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Out of the Cage book cover

Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 25

Mrs. Schneider had no more than left the room when someone else knocked on the door. “Now what?” Monica said. “I don’t know that I can handle much more.”

“I better go see,” Frenchy said, getting up from where he had been sitting on the bed, still a little dazed by the flood of good news that Mrs. Schneider had left.

He opened the door to see Sven standing there. “Ya and Monica an’ da kids are all right, yaaah?” he said.

“Yeah,” Frenchy told him. “Overwhelmed, but all right. What are you doing here?”

“Dat Fred Piwowar called me an’ told me dat your truck was burnt to a crisp,” Sven said “He told me what happened and dat you got Monica and da kids out of da house all right. Ya done good, Frenchy.”

“I was just lucky that I parked the truck where I did,” he told Sven. “If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know how we’d have gotten off the porch roof and down, at least without jumping and maybe getting hurt. I’m sorry the truck got burned up, but it was a big part of saving our lives.”

“Yaaah, Fred told me dat,” Sven said. “He told me about dat kitten you rescued being a help too. I thought you was nuts to take it home with you dat day, but a good little cat, eh?”

“Real good,” Frenchy smiled. “So what brings you by here today?”

“You gonna have firewood deliveries ta make,” Sven smiled. “Gonna be hard for ya ta make dem without a truck, so I figure we better go and find ya ’nudder one.”

“I don’t know, Sven,” Frenchy replied, shaking his head. “The old one wasn’t even paid for yet, and while I’ve got a few bucks stuck back there is no way I have any money to get a new one.”

“Yaaah, but dat’s what da insurance is for, eh? Ya remember dat I helped ya get insurance on da truck? Well, I called over to da agent, he works Saturdays, and he says dat if you’d crashed da truck ya would be outa luck, but if it got burnt up in a house fire it’s covered by da policy, yaaah? We didn’t work out all da numbers, but he said da blue book on da truck is more dan we paid for it in da first place, so ya come out ahead on da deal. Ya can pay me off and have some left over for a new truck, and I can carry ya like I did on da old one so we can get ya a better one.”

“Holy crap,” Frenchy shook his head. “I never thought of that.”

“Well, dat’s what friends are for, yaaah? Ta think of things dat you don’t got time ta think about ’cause you already got too much ta think about.”

“My God,” Monica said from behind them. “I never thought about that, either. I was just thinking about how lucky we were to get out of there and have some help getting on our feet again from a woman who died thirty years ago. I know Frenchy needs wheels to work, but I just never thought that far.”

“Dat’s one of dose things dat have ta get thought about,” Sven smiled at her. “I guess you gotta be Monica, yaaah? Frenchy don’t talk a lot about you, but he does some an’ I wonder why he don’t talk about it more.”

“Well, I’m not really his girlfriend or anything,” Monica said. “I’m just his landlady. Or was, while I had a room to rent to him.”

“Don’t matter none, I can see ya and da kids have done a lot of good for him,” Sven told her. “He’s been a good man for me, an’ maybe you ought ta think about bein’ more dan just his landlady, if ya know what I mean.”

“I’m beginning to think I am,” she said. “He’s done a lot for me, and I really appreciate it.”

“Well, if ya can make do without him for a while, I think maybe we go look for a new truck. I’m thinkin’ maybe we want ta look for one of dem extended-cab things so ya can haul da kids around a little more easily, yaaah?”

“Cripe, I’d never even thought about that, let alone getting a new truck,” Frenchy shook his head. “But it sounds like a real good idea to me. Monica, is it going to be all right if I leave you and the kids alone for a while?”

“For a new truck? Sure, go to it. Just having the wheels is going to make things easier for us the next few days. The kids and I will get along just fine.” She dropped her voice to barely a whisper and continued, “I haven’t mentioned it to them yet, but they have cable here and it’s Saturday morning, so you know what that means.”

“Yep, you’re not going to have any trouble with them for a while,” Frenchy grinned. “I don’t know how long we’re going to be, but we’ll try to be back as quick as we can.”

“Good luck,” she smiled. “Buy a good one. See you in a while.”

Frenchy and Sven headed out to Sven’s familiar old beat-up pickup. “Dis thing is getting’ over da hill,” Sven said as they got in. “I been thinkin’ about getting’ a newer one, but dis thing can hold out for a while yet. But I was down at da dealership a couple days ago and dere was a GMC Sonoma sittin’ out back dat would do ya well, I think. Maybe we go look at dat first, eh?”

“If we’re going to be getting a new truck, I at least want a reliable one,” Frenchy said. “The Ford gave me good service, but there were times I wondered about it. I never wanted to go very far out of town with it when I had Monica and the kids with me. I took them down to the Dairy Queen in Albany River a few times and I was always a little worried about it.”

“Well, yaaah,” Sven said. “But dat was da best deal we could do at da time, an’ I think we can spend a little more money now and get ya a better truck.”

By now, Frenchy knew Sven well enough to know that when Sven got an idea in his head it was pointless to argue, and besides, the idea of a better truck was appealing. Even with the help of the Red Cross and the Donna Clark Foundation it was easy to see that there were going to be plenty of extra expenses coming out of his limited salary, but maybe it would be worth it. And if he was paying Sven he could probably stretch out the payments if times got tough.

It was only a short ride down the state road to the Chevy dealership. Sven drove his truck right around behind the building and stopped at a promising-looking white truck. “Dis is da truck,” he said. “I haven’t looked at it much, but we take a good look at it now, yaaah?”

Frenchy looked it over while Sven went inside to get the key. It wasn’t a bad-looking truck to Frenchy’s eye; it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned up or detailed, so maybe he and Sven could get a good idea of what it was really like. He popped the hood, and looked the thing over – the engine showed some road dirt and grease, but he couldn’t see any evidence of oil leaks. Not wanting to push much further without Sven, Frenchy took a walk around the truck, noting the fact that it had the front hubs for four wheel drive. The tires seemed pretty good, and it had a bed liner, which meant that the bed hadn’t been all beat to crap. Not a bad truck on the surface, he thought. Now if it runs decently and I can afford it, it might be worth not looking further.

In a couple minutes Sven came back out with the key and a dealer plate. The truck started right up without any hassles and seemed to idle well. They shut it off and took a closer look at the engine and the underside, and after a while both of them got in and drove it up the state road, then down a couple rougher roads. “It’d be nice ta go out on some two ruts with it,” Sven said, “But I don’t think we want to dirty it up dat way just yet, yaaah? So what do ya think?”

“I think it would do just fine if I can afford it,” Frenchy said. “And I like the jump seats in the back. It would sure make it easier to haul the kids around.”

“Yaaah, I thought so too,” Sven agreed. “Let’s go back an’ see how much we can beat da dealer down.”

They drove back to the dealership, and from almost the moment he walked in the front door Frenchy realized that the fix was in – Sven had obviously been out there earlier in the morning, looked the truck over, and done quite a bit of bargaining. There was some beating around the bush, but it was presented as all but a done deal – and at a price that seemed pretty reasonable to Frenchy. There was some more paperwork and some talking around, but in an hour Frenchy was driving the Sonoma back to the motel with temporary plates in the back window.

Sven pulled in beside him, but didn’t get out of his own truck. “I think maybe ya don’t come inta work Monday,” he said. “You’re probably gonna have a bunch of shit to do an’ stuff to haul. Don’t forget to go down to dat Secretary of State office an’ apply for a replacement driver’s license, an’ maybe ya better not drive more dan ya have ta till ya get it. I pay ya for Monday like ya was workin, an’ Tuesday if you need ta.”

“Thanks, Sven,” Frenchy said, grateful for his boss’s generosity. “That’s going to be a big help.”

“If ya got furniture an’ shit like dat to move, let me know an’ after work on Monday maybe I bring da guys out ta help ya, eh? Now, you take it easy an’ be nice to Monica and dose kids. Dey’re all real nice, I can tell dat. I think you got lucky on dat one, Frenchy.”

“She’s nice, but she’s not my girlfriend,” Frenchy protested.

“Aw, don’t bullshit me,” Sven grinned. “I know better dan dat, an’ I think ya know it too.”

Frenchy headed on into the motel room, and discovered that Monica and the kids weren’t alone; there were two men and a woman there, along with Mrs. Schneider.

“Hi, Frenchy,” Monica smiled. “Susan really works fast. This is Mr. Matson from the bank, and a couple of his people whose names went by too fast for me to catch. They came to talk about a new house.”

“Good deal,” Frenchy said. “Don’t let me stop you.”

“We were just getting started,” Mr. Matson explained. He was an older man, in his seventies at a glance, with gray hair and a nice grin. “We were just explaining that we checked with our insurance, and the house is covered. We’ve been by there before we came here, and while it will take the insurance adjusters a while to certify it, there’s no doubt that the place is a total loss. Because of the fact that the house was insured for more than it’s probable current value, that means that Miss Laughton will have some money left over after the mortgage is satisfied.”

“That’s a huge relief, sir,” Monica said. “I was afraid it was going to be the other way around.”

“No, you got lucky on that one,” he said. “Now, the thing I should probably say before I go too much further is that these things take time to settle. It could be a couple months before you receive the settlement, but under the circumstances I think we can just forgo any further payments until it happens, so you shouldn’t have any worries on that account.”

“Another huge relief,” Monica sighed. “I was worried about having to make payments when I don’t have a place to live, and there’s no way I could do that. I was barely managing to make the payments as it was.”

“Yes, but you were making them,” Matson said. “And what’s more, you were making them on time. I realize that your income is very limited, but that counts for a lot for your credit rating, especially in this day and age when a lot of people are letting their house payments go. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, since very often with the drop in housing values those people owe more on the house than it’s worth. It’s very easy to walk away from a house when that happens, especially if you don’t care about your credit rating.”

“I’ve tried to take care of my credit rating,” Monica said. “I realize that I haven’t had much but at least I don’t owe much. I’ve always hoped that when things get better I’d have the credit rating to be able to do something better for my kids.”

“We realize that, Miss Laughton,” Matson smiled. “And believe me, in this day and age, we appreciate it. Now, the good care that you’ve taken of your credit rating is going to mean a good opportunity for you. I realize that you’re going to want to go out and look for a house. However, we have several houses here in town that we’d appreciate you take a look at. All of them have been foreclosed on and have been sitting empty. In some cases, the amount owed is well under the worth of the house. We’re really not trying to make money on a sale, but we would like to get our money out of them. Since we already own the houses, we can really simplify a transfer, since many things like an appraisal and title search have already been completed. What I’m saying is that we have some bargains and we’d like you to consider one of them. There’s every chance that the payments on one of them could be less than what you’ve been paying.”

“It sounds good to me,” Monica said. “I’m ready to go looking, but I don’t know what to do about the kids.”

“Bring them along,” Mrs. Schneider said. “I brought my daughter’s minivan, and it already has child seats in it.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Schneider,” Monica said. “You’ve been so good to us it’s been unbelievable.”

“Believe it or not, that’s part of my job,” Mrs. Schneider said. “And I have to tell you, delivering news like this is one of the good parts.”

“One other thing I ought to mention before we get going,” Mr. Matson continued. “When we stopped by your old house before we came here, we happened to talk to your neighbor. Apparently he was the one who called 911 last night, by the way, but I don’t know if you talked to him. Anyway, he wanted me to tell you he’s sorry it had to happen, but he also said that he might be interested in acquiring the property. He said he’d like to build a garage there, and he hasn’t had the room in the past. We didn’t get as far as talking about numbers, but I think he’s willing to offer a fair price. It won’t be a great amount of money, but it can be worked into this deal to possibly lower your payments a bit more. Again, it can’t take place till the insurance is settled, but we can take that into account.”

“Good,” she said. “I hadn’t even begun to think what I would have to do with the old place, except that it was a shame that they didn’t let it burn all the way down so no one would have to worry about cleaning it up.”

“In a way, that would have been nice,” Mr. Matson said, “but the firemen don’t work that way, and for good reason. I’m told that they found the remains of the Molotov cocktail and other accelerants on what was left of the floor, and the police tell me that the evidence ties your former boyfriend to the arson conclusively.”

“Well, yeah, I guess I can see that,” Monica sighed. “I suppose they know what they’re doing.”

“Over the years I’ve come to believe that they do,” Matson grinned. “Now, do you want to go look at some houses?”

The three bankers got into their car, and led Mrs. Schneider around town, with Monica, Frenchy, and the kids in her daughter’s minivan. Their first stop wasn’t far away from their old house, only a couple blocks – an older two-story house, in quite a bit better shape than Monica’s had been. They took a brief walk through it; it seemed to be in fairly reasonable shape from the inside, although Mr. Matson said that it had been sitting empty for a while and it was likely that there were unknown problems. “But,” he warned, “that’s going to be the case with any of these foreclosed houses we’re showing you. Because we really don’t know the house and it’s been empty for a while, there could be plenty wrong that we don’t know about, so there are no guarantees.”

“It would do,” Monica said. “But let’s see what else you’ve got.”

The second house wasn’t much better than the first, and the price was a little higher. It had also been empty for a while; Frenchy could remember shoveling the walk in front of the place last winter, and mowing the lawn in the summer. He didn’t tell Monica, but in comparison he thought the first house was a better deal.

Frenchy remembered the third house they visited, as well. Like the others, it was an older house, this one only a single story, but it seemed like it was in better shape than the other two. He could see signs of places where there were things that needed to be done after it had set for so long, but they didn’t appear to be as bad. As Mr. Matson led them through the house, Frenchy looked it over carefully. There was even some furniture left in it, and a fairly new washer and dryer.

“I’ll be honest,” Mr. Matson said. “This is probably the best deal of the bunch that we have to show you, at least from your perspective. What’s owed on this house is less than what you owed on your old house, and with the sale of the old lot the payments would be even less. I happen to think it’s a nice house, and I think it’s pretty solid, although I think you can see that there’s work that needs to be done here and there.”

“It is a nice house,” Monica said. “It’s certainly a lot better than our old one. What happened, anyway?”

“A rather sad story,” Matson said. “It involves a combination of a lost job and illness. The old owners just couldn’t afford to carry on. We haven’t been holding this one long, and I imagine that someone will want to jump on it for being the good deal that it is. As you can see, it has three bedrooms, although two of them are on the small side, a fireplace and a one-car garage, also on the small side. It has a full basement, and you can see that there’s some furniture and major appliances along with gas heat and central air conditioning.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Monica shook her head. “It’s something I never thought about until last night, but I like the fact that it’s a one-story house. After we had to scramble to get out of our house last night, I don’t think I want to live in a two-story house again.”

“I can’t say as I blame you,” Matson said. “Unfortunately, we have only one other one-story house you might be interested in. I don’t think it’s as nice, and the price is going to be higher since there’s more owed on it.”

Monica looked around again, and said to Matson, “Uh, would you mind if Frenchy and I went out on the porch to talk for a minute?”

“Sure, go ahead,” the banker said.

The two of them went outside and closed the door. “Frenchy,” Monica said, “what do you think?”

“I don’t know much about houses,” he said, “but I’ll tell you what. If everything turns out to be as good as it looks, it’s not worth our time to go any further. This is ten times the house we were burned out of last night.”

“I think you’re right,” she said. “It’s going to take some work and a while to get used to, but I think we’ve found our new home.”

“It’s your decision, Monica,” he said, “because really, it’s going to be your house. I can’t even sign the paperwork because I’m not old enough, but I’ll back you on it every way I can.” He let out a sigh and continued, “This is going to be a lot better place to raise the kids than that old firetrap we were living in. I know you used to feel some relief from being able to look at the floor and see Bobby’s bloodstains in your mind’s eye, but they’re gone now, and so is he. It’s time to put that behind you, and I think this is the place.”

“You’re right,” she replied. “It’s time to move on, in more ways than one. I put a lot of myself into that house, and had a lot of agony there too. It was a piece of shit, but it was my piece of shit. In a way I’m sorry to be leaving it behind me, but I’m leaving Lonnie there, along with Bobby. I think that it’s worth it. Let’s go seal the deal.”

“Fine with me.”

They went back inside. “All right, you’ve sold me,” Monica announced. “I don’t think there’s any point in looking any further. This feels like it can be a home. How soon can we do the paperwork, and how soon can we move in?”

“I have to say that the paperwork is going to take a while,” Matson told them. “That’s just the way these things work. It could be a month or so before we can finalize the deal, and it wouldn’t be that quick if it weren’t for the fact that we own the home already. But, I realize that while the Spearfish Lake Inn is nice, you don’t want to live there any longer than you have to. So if you’re willing to pay us rent in lieu of payments, I don’t see any reason you couldn’t move in as soon as you want. When the deal is complete, we can apply the rent payments to the mortgage.”

“Fine, we’ll take it,” Monica smiled. “I don’t suppose there’s much that can be done today or tomorrow because of the weekend, but Mrs. Schneider, do you have any idea when the Donna Clark Foundation money will come through so we can get started getting stuff to move in here?”

“Oh, there’s no doubt we can have it for you first thing Monday morning,” she said. “I could write you a check right now, but even if these people are bankers, I think you’d have trouble cashing it before then, anyway.”

“Monday will be fine,” Monica said. “I don’t know how I can thank all of you for what you’ve done for us. I think Frenchy and I are going to need some time to rest and make some plans anyway. That Donna Clark money is going to be a godsend, and I wish there was some way I could go back in time and thank her. She must have been some woman.”

“She was,” Matson grinned. “She was my mother.”

“Your mother?” Monica said. “But you . . . your name is Matson! I never realized that.”

“She and my father divorced when I was very small, and she remarried,” he told her. “There’s a long and sad story about that which we don’t need to get into here. I never was very close to her when I was growing up, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate her wisdom and her kind heart. I don’t think I really realized it until after she died, but it’s nice to know that people still appreciate her for what she tried to do.”

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To be continued . . .

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