We had a leisurely dinner with Kate Dolan. She was excited about her plans. Her sister was feeling a little better, but she couldn't wait for Kate to come live with her in Florida. Kate had the house ready for the boys to move into, and she was packed to go. She planned to fly down Wednesday morning. We all wished her a safe trip and a happy time with her family in Florida.
When we said goodbye to Kate and left the restaurant, it was a little after seven. Since we were supposed to meet with the Board at seven thirty, we strolled down the Commons. Beau was rather silent and withdrawn, so we left him to his thoughts, as we chatted about our dinner with Kate and how happy she looked.
We arrived at the Business Owners' Association office about quarter after seven. The door was unlocked, so we went in and up the stairs. Marcia Bittner met us at the top of the stairs and escorted us into her office. Most of the Board members were already there, so we just sat and waited for the last two or three. They arrived just before seven thirty, and Ms. Bittner called the meeting to order.
She explained that the Bensons had come back from Nebraska with some ideas that might help them get the Commons back into operation. I was watching the faces of the Board members. Most of them seemed friendly and interested to hear what Beau had to say. But one man, the one who had asked Beau at the previous meeting what his "vested interested" in Ithaca's problems was, had a rather skeptical look on his face. He was leaned back in his chair, and he whispered something to the man sitting next to him.
When Beau stood up to address the group, they listened carefully to what he had to say. I could see some smiles and nods, as one after another of the group began to understand what he wanted them to do. When he finished, Beau asked if there were any questions. The man who had seemed to have some serious reservations spoke up.
"Mr. Benson, I'm still rather curious about something. I don't understand what your interest in our problems here in Ithaca might be. After all, they don't really affect you. You live somewhere in the Midwest."
Beau was standing a little straighter than he had been, and he had a rather watchful expression. "I live in Fremont, Nebraska, Mr. …?
"Smiley, Sam Smiley. I run a hardware store on West State Street."
"Well, Mr. Smiley," Beau was smiling now, "I don't know how it is in New York, but in Nebraska, we take friendship pretty seriously. If one of our friends has a problem, we all pitch in to help him out. As I told you last time, I have two friends living in Ithaca, and my older son and his friend are planning to attend Cornell. They'll be coming in a couple of weeks. I want to be sure that they come to a place that's safe, a place that's pleasant to live. I want to know that my boys and my friends in town are all right."
Mr. Smiley was sitting up stiffly now. His expression was distinctly hostile. "And that's the reason you've made two trips here, at what I'm sure must have been considerable expense. It wouldn't have anything to do with the possibility of a very lucrative business here, would it?"
I could see Beau stiffen and draw a deep breath, but his smile never wavered. "Mr. Smiley, people who have known me for years could tell you that I don't lie, I don't dissemble, and that I am very loyal to my friends. I'm not sure just what you're getting at."
"Well, it seems to me that nothing you have told us so far is anything we can't do for ourselves, and we don't have to pay some high-priced consulting firm to solve our problems. The problem we had on the Commons is now in jail, and, thanks to the court system, we have the money to get the Commons back in business and growing, without any outside help." He looked around at the other Board members for support, and it was quite clear that he had several supporters for his point of view.
Marcia Bittner stood up. "I think we need to discuss this further at a later time." She turned to Beau. "Thank you so much for meeting with us. I'll be in touch with you as soon as we have a chance to talk the matter over."
Beau was grinning now. "Thank you, Ms. Bittner." He turned toward the Board members. "And thank you all for your interest in seeing the Commons restored." Without another word, he turned and walked out of the room. We hurried out after him.
When we reached the street, I got a good look at Beau's face for the first time since we left the Board meeting. He was wearing that grin that should have warned Mr. Smiley to shut up. Becca caught up with him and took his arm. "Are you OK, hon?"
"I'm just fine." He patted her arm, and they walked along, as serenely as if they were just out for an evening stroll on the Commons. Gregg and I followed them at a little distance. When we got to the car, we got in and drove up to the Statler. It was a silent ride; everyone seemed lost in private thoughts.
I pulled into the parking lot at the Statler. Beau opened his door to get out, then paused. "Do you guys have any plans for tomorrow morning?"
I looked at Gregg, and he just shrugged. I answered Beau, "No, nothing that can't be put off."
"Good. I'd like you two to join us for breakfast at nine. I've got a few things I'd like to talk over with you." We glanced at each other and both nodded.
"Great! We'll see you in the morning then." He got out, went around the back of the car and opened Becca's door. He helped her out of the car, then bent down. "Good night. See you in the morning." He closed the door and took Becca's arm. They went into the hotel, and we headed down the hill.
Gregg had a very thoughtful look on his face, and he didn't seem to want to talk on the way to the house, so I just left him in peace. We got home, and I unlocked the door and turned on a light. I stepped back to let Gregg go in ahead of me then I stepped inside and closed the door. He was standing there with a very puzzled expression. "What happened there, Harley?"
"I'm really not sure, but it sounded to me as if that Mr. Smiley slammed the door in Beau's face!"
"That's what I thought, too. But Beau didn't say anything. He just walked out."
"Did you see the look on his face when we got down on the street?"
He gave me a long look. "Yeah, and that's what's got me worried."
"I've seen Beau grin like that before, and I think I'm a littler worried, too."
"That Smiley guy really laced into him! He practically accused Beau of lying, and he made it clear that he thought Beau's just involved for the money he can make out of it. Beau's not like that! He's got more money than he'll ever need, if he lives to be a thousand!"
"Well, I don't think that's what bothered him, as much as the fact that the guy called him a liar, in so many words!"
"Yeah, that would really hurt Beau. He doesn't show it very much, but he's really a sensitive guy, and he wasn't kidding: he is veryloyal to his friends, and anyone who knows him, knows it."
"Well, I guess we'll just have to wait until tomorrow morning to find out what he's got in mind."
Gregg gave me a rather worried look. "That's what's got me worried! When Beau gets mad, you can never tell what he's going to do. But one thing you can be sure of, it will be well thought out, and it will always be the right thing for everyone involved. That's the way Beau is!"
We went out to the kitchen. There was part of a pot of coffee left from this morning. I dumped it out and rinsed the pot; then I looked at Gregg. He paused for a few seconds and shook his head. I set the pot back in the coffee maker. We went through the house, turning out lights. Then we took turns in the bathroom. When I came back to the bedroom, Gregg was already in bed. I looked at him; it seemed that neither of us was interested in a replay of last night. I turned off the lamp by the bed and slipped in with him. We cuddled together, just enjoying the closeness, until sleep overtook us.
I woke up to another sunny morning. We had been having a remarkable stretch of nice weather for Ithaca. As I gradually became more aware of my surroundings, I realized that Gregg wasn't beside me. His pillow was cold, so he must have been up for a while. I got up and went into the bathroom. When I returned to the bedroom, I noticed all our clothes still piled on the chair where we had left them. Wherever he was, he was still in his boxers.
I went out to the kitchen and was greeted by a smiling Gregg, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in front of him. He seemed very pleased with himself this morning.
"Good morning! Coffee's ready, but if you had slept much longer, you'd have had to wait for another pot." I went to the cupboard, got out a cup and poured myself a cup of coffee. Then I joined him at the table.
"You're all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning! How long have you been up?"
"Almost an hour. I was having the nicest dream, about Fremont. It was like I was living there again, only with you." He grinned. "How's that for a dream?"
I sipped my coffee, while I thought about his dream. "Ya know, that wouldn't be a bad thing! I really liked Fremont, when I was there. It reminded me of the way Ithaca was, when I was growing up here."
"Oh, well, it was just a dream. What woke me up was wondering what's on Beau's mind. He was already planning something last night. He just had that look!"
"Well, we'll know in a little while. Until then, how 'bout another cup of coffee?"
"Ya won me over, you smooth talker!" He chuckled.
I got up to refill our cups. As I did, I glanced at the kitchen clock. "We'd better not dawdle. It's almost eight now. Boy, I must have been tired. I never sleep this late!"
"I don't think you were sleeping too well. You woke me up a couple of times, mumbling and moving around."
"Oh, no! Did I give away any of my deep, dark secrets?"
"If you did, they're still safe! I couldn't understand a word you said!"
"Well, that's a relief! I was afraid I'd given away the place I buried my ill-gotten gains!"
"Nope! That's still safe!" We were grinning at each other now. Then Gregg got a serious look on his face.
"But, are you OK, Harley? I was a little worried about you. Something was really bothering you."
"I'm fine. I guess I was just still upset about the way that idiot talked to Beau!"
"Me, too! If they didn't want Beau's help, he could have just said so. He didn't have to get nasty about it!"
"Well, one thing that's never been in short supply in this town is idiots!"
"I think he may have tangled with the wrong man this time!"
We finished our coffee, dumped the remainder of the pot and rinsed it. Then we went to get ready to go up on the campus to meet Beau and Becca. When we got to their door and knocked, Beau answered the door. He was smiling this morning—a real smile, instead of that tight grin he was wearing last night.
"Good to see you, guys! Come on in! Becca will be out in just a minute or two. I think she's putting her face on." He grinned again. "I hope she didn't hear me say that, though. My life wouldn't be worth much!" He ushered us into the sitting room. "How about a cup of coffee, while we're waiting?" We sat down at the table, next to a large window that looked out over the ag campus toward the rolling hills to the east of town. Beau poured coffee for all of us and looked out toward the view. "Ya know, I really love this area. It's a shame the people who live here aren't friendly." He sighed and took a sip of his coffee. "As soon as Becca gets out here, I've got a couple of ideas I'd like to run by you guys. I'm not going to put any pressure on you; I'd just like you to think about them."
Becca emerged from the bathroom, looking lovely, as usual. She was dressed in a casual pants suit, the sort of thing she had been wearing when they arrived on the plane. She hurried over to the table and gave Gregg a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Then she hugged me. "I'm so glad to see you guys! Did you sleep well?"
Gregg spoke up. "I did; Harley had kind of a restless night. He woke me up a couple of times."
Becca gave me a concerned look. "Are you OK, Harley?"
"I'm fine this morning. I was just a little upset about that guy last night."
"She sat down next to Beau. He poured her a cup of coffee. She thanked him and said, "Well, did I miss anything?"
"No, we were waiting for you."
I looked at Gregg. What was all the mystery here? Had they been talking last night, after they got back to the hotel? He looked just as confused as I was.
Beau cleared his throat. "I guess we know now that our help isn't needed here, so we're going home. But I had a few thoughts I'd like to share with you guys. If what you told me last night is true, that they're still just talking about issues from years ago, I don't see much hope for this town. They'll just talk about what they want to do, while downtown dies, and everyone has to go to the malls to shop, or worse, out of town altogether. Syracuse, Binghamton and Elmira aren't that far away!"
I nodded. "You've got that right! You understand this town better than a lot of the natives!"
He gave me an intent look. "Harley, I offered you a job, working for me, and that job is still open for you. But I don't think you're going to be able to do much here. This town is just not ready to enter the 21st Century. They're still stuck in the past, and they don't want to change.
"I've already called home this morning and talked to the boys. I really hate to see them come here to school. Cornell is a very good school, but they'll be spending a lot of their time in town. I asked Ben to think about accepting one of the other scholarships he was offered. He seemed open to the idea, when I explained what was going on here. Once he decides, he can call the school. It's a little late to register, but, if necessary, I'll call and have a talk with the dean. It's amazing what a little gift to the school will do to open doors!
"What I'd like you two to think about is the possibility of moving to Freemont to live. Harley, you'll still be working for me, but in a different capacity. We'll work that out later. I'd just like you to think about it, talk it over."
I looked at Gregg. His face must have been a mirror of mine, total shock. His dream, his dream about going back to Fremont, and with me! We were both speechless. Becca gave us both a long look.
"What's going on here? What are you two thinking about?"
I was too stunned to say a word, but Gregg, after taking a big sip of coffee and stammering a little, told them about his dream. Becca's eyes were wide, and her mouth was open. She was apparently speechless, too, but Beau burst out laughing.
"Well, so much for surprising them with my idea! Gregg, I should have known something like this would happen! You've done this before! Remember the cat in the well? Or the tree falling on Davis' new pickup?"
Gregg was blushing now. He looked at me with a helpless expression and just shrugged. I made a mental note that we had to have a longdiscussion on this subject!
"Well, since you already knew what I was going to say, have you guys talked about it at all?" Beau was grinning again, but this time it wasn't the scary grin. Becca, on the other hand was sitting rigidly, just staring at Gregg, as if he had just sprouted a new head.
Gregg paused a moment, then said, "Well, I mentioned it to Harley, and we talked about it a little. We both like Fremont, but I just moved my whole life here! I'm not sure I'm ready to take a trip like that again, right away."
"Nothing to it! Your stuff is still pretty much in boxes, isn't it? So all we have to do is pack it up and ship it. Now, Harley's got to decide what he wants to keep, and what he wants to get rid of. Then we get a moving company in here, pack up your stuff and go!"
I spoke up now. "Uh, Beau, there is another little matter here. I have a house, you have a house, and Gregg has a building on the Commons. We can't just walk off and leave them!"
"Don't you have a friend who's a real estate agent? I think we met her the last time we were here. And Kate's brother-in-law is a lawyer. They can take care of the properties. You have heard of fax machines, haven't you?"
Gregg looked at me, then turned to Beau. "It's an interesting idea, but I think we need to do some thinking about the idea, and we really have to talk it over and decide what we need to do."
"Fair enough! I'd really like to get back, and I'd like you guys to come for a visit. That way, you'd have a better idea of what you'd be getting into. How about leaving tomorrow afternoon, and you can come back whenever you want to. The plane is always ready to go."
The word 'plane' caught my attention. "Uh, Beau, I hate to sound like a wuss, but the only time I've ever been in a plane was when we flew out to Nebraska, the last time you were here. I'm really not too thrilled with the idea of flying."
"You'll get used to it. It's only scary the first time or two." He gave Becca a smile and a pat on the shoulder. "You should have seen her, the first few times we flew! I've still got scars on my arm from where she dug her nails in!"
She smacked him lightly on the shoulder. "You're just exaggerating. It was a little scary, but it really isn't that bad, once you get used to it." She gave Beau a mock fierce look, and we all laughed.
Beau stood up. "I don't know about the rest of you, but my belly thinks my throat's been cut! I've got to get something to eat!" We all got up and went together to the dining room of the hotel. We had a wonderful breakfast and a delightful conversation. But in the back of my mind, things were swirling around. Could we really do this? Is it a good idea for Gregg to go back to the place where all his memories of Jerry are waiting for him. He's been so much happier lately. I'd hate to see him go back to that scared and unhappy person he was when I first met him. And what did Beau mean, 'my job would be different'? What does he have in mind? I didn't even hear Beau, until Gregg nudged me with his knee, bringing me back to the conversation.
"So, how about you guys joining us for dinner tonight, here at the hotel? You can think about what we were talking about, talk it over, and maybe you'll have a better idea of what you want to do." He signaled to the waiter, who brought our check. Beau signed it and added a couple of bills to the folder before he handed it back. The waiter thanked him, bowed to Becca and disappeared into the kitchen.
In the lobby, Beau checked at the desk for messages. There were none, so he came back to where we were waiting, and he and Becca walked us to the back door, since we had parked behind the building. Becca gave us each a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Beau shook hands.
"So, do you want to meet us here for dinner, or should we go somewhere else? They require coats and ties in the dining room for lunch and dinner. We could go back to Madeline's or we could go to the State Diner." He chuckled. "No ties required there, and their steaks are just about as good as it gets!'
Gregg piped up. "And they have meat loaf!"
We were all laughing, as Beau shoved us out the door. They waved to us and headed back toward their room, while we went to get into our car. I looked over at Gregg and smiled. He returned the smile, but it seemed that both of us had a lot on our minds. I knew that I did!
Now that one threw me for a loop. That was a great chapter and indeed quite a suprise as well.
I must admit that I was expecting Beau to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, but I never expected him to just give up and walk away clean, let alone take Gregg and Harley with him.
Actually, after thinking it over, the way the association was treating them, I can certainly understand why they might feel like letting go and leaving them to stew in their own juices. After all, if they don't trust Beau or Harley and Gregg, how can the possibly manage to follow any advice they might give them without second guessing them at every turn? I mean, If Beau wanted to, he could probably buy the entire commons, lock, stock and barrel, and have plenty left over to buy lunch for every man woman and child in the whole state, out of his petty cash. He certainly would have been willing to help, and if they had allowed him to do so, I am sure there would have been a lot of benefits for the town, but now that they have totally alienated not only Beau and Becca, but Gregg and Harley as well, I think we can safely assume that any more help has dried up completely. Fremont, here we come!!!
Okay, does that constitute a rant? I think the one I had in the last chapter would have gone well here as well, so if you weren't paying attention last time, you might want to go back and read what I said there.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
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