Fate Pays The Rent (The Final Installment)

Clement was at his desk, making notes, and he looked up when Jeff walked in. “There’s coffee in the big pot. I thought you could use some. It’s been a hell of a week, hasn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen you in a week so I have no idea how your life has been.” Jeff pulled open the bottom right-hand drawer and dropped a paper bag into it. Clement went back to writing. Jeff got a cup of coffee, added cream and sugar and sat down across from him. “So, is that all you have to say then? Nothing about what’s happened?”
Clement laid the pencil down. “I’m not sure what you want me to say, Jeff.”
“So you’re going to just say nothing?”
“You know what, Jeff? Typically when people don’t what to say in a situation the experts either tell them to say nothing and wait until the other person brings it up and sets the tone or they tell them to act casually. I’m not sure how to treat what’s happened in a casual manner so I decided to wait and let you bring it up and set the tone.”
“Did you learn that watching Dr. Phil?”
“Did you want to talk about what happened? Do you want to go out and get a real cup of coffee and catch up? I tracked down those kalamata olive, chicken and green pepper sausages. I’m wondering if we should bail on the old Rockin’ Rooster and start selling those. Would you like to talk about that instead?”
“I would like to talk about anything that gives me the opportunity to eventually throw this situation in your face and say, ‘I told you so’.”
“You told me so?”
“About what? You told me the chicken strips were nasty?”
“I told you that Aaron was going to win.”
“How the hell did he win? Jeff, he’s dead.”
“I know that. Believe me, I am very aware that he’s dead. That doesn’t change the fact that Mari chose him over me.”
“How are you figuring that?”
“If Mari hadn’t been so obsessed with him then she and I could be together right now.”
“Technically, right now the two of you wouldn’t be together because you’d both be at work. But even if this wasn’t work hours and you could be together, you’re completely wrong to think that she chose him over you and that’s why you’re not.”
“She didn’t choose him?”
“She killed him.”
“There’s still some doubt about whether she killed him or whether Milagra did. She gave him the coffee drink and the goody that spiked his blood sugar and sent him into a coma and then she left him there to die so she definitely had the intent to kill him. Milagra cut his head most of the way off and sufficiently damaged his spinal cord so he would have been unable to breathe even if they brought him out of the coma and reattached the rest of his head. According to the story she told us, she definitely intended to kill him as a sacrifice to God and Mr. Gomez. So, we’ll see how the whole thing shakes out.”
“Even if Mari did kill him, she didn’t do it out of love for him.”
“She did it because she loved money and hated sharing.”
“If she hated sharing then why was she still seeing Aaron?”
“Okay, she did it because she loved money and she hated sharing unless it was on her terms.”
“I can’t believe she was working on solving one of those problems for the million dollars.”
“I think that was a surprise to everyone except her. And maybe Aaron.”
“She never really seemed that smart.”
“I guess she was and she wasn’t. I don’t think there was much chance she would have had to share the money with Aaron. He had plenty of money of his own and- in the short time I talked with him- I got the impression he mostly discussed those concepts with her because he enjoyed exchanging ideas and because he enjoyed torturing you. He did it because it made them both happy.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Nobody in the world gets happy like Mari.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people get happy but I’ll take your word for it that Mari’s happiness was a unique experience.”
“Nope, nothing like it. Her eyes would light up and she’d squeal or whoop and sometimes she’d dance around.” He took a big swallow of coffee and set the cup down with a thump. “No point thinking about it. It’s not something I’ll ever see again.”
“Of course you will. She’ll be very happy to see you on visiting day. Especially if you bring a cake with a file in it.”
“Couldn’t get it through the metal detector.”
“There is that.”
“Did you actually go see that Mrs. Lamb?”
“Did you see her more than once?”
“Are you guys dating?”
“What part of ‘Mrs.’ are you not getting? Mrs. Lamb is married.”
“I don’t do that. Remember me? The guy who spent almost no time in the principal’s office?”
“So what are you guys doing? What do you talk about?”
“Kids and how they could learn more. We discussed the challenges of where to place a difficult child in the classroom, for example.”
“My teachers didn’t have that problem. They knew exactly where to put me. They usually stuck me next to the biggest suck-up in the room. Nothing like spending six hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year listening to some kid tell you ‘Shut up! I’m trying to hear.’ Or ‘Stop bugging me! I’m trying to get my work done so I can go out for recess.’”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I was the one who had to say that all day of every school year.”
“I guess you and I wouldn’t have liked each other very much if we’d gone to the same school.”
“I guess we wouldn’t have.”
“So what’d you two come up with?”
“For one thing, we’ve decided that it does no good whatsoever to make the challenging children stay in from recess or have them sit against a wall most of the time outdoors.”
“I could have told you that. We gotta get out and run around or we’re gonna go stir crazy. What are you gonna do about it?”
“There’s been some talk among the teachers of having those children run laps or having a similar sort of punishment that has to be completed before the student is free to play.”
“Working it off but outside. Yeah. Maybe.”
“Do you have other ideas?”
“Well, yeah. If you tell Mrs. Lamb about this though you didn’t hear it from me. Okay? I don’t want word to get around that I was helping a principal.”
“You’d be helping kids.”
“Yeah, partly. You promise?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
Jeff swallowed some more coffee. “When I was starting the sixth grade, I was still getting in trouble. I had to sit in the hall a lot. I started to kind of like it because I could see the teachers walking around and the kids with messages would go down to the office and back and I saw the delivery guys bringing in the lunch stuff and it was interesting; There was always something happening. Plus I was out in the hall. I was different. Everybody else was sitting in the classroom doing division and I was seeing the world go by.”
“Not exactly what the taxpayers hoped they were spending their money on but-“
“You wanted to hear this.”
“One day I was just getting bored and wondering what was going on in the hall and what I’d have to do to get sent out there to see and the teacher came over and stood right behind me.”
“That must have put the fear of God into you.”
“Or something. She was this great big woman. She liked to wear a lot of bright colors and she had little curls that stuck out from her head like she wanted to have one of those old-fashioned waves but it didn’t take.”
“Whatever. She was standing behind me and I could feel her watching me. I put my pencil on the edge of my desk and I was pushing it off with the side of my hand when she scooped it up. She leaned over my chair and she said, real quietly, ‘You seem to have a lot of imagination and not much to do with it. I guess I’ll have to help you find something.’ I didn’t care. I heard that before. I figured she’s gonna say I have to discover a new way to clean erasers or something. She said, ‘Come with me.’”
“Did you go?”
“Were you going out to clean erasers?”
“No. Here’s the weird part: she walks me around behind this blackboard and I’m wondering what the hell she’s doing and she pulls out a cardboard box that’s got no flaps and no lid.”
“And she says, ‘Whenever your work is done- and you want something to do that doesn’t involve bothering your neighbors so they can’t do their work- you can come over here and choose something from this box and write about it. I will expect it to be interesting and legible.’”
“What was in the box?”
“All kinds of pictures that somebody tore out of magazines. Like cities and somebody’s front porch and a purple hippopotamus in roller skates and a giraffe wearing a scarf; all kinds of things.”
“Did it work?”
“Yeah. I wrote a whole bunch of stories about the hippo and how he couldn’t get shoes that fit so he had to wear roller skates and he got into trouble. She started sending me to the office too.”
“So you could see what was going on.”
“Yeah. I guess she got me.”
“Yeah.” Both men sipped their coffee. “You feel like making a trip now?”
“To the office?”
“No, we’ve got one stop to make and then we’re going to my house.”
“Your house? What for? And where are we going first?” Clement picked up both cups, carried them in to the sink and rinsed them out. “You gonna wash those now?”
“Nope.” Clement shook the excess water from the mugs and placed them facedown on a three layer stack of paper towels. “First we are going to Eco Meats. Then we are going to my house to grill a taste test.”
“No more nasty chicken strips.”
“We’ll see.”
“I love you, man.”
“Womb to tomb.”
“Sperm to worm.”
“Damon and Pythius.”
Jeff turned off the coffeepot and the lights. Clement closed and locked the door.

~Jeff Clement, whose name the author unintentionally borrowed, is a catcher who spent most of 2007 playing for the Tacoma Rainiers, the farm team of the Seattle Mariners. He was called up to the Show on September 4th. He was traded during the 2010 off-season and will be catching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

~Maya Angelou, the poet, worked as a conductor on the cable cars in San Francisco. She was the first woman and the first person of color to do so.

~Shari’s restaurant chain was started in 1978. The first restaurant was in Hermiston, Oregon and a second was opened in Sherwood, Oregon within a year. The restaurant was named after one of the founders whose name was Sharon but who went by the name “Shari”. The Shari’s Clement is visiting opened in 1983. Many of the restaurants, including this one, have a raised grassy area outside some of the windows. The tables near these windows are less popular than others due to the high concentration of birds looking for and finding worms.

~Bernard Grimes Rhodenbarr is a charming burglar who was created by Lawrence Block. His first appearance was “Burglars Can’t Be Choosers” which appeared in 1977.

~The original Piggly Wiggly was opened in Memphis, Tennessee on September 6, 1916. It was the first grocery store that had carts and open shelves and allowed customers to shop for themselves instead of giving the list to an employee who selected everything. The creator’s dream was a fully-automated store but mechanical difficulties prevented his ever attaining it.

~Anna’s had started life as “Anna’s Banana Burgers” a name which the owner hoped to combine with homey furnishings to attract the kind of moneyed hippies that mark a place as happening and guarantee a retirement in warmer climates. Unfortunately, the couches became napping places for kids waiting for their parents to get home or buyers waiting for the guy with the stuff. A city renovation and revitalization grant, the same one responsible for the office complex Clement had so recently visited, had funded the remodeling and cleaning up. Now the little money from even those undesirable customers was gone and the place resembled a nearly deserted hospital cafeteria. Regular visits from the Health Department inspector guaranteed the food made up in sanitaryness what it might lack in savoryness.

~ “Goat’s Head Soup” was released in 1973 as a follow-up to “Exile On Main Street”. Billy Preston, also known as the Fifth Beatle, plays on several tracks. On “100 Years Ago”, he plays the clarinet.

~This appellation is given to several young men in the writings of P.G. Wodehouse but it was Wilmot Byng, the golfer in the short story “The Letter of the Law”, inspired the naming of this character.

~”Aaron” is the name of the waiter who served lunch to the author and her mother at Beaches restaurant. Several people had made suggestions regarding what this character looked like and when the waiter arrived he was perfect. He agreed to allow his photo to be taken and his name to be used as long as he gets some money out of it someday.

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