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Second Time Around

Chapter 16 - A Hot Time in the Old Town

By Arli J

Edited by Radio Rancher
Based on Characters from Pinochle, by E Walk

We must have been even more tired than we thought, because the sun was shining brightly when I opened my eyes. Gregg was still snoring softly against my shoulder. I turned my head and found him in the same position as he was yesterday morning - but this time, he was beside me in my own bed. I felt a wave of tenderness for this wonderful man who had suffered alone for so long, and I vowed with all my being to do everything in my power to take away as much of that suffering as I could.

I gently eased my way out of his embrace and went across the hall to the bathroom. When I returned and looked into the room, he was still sleeping peacefully, so I quietly went to the kitchen and put on coffee. I was on my second cup, when he came shuffling into the kitchen, still dressed, like me, in just his boxers. He gave me a sleepy smile. "Mornin'."

"Good morning, Sunshine! Grab a chair, and I'll get you some coffee." He sank into the nearest chair, and I got up and went to the cupboard for a cup. When I set the coffee on the table in front of him, his smile was as warm as the late summer sunshine pouring in through the window full of orchids. I refilled my own cup and sat down. For a few minutes, we just sat there, sipping coffee and enjoying the morning, each lost in his own thoughts. Then Gregg looked up.

"You've got to go and get the papers this morning, don't you?"

"Yeah, I thought we could stop by the Journal office on our way back from breakfast. And we definitely have to hit the grocery store today! Oh, and don't let me forget to call my boss at the program. I've got to fill him in on what's happening."

"I can't see straight yet, and you're asking me to remind you of things? I hope you don't really expect me to remember all that!"

"Well, not really, but if I ask you to remind me, I'm more apt to remember everything myself."

"I sure hope so!" He grinned. "This is not the best time of day to tax my mind!"

Gregg stood up and went to the counter to refill his coffee cup. I was pleased to see that he seemed to be walking better this morning, but I didn't want to embarrass him by asking about it, so I just smiled at him. "Could I get just a little more, please? I kind of got a head start on you this morning."

"Sure." He filled my cup up and sat back down at the table. "So what's the plan of action for today?"

"I really wanted to talk that over with you. I think breakfast is the first priority. My stomach thinks my throat's been cut."

He laughed. "I haven't heard that expression in years! Not since the early days in Fremont. You'd neverhear an expression like that in Chicago - too countrified, you know?"

"Well, despite the 'sophistication and glamour' of downtown Ithaca, this area is really pretty rural. You go five miles out of the city in any direction, and you're in the country, a totally different culture and mindset. It can make life a real challenge at times."

"So, what's the major industry of Ithaca? In Fremont we had the grain silos - and the world-wide distinction of being the source of Spam!"

"Right now, I'd have to say that Cornell and Ithaca College are the major industries here. We had an NCR plant, and Morse Chain, which made timing chains for automobiles, and our best known product was the Ithaca Featherlight pump shotgun. But they're all gone now."

"The Featherlight came from here? My uncle had one, and he said it was the best shotgun ever made."

"Well, we thought so. My Dad worked for NCR for thirty-five years, and I had two uncles who worked at the gun shop. I also had an aunt and an uncle who worked for Morse Chain. It's sad to see all of those industries gone, and it made a big hole in the economy here, when they all left. There's a small Borg Warner plant up by the airport, all that's left of Morse Chain, but that's about it. A lot of people from Ithaca have had to go to Cortland, Elmira, even Syracuse or Binghamton, just to find a job. The rest of them work for the College and the University."

"When we flew in here, I noticed what looked like a lot of farms. Is there much farming in this area?"

"New York is primarily an agricultural state. There's some industry in the cities, but it's mostly dairy farms and orchards. Ithaca is on one of the Finger Lakes, the orchard and vineyard center of the state. We produce apples, peaches, grapes, most of the fruits that will grow in this climate. New York State wines are known world-wide. They're very different from the California wines, because the New York wines come from French and German varieties, crossed with the native grapes, and California produces wines that are mostly from the Italian vinestocks. They have a very different taste.

"As far as the farms, you won't see the big agribusiness concerns here that you might in the Midwest. The geography makes that impossible. We just don't have the wide, flat, open areas that lend themselves to big, mechanized operations. Most of the farms here are family farms, a couple of hundred acres. They grow enough grain and hay to feed their livestock, but it's the dairy that's important. Of course, I'm not going to say that New York cheeses are the best in the country (which, of course, they are!), but we do make some fine cheese in this state. And our upstate dairies supply New York City and New Jersey with their dairy products."

"Well, it looks as if I've come into a really different way of life here. I'm kind of excited about exploring and learning more about it."

"Now that we have a car, I'd like to take you on some of the wine tours. Every one of the Finger Lakes has its own, since the lakes keep the temperature milder, and the hills surrounding them are a perfect place for growing grapes. The wineries compete with each other to try to produce the "finest wines in New York State." I've noticed, though, that the best wines seem to come from the west shores of the lakes. I think that has to do with the fact that they get the sun earlier and longer than the east shores do. Of course, that's just a personal opinion!"

"I'm really excited about seeing the area and learning more about it! But right now, I reallyneed some breakfast! Let's just get dressed and go to the diner, and when we get back we can plan the rest of the day."

"That'll work! And on the way back up State Street, we can stop and get the papers."

When we got to the bedroom, we stopped, looked at each other and grinned. Then we grabbed the clothes we had discarded at bedtime and dressed quickly. Gregg started to straighten the bed, but I stopped him. "Leave it! It will still be here when we get back." He grinned and nodded.

I checked my pockets to be sure I had everything I needed, and we left. It was a beautiful morning, already beginning to show the signs of the "dog days" we were experiencing in Ithaca. Even with the breeze from the lake, it was warm, and getting warmer fast. By afternoon we would need the A/C.

There were a few more people on the streets, but traffic was light for this time of morning. Something was going on, and I couldn't wait to find out what it was. The diner, like the streets, had a few more people, but nowhere near the number I would have expected at this time of day. We got our breakfast, and I looked around as we ate, watching the other customers. They didn't seem to be very talkative. Most of them, in fact, just stared at their plates as they ate, then got up, paid and left. There was something really big happening.

We decided not to take time for coffee, so we got out of the diner as quickly as possible and headed back up State Street. When we got to the Journal office I parked and went in. (That was another surprise! You can never find a parking place on State Street at this time of day.)

The lady at the counter greeted me with a smile. "What can I do for you this morning?"

"I'd like to get the back copies of the Journal from last Thursday through yesterday, please."

"You haven't been reading all about it? Boy, are you in for a surprise!" She walked over to the rack and started pulling out copies of the paper, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, stacking them in reverse order, so that yesterday's paper was on top. I resisted checking out the headlines; I wanted to wait and share it all with Gregg. I paid her for the papers and went back out to the car. Gregg was sitting there with a look of nervous anticipation on his face.

"So, what's happening?"

"I don't know. I thought we'd take them home and go through them together."

"You know, you're almost as bad as Kate Dolan!"

"Thanks!" I got in the car, tossing the papers on the back seat. We hurried home, no difficult job in the light traffic. When we got there, I grabbed the papers and hurried to unlock the house. "Your turn to make the coffee!"

"Got it covered." He went over to the counter, dumped the small amount left in the pot, and started a new pot brewing. I pulled two chairs together, so that we could sit side by side to read the papers. I reached for the pile of newspapers on the other side of the table.

His hand covered mine. "No, ya don't! No fair peeking, 'til I get there!" He was chuckling, as he joined me at the table. We just sat there, close together, waiting for the coffee to finish. When it did, I got up and poured us each a cup, and sat back down. He scooted his chair over an inch or so, so that he was snuggled against my side. He grinned at me. "There, now I can see better." I wondered what this was all about, but decided to just relax and enjoy the closeness. He seemed like such a changed person, such a happy person this morning, and I didn't want to risk causing any concern that might destroy the delicate thing, whatever it was, that was growing here. I relaxed in my chair, took a sip of coffee, and pulled the Thursday paper from the bottom of the pile.

When I unfolded it, the huge headline almost shouted at me: "Local Businessman Arrested." Under the headline was a picture of Giulio Petrillo, looking like one of the mug shots from a prison gallery. The lead story told of Petrillo's arrest, on federal charges, following an FBI investigation. He had been charged with a long list of crimes, most of which had very little meaning to me, but seemed to add up to theft, corruption of city and county officials, maintaining unsafe and unhealthy living and work environments, income tax evasion, and others I couldn't even understand. FBI agents had searched his home after his arrest and had found secret records of all his various business interests, as well as about a half million dollars in cash. Mr. Petrillo, at the request of his lawyers, was being held in Syracuse, due to fears by his lawyers for his safety. His bank accounts had been frozen, and a search was on for other accounts scattered around the country and offshore, mostly in the Cayman Islands.

I looked at Gregg. He was staring at me with a glazed expression. "Wow!" he whispered. "I can't believe it!" Three hours and two pots of coffee later, we had at least skimmed all the articles in the newspapers about the events of the days since we left for Nebraska.

The courts had ordered all of Petrillo's properties seized and held. Businesses in the buildings he owned were temporarily suspended, while further investigation continued. The Downtown Business Association was in a state of shock. Nothing like this had ever happened in Ithaca, and that it had hit the heart of downtown was like a death blow.

I read the articles about the Business Association carefully. A plan was hatching in my mind. I made a note of the name of the President of the Association and sat back to ponder for a couple of minutes, while Gregg was still reading article after article on the scandal. I was lost in thought when he looked up from the paper. "Hey, where are you? You don't look as if you're even here!"

"Oh, I'm here, but I'm not now! I was just thinking about something that happened about twenty years ago. A guy made a fortune conning investors, and then took off for Florida with the cash. The courts seized all his real estate and held it, until a committee of investors got control of it and managed all the properties until they were sold, dividing up the money among the investors who had lost everything. My family had some money invested with the company, and we eventually got back a little more than half of what we had invested. It was certainly better than nothing!

"But that gave me an idea. If the Business Association could get control of the buildings and manage them for the benefit of the tenants, it could really rejuvenate the Commons. We might even attract some new business into all the empty stores."

"That sounds like a great idea. But what does that have to do with us here?"

"Well, since you own your own building, you're not affected directly, but if the Commons dies, so does your business. If we can somehow bring the Commons back to life, it will be good for everyone."

"That makes sense. What do you plan to do about it?

"First, I want to talk to Beau. I think I'll give him a call. And, by the way, don't you have to call about your phone and cable?"

"Oh, yeah! Thanks for reminding me." He went into the bedroom and came back with his little phone book in his hand. "Do you mind if I use your phone?"

"Uh, excuse me, but I think that's ourphone, and if you think I'm going to ask you every time I want to make a call, you're crazy, fellah!"

"Oh, I keep forgetting! I'm a member of the household now! I get to make coffee and use the phone." He grinned at me, as he went into the living room to make his calls. I went back to the paper, but my mind was definitely not on what had happened, but on what couldhappen! Little by little, a plan was emerging, and I really needed to talk to Beau about it.

Gregg came back to the kitchen. "There, that's taken care of. I am officially free of Fremont, Nebraska - except for paying the bills, when they come in. And you know what, Harley, all I feel at this moment is relief." He came over to me, hugged me and rested his head on my shoulder. "I think I'm healing from twenty year old wounds, and I'm really happy, for the first time since the accident." He looked up at me. "I don't know howit's going to work out, but I know it's going to work out. We've both paid any debts we owe to the past, and now it's time to look toward the future." He reached up and kissed my cheek. I gave him a squeeze and released him. "Thank you. You said I'd made a change in your life, but I can't begin to tell you what a change you've made in mine." Just then the phone rang.

Gregg went in to the living room to answer it. I heard the surprise in his voice: "Well, hi, Beau! Were your ears ringing, or something? We were just talking about you." He turned and called to me. "Beau wants to talk to you, Harley!"

I hurried into the living room and picked up the phone. "Hello, Beau! This is a pleasant surprise!"

"I was just reading about your fair city in the paper, and I was wondering how you guys are affected by the mess."

"In the paper there? Wow, I didn't know it was such a big deal! Yeah, we just read about it. I stopped and picked up the back issues of the Journal."

"Look, could you send me copies? I'd like the local slant on things."

"Sure, Beau! We have to go out for groceries, anyway, so I'll stop by and pick up a set and mail them to you."

"Great! I'm beginning to wonder if it's a good idea for the boys to be going there to school. If the city's in as bad shape as it appears from the articles here, there may not be much of a town left for them when they get back."

"Beau, I've got an idea that I'd really like to talk over with you. Something you and your consulting firm could do to help get Ithaca through this mess and on the way to being a better place to live."

"Tell you what, Harley, I can clear my calendar for the next couple or three days, and Becca and I can fly out to Ithaca. Can you guys meet us at the airport?"

"Just tell me when!"

"I'll talk it over with Becca and call you back in, say, half an hour, OK?"

"That'll be fine, Beau. We haven't got anything here that's a rush, so I'll just wait for your call."

"Good! Be talking to you soon." In typical Beau fashion, he hung up immediately.

Gregg was standing there, waiting expectantly. "What's going on with Beau?"

"You won't believe this, but our little town made news in Fremont, Nebraska! Beau called to find out what's going on. He's worried about the boys coming here to school, if the town is in a big mess."

"Well, I hadn't thought about that, but he's right. I'm not sure I like the idea of Grant and Ben coming into the middle of all this." I could see the anxiety growing in his face.

"Gregg, the worst part is over. Now we pick up the pieces and go on. Now that Petrillo's where he should have been years ago, the town is already a better place to live. I've heard too many war stories about that shady character! I just hope the Feds can get enough evidence to make the charges stick."

"You never met Mickie Smith! You don't think that boy got to be President of the United States on his looks, do you? Not to say that his looks aren't enough to get attention! And, if he's anything, he's loyal to his old friends. Beau is a friend of his since they were both kids. I don't think you have anything to worry about on that score. He'll keep them on it until every shred of evidence has been found and put in place."

"Well, anyway, Beau is talking about flying here today with Becca, to look the situation over. I've got some ideas I'd like to run by him. This might just turn out to be the ugly duckling that grew up to be a swan. At least, from our point of view."

"Well, that sounds hopeful! When are they coming?"

"Beau's going to talk to Becca, and call us back. He said it would be about half an hour."

"Well, that gives us time to have a cup of coffee, before we have to start another mad day!" He grinned at me.

"I'd vote for that!" We went into the kitchen and made another pot of coffee. We had just settled down at the table with our cups, when the phone rang. It was Beau. He said they would be arriving at the airport about three this afternoon, and asked me to reserve him a car and meet them when they arrived.

I returned to the kitchen. "Well, Gregg, it looks as if the hurricane is about to hit Ithaca again, at three this afternoon. If this trip is anything like the last one, we won't have a minute to breathe until their plane takes off again."

"You've got that right! So, any plans you had that you can't accomplish before three, you can forget about until they leave."

"Guess that rules out grocery shopping, doesn't it? Looks like we're going to be eating in restaurants a few more days."

"Oh, well, it saves washing dishes!" Gregg grinned. "Speaking of which, if you tell me where the soap and stuff is, I'll wash up the ones we have here."

"Got a better idea. I'll wash, you dry. You can see where everything is, and you can get an idea of where everything goes in the cupboards."

Let's get with it!" He picked up the empty cups from the table and brought them to the sink, where I was already drawing water. I reached down and brought up the dish detergent.

"Ah ha! So, that's where you hide it, the first place I would have looked!" He opened and closed cupboard doors, getting an idea of where all the dishes and cooking utensils were stored. There were only a few cups and spoons, and we were finished in a few minutes.

"That was easy! Now, what do you say to going for a little lunch before we have to face Beau?" He was grinning. It was becoming a habit with him, and I really liked the look of that grin. It was such a change from the man I first met, the man I was really beginning to like - a lot!

We went back to the State Diner. The same waitress who had served us when we arrived yesterday came up to our table. "Hi, guys! Glad to see you again! You two are really keeping our business afloat, you know." I looked around. There were three or four guys at the counter but only a family of three and a couple seated in the booths. I just shook my head. "How long can you keep going like this?"

"I don't know. The boss is sounding kinda worried. But that's not my problem - yet! What can I get you guys?"

"Hey, Gregg, want to try a Tullyburger? They're an Ithaca specialty."

"What's a Tullyburger?'

"Well, it's a hamburger with pizzazz. You've got to taste it to understand it."

"Well, if it's not poisonous, I guess it can't hurt me to try one."

"OK. Miss, we'd like two Tully's with fries and cole slaw. Coffee for me, how about you, Gregg?"

"I think I'd like a Coke."

"Pepsi all right, sir?"

"Just fine."

"OK, be with you in just a few minutes." She scurried off and returned with our drinks. After she returned to the kitchen, I looked around again. "This is really sad. Normally, you can't find a place to sit during the lunch and dinner hours; when the movies let out, and later, when the bars close, it gets pretty lively, too."

"Are they open all night?"

"They always have been, but I wouldn't dare say, right now."

We sat and watched the family sitting a little way from us. Their little boy, who looked to be about three or four, was standing with his back to us, making faces at himself in the mirror on the wall behind the booths. We could see the faces clearly in the mirror, and, by the time our sandwiches arrived, we were both laughing.

We enjoyed our lunch; Gregg had nothing but compliments for the Tullyburger. We passed on dessert, and went back to the house. We sat in the living room, speculating on what was happening, and what might happen. A little after two, we left for the airport.

As we drove up Route 13 out of town, I glanced over at Gregg. "It's a little different without a police escort, isn't it?" He just glared at me.

"I'd just as soon not talk about that, if you don't mind. I still get chills up my back, just thinking about it." I decided that discretion might be the better part of valor in this case, so I just concentrated on my driving.

We arrived at the airport about quarter of three. We went to the vehicle rental counter, and I reserved a car for Beau and Becca and paid the deposit. Then we went to the main entrance for incoming planes and just waited.

We saw the corporate jet swooping down to land. It pulled up on the tarmac as close as possible to the entrance to the terminal. Gregg glanced up at the clock on the wall. "Three on the nose! That's our Beau!"

We watched, as the steps were wheeled up to the side of the plane. Then the door opened, and Beau stepped out, followed by Becca. They came down the steps and crossed to the terminal entrance. When they came through the door, Becca spotted us and held out her arms. "Hi, guys! It's so good to see you!" She hurried over and hugged each of us and gave us a kiss on the cheek. Beau sauntered over and shook hands with both of us. "Good to see you guys! Looks like neither of you has tried to kill the other one yet." He chuckled, until Becca punched him in the arm. "That's not funny, Beau!" For just a second, an expression crossed his face like a little boy who has been scolded for eating cookies between meals. Then he recovered and asked if we had reserved a car for him. I handed him the key and the paperwork.

"Thanks, Harley. Now, what say, we go see if we can get a room at the Statler without a reservation. We left the airport and headed for College Town.

Editor's Notes:

I see that Gregg and Harley are getting along wonderfully. Finally they are both starting to heal from their long term loneliness. And they are beginning to really love and trust each other. It will take time of course to build up the trust and the love that I am sure is blossoming between them.

It would seem that things in town are a bit less than bustling. I certainly hope the guys can figure out a good plan to get things moving again. Knowing beau the way I do, however, I am sure things will work out just fine, once he gets his hands into the situation.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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