Surrounded by thirty, perhaps forty people, I had never felt so all alone before in my life. It was cold, overcast and I feared it would rain.
“I’m sorry, Ben. We’ve looked everywhere.”
I barely heard the words, just the conformation Roger wasn’t going to be here. The man I admired more than any other . . . my best friend . . . was going to miss my sister’s funeral. He was brilliant, absentminded, but with her being his wife, I thought sure . . . it didn’t matter . . . they were both gone now, both dead to me. I was alone.
Everything in life is about balance: give and take, good and evil, yin and yang, and sometimes . . . the Katoy.
“Ooooh no. No, no, no. Hold it right there. Please, Mr. Harris, give me a break. Don’t cross this curb.”
“Roy, your boss promised.”
“I know, and we’re taking care of it, I promise you, but you know you can’t go in there. You know what happened the last time,” he said, pressing his hand firmly to my chest.
“Roy, Butch said 7:00 am. It’s now 7:30. You have Margaret and I want her.”
“Mr. Harris please, I’m begging you. I got blamed for the last time you went in there. I almost lost my job after all those cars . . . not to mention the fire. Butch said if you took one step over this curb, he would have my head.”
“Roy, I want Margaret and I want her now and I mean right now.”
“I swear to you, she is in very good hands and will be here any minute. You’ve got to understand. It’s not like we can just run down to the hardware store and get shields for your radio. That stuff has to be ordered and even when we get what we need it’s complicated work.
“Roy, I have appointments, places to go and people to see.
“Please, look! Here comes Butch now, so just hang on okay?”
“Where’s Margaret, Butch?”
“I need a little more time, say another thirty minutes. Go get a cup of coffee or something. She’ll be ready when you get back.
“I’ve got a nine o’clock in Riverside. I don’t want to be late.”
“I’m no genius, Ben, but your brother-law put some weird-ass shit in her and I can only do the best I can do. I’ll make sure you make your stop on time, but I can’t if I’m out here bullshitting with you. Do me a favor; go see Carmen for a couple minutes.”
“Alright. Thirty minutes and then hell or high water, I have to go.”
“She’ll be ready.”
I had no choice; I had to give him the benefit of the doubt. I hate mechanical problems, but when the radio goes down it makes for a really quiet and long day.
Butch was right, a cup of coffee would be good right about now, but I had mixed feelings about getting it. Weighing the pros and cons, I walked across the street.
“Oh, God! Oh, God! He’s here, Carmen, he’s here,” the young clerk shouted from behind the counter.
For a convenience store clerk he left a lot to be desired. Carmen went through them like tissue paper. I tried to ignore it, tried not to take it personally. I stood at the door and waited.
“Hold it right there, mister. Don’t you move, you know the rules,” Carmen Neva voiced roughly, pointing an angry finger in my direction as she appeared from the back of the store.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m right here.”
“What are you doing here today? It’s not Friday.”
“My radio isn’t working so Margaret is in for repairs. I’ve got a little time to kill. I thought a coffee would be nice.”
“Don’t move and for God’s sake, don’t touch anything. I’ll get it. Cream and sugar?”
“Please. Carmen, you know it wasn’t my fault.”
“All I know is I had to replace a perfectly good ATM machine, twice. Do you know how those people look at you when you ask for a second one in less than a month?”
“You know it was raining that day. You can’t possibly think I would deliberately . . .”
“And coffee machines? Do you know how many coffee machines I’ve had to replace?”
I just stood there and shook my head, uncertain of the answer.
“Eight! Eight coffee machines. I’ve had the electrical system checked, I’ve had the coffee machine suppliers come out, I’ve had everyone short of an exorcist look the store over from top to bottom and you know what they found? Nothing. Not one thing.”
“Carmen, I’m sorry, really sorry.”
“You know when they all went bad? Friday. Every one of them. A month or so apart mind you, but a Friday none the less. Which Friday you ask, every Friday you were here for coffee,” she said, pushing the cup into my hand.
“Carmen, we’ve been friends since high school. You know me. You know I wouldn’t, couldn’t do anything of the kind. It had nothing to do with me. It’s a coincidence, nothing more.”
“Uh-Huh. You want to know what I think? I think they have much better coffee at the doughnut shop down the street.”
“I know you don’t really mean it. You’d miss my ugly mug if you didn’t see me every Friday morning.”
“Not as much as I miss my coffee machine. Now get out of here.”
“Carmen,” I began shoving my hand into my pocket for money.
“On the house, Ben. Now get out,” she said, opening the door for me to leave.
Her expression made me feel bad.
“See you Friday,” she said as the door began to close.
“I’ll bring the doughnuts,” I returned.
I sipped my coffee and made my way back across the street where Butch waited.
“Butch. I don’t see Margaret.”
“The boys are bringing her around now. Here’s the deal. You should be okay for a while, but I can’t guarantee it for long,” he said, tossing the keys in my direction.
“Thanks, Butch. What do I owe you?”
“You do my sister’s drain and we’ll call it even. I take that back. Do the drain and the next time Margaret needs a little something you call me and I’ll come pick her up myself and bring her back to you good as new. You just can’t come here anymore. Deal?”
“Butch, you know I didn’t . . .”
“Ben, I can’t afford the insurance. I’ll come for your truck, just don’t come here anymore. Deal?”
“Alright, Butch, deal.”
Happy to have my truck back, I made for home to pick up a few things and check in with Mrs. Henson before starting the day in earnest. I could also pick up any new jobs that might have been called in while I was gone.