(Previous chapters available here.)
It had been a quiet couple of days up on the mountain, and Arianne and I had been relaxing and enjoying our stay at the Beech Mountain home. It was late summer, and at the higher elevation we were enjoying chilly nights and cool days. We spent a lot of time looking around the house and seeing what was there, and our best discovery was the small wine cellar in the basement.
I hadn't known that Dirk was a wine connoisseur, but there were about a hundred bottles of wine stored down there. It wasn't all good, and we had a rude awakening involving a bottle of spoiled wine.
Janey Hicks, my new realtor, stopped by to make sure everything was going alright, and brought us a welcome basket with some fresh baked bread and a couple of casseroles. Arianne courteously accepted the basket and was pleased to see the contents, if a bit hesitant. She didn't want to appear rude, but she was tempted to ask,"Is this real; or is it processed cheese-food type substance?" But she was very impressed with the bread - which was saying something, given her own proficiency as a baker.
We invited Janey to stay for dinner, but she begged off. "I'd enjoy it, but I have to get home. There was some road work done in front of my house, and we're still cleaning up the mess the construction workers made. The driveway is almost completely blocked and we haven't been able to locate our mailbox. As you might imagine, that's very frustrating."
"Well, we'll have to have you over some time, Janey," Arianne said as the two of them walked to the door. "Thank you, again."
"Have a good evening, y'all, and if you need anything, don't hesitate to call me," Janey replied as she left.
We also got to meet some of our neighbors. Most of them were people who, like us, had these homes as vacation properties, but there were some full-time residents and they were eager to meet us.
We immediately hit it off with one couple, Joad and Callie Steiner. They were a retired couple who had moved to the mountains of North Carolina from Iowa, where they had operated a large farm. Their oldest child, Melanie, had taken over the farm almost five years earlier, and they had lived up on the mountain ever since.
They invited us over for dinner, and we all talked and laughed like old friends. After we ate, we went out on their deck to enjoy the cool evening weather and watch the sun set over the mountains to the west. Both Callie and Joad regaled us with tales of their life on the prairie, and I told some stories about my experience as a private investigator.
I started with the story of the paternity case that hadn't quite gone as I expected. It had ended with me being charged with being the father of the child whose paternity I was trying to establish, but I managed to straighten things out.
"You just never know how things are going to turn out; I've dodged many a bullet in my life," the old man said as he laughed.
"That's a fact, Joad," I said as I finished telling how I stubbornly persisted until I proved that not only was I completely unrelated to the child, but that the father was, in fact, the local city councilor - who, of course, based his political career on "family values." Which, in in this case unlike many others, cost him his seat and his political career... and many thousands in child support.
Callie then told a tale of life on a farm in the middle of the 20th Century, and of the hardships they had to endure. She was chain smoking as she talked, and the image was very intriguing. The words left her mouth, wreathed in blue smoke. They drifted upwards to hang above her head like her own little cloud. "It's just not in my nature to quit."
Joad nodded as she finished the story, his love for his wife evident in every word.
Later that week, Arianne spent some time shopping in some of the antique malls over in Boone, coming home with several things, some of which I really liked, and some .... not so much.
I was at the desk in the study, looking through the microscope at the sample of lutefisk that Arianne had scooped up when I helped nab the "intelligence challenged" criminal who tried to rob the General Store across the parking lot from the police station. My curiosity had indeed gotten the best of me, and I was trying to figure out just what was "in the lutefisk", as the man had yelled while the cops were hauling him away.
Since I was woefully lacking in any sort of biology knowledge, I couldn't really tell if there was anything abnormal about the smelly brine-soaked fish.
Anyway, I was engrossed in contemplating the cellular makeup of questionable foodstuffs as Arianne walked in from her first shopping foray and plopped down her purchase on the desk next to the microscope. I looked over ... and looked again, not sure what to think. "What the hell?" I said, unable to contain my disbelief. "Where in god's name did you find that, and why the fuck is it dressed like a sailor?"
It was a large, metal gecko, wearing full 19th Century British Naval Admiral's regalia.
"You don't like it?" she asked me, raising an eyebrow and tapping her foot in the playful way that I was really starting to enjoy.
"Well, it's... umm, it's nice and all, but what the hell is it?"
"It's a gecko, silly," Arianne responded as she trailed her fingers up my neck and lightly tangled them in my hair. "I think I'm going to go get in the hot tub. What are you doing?" Her fingers started teasing my hair and neck.
"Umm, nothing important," I replied, no longer thinking about the geckos or lutefisk.
In no time, the office was empty and, if you'd been nearby, you would have heard giggling and sighs coming from the deck. The cast iron gecko sat atop the paperwork, rusting gently.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
(Previous chapters available here.)