“Mr. Walters, please. This leak ... it’s driving us crazy and we have a lot of work to do tonight. You know - quite important work. We ... we really need this to be fixed urgently. Please, we’ll pay you 50 bucks extra if you can come today.”
That’s how it started. It seemed innocent enough, just my usual work. The little voice in my head, screaming, “Don’t do it! Stay away from there!” could not be heard for some reason.
Just some innocent dude, being a little too desperate over some minor leak. It seemed like a simple enough job for me, being a GWS man. Gas, water, shit, more commonly known as plumber. One who took his job seriously. When a customer in need was calling, it was almost as impossible for me to turn him down as it would have been to grow a third thumb. Which I had never managed to, although it might have been helpful from time to time. So I was already on my way to help him. Okay, maybe I was a little too indulgent at the time.
The problem was that Megan surely wouldn’t be pleased to learn that I was about to ruin yet another evening. My plumbing business ate up too much of my time I should have spent with her. But hell, we could need these 50 bucks for sure. Life as an independent plumber was not always easy and the bills kept coming.
So all in all it was a no-brainer.
“Okay, okay, Mr. Johnson. Calm down. I’ll come around immediately.” It always felt good to help customers in need.
“Thanks, man. You won’t regret it.” I just hoped he was right.
So I entered this quite upscale house I had never been in before at about 6 p.m., at a time I usually was having dinner with my beautiful wife and my beloved sixteen year old daughter Lara. To say that Megan was pleased about the call announcing my delay would have been exaggerated, but she at least agreed that we could use the 50 bucks. My mood was noticeably improved upon having avoided the medium sized shit storm I had expected. Maybe I’d use the 50 bucks to take her to a fancy dinner. My lady surely deserved it.
“Thanks a lot, Mr. Walters. Here’s your 50 bucks.” Whoa, payment in advance? What was happening here? “The leak is over here.”
What he showed me didn’t exactly mark the peak challenge for my plumber’s craftsmanship. To be blunt, it was almost too easy to fix. Any man with at least one right hand would have fixed this within minutes. So I decided I might have to spend a few minutes extra to avoid the guy feeling cheated for having paid 50 bucks. In hindsight, I should have taken my tools and just run.
“Okay, I think I will need about an hour for this. Maybe less.”
“Sure, thanks again.”
The guy seemed nice enough, a little nervous maybe. However, the whole situation in the house seemed rather strange. Three other guys and two women sat in the living room. Apart from watching me enter and being a little nervous, they obviously did nothing at all. They didn’t drink, they didn’t talk, they just sat there. It looked a little like at a doctor’s waiting room. And neither their looks nor the smell indicated that they were that desperately in need of a shower or that any other hygienic emergency justified my immediate presence.
These six folks were somehow mismatched and I had the impression that none of them were a couple. I even asked myself if any of them actually lived here. The house looked a little like a furniture store, neat as a pin but somehow uninhabited. But that’s none of my business, I thought. My business was to fix this small leak without letting them know how ridiculous the task was.
So I began to work and was almost finished when I heard some aggressive shouting and loud banging from the living room. I got up and left the bathroom with an alligator wrench still in my hand to see if someone needed help.
To my surprise the living room seemed to be filled with smoke, but it didn’t smell like fire. I was still trying to get a grip on what was going on when I was shoved forwards violently from behind and banged painfully on the floor. My tool flew from my hand and my arms were roughly jerked backwards.
And with these kind words from a friendly SWAT team officer, uttered while he comfortably rested his knee on my back, the life I knew and loved came to a sudden end.
I experienced the following hours in a kind of stupefied daze, like I was watching a 3D horror movie in superb quality that had nothing to do with my life. While I was still on the floor with my face in some debris, someone read me my rights like they do in the movies. He gave me a less than friendly kick in the shoulder to obtain my confirmation. I just nodded and was hauled by two guys into the back of a squad car. Nobody really cared about my head banging on the doorframe. Yes, I immediately knew that I was in good hands. Somehow I had the feeling that participating handcuffed in a heavyweight boxing fight would have been a gentler experience. Hell, even a car accident might have been more comfortable than the rough treatment I was receiving.
On the way to somewhere I was still coughing from the smoke grenade, which caused not a single shit to be given by the officers. I had to wonder if all arrests were that horrible or if I was receiving some kind of special treatment. After we had reached our destination, I was roughly yanked out of the car, pushed through some shabby corridors and shoved into an absurdly empty prison cell. The interior consisted of - well - nothing, really. The stainless steel thing on the wall obviously served as a washbowl and toilet combination and didn’t impress my professional plumbing interest at all. The bed was - well, if this was the bed - just a projection on a wall. These were the things included in my new luxury home. The list of what wasn’t included was a whole lot longer. A usable window, bed sheets, a mattress, a shower, a mirror, clothing, soap, someone to talk to, answers to my questions.
What was I doing here? That was the one on top of my list. I had done nothing wrong. I was certain that the mix-up would be clarified quickly. I mean, I could rely on our justice system, couldn’t I? This was not North Korea, where one could be imprisoned or prejudged without evidence, right?
Well, it wasn’t clarified quickly. I waited for what seemed an endless time in this damn cell, worried shitless, torturing myself with grim visions of my own future. The miniscule window just under the ceiling told me that it was night by now. I really should be at home with my beautiful wife and my daughter now, enjoying a meal after a hard day’s work, looking forward to some necking and maybe sex with Megan. Something was totally wrong here - I wasn’t supposed to stare at the dirty walls of an empty cell. Somehow the space-time continuum had ruptured. This was not supposed to happen in my life.
My problem was: there was no one present to listen to my objections. Finally, after many worried hours, I must have fallen asleep.
I woke up, feeling even worse. Which surprised me as I had assumed that I couldn’t feel any lower that I had the night before. After a while, a small hatch was opened and a tray was shoved inside.
Based on the time of the day, I guessed that this was meant to be breakfast. The problem was - it didn’t look like that. Not at all. But I realized that I was desperately hungry and wolfed everything down. To my surprise, it didn’t even taste bad. It didn’t taste at all. The texture of the stuff didn’t help to clarify what I was actually eating.
After a few more hours of worries and growing desperation, I was led into some kind of interrogation room by two officers and was chained to a bolted chair. None of them seemed to be inclined to listen to my concerns. Finally, a guy in a cheap suit entered.
“Hi, my name is Larry Sanders. I’m your attorney.”
I felt bad about it, but my cuffs prevented me from offering my hand. But the disgusted way he looked at me led me to the guess that he could live with that discourtesy quite well.
“Why am I here?” No need to beat about the bush. That was the question I desperately needed to be answered. I noticed that he didn’t offer to be on first name terms.
“Well, your group was busted.”
“My group? What group?”
“Yeah, your child pornographer group.”
“Calm down, please.”
“Man ... Hey ... I’m just a plumber. A group? That’s ... These guys called me to fix their leak.”
“Well, it sure looks different.” He looked at me almost smugly. Hey, wasn’t he supposed to be on my side? “A whole bunch of evidence was found. And you were the only armed suspect during the arrest.”
“What? Armed? I had my pliers with me. I’m a plumber.”
“Okay, we can try this strategy. I’m not sure if you will convince anyone with this. But it’s your decision.”
“I don’t believe it. I mean ... Hey ... What would you suggest?”
“But I can’t. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Your choice.” He seemed like he didn’t really give a single shit.
Okay, it was clear that even my attorney didn’t believe a single word. My feeling of dread was reaching record-worthy levels.
“You see, this is a big thing out there. Everybody is talking about it. Every TV station, every newspaper. You’re famous now. Many people want to kill or castrate you. You will certainly not be allowed to have contact with other inmates. Child molesters don’t live long in here.”
“Child ... What? Oh my god.” Hearing that word made me feel sick.
“Hey ... Can I call my wife?”
“I don’t know. I will try. They will want to interrogate you first.”
“But don’t be surprised. The whole media coverage includes your name and your photo. The commentators and talk show hosts are really in hunter-killer mode currently. It might not be fair, but it’s what the audience wants to hear right now. In case of hurt children the society tends to be a little uncaring. Your family’s feelings towards you might have cooled down a little. Quite a lot, actually.”
“Oh god. I don’t believe it ... What a complete nightmare.”
The following hours were filled with endless interrogations. I was fed up with the accusations, the cops were annoyed with me sticking to my “ridiculous” plumber story.
“Man, you’re toast anyway. Get your head out of your ass and shorten your sentence by confessing.” I had heard that argument countless times by then and my answer was still the same.
“I won’t confess something I haven’t done.”
“Your choice, asshole. You’re just digging your hole deeper and that’s totally okay with me. Here’s your phone. We will leave you alone for 30 minutes. Use the time wisely. But don’t expect too much,” he chuckled.
He un-cuffed one hand, gave me the fully charged mobile phone and the whole bunch left the room. Yes, finally! My phone. The chance to talk to my family. To set things straight. To tell them that this was just a huge misunderstanding. To just hear their friendly voices. To plan how to proceed with this mess. Yes! Finally. So I frantically speed dialed Megan first. She was the most important one, I desperately needed to talk with her. Lara would be next. Maybe I’d even have a little time left to talk to my parents. That would be great. They would be glad to hear my voice and to learn what had really happened.
It rang a few times. Megan, come on, we don’t have much time. Then suddenly my call was blocked. This was not her voice mail, she had actively rejected my call. I was totally shocked. What did that mean? Was there a technical problem maybe? But I already guessed the truth and the thought frightened me. Had she already given up on me? That quickly? Without me being convicted? Hell, I hadn’t even been officially charged, I was just a suspect. And she hadn’t even talked to me a single word. Had I just been dumped that quickly and unceremoniously in my darkest hour? A knot was forming in my guts and my eyes started to water.
I kind of zoned out and just looked at my own situation. I was sitting in an almost empty interrogation room, wearing an orange suit. One of my hands was cuffed to the chair. The walls were dirty, cameras were everywhere. My fingernails were dirty. The lampshade was broken. The world seemed to have agreed that I was a child molester. People I didn’t know were convinced I was. The love of my life obviously was. And the worst thing - I didn’t even know what exactly had been done to these children.
Okay, man, calm down, I thought. You have more options. You have a daughter that adores you. And it usually took less than two seconds for her to respond to a text message at any given time, 24/7. So that was the route to follow. I sent Lara a text message. Although she didn’t have to respond, it at least couldn’t be blocked.
“Lara, please. This is just a misunderstanding. I’m innocent. I need to talk to mom. Urgently. I don’t have much time.”
Her reply was quick and devastating.
“You’re not my dad any more, asshole. I’m not your daughter any more. Never contact me again. And the last thing mom wants is to talk to you again. Ever. Don’t call her again.”
Oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. A cold chill ran down my spine. I wasn’t aware that it was possible to lose a loving family that quickly without having done anything wrong. But it obviously was. I subconsciously checked the room for suicide options, but of course there were none. Even if I hadn’t been cuffed to the chair. No, Curt, don’t give up. They will see the truth sooner or later. Be strong. You will get them back. Don’t do anything foolish now.
Okay, think. Yes, mom and dad. My parents. They will talk to me. I didn’t know why, but it was supremely important for me to talk to somebody. To find someone that believed me. I would be going mad otherwise. I needed to tell my story to someone that didn’t reject it right away. That was willing to listen with an open mind.
“Yes?” My dad’s voice was stone cold. I had never heard him like that, even after I had dented his new car with my bike after my eleventh birthday.
“Dad. I’m so glad to talk to you. You have to...”
“Shut up, piece of shit. You’re not our son any more. Brenda agrees with this. We never want to speak to you again. Don’t call us again.”
And with that he just hung up. What? My own parents? A chill ran down my spine again. This was a complete nightmare. But I had not much hope to wake up in the foreseeable future.
Okay, Tim. He was my best friend since grade school. I just needed some form of support. Any form of support. Even Tim would have to do.
“Don’t ever call me again, asshole.”
And with that he just hung up too. This whole thing started terrible and was getting worse quickly.
Okay, one last shot. Jane and Alan, our good friends.
“Fuck off! Eat shit and die!” was all I got to hear from Alan.
I leaned back and took stock. Suddenly I was surprisingly calm. I was totally alone. It was just me and the rest of the world. There was no one out there that cared for me any more and no one I had to care for. The thought made me incredibly sad. I was totally unsure about my feelings towards my ex family. I had loved them dearly only a few minutes ago. Now I had learned that they had dropped me incredibly quickly. Was I able to change my feelings about them just as quick? I was too confused, sad and overwhelmed to answer this. But I did my best not to cry as the officer took my phone away again. No need to give him this satisfaction.
“Not much luck, hm? Was to be expected. Can’t say that I feel any sympathy for you.”
I began to understand why my cell was so empty. Suicide was tempting and I certainly wasn’t the only one to contemplate this route. But it seemed important for the government to prevent this and to prevent escape from the designated route of justice this way. But as much as my life seemed to be one big pile of hopeless misery, this didn’t seem to be the route for me anyway. There was still a glimmer of hope that this mess would be clarified. But what then? How would I face a family that had abandoned me that quickly? How were my feelings towards them?
There was a hearing shortly afterwards and it turned out as the complete nightmare I had anticipated. Obviously, some kids were held captive in that house and a movie was just about to be shot. Several adults, including me, were present. None of them was involved with the kids at the time of the arrest and the kids couldn’t identify any of them. So it was just assumed that we were all involved in some way or other. All of the suspects, including me, came up with some story how they were just present by concidence. They could only release all of us or no one. Given the public opinion at the moment, the first option was quickly ruled out by the judge.
The following weeks were spent like this: 99 percent rotting away in my empty cell, staring at the walls or the ceiling, appreciating every dirty spot or interesting texture in the concrete, trying - mostly unsuccessfully - not to let my desperation and depression overwhelm me. And 1 percent trying to convince anyone who cared to listen that I was innocent. That I was just the plumber. Which quite often caused a good laugh. It seemed that the whole world had agreed on exactly the same version of the truth regarding my person. I still didn’t know what exactly had been going on with these children and I actively didn’t want to learn it. My lawyer had understood that meanwhile. I couldn’t stand to hear details of the atrocities I had supposedly committed.
At least my lawyer was slightly more optimistic after a while because it seemed that they had no direct proof that showed my involvement or contradicted my plumber “story”. The problem was that it might take an eternity until the case was brought before a jury. And that the jury might overlook the missing evidence against me and just go with the public opinion. In any case, I was facing at least several months in jail. Or several decades. Or the rest of my life. My fate would be what other people decided it to be, people that were part of a public that seemed to have prejudiced my case already. All that was left for me to do was to await the outcome. No, my future was not looking rosy. Not at all.
After a few weeks in prison, I received the next blow. I was served with divorce papers. My hand was trembling and my eyes were wet while I took the envelope. No, Megan, please don’t do this. I love you, I thought. We were always a team, best friends, lovers, confidants. Please don’t give me up that quickly. But the papers cruelly told me that Megan wanted full custody of Lara, the house and all of our assets. She wanted no alimony or child support. For obvious reasons, it said. Everybody handled things as if I was already convicted. It even contained a restraining order for the time after my release. In the unlikely case, it said. It named me as a sexual offender, unfit to have contact with my daughter. Just great. It was as if I was facing one solid wall of public opinion against me.
Of course, I tried to fight the divorce. Not in a legal way, but by trying again to explain things to Megan. By trying to contact her. By writing text messages whenever I could access my mobile phone. By writing long letters. By trying to call her. To no avail, I never got any kind of reaction. Letters were returned unopened, calls were blocked. She had completely given up on me. The love of my life. My wife for many years. The mother of my daughter. The woman that had professed her love for me only a few minutes before I was arrested. She dropped me like a hot potato in my darkest hour. The thought didn’t just make me sad any more. It also made me feel disappointed. And even a little angry.
Two endless months after my arrest, the guard granted me a few minutes with my mobile phone again. I switched it on, but had no idea any more who I wanted to call. Everyone had abandoned me anyway. Maybe I’d just check the news sites to see the latest truths about my past and the newest predictions about my future. I had never wanted to be a celebrity and I was not really enjoying the status right now.
Right after it had started, my mobile beeped and indicated an incoming message. The first incoming communication at all since the nightmare began. Maybe not everyone had abandoned me, which gave me a little hope. It was from Tim, which was a slight disappointment. But I was glad someone wanted to talk to me at all. So I immediately opened it. And I felt the blood drain from my face and my body starting to tremble.
It was a photo. Megan. And Tim. Both naked. Fucking. Megan seemed to be unaware of him taking it, but he grinned into the camera. I was devastated, humiliated, defeated.
It also contained a text message.
“always had the hots for her. your loss, my gain, asshole”.
I didn’t bother to answer. Everything was crystal clear. I was completely alone now. I was even glad the divorce was already on its way.
Four months after my arrest the divorce was granted, completely on her conditions. The judge was obviously convinced that I was a child molester too. I had tried to get shared custody at least, but failed. Megan also owned everything now. I had lost her. I had lost my daughter. I had lost my parents. I had lost my house. I had lost my savings. I had lost everything. My whole life as gone.
Five months after he rupture in my life, something surprising happened. My lawyer requested a meeting. I dreaded those because nothing ever came from them. But I dreaded the isolation in my cell even more.
“Hi, Curt. I have great news.” He made a spectacle of revealing some big mystery and I had to remember my parents’ looks when I had opened my Christmas presents.
“Go ahead, please. Don’t torture me.”
“You won’t believe this. The other culprits have suddenly changed their strategy from pleading not guilty to guilty. One of them seems to have confessed and now they all suddenly want deals. And they are extremely talkative and eager to ease their sentence. More than one has already testified that you were not involved at all. That you were just the plumber. I’ve always known it, Curt. Congratulations.”
Sure, he’s always known it. Bastard. But that didn’t really diminish my happiness or the weight that was lifted from my shoulders. The constant feeling of hopelessness was replaced by anticipation. Things will finally turn out right now, I thought.
But will they? How could things be repaired? I was officially divorced. I officially didn’t have a daughter any more. If this could be reversed, would I even want it? After the massive betrayal my beloved ones had committed?
I didn’t know. And I unsuccessfully tried to prevent these thoughts from soiling this joyous moment.
To my surprise, I was released almost immediately. Nobody apologized. Nobody explained. Nobody tried to help me. I was more or less just unceremoniously shoved out of the door.
So I stood there in front of a closed prison door. The street was completely empty. No one waited for me. I felt almost as abandoned as I had in my prison cell.
Okay, time to take stock, I thought. I had 152 dollars and 32 cents in my wallet, 50 of those from the damn last job. I had a working and charged mobile phone. And I had the keys to my old truck, which was hopefully still parked at the damn house.
So I called a taxi and waited. The cab finally arrived and the driver seemed to recognize me instantly. Shit, I had forgotten to anticipate how life as some kind of negative celebrity would be outside the prison walls.
“Hey man, I don’t drive child molesters.”
And with that I began to have a taste of my upcoming life.
“Do you think I’d be standing here if I was one?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ve just been released as innocent.”
He pondered the new information for a few seconds. “Okay then, hop in.” He wasn’t overly enthusiastic but probably had decided he needed the money and he was too old to be molested by me anyway.
Well, if that’s how my life would be, I surely wasn’t looking forward to it.
I was a little surprised to find my truck still parked near that damn house. Obviously no one had connected it to the case, otherwise it would surely been burned down by then.
Things were continuing to get better. My tools were still inside. Apart from the few I had lost inside the house and during the arrest, of course. And the good old thing even started. Marvelous old truck. The only thing in my life I could rely on, obviously.
To my surprise, almost immediately after driving away from this damn address, my mobile rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize so I took the call. It turned out to be a customer that had heard of my case and was sorry for me. He had some work for me to do. Well, why not? I needed to make a living so I thanked him and started to get on the way. Obviously, the news stations had been very quick to announce my innocence. Probably to minimize the legal shit-storm coming their way.
The next incoming call was the dreaded one. Megan. I pondered if I should take it, but before I could make a conscious decision, curiosity seized control of my thumb.
“Um, ah ... Hi darling. It’s me ... Megan. I’m ... I’m so glad that this dreadful mess has cleared up.” She sounded quite tentative. And she had every reason to.
“Darling? Really? You’re calling me darling? If I may remind you, we’re divorced. You chose to refuse to even talk to me. You took me to the cleaners. I even lost custody of Lara. Which turns out to be okay because she told me she’s not my daughter any more anyway. You even fucked Tim to add to my misery.”
I heard her gasp just as I hung up. My mobile rang again immediately and cruelly showed me the picture I had assigned to her contact. Her laughing at the beach, looking so very happy and beautiful. But I decided to ignore her further calls. No sense in prolonging a failed relationship. If your horse is dead, get off.
The following calls were announced by a picture, showing my former parents in their living room, in front of a Christmas tree. Or by a picture of my former daughter, smiling. I ignored those too.
Instead, I decided to find a lawyer. Not the douche that I had to put up with during the last few months. But some real shark to sue the shit out of every paper and TV station that had soiled my name and helped to destroy my life.
Right after my first plumbing job I searched the internet using my smartphone and decided on the biggest and most prestigious law firm in town. It turned out that they were already hoping to get this case and were pleased to see me. They said that it’s a quite sure thing. None of the news corporations were supposed to use my picture and name while outlining my guilt as a certain thing. Great. I managed to reduce their quite optimistic payment ideas and left in a good mood.
The following months were dedicated to three main tasks. First, a surprising amount of plumbing work that kept me from starving. Second, successfully avoiding to be contacted by my former family. Third, hanging around mindlessly in the cheap apartment, trying to keep myself from thinking about anything serious, especially about the past.
As run-down as the place was, it still seemed like a palace to me after so much time in this parody of a prison cell. I enjoyed decent food again, mainly eating out. I enjoyed my freedom and not being pushed around by the guards. I enjoyed the absence of the terrible fear that had dominated my life for so long. The complete loneliness was something I enjoyed less, but it was a feeling I was used to meanwhile.
My lawyers sued 23 big and small news companies for amounts between 50,000 and 5 million. Most of them wanted to settle this case quickly, without much fuss. Three didn’t want to settle and would be sued. The other settlements summed up to 14.3 million. After lawyer fees and taxes I had 10.5 million. Not bad. I was a millionaire. A millionaire with a destroyed life, without friends or family. Overall, it was a bad deal. But my situation was a whole lot better that a few weeks before, that much was clear.
The incoming money from the media companies dispelled any worries about immediate starvation and removed the need to continue my plumbing business. The big advantage was that I didn’t have to keep my old mobile number any more, which was mainly misused by my ex-family and ex-friends anyway. As none of them had ever shown up at my apartment, this removed their only way to contact me. I thought that this was the best for all of us. We needed to move on.
One of the last calls on my old number turned out to be a bad surprise. The number was none of my stored contacts, so I assumed this was a customer.
“Curt Walters speaking.”
“Ah, Curt, our lovely child molester. How are you? Miserable, I hope?”
“Tim, what do you want?”
“Hey man, do you miss her? Being separated from Megan must hurt you terribly.”
“You asshole. Why are you doing this? You’ve been my best friend for years.”
“No ... no, that’s just what you thought. I’ve always hated you since you got Megan. I was just good at hiding it. At least good enough for a moron like you. I just needed to stay near you so I could stay near her. You know ... I had wooed her for quite some time. My future with her was almost certain, I just knew it. She knew it too, although she was too modest to show it openly. We wanted to marry, have children, grow old together. Then you came along and she foolishly fell for you. I ... I still can’t believe it. It hurt so much. You snatched her away from me, wrecked my life with her. And ... I had to sit there for years, watching you two pretending to be lovey-dovey and all that shit. Even having a child that should have been mine. You asshole, you’ve ruined my whole life with this. You’ve selfishly taken what should have been mine!” He was getting quite agitated now. His voice changed all the time from being calm and calculating to very upset and back. He was obviously telling the truth, at least how he perceived it. “But I had to be patient, wait for you to slip up. I had to be calm. I knew you would disappoint her at some time. You are just too much an asshole not to. And then you did it. You did it so much better than I had ever hoped to. Our Mister Perfect being a rotten child molester, imagine that. I’m still laughing when I think about it. You’re just shit, you never deserved her. She should always have been with me. I’m in love with her for an eternity. I loved her before you even knew her. She’s mine. Understand? Mine!”
I was stunned. I had never known any of that.
“Anyway, asshole, I finally have her. She’s sucking my cock right now. You want to talk to him, darling?”
I heard some muffled voice. No way Megan would suck his cock while he demeans me on the phone. She had too much class for such a stunt.
“No, she doesn’t. Too bad. You probably know how good she gives head, right?”
I just hung up. I had my doubts about his little show but I could not be certain. Shit. The slim possibility that she had actually just sucked him really hurt for some reason. Why couldn’t he just leave me alone? And why did I even care?
Well, at least his call clarified why Tim insisted on being such an asshole. He had always been in love with her? Megan and I were history. So was it okay for me if he got her? No, not really, I had to admit. Anybody but him. I realized that I had started to actively hate him, which was quite out of character for me.
After I had received the majority of the payments and my financial worries were definitely a thing of the past, I decided to move to a minor coast town and buy a small but luxurious house directly by the sea. I also purchased a nice, but unobtrusive BMW SUV and decided to take my time with the decision how to proceed with my life.
One thing was for certain though. My old plumbing truck was the only thing that had stood by my side. I liked it and I would never sell it. Apart from that my life was an almost completely clean slate and I was trying my very best to convince myself that this was a good thing. No family, no friends, no worries, no responsibilities, no strings. The past still hurt a lot, but I needed to get over it and move on. I had to prevent the shitty past to soil my future. As much as I had loved my former life, it was a thing of the past. Buried and gone.
After I had settled in my new house, I began to explore my surroundings and decided that I liked the area. It was a calm and cozy town. Everybody seemed to be very relaxed and friendly and if someone recognized me, nobody let it show. My life was almost carefree, apart from the small problem that I just had no idea what to do with it. My days were as luxurious as they were feeling empty and lazy. After two weeks of aimless slouching, I decided to start a small plumbing business again, but in a relaxed way. Only jobs I liked. And only to be among other humans and maybe to meet a few people.
It turned out that I did most of the jobs for free. As soon as I liked someone or had the impression that they were short on money, I omitted the payment. I quickly had a fabulous reputation in town, apart from one less than pleased competitor in a nearby town.
About three months later I was hanging around on my deck, nursing a beer, watching the sea and feeling a little bored. My phone rang and after seeing that it was a local caller ID, I was glad for the diversion.
“Curt Walters speaking.”
“Hi, my name is Karen Andrews. I live a stone’s throw up the street, in number 26. I’ve heard that you occasionally accept plumbing jobs.”
Her voice sounded nice. I had a very pleasant tingling feeling while listening to it, which surprised me. After the disaster with Megan I had not shown any particular interest in persons with an double-X chromosome. I had treated everyone as some kind of sexless entity. I had the suspicion that I had somehow transferred my mistrust from Megan to all members of the female half of the world’s population. Which might have been a little unfair and overreacted.
“Yes, I can do that. I’ll come around right now.”
“Oh, wow. That quick? I had hoped to prepare some lunch first.”
“Oh, that would be great. I’ve eaten out for quite some time now and a nice home-made meal would be really appreciated.”
“Okay, I’ll fix something.”
At the given address the door was opened by a very pleasant looking woman. She was no raving beauty, but I was overwhelmed by her warm and welcoming smile. It was somehow impossible to keep a glum mood while facing that friendly and glowing face. My own facial musculature reacted before I even had the time to act consciously. It came as a surprise that the muscles responsible for the facial expression were still working after months of disuse. And it was even more surprising that my mood actually lifted just by seeing this woman.
“Hi, I’m Karen. I’m so glad you had the time to come immediately. Please come in. Coffee?”
“Ah, yes, thanks.” Where are your manners, Curt, I thought. “Um, I’m Curt.”
I followed her into the kitchen. The leak she showed me was so small that it led me to the assumption that she was living alone. No male owner of an alligator wrench would have called a plumber for that. The thought didn’t exactly made me feel sad. I was still contemplating why I felt that way when I heaved my body onto my back under her sink.
“I’m a widow.”
“What?” Yeah, that’s the kind of eloquence women want to hear, I thought.
“You’re probably wondering why I have to call someone for such a small leak, right?”
“Uh, yes. Sorry. Busted.”
I lifted my head and took a good look at her while she knelt by my side. She didn’t look like a widow somehow. She was too young, a few years younger than me probably. And somehow too pretty. Although that thought was complete nonsense - how could anybody be too pretty to be a widow - it seemed somehow wrong that this warm and nice woman had experienced such a grief.
During the twenty seconds it took to fix the leak, she began to tell me her story. Somehow I didn’t feel embarrassed to hear her spilling the intimate details of her life. The leak was already fixed while she told me that her beloved husband had been killed in an accident. I stayed in that position, totally captivated, while she told me how she had tried to cope with the grief. Financially she was well off due to a proper insurance. But she had only recently managed to get her life into a balance and be her true self again.
Suddenly she laughed and the view was melting my petrified heart a little.
“Hey, you poor man. You not only have to listen to my boring story, but also have to lie by my feet while you do it? Come on, I do have chairs. Have a seat, I will fix some lunch for us.” And she extended her hand to help me to my feet.
“No, no. It was really ... well, I don’t know. It was touching. I enjoyed your story. It’s been quite a while since I’ve felt such emotions. It was really nice. No, wait. Not your story, but listening to it.”
She just laughed again. “Oh, stop it. I’m not that complicated. I know what you wanted to say. Here’s your coffee. Now it’s your turn.”
“Yes. Your story. I think you need to tell it or you’ll explode.”
“How do you know?”
“Come on. You’re so tense that I could to bang in a nail into you. And you talk about not having felt many emotions for a while. And everybody knows you’re well off, but still do plumbing jobs. There is a story behind this and I have the impression that it is mostly untold. Spill it out, I’m a good listener.”