Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Whose Qualities Are Thwarted"

This poem is from the April 2018 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] alexseanchai and [personal profile] chanter_greenie, along with this Facebook post from [personal profile] gingicat (see the original).  It also fills the "weather" square in my 4-1-18 card for the Spring Fest bingo. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink and Marionettes threads of the series Polychrome Heroics.

Warning: This poem contains some sensitive and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features poverty, bumping into people on the sidewalk, temporary theft of a computer wallet, work-related challenges, unexpected financial gifts, mixed feelings, seeking local advice, used car sales, surprise house, cultural and class differences, sudden discovery of Mob activity, and other challenges. If this is touchy stuff for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Whose Qualities Are Thwarted"

Montay was hurrying to his slog job at Car Co
when he bumped right into three Italians --
literally, he crashed into the big guy
and then landed flat on his ass.

His shoulder bag fell open
and his sunglasses went
skittering over the sidewalk.

"Sorry, sorry," he panted as he
scrambled to pick up his things.
"I was looking at my smartphone,
I know it's bad but I have to get
the prices updated or he'll fire me
and there's never time at work."

"No offense," the older man said mildly,
lifting him to his feet like he weighed nothing.
The big hands were gentle as they dusted off
his clothes. "Are you injured in any way?"

"No, I-I'm fine," Montay said, flustered.
"I ripped my shirt a bit, but it's old."

The slender fellow bent down to pick up
Montay's sunglasses, then cleaned them with
a purple silk handkerchief that doubtless
cost far more than the sunglasses.

"Here you go," he said, handing them
back to Montay. "They seem to be intact."

"Uh, thanks," Montay said. "They're cheap,
so I guess I'm lucky they didn't break."

The stunning brunette just gave him
a sultry smirk as she handed him his bag,
now fragrant with her exotic perfume.

Montay slung the strap over his shoulder.
"Sorry again," he said. "Excuse me,
I really have to get to work now."

He hurried down the sidewalk,
noting that the day was already warm.

That would make moving cars a bitch,
because they heated up in the sun, and
then Montay got stuck with more of the work.

He had to do the price updates first,
though, because it was Monday and that
meant their reference website had posted
its updates, so the cars that were priced
exclusively based on that would all need
their windshields washed and rewritten.

His boss Chevy would recalculate
the ones that required more figuring,
then Montay would have to redo those too.

It was tedious, but it was better than
no job at all, so he tried to feel grateful.

Montay made it all the way to work
before realizing that his computer wallet
wasn't in his shoulder bag anymore.

"Damn it!" he said, slapping the counter.
There went his driver's license, cash and
cash card, credit and debit cards, along with
customer cards for all the places that gave perks
for making a certain number of purchases.

"Problem?" Chevy said, giving him a look.

"I lost my wallet," Montay confessed.
"I was working on the prices while
I walked to work, and bumped
into some people -- I probably
dropped it when I fell down."

"Or it 'fell into' someone's hand,"
Chevy muttered. "Some people."

Montay thought about the Italians.
They looked sleek and dangerous,
but picking pockets seemed ...
beneath them somehow.

"No, I think I just lost it,"
Montay said. "I'll have to call
and cancel all my cards."

"After work," Chevy said.
"Meanwhile, you can drive cars
in the lot, just stay off the streets."

So Montay spent the day updating
the car prices, answering phones,
and sweeping the floor in the lobby.

He was the only other staffperson
besides Chevy himself -- they
hired out the heavy cleaning to
a service -- so Montay wound up
doing a little of everything.

Fortunately he only needed
to move a few of the cars in
the growing heat, but it still
left him dripping with sweat.

The walk home wasn't too bad,
because by the time Montay finished
all his work, the evening was cooling off.

He came to the cluster of apartment buildings
where his friend Tucker-Lee Kembel let him
crash in the spare room in exchange for
whatever cash Montay could scrape up
and occasional translations from sign to
speech since Tucker-Lee was mute.

The center area held the parking lot
and a small park. Several families were
eating supper at the picnic tables near
the concession stand, watching children
play on the skate dot and the playground.

It wasn't quite home, but it was decent
until he could get a place of his own.
Somehow. Someday. Maybe.

With a sigh, Montay climbed the stairs
to the second-floor apartment.

Someone left a package for you,
Tucker-Lee signed as soon
as Montay came inside.

The plain padded envelope
had no addresses on it,
only Montay's name.

That was a bit creepy.

He opened the envelope
anyway, and his wallet fell out.

It smelled like the woman's perfume,
something floral and musky that
made his Montay's head swim.

He looked inside, praying
that whoever returned it
hadn't taken everything.

His wallet computer
was still there, along with
his consumer-reward cards,
credit cards, and debit cards.
Even his Greenbucks card
remained in its proper slot.

The first long pocket held bills,
most of them overdue, although
he couldn't find the OneCard bill
and would have to call about that.

Holding his breath, Montay peeked
into the second long pocket
where he kept his cash.

Every bit of it was there.

A surge of relief rushed
through him. "Pizza, my treat?"
he offered, wanting to celebrate.

Yes, Tucker-Lee signed,
grinning and rubbing his tummy.

So Montay ordered a medium pizza,
half Italian sausage and half pepperoni.

When it came, he paid with his Greenbucks --
only to discover that the balance on it
was about a hundred dollars higher
than he remembered it being.

That was weird, but Montay
was in no position to look
a gift horse in the mouth.

They flopped out on the couch
to watch The Duplex Romance
while they ate their supper.

"I think Wanda's sweet on
Rita Mae," Montay said.

No, they're not. They're
just being neighborly,

Tucker-Lee signed.

The two of them had been
having this argument for
several episodes now, and
there were plenty of hints
but no proof either way.

It was still fun to watch
two single lesbians and
their kids try to figure out
how to be neighbors, and
maybe something more.

After supper, Montay called
OneCard to ask the balance
on the bill that had gone missing.

"No need," said the cheerful voice
on the other end. "It's been paid."

Montay was sure he hadn't gotten
around to that yet, but he wasn't
going to argue. "So I can just
wait for next month's bill?"

"No, sir, the balance has
been paid in full," the clerk said.

There had been over a thousand
dollars left on that account. Montay
was too stunned to do more than
thank the clerk and hang up.

Probably it was a mistake,
but if it was, then they would
send him another bill and
this time he'd pay it.

Montay took a shower
before bed, then draped
the towel over the radiator in
his tiny bedroom, because they
didn't have a laundry room and
he could only afford to go to
the laundromat occasionally.

When nothing unusual happened
the next day, Montay put the matter
out of his mind and focused on work.

A few days after that, however,
another package arrived. This one
contained a chambray shirt like what
he had worn the day of the mishap,
along with a pair of dark blue jeans.

They fit perfectly, and like before,
they came in an anonymous envelope.

Montay wondered how someone had
gotten his sizes right, but that didn't
stop him from wearing the clothes.

He only had eight outfits: enough
for one week, plus an extra to wear
while the rest went through the wash.

It went on like that for a while.

Now and then, packages just
showed up at the apartment, and
neither Montay nor Tucker-Lee
ever saw who delivered them.

More clothes arrived,
and on several occasions,
a Healthy Family Food Box
from the local buying club.

The garments fit perfectly,
and the food box even included
a bit of baby cereal and pureed food
for Tucker-Lee on bad days when
the scar tissue hurt his throat.

As far as Montay could tell,
almost everything came
from local suppliers and it
suited their needs exactly.

He wondered who and why and
whether there were strings attached,
but he appreciated the mysterious gifts
too much to risk killing the golden goose.

The next time Montay encountered
the Italians, he was taking advantage of
a free sample day at the Hilltop Fitness Center.

The woman and the slender man came
into the studio room to investigate some of
the stretching classes like the yoga, pilates,
and t'ai chi set up in different corners.

They must have recognized Montay,
because they came over at once. "Hi,
I'm Leo and this is Olivia," the man said.

"I'm Montay," the younger man replied.
"Um, what do you want with me?"

"We could use a local source,"
Leo explained. "Is this facility good?
Would you recommend it to others?"

"Yeah, Hilltop is great," Montay said.
"I'd get a membership if I could afford it.
My desk chair at home doesn't have arms,
and that kills my back. So I come here
when they have an open house."

"Our boss Roger is checking out
the weight room," Olivia added.
"What do you think of that area?"

"I don't know, the only thing I do
there is the free five-minute massage
in the Healthy Touch room," Montay said.

Olivia promptly made a note on
her vidwatch. "Thank you," she said.
"Leo and I will investigate that next.
Is anything else worth exploring?"

"The cafe is great -- they make
healthy food taste good," Montay said.

Olivia bent over with lazy grace, copying
some pose from the advanced yoga corner
that would have tied Montay in knots for a week.
"We'll stop there on the way out," she said.

"Have you been, um ... helping me out?"
Montay asked. "Because someone started
giving me stuff the day I lost my wallet,
and it's kind of weird, you know?"

The Italians looked at each other.
"Well, yes," Leo said. "Our boss
is exploring creative ways to boost
the local economy. Helping out
distressed citizens seemed ideal."

Montay couldn't exactly deny that
fit into the "distressed" category.

"Um, thanks," he said. "It's been great,
but don't put yourselves out. I don't
want to wind up with another big debt."

"You won't," Leo assured him.
"That's no way to make friends,
and it's not how we work."

"In that case, I'm glad that I
lucked into you," Montay said.

"You're welcome," Leo said,
and then had to follow Olivia
as she went to meet one
of the yoga instructors.

Montay didn't see them
again before he left,
but when he got home,
there was a big box waiting
for him beside the front door.

It held a comfortable office chair
with adjustable arms, and taped
to the top was a membership card
for the Hilltop Fitness Center.

The pale blue envelope read,
Thank you for the advice.

After that, Montay saw the Italians
from time to time at the gym.

Sometimes he only glimpsed
them from a distance, but
other times they waved hello.

Leo always dressed in something
sleek and snappy, like the gray tracksuit
with black, white, and red racing stripes.

Roger favored a khaki sweatshirt
and matching pants so drab that
it took a while for Montay to spot
the designer logo on them.

Olivia was nowhere near
as subtle as the men. She wore
a different outfit every time, like
the pink and gray one where the top
was mostly string, or the black one
with a red heart over her butt.

When a bodybuilder walked
into a wall while staring at her,
Montay cracked up laughing.

Sure she was gorgeous,
but anyone could see that
she wasn't available.

To Montay's surprise,
Olivia sat down beside him in
the lobby outside the yoga studio,
and the others followed suit.

Montay reached into the box
of Swiss Muesli Bars that he had
made to share with friends,
and passed them three.

Leo handed his to Roger,
then Olivia split hers with Leo.

The next time Montay made a batch,
he brought extra, and ensured that
there were plenty left for Leo and
Olivia after Roger ate his fill.

"This can't be cheap," Leo noted,
examining the contents of the bar.

"Nah, it's fine, I buy the ingredients
in bulk at Well-Mart," said Montay.
"Without that place, I'd probably starve."

Roger's eyebrows went up. "Well,
we can't have that," he murmured.

Montay was no longer surprised
when a gift box of assorted nuts
arrived at his apartment.

It was funny how, no matter
how hard they worked out, Roger
never seemed to break a sweat.

Montay wondered if Hilltop
might could be a bit tame for him.

Then Roger casually dropped into
the seat next to him and said, "We want
to buy some used cars. Do you think we
should check out Car Co here in town, or
try Smith Auto Parts over in Ironton?"

Montay panicked a bit and blurted,
"Jesus, don't go to Smitty's! He's a crook."

"You don't say," Roger drawled, looking
more amused than alarmed by the warning.

"Seriously, man, he will rob you blind
if you give him half a chance," Montay said.
"Now I work at Car Co, and Chevy may be
a hardass of a boss but he's a fair man.
Tell him what you want and can afford,
and he'll find you some wheels."

"An honest car salesman?" Roger said.

"Ask around," Montay encouraged.
"Chevy knows half the people in town,
because he either sold them their first car,
sold them one for their teen, or both.
He'll give you a good price."

Roger waved a hand.
"Money is not an issue."

"Oh lord no, you can't
go in there saying that,"
Montay groaned, rubbing
a hand over his sweaty face.
"I said Chevy's a fair man, not
a saint. Give him a budget."

"What do you suggest then?"
Roger asked blandly.

"Think about what kind
of car you want and look up
the average cost, then add on
a quarter to half that," Montay said.
"It'll give you a starting point."

"We're shopping for several cars,
or perhaps an assortment of
vehicles," Roger replied.

"So add 'em up," Montay said.
"Just don't go in a used car lot
waving a blank check in the air."

Roger had a real poker face,
but the way his mouth curled up
just at the corners made Montay
think the older man was maybe
playing with him a little bit.

After all they'd done for him,
Montay was perfectly willing to be
the butt of the joke if it made Roger
happy -- and kept him out of Smitty's,
because Montay wasn't exaggerating
there. He had cleaned up after
that lot too often for comfort.

"If money's no object,
why don't you just buy
new cars?" he wondered.

Roger almost-smiled a bit more.
"How many new cars have you
seen around town?" he said.

"Man, this is Missouri,"
said Montay. "The only folks
who can afford to buy new cars
are doctors and lawyers."

"Exactly," Roger said, tilting
his hand. "We want to fit in."

"Buy a pickup truck," Montay advised.
"All the farmers have one, and they're
great if you need to haul anything."

"For three people?" Roger said,
raising his eyebrows in challenge.

"Eh," Montay said, "we've got some with
extended cabs, but they're not as good
at hauling as a real pickup or as good for
passengers as a car. You said 'cars' plural,
so consider a truck for cargo and a car
for riding around town or whatever."

"Do you have any in stock?" Roger said.

"We always have Ford F-150s," Montay said.
"Right now, we've got some real nice ones from
the 1990s, or a sweet F-250 workhorse once
Chevy finishes getting all the mud off it."

Roger made a note on his smartphone.
"We'll take that into consideration,"
he said. "What about cars?"

"Mmm ... you planning to travel,
or stay local?" Montay asked.

"Why?" Roger's eyes narrowed.

"Well, nationally the most popular
used cars are the Honda Accord and
the Toyota Camry," Montay said.
"Around here, though, folks like
to buy American -- you want
a Chevrolet Impala or Malibu."

"In fact, we're renting an Impala
right now," Roger said. "My team
will be moving on eventually, but
any vehicles we purchase will
remain here for company use."

"Oh, what kind of company?"
Montay said. "That may affect
which vehicles suit your needs.
Chevy knows more about that
than I do, so tell him too."

"Real estate investment,"
Roger said. He hesitated and
then added, "We're an Italian firm.
Will that be a problem locally?"

"Not if your money's good,"
Montay said. "People just like
to support the economy, you know?"

"Oh, we can do that," Roger said,
the corners of his eyes crinkling.

Montay wondered what he had
just gotten himself and Chevy into.

He found out a few days later when
all three of them showed up on the lot.

Roger was wearing a khaki summer suit
so pale that it was almost ivory, with
penny loafers of camel suede.

Leo had on a dark red polo
with a navy collar over
neat navy trousers.

Olivia's sundress was
a riot of blue and yellow
that reminded Montay of
a fine china plate, and it
matched her sandals.

It was the tamest thing
he'd ever seen her wear,
and Montay realized that she
had probably dressed down a bit
to avoid causing too much distraction.

Of course, Olivia would be distracting
even in a gunny sack, but there was
nothing to be done about that.

"Hey, you made it!" Montay said,
then waved at the leather couch
and upholstered chairs in the lobby.
"Grab a seat if you like, while I
go find my boss for you."

Chevy was reluctant to be
dragged out of his office before
the customers even had a chance
to browse the lot, but Montay insisted.

Then Chevy took one look at
the three elegant Italians and said,
"You know these people?"

"Uh, yeah," said Montay. "I
bumped into them a while back,
and they kind of stuck around.
They've been renting, and now
they want to buy some cars."

"Some ... cars?" Chevy pushed
Montay toward a side door. "Go --"

"What, I'm swamped this morning,"
Montay said, trying to veer back toward
the front desk. "You're the salesman."

"Drop whatever you've been doing.
Your job today is to make these people
happy," Chevy ordered. "Take a car,
go to Well-Mart, and buy some of
that fancy fair-trade shit they sell in
the bulk coffee aisle. Pastries too,
as pretty as you can get. Scoot."

So Montay took a Dodge Charger in
candy purple paint that he was using
to run around town until some girl
fell in love with the car and begged
her parents for a birthday present.

Montay took shameless advantage of
his ulterior knowledge to cross Olivia's love
of complex flavors with the men's preference for
the darkest roast they could get, and bought
some of Higher Ground's House Blend.

He got a basket of Banana Caramel Muffins
to complement the aftertaste of the coffee, wheedled
a whole Chocolate-Almond Coffee Braid out of
the bakers for Olivia, and added a bag of
Ham and Cheese Croissants just in case
the Italians were still shopping at lunchtime.

When Montay got back, they were all
wandering around the lot browsing while
Chevy waved his arms and praised
the virtues of this or that vehicle and
Olivia's dress fluttered in the wind.

Montay put the coffee on and
set the pastries on the counter
back in the customer lounge.

Before long, Leo had picked out
a nice 1997 Ford F150 XLT pickup
in handsome black and silver.

They came inside, chattering
in Italian, and Montay directed
them to the refreshments.

"Good coffee," Roger said,
looking faintly pleased.

Olivia was more expressive in
moaning over the chocolate braid.

Roger was a lucky, lucky man.

Chevy kept Montay busy
with errands, looking up files
and pulling out the forms that
they would need for the Ford.

Afterward, the Italians went back
outside so that Olivia could shop for
a car to carry all of them around town,
preferably something more recent
than Leo's sturdy old truck.

While she was carefully examining
a sleek 2009 Chevrolet Impala LT
with imperial blue metallic paint
and neutral leather seats, Roger
was idly eyeing the vans.

He wound up falling in love with
a 1995 Ford E-150 XL Econoline Van
painted in shades of pale brown, with
graceful swooshes along the sides.

The seats were upholstered in
beige velveteen, with two pairs of
bucket seats followed by a bench
that could lie flat to become a bed,
and cargo space behind that.

Leo watched him playing with
the back seat, popping it up and
down to see how long it took
to change the position.

"That could be useful,"
Leo said quietly.

"Three it is, at least
for today," Roger agreed.

Chevy ushered the Italians
into his office to negotiate a deal.

Montay went to the customer lounge
and made up a tray of coffee and
the ham and cheese croissants,
which he brought into the office.

Then he went back to man
the front desk that had been
abandoned much of the morning.

When they came out of the office,
Chevy had a spring in his step and
the stoic Roger was very nearly smiling.

Olivia looked like a cat who ate the canary,
while Leo had on his tolerant face.

Leo drifted over to Montay while
the others chatted. "That was
good advice you gave us to come
here," he said. "My boss and yours
had a great time making a deal."

"Yeah, Chevy loves negotiating,"
said Montay. "He's good at it, and
he makes sure that customers get
what they need, so they come back."

"What about you?" Leo said.

"Ah, he's a stickler as a boss, but
I'm grateful to have a job," Montay said.

"I meant, is there a car you like?" Leo said.
"Perhaps that purple one you drove earlier?"

Montay shook his head. "Nah, we got that
from a young mother, it was her first car in
college but now she needs a mommy car,"
he said. "Let it go to some other girl who will
have the time of her life with it. Me, I like
walking to work. I need a home more than
a car -- I'm just crashing with a friend."

"Well then, I'll watch out for a girl
who wants a flashy ride," Leo said.

"Thanks," Montay said. He went
to get three of the company keychains
that read, Have fun, be safe, come home.

Then Chevy handed over the keys and
shook hands with everyone again.
Olivia gave him a kiss on the cheek
that left him looking poleaxed.

After the Italians left, Chevy
pulled Montay into his office
and clapped him on the back.

"Congratulations, kid, that is
the best day I've had in years,"
he said. "Now I know that you
encouraged them to come
in here, so this is yours."

He handed Montay a check
for a thousand dollars.

Montay was so shocked
that he almost dropped it, and
wound up crumpling it in panic.

"What -- but -- I don't work on
commission, I'm not actually
a salesman!" he protested.

"That's a bonus," Chevy said.
"We just made $18,000, about
half of which is profit. That check
is about two-thirds of what you
would've made on commission."

"Thank you so much!" Montay said.

"You're welcome," Chevy said.
"There's likely more to come yet --
Roger asked me to find them either
a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry
for long-range travel, and Leo wants
a Ferrari, convertible if possible."

"I thought they wanted to fit in,"
Montay said. "A Ferrari would
stick out like a sore thumb."

"I didn't ask, kid, and if you
have any brains, neither will
you," Chevy said. "The Accord or
Camry alone will make a nice haul,
and the Ferrari a whole year's salary
if I can pull it together like I want."

"We can try Springfield, River City, or
Jefferson City for the Japanese cars, but
only River City has any real chance of
having a Ferrari for sale," Montay said.

"Just focus on the Japanese ones, and
I'll worry about the Italian one. I know a guy
out in Westbord," Chevy said. "All right, get back
to work. I know I messed up your whole schedule
for the day, but they were important people."

Montay knew the Italians were important.

That evening, he went home and took
Tucker-Lee out to dinner at the Graceful Plate,
a fancy restaurant in Cambridge Commons.

There they split a roast duck and ate
way too much chocolate truffle layer cake.

It was the best day Montay had had in ages.

Chevy remained in a good mood all week,
which made Montay's life a lot easier.

The blue Impala showed up at
the Hilltop Fitness Center, but
Montay didn't see the Italians.

That was okay. He knew that
they were around somewhere.

On Saturday, Montay came home
and found Tucker-Lee holding
an envelope for him. Tucker-Lee
shook it eagerly and grinned at
the mysterious jingle it made.

"Yeah, yeah, I know you want
to see me open that," Montay said.

He tore open the top and turned
the envelope upside down.

A keychain fell into his hand,
several keys chiming together
against a metal fob and charm.

Curious, Montay turned it over
in his hand and saw that the charm
was a little house and the fob
read, Home Sweet Home.

The blank envelope gave
no explanation what it meant.

Montay groped inside it and
found a letter from Roger
which explained that they
had bought him a house.

Numb with shock, he stared
at the keys, the letter,
and the address:

Montay Peyton
1021 Lobelia Street
Bluehill, MO 63652

That was somewhere in
the neighborhood nicknamed
the Flower Garden, because
much of it had been built during
the postwar period and most of
the streets had flower names.

So on Sunday, Montay caught a bus
to the Garden Gate Shopping Center,
which was a good distance south
and west of Cambridge Commons.

When he looked at the site map
for the shopping center, he saw that
it had not one but three bus stops,
each serving a route that covered
a whole different part of town.

It wasn't a real transit hub, but
it would serve the same purpose
in terms of switching bus lines.

Garden Gate itself clearly catered
to a blue-collar crowd, with frugal stores
like Shrewd Dude and BuckStop. There
were several places to eat, including
Noodles & Company whose pergola
served as the bus shelter.

Montay noted essentials such as
the Commonwealth Neighborhood Clinic
and the Mayflower Laundromat. He was
delighted to see the Sunshine Garden Center
and a rain garden winding through the parking lot.

Instead of catching another bus, Montay chose
to walk through the neighborhood and take
a closer look at where he might be living.

It was surprisingly pleasant. The rain garden
let out into Skogli Park, which seemed to be
mostly marsh and pond, although it had
a few picnic tables scattered around.

The houses beyond the park were
small and close together, most of them
with one or two bedrooms, a few with windows
overhead suggesting an extra bedroom upstairs.
The streets all had sidewalks, though, and some
had mature trees while others had new saplings.

Some blocks had a small apartment building
or a boarding house on one corner, but
not as many as other neighborhoods.

One empty corner lot, however, had
been turned into a community garden
with a greenhouse of plastic sheeting and
raised beds made from salvaged wood.

A colorful handpainted sign read,
Concord Community Garden above
a bulletin board for activities.

Eventually Montay came to
the address from the card.

It was a little white house framed
by a white picket fence and skirted by
colorful flowers and bushes. A tall elm tree
stood to the left, and a broad mimosa
to the right, on the property lines.

Little girls rode by on creaking bicycles,
their laughter twittering on the breeze
like birds. The trees, too, whispered
and sighed overhead, casting
cool shade on a warm day.

Hand shaking, Montay tried
his keys in the front door.

It opened easily.

Inside, the living room
had couches and tables, and
someone had painted a rustic scene
on a couple of scavenged boards.

The wooden floor had been
sanded and varnished recently.

The master bedroom held a bed
and two end tables but no dresser,
although it had a large closet. The bed
stood under windows wide enough that
Montay thought he could grow houseplants.

The second bedroom was empty except for
a lovely stairstep cabinet filling most of one wall.

White tiles and woodwork made the small kitchen
seem open and airy. The cabinets and sink were
old, but the appliances were all new. Someone had
even put dishes in the cabinets, one set of four in
sea-green ceramic and the other in plain white.

The laundry closet held shelves and cabinets
above the washer and dryer, with a steam iron
on the counter and a little framed photo of
flowers falling over the white picket fence.

Even the bathroom was small but clean,
and had a whole tub instead of just a shower.

Montay slipped out the side door to explore
the back yard. The patio by the house held
a lawn table with an umbrella and four chairs.

Beyond that lay a small patch of grass bordered
by a lush garden of herbs and flowers along
the white picket fence. Across that fence,
the back neighbor's yard was densely wooded.

Montay trailed his fingers along the flowers
and rubbed a few of the mint leaves. Then
he went back inside the house to look at
it more closely and think about where
he could put his few possessions.

He was poking around the living room
when his phone rang. "Hello?" he said.

"Hello, Montay," said Roger.
"How do you like your new home?"

"It -- it's wonderful, but I hardly dare
to accept," Montay said. "Why would
you give me a house? How do you
even have a house to give away?"

"Ahh," said Roger, a long note of
enlightenment. "You're concerned
that we might take advantage of you.
Don't worry. Remember us mentioning
an interest in real estate? We have been
'flipping houses' to use the American term.
So of course, we need someone to test
one of the small ones before we scale up."

"And that's worth giving me the house?"
Montay said. "Why not just rent it?"

"Because you have been a great help
already, in ways that are not always
obvious or easy to find," Roger said.
"By the time we finish, you will have
earned that modest little cottage."

"It really is a nice house,"
Montay said. "I don't care that
it's small, I don't need much space.
It has a yard full of flowers and
windows I can hang plants in.
I'm in love with it already."

"Excellent," said Roger.
"I'll send Leo over to get
your impressions in detail."

That proved a lot more exhausting
than Montay expected. Roger wasn't
kidding about him earning the house.

Leo walked around, taking photos
of the house and yard, along with
the neighborhood around it. He
asked what Montay thought of
the decorating choices and
whether it was acceptable
to have left some old things.

"It looks updated, but not
out of place," Montay said as
he pointed out details. "Some of
the newer houses, they don't fit --
they look too slick, you know?
This place has character."

"Very well," Leo said. "I think
that covers it for today. I'll send
the moving crew tomorrow."

"I have to work tomorrow,"
Montay reminded him. "That job
runs me ragged, but I know I'm
lucky to have it." Then he sighed.
"I don't suppose you're hiring?"

Leo's eyebrows went up.
"As a matter of fact, we are,"
he said. "We'll be hiring a variety
of local help. I'll have to ask the boss,
of course, but meanwhile, what can you do?"

"All kinds of stuff," Montay said. "I'm not
an expert, but I can wait tables and mop floors.
In an office, I answer phones, greet people,
and keep things organized. I can file stuff, but
not make a filing system or do shorthand."

"That's probably enough for our office needs,
at least to start. If not, we can always send you
to classes," Leo said. "I'll get back to you later."

So Montay let Tucker-Lee know that he'd
finally found a place of his own, and
started packing up his things.

He couldn't resist wandering around
the Flower Garden some more, though, and
he was amused to discover that many folks
had planted whatever flowers their road was
named for, like asters on Aster Avenue and
bachelor's buttons on Centaurea Street.

The moving crew, when they came,
consisted of three burly boys and
one even more muscular girl.

They laughed and chattered
in Italian until the oldest reminded
the younger ones, "Practice English."

One of them was fluent, two okay, and
the fourth so bad the others teased him.

"My six language!" he protested.

They did a good job moving things,
but some of what they did was ...
a bit unsettling, Montay admitted.

Still, they had moved him in for free,
and he was grateful for the help.

Afterwards, Montay went to
the Sunshine Garden Center and
got some houseplants, along with
birdseed, birdfeeders, and a pole.

He also found a whimsical desk
at the ReStore that was shaped
like two overlapping crescents.

Montay set up the birdfeeding station
outside the window in what would
become his office, and filled it with
various foods, then realized that he
forgot to buy anything for himself.

So he went back to Sprouts and
bought pantry staples along with
some fresh fruits and vegetables.

When he got home, Leo was waiting
for yet another feedback session.
"How did the move go?" he asked.

"No offense, but your moving crew
was kind of scary," Montay said. "I
thought they were just cute teens --
and then I caught one of them
bench-pressing my bed."

"See, this is why we need
local feedback," Leo said as he
made a note on his tablet computer.
"Where I grew up, nobody would be
frightened, just remind them to put
the bed down before they broke it,
and go lift weights in the weight room."

Montay laughed. "Good lord, that's
almost exactly what I just said!"

"Then you did fine," Leo assured him.

"I still have to wonder why you're
doing all of this," Montay said.

"We just want to be neighborly,"
Leo said with a gentle smile.
"Besides, it's a good investment."

Montay shook his head. "No way
does somebody who dresses
in tailored linen and silk live in
a neighborhood like mine," he said.
"I love it, and I'm thankful for it, but
it's not a sophisticated place."

"Ah, you got me," Leo said with
a half-smile. "We have a condo
somewhere called Sturgeon Road.
Is that fancy enough for you?"

"Yeah, we usually say
'Surgeon's Row' because
that's where most of the doctors
and lawyers live," said Montay. "It
has the condos and the big houses
with yards the size of a small park."

Leo laughed. "That explains
some of the comments we've gotten."

Montay finished the checklist of
questions that Leo had regarding
the move, then showed him out.

Afterwards, Montay sat down in
his new office and watched the birds.

A lean tabby cat emerged from
the flower garden along the fence
to slink toward the birdfeeders.

Sensing trouble, Montay went
into the kitchen and opened
a can of tuna, which he
put down on the patio.

The stray cat proved
far more interested in
an easy meal than he was
in chasing after the birds.

Roger was, indeed, eager
to hire Montay for office work.

The day started at nine instead
of seven, which Montay appreciated.

He also enjoyed having his own house
rather than an apartment where noise
from the neighbors seeped through
the walls to disturb his sleep.

Now he could wake up well rested,
without any feelings of guilt over
sleeping in. That made Montay
cheerful when he went to work.

It was a nice place to work, too.
Ironclad Concern occupied a slot
at the Hillton Business Center.

It had a reception desk and
conference room in front,
three offices, a lounge, and
a full bathroom with shower.

The back office belonged
to Roger, the long one to
Leo and Olivia, and Montay
was surprised to learn that
the middle one was his.

"Why do I rate a private office?"
he said, admiring the paneled walls
and plate-glass windows looking into
the hallway. It had a desk and hutch
along the wall and another desk in
the middle of the room. "Don't you
want this for your own people?"

"We like to keep close,"
Roger said. "I'll show you."

His office was full of desks
and bookcases, and it had
leather chairs instead of cloth.

The long office had desks,
filing cabinets, and even
a small meeting table.

"It's a nice setup,"
Montay agreed.

"You see, these are
the back two offices,
so we're right in reach,"
Roger said, waving a hand.

He had a point, Montay
realized -- you could walk
to the middle office, but not
just talk through two open doors.

"Okay, what do you want me
to do?" Montay asked as he
headed back to his own office.

Roger gave him a thin smile and
handed him a stack of papers.

"Begin with the town map. Outline
the neighborhoods as you know them,
and whether they're considered 'good' or
'bad' ones. Put the map on the bulletin board,"
said Roger. "Then use the newspaper to find
houses for sale. Mark those on the map
with pins. I will take it from there."

"Ah ... there are computer programs
for doing that," Montay pointed out.

Roger clucked his tongue. "Computers
can be tracked," he said. "Some things
should stay Secure On Paper Only."

Montay thought that was for
top-secret government stuff, but
Roger was the boss, and he could
run his office however he wanted.

It was better than dealing with Chevy.

"I'll get right on that paperwork,"
Montay said, opening his desk
to look for the pushpins.

It was complicated, because
he had to consider a lot of
different things, but it
wasn't too difficult.

Montay found that
he enjoyed the work.

He enjoyed his new home,
too, and the neighborhood.

After the third time that Montay
had to use tuna to distract
the stray cat from the birds,
he gave up and bought cat food.

When it stormed one day, and
he saw the poor cat huddled
under the table in the back yard,
then Montay finally brought him
indoors and named him Tiger.

By that evening, Tiger had
taken over half of Montay's bed.

Since the cat didn't seem inclined
to savage the houseplants, Montay
just shrugged and let him stay.

Then came the day that
Montay overheard Olivia
yelling at someone in Italian,
and understood just enough
to realize what was going on.

"You're mobsters?" he squeaked.
"Oh, this explains so much."

Passing through the hall,
Roger froze, and for a moment
Montay worried that he was about
to end up at the bottom of a lake.

Then the boss shook himself
and said, "Mr. Peyton, we've had
a mutually beneficial arrangement.
I'd like that to continue, so please
don't mention this to anyone."

"Well, duh," said Montay, stung
by the insinuation that he would blab
proprietary information around town.
"I do not spill office secrets!"

You couldn't do that and work
at a used car lot: the prices
were just too sensitive.

Roger thawed a little more. "We
appreciate your discretion," he said.
"You're not ... concerned ... about
some of our connections?"

"Maybe a bit," Montay admitted.
"I know the Mob gets into shady stuff,
but I also know that they backed
the labor movement. So far, all I've
seen you do is buy houses, fix 'em up,
and otherwise dump a ton of money
into the local economy. Let's not
kill the golden goose, okay?"

Leo, coming out of the common office,
chuckled at the remark. "I guess we
really got lucky with you," he said.

"I got luckier with you," Montay said.
"You people basically fixed my life.
I hope that you don't plan on trashing
the town, or tangling with Officer Pink --"

Leo laughed out loud. "He's one of
our contacts here," the slim man said.

"He's surprisingly good at negotiation,"
Roger added. "We needed a safe base
in a quiet place, and offered immunity from
Business for the town in exchange. Officer Pink
bargained it up to include the whole county."

"Well yeah, you can't do anything with
Bluehill and not include rest of the county,"
said Montay. "We've got the best hospital,
most of the best shopping -- you want better,
you have to go clear up to River City. So
everyone in Iron County comes here, and
most residents have folks in the country."

"That is the kind of input we need,
and why you are so valuable to us,"
Roger said quietly. "You know things,
simply by living here, that we don't.
This lowers the risk of mistakes."

"I'm happy to help," Montay said.
"I'm just glad I'm not the one
that Olivia is so mad at!"

"Olivia needs to keep
her voice down when she's
chewing someone's ears off,"
Leo said, shaking his head.

"We need those privacy generators,
yesterday," Roger said, sounding cranky.
Then he glared at Montay. "And you did not
tell us that you understand Italian, which
I know was on the job application."

Montay ducked his head. "I speak
French," he said. "It's just similar enough
that I could get the gist of the argument,
and well, when someone says that
'Our Thing' shouldn't hit the papers ..."

Roger rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Indeed."

"Montay did put the French on his form,"
Leo said helpfully. "That and Italian are
both Romance languages, boss, they're
close enough that anyone with a good ear
can sometimes pick up one from the other."

"As well hang for a sheep as a lamb,"
Roger muttered, then turned to Montay.
"Since you're that close already, what
do you say about taking Italian lessons?"

"Yes, sir, I'd love that," said Montay. "I can
sign, too -- American Sign Language --
if you didn't see that on the form."

"Also potentially useful," Roger said. "We'll
add language lessons to your schedule."

Montay had never worked for anyone
so calm and accommodating, who dealt
with a misstep by suggesting classes --
which Roger would doubtless pay for,
if the past was any example of his style.

"Can I join?" Montay blurted.
"Or do you have to be born to it?"

Roger's eyebrows climbed
toward his hairline. "I was not
born in the Family," he said slowly.

"Olivia and I were," Leo said. "It's not
a requirement, though. Our Family
gets a lot of people from outside."

"Are those even your real names?"
Montay wondered suddenly.

Roger's mouth quirked up.
"I only use my birth name on
a few pieces of official paperwork,"
he said. "The name I use most often
is ... actually more of a title. Let's say
that 'Roger' is who I am in Bluehill."

"Okay," said Montay. "It just
occurred to me, and I wondered.
It's no big deal -- my last boss,
his name is Christopher, but
everyone calls him Chevy."

"Mmm," said Roger. "Why do
you want to join the Mob, though?
You don't seem like the usual sort."

"I'm not, really," Montay said. "It's just ...
I'm not kidding when I say that you fixed
my whole life. You've done more for me
than anyone else -- more than everyone else
put together! I wanted to thank you for that."

"It is not easy for men to rise whose qualities
are thwarted by poverty," Roger said. "When
you dropped your computer wallet, I confess
that we ... snooped a bit, because it's what
we do and we needed to know more about
this place. Finding you in some distress, we
decided to help, and see how it turned out."

"I'm glad you did," Montay said. "I just
needed to tell you that you have
my loyalty, because you do."

"In that case," Roger said,
clapping him on the shoulder,
"welcome to the Family."

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes will appear separately.  Read the character, location, and content notes.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, economics, ethnic studies, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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