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Second Time Around

Chapter 28

By Arli J

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

Only Brian! We got the story in little pieces, and it was a good one! Brian was suspended on his first day in school, some misunderstanding with his Spanish teacher. The principal not only suspended Brian, but put the other class members on probation, including the captain of the football team. When Beau and Becca heard about it that evening, Becca went into action. The principal apparently forgot, or didn't care, that she was president of the school board.

Beau was really upset, too, and he went to work, getting his private investigators to check out the principal and the Spanish teacher, to find out why they reacted so strongly to Brian's remarks. He's an outspoken boy, and he makes his position very clear in any situation, but he's never been known to be rude or disrespectful to anyone, and certainly not to anyone in authority.

Things started happening the next day. Becca had called a meeting of the board for the period when Brian would have had Spanish class. She was very upset by the principal's attitude and his actions. Beau came to the meeting, too, quite to Becca's surprise. His investigators had found out that the principal had falsified his credentials, and that the Spanish teacher had not even completed her Bachelor's degree and had been hired by the principal because of their personal relationship. This information threw the board into a fit, and they voted on some instant changes in the faculty.

But Brian wasn't through yet. His great love is art, and he will do almost anything to further the study of art. He volunteered to pose for the class in minimal clothing, at the teacher's request, so that the students could have the experience of drawing the human figure. A rumor started that he had posed nude, and by the time he got home, Beau and Becca had heard it and jumped on him for doing such a thing. Brian was hurt, and was packing to go to Ithaca and live with his brother, until his parents talked to him, found out the truth, and convinced him to stay at home.

But the rumor spread all over town, and one of the board members, who was Becca's nemesis, called and demanded that a special meeting of the board be called to expel Brian for his (supposed) behavior. She was also demanding that the art teacher be fired for allowing this behavior.

Beau put his investigators on the case, since there was another issue involving the pastor of a new fundamentalist church in Fremont, who was stirring up controversy in the school system. There was also evidence that he was a sexual predator, preying on teenagers, using his position as a pastor as cover for his activities.

Brian was furious. Without telling his mother, because he didn't want her to be involved in the uproar that was sure to ensue, he enlisted his father's help.

The meeting was quite explosive. Brian had the whole list of facts, which his father's investigators had uncovered about the pastor, who was actually an illiterate fraud, as well as a sexual predator of long standing. When the issue of the art teacher's dismissal came up, Brian brought the "pastor" up to the front, and posed in front of the whole meeting, dressed in his bikini swim suit, just as he had been in class. The board voted unanimously against dismissing the teacher, but she was fed up with the policies of the district and resigned publicly. Then Brian went to work on the "pastor." By the time he was through, the man was totally discredited, particularly when two of his victims appeared, disguised, to tell the stories of their experiences with him. The motion to expel Brian was defeated, and he was applauded for his cool presentation to the school board and the Board of Education, both of which were at the meeting.

The next day, Brian was asked by a member of the Board of Education to teach the class that he was taking from the art teacher. His English teacher was to be the official teacher, since he was an art minor in college, but he lacked the skills to actually teach the class.

Only Brian!

The family was looking forward to a trip to London over the Labor Day weekend to attend the opening of Brian's art show at a major London dealer in fine art. Ben, Grant, and some of their friends would be going with them. Brian invited us to go along with them, but we decided that we might spend the time in Arizona, looking around to see if this might be the place we wanted to settle. Gregg called Beau and asked if he had been serious about flying us to Prescott, and when Beau assured him that he was, we made plans to leave on Thursday before they went to England, and began packing for the trip.

Thursday morning, after they had the kids safely in school, or at least, so they hoped, Beau and Becca picked us up at the house and drove us to the airport. Beau was grumbling, but Becca was driving. He felt that he was all right to drive, but she was taking no chances. We had checked on line and found a motel in the center of town, and we had called and made reservations. The motel even offered transportation from the airport and a return to the airport, when we were ready to leave.

Beau and Becca saw us off on the plane to Arizona. I was still a little nervous about the idea of flying, but that passed quickly, and we enjoyed the trip, watching the landscape change below us. A van was waiting for us at the airport in Prescott, and we were ready for a new adventure. The trip from the airport to the motel was uneventful, and it gave us a chance to see some of the city.

Greater Prescott is actually made up of four smaller towns, Prescott, Cottonwood and Camp Verde, all in Yavapai County, and Sedona, which is in Coconino County. The smaller towns have all grown together into one urban area, with a population of over 41,000 people. Even though this is small, when compared to some of the cities in the East, Greater Prescott is the third largest city in Arizona, and it is located in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Buttes, great, flat-topped mountains, rise out of the desert, and the sunsets are spectacular. I was beginning to fall in love with this place already, and one look at Gregg's face told me that he was feeling pretty much the same.

We arrived at the motel, checked in and went to our room. It was spacious, with a sitting area at one end, and a king-sized bed at the other. The bathroom was tiled, floor to ceiling in a soft pinkish tan which echoed the desert landscape.

The bellhop put our luggage by the big dresser next to the bed. After he left, we unpacked our clothes and hung up the things that needed to go on hangers in the large closet. Our room was on the second floor, looking out over the city. We decided, since it was almost lunch-time, to relax and have lunch in the restaurant downstairs. Then we would begin our walking tour. We had decided to wait and see if we needed a car before we rented one.

We sat down in the comfortable chairs, which turned out to be recliners, and just sat there for a few minutes. Then Gregg looked over at me.

"Are you all right with all this? I'm feeling a little queasy, but I think I'll get over it. It could be a little jet lag."

"Yeah, I guess I'm about the same. This is a really big step for a couple of old guys who've never been much of anyplace before, and then we had support. Now, we're sort of on our own."

"I've been thinking about that, but you know, I'm rather looking forward to it. Just the idea of trying something new, even though it's a little scary, appeals to me." He gave me a big grin.

"Yeah, I agree with you. I don't know about you, but I've always lived a really 'safe' life; I never took any big chances—well, not until I came to Fremont the first time."

"You! What do you think it felt like, leaving my safe little life in Fremont to come to Ithaca? I never could have done it without your support and Grant's, and knowing that Beau was there, if I got in trouble."

We smiled at each other and relaxed back into our chairs, just thinking about what had happened in our lives in the last couple of months. I couldn't help wondering what might have happened if the boys had decided to go to school in California or someplace else, other than Ithaca. I would never have met Gregg, and all the joy he has brought into my life could never have happened. I didn't even want to think about that possibility! I reached out toward him, and he reached out, so that we were holding hands in the space between our chairs. He gave me that warm, loving smile that just melts me.

"I couldn't be happier, Harley. You've done more for me, given me more, than I can ever tell you, and I love you so much, I just can't express it!"

"I think you express it pretty well, and I hope you know that I love you just as much. But, at the risk of spoiling the moment, I'm getting hungry."

He chuckled. "So am I! Let's go see what's on the menu downstairs."

We took the elevator down to the main floor of the motel. The restaurant opened off the lobby, so we went in and found a table. A waiter came over, with glasses of water and menus. "Hi, fellahs! Do you know what you want, or do you want some time to check out the menu?"

Gregg gave him a helpless grin. "I don't think reading the menu from now until doomsday would help me. We've just arrived here, and I have no idea what type of food you serve, or what it's like."

The waiter chuckled. "From your accent, I'd guess that you're from the Midwest, and the other gentleman sounds a little like a yankee."

Gregg looked at me. "Damn! He's good!" He turned to the waiter. "I'm from Nebraska, and Harley is from New York."

"Upstate, I'll bet! He doesn't have the 'city' accent."

I laughed. "Right, again! I'm from Ithaca, in the center of the state. And, by the way, we upstaters don't like being lumped in with 'city' people. They're a whole different breed of cat!"

He chuckled. "You don't have to tell me that! I'm from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and we see much too much of the tourists from the 'city'!"

"Scranton? What are you doing in Arizona?"

"I got out of high school, wasn't ready to go to college, so I decided I'd like to see something of the country before I settled in for four years of higher education. I headed for California, taking the scenic route, but I ran out of money in Prescott, Arizona—where the hell is that!—so I took the first job I could find, to save up for the rest of my trip. That was six years ago, but I liked it here so much that I decided to stay. I met a nice girl, got married, and we have a son almost two months old. And that's mystory! Now, do I get to hear yours, or are you really hungry? I can wait until you come in again. Oh, by the way, I'm Joey."

Hi, Joey, glad to meet you. I'm Harley, and this is Gregg. Our story is really kind of short; we're just two older guys who wanted to get away from the cold in the winter."

"Well, you did that, pretty much. We get an occasional cold day—down in the 20's, but mostly, it's just a little below freezing, and sometimes not even that."

Gregg gave him a big smile. "Son, you have just made my day! Now, what do you recommend for lunch?"

"Do you like Mexican food?'

"I've never had any, but I've heard that it's really hot and spicy."

"Some is, and some isn't. If you live here a while, you'll gradually get used to it, and you won't notice the 'hot' stuff, but it can be a real jolt for someone who's never had it before. If you want a recommendation, I'd suggest a soft chicken taco. They're really mild, and you add the hot sauce to your own taste."

That sounds good, but what do you mean by a softchicken taco? Are there other kinds?"

Well, a regular taco shell is made of a special cornmeal mix, and it's deep-fried until it's crisp. Then they fill it and you're on your own. If you squeeze it too hard when you pick it up, you have a handful of smashed taco. If you bite into it wrong—and I've never found a rightway!—you wind up with crumbled shell and filling all over the table and in your lap."

"Doesn't sound like something I'd really like to try."

"The taste is great, but they are a mess to eat!"

"Well, then, what's the difference in a soft taco?"

"They're made with flour tortillas instead of the cornmeal ones. They're fried flat, just until they're cooked, and then filled. I really like them better. I hate making a mess with my meal!"

"That sounds good to me. I think I'll take one."

"Just one? An order is two tacos."

"OK, I'll take an order of soft chicken tacos."

What do you want to drink with that? The standard around here is Dr. Pepper."

"What's that?"

"It's a soft drink that is really popular all through the southwest. The kids all call it 'carbonated prune juice,' but they drink a lot of it!"

"That sounds interesting. I'll try a Dr. Pepper with my tacos."

Joey turned to me. "And you, sir, what would you like?"

"I'll have the same thing. You've got me intrigued!"

He laughed and went off to order our lunch. Gregg grinned at me. "He seems like a really friendly guy!"

I nodded. "I hope the rest of the people we meet here are just as friendly. If they are, I'm staying!"

"Me, too." He giggled. "It's not at all what I was expecting."

"What were you expecting? I had no idea what to expect."

"Well, I guess I thought that people are pretty much the same everywhere, so I figured this would be like living in Fremont, or Ithaca, but with a better climate."

"In case you didn't notice, the people in Ithaca are a lot different than the people in Fremont! I think that's why I was so happy to be getting out of Ithaca and moving to Fremont."

"Yeah, but they have really good meat loaf in Ithaca!" He was grinning at me now.

"But the Chinese food in Fremont is great!"

"You should have tried some of the other things there! But they don't have meat loaf like the State Diner's meat loaf." He was really looking a little sad at this thought, but just then Joey returned with our lunch. He set our plates on the table and pointed to two small dishes sitting in the middle of the table.

"These are your salsas. They're what give the food its zing. The red salsa is a little milder, for those who don't like their food too hot. The green salsa, in sufficient quantity, will clean rust off the bumper of your car. Be warned! I'd suggest just a very small amount of the red, until you get used to the flavor."

Gregg looked embarrassed. "I don't want to sound stupid, but we don't have any silverware. How do I eat these things?"

Joey just smiled. "Just like a sandwich. That's what they really are, an odd-shaped sandwich. I'll be right back with your Dr. Pepper." He hurried off.

Gregg looked at me. "I'm not sure how to go about this. I don't want to look like an idiot, but I don't know what to do. Should we try some of the salsa?"

I picked up one of my tacos, took a tiny amount of the red salsa on the spoon in the dish, and dribbled it on one end of the opening of the taco. I took a tentative bite. The rich, pungent flavor of the salsa on the food more than compensated for the slight tingle on the tip of my tongue. "Oh, that's really good!" I took the spoon and added salsa all the way down the open side of the taco. I took a bigger bite. It was even better, since I got more of the filling of the taco this time. I laid the taco on my plate and lifted the upper part of the crust, so that I could see the layers of filling, shredded chicken topped with shredded cheese, then chopped onion, chopped tomato and lettuce on top. I pressed the open part of the shell down on my plate and spread a very thin layer of salsa over the whole area. Then I closed the taco and took a big bite. Gregg was watching me intently. I guess the look on my face told him what he wanted to know. He opened one of his tacos, spread a thin layer of the salsa on the inside of the shell, reclosed the taco and took a small bite. I could see him chewing , with a very tentative expression on his face. Then he gave me a big grin. "Oh, yeah, that's great!" He took a big bite and we sat, just savoring the new and rich flavors.

Joey returned with our drinks. "So, what do you think, guys? You like the tacos?" Gregg had a mouthful of taco, but he nodded excitedly. Joey looked at me. And what do youthink?"

"I think you've got a couple of regular customers for soft chicken tacos! And that red salsa is wonderful. We went really easy on it, but I think that stuff is going to grow on me; I'll probably be spooning it on everything. How do you think it would go on shredded wheat in the morning?"

He laughed. "I'm not sure I'd want to go that far! But everybody to his own kicks!" He poured out a glass of Dr. Pepper for each of us and left the bottles by our places. As he walked away, I picked up my glass and took a sip. Yep, carbonated prune juice! But I liked it. Gregg followed my example, and grinned at me.

"He was right! It's carbonated prune juice, and I really like it! I wonder if we can get a six pack to take to our room. I think I saw a small fridge in there."

"Yes, it's on the stand by the bathroom door. We'll see if we can find a six pack while we're wandering around town this afternoon. Or maybe the desk clerk can tell us where to get one."

Joey brought our check. "Thanks, guys. Hope we'll see you soon again. You pay this at the front desk." He grinned. "Have a good time in Prescott!" Then he headed off toward the kitchen.

"Well, that was a refreshing change from 'Have a nice day!' I get rather sick of hearing that all the time. I could be on my way to divorce court or the hospital, and the cab driver would say, 'Have a nice day!' What if I don't want to have a nice day? What if I'm in a foul mood and want to have a lousy day?"

"Well, what got your tail in a twist?" Gregg was laughing at me now.

"Well, doesn't that ever get to you?"

"Sometimes, but I get over it." We got up from the table, and I fished my wallet out of my pocket. I pulled out a ten and stuck it under my plate. Gregg was holding the check for our lunch; he looked at it.

"Harley, that's more than our lunch cost!"

"I know, but he's a funny guy, and he's got a new baby. I'm sure that waiters don't make any more here than they do where we come from."

"Well, there's that! But I think you're just a big softy!" He gave me a loving smile. "And that's just one of the things I love about you."

He just stood there smiling at me, so I grabbed the check out of his hand and stomped out to the front desk to pay the bill. The desk clerk apparently recognized us from when we checked in, earlier.

"Sir, you don't need to pay every time you eat here. Just tell the waiter your room number. He'll give it to us. Or, if you want to include a tip with the bill, you can add it on and bring the check to us on your way out. That way, you can pay for everything at one time."

"Thanks, that's good to know. By the way, what are the restaurant hours?"

"They're open from seven in the morning until eleven at night. If you want a sandwich or a cup of coffee after hours, or before they open in the morning, just call the desk. We have fresh coffee brewing all night. We dump any that's left after two hours; I hate old coffee, don't you?"

"Yep! And thanks for the information. We'll probably be calling you."

Gregg had followed me to the desk and was listening to the clerk. As we walked away, he said, "He seems like a really nice guy, and it's good to know that we can get coffee whenever we want it."

We set off down the street with no particular destination in mind. We wanted to see all we could and learn all we could about this city in the time we had. Suddenly Gregg stopped. "Look at this!" He pulled me toward a bus stop. "Tour busses! And they have brochures in the rack there about the different tours!" He went through the rack excitedly, grabbing copies of all the brochures. "This looks like the way to see the place! Why don't we go back to the motel and check them out?"

"That sounds like a good idea to me! I'm getting a little past the age for long walks. I was a Boy Scout when I was young, but I'm a little old for hiking now."

We went back to the motel and spent the afternoon studying the brochures. They were exactly what we were looking for—tours of Prescott, tours of Sedona, tours of Cottonwood and of Camp Verde. We could see the whole area without having to walk or take cabs, and the tours were reasonably priced. A couple of them even included lunch in the town we were visiting. We decided to start with Sedona in the north and work our way south through the four towns that made up the Prescott area.

Since it was now dinner time, we decided to go out for a really nice dinner in a good restaurant. I called the desk. When I explained to the desk clerk what we wanted to do, he was very helpful. I made it clear to him that I was not unhappy with the restaurant in the motel, but that we wanted to celebrate our arrival with a special meal. He agreed that that was a good idea and gave me the names of two or three restaurants that were nearby.

We changed our clothes to go out to dinner. We had noticed on the streets that dress was very informal. I didn't see a single necktie, anywhere. As we left the motel, the desk clerk called out, "Enjoy your dinner, gentlemen!" We smiled and waved to him.

Out on the street, I took the lead, because I had received the directions from the clerk. I already knew where I wanted to go, but I didn't tell Gregg. This was a little surprise for him. We went about two blocks down the street and I turned right. Gregg looked surprised, but followed me. There it was, in the middle of the block, the Parthenon Restaurant, Greek specialties. Gregg clutched my arm.

"Oh, Harley, you don't suppose they have….?"

"I don't know, but we're about to find out!"

We walked into the restaurant and were greeted by a very pretty Greek girl with just a trace of an accent. "Good evening, gentlemen! How may I serve you?"

Gregg was almost bursting with his excitement. "Do you, by any chance, serve meat loaf, the Greek style?" He was holding his breath.

"Oh, you have eaten in Greek restaurants before! Of course, we do!" She gave him a big smile, as he let out his breath in a rather loud whoosh. I couldn't help it; I had to laugh. He gave me a dirty look and a discreet elbow to the ribs. The girl either didn't notice, or she was too polite to react. She led us to a table and called one of the waitresses over.

There was no question about what Gregg was going to order. I looked over the menu and decided to try the dolmades, grape leaves, preserved in salt brine and stuffed with a meat filling, similar to cabbage rolls. Gregg gave me a strange look but then smiled broadly, as he gave the waitress his order. We asked for coffee, while we were waiting for our dinner. The waitress went back to the counter and returned with our coffee. Then she disappeared into the kitchen.

Gregg seemed nervous. He kept up a running chatter about the tours we were planning. He was much too animated. I figured he was worried about whether the meat loaf here would be as good as the meat loaf at the State Diner in Ithaca. When it arrived, it looked the same, and was covered with the same type of tomato sauce. I waited as he took his first bite. The smile that spread across his face could have powered two blocks of street lights. Gregg was home now.

I tried the dolmades. They were delicious! I couldn't begin to identify the spices in the filling, but this was something that I was filing away for future visits to this restaurant, and from the look on Gregg's face there would definitely be future visits! If I could just hold him down to once or twice a week!

When we finished our dinner, we had another cup of coffee, and, of course, we had to try their baklava. I looked at Gregg. "I think we've got a winner here!" His smile answered my implied question.

We left the restaurant and returned to the motel. Gregg rushed up to the desk clerk. "Thank you so much for recommending the Parthenon! They have the best meat loaf I've had since we left New York!"

"They sure do! And their dolmadesare out of this world! But wait until you taste their baklava!"

I gave him a stern look, or at least as stern as I could manage. "Were you following us, or are you a professional psychic?"

"Neither. But why would you ask a question like that?"

"Because you described our dinner at the Parthenon! Gregg had the meat loaf, I had the dolmades, and we both had baklava!"

The clerk burst out laughing. "I don't believe it! You're kidding me, aren't you?"

"Nope! But I have to add my thanks to Gregg's for the recommendation. It was a great dinner."

"I'm really glad you enjoyed it; that's one of my favorite places to eat."

"I think we're going to watch a little TV and go to bed early. This has been a busy day for us old folks. Could we get a wake-up call around seven, so we have time for breakfast before we take the tour bus?"

"You've got it! And I'm sorry I forgot to tell you about the tours earlier. You get a really good idea of the whole area. The tourists all love those tours."

"Well, we're not exactly typical tourists. We're planning to move here, and we want to know as much about the area as we can before we move."

"Are you planning to buy a house here?"

"We're considering it, when we decide where we want to live in the area."

"When you do, just let me know. I've got a cousin in real estate, and he knows I'll break his arm if he gives one of our guests a bum deal."

"Well, we'll sure keep that in mind. I guess self-preservation would tend to keep a real estate agent honest!"

OK, then. Whenever you're ready to look, just let me know. I think you'll find him a good man to deal with. He's honest, and he's on the buyer's side."

"I'll do that! Good night, now. We'll see you in the morning."

"Good night, Mr. Gordon. Good night, Mr. Garrison. Pleasant dreams to you both."

We took the elevator upstairs and went down the hall to our room. I couldn't wait to get Gregg's reaction to our first day in Prescott. I was certainly very favorably impressed.

I really enjoyed this chapter. I know that is no surprise. I have never been in Prescott, but I did spend some time in the Phoenix area. When we were there, it was Summer, and in fact, quite hot there, One phrase kept being repeated over and over. "Oh, yes, it got up to 115 degrees, today, but it's a dry heat." An oven is a dry heat, too, but I wouldn't want to spend very much time in one of them. I expect that it would be very nice to be there in the Winter, though.

At least there is a place to get good meatloaf. I wonder if they have watermelon. Do you suppose they will open a toy store? I guess we will just have to wait for the next chapter to find out.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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