It had been a long time coming, but the end was near, after a total of twenty-seven years at sea, I was retiring. It had been a long haul, as an engineer specializing in large diesel engines, I was hoping for nice quiet retirement in a small city.
During my time at sea, I had served on two large cargo ships, moving containers all around the world. I had made a few very close friendships with other mariners. One was Peter Grate. We had spent many hours together having a few beers and talking about our past, mine was very short. I had joined the Marines at eighteen, I was fortunate to have the smarts to convince the powers to be I had the ability to learn. It was a hard grind but I ended up becoming an engineer. I had no family, the three years prior to my joining the Marines, I had been in the care of ‘Family Services’.
The sea was my life, but now that was about to end. Peter had been a life saver. He gave me his view of his life before he ended up on a cargo ship. He had what I considered a good life, he was brought up with both of his parents and had two sisters, and according to him, the two teased the hell out of him. He grew up in Abbotsville, a city bordering the Everett Mountain Chain. He had extolled the virtues of the city so much that it had me believing it could be my home as well.
My name is Wyatt Witten, currently forty-five. I have never had a serious relationship in my life. Any need for female companionship was the pay-for-time variety.
During my tour at sea, what I earned, I saved. With my numerous pensions and savings, I could live comfortably anywhere I wished to call home. My life possessions were contained in three large suitcases and two duffel bags. My usual shore leaves consisted of renting a cheap motel room and exploring the port where we were docked. I was not a heavy drinker, so a couple of beers would do me. My money was invested, and the returns were reinvested.
My last two leaves were spent with Peter, who as I mentioned, extolled the virtues of the city of Abbotsville where he lived prior to getting involved with the sea. He gave me the number of a school friend of his who happened to be in the real-estate business. Peter told me I could trust him. If he tried to fuck me over, I was just to tell him Peter would be visiting him on his next leave.
My last port of call was San Francisco. I could still see the poor taxi drivers face when he saw my pile of luggage, but he did manage to get it all in the vehicle. Since I didn’t want to pay the surcharges for my luggage on an air flight, I took the train. Three days later, I was in Abbotsville. The taxi driver was very helpful, driving me to a motel, which was cheap and the rooms clean. I slept for twelve hours.
My first challenge was wheels. If I was going to canvas Abbotsville seeking place to stay, I needed wheels. The local paper had numerous ads for used vehicles. But first was a visit to the bank that held my investments. They had a branch on Pine Street. Three hours later, all my accounts and investments were transferred to Abbotsville. I now had access to my funds and could buy a vehicle. It was late, so I decided I would look for wheels, tomorrow.
By eleven the next morning, I was the owner of a 2015 Chevy Avalanche. It had tons of space in the back seat area. The dealership provided a ninety day 100% warranty for the unit. I drove through the city of Abbotsville for the next three hours. Peter was right. It was an interesting and clean city. Tomorrow, I would call his real estate friend.
During dinner and before going to sleep, I mentally attempted to envision what my personal abode would look like. My needs were minimal, as possessed no furniture. My basic requirements, again in my mind, were a kitchen, a sizable four piece bathroom, a large bedroom; and, of course, a living room/game room.
Ralph Gale turned out to be a very personable guy. He emitted the very positive aura, of a true salesman. I introduced myself. When I mentioned Peter’s threat, he burst out in laughter.
“Have you ever seen Peter fight?”
In all the years we were together, not once did he or I ever get into a physical altercation.
“Never. Both of us were moderate drinkers, and usually toured the port we were in together.”
“Well, he couldn’t beat his way out of a wet paper bag. Hell, I can recall numerous times coming to his defense. He was the target for a number of bullies because they knew he would never fight back. As you know, he’s as a strong as an ox. I think he thought he would kill anyone he hit with a full force blow.”
“I know he is strong, he arm wrestled on the ship, he won a number of interesting bets.”
“Mr. Witten how can I help you?”
“I am hoping to put my roots down in Abbotsville. Every time Peter mentioned the word Abbotsville, I could see the longing in his eyes to come home. So I would like your suggestions and leads for a place I can call home.”
“Abbotsville has a large selection of areas, both middle class and what I call affluent. Do you have any idea of what you are looking for?”
“No that is why I was hoping you could give me some ideas.”
“Are you handy with using your hands? Would you be interested in a fixer upper?”
“I was a hands-on engineer, when something needed repairs. I, with the labor crew, were covered with grease and oil, not to mention very smelly diesel fuel. My co-engineers couldn’t believe I would get my hands dirty, the labor factor loved me.”
“That gives me more of an idea what to show you. When to you want to take the tour of what’s available.”
“Anytime you are free.”
“I am free till five tonight, when I have a showing. If that’s good for you let’s get the show on the road.”
Prior to starting our search, Ralph provided me with a large notebook and a pen.
“You can jot down some notes on the units we visit. It will give you something to remind you of the features on each unit. The notes could help you with your comparisons.”
For the next three hours, Ralph showed me five different units. He pointed out the good, and the not so good, on each one. Out of the five, two had promise, and my interest.
“Wyatt, I can show you more, but it may put you in overload, and just cause confusion. We can go out again tomorrow, if you want to see more.”
“That’s a good suggestion. Of the five so far, two have my interest.”
“Wyatt, are you interested in seeing a fixer upper?”
As his car moved towards the centre of Abbotsville, the mode of the homes changed. What I was looking at were homes from the forties and fifties. Some were show places, while others showed a total lack of maintenance. Ralph pulled up in front of a unit that was in need of a lot of tender loving care.
“Wyatt, the reason I’m showing you this unit, is it has lots of potential. It’s on a solid foundation. Come on, and I’ll show you what I mean.”
Ralph took me for a tour of the unit. The interior was a mess, but then Ralph pointed out the actual construction. The mess was superficial, meaning it needed to be repapered, repainted etc. no obvious construction faults.
“The owner has been on my back to get it sold. He inherited it from an aunt he hardly knew. He considers himself one of Abbotsville elite, and really doesn’t want anyone to know he had relatives living in this area. He’s an asshole.”
“What is it listed for?”
“That is the beauty of this unit, he wants it out of his life fast, and five thousand could buy it.”
“Five thousand! You have to be shitting me!”
“Wyatt, I tell you what I am going to do, I will give you the keys and you can have a housing inspector do his thing on the home. Then get back to me. A house inspection will set you back maybe two hundred, but you will know about the construction and the value of the place. Then, if you are interested, I will write up an offer for five thousand dollars and present it.”
At worst I would be out two hundred dollars, but if what Ralph told me was true, how the hell could I lose?
It took me three calls to find a home inspector who was currently available. I gave him the address and met him at three. He grabbed a clip file, a flashlight and a tape. I opened the door and let him in. I waited in the Avalanche. An hour fifteen later, he reappeared. He went to his car and I could see him referring to a number of folders. He obviously had a laptop and a printer. I could see the glow of the screen. Then I watched him grab a number of sheets, slam a staple though them and get out of his car and approach me.
“Mr. Witten, I truthfully was surprised at the construction of the building. Whoever the original builder was, he knew what he was doing. The condition of the building is sound. Hell, it’s better than some of the new units they are building currently. That will be two hundred please.”
I handed him two hundred in cash.
“Could you give me a ball park value of the property based on your experience?”
“With a little elbow grease, I would modestly value it at thirty five thousand, hell if it was in a better neighborhood, it would go for a lot more.”
By four o’clock the next day, I was five thousand dollars poorer, but the proud owner of 49 Hazel Street. Ralph referred me to a lawyer he had used on many closings. Leo Haley was efficient. Prior to completing the documents, he went through a list of items he thought pertinent about purchasing property in Abbotsville.
At five, I was walking through my new property. The first thing I needed was a large dumpster to get rid of all the loose junk and trash in the house and on the lawns. Upstairs, I picked out a bedroom for my personal use. Hell, it needed a lot of TLC, but the view was breathtaking. I could see the majestic Everett Mountain chain rising into the sky. Next I studied the upstairs bathroom. Not being plumber, I wasn’t really sure what I was looking at. I realized it would be worth my while to get some professional opinions and assistance. I called Ralph Gale. If anyone would know the local service people, he would.
He gave me a local internet site that specialized in service referrals. I wrote it down, but realized I had no services at the house. I called the local public utility office, and arranged the transfer for power, water and sewage. They referred me to the local telephone and internet provider. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day, what with all the services being connected. That night at the motel, it took me forever to fall asleep.
My first appointment was at ten, with the city’s power and water representatives. Now with some spare time, I slipped out to Walmart and purchased a Krieg Coffee system. Then I slipped into the local grocery store and purchased a box of coffee pods, milk and a dozen donuts.
By eleven I had power and the water transferred to my name. The water heater was now engaged. I would be able to have my first hot shower at home, even with the bathroom needing a makeover. In the next hour, I had a land line installed, and cable in combination with the internet. Hell, I was ‘cooking with gas.’ I felt good. Now, with a coffee in hand, I picked up an old chair from the kitchen and sat out on the porch. I was watching the world go by. That was the first time I saw her.
Her you ask, what her?
I wasn’t really sure if I was looking at a woman or a girl. The clothes she was wearing didn’t reveal any real clues or even if she was female. She was pulling a wagon and stopping to inspect everything on the curb. If she found something of interest, she put in the wagon. I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Over the next three days, I managed to locate a local plumber, an electrician, and a painter. Over the next three weeks my new house went through a makeover. Shit, with all the new furniture, it looked good enough to be shown in ‘Homes and Gardens.’ I was proud of the final results.
During the repairs, I did see the lady/girl pulling her wagon every day. She stopped at all items, inspected them, and took what she considered of value. It had me wondering! I was enlightened after talking to my neighbor. His name was Frank McLaren. It was a horrific story.
The lady’s name was Vassy Skon. She was twenty-one. Three years ago she witnessed her boyfriend being blown apart in a drive-by shooting. Two local low lifes targeted the wrong person. Using shotguns, they hit him with six rounds of shotgun slugs. The slugs tore his body apart like he exploded. Since then, Vassy had been living in another world. She had been to all kinds of specialists, but nobody could get through to her. She lived with her parents, who were devastated by what had happened to their daughter. From that day forward, I looked for Vassy. Actually, I placed items on the curb for her to find. Frank told me she was on a small disability pension and looked for returnable bottles and cans to provide her with a little spending money. Something in her mind had her look for supplemental earnings. As far as Frank knew, she hadn’t spoken to anyone since the incident, not even the health care professionals.
Every day she came by. I placed items of interest on the curb, mainly bottles and cans with deposits on them. Then I started to leave treats, prewrapped cookies, a can of cola, etc. She grabbed all of them. It had me wondering if I could get through to her. Hell, who was I kidding, I had no such skills.
Over the last couple of weeks, there were major changes to the house, I contracted a new kitchen. A neighbor lady with good taste redid my bedroom, and arranged to purchase new furniture. My kitchen and my living room/game room had been redone as well. I had her look into the spare bedroom, and asked her for suggestions. The natural gas company cleaned the furnace and air-conditioning unit. I had a very comfortable home. It made me feel good.
Halloween was in two months, and all retail outlets had reams of Halloween items. So I stocked up on treats and costumes items, like masks, and a couple of shirts. The first time I left a mask on the curb; Vassy actually stopped, removed her head gear, and put the mask on. It was the first time I had been able to see her face. Her hair was scraggy blond and a mess, but there was no way for her to distort her real beauty. She had beautiful soft skin, striking blue eyes and trimmed eyebrows. She or someone had completed that task, I wondered it something in her mind told her to continue to apply her makeup. Even from this distance, it was obvious she was covering something wonderful under all the shitty clothing she wore. I was still hell bent to see if I could get through to her.
The next day I left a container of ‘eye liner’. I really don’t know what you call the containers, there has to be thousands of varieties. I had no idea if it was the correct shade or color, fortunately most men don’t have that problem. Since it was close to Halloween, I added some treats. I left them on the curb in a zip lock bag, and waited to watch as she approached pulling her wagon. I wasn’t disappointed. She noticed it, stopped, and picked it up. I watched her carefully open the zip lock and remove the liner, leaving the treats in the bag. Something was telling her to be careful opening the zip lock. How could I take advantage of that spark to get through to her?
Over the next three weeks, I left a gambit of personal care items and some Halloween candy. Each one Vassy carefully picked up from the curb, and examined. Then placed it in her wagon and continued on. Until one day she shocked the hell out of me.
I had been watching her reactions to her new finds. It made me feel good knowing I was able to reach a very small part of her with the small gifts. Today she surprised me. After picking up a small jar of cold cream, she actually turned and looked at me; not with faraway looking eyes, but direct eye contact. I could feel she had made a connection, but what did it mean? Another surprise. She was walking towards me. The next shock was when she spoke.
“Thank you for all the items.”
All kinds of things were running through my mind! How did she connect me with items on the curb? She had never demonstrated any feelings towards me or others since the loss of her boyfriend. Close up, her face was what I imagined, beautiful, and her blue eyes seemed to glow.
“You’re welcome. How are you, today?”
I was at a loss for words, what should I say?
“I am fine. Do you live here?”
Something had definitely changed, we were having a conversation.
“Yes, I bought the home a couple of months ago. I have had most of it refurbished. I like it.”
“I can remember when it was all run down. When Mrs. Paul passed away, nobody came to live in it. I used to stop by and talk with her. She was a great person.”
Vassy was carrying on a conversation! She was remembering things! What the hell was I supposed to do? This had to be a breakthrough!
“You remember the house? Would you like to see what the changes look like?”
“Yes, I would. I had many happy conversations with Mrs. Paul.”
“By the way, my name is Wyatt Witten, and you?”
“Sorry. I should have introduced myself. I am Vassy Skon. I live four houses down from here.”