Rough and Ready

by papatoad

Copyright© 2009 by papatoad

Romantic Story: His wife ran off with another man, leaving him with two sons to raise. They were not expecting a blond goddess to appear in the middle of a snow storm and rescue them, or did they rescue her?

Tags: Ma/Fa   Romantic   Cheating   Slow  

Thanks to the Hip and Knee doctor for editing assistance

Parkour - An activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as efficiently and quickly as possible.

It had been a long year for Tracey McMann. Up until twelve months ago, everything had been fine. Then she turned thirty, and the responsibilities of life began to overwhelm her. She missed her life as a professional student. She missed Grant's Pass and she hated San Francisco. That was almost an oxymoron; nobody hated San Francisco. Actually, it wasn't the city she hated, but the role she had to play in the city.

When Travis McMann died five years ago, Tracey was crushed. She had lost her mother when she was five, to the big C, and when her father had his heart attack, she felt deserted. Without her Uncle Tanner, Tracey would have been totally lost.

Travis McMann was a wealthy man. His money came from the company that he and Tanner started over thirty years ago. It was an odd company because it really had no primary function or purpose. Tanner and Travis, started picking up small independent businesses that performed specialized customer services. They had managers to run them, or franchised them out to entrepreneurs. They owned transmission shops, fast food restaurants, paint and body shops, and a dozen other similar mismatched enterprises. Because they were extremely clever, the brothers were able to generate revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars every year from this hodge-podge.

When Travis died, Tanner was left with the responsibility of running the entire show. Tanner was more of a hands-on, guy than Travis. He enjoyed the fieldwork, but hated the business side of things.

He reluctantly took over the reins of the company with the agreement that Tracey would assume that spot when she turned thirty. At that point, Tanner would retire. He was a hard-nosed bastard and would not be missed.

Tracey was in the fourth year of getting her Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Oregon, when she got the word. Up until that time, all she wanted to do was paint and draw. She never ran out of creative ideas and loved art.

Although she owned twenty-six percent of the McMann Enterprise, she was only living off the interest from the twenty-eight million dollars annuity her father had set up for her. She had no trouble getting comfortable on twelve thousand dollars a month. In fact, being as thrifty as her father, she was putting over half of her income away every month. She did not need, or appreciate, the aggravation of running a business, especially the one that had been thrust upon her.

McMann Enterprises rented the tenth floor of the Bank Of American building. Most of the business was paper work. That meant computers and people to operate them. As the CEO, Tracey supervised a board of eight men. These eight men made almost all of the decisions necessary for the company to function. Apparently Tracey's job was to rubber stamp everything that was presented to her. Things seemed to be operating satisfactory, up until a few months ago.

The board was composed of seven men and one woman. Andrea Stiles was in charge of the personnel department, but seemed to be more interested in Tracey than she was in the position. Tracey was flattered by the interest, but would have preferred than Andrea paid more attention to the job. Todd Werner was younger than Tracey, and was in charge of the computers systems in the main company headquarters and at the individual business locations. Tracey liked Todd, and felt that he was the only one of the bunch who she could trust. Unlike Andrea, Todd had absolutely no interest in Tracey. Tracey liked that as well.

The other six board members were old men, who had been there forever. They did not hide the fact that they resented Tracey sitting in the chairman's seat. All six of them felt they were better qualified than she was, and that they deserved the seat more than she did. Their self appointed spokesman was Darien Tremble. Tracey had no idea how Andrea fit in with the old codgers, but she could tell that Todd was not one of the chosen.

Weekends were the only thing that kept her sane. All of her spare time in Oregon was spent in strenuous outdoor endeavors. Between mountain biking, rock climbing, and parkour, Tracey had little free time. She did go on a few occasional dates, and had a few discrete sex partners, but never anything serious. Here in San Francisco, she found her desire to exercise a little more difficult to accomplish. Urban parkour was a little harsher than what she was used to, and the surroundings a little less pleasant, but it kept her in shape.

Three blocks from the office was the Heritage Bike Shop, run by Tiny Morgan. Tracey wandered in one day when she was bored out of her mind at work. It was a good-sized place, especially for the downtown area. Property values there were out of sight. Most of the bikes were old Harley's and Indian's. There was a Vincent Black Shadow sitting aside of an Aerial Square Four, and some vintage BMW's. It was almost like a museum. Tracey had learned to ride years before, on a Honda Rebel 250, so she was attracted to the small selection of low riders sitting on the side of the shop. Most of the shoppers were interested in the bigger machines, but Tracey thought the 883 Sportsters were perfect.

A week later a pretty black Harley was parked right beside her 1980 RX7 in the condo basement. She hardly ever used the Mazda, preferring to take cabs or cable cars in the city. She rode her bike every weekend.

Tracey rented the condo because it was close to Japantown and just a block from the cable car line. She could get all the sushi she wanted and had easy transportation, to and from work. The area around Japantown was ideal for her parkour. She always got up early, worked out, and then showered before leaving for work. As she stood in front of the mirror, with the hair dryer blasting away, she made a mental note to look into changing her hairstyle. Long blonde hair was attractive to men, and a lot of women, but it was a pain in the butt to keep looking good. Since she wasn't looking for any type of relationship, getting a short boyish bob seemed like the sensible thing to do. She was almost six feet tall and most of that seemed to be her legs. The biking and the running left her lean, without an ounce of body fat. She needed a good rural place to run and parkour. She missed Oregon.

After her hair was dry, things went quickly. The natural look was easy to pull off, if you looked good naturally. Cotton sports underwear was always comfortable. There was an obvious absence of silk, or nylon and lace from her lingerie drawer.

She finished a glass of orange juice and half of a honeydew melon, before leaving the apartment. Skipping the first floor, Tracey went straight to the basement garage, so she could check on a pesky oil leak on the Sporty before leaving for work. It was still dripping, so a trip to the shop would be necessary, before the end of the week. Five minutes later, she was going down California Street, toward the cable car.

As soon as she stepped off the cable car, Todd Warner grabbed her arm.

"This way, hurry. Damn it, Miss McMann, move it."

It was obvious that Todd had something serious on his mind. She decided it would be prudent to see what was so urgent. Todd was normally level headed and serious, at all times. What he was doing was against his nature, so she figured it must be important. The Stardust Coffee Shop was jammed at the counter, but the back was clear. Most of the early customers were getting their caffeine fix to go.

"Okay, are we safe now? Do you want to tell me what the hell is going on Todd?"

"It's Tremble. He got an injunction or something to have you removed as Chairman of the Board. He and his cronies have rounded up enough stock, to out-vote you, and take over the company. They had legal papers drawn up declaring you incompetent. There are servers waiting at each of the four entry doors, as well as the parking garage entry. There is no way you can get in. They had one at your home this morning also. How did you miss him?"

"I went out through the parking garage in the back of the condo. What happens when they give me the papers?"

"That means that you have been officially notified. You will have to go to court and spend years and millions of dollars to get it undone. By that time it will be too late."

"Too late for what?"

"They are planning on selling the company off, piece by piece. Some of the board members are actually going to take over sections of it. I believe Tremble is going to keep all the transmission shops for his own."

"How much stock do they have?"

"I am not sure but I heard the figure thirty one percent mentioned several times."

"They are probably right, Todd. I am incompetent. I'm not qualified to run the damn company. I figured that I would let them continue to run it and I would stay on as a figurehead. I never expected them to stab me in the back."

"Maybe your aren't experienced enough to run the company, but you are fair and honest. I can't say that about them."

"What happens if they don't serve me the papers?"

"You are still in charge, even though you are not here. They can't get you out, until they serve you."

"Will that stop them from breaking up the company?"

"I am not a corporate lawyer, but I think so."

"I want you to find a lawyer that can draw up some papers that will protect the company's interests. Do it as soon as possible. Give me your cell number. I will call you as soon as I can and tell you where to bring the papers, so I can sign them. I want all major decisions put on hold until I return. Can we do something like that?"

"Damn it, Tracey, I am not a lawyer. All I can do is try."

Todd had never called her by her first name before. Under the circumstances, she didn't mind. He gave her his business card and wrote his cell phone number on the back.

"Do you have any cash, Todd?"

"About three hundred dollars."

Todd gave Tracey the cash, and she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. Todd left by the front door and Tracey went out the back.

The Heritage Bike Shop was not open for business yet, but Tracey knew that Tiny slept there. After enduring a few minutes of persistent banging, Tiny reluctantly opened the door. He was rewarded with a large cup of straight black coffee, no fancy frappacinos for Tiny.

"What the hell are you doing here at this hour?"

"I need a big favor, Tiny."

"Have I ever denied you anything?"

"I can't go home. I need to borrow a Sporty, a twelve hundred, if you have it. I need boots and leathers."

"Wow, a beautiful lady in desperate need. What could be sexier than that? Help yourself to whatever you can find in this haberdashery. I'll see if I can get a bike ready for you. Any color preference?" Tiny couldn't help cracking a little laugh at the whole situation. He knew Tracey's position and had no worries about being repaid. Being on Tracey's good side could have its benefits. Tiny wasn't dumb. Tracey ignored his color joke.

From across the room, Tracey heard Tiny yell. "A destination might be of help in making choices. Can you give me one?"

"Did you ever hear of Rough and Ready?"

"Been there and done that."

"Will that help?"

"At this time of year, you will need long-johns under the leathers and some good gloves. I think I got a bike with a half windshield that will also help. Don't forget the long johns.

Under the circumstances, modesty was not a factor. Tracey pulled the quilted long johns on right in the showroom. She found some leathers that fit looser than she would have normally picked, but she was expecting a long ride. Comfort was more important than style. She chose her boots the same way, along with some heavy wool socks.

Tiny was wheeling a red Sportster with a half windshield across the floor. "This is the best I can do right now. Your legs might get a little cold, but it will help out the top part. You might do better with one of the Gold Wings over there."

"No thanks, this will be fine. Can you help me pick out a jacket and some gloves? Why do I need all this gear, anyhow?"

"Your timing sucks, lady. There is a whole bunch of snow coming in over the Sierras today. By this evening, it will be down to the foothills. You will be fine until you get past Sacramento, but after that, anything could happen. Grass Valley and Nevada City both get snowed in pretty often, and Rough and Ready is right next-door. Are you sure you wouldn't rather go someplace else?"

"Sorry Tiny, but that is where I have to go."

"How about a car or a truck? I can lend you mine."

"That's no damn fun, is it?"

Tiny gave directions that were a little oversimplified, but workable. He said to go to Auburn and turn North. The first couple of hours were fine. She decided to stop for lunch at Sacramento. At this point, the long johns seemed like a bit of overkill. The highway speed helped to cool things down a little, but she was still a little warm. The gloves and goggles were safe in her pockets and it looked like they would not even be necessary.

Tom Henderson had just finished tying his ex-wife's up-right piano to the utility trailer. Things were tight and the money he could get for the piano would help out. There wasn't a whole lot of stuff left he that could sell after this.

"Let's go guys. We have to get on the way, if we are going to beat the storm."

Two young boys came out of the house. The setting was beautiful, but the house itself, left a lot to be desired. If you really stretched, you could call it a mountain cabin, but in reality it was more like a shack in the woods. The best thing was that it didn't have a mortgage. Bradley was sixteen and his brother Greg was thirteen. They actually let school out at noon, because of the pending storm. It didn't seem that ominous at the moment, but they were hard to predict.

"After we get this thing delivered, we can stop and have supper at The Pit."

The Jeep Cherokee had no trouble pulling the trailer, but the piano made it tipsy on the gravel road. Tom took his time until he hit the macadam. It wasn't a long drive from Nevada City to Roseville, but he didn't want to take any chances on losing the piano, now that he had it sold.

Tom Henderson had finished three new stories, as part of his series of children's books. Unfortunately, they lacked the necessary illustrations. His publisher was withholding any further advances, until the illustrations were finished. All of the artists Tom contacted for assistance, demanded payment up front. That was out of the question.

Tom's wife, Anne, normally did the pastel-like drawings that accompanied the stories, but her unexpected departure left him high and dry. The only income the family had came from Tom's creative efforts. Luckily he had residuals coming in from the earlier books he had written.

It was two years since Anne had left. The only explanation Tom got was a note on the dining room table, and the divorce papers that came from Reno several months later. The note simply said that she had found someone else, an Airman from Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville, and would not be coming back. She went with him when he got transferred. The divorce papers said he was no longer married. Tom had suspected something for almost a year, but hoped it wasn't so. It was difficult to explain to the boys, since he had no idea why it happened. Husbands are always the last to know.

The six hundred dollars coming from the piano sale would buy a month worth of food and pay all the back utility bills. Anything else would have to wait.

Tom was relieved when the upright was finally in place at its new home. He couldn't have done it without the help of the boys. The snow was coming down in big wet flakes, before they hit Auburn, on the drive home. He was glad to get off the interstate because the empty trailer had a tendency to bounce around at high speeds. Under the circumstances it probably would have been better to continue until they got home, but he had promised the boys supper at The Pit. The Pit was a special occasion, because the New York Strips weren't cheap. Bradley and Greg really enjoyed cooking their own steaks over the open fire. It was worth the extra money as far as Tom was concerned.

When the meat was finally charred to perfection, the guys got to sit and eat by the front window. They watched the snow get heavier and the wind get stronger. Greg was the first to see the motorcycle come out of the white swirls, and pull up to the building. The entire front end of the cycle and the rider were covered in frozen, white snow. Two minutes later, they watched the shoulder length blonde hair fall down as Tracey removed her helmet. She stood in the doorway dripping snow onto the brick entrance floor, while the hostess handed her a towel.

Bradley and Greg thought it was the coolest thing they ever saw. Tom just saw a beautiful girl who needed a hot cup of coffee. A few minutes later, she had the coffee and a hamburger to go with it. Although she had brushed herself off quite well, she was still dripping on the floor. Her cheeks were bright red, even though she had been wearing a full-face helmet.

"What is wrong, Bradley?"

"She just smiled at me."

"Yeah. In your dreams." It was obvious that Greg did not believe his brother.

"Were you staring at her?"

Bradley squirmed a little in his seat. "It's sort of hard not to stare at her. She is definitely hot."

"Well try and control yourself. It is definitely rude."

Tom was fully aware of what his oldest son was attracted to. He had been able to sneak in a few glances of his own between bites of steak. She was hot, just as Bradley said. The kind of girl that boys dream about, before they fall asleep at night. The kind of a girl that a middle aged man knows he can never enjoy the company of. Maybe it was the leather.

The snow seemed to be getting worse. Eventually, Tom and the boys would have to bite the bullet and go the last twenty miles to get home. The four-wheel drive would help, but it would still be rough.

The vote to get dessert was unanimous, but before they could finish, they were pleasantly interrupted.

"Excuse me. The waitress said that the trailer out front belonged to you." The tall blonde in the leathers was standing at the table. They never saw her approach.

Tom found himself to be a little tongue-tied, but he was able to muster a weak yes.

"I need a favor. I have to get to a motel for the night, but I am afraid I can't do any more on the bike. I noticed that your trailer is empty and I was hoping you could give me a lift to the nearest motel. The motorcycle does not belong to me, and I don't feel comfortable leaving it here."

"We are headed towards Grass Valley. There are two motels there. I don't see any reason why we can't give you a lift."

"I would really appreciate that. By the way, I already paid your tab."

"What if I had turned you down?"

"Never happen."

The boys were beaming ear to ear. "We can load it for you." Bradley held out his hand, and his dream girl handed him the keys.

"Tie it tight to the front rail, guys. And use all of the bungee cords and tie downs." Tom knew they didn't need any instructions. They had loaded and unloaded their dirt bikes dozens of times over the last year. The only difference was that the Harley was a lot heavier.

She sat down at the table across from Tom. "My name is Tracey. I am afraid I picked a bad time to visit my uncle." She held out her hand, which was an unusual thing for a woman to do, Tom thought.

"Tom, Tom Henderson. The older boy is Bradley, and the younger one is Greg. I apologize for Bradley staring at you earlier."

"That's Okay. I thought I caught you looking also."

"You were quite a sight, all covered in snow and ice. I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. It wasn't my intent."

"Oh no. It was a good thing. Any discomfort you had, gave me leverage, so that I could get you to help me. I am devious that way."

Tom couldn't help but to smile at the brassiness of his table guest. The waitress brought two coffees and they sat, silently, watching the two boys load the cycle on the trailer, as if they had done it a hundred times before. It was equipped to carry dirt bikes and ATV's, so getting the small Harley fastened down was a breeze. Ten minutes later, the two boys came in, and Bradley returned the keys to Tracey. He seemed proud of himself and the lady in distress noticed.

"Okay Bradley. Now get the Jeep warmed up so we can get out of here."

By the time Tom and Tracey got out to the car, Greg had all the snow cleared from the windows, and the inside was starting to get warm. Tracey gave the bike tie downs a quick visual check, before settling down in the shotgun seat. She held her helmet on her lap with the goggles and gloves inside.

For the most part, the roads in this area were usually clear, so there were no teams of snowplows available. By noon tomorrow it would all be gone, except for small patches that lay in the perpetual shaded areas. Tom kept his speed down and avoided braking, the best he could. Just as he expected, both motels had 'No Vacancy' signs flashing out front.

Tom pulled over to the side of the road. The snow was still coming down, a bit slower but the flakes were larger. "Where were you trying to get to?"

"I have an Uncle in Rough and Ready. I don't exactly know where his place is, and I am not even sure he is there. In fact, I don't even have his phone number. I figured somebody up there could help me find him."

"Well Rough and Ready is about four miles West of here, and our place is four miles East of here, in Nevada City. Under the circumstances, I think it will be better to go to our place. We have plenty of room and you would be more than welcome. Tomorrow, or the next day, we can help you find your uncle."

"Are you sure I wouldn't be imposing? Will your wife mind?"

"No wife to worry about. I even think we might have some dry clothes for you."

Tom couldn't help but notice that his sons were both sporting big grins. Suddenly he realized that he was smiling also. His guest also noticed.

Ten minutes later, Tracey was watching her host make coffee in his rustic cabin. It wasn't rustic in a romantic way, but it was cozy. She was trying to clean herself up a little, without making too big a mess on the large, hand knitted, rag-rug. Her socks were wet, so she slipped them off and laid them over the boots she had set by the door. By that time, Tom had got the hot coals in the fireplace started again, and small flickers of fire were starting to rise up. She moved closer to wait for the impending warmth to come. The lack of conversation between the two of them was just starting to become noticeable, when the door burst open.

"Your bike is in the shed." Bradley seemed proud of himself. It appeared that he wanted to say more, but couldn't think of anything. Tracey was pleasantly amused by his discomfort. Both boys shed their jackets and left their boots by the door, before coming up to the fireplace.

"I got some milk warming up for cocoa. Why don't you go see if you can dig out some dry clothes for our guest? There should be some sweats, or something like that, in the green trunk in the attic." It was the first thing Tom had said since they entered the cabin. "Find some slippers or warm socks too."

There was no hesitation, as the boys raced to the area off the master bedroom that was used for storage. "What would you like first: hot coffee or a hot shower?"

"The shower wins, hands down. I think I'll enjoy the coffee more, after I get warmed up."

The water was hot and Tracey enjoyed it for far longer than usual. The last part of her trip was rough, and she was just starting to feel it. The steaming warmth made everything better. As she stepped out of the shower, she noticed that all of her clothing was gone. It had been replaced with a set of olive-green sweats, and some wool socks. On top of an oversized towel was a no frills hair dryer. She felt bad about monopolizing the bathroom, but it seemed to take forever for her hair to get dry. She appreciated the attention and was glad that they had not offered any used underwear to go with the other items. The sweat pants were a little short, but they did the job.

Bradley and Greg insisted that Tracey sit on the couch, between them. Tom had a mug of fresh coffee in her hands, before she got settled.

"Your clothing is in the washer. It should be dried and ready to wear within the hour. Sorry for sneaking them out of the bathroom while you were in there, but it seemed like the practical thing to do, under the circumstances. I didn't know what to do with the leather stuff, so I just hung them over some chairs."

For the next two hours, Tracey was bombarded with questions from Bradley and Greg. Where did she come from? Where was she going? Was she married? How long was she going to stay? How old was she? Why wasn't she married? It seemed to go on forever, but in a good way. It was like playing a game of twenty questions. Tracey was able to get in a few questions of her own, mostly directed at the boys, but some of them geared to give her a clue or insight into her host. She carefully avoided asking about the boy's mother. Tom sat to the side, watching the game, but not participating.

"Okay. Guys. That's enough of the interrogation. Get ready for bed and give the poor lady a break."

Reluctantly, they started to leave the room. "One last question - how do you like your eggs?" Bradley was beaming.

"I usually have fruit for breakfast, but if all you have is eggs, then scrambled is fine."

With the lads gone, the atmosphere in the room became a little more casual. Tom took the empty cup from Tracey. "This is the last of it. Should I make more?"

"Not on my account. I had plenty, and to be honest, I think I am ready for bed myself."

The dryer had long finished its job, so Tom carefully folded the cotton undergarments, long johns, and socks, and placed them beside her on the couch. "We can find some more appropriate clothes in the morning. It's my wife's old stuff, but some of it should fit you, if you don't mind wearing used stuff."

"I take it from the sweat pants, that she wasn't very tall."

Tom just smiled at her remark, and led her down the short hallway to the master bedroom. "I'll take the sofa. You need the bed after that ride." Tracey was in no mood to argue the point with him. She smiled, said "good night.", and closed the door.

It always feels odd to wake up in an unfamiliar house. Tracey felt the dampness and the lost heat as she got out of bed. A musty smell lingered, which cams from the remains of the fire that died out sometime in the middle of the night. The familiar aroma of freshly brewed coffee quickly replaced the other, less pleasant ones. The first thing she noticed as she entered the living room was the new fire starting up on top of the dead coals in the fireplace. The next thing, was the smiling faces of the three male bodies sitting at the pine slab kitchen table. She felt slightly embarrassed at the attention, but also a little flattered.

Tom put down a mug of coffee as Bradley placed half of a cantaloupe in front of the seat that had apparently been designated as the one she was supposed to use.

"Good Morning." The sound came in unison from all three of them.

Tracey smiled and nodded to the group. "The melon is nice. I wasn't expecting it."

"Bradley was up early and went down to the market to get it. He also got a honeydew just in case." Tom looked a little different this morning. The five o'clock shadow was gone and the flannel shirt looked new or at least freshly ironed.

"I didn't think the stores would be open this early."

Bradley jumped into the conversation with a little juvenile pride. "They weren't open, but I went in the back with the milk delivery man. Mister Springer let me have the melons when I told him it was a special occasion."

"Very clever and I appreciate it."

"I wiped down your Harley. I got all the slush out of the spokes and blew everything clean with the air gun. It's ready to go, if you need it." Greg seemed happy to have something to contribute to the seduction scene.

Tracey was just getting a start on her breakfast when the school bus let out a short blast. They each grabbed a knapsack and as they headed out the door, Bradley turned. "You are going to be here when we get home aren't you?"

She just smiled and nodded in the affirmative.

After the boys left, Tracey and Tom found themselves sitting in silence. Tom was having an English muffin with honey on it. Tracey was smiling to herself, amused at her host's mild discomfort. She didn't want to appear forward or aggressive, but felt it was necessary to say something to put him at ease.

"Did you say that you might have some more appropriate clothing for me? I am not too anxious to put that leather stuff back on."

"No problem. I assume you won't mind wearing something used. It belonged to my wife. Some of it might fit, but as you said, she was a good bit shorter than you are. I washed it before I packed it away, so it is all clean."

There was an attic/storage room combination off the master bedroom. It was unheated, but dry. Tom showed her the two large steamer trucks, and left her alone to root though them. Twenty minutes later, Tracey had an armload of miscellaneous items that she felt she could be comfortable with. Tom seemed pleased that she had been able to find anything at all. All she needed now was some practical shoes that fit.

The snow was already starting to melt. It would only take a couple of hours and all that would be left were small patches that were in the areas that got no sun.

"Tracey, I don't know your last name, and I don't feel that I know you well enough to use your first name. What would you prefer to be called?"

"Tracey is fine. My last name is McMann."

"Okay, Tracey it is. I answer to Tom."

"Tom, I really appreciate all that you and the boys have done, but it's time for me to move on. I'll get these clothes back to you as soon as I can. Right now I need to find a place to stay."

"We can take the jeep downtown and see what is available, and pick up some shoes at the same time." Tom didn't really want her to go. Anne's clothing covered Tracey's body, but that was all you could say. Even though she looked a little like a bag lady, Tom thought she was still pretty cute. Cute was not a good word to describe her, but it was a word that Tom wanted to fit. If he thought of Tracey as gorgeous or beautiful, he would be too intimidated to even talk to her. She had to be cute. That was the only thing that would work for now.

The sun was bright and the sky was clear as they walked to the car. It was quite a contrast from the previous day. The bell-bottom jeans that Tracey wore were a little short, but since the waist was a little large, it evened out. Luckily, the sweater covered her exposed mid-section. Not that there was anything wrong with her torso, but she felt better not showing it to the world. She was looking forward to getting a replacement for the biker boots.

It was only a short drive to town. "Are you sure you wouldn't be better off staying with us? The boys and I would love to have the company."

Tracey had to admit that she felt comfortable with the Henderson brood, but staying there any longer might get complicated. She smiled at the offer Tom made while she was trying to think of a graceful way to turn him down. The big problem was, that she wasn't really sure that she wanted to refuse.

"I'll make a deal with you. If I can't find my Uncle, or he is not available, I'll consider staying with you guys a while longer."

Things were quiet for a few minutes. "I might be a while picking up a few things. Could you drive down to Rough and Ready, in the mean time, and see if anyone knows where Tanner might be?"

"Do you have an address or phone number?"

"I have nothing except his name, Tanner McMann, and that it is somewhere in the Rough and Ready area."

"Oh look, Tom! Can you drop me off there?" The building was old, but the sign out front was new. 'Sierra Outfitters' was just what Tracey was hoping to find.

"Are you sure? The boys and I went in there right after it opened. They have good stuff, but it is expensive as hell. Some guy from San Francisco took over the building about six months ago."

As she jumped out of the Jeep, Tom waved and yelled. "I'll be back in about an hour. Is that Okay?"

"Make it two."

The store was perfect. It was Cabela's mixed with Land's End. Tracey was going to be right at home. The selection was small, but exactly what she needed.

"Good morning. Can I help you?" There was no doubt in Tracey's mind: that this guy was from San Francisco. She wasn't the type of person that stereotyped anyone, but this was obvious, and a pleasant surprise. She would not have to endure the discomfort of having to deal with a patronizing gawker.

"I think I need a cart."

"Hi. I'm Lance and I am your personal cart." He held out his arms and smiled, but not in a smart way.

She liked Lance, but didn't believe it was his real name. Nobody would name his or her kid Lance. "Okay, lets get started. First of all, I need some parkour shoes."

"I have a nice selection of Ariake's on the side wall. I am sure we will be able to find something that will work for you."

That was the beginning of a great shopping spree. By the time the two hours was up, Tracey had accumulated an impressive pile of goodies. She had a complete wardrobe and a few extra items that she could not resist. During that time, she got Lance to admit that his real name was Brian.

He moved from the city when his mother had a stroke. Brian had a partner who was a practical nurse and was helping with her, while Brian ran the store. He missed the lifestyle he had to leave behind, but he was glad to be home.

The bill came to over four thousand dollars. Good stuff costs money. Tracey was pulling out her American Express Card, when she had a sudden fear. If there were somebody looking for her, they would definitely have a way of tracking her credit card usage. She paused for a moment before handing the card over.

"Is there a problem, Miss McMann?"

"You know who I am? Why didn't you say something?"

"I didn't think it was necessary or appropriate. If something is wrong I would be glad to help."

The offer to help was appreciated, but Tracey couldn't actually pin down the type of help she needed. She noticed Tom parking the jeep and now felt forced to come up with a quick solution. Before she could say anything, Brian spoke up. "You don't have to pay for these things right now. Take them with you and pay me when it is convenient.

"Are you sure?"

"Miss McMann, I have no doubt that you will be good for the merchandise.

"Are you about done?" Tom wasn't being pushy or being a smart-ass. The inquiry was presented in a humorous way, as he looked at the large pile of packages. Brian and Tom nodded to each other, but said nothing.

"Would you mind taking these to the car while I pay for them?"

""No problem." Tom grabbed an armload, but it was going to take him several trips. When he was out of earshot, Tracey took a piece of paper and wrote down a number for Brian. "Call this guy in San Francisco and have him bring you ten thousand dollars in cash as soon as possible. I'll pick it up here at the store. Don't mention my name. It won't be necessary. Please, don't tell anyone that you saw me."

Brian smiled at the intrigue of the whole situation. He was flattered that Tracey McMann would trust him with the task.

As she turned to pick up some bundles, Brian handed her a business card. "I am not trying to butt into your business, but if you are trying to stay incognito, I suggest a new hair style and dye job." The card was for a beauty shop nearby. "Discretion is guaranteed." He added.

Tracey nodded a silent 'thank you' as she and Tom exited with the last of the bags.

"I am sorry, but I got carried away. Your wife's things were nice enough, but these will fit and feel better. I would also feel bad if what I was wearing reminded you of her."

Tom had found the house where Tanner McMann lived. He was on a weeklong trip to Mount Shasta, fishing for brook trout. Tanner loved the mountains and catching native brookies was a challenge that he thrived on. Tom got his information from the housekeeper, but he wasn't sure if she was being straight with him. After a couple of burgers, they drove to Rough and Ready, so that Tracey could see for herself.

Tom parked on a seemingly deserted section of the road. On the right side, about 100 yards away, on top of an uphill slope was a large stone lodge. It was partially hidden by a grove of pine trees. The driveway leading up the hill was graveled and grown over. It was not inhospitable, but it wasn't open to the world either. As they approached the house, it seemed to grow larger. It was definitely bigger than a single old man needed. Tracey smiled at the ambience that seemed to contradict everything else she knew about Uncle Tanner. It was a beautiful house.

Before they reached the front porch, the door opened and a middle aged lady emerged. She had on jeans and a flannel shirt, which didn't seemed to go with her gray hair and hefty body.

"Well, I declare. If it isn't Tracey McMann. Tanner will be excited to see you."

Tracey had no idea who this woman was, and was still trying to figure it out as they were escorted into the main room. "My friend tells me that Tanner is not here. Do you have any idea when he will be back?"

"Sit! Would you like something to drink?" The furniture was all made out of pine logs with multi-colored cushions. Indian blankets were hung on the walls, like pictures. It looked like the inside of a Bonanza movie set. It was Tanner all the way. Tracey and Tom both shook their heads 'no' to the drink offer.

"I am sorry. I did not introduce myself. I am Sarah, Sarah Weiser. I guess you could say I am Tanners life partner."

"Life partner?"

Sarah let out a little laugh and looked a little embarrassed at Tracey's attempt to get her to explain her relationship with her Uncle.

"It's a complicated story. Lets just say that I cook, clean house, do laundry, and provide companionship in exchange for room and board."

Tracey quickly realized what the situation was and found it humorous. She was happy for Tanner and it looked like she should be happy for his new playmate also.

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