Thanks to the Hip and Knee doctor for editing assistance.
There was no doubt that I was going to miss my hobby-bench more than anything else. It was my sanctuary. The place that I could always come to when my soul needed healing. There was nothing wrong with my soul, it just seems like an interesting way to indicate that there was a degree of unhappiness in my life. Somewhere along the line, things fell apart. There was no specific time that I can pinpoint, because it came so gradually.
I am pretty handy about the house. I can fix almost anything. I hate to call in a repair man to do a simple task and pay him almost a whole day of my wages for a couple of hours of his time. Most of the time they do a shitty job anyhow. What I can't fix is my marriage.
The best way that I can explain it is to compare it to a fine piece of china. You can glue a broken plate back together, but it is never like the original. Once the marriage is broken, it can be repaired, but never returned to its original condition. I didn't want a repaired, broken plate.
After eighteen years of marriage, my wife, Tracey, decided that she wanted to experience other men; well at least one that I know about. By the time that I found out, it was too late to keep the plate from getting broken.
Being a little slow when it comes to relationships, I had assumed that things were fine. We married right out of high school and immediately had a daughter named Carly. Complications meant that there would be no more, but we were happy with what we had.
My job, as an auto body man, paid well, but there was no real future to it. I could always open up my own shop, but I never had a desire to own a business. Things were fine as long as the money was adequate. Tracey spent the evening taking night classes at the local community college. She was a little more ambitious than I was; actually a lot more ambitious.
When Carly started school, Tracey started to work. The extra money was nice and her job never seemed to affect our family life, except for the better.
With two incomes we were able to scrape up enough money to buy a small house. It was in a nice neighborhood and there was never any desire to move up to a bigger or better place. Everyone seemed happy for years.
Tracey never wasted money on frivolous things. She did dress and groom well, but always watched what she spent. My wardrobe expenses were usually limited to jeans and flannel shirts. She cleaned up well, but I always looked a little unkempt. I guess it was my bushy eyebrows and long hair. I wore my hair in a pony tail. I wasn't a want-to-be hippy or biker, I just liked my hair that way. Nobody ever teased me about it, because I had enough body bulk to intimidate them if necessary. There was only one downside to my grooming habits; sometimes I felt that Tracey was a little embarrassed when we went out. She never said anything, but I always felt it.
As Carly grew, Tracey started to spend more time at work. She was becoming quite the expert on the insurance claims business. She enjoyed her work because she was good at it. It wasn't long until she was bringing home more money than I was. I noticed it, but neither of us ever commented on it.
By the time Carly was in high school, Tracey had evolved into a sophisticated business woman. She was spending more money or clothing, but her income justified the extra expense. The trips to the beauty salon became more frequent as her status grew. She joined a local gym and spent several nights a week working out. She was turning into a well kept, attractive woman, and I was still a grungy, hairy embarrassment.
I guess the next step in the progression of our marriage was inevitable.
Over the years, my relationship with Carly grew. I was spending more time with her than her mother was and we developed a strong bond. Tracey was either at work or working at home. Family time seemed to go down as fast as Tracey's career went up.
Our personal time also went downhill. She was always too tired and I got the feeling that I was no longer the man that she used to dream about spending the rest of her life with.
I grew up in a public housing project. My mother was a single parent that raised my brother Robert and I by working as a waitress. It was hard for her, and we didn't make it any easier. We were constantly in trouble because that was the nature of life in the projects. A lot of my character traits came with me when I got married. I was rash and quick-tempered which landed me in juvenile hall a few too many times. Tracey was aware of the problem, but since we were married, I had kept it under control. I actually became a little placid.
As Tracey and I drifted apart, I started to spend more time in my basement hobby shop. It was a dank little hole, but I found tranquility there. I was upset about how my marriage was going, but had no idea what to do. I tried all the usual things like flowers and gifts. We would go out to eat at least once a week. I picked expensive places and got the good wine. Nothing seemed to work, so I crawled into my little hole at every chance that I got.
Carly was still the bright spot in my life, but I felt that I was letting her down also. I was defective as a father and a husband. Was it self induced or did Tracey impose those feelings on me? She loved me. She would never do that.
To keep my mind off of my shortcomings, I would sit for hours and make little electronic do-dads. They were gadgets that I could buy anywhere for next to nothing, but that were more fun if I made them myself. My first project was a fake video surveillance camera that moved back and forth and had a little flashing red light. It didn't do a damn thing, but I had fun making it. I know I could have bought the same thing for a couple of bucks, but there was no fun in that.
I made Carly a small panic button key chain. She never had to use it, but she let me know that she appreciated having it. As I got more experience the projects got a little more elaborate, but I never got to the point where I could be considered anything more that a tinkerer.
On weekends, Carly and I would visit yard sales and flea markets. She got retro clothes and I got old electronic and remote control toys. Tracey stayed at home.
It was two months ago when I started getting the feeling that Tracey was cheating. It didn't take me long at all to verify it. One of the men that she worked with, Todd Witcomb, was taking her to his apartment every Tuesday and Thursday for two hour lunches. I guess they could have been playing Scrabble or something like that, but I think we all know better. He was a good looking guy and drove a nice car. I had to assume that he was also articulate, well-educated, and good in the sack. I found it interesting that Tracey had not taken any great pains to hide this relationship. I didn't know if it was because she felt complacent or if she just didn't give a shit. The plate was broken. It couldn't be repaired. At this point I decided that something had to be done.
I spent the whole day getting things ready for my departure. Carly was starting college in three weeks. Everything was paid up for the first two semesters. I would miss her, but I felt that it was time to cut the apron strings. I took half of the savings account. I didn't bother doing anything about any of the other money matters. I didn't care. All I needed was enough to get away and get started over.
Filing for a divorce was too complicated and would not accomplish anything as far as I was concerned. I did have my lawyer draw up a power of attorney so that Tracey could sell the house. I also had papers prepared to sue Todd Witcomb and to sue Continental Memorial Insurance, since they both worked there. I didn't have much hope for either of them, but the lawyer was willing to try anything for a possible percentage. I told him to have at it.
I spent the most part of the evening working on my special alarm key chain. It was no longer a key chain, but it did have a quite loud alarm for such a little thing. It required a little modification to get it where I wanted it. First, I upped the battery to nine volts. This would make it louder and last longer. I rigged it up so that I could turn it on remotely and so that it could not be turned off. That little sucker would intermittently beep away until the battery died, or was killed. The whole thing fit into a three inch long piece of PVC plastic that had twenty holes drilled into it. A small antenna wire protruded out of one of the holes. When it was done, I fastened two PVC caps on each end and painted it flat black with BBQ paint. I don't know why I decided to paint it, but it did look a little sinister. If everything went as planned, the only way that it could be stopped would be to drop it into a toilet, or some other water. I tried making it water tight, but it muffled the sound too much.
Tracey had been in bed for a while now. It was no trouble at all for me to slide my homemade gadget into the lining of her purse, through a small hole that I made in one of the side pockets. I figured it would take at least five minutes for somebody to figure out where it was and then get it out of the bottom of the purse. That was long enough. All I was trying to do was piss her off before I left. I checked my work carefully and decided that there was no way that she would notice it.
I spent the next few hours loading things that I wanted into my truck. I picked up my body shop tools that afternoon along with my final check. I could get my clothing in the morning, after Tracey left for work. Everything was ready. I crashed on the sofa for the night.
"Daniel. Are you going to work today or you going to sleep all morning?" The sun had come up and my wife was dressed and ready for work.
"Sorry, dear. I got tied up working on a little project last night. I decided to just catch a few hours here."
"Are you going to eat anything?"
"I'll just have some coffee and an English Muffin.'."
"Okay. I'm going now. Rinse off your dishes before you leave."
She looked good, like she always did. I was going to miss her; at least for a while.
Tracey pulled out of the driveway and I grabbed some trash bags and headed for the bed room. It took less than five minutes to grab all the clothing that I needed or wanted. That was as far as I got.
"Dad, What the hell are you doing?"
"Carly? Aren't you supposed to be at school?"
"I already met all my curriculum requirements. Don't avoid my question."
I put the bags on the floor and looked at my daughter.
"Do you want some coffee?"
Carly managed a small laugh as we walked into the kitchen.
"You figured it out. Didn't you dad?"
I put the cup in front of her and tried to act cool. "Figured what out?"
"You finally figured out that mom was cheating on you?"
"What do you mean, 'finally'?"
"She has been meeting with this jerk for over six months now. Why did you wait until now to do something?"
"I only found out about two months ago."
"Damn it, Dad. It is not like she was hiding it or anything."
"I was blindsided. I wasn't expecting it so I wasn't looking for it. By the time I figured it out, it was too late."
"Too late for what?"
"I don't know. I guess too late to stop it."
"Dad, you can stop it, but you can't undo it."
"I know. I know. That's why I am leaving."
"Did you talk to her?"
"No. Did you?"
"Yeah. About two months ago. I asked her why she was doing it and she just looked at me and told me that I would understand in about ten years."
"She didn't give you any type of explanation?"
"Nothing. I got the feeling that she was annoyed with me for even asking."
"Apparently, she wasn't worried that you would tell me, because she kept seeing him."
"For some dumb reason, I think she wanted to get caught."
"I was thinking the same thing. But why?"
We sat quietly for a few moments.
"Do you know where you will be going?"
"What are you going to do?"
"Pound metal, I guess. I don't know anything else."
"Are you getting a divorce?"
"No. I'll let your mother take care of that."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Watch over her until you leave for college. I trust that you will be all right. I tried to take care of everything that I could ahead of time."
"I am fine, Dad. You look after yourself."
I picked up the cups and put them in the sink. I never did make that English Muffin.
"What are you doing with your boat and stuff?"
"Do you remember my friend Felix from the project?"
"Yeah. Are you still seeing him? I thought he was bad news."
"He is. Felix is about the only guy around that I trust. I need him to help me with a few things. He is going to take care of my boat for me."
"You mean you are giving him the boat?"
When I smiled, she smiled back. I loved my daughter.
Twenty minutes later, I was hooking the boat up to the truck. When I got the boat, I was hoping that it was something that the family could enjoy together. Unfortunately, it was not Tracey's cup of tea. She hated the boat and the water. Carly and I went by ourselves a few times, but it wasn't the same. After that, the boat just sat by the garage. I would not miss it.
I had a few shotguns and a deer rifle that my dad gave me before he moved to Florida. Felix would get more use out of them than I would, even though he didn't hunt. I piled all of my Snap-On and power tools into the back of the boat. Mister Handyman had retired.
Felix was barely awake when I got to his place. He had two mixed breed girls living with him, but it became quickly evident that they were not morning people. Felix got us a couple of early morning beers and the girls when back to bed.
When I was fifteen, Felix and I broke into a golf course, maintenance shed. The sprinkler system for all eighteen holes was old and had been done in copper. The maintenance shed had bins full of copper fittings necessary to maintain the system. I decided that a lot of money could be made by reselling the copper and Felix was more than eager to join with me. Needless to say, we got caught, or at least I did. Felix got away. The cops knew that there were two of us, but I always insisted that it was only me. I got two years probation for being dumb, but made a life-long friend, because I kept my mouth shut.
Felix was as white as I was, but insisted in talking as if he was from the ghetto instead of the projects. There was not much difference, but Felix had to get by in a different environment than I did. He adapted to his world and I couldn't fault him for that.
"Danny. What the hell are you doing dragging that boat around? Are we going fishing?" He smiled and took a big swig from the long neck.
"It's a present. A present for my best buddy."
"You must be talking about me. You ain't got no other friends." The smiles turned to a little laugh.
"Felix. I am leaving town for awhile and I need you to take care of my stuff while I am gone."
"Are you coming back?"
"Then I presume you will be leaving me the title also."
He laughed again when I slid the boat and trailer title across the kitchen table and then shook his head.
"You're serious, man." He paused. "I can't buy your boat, Danny. You can get good bucks for it, just about anywhere."
"It's a trade Felix. I am not selling it to you. I need you to do something for me, or should I say, have something done for me."
His smile got bigger. "Danny. Who the hell do you want killed? You know I will do anything for you."
Now I was smiling. "Not killed, Felix. I just want him to spend a little time in the emergency room or the Recovery Ward at one of the Hospitals. Don't kill him. Maim him, cripple him, or just hurt him, but don't kill him."
"That is a lot of boat for such a little thing."
"Well, if you can, I would like you to do it every six weeks for six months, or till he leaves town. Whichever comes first."
"Damn man. What the hell did this guy do? Did he take Tracey from you?" As soon as the words left his mouth, he realized that he made a mistake.
"I am sorry, Danny. That was my bad. I never did know when to keep my mouth shut." He got up and pulled two more beers from the frig.
I pushed a 3X5 card across to him with the name, address and license number of Todd Witcomb.
"Wait a couple of weeks, okay?"
He looked at the card and then nodded towards the door.
The power tools and guns were gravy that he had not expected. He took them inside the house while I unhooked the boat. We talked for a few more minutes and then parted ways. I could trust Felix. A year ago I would have said that there were two people that I trusted, now there was just Felix.
It was Tuesday. Tracey and Todd walked out of the company building and got into his Lexus at eleven, right on the dot. Since I knew where they were going I had no trouble following them to Todd's apartment. There was nothing lovey-dovey going on as they were just acting like a married couple.
I gave them fifteen minutes to get settled in and then hit the button on the remote control. Nothing happened.
The damn thing didn't work.
What the hell did I do wrong?
I got out of the truck and walked closer to the apartment building and pressed the button again. Still nothing.
While I was trying to figure out what to do next, I decided to let the air out of Todd's tires. I might as well make myself useful. I only did the two tires on the side away from the building.
In desperation, I walked right up to the side of the building and tried again. It finally worked. I was outside of the apartment building and heard the noise; loud and clear. The sound inside had to be really loud. It blasted for about a second and then paused for two seconds and then repeated. Everybody in the apartment complex was now being pleasured by my little toy.
I was smiling as I walked back to the truck. Halfway down the block, I could still hear the beeping. Things were going better than expected.
My lawyer was having the law suit papers delivered to Todd and to the Company at two o'clock. I would be gone by then.
Carly was waiting for me when I got home. She gave me a card with her address at college and her cell phone number, which I already had. She had a few extra things for me to take that I had missed and had even packed me a lunch so that I wouldn't have to stop until I got out of the state. She actually explained that when she gave it to me. We both had a good laugh and a hug. I left the power of attorney and my wedding ring on the kitchen table. Carly stated that she would be more than happy to explain things to her mother.
My body shop tools were in the back of the truck under the bed cover. My personal stuff was jammed behind the seat in the cab. As I pulled away from the house for the last time, my cell phone rang. It was Tracey. I turned the phone off. It would have been interesting to hear what she had to say, but I refused to give her the satisfaction.
Interstate 81 South was the best escape route. I didn't stop until I hit Chattanooga. It was a sleazy motel, but there was a bar next door. Big mistake. I drank way too much and then discovered that while I was sleeping it off, one or more, of the local boys borrowed all of my body shop tools. The back of the truck was picked clean, but they didn't touch anything in the cab. I don't know if that was because of integrity or maybe they just couldn't carry any more.
I showered, shaved, and put on fresh clothes. After a much needed breakfast at the local Waffle House, I hit the road for Nashville. I was kicking myself for being so damn dumb and trying to figure out what to do next.
Without tools, I wasn't even going to try and get a body shop job. I settled in at one of the Krystal's in the area and started going through the help wanted ads. Most of the jobs were commissioned sales or minimum wage jobs. The ones that fell in to normal categories, I wasn't qualified for until I hit a small, three-line ad.
"Wanted: Auto damage appraiser. Must have body shop experience. Conrad Insurance Company."
I turned my cell phone on, called the listed number, and I got a name, address, and appointment in one hour. I deleted the five calls that came from Tracey. I punched the address into the GPS and headed right over. I always liked to be early. I had never gone on a job interview before and realized that I was not dressed for one. It was too late now. What they see is what they get.
There were three other guys there when I arrived. They were all well-dressed and looking good. Each of them had a folder in his hand which I assumed was a resume. Each one entered the manager's office, stayed five minutes, and left. They didn't look happy. I was feeling pretty good because I didn't think that I could do worse than they did.
The guy behind the desk was dressed well, but the clothes didn't fit the man. He was hard, with cracked skin, and faded tats sticking out around different parts of his clothes. His hands were the things that I noticed most. They were calloused and gnarly, just like mine. This guy wasn't an executive. He was a metal-beater wearing people clothes. He noticed me smiling and sort of smiled back.
It didn't take him long to read over the interview form that I had filled out in the lobby. I think I left half of the spaces empty. I wasn't being a smartass, I just didn't have any information to enter.
"Hemmingway. Daniel Hemmingway." He paused as if in thought.
"No. I am not." I answered his unspoken question, just as I had answered a hundred times before. I was not related to the famous author.
"Well, that's a relief. I wouldn't want no intellectuals hanging around the office." He seemed relieved that I had anticipated what he was going to ask so that he didn't make a fool out of himself. It wouldn't have been that way, but he seemed to be a proud man.
"I get asked that a lot."
"My name is Grady Burgess. Why are you here, Daniel Hemmingway?"
There was no way that I was going to try and con this man. I watched three, slick talkers get excused before they could even start giving him any bullshit.
"I got drunk last night over in Chattanooga and all of my shop gear was swiped out of my truck while I slept it off. It's hard to get a shop job without gear. This seemed like a good alternative."
"That makes sense, but I am guessing that there is more to it than that. Am I right?"
"Yes sir. I just found out that my wife of eighteen years was cheating on me. My judgment last night was a little clouded. I usually don't drink that much."
"Where is your wife now?"
"Marcie. Bring us two coffees. Will you hon?" His voice was loud and could be heard all over the office.
Marcie was in her mid-forties, chunky, and wore way too much make up. She set two, cheap, white ceramic coffee cups down with no cream or sugar. It made sense to me.
Grady gave her a little pat on the backside before she left. "Cancel the rest of the appointments Babe. I think we found what we were looking for."
Marcie gave Grady a scowl and then gave me a little wink. I was looking a little sheepish when I noticed that Grady was smiling at my embarrassment.
We chatted for about two hours and then he carefully explained to me what the job entailed as well as the pay and benefits. The only down side to the whole deal were the image requirements.
Eighty percent of my job was going to involve contact with customers. Image was paramount. That meant a haircut and a complete change in grooming habits. I was expected to get a new wardrobe and a shoeshine kit; he emphasized that. Marcie would personally help me with everything that needed to be done.
I was expected to be in Atlanta by Monday morning for a full week of training. Conrad Insurance was an independent company, but worked as a subcontracter for several larger national auto insurers. Everything had to be done to specific standards. The company paid all the expenses related to the training, but the clothes and grooming were coming out of my pocket.
Marcie seemed to enjoy the rest of the week more than I did. I was a little project for her. I insisted on going to a barber shop rather than a hair dressers, but she made all of the rest of the decisions. Not only did I get a haircut, but I also got my eyebrows and ears trimmed and my nose hairs pruned. Marcie informed the barber that I would be back every ten days for the same treatment.
My working clothes were pretty generic; khaki pants and white shirts. She even found a jacket that went with the pants. I also got two pairs of black, steel-toed dress shoes, with a dozen pairs of black socks.
She had found a small studio apartment for me, and helped me get it set up. Friday morning, I got my Tennessee drivers license and that afternoon, Marcie gave me the keys to my company car and a laptop computer.
Before leaving me at the apartment that evening, she stood on her tip-toes and kissed me on the cheek.
"Damn it, Daniel. If Grady wasn't so darn jealous, I think I'd have to jump your bones. You cleaned up real good, boy."
I was flattered, but the thought of what she was suggesting make me shiver a little.
It was time to give Carly a call.
"Dad. Good to hear from you. Where are you or is it better that I don't know?"
"Baby, I am in Nashville right now. I trust that you will not tell your mother."
"Are you working?"
"As a matter of fact I am. I got hired at the first place that I applied at."
"I guess they will always need body men."
"Actually, it is a desk job. Well not exactly behind a desk, but I won't be working in shop. I'll be doing appraisals out in the field."
"How the hell did you get a job like that?"
"I guess I was in the right place at the right time. How are things at home?"
"Well, I am fine, but mom is a wreck."
"I thought that she would be happy to see me gone."
"So did I, but it seems to be just the opposite."
"Care to expand on that a little?"
"Well all she did the first day was sit at the kitchen table and chant over and over; "That is not how it was suppose to happen.""
"Did you question her about it?"
"She was drunk and she was not responsive. Every time I tried to talk to her, she just looked at me and repeated the mantra again. I gave up after about an hour. She drank every drop of wine in the house. At least she didn't touch the hard stuff."
"I wasn't expecting that."
"Me either. I thought that she might be pissed."
"It sounds like it was all a big plan that she had and that I screwed it up somehow."
"That's what I thought also, but I have no idea what she thought was going to happen. Apparently, she knew she was going to get caught eventually, but hadn't counted on your exodus. I don't know for sure, but it looks like she was looking forward to some type of confrontation."
"I am sorry that I messed up her plans."
There was a short pause in the conversation, so I took the opportunity to change the subject.
"What are your plans?"
"As soon as mom settles down a little, I am leaving for school. If I get there early enough, I can pick up a few summer session classes. On one hand, I hate to leave her, but on the other hand, I want to get the hell out of here. At least she has stopped her chanting."
"Well, I am leaving tomorrow morning for Atlanta. I'll call you when I get back. Okay?"
"That's fine, dad. I am glad things are working out for you. Mom is pretty strong, so I am sure she will break out of this slump pretty soon."
The training classes in Atlanta were a snap. It was mostly about putting the right information in the right block. The hardest part was overcoming my weak computer skills. I had no trouble getting a few of the young female trainees to tutor me, but found it difficult to resist their charms. They seemed disappointed in my reserve.
The next two years flew by. Grady was quite pleased with my job performance and was generous with the raises and bonuses.
I talked with Carly on a regular basis. She was doing fine in all her classes and with her social life. It was nice to see that she was dating, but as a father, I was a little anxious about the whole scene. She laughed at my concern.
I never heard from Tracey. There had not appeared to be any attempt on her part to contact me. I was not hiding, so if she had wanted to find me it would not have been a problem. She sold the house and pre-paid Carly's tuition with the proceeds. Then she left town. Tracey called Carly every few weeks, but the relationship between them never returned to what it was before the incident. I had to give Tracey points for trying. Carly had no idea where she had relocated to and never asked.
Tracey never filed for divorce. I could hold out for as long as she could.
My social life was another matter. I never thought of myself as a lady killer, but I discovered that a new persona came along with my upgraded appearance and marital freedom. I was technically still married, but under the circumstances, I didn't feel that way. Nashville was full of young ladies looking for companionship. I always made sure that they knew that I was married and not looking for any type of relationship. That turned out to be a big plus with most of them, including a few who were married themselves. I was careful not to date any of the married ones more than once and never took them back to my apartment. It didn't matter too much with the single ones, as long as they knew that I wasn't husband material.
Grady had hired two more guys to do what I did. I got to train them and supervise them. There was plenty of work to go around, but I got the feeling that something was in the wind.
"Daniel. We have to talk." Grady was serious, but what really bothered me was the words he used. This was the dreaded phase that wives always used when they wanted to spring some bad news on their unsuspecting husbands.
Grady laughed when he heard me groan.
"Don't get too excited, Daniel. It's not all that bad."
"It's a hell of a way to start a conversation."
Now we were both laughing.
"Daniel, I hate to say it, but you have outgrown the job."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"You can do better than this. I don't have any complaints, but I think you should be thinking about moving on."
"So, you are firing me?"
"No, damn it. I am trying to get you to move forward."
Marcie came in with two cups of coffee without being asked. She leaned over and whispered in my ear, loud enough for Grady to hear.
"The old fart is afraid that you are going to steal me away from him. Don't worry, if he lets you go, I'll go with you."
It was Grady's turn to groan as Marcie left the office giggling. It was a scary thought.
"Daniel. I have a job interview set up for you in Houston this Friday. American Consolidated Claims needs a man to run their national operation. They are having difficulty getting someone to run their appraisal section of the operation. I have already talked to them and they are anxious to meet you."
"That's nice, Grady, but surely they have some young college graduates with business degrees who are more that qualified to do the job."
"They tried that; three times."
"What is in it for you? I don't understand."
"In about four years, Marcie and I are going to be moving to Gulf Shores. ACC has agreed to buy the business when I am ready to sell."
"Oh, I see. You are not doing this out of the goodness of your heart. You are using me for trading."
"Exactly. See, I always said you were smart."
Both of us enjoyed another laugh at his devious but transparent attempt at taking advantage of me.
Thursday night, I was on my way to Houston. I didn't want to relocate, but everything that Grady said made sense.
I could have flown to Houston, but decided to drive instead. American Consolidated had three floors in an enormous office building. They were expecting me and I was not the least bit nervous. I knew that I was capable of doing the job and I was ready and willing to attack anyone who dared to question my academic qualifications. Knowing that their MBA employees had flubbed the job previously gave me confidence.
The first two interviews went great. During the third one, one of the yuppie middle managers started to ask about my formal business training and was immediately shut down by his boss. I smiled at the support, but was upset at the same time. I spent the last hour with the human resources director. We were discussing salary and benefits as if my acceptance was a foregone conclusion. To be honest, at that point it was. It would be difficult not to take this job.
It was lunch time and my host was anxious to show off the company cafeteria. The floor that we were on was as big as a basketball court field. Offices lined the perimeter and cubicles dotted most of the center.
"I think you will enjoy working here, Mister Hemmingway."
"I think I will Miss Thurgood. American Consolidated Claims looks like a top notch organization."
"It will be interesting having two department heads with the name Hemmingway. You might have to be ready for a little occasional confusion. You don't have any relatives here in Houston do you?"
"No. I am an only child. No brothers or uncles."
"The records department head is a woman. You don't have any distant relatives named Tracey, do you?"
The comment caught me off guard and before I could react, I noticed her across the room. She was only visible from the shoulders up, but there was no doubt that it was her. Her hair was different, but Tracey looked radiant. She was talking with a small group of employees and it was obvious that she was in charge. While I was walking, I was staring at my wife as if I was hypnotized, As luck would have it, I stumbled into a mail cart, causing a small disturbance. As I straightened up, I couldn't help but notice that Tracey was looking directly at me. She seemed a little surprised and I took advantage of her confusion to hurry off the floor.
"Is something wrong Mister Hemmingway?" There was some sincere concern about my clumsiness.
"No. I just wasn't paying attention. I was admiring the layout of the operation." The elevator ride to the lower floor seemed to take forever. As we reached the entrance to the cafeteria, I turned to Miss Thurgood and held out my hand. It was an odd gesture under the circumstances and I could tell that she wasn't expecting it, but she took it anyhow.
"Miss Thurgood. I want to thank you for your help this morning. Everyone was more than gracious and the opportunity that you presented is fabulous. Unfortunately, I am afraid that I am going to have to decline your offer. Please express my regrets to all the people who I interviewed with."
My escort was standing with her mouth open as I quietly exited the floor and the building. It was a great job and I was sure that at some point I would regret turning it down, but not today. I think I still loved Tracey and being that close to her on a regular basis would cause more pain than I was willing to endure. Why hadn't that damn bitch filed for the divorce. When she does finally get around to it, I hoped like hell that she would take her maiden name back. Grady was going to be pissed. I'll handle that when I get home.
Twelve hours later, I was back home. Interestingly enough, Grady was more apologetic than angry.
"Sorry Daniel. I had no idea that your ex was working at ACC."
I sat across from his desk and smiled as Marcie sat down two cups of coffee. I don't know how he found out. "There was no way that you could have known. It's nobody's fault, Grady. If I had any balls, I would have just taken the job and faced her. As you can see, that didn't happen."
"That doesn't make you less of a man, Daniel. There is no way that you could come out a winner under those circumstances. I probably would have done the same thing."
"I am sorry if I screwed up your deal with them."
Grady laughed a little and sat down his cup. "No problem Daniel. They still want it and the deal is still on."
Things continued as they were for the next few years. Carly graduated from college and married a nice fellow from Cleveland. I got to the wedding in time to give her away, but did not stay. Tracey was there and looked beautiful. It was extremely difficult to avoid her, but I did. Carly was disappointed that I did not stay for the complete day, but said that she understood and was glad that I showed up. I was happy that Tracey got to see her only daughter get married. I started filling my spare time taking college classes. It made more sense than going to bars and picking up floozies. Most of the other night school students were older and a few of the ladies were able and willing to fill in for the missing bar girls. Grady was happy to foot the bill for the classes.
Eventually, it came time for Grady to retire. All of the terms of the sale had been finalized. Since I had expressed my reluctance to stay with ACC, Grady had an interview set up for me with a Chicago firm. I wasn't nuts about going there but the employment package, as it was explained by Grady, was fabulous. It didn't make sense, because there were a hell of a lot of MBA's out there who were hustling for prime positions.
When I arrived at the Universal Amalgamated Insurance building, I was immediately taken to the eighteenth floor. The name on the door was familiar; Emmitt Peake. Upon entering, I recognized the executive from ACC who had defended my qualifications during my interview there. It was a pleasant surprise to say the least. It gave me a warm feeling to see qualified people get rewarded for their efforts, rather than the over-educated, over-qualified fobs.
Things went extremely well for the first thirty minutes and then they turned to crap.
"Mister Hemmingway, I was extremely disappointed at your sudden departure after our talk in Houston. When I was made aware of the circumstances, I was able to somewhat understand, but not completely."
"I am sorry for running off like that, but I was not ready to face the alternatives that would have come with the job."
"Handling difficult situations is one of the requirements of a good executive. Have you figured out some way to get over that shortcoming?"
"I am older and more mature. I feel that I can manage myself a lot better now than I could a few years ago."