it thirty years in the Air Force,” I explained.
“So where were you when Fred went missing?” she asked.
“When I got the news, I was twenty five and still doing my job guarding airplanes. Fred was thirty five and married with a son by that time.
He was living in Charlotte, and working for something called White Sands. He was in the military contracts department. I remember that it was all very hush, hush.
He and Juanita returned to the mountains for vacation most every year, and to show of off the baby. The year he went missing, a co worker drove up to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail with him. His wife was also from the area, so she stayed with her family in West Jefferson while the men folks were gone.
After he was missing a few days, I got the word that he and his co-worker were missing. I got the call from my mom. I couldn’t come home until he was officially declared dead. Without a body it took three years for that to happen. By that time Mom had passed and dad was in assisted living. There was nothing a twenty something year old could do,” I explained. “I guess I never got closure, so now I’m going to try to get it for us all. But I’m also realistic enough to know the odds are against me, which is why I’m going to do it in my spare time.”
“Okay, so what about you. What did you do during those thirty years?” she asked.
“I already told you,” I said.
“No you haven’t. I want more details,” Sharon demanded.
“Some night when I have more time and a lot more to drink, maybe I’ll tell you,” I explained. “Now it’s time for me to head home.”
“You don’t have to go,” she said shyly.
“I do, unless I want to drive some really tough roads at night. I also have to meet a truck on the homestead first thing in the morning.”
That statement wasn’t exactly true. I had to be on the homestead finishing the preparations for the truck, but it wasn’t bringing my new home until later in the morning after I told her. I just wanted to get away.
During the drive to the motel I began my walk down memory lane again. During my first few years away from home, I had been on the force protection details of several forward bases. Also during that time, I slept in several improvised shelters, so I had no fear of nontraditional housing. That gave me a leg up on constructing my homestead.
No one who really knew me would have been surprised by my choices. No one around the Bear Creek community knew me, so they might have been surprised to find me planning a move into a metal shipping container. I spent the next day leveling the already more or less than level lot. I also stacked some concrete blocks around so they would be close to where I needed them the next day.
I spent another sleepless night at the motel checking and rechecking the things I needed to do. The Internet was a blessing for that. Even the flea bag motel had a WIFI hot spot. I finally passed out from exhaustion.
At approximately 9AM the truck would be leaving the sales and storage lot where I had purchased the used shipping container. While it rolled toward me, I would be checking the level of the ground yet again. It was where I would be placing the dry piles of concrete blocks used as piers. I only planned a stack of two blocks on each corner and one stack of two on either side. They all had to be built as the container came off the truck. I also had some one inch oak boards to use for the finer adjustments. To my great surprise and relief everything went satisfactorily during the offloading.
When we finished, I gave the driver the check for a thousand dollars. It was the final payment of my container’s purchase price. I had rented a large house jack which made the final leveling of the container possible. It was almost dark when I finished that task all alone. Upon finishing I realized I hadn’t eaten since my breakfast at the Crossroads Diner. The diner sat at the intersection of the county road and the state road. I felt sure that I would be eating there again as darkness closed in around me.
As proof of my worker bee status, I gave thought to the next step needed to establish my box home on the family homestead, even over my country style steak. I also held a conversation with the waitress as she cleared the table.
“We seen you twice in the same day. That usually means you are visiting somebody here,” she said. I expected that she was trying to be friendly to increase her tip.
“Not really, I’m resurrecting my home place,” I said in response. “Hey. I’m in need of a carpenter. You wouldn’t know of a good one would you?”
“I can’t vouch for them, but there are a few business cards on the board at the front,” she said pointing to the front door.
I said, “Thank you.” Then I finished my pecan pie. On the way out I added two builders to my cheap cell phone’s memory.
When I returned to the motel, I called one of them. He promised to stop by the next day after he finished re-roofing a chicken house. My dad might well have caught chicken in that house, I thought. When I returned to the motel, I ordered a saw service to be installed first thing the next morning. To do that I had to stop by the office of the local electric co-op to set up an account, and leave a deposit. That I couldn’t do till the next morning so things ground to a halt for the night.
Since I had a couple of hours at least before the builder arrived at my place the next morning, I managed that chore and also had time to drive to the Home Depot. It was tight since it was located just off interstate highway forty in Hickory. I bought a bunch of 2x6 boards to use in configuring a floor support system for the storage building. I also got some hurricane anchors and cable. I figured to tie the structure down, just in case.
The builder who showed up for the job in the afternoon was a black man. Since I had been raised in the area, I was only mildly surprised. He had obviously come from a job site. He was wearing dusty overall, but that didn’t bother me any.
“So what do I call you?” I asked the man who out weighed me by twenty or thirty pounds of muscle.
“Benjamin Dark, or Ben,” he said.
“I have a job that needs doing Just as soon as the county co-op brings in a saw service,” I said. “I plan to be the helper, so maybe I should just pay you by the hour on this part of the job.”
“Ten bucks an hour would work for me,” Ben said. “I got a saw that run on batteries and one with a cord. I could get started and put in a couple of hours this afternoon.” He was looking at the back of my truck filled with lumber.
“Why not,” I replied.
We doubled up a couple of twelve foot long 2x6s to make twelve foot long 4x6 beams for the outside of the floor joists. We made six of them, one for each end and two for each side. Since I had planned for the floor system, the corner piers were set back from the edge of the corners of the metal box. In other words we were able to run the side beams before we had to move the piers. It took us till dark that day and almost all the next day, but we were about half finished before the saw service was installed. By the end of day, the floor was completely supported by treated 2x6 floor joists. They were screwed through the metal floor in the metal containers.
Over those two days Ben had worked eleven hours. I gave him one hundred and fifty dollars. The extra I explained was for his extra hard work.
After we knocked off work that second day, I drove to the Home Depot again for some thin plywood to lay over the inside floor of the shipping container. The container was much stiffer, but also heavier after we finished with that frame. After the third day’s work Ben left at five. I swept the floor three times before I installed the vinyl squares on top of the plywood I had glued to the metal. I knew it would be easier with nothing in the way.
It would also help prevent water damage. The tiles and mastic that held them in place also created another water barrier between the tiles and the plywood. I was a little paranoid, since my dad was always facing rot issues with the house where I grew up. I was determined to eliminate that, as much as possible, In my home.
Since Ben had to take the rest of the week off, I hung around while I waited for the Coop to come bury the new power lines. A second utility truck installed a WIFI hot spot at the end of my drive. It would handle several clients I was told. I couldn’t image there ever being several families living in the area. Even so I signed up for the service.
The co-op had placed the saw service beside the house the day before. Their technician had explained that my electrician could eliminate the saw service once the lines were run from the coop. When he finished with the house I could just call for the needed inspection to go live with the power. In the meantime I had two live outside electrical plugs. Even when the electrician was finished I still had to wait for that inspection. Even so I had some power from he saw service.
Ben was due back on Monday to help me install the insulation under the floor and the insulated ceiling tiles. After that the plan was to move into the homestead. I had put off moving in so that the work on the homestead would be easier.
Over the weekend my plan was to pack up and also pick up the wall and ceiling panels. I also planned to hang the floor insulation holders under the shipping container as well. That was about the extent of my building plans for the weekend.
Even that proved to be a pain. Not the work, the timing was the problem. Dr. Sharon Tate invited herself down on Saturday to continue the in-depth interview.
“So are you glad to see me?” she asked at the motel room door.
“Sure, I’ve been working hard on the homestead. I need a break today,” I explained.
“This interview might be easier,” she said. “But I give you no guarantees.”
“That’s okay, because you are going to have to be flexible,” I said.
“Okay,” she said tossing her backpack in the corner. She removed a mini recorder from her large purse.
“Not yet, we have to go shopping for some paneling. You can help me choose,” I explained. “But feel free to bring it along. It’s a long drive to the anywhere from here.
Twenty minutes later we were entering the Home depot nearest the motel. It wasn’t near at all. I found the most economical way to do the walls would be to insulate with rolls. To use them I needed batten strips glued to the metal walls of the containers. Then cover it all with some really cheap paneling. The down side was it increased the load on the truck.
I loaded the rolls of insulation, the 1x2 batten strips, and then the cheap panels. The rolls would have been safer alone, but I managed to tie them onto the other items loaded into the truck bed. It was a precarious load, so we moved slowly.
During the drive time too the store and then to the homestead, Sharon insisted I allow her to question me. “I have no idea why I was chosen for the army ranger school. The course was a bitch. It was the exact same one used for the army rangers. I wanted to quit several times. I stayed with it, because I had a bad case of youthful stupidity,” I explained.
“Yes which leads to a false sense of invincibility,” Sharon agreed.
“Yeah, I filled some body bags with those kinds of guys. I avoided it because I was just lucky I guess,” I explained. “I did a deployment or two in some shit holes. Places where we never were, then I went to a military transport command base. I spent two year guarding cargo and MATS planes headed to forward bases. It was safe, but boring as hell. After two years I got a chance to go back to force protection on forward bases. I jumped at it.
For the next several years I went between MATS bases and forward fire bases. It was still a pretty boring assignment. It was mixed with the occasional moments of terror though. Then I transferred to CID in Texas. I worked my way up to technical sergeant there. Then they froze all promotions and I was getting short for retirement. I managed to do my last five years in a training position in Texas. I also made Master Sergeant, so my pension would be a little larger. The rest you know,” I said.
“Not really did you ever marry?” she asked.
“Once, but it didn’t take. One bad deployment, one bad PTSD bout, and she had enough,” I said.
“That is quite a biography,” Dr. Sharon said.
“Not really most of the time I was just shining shoes,” I replied. I told her about incidents that were either humorous or exciting.
We stayed at the homestead just long enough to off load, and store the insulation and supplies necessary to install it. At dinner that evening she told me all about her life as a student then as an educator. She had some hairy moments while playing field archaeologist. Mostly from run ins with the criminal elements. The out of the way places with lots of history, were also out of the way that made great smuggling trails for drug cartels according to Dr. Sharon.
“I should tell you that I have got a promise from the National Park Service. They will send us the digital files on your brother’s case,” she said.
“Good I’ll get to work on the homestead while I wait,” I said.
On Sunday morning she returned to her apartment on the campus of the University in Winston Salem. Before leaving she said, “I’ll be finishing my exhibit at the university library this week. Then I will look for a more rural apartment. One in which to write my screenplay. Someplace without so many distractions. Hey, maybe I’ll just move in with you?”
“The homestead is going to be much too small even for one person, let alone two,” I said.
When I left the motel on Monday morning I hoped it was for the last time. I had my few belongings packed inside a double layer of trash bags. I hoped that my clothes wouldn’t be in those bags more than a couple of days. Of course I couldn’t be sure of that.
Ben and I quickly cut, glued, and screwed the batten strips to the walls. The rolls of insulation got installed, then the cheap thin panels got tacked to the battens. All that took a full day with just a little time set aside to lay a yoga mat on the floor for my temporary bed.
During the day I had managed a trip to Walmart to buy a sleeping bag. It wasn’t the kind with which I could camp inside a tent without heat, it was more the kind one threw over a mattress inside a kids room with minimal heat. Which was what I had in the homestead that night. The room was dusty, but I managed to have a pretty good night’s sleep. The sleep started when I returned from my evening meal at the Crossroads Diner. I slept more or less through until 8AM, when Ben arrived to finish my wall mounted Shelves.
He also put the last of the fittings on the new flush toilet. The toilet required a buried tank with a spout to allow for it to be pumped out, but it flushed. By Friday it was bones were finish completely, even though I had already been living in it a week by that time. There was plenty left for me to do. It was complete enough for me to handle it alone, I thought. Sadly I had to let Ben go.
Doctor Sharon decided to call me after work. She kindly offered to bring dinner, so I allowed her to meet me in the Cross Roads Cafe parking lot. Even though she had been at the homestead, she needed help to find the again. Otherwise I would have told to just come on out.
“How much more interviewing do you need?” I asked while we stood in the gravel parking lot staring at each other.
“Lots more,” she replied. “I want to understand you completely.”
“Good luck with that. I don’t even understand me completely. I am always doing thing that are out of character,” I admitted.
“Well maybe I’ll understand you better than you understand yourself,” She replied.
“That most likely won’t be hard to do,” I replied as we climbed back into our separate cars for the drive to the homestead.
“It really is a shipping container,” she said upon seeing the metal container for a second time.
“I said it was,” I admitted. “And this isn’t your first view of it.”
She nodded before walked around the outside. She commented further. “Well you have a nice front door.”
“It was used, and it was a motha to install, but Ben and I managed. I kind of like it a lot,” was my reply.
She climbed the steps onto the deck, then entered the homestead after me. “Well I’ve had bigger motel room closets, but it does seem to have all the necessary stuff.”
“It is twice as large as some of the places I have lived over the years,” I explained.
“I guess it is after all what you get used to,” she commented.
“I suppose so,” I agreed. While we talked I heated the food in a toaster oven. It took a while since it wouldn’t all fit at once. “It just wasn’t meant for that many items.” I explained.
While we waited for dinner to reheat, she continued to pick my brain. I told her things I had forgotten over the years. It was a learning experience for her, and a relearning experience for me.
“Surely I’ve earned a copy of the report,” I said after half an hour of having my memory raped.
“Yes you have and here it is,” she said handing me the memory stick.
“Some light reading for next week,” I suggested.
“There are some things in there that might surprise you,” Sharon said.
“I’ll see, but people seldom surprise me these days,” I replied.
“Since neither of us were kids, we were able to sleep together with a minimum of gymnastics. I did force her to buy her own sleeping bag and yoga mat. The next morning I awoke refreshed and ready for another day’s work. Even if the work was all mental. The electrician I hired to wire the inside of the house came but he wasn’t much trouble. Sharon just continued asking questions.
I consulted with her on the story off and on all day. She said it was to make the characters ring true. She knew her grammar, but none of her dialogue sounded right. It was all too stiff. Maybe she knew people on a college campus who spoke that way, but it was my opinion that no one in real life used perfect grammar all the time.
I wound up a lot more involved than either of us had expected. The whole weekend was made up of writing dialogue based on my childhood stories. It was just practice for the real thing still to come. At the time she didn’t have a plan for the story. She was winging it, and that was driving me crazy.
I talked to Doctor Tate while I drove to a glass company in Brevard. I went there to buy two pieces of Polycarbonate glass. It was for use as storm windows to be fitted inside he container. When the winter came, the second layer of glass would go a long way toward preventing heat loss through the outside windows.
One of the windows was located over the sink and the other one was directly across from it. The one across from the sink was on the same wall as the shower stall. Ben came by to help me frame a partition wall on one side of the shower cabinet. the other side of the cabinet was the rear wall. There was a flush toilet in the other rear corner. Between then the temporary water tank sat.
The tiny two person dining table also hung under the window across from the sink. We sat at that half round table to eat our eggs and bacon from the apartment sized refrigerator. They were about the only thing in that refrigerator. That and a two liter coke bottle filled with ice tea mix. Since I had no idea how to make good iced tea consistently, I made the tea from a mix.
Breakfast that next morning had been cooked on what we once called a hotplate. It was actually an electric two burner free standing stove top unit. I had it ready to attach to the wall once the electrician had wired the place. It, along with the electric toaster oven, worked well enough temporarily plugged into a heavy duty extension cord. The substituted for a range that morning and would continue when I could plug them into the household circuit.
At the moment they they sat on a shelf below sink which I still needed to mount to the shelf. After the breakfast dishes were washed and put away, Sharon and I started looking at the park service preliminary report.
There was a lingering damp chill while we began reviewing the files on the computer. Since I hadn’t put in a heat source, I had a ceramic electric space heater. It was damp and cold, even though the autumn had barely arrived. The small ceramic space heater didn’t have a real thermostat, so I ran it till I was only slightly uncomfortable then turned it off. I could set it on a number setting, but that number had no relationship to the inside temperature. It was merely a guess. So I was forced to guess what setting would maintain the almost comfort level. I was only half listening to the familiar information while Sharon read it to me.
“Your brother was employed by the White Sands Lab. He was working on a missile for the Navy when he disappeared. Things also appeared to have been going fine in his home life at the time. He took a vacation, packed his childhood sweat heart into his car, then drove home. That would be your home,” Sharon explained.
“He dropped his wife Juanita and his son Matt at his father in law’s house. His plan was to continue on to meet a coworker at the Appalachian trail. Their plan was to hike two days on the trail. After the hike your brother Fredrick intended to return to your family’s home for the remainder of his vacation. Both he and his coworker disappeared on the trail. The park service send out search parties for the next three days. They didn’t find a trace of them,” Sharon explained.
“Did the guy he was hiking with have a family?” I asked.
“It wasn’t a guy. His hiking partner was a woman from Ga. She was a great fan of outdoor vacations,” Sharon explained.
“I always assumed his partner was a man. So they never found her either. I suppose the cops investigated her as well?” I asked.
“Of course there is a whole section on her home life. She was new to the Charlotte area even though she had been with White Sands a while. She got to know your brother there and wanted to make the winter hike on the Appalachian Trail,” Sharon explained. “To get a break from the drama of her new work environment.”