“The Stain” 4/5 (4)

Some introductory remarks.

Generally speaking I’ve been grappling with several long stories that I just can’t seem to finish. Meanwhile I’ve had a ton of these little guys languishing around so I thought I’d knock a few of them out. So fair warning, no Dostoevsky, and certainly no Chekhov.

Now about this story: First, all the active characters are over eighteen. Second, if you want sex go someplace else, or if you’re a skimmer, move on. But third, if you’re looking for a little break from what you’re doing and don’t want to get angry or frustrated this just might be the place.

Fourth, no religion and no politics. Fifth, if you’ve read any of my other stuff you’ll find the pretty little red haired girl stayed home for this one, sort of anyway. And last, though there might be a moral in there someplace, don’t look too hard. Today we’re happily at the shallow end of the pool.

*****

Prologue

It was an after-hours office party for Hilda Guthrie. Hilda was a sixty something book keeper who’d been at Comstock & Bannister for nearly fifty years. Hired right out of high school by Reason Comstock’s recently deceased father she’d never had another job.

It was a small get together, just the office staff and a few guests. Chase, our protagonist, had been invited because his wife Angela was office manager and ‘go to’ person at the firm. And yes, it was a law firm.

The Story

I normally didn’t go to these things, but I liked Hilda; she’d been a big help to my wife when she first started there, but I had another reason too. By law firm standards, or by anybody’s standards my Angela, at twenty-four, was pretty young to have advanced as far as she had. I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered if her success had been just a little less precipitous.

She’d been hired at nineteen, just after two years of college, mostly computer stuff. She’d gone basically from the clerical end to accounts assistant, to personal secretary, to Miss do it all manage it all.

There’s been a concomitant to Angela’s upward track. Her promotions started just shortly after Philip Bannister took an office at the firm. Philip is a younger grandson of one of the original, also deceased, founders. Philip appeared and four weeks into his new job Angela got her first promotion.

Shortly after she got a second promotion, plus a hefty pay increase. Right now she’s considered heiress apparent to the retiring Hilda. And how many colleagues has she leapt over, more than one or two.

I suppose this shouldn’t be troublesome, but there’s been more. Of course all law firms and smallish white collar businesses have their Friday Happy Hours, and Comstock & Bannister is no exception. So every Friday like clockwork Angela would call and remind me she’d be a little late.

For sure the latenesses haven’t changed, and the calls have been just as reliable, but twice lately I’ve had to call back and they said she wasn’t in the office. Then when I called on her cell phone it went to voice mail. I asked her about it both times, and both times she said she was out with one of the lawyers getting a will signed or changed.

Now I guess is the time someone might wonder well what the hell I do for a living. I’m a farmer, or I pretend to be. There aren’t many real farmers around anymore. Most of us try to hang on by doing something else too.

So let’s say I’m a farmer who works at the local high school as a math teacher and sometime coach. The teaching job provides a steady income and terrific health benefits. The farming, well let’s just say it’s in the blood.

Angela’s sort of a farmer too; her dad manages the local Food Lion, and her mom sells ‘home grown’ fruits and vegetables. See, most people don’t think about it. Farming is mining the soil to produce mostly food, but wood, tobacco, and other things like guinea pig hay too. So think about it, the guy at the grocery store; he’s part of the agricultural chain.

OK, off the subject a little, blame the writer, not me. Do I wear a suit and tie? Do I even own a suit and tie? Get real! I’m a teacher and a hayseed. I wear Tee-shirts and jeans to school and overalls in the field. Nobody complains. Why would they complain? The kids I teach all murder the S.A.T.s, and the kids I coach all have a good time.

On the other hand, ever seen a lawyer? Ever notice the tasseled shoes, the eighty dollar ties, the leather windbreakers, the fine weave of their expensive shirts and sport coats. I have and thought, well that’s them, but I’m afraid Angela been thinking too.

I have my hobbies; don’t we all? Well golf isn’t one them, waste of good farmland. Do I ski? I can. I like to dance, two step mostly. What do those guys where Angela works call what they do? I’ve seen them at her Christmas parties, that’s another ‘new’ problem, but I won’t get into that.

So what are my hobbies; well I fish, I like to ride, and I enjoy boating, canoeing that is. That worries me too. Angela and I literally hooked up over a fishing rod, not really but it sounds good.

In her younger days she had her own pony, and we’ve hit most of the easier northeastern rapids as well as having done a fair amount of fishing in places only a canoe can reach. So when did these things start to become so ‘proletarian’ to her? My word not hers.

They say life’s complicated, and I believe them. I mean when can one thing become another? Or how shall I say it, something scary becomes something wonderful. Angela was pregnant when we got married. The kid’s mine, little girl, she’s three now. Angela was twenty-one, and I was in my second year teaching. I was twenty three. So for the mathematically acute that makes me twenty-six and Angela twenty-four.

~~V~~

I pulled on the street near the firm’s office, a big old house in town converted for business. I parked my late model, scratched up grey pick-up truck and lurched my way up the steps and into the firm’s offices. There were about thirty people on hand; mostly office staff, but quite a few of Hilda’s friends. I counted as a friend of Hilda’s.

I looked all around for Angela but couldn’t spot her. I asked around but couldn’t find anyone who knew where she might be. Then Rita Cameron saw me. Rita’s Angela’s best friend at work. She came over, “If you’re looking for Angela she’s at the courthouse with Mr. Bannister. They had some paperwork to finish up.”

I asked, “Really, takes two for that?”

Rita replied, “I only work here.”

I left Rita and wandered around, saw and congratulated Hilda, and spent a couple minutes with one of the other young lawyers. I found one of the more mature secretaries and together we absconded to a corner where we blabbed about the usual inanities.

I was pretty comfortable with the whole thing. I had on a clean pair of jeans and a clean black Tee-shirt. I’d wiped the mud off my tennis shoes before I left school. I mean it was the spring time, the athletic fields were a little sloppy, and we’d been putting the J.V. boys through an abbreviated practice. We’re talking baseball.

It was getting kind of late. Some of the people had already left. Some of the women had kids and family to go home to. We were OK since Angela’s mom handled the domestic duties while she and I were at work. I usually got off first and picked up the munchkin. Angela would get home a little after me and start dinner.

Finally I looked up and saw my wife had arrived. Philip Bannister was right behind her. Angela had on a tan sport’s jacket covering a dark blue button up blouse. The blouse’s collar was out over the jacket’s lapels; looked like three buttons were undone so the blouse was pretty loose.

She looked sexy. She had on a dark blue A-line skirt; all very professional, brown hair up in a bun, dark brown glasses, makeup perfect, looking great like in that naughty librarian commercial.

Before she saw me one of the women near her must have said something because Angela looked down at her blouse and then looked all around. I watched as she tucked back the coat to inspect something.

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