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Second Time Around

Chapter 23 - The Plan Develops

By Arli J

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

When the waitress brought our dinners, we ate in silence for a few minutes. Then Beau looked across the table at me. "Are you ready to get your feet wet?" Gregg snorted.

"I hope the water's as cold as what he pushed me into the other day!" Beau and Becca looked at him with quizzical expressions. He told them about our misadventure at Taughannock, and had them both laughing. Becca reached across the table and patted his hand.

"That's all right, Greggie! We're here to protect you from that mean man!" Gregg looked at me with a smug grin. Beau just shook his head.

"Becca, I'm not sure that we're going to get a lot of cooperation from these two lunatics!"

"Oh, they'll be all right. They're just a couple of high-spirited kids!" Beau just sighed and shook his head again. Then he got the serious look again.

"I'm really concerned about this whole situation. Actually, it's not really our problem; it's Ithaca's problem. But I've got friends living here now, and my son and his friend are coming here to school. I've taken a really personal interest in this town." He took a sip of his coffee and looked at me with a thoughtful expression.

"There's not a lot we can do this evening. We won't be able to contact the Association until tomorrow. How would you feel about practicing your approach to the store owners? We can show you how we do it, and then you can practice on us—and on that silly person sitting next to you!" He grinned.

"Silly person? Me?" Gregg tried to look indignant, but when he looked at the grins across the table, he started laughing. "Well, maybe, a little. But it's his fault!" He nudged me with his elbow. "He's corrupted me!"

Beau and Becca were laughing now. Beau stood up. "I don't think we're going to get anything serious done around here. Maybe, if we get you home, and get a little more coffee into the two of you, you'll settle down." He went to the cash register to pay for our dinner, then came back to leave a tip for the waitress. "Well, time's a'wastin', here. Let's get a move on."

When we got home, I went to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. Gregg sat in the living room, regaling Beau and Becca with tales of our adventures around town. When I came back into the room, Becca turned away from the other two, gave me a big smile, and mouthed "Thanks!" I knew what she meant; Gregg was so different from the shy and unhappy man who first arrived in Ithaca that it was hard for me to recognize him sometimes. I could only imagine what the change must look like to his old friends.

When we got up to go to the kitchen for coffee, Becca held back a little and pulled on my sleeve. She stepped close to me and whispered, "Harley, it's a miracle. We've been so worried about him for so long, but he seems really happy now. I know we have you to thank for that." She smiled at me. "He hasn't been like this, since he lost Jerry. He really acts like a man in love."

I could feel myself blushing a little, but I looked her straight in the eye. "I love him, Becca, and I'm going to do anything it takes to keep that smile on his face."

She was still smiling, but I saw the tears well up in her eyes. "Thanks, Harley; that's all I need to hear." She gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Then we followed the other two into the kitchen.

Over coffee, Beau and Becca demonstrated their approach to potential clients. Becca took the role of the business person with problems, and Beau gave her a short synopsis of what the Benson consulting firm was, and how it might be able to help her solve her problems and have a more profitable business. She came up with several objections, the cost, the violation of her privacy, the possibility of future problems and how she could deal with them.

Beau explained to her that, since there was no local office of the firm, a representative from one of the offices would come to her place of business to analyze the problem and offer suggestions on how to deal with it. There would be a fee, based on the time involved to deal with the problem and the fact that the representative would have to travel to Ithaca and would have living expenses while he or she was here. As far as privacy, only the representative working with her business would have any information about the business. That was kept in a locked cabinet in the office and was pulled out for reference when the representative was coming to see her. She would know everything that was in her file; she would have a copy of it, but no one, other than the representative working with her would ever see the file. Once the major problem had been settled, her personal representative would be available for future needs; she had only to call and set up an appointment. It all sounded simple and clear.

When they finished the demonstration, both of them asked me questions to see if I had understood what was going on. They seemed pleased that I had a good comprehension of the way their system worked. Then Becca asked me to "visit her business" and offer the services of Benson Consulting. She was a different business owner now, with different problems.

I was quite nervous, but she put me at ease, and when I finished the presentation, both of them were grinning. Then Beau spoke up. "She's easy! Now we go for the hard sell!" He assumed the role of the business owner, and he was right. He was a hard sell! But after fifteen or twenty minutes, I managed to convince him that Benson Consulting had something to offer him that he really needed. They were both smiling when the "interview" ended, and Becca looked at him, as she picked up her coffee cup.

"I think we've got a winner here!"

"Yep! Didn't I tell you when we first met him that I wanted him working for us?"

She nodded and looked over at me. "He did, too!" Then we relaxed and chatted over coffee, just enjoying a quiet chat, until Beau announced, "Well, it's been a long day, and I'm ready for bed. Why don't you guys meet us for breakfast at the Statler about nine, and we'll plan our day from there." We walked them to the door. Beau shook hands and opened the door. Becca gave each of us a hug and a kiss on the cheek. When she leaned in to kiss me, she whispered in my ear, "Thanks again, Harley." They said good night and left.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Gregg grabbed me in a big hug. "You were great, Harley! I was worried for a couple of minutes, when Beau was giving you a hard time, but you won him over. I'm so proud of you!" He pulled me closer and surprised me with a deep and passionate kiss. We went around the house, turning off the coffee pot and the lights. Then we went into the bedroom and turned on the lamp by the bed. We took turns in the bathroom. He was first, and when I returned to the bedroom, he was in bed. I noticed that his boxers were on top of the pile of his clothes in the chair by the bed. I smiled and undressed quickly. I turned off the lamp and slid into his welcoming arms.

The sun was shining brightly, when I woke up. I looked at the clock by the bed. Seven o'clock. I eased out of Gregg's embrace and went to the bathroom. When I came back, I grabbed my clothes and went to the kitchen to dress and put on coffee. Just as the pot finished brewing, he came stumbling into the kitchen and grunted at me. He sat down, and I poured us each a cup of coffee, before joining him at the table. We went through our usual two cups before he looked up. "Good morning." I just grinned and said, "Good morning." Then I got up to pour our third cup of coffee. We relaxed for a while; then he looked up at the clock. "Suppose I'd better get showered and dressed, if we're going to meet them at nine." He dragged himself out of his chair and shuffled off toward the bathroom. I just sat and finished my coffee. Then I went to the bedroom and made the bed. I picked out clothes to wear this morning and laid them out on the bed.

He came out of the bathroom, looking human and awake. I gave him a grin and headed into the bathroom to shower and shave. When I got back, he was dressed and straightening the living room. I dressed and picked up the two damp towels. I took them to the bathroom and tossed them in the hamper. I made a mental note that I would have to find time to do a load or two of laundry today.

When I came into the living room, he hugged me. "Do you have any idea how special you are?"

"No, but if you want to tell me, I'm all ears."

"Oh, God! And I thought I left the cornfields in Nebraska!" We both burst out laughing. Then he leaned over and gave me a gentle kiss.

"I'm serious, though, Harley. You've made me feel things I thought I'd never feel again, when I lost Jerry. I can't begin to tell you all the wonderful changes you've made in my life." He kissed me again.

I was embarrassed, but, oh, so happy to hear his words. Now, for the first time, I began to feel that we had something here that I had been hoping for, dreaming about, almost from the moment I met him.

We checked the clock. It was about eight thirty, so we locked up the house and drove up the hill to the Statler. We arrived a few minutes before nine, and I went to the front desk to get directions to Beau's room. When we got there, we knocked, and Becca let us in. They had a pot of coffee in their room, so we all sat and chatted for a few minutes before we went to the dining room for breakfast.

As we left the room, Beau and Gregg went first, deep in conversation about some mutual acquaintance in Fremont. Becca took a long look at me. "I don't know what happened after we left, and I don't think I want to know, but Gregg is absolutely glowing this morning. I guess my only question would be how are youfeeling?"

"Becca, I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. There is nothing more in the world I could ask for."

"I'm so happy to hear that, Harley. I think you two are perfect for each other."

"Ya know something, Becca? I think so, too!" We caught up with the other two and went into the dining room.

After breakfast we drove down the hill to my house. This would be our center of operations for the present. Becca made a phone call, while I was putting on a fresh pot of coffee. When she came into the kitchen, she announced that we were meeting Kate Dolan at Madeline's for dinner at six.

"That's one forceful woman! I asked her what would be good for her, and she told me that she had already made reservations for us. What could I do but accept? I really like that woman. She knows what she wants and she goes for it!" Becca was grinning as she shook her head. Her admiration for Kate Dolan was plain on her face. Beau chuckled.

"Met your match, have you?" She grinned, but gave him a playful slap on the arm.

"I met my match, and then some, years ago, when I met you!" She gave him a quick hug and a peck on the lips. Beau grinned, but his face colored a bit.

I went into the living room and brought out the list of businesses on the Commons. We sat down at the table with our coffee and began looking it over.

"Just so I'm better oriented," Beau said, "can you tell me how the Commons is laid out?" I took a blank piece of paper and made a quick sketch, showing the layout of the Commons and the streets surrounding it.

"You realize, I guess, that the Commons was cut out of two blocks of State Street and two blocks of Tioga Street." I printed in the street names on the sketch. "The center point of the city, for establishing directions, is the intersection of State and Cayuga Streets." I added the name of Cayuga Street to the sketch.

"To figure your directions, north is toward the lake, east is toward the Cornell campus. Ithaca College is on South Hill. Kate Dolan lives there, too. West is the other end of State Street, headed toward the hospital." I drew a little compass at the intersection of State and Cayuga streets and marked the directions on it. Then I printed in the names of the streets surrounding the Commons. Cayuga Street, of course, was to the west, Seneca Street to the north and parallel to State Street, Aurora Street to the east and Green Street parallels State Street to the south. Beau studied the sketch for a minute and looked up. "This looks simple enough. Now, we have street numbers for the businesses. How do we locate them?"

"Well, as I said, the intersection of State and Cayuga is the center point for locating anything in Ithaca. Locally, we say that Cayuga is at the "foot" of the Commons, and Aurora is at the "head." Since each block is a "hundred" block, and, moving east from Cayuga (I pointed on the sketch), the 100 block East is from Cayuga to Tioga. From Tioga to Aurora is the 200 East block. If you cross Cayuga Street at the foot of the Commons, you are in the 100 West block of State Street. From State Street to Seneca Street is the 100 North block of Cayuga, and from State Street to Green Street is the 100 South block."

"That's simple enough. Now, how do we locate stores on the Commons?"

"If you start at the foot of the Commons, Cayuga Street, odd-numbered buildings are on your right, and even numbered buildings are on your left. For example, Center Ithaca, just at the intersection of State and Tioga Streets, is 171 East State Street. The Elmira Savings Bank, across Aurora Street from the head of the Commons is 301 East State Street."

Becca had been watching and listening. "That's certainly a lot easier to remember than some of the towns where we do business!" Beau chuckled.

"It sure is! We were an hour finding one of the businesses we had to see in Syracuse! And that was after calling for directions, and getting help from a cop on the way!" He picked up the list of businesses that Ms. Bittner had given me. "I think we need to ask Ms. Bittner which of these are in the best financial condition. If we start with them, and they're happy with what we can do for them, I think we can count on word of mouth advertising to help us make contacts with the smaller businesses, the ones on shakier ground."

I was curious now. "Why not start with them, the ones that really need the help?"

"If they're struggling, as it is, they probably won't want to spend money on something they don't know about. We'll have better luck with them, once the businesses we have helped spread the word about what we can do for them."

He drained his coffee cup and stood up. "Let's get back to the room and get started."

Becca looked at him, as she got up from the table. "I thought we were going to make Harley's house our center of operations for a while, at least until we find out what Kate's plans are." Beau smiled at her and nodded. Then he turned toward us.

"You see why I married her? She keeps my head on straight!"

Becca was grinning now. "Well, I try! But I'll tell you, guys, there have been a few times I was really tempted to knock it off his shoulders!" Beau winced and ducked his head.

"Another reason I married her! She may have these evil thoughts, but she's never followed through with any of them, thank God!" We were all laughing at the expression on his face.

Now Beau was all business. "I think the first thing we need to do is talk to the Business Owners' Association and find out what they've done so far. Maybe we can help them speed up the process. Once we get that moving, we can start contacting the individual businesses. Harley, why don't you see if you can get hold of Ms. Bittner and see if we can get in to see her, this morning. If not, get us the earliest appointment you can. You might want to suggest that we'd like to get together with the Board again, as soon as possible."

I went to my desk and found the phone number for the Business Owners' Association. I called, and was lucky enough to catch Marcia Bittner in the office. She seemed glad to hear that we were ready to offer some help with the local problems, and offered to call a meeting of the Board this evening. She asked us to drop into her office as soon as possible, so that we could plan the meeting with the Board.

When I hung up and told the group what she had said, Beau was visibly more excited. "Well, we've got one person on our side in this town. Let's go see her and find out what's been happening since we were here before."

We drove up to the Commons and, at Beau's insistence, parked in the parking garage on Seneca Street, across from the Commons. We walked down the Commons to Ms. Bittner's office, taking our time and looking at the stores along the way.

Ms. Bittner welcomed us, and she and Beau got down to a serious discussion of what had happened since we had talked before. The Board was still in a bit of confusion, and there had been very little progress. The fact that they now had the money to make necessary repairs and changes was a big relief to everyone, but they couldn't seem to decide where to begin. She had called the Board members, and we were scheduled to meet with them at 7:30 this evening. Beau was shaking his head, as we left the office, and he looked at me.

"Harley, are they always like this in this town?"

"Pretty much. They're still talking about some issues they were discussing when I was in high school, and they haven't reached any decisions on how to tackle them."

"Oh, my God! I can't believe it!" He stuffed his hands in his pants pockets and strode off up the street. Becca motioned for us to stop. She let him get a little ahead of us, then said softly, "It's better just to leave him alone, when he's like this. He needs some time to think about the situation and decide what he's going to do." We followed him back to the car.

We drove back to my house in silence. When we got there, Gregg hurried to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. Beau, Becca and I sat down in the living room. Beau was studying the carpet, so Becca and I just sat and waited for him to speak.

Gregg came in to announce that coffee was ready, so we all went to the kitchen and sat down at the table. Gregg had already poured four cups of coffee and set out the sugar and cream. Beau looked across the table at me. There was real pain in his eyes.

"I can't believe these people! The town is dying, right in front of them, and they're just sitting there, spinning their wheels!"

Becca patted his hand and looked at us. "You need to understand that Beau takes things like this very personally. He can't just watch someone in trouble without wading in to help."

I didn't know what to say, and a glance at Gregg told me that he was in pretty much the same situation. We all just sat there and sipped our coffee. Suddenly Gregg spoke up. "Since we don't have anything to do until we go to dinner with Kate Dolan, would you guys like to see a little of the area around here?" He turned to me. "I was thinking that they really ought to see Buttermilk Falls. I wouldsuggest Taughannock, but I'm a little down on that right now, for some reason!"

I was laughing at him, and Becca was chuckling. She remembered his story about his experience in the lake. Even Beau grinned a little. He sighed.

"I guess we might as well. There's nothing else we can do, until we meet with the Board."

We finished our coffee and left. We drove out to Buttermilk Falls State Park and sat on benches by the swimming area. The sound of the falls and the children's laughter as they played in the pool below it had a wonderful, calming, effect on all of us. We sat there about half an hour. Then Gregg spoke up again.

"If you promise not to drown me or freeze me to death, I'd really like to take them to Taughannock. They've gotto see the Falls!" He turned to the other two. "You guys are going to see something you'll never see in Nebraska!"

They grinned, and we went back to the car. As we drove out the highway to Taughannock Park, Beau and Becca were really impressed with the scenery. When we passed the main park, Gregg pointed out the window. "That's the place! That's where he tried to drown me!" We were all laughing now.

We turned up the hill toward the Falls overlook. When we parked in the lot, there were no other cars. Beau and Becca stopped to read the sign describing the history of the Falls. Beau said, "That can't be right! Two hundred fifty feet?" Gregg just smiled. "Come with me, son!" He led them to the steps leading down to the overlook. Just as he had stopped on the steps at his first sight of the Falls, Beau stopped in his tracks and just stared. I was a couple of steps behind them, supporting Becca, in high heels, on the uneven stone steps. She looked up and saw the Falls for the first time. I heard her gasp.

"Oh, my! I read the sign, but I wasn't prepared for this!" I could see tears forming in her eyes. "This is just so unbelievably beautiful!" She stood there staring. I glanced at Beau. He looked about the same as Becca at this point. Gregg and I urged them the rest of the way down the steps to the platform with its waist-high wall, so that they could get the full impact of the Falls dropping into the pool at the base of the rocks. Gregg was leaning over the wall, watching a couple of tourists who had taken the trail up the creek toward the base of the Falls.

"Hey, guys! Come on over here and look down there! It's Barbie and Ken!" Becca and Beau pulled their attention away from the Falls and joined him. Beau started to laugh.

"You're right, Gregg! I didn't know they could walk by themselves!" We were all laughing now. Beau turned to me. "How far down are they from here?"

"About a hundred fifty feet."

"Absolutely unbelievable! You were right, Gregg. You'd never find something like this in Nebraska!"

Becca still wasn't talking. She just looked from the couple on the trail below us to the top of the Falls, and then back down again. Her eyes were wide, and she just shook her head. Gregg spoke up.

"We saw a peregrine falcon flying up the gorge, the last time we were here."

That drew Becca's attention away from the Falls. "Where? I'd really love to see one. I've read about them, but I've never seen one."

"We were in the parking lot, and we saw him flying up the gorge. Oh, Becca, you'd really love them! They are so beautiful and so graceful in the air!"

"Oh, I'd love to see one!" She turned to me. Do you think we might see one today?"

"I don't know, but we can go back up to the parking lot and watch for a few minutes. They hunt all up and down the gorge, and since this is the nesting season, we might get lucky."

We all turned back for a last look at the Falls before we started back up the steps. Beau kept glancing back, but Becca had to keep her attention on the stone steps.

When we got to the top, we walked over to the fence at the edge of the parking lot. We stood looking out over the deep gorge. A sharp whistle from above caught our attention, and we looked up to see a peregrine diving down and braking in the air, as he flew up through the gorge, hunting. Becca was thrilled. She hugged me. "Thanks, Harley! I don't know how you did that, but I'm so glad I got to see a peregrine in flight. They reallyarebeautiful! You just can't imagine it from pictures!"

We drove back to town, discussing all we had seen. To say that Beau and Becca were impressed with the scenery around Ithaca would be a gross understatement.

Since it was on the way home, we stopped at the State Diner for lunch. We didn't want to eat a big lunch, since we were going to dinner with Kate Dolan. We all decided on sandwiches. We even got daring and had iced tea with our sandwiches! It was really getting quite warm outside.

As we finished the sandwiches, Gregg looked at Beau and Becca with that little-boy look that so tickled me. "Have you two ever had strawberry-rhubarb pie?" They both shook their heads. Gregg continued, "It's just great! You really ought to try it!" Beau was chuckling, and Becca grinned.

"With a recommendation like that, how can I resist?"

Beau signaled our waitress, and when she came over to the table, we all ordered strawberry-rhubarb pie. The waitress went to get our pie. I glanced over at Gregg, who still had that silly grin on his face, and spoke to the others. "Please, whatever you do, don't get him started on watermelon!" He glared at me with a disgusted expression.

"Just because you don't appreciate the finer things in life, you don't need to belittle those who do!" He held the indignant look for a few seconds and broke out laughing. We were all laughing when the waitress returned with our pie.

"Well, it's good to see people enjoying themselves, for a change! I've never seen so many long faces in my life!"

Becca smiled at her. "Well, you have to admit that most people here in town don't have a lot to smile about these days."

"You're right about that! Well, enjoy your pie. Does anyone need a refill on the tea?" Since there were no takers, she disappeared into the kitchen.

We paid our bill and left the restaurant. When we got back to the house, Gregg yawned. "I could really use a nap about now."

I looked at him. "Me, too, but I hate to leave our guests alone."

Becca gave me a long look and grinned. "Oh, don't worry about us. We're old enough to take care of ourselves." She winked at me.

Gregg and I went to the bedroom, leaving them in the living room. Beau told us, before we left, that he would wake us in time to get ready for dinner.

When we got to the bedroom, we just kicked off our shoes and lay down on the bed, without opening it. Gregg pulled me into a hug. "Thanks, Harley, for a great morning." He gave me a gentle kiss and fell asleep almost immediately. I wasn't far behind him. The next thing I knew, Beau was shaking me gently.

"Harley, it's five o'clock. We'd better think about getting ready to go." He walked out of the room and shut the door. Gregg was still sleeping, cuddled against my side, with his head resting on my shoulder. I patted his shoulder gently, and he grunted. I turned my head and kissed him. He opened his eyes.

"Good morning!"

"I hate to tell you this, Gregg, but it's evening, and we have to get ready to go to dinner with Kate Dolan."

"Oh, yeah. That's right." He yawned and stretched. "Guess I'd better get my act together."

We changed our clothes, dressing a little better, since Madeline's is a rather well-known and classy restaurant in Ithaca, and we remembered our last experience there. When we got to the living room, Beau and Becca were dressed and sitting on the couch. Becca looked up at me and grinned.

"Feeling a little more rested, guys?" Beau apparently missed the hidden question in her words, but Gregg didn't.

"Yep! I'm feeling great now, and I'm ready to go!" Beau and Becca had apparently been talking over their plans for the evening. We closed up the house and got into the car. I was still driving, because Beau still wasn't all that familiar with the city. He and Becca sat in back, and Gregg sat beside me in the front seat. Becca didn't miss the smile he gave me, as we started toward the parking garage. She caught me looking at her in the mirror and grinned.

We parked in the garage and walked over to the restaurant. Kate Dolan was just arriving, so we walked in together. She looked at Becca and sighed. "I'm so sorry the kids couldn't be with us tonight. They were so much fun."

"They should be back in Fremont now. They were flying in with Teddie Smith, when he came to get his kids."

"You don't mean PresidentSmith, do you?"

"Yes, he and Beau have been close friends since they were boys."

"Well, I'm even more impressed with you two than I was before. I knew that you were acquainted with the President, because Beau called him about the Petrillo affair, but I didn't realize you were that close." Becca just smiled.

"I hate name-droppers; don't you?" Kate Dolan just grinned at her. We went inside and Kate caught a passing waiter and asked about our reservation.

Editor's Notes: Now for some fun. Arli always tells me he enjoys seeing what caught my attention and what I will spout off about in these notes.

I am going to spout off about boards of directors or committees. I once read a story by Robert Heinlein called “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”. The main character once said “Any more than three people can't make up their minds about when to have dinner or what to have, let alone how to make an important decision.” He had a very good point there. There is nothing worse that a huge board or committee trying to decide what direction to take the business, or other entity. Some smart know it all has to object to what ever is trying to be discussed and take things into a totally inappropriate direction. Then there is the grammar wanker and the and the ever present parliamentaria, who just has to quote the 'appropriate section from Robert's rules of order. Don't you just love that guy. I belong to two different organizations where they insist on seconding nominations for office holders. I do believe that there is no need to second a nomination. I, however, just shut up and let them do what they want. It really doesn't hurt anything and the meeting goes a lot faster if no one objects to stuff like that. In the long run the election goes pretty smoothly and no one gets hurt. See, as Arli says I can pick out something quite insignificant and make a mountain out of it. I hope I made someone think or at least made someone uncomfortable.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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