Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
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Growing Together
Book Six of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2008, 2011

Chapter 15

Like Jon and Tanisha, Ben and Joy had never acquired elegant tastes in dining, so, after a brief look at a number of houses, they wound up at a chain restaurant not far from their apartments. The food was normal American and good, although nothing special, but it was all right with them, especially since it was their first chance to talk over what they'd seen without the woman from the real estate company hovering over them.

"So," Joy started things off, "What does anyone think?"

"Well," Jon shrugged, "Just off the top of my head, I could live in any one of them and like it, but I think I tend to lean toward the last two."

"I think I lean the same way," Ben agreed. "The neighborhood doesn't seem as cramped as the others. I mean, here we are, the west, wide open spaces, and all that, but still those other houses seemed built right on top of each other. Hell, it wasn't that bad back home outside Cleveland."

"Me, either," Jon replied.

"The last two seemed like the best to me," Tanisha agreed. "Granted, they're the most expensive, but it seems like there's a reason for it. I like the fact that they're right next door to each other. Joy, you're the one who's been pushing the hardest on this. What do you think?"

"Well, I like the last two houses, too," she said. "As far as I'm concerned, I think I could be more comfortable there than I would be in any of the other four. The view is better, and the neighborhoods seem nicer."

"The only downside I see is that it's farther to work for me," Ben said. "But that's just me, and it's not a whole lot farther. It's closer for the rest of you, a lot closer to Lambdatron for you two."

"Right," Tanisha agreed. "Close enough that we might consider walking to work for the sake of the exercise. I kind of like the fact that they're pretty close to a school, too."

"I suppose that begs the question," Jon said. "Do we want to get serious about those two houses? I mean, we're pretty sure they would do without going through them more thoroughly. Do we want to take a second look at these two, or do we want to keep on looking?"

"I wouldn't mind looking around a bit more if we had the time to do it," Joy replied. "But you know the situation we're in for time, with our lease running out. I think these would do, and I don't want to let it go till the last minute. I think we need to take a better look at those two places, and if we're agreeable, we can make offers."

"I think I'm basically with you on that, honey," Ben agreed. "It's kind of fun to look around, but I think we could spend a lot more time looking and not come up with anything that suits us as well. Jon, Tanisha, that's assuming the two of you are still up for the idea of being next door, or at least close by."

"That's fine with me," Tanisha said. "You're right, there are some real advantages. It wouldn't be like we're moving into a neighborhood of nothing but strangers."

"It's not a show stopper to me, by any means," Jon said. "I think it would work well to have friends as close as the two of you living next door. I think we need to take a closer look at those houses, and we need to have someone who really knows something about houses come along to take a critical look at them."

"Yeah, good point," Joy agreed. "Unfortunately, I think that lets my dad, the unhandyman, out. Anyone got any better ideas?"

They all had blank looks for a moment, before Tanisha replied thoughtfully, "I suppose we could call up to Flagstaff and see if Jeff would come down and help us."

"That might work," Jon agreed. "If he isn't up for it, I'll bet he'd know someone who was."

"Jeff?" Ben asked, "Who's that?"

"You remember him; he was on the second half of the trip with us last spring," Jon said. "He's the bus driver and kind of the Canyon Tours jack of all trades. If he can't fix something, it can't be fixed."

"Yeah," Joy brightened, "Kind of a character, isn't he?"

"Oh, yeah," Jon said. "You remember him telling us about how he was a carpenter for years before he had to slow down a little? He got to driving a school bus and was sort of a handyman while the kids were in school before Al scooped him up. I'll bet they're not so busy with rigging yet that he couldn't get free for a day."

"Good idea, Jon," Tanisha said. "As far as that goes, I'd tend to trust Al's advice on something like this, too. I know he's bought and sold a few houses over the years."

"Yeah, I remember him saying that he and Louise used to do that on the off season," Jon nodded. "It might even be how he got to know Jeff; I don't know. What do you think? Tomorrow, or should we put it off till the weekend, just to think about it?"

"I wouldn't mind putting it off," Tanisha said. "And we probably should think about it. But if we put it off till the weekend, then it's a week before we could get going on the paperwork, so there's a week lost right at the beginning. We don't have a lot of weeks to waste."

"Wow," Joy said, "It sounds like you guys are about as much in a hurry as we are. It sure didn't sound like that yesterday."

"Well," Tanisha grinned, "We weren't in this big a hurry yesterday. Jon, should I?"

"Might as well," Jon grinned. "I don't know how we've managed this long."

"That's true," Tanisha smiled and turned to Ben and Joy. "Yesterday I didn't know I was pregnant."

"You . . . you mean I was right?" Joy replied, wide-eyed. "Hell, I was just teasing you."

"Tease or not, it got us to thinking," Jon smiled. "And yes, we are in a hurry since we want to be moved in when the baby comes."

"But you're not in that big a hurry, are you?" Joy protested. "I mean, if you just found out you were pregnant, it takes months."

"Not if you've been pregnant for a while and didn't realize it," Tanisha grinned. "We're looking at a due date of around July first. That means we want to be moved in not much later than June first, and I wouldn't mind if it was sooner. If it takes two months for mortgage and closing and all the other red tape, we're already getting tight for time. So, if you guys are willing, I think we need to push on ahead."

"Wow, yeah," Joy said, feminine imperatives taking over from her desire to push ahead on a house. "Well, congratulations! So, are you guys hoping for a boy or a girl or what?"

"No hoping involved, I had an ultrasound today, we're going to have a girl," Tanisha smiled and tried to drag things back on topic. "We're going to have a lot of other getting ready to do and the time is short, so the less messing around we have to do on looking for a house just buys us time to do other stuff."

"God, yes," Joy shook her head. "I guess that puts a little different light on things. Jon, why don't you call up to Flagstaff and see if Jeff would be willing to come down and look at the house with us?"

"I'll have to call Mom and Al," he said. "I don't have Jeff's number. Which brings up the thought that we haven't told her about this either, and I'm wondering what she's going to think about it. It's going to be her first grandchild."

"She'll go nuts," Joy predicted.

"I'm afraid you're right, although it might not be quite what we expect," Jon sighed, pulling out his cell phone. "Well, I might as well drop the bomb, unless you'd like to, Tanisha."

"No, she's your mother; you have the fun," Tanisha grinned.

"All right," he said, thumbing the autodial number for Al's house.

The phone only rang a couple times before Jon's mother picked it up, answering "Canyon Tours, may I help you?"

"Got the phone switched over again, huh?" Jon smirked.

"Yes, and it's been busy," Karin said. "I'll bet we've booked two dozen customers today."

"Mom, I have to ask," Jon said. "I know things are pretty screwed up with the boatman's schedule, and I presume that you're going to want to be running as much as possible, but is there going to be any problem with you keeping yourself off the schedule, oh, mid-June through mid-July?"

"I probably can if there's a real need to," Karin replied. "I swear, the boatman situation changes every day, and the schedule will probably keep changing right up until each trip launches. Is there some need for me to be off the river right about then?"

"Well, really, it's up to you," Jon smirked. "I mean, you don't have to take the time off the river if you don't want to, but Tanisha's due date is about then."

"Tanisha's due date?" Karin replied with a questioning sound in her voice. Then it hit her. "Oh, my God! Jon! Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"Yeah, I don't think it would be wise for us to be planning a spring river trip this year what with everything else," Jon teased some more. "Actually, we're not real sure about the due date, it could be off by a couple weeks, there's no way of telling."

"My God, Jon, let me sit down. You're telling me that you and Tanisha are going to have a baby?"

"Well, the odds are really against kittens," Jon laughed. "Especially since the ultrasound said it's going to be a little girl."

"Oh, my God," Karin sighed. "After all those years of being scared Nanci was going to be the first to make me a grandmother . . . you're sure, right?"

"Oh, yeah, no question," Jon replied. "Look, we're probably going to have to lean on you a bit to help with getting ready, and I know the timing could be better for you. One of those things is that we're looking at buying a house, and I need to get Jeff's phone number. I'm thinking that he can go through the places we're looking at and see about repairs and stuff that we probably wouldn't notice. Maybe Al, too."

"I'm sure they'd be willing to help, and I'd be willing to come along, too. When are you talking about?"

"Probably the sooner the better, but we haven't worked out a date with the agent yet," Jon told her. "We wanted to see if Jeff was going to be available before we set something up."

"If it's a one-day thing I'm pretty sure he's available any time. He's been piddling around the shop getting started on rigging mostly because he can't stand being around his wife's TV set. I can call and find out for sure. But Jon, you didn't say anything about this when you were up here Saturday."

"Well, we didn't know any of it," Jon replied. "Things are happening quickly around here, Mom. If you're sure you can get Jeff and Al down here in the next couple days, I'll have Joy call and get us an appointment with the realtor."

"Joy? Are Ben and Joy involved with this, too?"

"Yeah, it's kind of complicated, but we're looking at two houses that are next door to each other. We haven't worked out who is going to buy which one, but between us it looks like we're going to be buying both of them."

"You all have been busy little beavers down there," Karin sighed. "Look, let me talk to Tanisha."

"Sure thing," Jon smiled, handing the phone across to his wife. "Thus begins the grandmother involvement," he smirked as Tanisha rolled her eyes and picked up the phone.

"So," Stan said in the conference room around mid-morning the next day, "How did the house hunting go last night?"

"Not bad," Jon reported. "We were with our friends who are looking, too. We looked at half a dozen places, and we're going to head back this afternoon and take a closer look at two of them."

"I think either one would be all right," Tanisha said. "Our friends seemed to feel pretty much the same way. I wouldn't be surprised if we each wind up buying one of the places."

"Just don't get yourself wrapped up in one of those short-term, low-adjustable-rate mortgages," Stan warned. "They're sucker bait. When you hit that balloon payment you can really get stung."

"One of our friends is a CPA," Jon said. "She said pretty much the same thing."

"Well, good," Stan said. "I think buying a home is a good move for you at this point in your lives. Let me know if I can help you with anything."

"We sure will," Jon said. "But I think we have things pretty well under control in that department for the moment. I wish I felt as good about this," as he tapped the folder on the table in front of him.

Since their arrival in the morning, both Jon and Tanisha had a chance to go through the summary that Halloran Security had compiled on Kwame Blythe. It was now over a year old, and even then both of them thought that it tended to downplay the actual risk factor. They were now waiting for Jim Bricklin, the Halloran representative, to show up, to go over the report in more detail, and get their input.

"Jon," Stan shook his head, "I can't help but think that you're being a little bit paranoid."

"Maybe so," Jon said, "But it only takes being wrong once to screw up a lot of things. Besides, who was it that said even paranoids have enemies? We're just trying to be conservative on this, Stan, mostly because there's a lot riding on it if we're wrong. There's more riding on it now than there ever has been before."

"Well, there's no point in getting into it until Jim gets here," Stan pointed out. "So where's this house you guys are looking at, anyway?"

"Pretty close," Jon said, and explained that it was only a few blocks to the south of the office. They talked it back and forth for a couple minutes, and Stan commented that there were several Lambdatron employees who lived in that general area.

Jim Bricklin, the Halloran representative, arrived only a couple minutes later, carrying a laptop. He was a solid, athletic-looking guy in his forties, with a military-style haircut and a serious demeanor. Jon and Tanisha had met him before, but didn't know him well. "I'll admit that we haven't had an update on this recently," he began after the briefest of introductions. "But the last time we looked at this question we evaluated the threat level as low, so we haven't taken another look at it recently. But it's getting to be time we did it again, so we'll move on with that in mind."

"After the last contact we had with him," Tanisha pointed out, "I'm not sure how you can consider the threat level as low."

"Well, there's several things," Bricklin pointed out. "I think I have to start by saying the last time our operatives took a look at things, your brother had his plate pretty full. Mrs. Chladek, your father had a reputation for having a very strong control of his congregation, for a number of reasons. Mostly, it was because the people of his congregation respected him a good deal, and he'd gone to great lengths to earn that respect. Simply, he had a lot of people who owed him, and sometimes owed him a lot, because he'd gone to bat for people when times got tough for them, and he had a reputation for doing it if he needed to. Yes, your brother was your father's designated successor, but at least the last time we looked at the church, he didn't have anything like that level of control. He's lost a lot of support over the last three years or so, mostly because he doesn't have people owing him favors like they did your father. And, to be a little causal about it, he's upset some people by throwing his weight around when people knew he didn't have to."

"You're kidding!" Tanisha said wide-eyed. "You're saying . . . well, I know the way the church is structured there's no way they're going to throw him out."

"Right," Bricklin said. "But people can vote with their feet, too. And they're doing it. Again, we don't have a recent report, but we're planning on getting one; however, as of the last report, the church attendance was down to something like sixty percent of what it was in the last quarter your father was alive."

"Then collections would have to be down, too . . ." Tanisha mused.

"You're getting the picture," Bricklin smiled. "To be blunt, if he really does have the intent of quote 'dragging you back to your people and your church where you belong,' end quote, he may realize he may not be able to do it and get away with it, anyway. That's especially true if he's aware that you're far away, married, and in a job with considerable protective security. We don't know he knows it though, and it would be nice if we did."

"You're saying that no matter what he wants to do, if he does know where we are, he may realize we're too tough a nut to crack?" Jon said, beginning to see Bricklin's point.

"That's only assuming he knows where the two of you are," Bricklin pointed out. "Now, Mrs. Chladek, I'd have to say that if you were living as a single woman in the St. Louis area, possibly underemployed, you would be getting a great deal of pressure from him, if he hadn't accomplished what he allegedly threatened in the first place. It's his turf, so to speak. But, he apparently is pretty sure that, wherever you are, you're not anywhere around St. Louis."

"The closest we've been to there in three years is Memphis, and we only stopped there to get gas," Jon nodded, "Once."

"But if he knows where we are," Tanisha asked, "Why hasn't he tried something?"

"Mrs. Chladek, in my business we have to consider both capabilities and intent. He may have the intent of dragging you back to the church against your will, but he may not have the capability. Oh, of course he might have the power to break into your house and drag you off, but he has to consider if he can get away with it. After all, if something like that were to happen, he would be the first place anyone would look. The only way he could manage to get away with it is if you were desperately unhappy, perhaps living with an abusive husband. It would still be iffy for a number of reasons, including your security clearance -- if he knows about it -- and the fact that he'd be operating in strange territory far from his comfort zone. Add all that up and it comes out to a low threat level."

"But that assumes he knows where we are," Tanisha replied. "We've operated for years under the assumption that he doesn't know, and we've gone to quite a bit of effort to keep a low profile."

"True, and it's part of the reason that we'd like to know if he does know where you are. If he does, then he probably knows that you're a tough nut to crack, and it would be foolish for him to try to crack it. On top of that, we have to consider that if he doesn't know where you are, to make a run on you he'd still have to have enough knowledge of your location and situation to realize it wouldn't be a good idea."

"I'm not sure I'd be up for letting him find out and seeing what happens," Jon shook his head. "From what Tanisha tells me, he's dumb enough to take a swing at it first and ask questions later."

"I wouldn't call him dumb. Arrogant, yes, but not dumb," Bricklin said. "Again, it would be nice to see what's going on with him now, which is why we're going to take another look at this. Seeing if we can get a hint of whether he knows your location is a primary concern. Now, are you aware of any attempts to make contact with you?"

"Not really," Tanisha said. "Unless it was someone operating undercover, and we might not notice. The last time we actually heard from him was while we were still at Georgia Tech, and that wasn't quite three years ago, apparently not long after my father died."

"We don't know for sure," Jon added, "But we weren't even sure at the time that he knew where we lived. We were being pretty paranoid about it, so we assumed he had to know."

"Yeah, I reviewed that in your folder before I came here," Bricklin said. "All you know for sure is that he knew Mrs. Chladek was at Georgia Tech. There's no way of knowing, but my initial reaction was he didn't know your address. He was relying on his arrogance that you would follow his orders without question."

"But, we ran away instead," Tanisha said.

"Well, obviously you didn't follow his orders," Bricklin smiled. "I have to admit, I've wondered a little if that wasn't his intent all along, to keep you away."

"Wha-a-a-at?" Tanisha frowned. "That doesn't make sense! Why would he want to keep me away?"

"I'm just guessing," Bricklin smiled. "I could easily be wrong, but that church isn't set up like most churches; it's mostly a family business masquerading as a church."

"Yes," Tanisha said, "My father used to say that he wanted to be in a position where outsiders couldn't come in and usurp his authority. I don't know how it's set up legally, but for all practical purposes he owned the church. But I don't see what you're saying."

"Like I said, it's just guesswork, but who's the one person who could challenge your brother for at least a share of the family business?"

"But that's crazy!" Tanisha exclaimed. "I never wanted anything to do with the church. My father and my brother spent most of my life trying to drag me into it, and I was lucky to escape. But . . ." her face changed as a thought hit her. "But . . ." she said again, letting the epiphany wash over her, then said slowly, examining the thought as it came to her lips. "But . . . if I'd been a good little girl, I'd have done what my brother told me to do. As it was, hell, as it is, I could . . . well, I couldn't be a challenge to his authority, but I could have a claim on the income . . . shit!"

"What's more, you could have a claim on looking at the books," Jon pointed out. "If you were really pissed with him, with an IRS agent at your side."

"Maybe that's what he meant . . ." she said, her mind running hard. "What he said was, 'I will no longer allow you to wander in the wilderness without supervision, and ruining my reputation in the church in the process.' He might have meant run the risk of his butt winding up in jail."

"I probably ought to point out that this is all speculation and guesswork," Bricklin pointed out. "But it sure leads to some other interesting places, doesn't it? Do you know if he made any other attempts to contact you?"

"No, not really," Tanisha said. "Well, there was Shirley that time, but it didn't amount to anything."

"What's this?" Bricklin frowned. "I didn't see any report about that."

"Well, it's a little embarrassing," Tanisha grinned. "You know about Jennlynn and the Redlite Ranch, don't you?"

"Oh, my God, do I ever," Bricklin sighed. "You would not believe the amount of work we've put into that. At least it's billable work."

"Jennlynn has been worth it," Stan said flatly. He'd been sitting back quietly watching the exchanges.

"So, Mrs. Chladek, what are you saying?" Bricklin asked.

"Well, when we got that letter from Kwame, back when we were still at Georgia Tech, it was obvious that he'd gotten my address through the college," Tanisha explained. "So we didn't dare leave a forwarding address until Jon got the bright idea of having my mail sent to the Redlite. It's still my address as far as Georgia Tech is concerned; a begging letter from the alumni office goes there once a month. Well, Shirley, the madam at the Redlite, said she got a call from Kwame once, not long after we got out here, looking for me. According to her, he was, uh, pretty abusive."

"Shirley gave him the runaround," Jon added. "Jennlynn had told her what had really gone down."

"Sneaky," Bricklin grinned. "And you haven't heard anything since?"

"Not that we've been aware of."

"Well, maybe he got the message that you were trying to stay away from him. Or, maybe, alternatively, he got the message that someone who gets their mail sent to a Nevada cathouse isn't going to be a threat for control of the church."

"It makes for a nice sounding thesis," Stan pointed out. "But there's a lot of theorizing that's gone on over the last few minutes without much in the way of facts to underline it."

"Yes, I couldn't agree more," Bricklin nodded. "But it's enough to make me wonder if maybe there isn't something to it. I think what I'd better do is talk with our people in St. Louis and maybe set up a teleconference for tomorrow so the operatives can pick your brain directly, and the other way around."

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To be continued . . .

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