As a corporate vice president, Jet expected treachery in the business world, but not from the father she adored. In life, he had been her faithful companion. In death, he became her worst enemy. His will had stripped her of her home, her wealth, and her position in his company. With her future uncertain and her finances low, Jet leaves the home of her youth to take possession of her only inheritance – Twin Brooks Farm.
Undaunted by the challenges of managing corporate affairs, fearless in her dealings on Wall Street, Jet had been accustomed to success, but as a fledgling farmer, she encounters nothing but theft, repeated accidents, failure, and frustration. An accident, however, is a one-time occurrence. Two or three accidents become a coincidence. Beyond coincidence is a streak of bad luck. A step beyond bad luck is a driving force; a living, planning enemy determined to bring about failure.
Could Jet actually find peace with her father’s memory and the reason for his betrayal? Could a city girl find love with a strong willed farmhand that could neither hear nor speak, and could she unravel the mystery behind Twin Brooks Farm before that unseen enemy decided that it was time for her to die?
Betrayed, Jet pondered as she gazed out the taxi window at the naked trees and leaf covered ground. Brown, barren, devoid of grass or snow, the colorless landscape seemed to mirror what she was feeling inside. So this was how it felt to be a victim.
“You can trust me, Princess,” he had vowed. It wasn’t an outlandish promise. She always had. The two and a half million dollars she loaned him represented five years of hard work, but his ventures had always been sound and moderately profitable. Money passed between the two of them so often that she never considered making him sign any papers. Foolish, Foolish mistake, she scolded herself. For that much money she should have had a room full of lawyers and a contract four inches thick! What had she been thinking? Trust, yes, trust had been a matter of principle between them. They worked together for five years and knew each other for a lifetime. He gave her the best of education. She gave him the best of financial advice, and his World Power Corporation truly became a world power.
Betrayed, she thought again as hot tears poured down her cheeks. Didn’t the man realize how much she loved him? She was the one that sacrificed, that worked nights and weekends. She was the one that sat faithfully at his bedside when he was sick. Others took his money and went out to play. He took hers and died, leaving her without a job or a place to live. Without verification of her loan, she had no way to recover what he owed. How could she have been so foolish?
“Betrayed,” she muttered aloud, “By my own father.”
“What?” the taxi driver questioned, and Jet turned her face away so the man couldn’t see her tears.
“Ugly country,” she replied.
“Just wait till spring,” the man said enthusiastically, “When the apple trees and the dogwoods begin to blossom. You’ll fall in love with the place. I grew up around here.”
The man continued to speak; but she ignored him, as she folded, unfolded, and otherwise abused the manila envelope she held in her hand. This envelope was part of her skimpy inheritance. Her brother Jim received controlling interest in the company, the family home, and a cash settlement. Her sister Tina and her youngest brother Beau each inherited quite a few shares in the company and a generous amount of cash. And to Jet, the most patient, giving and faithful of his children, Tom Elson had left the very best he had to offer. The best? Jet remembered with a sigh. Those words were actually in the document that robbed her of her future. Tom had always led his youngest daughter to believe that she would inherit the majority of his estate and step into the company presidency when he passed away. She was the most logical choice … the most like him.
When many youth of the nation were waving war protest banners and promoting free love, Tom Elson pulled his meager savings from the bank, hopped onto his battered motorcycle and headed for New York City. There he rented a small flat, got a job as a janitor and spent the rest of his money buying stock in a small company with the absurd idea of using the newly developed computer technology for entertainment purposes … games in particular. A second job, working mornings at a gas station, gave him money to invest in a machine called the microwave oven. People laughed as the young man continued to throw his money at long shots. But when the first video game system hit the market and microwave ovens began to appear in homes throughout the nation, they stopped laughing. With those earnings Tom started a company of his own, funding odd inventions and investing in the ridiculous; everything from television sitcoms to children’s toys. If an interesting new item appeared on the shelf of a local store, he invested and loaned money for advertising. If a waiter in the restaurant where he ate lunch had an interesting idea, Tom Elson sat and listened, wrote down the waiter’s name and number and called him regularly to see how things were developing. If the project seemed feasible enough, he provided funding. World Power Corporation wasn’t named after the power of electricity, oil, or money. The name came from the power of people. People with ideas that would someday change the world. There was a certain pride involved in being Tom Elson’s child. Pride and security.
A new rush of tears forced their way down Jet’s cheeks, washing another channel in her once perfect makeup. The security was gone now, and the funds that she had struggled to earn him had been handed over to the undeserving and irresponsible to squander. Parties, cars, jewelry, frivolities. Her siblings would have it all, and in less than a year, all that she and her father had worked to earn would be gone.
“Do you need a Kleenex, Mam?” the driver asked.
“No!” she snapped. How dare he continue to intrude upon her privacy? Until he left her off at the farm, this overweight cab driver, who knew nothing of color coordination or fashion, was her employee. She expected him to behave as such… And his outfit? It was all Jet could do to restrain herself from commenting. Really, a red and black checked, wool coat, a purple ball cap that said “Tracey’s Diner” and green driving gloves. Powder from his last donut was still clinging to his mustache. It was an embarrassment to be seen with him, but it was even more humiliating that he had caught sight of her crying. Jet, that is enough! She scolded herself. You’re being hypercritical. It’s not his fault. The man is just trying to help. Had her allergies been bothering her and the man offered her a tissue, she would have given him a larger tip when she got out of the cab.
Besides, you’re not the boss anymore, she corrected herself. She could cry if she wanted to, but swabbing away her tears unmercifully, she forced herself to concentrate. It wasn’t within her nature to cry over money. When she was thrust into a financial situation over which she had no authority, she found a way to take control.
Think! she commanded herself silently. When the will was read, she was left without a job; and conditions placed upon her siblings’ inheritance saw to it that she would never be rehired. The contents of this envelope and a piece of real estate, that she was on her way to see, were her only inheritance.
She folded the envelope one more time and creased it deeply with her long, pink fingernails. Truly wishing she could toss it out the window and forget this nightmare, she ripped it open and upended it onto her lap. Two pieces of paper fluttered out. Neither was the amendment to the will that she had been dreaming of. The Rolodex card had an address and phone number on it that were vaguely familiar, and on the half sheet torn from a yellow legal pad her father had scribbled his brief note of explanation:
“I love you, Princess. Please, just give this a try.”
“Give what a try?” she muttered as she shoved the papers into her jacket pocket. The man had left her a farm, situated on five hundred acres of land, somewhere in this part of Western Pennsylvania. The sale of those five hundred acres would have been quite a nest egg, had her father not seen fit to put it into a trust. If she sold it within the next five years, the selling price had to be divided evenly with her siblings.
She had researched the will and the trust from every legal angle, only to find the work of her father’s attorney impenetrable. Like a crafty spider devising a snare, her father had woven this web step by step, strand by strand; but why did he want to trap her? She was the one who loved him. Did he want her to become a farmer? Her brother Jim had suggested that she sell the farm and live with his family. Is that what her father wanted her to do? Surely not.
Deciding she needed more information, Jet had turned her attention to the farm. A man named Jack E.Turnmeyer had willed it to her father in 1961. Records ascertained that the main house shared the property with three rentals and several out buildings that Jet assumed to be barns. Two of the houses were rented out, and the farmhouse had been empty for quite some time. Though selling without seeing would have been preferable, Jet had put her affairs in order, and traveled to Pennsylvania to see without selling. Her car and a small box truck containing some of her belongings would be awaiting her at the house.
In all financial situations there is hope, she decided firmly as she wiped her tears and leaned back against the seat. A person just had to study their options, invest wisely, and pull the proper strings. For now, a vacation in a spacious, old farmhouse far away from New York business life seemed pleasant enough. She could study her assets and determine her future while absorbing the warmth from a roaring fire in the hearth and sipping herbal tea. All was not lost. She could handle this.
The taxi slowed suddenly and pulled onto a bumpy lane along side of a ramshackle, cottage with crumbling green insulbrick siding. Jet shivered as the driver brought the taxi to a stop. Having once been the canvas for a tobacco ad, the barn that stood behind the house still wore a few splashes of faded color; but the crooked doors, broken windows and sagging roof caused Jet to cringe as she began unconsciously to add up the numbers. Skinny black and white cows stood behind the fence and eyed the taxi with what seemed like dull indifference. A dog, part German shepherd and part something unidentifiable, bounded around the house and barked furiously. Skinny cats with runny noses and eyes sat on the cluttered front porch. When Jet spied her little, red car and the U-Haul truck parked in the mud to the left of the house, she shivered again.
“Where’s the main house?” she questioned, digging cab fare out of her purse. She fondled an extra twenty for a moment, then added it as well. It had been a long ride from the airport, and she hadn’t exactly been the most cordial patron.
“This is the main house,” the driver replied, and Jet’s eyes flashed up from her purse.
“There has to be some mistake,” she gasped as the dog seated himself in the mud in front of the taxi door and continued to bark.
“No Ma’am,” the driver replied. “You said the Lingley farm. I grew up down the road a few miles. This is the place. You want me to put your bags on the porch?”
“I want you to drive me back to the airport,” Jet moaned, as she eyed the place again. The land was good, but repairing the barn would cost more than what it was worth, and the house was too small to even make a good summer camp. Just hiring someone to clean up around the house and barn would cost a small fortune. A bulldozer was the best cure for this piece of real estate.
“You want to go back?” the man questioned.
Go where? she pondered. Should she go back to New York and live off the charity of the rest of the family? Jet thought about that for a moment, then took a deep breath, and grasped the door latch. As soon as she opened the door the dog jumped at her, streaking mud down the front of her white suit.
“Put my bags on the porch, and run over this dog on your way out.” she instructed, pushing the animal away.
Jet muttered a curse as she picked her way through the mud to the concrete walk. If she walked on her toes, the mud seeped in around the edges of her white shoes; but if she used her entire foot, her spike heels sunk deeply in the muck. By the time she made it to the sidewalk, not only were her shoes a mess but mud squished between her toes. The dog trailed behind, barking the entire way.
“This place is a dump,” she growled when they reached the porch.
“Yes, Ma’am,” the man replied. “The house has been empty since old man Lingley died three years ago, and the people in the first house down the road have been running the farm.”
“Running it or destroying it?” she demanded as she grabbed a worn broom from beside the screen door and smacked the dog with it. “It’s the pound for you, buddy,” she grumbled. The animal yipped and put a safe distance between them.
“This is nothing compared to their place.” the man explained, “You ought to be glad you aren’t their landlord.”
“If they live in one of the next three houses down the road, I am their landlord,” Jet groaned as she fumbled with the house keys. She considered asking the man to put her bags back in the taxi. There were plenty of brokerage firms in New York that could use someone with her qualifications, but would any of them hire a person that had been fired by their own father? Gritting her teeth, she shoved the key in the lock. She was at least going to give this thing a try, but she really hoped none of her siblings decided to look her up.
“Ma’am, are you going to be okay?” the driver asked softly.
Jet’s painful laugh brought about the first smile she had worn in over a month.
“I hate animals and I’m moving out of a three million dollar house into this,” she chuckled. “It’s so outlandish it’s almost funny.”
“There’s a motel a few miles from here,” he offered.
“Thanks,” she replied, “But my car’s here, and I’ve used up enough of your time.”
When the taxi pulled away, Jet pushed open the door and wrinkled her nose in preparation for the smell. The musty odor of age rose to greet her as her eyes adjusted to the dim light filtering through the fiberglass draperies. There was no fireplace; and the aged, mismatched furniture, the dark paneled walls, and the sculptured, brown carpeting were not at all what she envisioned while she was in the taxi. She sighed. At least the old man had been clean. The house was in a poor state of repair. There was an abundance of dust, but the clutter apparently restricted itself to the out of doors. It wasn’t the kind of place she wanted to live, but she was out of alternatives. She flipped the light switch and groaned. There was no electricity.
With a troubled sigh, she walked over to the salmon colored couch and prepared to drop herself into it. Dust or no dust, what did it matter? The dog had covered her with filth anyhow. She stopped just short of her destination and studied a hole in the center couch cushion. Was that a twitching nose and whiskers she was looking at?
“It figures,” she growled, stepping back out the door. She picked up the nearest scrawny cat, dropped the animal inside the house, and closed the door.
“Sic him, kitty,” she commanded as she stepped back off the porch.
Because a stone walkway led from the house to the barn, Jet decided to begin her inspection in that building while the cat disposed of the creature in the couch. The dog barked a bit, but fell respectfully in behind her, when she shook her fist at him.
Grabbing the metal handle on one of the massive, wooden doors, Jet gave a mighty pull then stepped backward gagging and gasping for air. This was not the smell of fresh hay, as she expected, but a rancid, acrid odor of urine, feces, and decaying flesh. With her eyes now watering for a different reason, Jet pulled a handkerchief from her pocket to cover her mouth and nose and cautiously began her trek inward.
A few chickens wandered here and there. A dead cat lay on a pile of moldy hay near the closest stall. Seeing that someone had entered the building, the cows began lowing as they hurried into a large pen at the far end of the barn.
Jet carefully picked her way past several empty stalls and a large pen containing dead pigs to study something that seemed drastically out of place in this mess. The ancient tractor was clean and beautifully well kept, as were the plows and several other pieces of equipment she had trouble identifying. Why was the barn such a filthy mess and the equipment so clean? A recent purchase? Borrowed? Stolen? Jet shrugged.
She scanned the lofts above. At least they were clean and empty, but the rest of the barn was a nightmare. The dead animals had to go, and she sure wasn’t moving them, and the cows were standing in mud five inches thick. Jet corrected herself with a disgusted moan. It wasn’t mud the cows were standing in.
Clamping the handkerchief tighter to her nose and mouth, she slipped back outside, closed the barn door, and greedily gulped the fresh, cool air. This wasn’t going to be a vacation. It was a nightmare.
Fifteen hundred dollars a month, Jet pondered ten minutes later as she sat in her car. She had changed her clothes in the house, and the car was the only clean place on the property. She had looked up the farm’s financial figures the day she cleaned out her office. Her father was paying Hank Grayson fifteen hundred dollars a month to run this farm, and once the taxes were paid, the profits were nonexistent. This business had been running in the red for three years. Had she found the records on this property six months ago, she would have liquidated it without a second thought. After a quick call to the electric company, Jet decided it was time someone looked up the hired help and fired them.
Pulling her little car into the rut filled driveway of the next house down the road, Jet moaned with disgust. Junk cars sat around the garage. Old washing machines and dryers sat at the side of the house. Bags of garbage lined the porch.
I’m going to fire them and sue them for what it costs to clean up this mess, Jet decided as she stepped onto the porch and knocked on the door. It screeched open easily, and she viewed the empty interior with dismay. Beer cans and garbage lay here and there, but there was no furniture. Even the curtains had been stripped off the windows. The caretakers were already gone.
Jet thrust her hand into her pocket and fingered the Rolodex card. The note at the top said “If you need help contact:”
Yes, Jet decided. I definitely need help.
She was pleased to find that the house belonging to Ben Mayes was on Tyrone road as well, but she fretted over what she would find. Passing her other rental properties along the way didn’t encourage optimism. One was a plain, white saltbox. Curtains in the windows and a pickup in the driveway were the only clues that the house was even lived in. The other was a two-story frame house. Most of its curtains hung crooked, and some looked suspiciously like blankets. A couple of windows were broken and repaired with cardboard and duct tape; and the front yard was cluttered with garbage, broken toys, dogs and mud covered children.
“Behold your inheritance,” Jet muttered to herself as she passed. “Let’s hope the Mayes family is a little more organized than that.”
Envisioning toothless hillbillies, dressed in flannel shirts and worn out blue jeans that were held up with belts of twine, Jet followed the numbers on the mailboxes until she came to number 154. The house was a split-level. It wasn’t large, but it was well kept. The almond colored siding and brown shutters had a crisp clean look to them. Inexpensive, but respectable, Jet decided, as she did a quick assessment of the property. It overlooked some beautiful countryside. There was a small barn in the distance, and white fencing surrounded an area of about four acres. Considering the setting, the distance from Pittsburgh, and the growth rate of the city, and taking into consideration the fluctuations in the market lately, she did a quick estimate of the property’s real estate value. It wasn’t expensive, but it was a palace compared to her farm. Sighing with relief, she pulled her car into the drive.
On the porch sat a solidly built man who appeared to be in his early twenties. With sandy colored hair and a healthy tan, he was a sight to behold. Since his attention was focused on the barn in the distance, she allowed her gaze to linger for quite some time. He was handsome. Very handsome. Perhaps living in the country wouldn’t be as bad as she had first assumed. She checked her makeup, ran a comb quickly through her bangs, and got out of the car.
The man didn’t look up when she slammed the car door. Though she made no attempt to conceal her approach, he didn’t turn his head. Jet looked out over the fenced area again. Two nice horses grazed in the distance, but there was nothing unusual to hold a person’s interest. Her heels made a hollow sound as she stepped onto the porch, but the man never stirred. Deciding that he must have been lost in thought, she coughed to make her presence known.
“Pardon me,” she said when all other things had failed, “But is this the Mayes residence.”
The man ignored her.
“Sir,” she said a little louder, “I was looking for 154 Tyrone Road.”
Again she studied the man’s sturdy frame and his tanned skin. He didn’t look dead or unconscious. He was breathing. She could tap him on the shoulder … No. That wasn’t a good idea.
“I’m looking for Ben and Carrie Mayes!” she growled in a loud voice.
“Then you better ring the doorbell,” a neighbor woman yelled from across the road. “Scott’s deaf as a post. He won’t hear you!”
Such a shame, Jet thought as she stepped forward to ring the bell, It was such a waste that a man that good looking was handicapped.
A woman in her early fifties answered the door, and Jet was relieved to get a reaction from someone.
“I was looking for the Mayes residence,” Jet explained loudly.
“This is it,” the woman replied, “but there’s no need to shout.”
“I’m sorry,” Jet stammered, “but he didn’t answer. He’s deaf.”
“I know he’s deaf,” the woman replied, “He’s my son.”
Great! Jet decided, Now that I’ve made myself look like a total idiot, where do I go from here?
“I’m Jet Elson,” she explained, “My father said I was to contact you if I decided to do something with the farm.”
“So you’re Jet!” the woman exclaimed cheerfully. “Welcome, come on in!”
Before the woman offered to step inside, she picked up one of several small pieces of gravel lined up on the windowsill and tossed it at her son. It hit the man on the shoulder, causing him to turn in his seat. Carrie Mayes made two quick signs to the man, and Jet observed closely. The woman had told her son to come in. “Who,” was his reply, and the woman spelled out Jet’s name with her fingers. He scanned Jet from head to foot, and if she was not mistaken a smirk appeared on his face.
“Come in?” his mother signed again, and the man shook his head.
“You sign?” Jet asked in sign language as well. She had taken American Sign Language in college, and had been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to use it.
“No,” he signed back, “I blind too.”
“Scott, you will not be that way!” his mother scolded aloud, and the color on the woman’s cheeks told Jet that she was embarrassed by his comment. “Please ignore him,” Carrie apologized. “He has his moods.”
Scott Mayes studied Jet scrupulously as she followed his mother into the house. The suit she wore was expensive. The skirt was short and tight, exposing much of her long, shapely legs. Her long blonde hair hung in an elaborate braid, and the jewels upon her fingers and hanging from her ears were trademarks of the excessively wealthy. She was rich. She liked to flaunt it. She was well proportioned. She liked to flaunt that as well.
“So that’s Elson’s little princess,” He muttered as he turned his chair to face the window. “Looks like a tramp to me.”
The interior of the house didn’t surprise Jet at all. To her left were two sets of stairs. One led downward to what looked like a family room, and the other led upward, probably to the bedrooms. Straight ahead was a living room with the customary large, overstuffed, brown, and gold and beige printed, velvet furniture. To her right was a dining room with a beautiful oak table, a large hutch full of ancient china, and a corner cupboard full of curios. On the other side of the dining room was a large kitchen with cabinets of cherry wood. The woodwork was all natural, and the walls were a pure clean white. Nice, Jet decided, but typical.
A powerful looking man sat at the dining room table. His face was tan and deeply wrinkled by the sun, and his sandy colored hair was thinning in places. His blue eyes rose from the table and studied her with mild curiosity.
“Ben’s in the dining room,” Carrie continued as she urged Jet to the right. “He’ll want to meet you.”
Even the woman was a typical, middle class person. She wore blue jeans, a white T-shirt with cats printed on it and sneakers that probably didn’t cost any more than twenty dollars. Her dark hair was streaked with gray and pulled back with a simple rubber band. Probably a hard worker, Jet decided, perhaps with a head full of interesting ideas. Some of which might possibly be developed and capitalized on, but that was Tom Elson’s gift.
“Ben this is Jet,” Carrie introduced them.
“I read about your father’s death,” the man confessed. “We’ve been expecting you.”
“I’ve got this farm,” Jet sighed, seating herself at the table.
“I know,” he replied.
“I don’t know what to do with it. The house is a disaster. The barn isn’t fit to walk in. I called the electric company to turn on the electric, but I don’t think I’ll be staying long. What I really want to do is unload this white elephant, but father made that impossible for at least a few years, so I guess what I really need is someone to run it for me. To clean the place up and get it making a profit again.”
“What’s the pay scale?” Ben questioned, and Jet groaned. She hadn’t thought about pay, but there would be no profit from that mess for quite some time. Pay, she pondered. Farm workers could legally be paid less than minimum wage, but even at five dollars an hour she would be shelling out ten thousand, four hundred dollars a year. She only had twenty thousand in the bank. If she paid an employee, that would only leave nine thousand six hundred for her to live on for an entire year. Of course, there was the rental on the two occupied properties, but she got the feeling she couldn’t depend upon regular payments. She would need over ten thousand to rent a decent apartment in a good area of New York.
“Five dollars an hour, twenty hours a week and free rental of the house,” she decided and the man frowned.
“One man, working forty hours a week, couldn’t run a farm that size by himself, Jet,” the man corrected. “And getting someone to work for less than minimum wage is going to be next to impossible. What happened to the Graysons?”
“They’re gone,” Jet replied, “I even went to the house. They’ve moved out.”
“They must have left in an awful hurry to leave a mess like that!” Ben gasped as his son rose quickly from his seat on the porch. “They left half of their belongings.”
“The house was completely empty,” Jet replied, “The door was unlocked. There wasn’t a curtain on the windows.”
Scott Mayes hurried into the room, caught the back of Jet’s chair, and swung her about to face him.
“Animals fed?” he signed urgently.
“No,” she signed back.
“Come now,” he continued, then motioned to his parents and rushed from the house.
“I just got here this afternoon,” Jet gasped, as she and Scott’s parents hurried to follow.
“Carrie, if I am correct in what I am assuming, Scott and I have to stop at the feed store,” Ben explained as he closed the door behind them. “You go with Jet. We’ll meet you at the farm.”
By the time the three of them stepped from the porch, Scott had backed a gray, Chevy pick-up from the garage and sat, waiting for his father to get in and for Jet to move her car out of the way. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he made no effort to disguise the fact that he was studying Jet as she followed his mother down the walk. Jet had never been uncomfortable with eye contact. It often disarmed adversaries by making them nervous, but his haunting, scornful gaze never faltered. Feeling uneasy, she turned her eyes toward the man’s mother.
“He drives?” Jet questioned in amazement.
“He sees fine. He was just being smart,” Carrie explained as Ben hopped into the pick-up and, Scott blew the horn.
“I can’t see what they’re so upset about. They’re just animals,” Jet grumbled as she and Carrie got into her car. Carrie looked about at the features the car offered and shook her head.
“They’re just your livelihood, “Carrie corrected. “Where’s the coffee maker and soft drink dispenser?” Carrie asked as Jet searched her purse for her keys.
“The dealership didn’t offer me those options,” Jet explained as Scott backed the truck into the yard and around Jet’s car. “And since I can’t seem to drive without spilling my coffee, I never drink in my car.”
“How many times have I told that boy not to do that,” Carrie muttered in disgust. “It digs up the lawn. This car must have cost a mint.”
“Half a mint,” Jet replied. “It’s about three years old. I was going to trade it in for a new one, but father handed the fortune over to my stupid siblings and left me with a farm.”
“You were always his favorite,” Carrie informed her.
“He proved that by borrowing two and a half million dollars off of me before he died and never paying it back,” Jet grumbled. “I’d almost swear he did it on purpose.”
“We better stop in town and pick up some supplies to clean that house,” Carrie decided. “I cleaned it after Mr. Lingley died, and we never gave the Grayson’s the keys, so it’s probably just a lot of dust. The refrigerator, freezer, and range did work. So did the pump, but it may take a little to get it going again. We better pick you up some groceries too. Turn left. We’ll go into town. The Handi-Mart’s prices are ridiculous.”
Jet started the car and put it into reverse as Carrie spoke. The woman had changed the subject immediately, and brushed Jet’s comment off as though losing millions meant nothing to her. Was she actually more concerned about saving a few cents on groceries, or was this just another part of Tom Elson’s plan?
Carrie immediately took charge of the house; and Jet considered joining her; but Scott Mayes caught her on the porch, took her arm and drew her towards the barn. Jet jerked her arm free and scowled at the man.
“Your farm,” he signed.
“Stinks,” Jet signed back, “Dead animals.”
“Come, change it,” he signed. Jet turned to leave, but he caught her arm again and led her the entire way to the barn.
“Scott, she can help your mother in the house,” Ben Mayes instructed as he dragged a bag of feed out of the bed of the pickup. He reads lips, Jet decided.
“Her farm,” Scott signed, and his father shook his head.
“She doesn’t need to be…” Ben began, but Scott signed again, more firmly than before.
“Her farm. She stay. Clean up.”
“Not in a five hundred dollar, business suit,” Jet snapped.
“Go change,” Scott replied. Jet turned away, but the man caught her arm again. “Come back,” he signed firmly.
“What are you doing?” Ben demanded after Jet returned to the house. His son just smiled. “You’re still jealous, aren’t you?”
“Pretty woman,” Scott signed, then grabbed a bag of feed and swung it onto his shoulder.
“No, she’s not,” Ben argued. “and she dresses like some kind of high classed prostitute, but I suppose that appeals to you.”
Scott shook his head.
“I think you should stay away from her,” Ben decided, and again his son shook his head.
“This isn’t between you and Tom anymore,” Ben scolded, and Scott turned and headed into the barn. “Tom Elson, what did you start?” Ben murmured as he picked up a bag of feed and followed his son into the barn.
Two and a half hours later, with the animals all munching contentedly in the back ground, Scott and Ben went to work removing the pigs from the barn. They connected a front loading scoop to the tractor, pulled it into the pen, and rolled the first pig onto it with shovels. Jet watched for less than fifteen seconds, then hurried from the barn with her hand over her mouth.
“How many times does that make?” Ben questioned.
“Five,” Scott signed with a chuckle.
“The girl definitely cannot handle this kind of thing,” Ben decided.
“No be hard on her,” Scott replied, “She come back.”
“I know what her father wanted her to do, but she can’t run this farm all by herself. We’ll have to clean this mess up and get rid of the stock, and she’ll have to live in the house and get a job in town until she can get something better.”
“I can run farm,” Scott decided, “I can teach woman how to do it.”
“You’re going to do this in your spare time?” Ben questioned.
“No,” Scott replied, “I quit mill.”
“You have a good job,” his father scolded. “You’d be foolish to quit to work here.”
“Sweep floors, wash windows and clean toilet not good job.” Scott argued. “Woman need person care for her.”
“And her father specified that person was not to be you.”
“I only one who can.”
“You want to do this because he said you couldn’t,” his father assumed. “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?”
“Can you do it?” Scott questioned.
“I was supposed to offer guidance, not run the farm,” Ben argued.
“You guide. I run farm.”
“No,” his father growled as Jet slid back inside the barn door. She was pale and shaking, but she had the stamina to return.
“I not ask permission,” Scott signed back, as the dog began sniffing around another carcass. “Jet, get dog.” he instructed. “Dad, move tractor.”
Jet stepped cautiously into the pen and grasped the dog by the collar. The animal turned and attempted to snap.
“I hate this animal. Do me a favor and bury it with the pigs,” Jet grumbled. She grabbed the dog by the scruff and sunk her long fingernails in until the animal yelped.
“You really need a dog, Jet,” Ben corrected.
“This thing is a hyena not a dog,” Jet growled.
“______ him.” Scott signed, and Jet attempted in vain to translate.
“What?” she questioned, and the man made the signs again with the same results, so he turned to his father
“Tell stupid woman ______dog.”
“Chain the dog,” Ben translated as Jet stood staring in disbelief. She was a top executive in one of the most innovative companies in the United States, and this deaf guy was calling her stupid. She was tempted to yell, or to order him off the property; but that would have left her with dead pigs in the barn, and a mess she couldn’t possibly clean up herself. If she went outside to chain the dog as he instructed, she would be away from this stench for a few more moments. Without comment, she obeyed.
When they entered the house over an hour later, the electricity was on. It appeared Carrie had a friend who worked with the electric company. The house smelled pleasantly of pine. The cat was back outside, and the resident of the couch was missing. A simple dinner of bread, luncheon meat, cheese, and potato chips sat on the table. Jet took one look at the table and ran to the bathroom to splash water on her face. Just the thought of food made her want to gag.
“Six,” Scott signed with a smile. “Put food away. We no eat.”
“That bad?” Carrie questioned.
“That bad,” Ben agreed. “If you’re going to stay with the girl for a while, Scott and I are going home to get cleaned up. I don’t think you want to ride in the truck with us.”
“They take tractor,” Scott signed.
“I noticed,” Ben agreed.
“Someone stole the tractor?” Carrie gasped.
“No,” Ben corrected, “but the tractor, the plows and the disks are clean and in beautiful shape; and wasn’t there another tractor, a smaller John Deer? I didn’t see it, and where are the hay wagons? The baler, combine and corn picker are outside the barn where Mr. Lingley left them. They’re covered, but they’ll probably need some work, but what about the pick-up? Where’s it at?”
“The pick-up is sitting along side the Grayson’s house. I don’t think it will ever run again,” Carrie explained as she gathered the plates from the table and stacked them. “and you think someone’s been stealing the equipment?”
“I think it’s not here,” Ben replied, “That’s all I’m saying.”
“Why pigs die?” Scott signed. “Food and water in pen.”
“That didn’t make much sense either,” Ben sighed, “They were the only animals with food, but maybe the food was left because they died before the Graysons stopped feeding the animals. Do we know anyone with a good farm dog they want to get rid of?”
“We can check to see if Gary Collier has any pups left,” Carrie decided after she had wrapped the meat and cheese and placed it into the small refrigerator. “Maybe the pet store in town.”
“No,” Scott signed. “She can train dog.”
“Scott, either that dog is going to bite her, or she’s going to kill it, or both,” Ben corrected. “They are not compatible.”
“She is not responsible,” Scott spelled out. “Young dog no different.”
Jet woke in the morning to noises in the distance. Deciding that she would have to speak to the servants about being quieter in the morning, she rose and slipped her legs over the side of the bed. The chill of the linoleum against her bare feet brought her swiftly to reality. This room, with its warped, oak paneling and stained drop ceiling, was not part of a bizarre nightmare. Neither were the avocado curtains that hung over the door or the tacky green woodwork. This room was real. She was in an ancient house on a filthy farm somewhere in western Pennsylvania. Two people named Ben and Carrie Mayes, who had an extremely good looking, obnoxious, deaf son, were helping her sort this mess out. She was tempted to lie back down and face reality later, but she had never been one to procrastinate. With a groan, she rose and went into the kitchen.
Someone had placed a plate of donuts and a glass of orange juice at the nearest end of the table. Deciding Carrie had returned, Jet slipped into the living room only to find Carrie and Ben’s son seated on the couch. Even in a worn T-shirt and faded jeans, he was something to look at.
Scott Mayes scanned Jet’s clear, makeup free complexion, her sleepy, blue eyes, her soft, blonde hair that tumbled in disarray about her bare shoulders, and the satin gown that seemed to cling to her slim figure and turned his face away.
“Clothes on,” he signed letting out a deep sigh, and Jet felt her cheeks redden with humiliation.
“I’m decent,” she gasped, looking down at the floor length gown she wore. It covered what was supposed to be covered. It wasn’t see through. None of the help at her father’s house complained about seeing her in it. She didn’t feel uncomfortable, or at least she hadn’t a moment ago. What was wrong with him?
“Are you country people that prudish?” Jet asked, but the man didn’t reply, “Are you ignoring me?” she demanded, then felt like an idiot. Of course, he was ignoring her. The man was looking the other direction, and he was deaf. “I’ll go put on a robe,” she decided with a sigh.
When she returned to the kitchen, Scott sat at the table drinking a glass of orange juice. She took a moment to look at her watch.
“Six-thirty?” she questioned. The man nodded.
“I don’t usually get up until eight,” she scolded. the man shrugged.
“Farmer’s hours, I suppose,” she said with a groan, and the man shook his head.
“We go feed animals?” she signed.
“Did,” Scott replied. “Job.”
“You want job?” she signed.
The man took a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her. On it was written, Forty hours a week, $2.50 an hour.
Assuming there was some error, Jet replied.
“I can’t afford five-fifty an hour. It’ll have to be five dollars for twenty,” she corrected aloud, hoping he would understand.
“Two, five, zero,” he signed. “Two not five.”
Jet almost jumped at the chance. This idiot was willing to work for less than half the minimum wage. She had seen his work. She knew he was good, but the man was handicapped, and his parents were probably the only help she would get in this endeavor. She didn’t want to offend them.
“No.” she argued, “Five dollars, twenty hours.”
“Same,” he signed. “Hundred week.”
“No, Scott,” she corrected as though she were speaking to a child. The man had absolutely no business sense or mathematical ability. “The hours are different. Forty hours comes out to eight hours a day. Twenty hours comes out to four hours a day.”
“Farm work twelve, sixteen hours day,” he signed firmly, “Sixteen, half eight, not four. Stupid woman.”
“I’m stupid!” Jet growled, “I’m not the idiot offering to work for two-fifty an hour!”
“We promise father we care for you. We do,” he signed, “Eat. Dress. Work to do.”
“I should have known this was part of his nightmare,” Jet muttered, and Scott smiled then took a sip of his orange juice. “I keep hoping that I’ll wake up and find this is all the result of eating at Wacky Juan’s Taco Hut. What else are you supposed to do?”
The man remained silent. It was clear that he understood, but he just sat there, without saying a word, laughing at her with those dark brown eyes. She had never been poked fun at by someone who didn’t talk before. How was she supposed to fight back when she didn’t even know what the man was thinking? What had father told him? What was his family supposed to do for her? She asked these questions, but the man just sat, drank his juice and ignored her.
“So how am I supposed to communicate with a deaf guy?” she demanded, after trying unsuccessfully to ignore him as well.
“Sign, stupid,” he replied, pushing the plate of donuts towards her, “Eat.”
“I am not, nor have I ever been, stupid!” she growled, “I think I deserve a little more respect! I graduated high school and college with honors. I made my first million before I was twenty-three years old, and I am the vice-president of a multi-million dollar company.”
“Were,” he corrected and Jet winced with pain. It only took the man one word to bring her back down to the agony of reality. For a moment she felt as though she were going to cry, but she firmly put her emotions back into heir place. She would not give this man the satisfaction.
“Thank you,” she said sarcastically.
The man nodded and pushed the plate of donuts closer to her.
“Job?” he questioned.
“I really don’t like you.” Jet muttered as she pondered her options. She couldn’t sell the farm. She couldn’t live on what she had tucked away. She couldn’t farm the place herself, and she couldn’t pay hired help. She was snared again. How could a man’s hands possibly reach beyond the grave?
“Job?” he questioned again. It obviously didn’t matter to Scott Mayes that she didn’t like him. It almost seemed as if it amused him.
“You know I don’t have a choice,” she snapped, grabbing a sugarcoated donut from the plate. “There’s no one else stupid enough to work those kind of hours for what I can afford to pay.”
“Stop think me stupid, I stop think you stupid,” he offered as Jet took a bite of her donut. “We clean cow pen this morning.”
Jet tossed down her donut and began to choke. Cow pen? Was he crazy? No one in their right mind tackled a mess like that at six-thirty in the morning. Scott smiled and handed her the glass of orange juice. Jet gulped down a generous amount of liquid before she recovered.
“No way! No how! Not on your life!” she growled. “Never! Not in a million years!”
“Talk too fast,” Scott signed.
“You don’t understand no?” she demanded.
“What?” he signed, and Jet found the innocent look on his face absolutely infuriating. The man could tease and torment without saying a word. Handicapped people were supposed to be pitiful, not irritating and domineering.
“How did you become deaf anyhow, did someone crack you along side the head for some smart remark?”
Scott just smiled and settled back in his chair to drink the rest of his juice.
That evening, Carrie found her son seated on the porch swing with his feet propped on a chair. After showering and eating a little, he came out here to watch the sunset as usual; but he looked so tired. He never worked overtime at the mill.
“Did you feed the horses?” she questioned, seating herself in a chair nearby. Her son nodded. “You really look tired,” she continued, and he nodded again. “Scott, there’s still time to reconsider.”
“No want to,” he replied. “I like her. She yells at me.”
“You like her because she yells at you?” Carrie questioned, finding his comment peculiar. Was there supposed to be logic in this? “Don’t you think maybe you better call Ms. Tortora at the Center before you make a decision like this?”
“I deaf,” Scott signed, “Nothing wrong with me.”
“If there’s nothing wrong with you, son, then prove it,” Carrie challenged, “At least attempt to communicate with people.”
“I talk to Jet,” he replied.
“That’s really unusual, I agree, but did you speak aloud?” Carrie pushed. “You can speak. Don’t tell me you can’t. You talk in your sleep.”
“Sign,” he explained. “She no care.”
“She doesn’t know you can talk,” his mother grumbled. “I don’t know if I like the idea of her yelling at you. Maybe I ought to…”
“No,” Scott interrupted. “I not live like this. Woman think me smart person who need slap along side head. It is …..” Scott tried to think of a sign for the word and stumbled. “Refreshing,” he spelled out with his fingers.
“How long are you going to sit out here?”
“Get blanket, wake me at four,” he signed.
“Scott, you are not sleeping out on this porch again. March may be warmer than February, but it’s not as warm as you think,” Carrie scolded.
Scott turned his head and ignored her. She felt so helpless at times like this. Whenever Scott didn’t want to listen he simply turned his head, leaving her to feel inadequate, but what did he say? Jet thought he needed slapped along side the head. Three years of counseling had taken them nowhere. Maybe the girl’s first impressions were right. What could it hurt, Carrie decided in an impulsive moment; and she reached out and slapped her son hard on the back of the head.
Scott’s feet dropped to the floor, and he turned to stare at his mother in amazement. She hit him! She actually hit him! He rubbed the back of his head. It stung.
“Don’t you dare ever turn your head and ignore me again!” Carrie commanded. “You get in that house, and you stop behaving like a spoiled brat!”
Ben hurried to the door as Scott rose to his feet doing his best to hide a grin.
“Carrie, what did you…” Ben began, but Scott signed as he walked past his father and into the house.
“You were bad?” Ben repeated after Scott had gone. “What did you do? Carrie?”
“He was ignoring me on purpose,” Carrie replied simply.
“You hit him!” Ben accused.
“It worked didn’t it,” she decided, “He obeyed.”
“He won’t be signing next,” Ben fretted. “and who knows what kind of problems hitting that boy on the head could cause. Don’t ever treat him like that.”
“He wants to be treated normal. Well, if he were normal and behaved like that, I would have slapped him. So I did. I’ll treat him like he wants; and he’ll either be happy, or realize that we weren’t treating him all that bad.”
“We better call the Center,” Ben decided.
At dawn the next morning, Scott was in the barn again. This time he had company. He had entered the house at four-thirty, sat down on the chair by the door, and tapped the handle of the broom on the floor until Jet, ready to kill him, rose from bed and took the broom from him.
By eight-thirty, they had not only finished with the animals, but they had managed to get two stalls clean and lined with fresh hay as well.
Jet decided that either things were beginning to smell a little better or her nose was adjusting to the stench.
“Breakfast soon,” Scott signed after he had taken a black and white cow with a well rounded belly into one of the clean stalls.
“We don’t look very good to go out to eat,” Jet decided, reaching out to stroke the cow’s coarse coat. The animal had gentle eyes and a dull but tender looking face. She stroked it some more, and the cow seemed to appreciate the attention. The bones on this cow were sticking out, but Jet decided it had obviously fared better than the others to have a stomach like that.
“Bacon, eggs in house,” Scott signed. “You cook.”
“Ask me to sell your house, I’ll have it gone in a week,” Jet replied, “Ask me to invest your money, I’ll make you rich. Ask me to cook, I’ll make you sick.”
“Try,” Scott suggested, then tied the cow securely to the front of the stall. Jet watched in curious silence as he kneaded the animal’s belly methodically. He seemed to know exactly what he was doing.
“Why’s she so fat and the others so skinny?” Jet questioned when he sighed and turned back to face her.
“Pregnant,” Scott replied, then stripped off his jacket and handed it to her. Jet watched in confusion as the man took some sort of lotion from his pocket and greased his arm up past his elbow. Hand lotion on just one arm? And didn’t he think he was putting it on a little thick? She gasped in horror as he grasped the cow’s tail with the other hand.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
Scott sighed and shook his head.
“This is farm. We do what we must.”
“I think I’m going in to make breakfast now,” Jet decided.
“Stay,” Scott requested, “She like you. Pet her. Talk to her. Keep her calm. She move, she break my arm.”
“I want to go home,” Jet moaned.
“You are home,” Scott replied.
“Calf not right,” Scott signed forty-five minutes later as he sat down at the table across from Jet. The bacon was so crisp and perfect it made Jet proud. The toast was golden brown, and the eggs were overcooked. Scott scanned the food on his plate and nodded with approval.
“Born soon,” he signed. “This week. Position all wrong. Maybe deformed. May be backwards. Mother young. Pelvis small. Even if front way, hips may lock.”
“I can’t believe you did that,” Jet muttered as he leaned over to scrape his eggs into the trash can.
“What?” he questioned after sitting up and taking a second piece of toast from the plate.
“How did you know I was talking?” she demanded.
“Good guess,” he replied, “What you say?”
“I can’t believe you did that,” she repeated.
“I no eat hard eggs,” he replied.
“No,” she corrected, “Did you really have to give that cow such a thorough physical?”
“Spell,” he requested. With a groan of disgust, Jet obliged him.
“Calf not right,” he replied, “Need calf puller, gloves, nylon rope, shortening, shot gun. Can lose calf. Lose mother too. Don’t know.”
“Shortening?” Jet questioned.
“Should I call the vet?” she asked.
“You have money?”
“No, I don’t have the money,” Jet sighed with defeat. “Just don’t do that while I’m around.”
“You pay workman’s compensation?” he spelled out.
“I really hate this farm,” Jet groaned, “Do you want me to make you more eggs?”
The man ate his breakfast quickly and returned to the barn, leaving Jet to do the dishes and fret over the expectant mother in the barn. Scott was worried. What were they to do if there was trouble? A vision of a hysterical cow kicking the side out of the barn filled her head. Was that image correct? What if the mother couldn’t give birth? Would she just lay on the barn floor, gasping and panting until both she and the calf died? How long would it take? Minutes… Hours… Days… How much were those animals worth anyway?
“And what if the calf is breach?” she pondered aloud as a gray sedan pulled into the driveway.
“How do we turn the thing?” she continued as she headed for the door. “Which way is a cow supposed to be born anyway? Workman’s compensation?” she gasped suddenly, “How did he learn to spell something like that?”
Jet stepped out the door just as a dark haired woman in a lavender business suit stepped onto the porch. Four hundred-dollar suit, Jet decided, seventy-five dollar shoes, costume jewelry and a salon hairstyle. The woman was upper middle class, single, or divorced with no children, and she carried herself with an air of superiority that gave Jet a desire to unhook the dog.
“Hello!” the woman said extending her hand for Jet to shake it. “My name is Sally Tortora. I’m Scott’s Therapist.”
“Jet Elson,” Jet introduced herself as she pondered the woman’s introduction. Therapist? Why did her new employee need a therapist? Had she hired a psychopath? Was this woman coming to warn her about violent or erratic behavior?
“When I found that Scott changed jobs, I felt I needed to come talk with you, so you would be aware of his special needs,” the woman continued as Scott stepped out of the barn. Jet saw the anger in his eyes immediately. He leaned the shovel against the barn door, ripped off his gloves, and threw them on the ground.
“Stupid woman!” he signed. “No hear her.”
“Scott’s deaf,” Jet replied, “I know.”
“It’s not just his inability to hear,” the woman continued. “There are emotional problems as well, caused by his accident and his inability to communicate. He hasn’t exactly been a model patient at the Center.”
“I can believe that,” Jet murmured.
“We asked his last employer to make certain allowances,” the woman explained, “to make the job safer and to cut down the amount of frustration because of communication barriers.”
Scott was signing something, and Jet struggled to make it out.
“No _______ me!” she translated as he made the signs again. Jet wiggled her fingers to tell the man to spell while the woman continued to speak about keeping lines of communication open by learning sign language and keeping writing utensils available.
“U-N-D-E-R-E-S-T-I-M-A-T-E” Scott spelled out, and Jet found that odd. That was quite a word for a handicapped person to use.
“And it’s best to keep jobs simple, and take him through them one step at a time,” the therapist continued.
“How much simpler can you get than: Feed the cows. I don’t think he’s that stupid,” Jet replied, and Scott began to sign furiously.
“I not stupid! Tell her! Tell her I as _________ as she is!”
Jet wiggled her fingers again, and Scott calmed down for long enough to spell out the word intelligent. Compensation, underestimate, and intelligent? Jet considered his words. Sometimes she even messed up when spelling words like that.
“I think treating him like he’s limited would only frustrate him further. A man wants to be treated like a man,” Jet added, and Scott continued to sign as the woman, who seemed to be ignoring Jet’s comment, began going over a list of job safety requirements. Jet found it impossible to pay attention to them both.
“Stop!” she signed suddenly to Scott. “I no talk two people same time.”
“You sign?” the woman questioned in amazement as she turned to find Scott standing about twenty feet behind her.
“I took sign language as an extra credit course in school,” Jet replied.
“Go way!” Scott signed to the woman.
“Why did you quit your job at the mill?” the therapist questioned. “Your father and I went through a lot to get you that job.”
“Work at mill, feel like _______!” Scott signed.
“Spell it,” Jet requested.
“I-M-B-E-C-I-L-E ,” the man spelled out in growing frustration. “Jet, keep out my…” he paused to spell personal affairs, then again told the woman to go away.
Jet laughed, thinking of this newest word. Having this man around would certainly keep her from being bored. “Ms. Tortora, the man is not as limited as you think.”
“Not at all!” Scott signed in reply.
“Don’t worry about him,” Jet decided, “He and I will get along fine or kill each other trying.”
“But it’s my job to see to it that he has the proper environment,” the woman argued. “Scott withdraws so easily, and we’ve made so little progress with him. We hate to see what we have accomplished destroyed.”
“Listen,” Jet growled, “I didn’t hire the man to put him on a shelf in a glass bubble. I hired him to work. This is the real world, Lady. If he’s got problems, he’s going to have to adapt. I am not coddling him!”
“Then we’ll have to insist that he return to his job at the mill,” the woman replied.
“By what authority!” Jet growled, “No one has this much power over their patients. Do you work for the state or something?”
“No. His parents and World Power Corporation commissioned me to…”
“World Power?” Jet interrupted. Why would her father’s company be commissioning this man’s therapist? No research or project development was being done here. Company funds were not permitted to be used in such a fashion. Was this another strand of silk in her father’s complicated web? She made the sign for telephone, and Scott took it from the car and tossed it to her. She hadn’t called the company since the day after the reading of the will, and Cindy, her secretary, seemed happy to hear her voice.
“Pull up the computer records for small accounts,” Jet requested “And locate payments made to one Sally Tortora. I want to know who authorized payment for psychiatric counseling for a man named Scott Mayes.”
“We don’t do that kind of thing,” Cindy replied.
“Apparently we do,” Jet corrected.
“You work for World Power?” the woman questioned.
“Vice-President of the company,” Jet replied, “I retired last week.”
“We have no record of such an account,” Cindy replied after a few moments.
“Who are you affiliated with?” Jet questioned.
“Blake Rehab Center,” the woman replied, “We’re the best in three counties.”
Jet relayed the information, while she tried her best to ignore the woman’s angry confusion and Scott’s hot stare.
“Phsychiatric research into the treatment of accident victims,” Cindy read over the phone. “It’s a trust fund.”
“Fancy wording to keep me from trying to block it,” Jet decided, “and who authorized it?”
“I should have guessed that. If you could, I would appreciate if you gathered up all information on that particular account and sent it to.” Jet paused. If it was the man’s problem, it was up to him to handle it. “Scott, where do you want this sent?”
“Here,” he signed, “Not home.”
“Okay,” Jet decided, “Send it here, Cindy. Tell Jim I requested it.”
She closed the phone and stuffed it in her back pocket.
“Handle your own problems,” she instructed heading back into the house. “I’ve got work to do.”
“Scott, it’s not like you to be this impolite,” the therapist began. “I need to talk to you about the incident with your mother last night, and we’ll have to talk to your parents and the Center about this new development, and we really need to get you back to the mill. Are you still on your medication?”
“My mother. My fight. My life. I live it. Go home.” he signed, then turned to go back to the barn.
Jet was seated at the kitchen table looking over her finances when Scott finished work that morning. He began at four-thirty. It was a quarter after twelve. He was fifteen minutes late going home for lunch, but he wasn’t one to give up with some job unfinished. He sat down across from her and waited.
“I have got to get off this farm,” she muttered to no one in particular. She had twenty thousand, two hundred fourteen dollars and fifty-eight cents in the bank. If she invested, she could probably get a half decent return in a year or so; but this farm needed work now; and she needed money to live on. According to the records, someone named Jason Balchin had been renting one of the houses for almost a year now. The three hundred and fifty-dollar rent was always paid by the fifteenth of the month. It never varied, but the other house, being rented by someone named Nathaniel Mifflin, was not only poorly cared for, but if this Nathaniel fellow paid his rent once every three months, it was a miracle. Between the two of them, Scott’s wages would be paid; but when her money ran out, Scott would have to go as well, and she would find herself living on barely four hundred dollars a month. This was unacceptable! Farmland in this area went for eight to fifteen thousand dollars an acre. If she sold this place, she could easily set up another business; but father had made that impossible for at least five years. She couldn’t live on four hundred dollars a month for those last four years! It wouldn’t even pay the taxes.
“This really stinks,” she sighed, looking up at Scott. He was still waiting. For what? They had agreed that Friday was payday, and he didn’t need her permission to leave.
“What?” she questioned, and the man pulled her tablet across the table and ripped out a sheet. He took her pen from her hand.
“Thank you,” he wrote, then pushed the paper across to her.
“For what?” she questioned, pushing the paper back.
“For treating me like the man I am,” he replied. “Sometimes I get sick of people calling me limited. I needed the counseling at first, to teach me how to communicate; but I don’t need someone to intervene on my behalf anymore. I can handle life on my own.”
Jet scanned the note with a scrutinizing eye. He wrote in full sentences. His handwriting was well crafted. His knowledge of language was excellent. It was obvious that he wasn’t as limited as even she judged him to be. Perhaps he could answer some of her questions.
“Why was my father involved?” she asked.
“He and my dad were friends,” the man wrote. “But Tom never liked me. It doesn’t surprise me that he’d be paying that irritating woman. I asked my parents several times to cut off my association with the center, but Dad says that as long as I live under his roof, I follow his rules. One of those rules is to obey the therapist. So I sit in that office once a week for half an hour and ignore those people. I put their pills down the drain, forget their advice, and live my own life. I hate to be pampered. There is nothing I hate worse than to see someone saying, Poor, Scott. It’s such a shame, and We have to make exceptions for him because of his handicap. If you make no exceptions for me, if you refuse to pamper me, I promise you I’ll be the hardest worker in the county.”
“Agreed,” Jet decided “So why did Dad rob me of my life savings and my inheritance and dump me on this farm?”
The man put down the pen and smiled, but Jet pushed it back into his hand.
“Come on,” she coaxed, “Talk to me.”
The man dropped the pen again, but his smile never faded, and Jet found herself wondering if anyone really knew the man behind that mask of silence. The intelligence he carried with him was a mystery, and the mischief in those dark eyes was unmistakable. His parents, his therapist, and perhaps everyone he knew misjudged him.
“So I was wrong,” she confessed, “Stupidity is not one of your problems, but you are definitely one of the boldest, most obnoxious, stubborn men I have ever met.”
The man’s eyebrows seemed to wrinkle, and the smile faded from his face as he picked up the pen and sketched a few letters on the paper.
“O-B-O-N?” he wrote.
“O-B-N-O-X-I-O-U-S,” she wrote out and the man smiled again.
“He likes being called obnoxious,” Jet muttered as she rose from her seat, rounded the table, and placed her glass in the sink. She stopped for a moment and massaged his shoulders. “Go on home,” she commanded, then turned away to rinse the glass. Scott sketched one final note on the paper then rose and left the house. Curious, Jet slipped back to the table to see what he had written.
“Why you little brat!” Jet growled.
“Don’t handle me!” was written at the bottom of the paper in bold handwriting.
Jet thought about the man as she prepared a ham sandwich and placed a handful of chips on the plate beside it. He was defiant. He was self-confident. He was pushy. She had always thought of the handicapped as pitiful people, with empty futures. They were people in need of charity, people who would never be able to care for themselves. Was Scott Mayes the exception, or was he the rule? It would have been an interesting topic to research if she had the time.
The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts.
“Miss Elson, this is Cindy, your secretary,” the voice on the other end of the line explained, “I was running off copies of that information for you, and I found that we have another account, called the Tyrone Project. They’re located at four-ten Tyrone road. That’s just below you. We’ve been paying regular monthly payments to these people for some experiment in agriculture.”
“Cute way of putting it, Dad,” Jet muttered. “Cancel that account. The people moved out, let the fields grow up, and the animals starve. If anyone questions you, I authorized it. There’s no way the board of directors would be willing to pay someone for what those people were doing.”
“Consider it done,” Cindy replied. “Miss Elson, my husband and I are considering buying a new house, and I wondered if you could give us a little advice. ”
“Sure,” Jet decided. “Keep the house you have, and the money you’ve got in the bank. Quit your job, stay home, and raise your baby.”
“Quit my job?” Cindy gasped.
“Your husband is a surgeon.” Jet replied. “He’s very, very good. The chances of him getting out of work are slim. You want to be home with that baby, but if you keep trying to hold on to your career, you’re going to miss the first time he rolls over, the first time he sits up on his own, his first word, his first step, his first day of school. Which would you prefer to do? Sit all day in an office typing letters and making phone calls for someone like me, or spend your days play in the sunshine with your son?”
“I’ve worked hard for this career,” the woman mourned.
“Why does anyone work hard for a career?” Jet questioned. “So they can be financially secure and they can do the things that they want. Well, you’ve already reached financial security, and now the career is working against the things that you want. Why keep working? So a family of three can have a twenty-room house? So a family of three can have a maid and grounds keeper because their twenty-room house is too difficult to care for?”
“This sure doesn’t sound like you,” Cindy decided.
“I spent all morning feeding animals and cleaning a barn,” Jet sighed, “That doesn’t sound like me either. Listen, Cindy, before you quit. I wonder if you can do me a favor. Pull up my work records, and type me up a résumé. Pull up the addresses of a few people who owe me favors at the Chancellor Firm, and use them for references. Write me up a letter of introduction and send it to the firm along with my request for a position with them.”
“Sign your name?” the secretary questioned.
“As usual,” Jet replied, “And listen as for that cancellation, to keep you out of trouble, you better go into the mainframe through the back door and post-date it for when I was still working there; and any other accounts made payable to the Graysons on Tyrone Road eliminate.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” Cindy questioned.
“Sure,” Jet replied, “You can tell me how to deliver a calf.”
The woman just laughed.
“Call me once in a while,” Jet requested as someone knocked on the door. “I’ve got to go.”
Jet expected to find Ben, Carrie, or Scott Mayes at the door; but a muscular, middle-aged man with dark hair that was graying at the temples greeted her.
“Are you Miss Elson?” he questioned, as Jet studied him. He certainly wasn’t a salesman, for he wore jeans, a blue T-shirt and a light coat of gray corduroy. Someone from the Electric company perhaps?
Jet nodded and the man continued.
“I’m Jason Balchin,” he explained. “I rent off of you.”
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “I read over your lease this morning.”
“That’s what I was coming to ask about,” the man confessed. “I lease by the month, and I was wondering if there would be any changes.”
“Not for quite a while,” Jet decided, trying not to cringe. Three hundred and fifty was not what she considered suitable rent for a house of any kind, but she could depend on that three hundred and fifty dollars. It would be foolish, at this moment, to risk a sure thing for the possibility of gaining a couple hundred more a month.
“Can I drop my rent off here on the fifteenth?” he asked.
“The fifteenth is fine. Continue to pay as you have, and don’t destroy the house, and we’ll have no problems.”
“Do you need to inspect the house or anything,” he questioned. “I could arrange to be home on Friday or Saturday.”
“Is the house in good shape?”
“Oh, it’s fine. It’s not a fancy house, but just me and a couple of my cousins live there, so it’s all right for us. Everything works. I just wanted to know about changes.”
“There won’t be any for a while,” Jet assured him. “I’ve got an awful mess to clean up with this farm. I don’t plan of fussing with those rentals for a year or so.”
“I don’t envy you,” the man replied, and he turned and headed off the porch. “If I were you, I’d just sell the place and move on. The Graysons never could make a profit here, the place must be cursed.”
“Well, I’m not superstitious,” Jet murmured after she had gone back into the house and closed the door behind her. “But I do believe in bad dreams.”
Jet had just seated herself at the table again when the front door opened, and Scott Mayes stepped in.
“Don’t you ever knock?” she demanded.
“I work here,” he signed.
“I pay you for eight hours a day,” Jet scolded, “Not fourteen or fifteen.”
“What?” Scott questioned in child like innocence.
“You understood me,” she snapped.
“Come,” he signed.
“I don’t work fourteen or fifteen hours a day either,” she scolded as she rose and joined him in the living room. Actually, fourteen or fifteen hours had been her common workday at World Power, but managing investments and employees was not as physically draining as dragging bales of hay and shoveling manure.
“No understand,” he replied then took her hand and pulled her towards the door.
“Sure,” Jet muttered, “As if I believe that. Thanks Dad. I’m stuck on a filthy farm where the crops won’t grow; and the animals die; and I’ve got a deaf, workaholic, farm hand, who pretends he doesn’t understand when I yell quitting time.”
“And what is this?” Jet questioned as she scanned the two bay mares tied to the porch railing. They were beautiful animals, well cared for and curried to a perfect shine.
Shaking his head, Scott looked up at the sky for a moment and sighed. He then turned his attention back to Jet and slowly spelled out, H-O-R-S-E.
“I know they’re horses,” she corrected as Scott took a heavy denim jacket from the saddle of the nearest horse and threw it over her shoulders, “But what are they for?”
Scott’s eyes rolled skyward for a second time as he spelled out, R-I-D-E.
“I know that you ride them,” she growled, “How stupid do you think I am?”
The man smiled, and Jet shook an accusing finger at him.
“Don’t you answer that,” she commanded. “Where are we going to ride?”
“See Farm,” he signed, “Fields clear and plant. Bad roads, no Jeep.”
“Your horses?” she questioned, reaching out to stroke the creamy blaze on the forehead of the nearest mare. The animal took a cautious step closer and lowered her head so Jet could scratch between her ears.
“You ride Candy. Gentle horse,” Scott instructed, then pointed to the horse that was now nuzzling her shoulder. Jet was forced to slip her arms through the sleeves of the jacket or lose it. Immediately the animal began nosing pockets. Jet checked the side pockets and was not surprised to find an ample supply of sugar cubes.
“Where do you keep them?” she questioned offering Candy a few of the cubes in an open palm. Gentle, Jet agreed as the horse delicately took the treat from her hand. Gentle, but slimy. These were surely the horses she had seen in the field behind Ben and Carrie’s house.
“Not here,” he signed.
“I know that,” she scolded, wiping the horse’s drool on the leg of her jeans. She would change later. “We have plenty of room for them to graze. You can keep them here if you want.”
“No dirty barn, my horses,” he replied, as Jet easily swung into the saddle. The man’ jaw dropped in amazement.
“Yes,” she explained, “I ride very well. I learned at my dad’s country club.”
He seemed confused, so she spelled country club out for him.
“Place skinny women play tennis. Fat men play golf,” he signed back, and Jet laughed.
“Not quite,” she chuckled. “I have two horses myself.”
“Where?” Scott questioned.
“Not here,” she signed. “No dirty barn my horses.”
They traveled silently down rough roadways and past fields overgrown with blackberry bushes and saplings of a broad array. Patches of forest lay in the places that had been considered too awkward to plow. In these places an occasional barn or lean-to had been constructed. Most seemed beyond repair. In one such place, Jet caught sight of a large structure, constructed of stone and aging wood. She touched Scott’s arm, and pointed it out to him.
H-O-U-S-E, he spelled out, and Jet snorted with disgust.
“Of course it’s a house,” she scolded, “Who’s house?”
“Yours now,” he signed. “New house 1941. Husband die on ship. Man’s wife throw herself and baby off upstairs porch.”
“Pearl Harbor?” Jet questioned, leaning forward in the saddle to get a better view. The man nodded as Jet eyed the building fondly. The peeling paint was an easy fix, and houses built before the nineteen fifties were usually structurally sound. The lane would need repairs. Surely they could do that with the equipment they had on hand. With minor work the building could probably be an extra source of income or maybe…
“Father lock up house forever,” Scott replied.
“Who has the keys?”
“Do you want to look at it?” she questioned. A new house, not even lived in for a year, she pondered. The locked shutters suggested that even vandals hadn’t wandered this far. Rodents may have been a problem, termites perhaps, mold and moisture were a possibility, as were shifting from freezing and thawing. A housing inspector would be able to tell her for sure.
“Did,” Scott replied. Jet sneered at him. Just because he had seen it didn’t mean she didn’t want to.
“Do you mind if I look at it?”
“No,” he signed, “Dark.”
“It’s only two o’clock in the afternoon,” she argued, “We’ve got plenty of time to look at the fields. This farm isn’t that big.”
He threw up his hands in frustration and pointed to the locked shutters.
“Dark,” he repeated, “No see.”
“We’ll bring a lantern tomorrow and take a look at it,” she decided.
“You bring lantern,” he replied. “I fix tractor and shovel manure.”
“Have you no sense of adventure?” she demanded, and the man laughed openly. Jet was astounded. She had assumed from the beginning that he was mute as well as deaf.
“I fix tractor. You shovel manure,” he signed with a smile.
“You bad,” she signed and Scott nodded with agreement.
They urged the horses forward and past the house, and Jet studied the building longingly. It was a huge two story, with a wrap around front porch. The attic, with a total of four dormers on both sides, could have been considered a third story. Sixty years of abandonment had tarnished, but not erased its original beauty. If houses could speak, Jet knew this one’s ornate gables and clapboard siding would be crying out to her. “Come home!” And for the first time since the taxi had pulled onto the bumpy lane in front of the small house, Jet allowed herself to entertain the idea of staying.
“Electric in that house?” she signed.
“No,” Scott replied.
“Can it be turned on?”
Jet’s daydream dissolved into oblivion, leaving nothing behind it but the empty disappointment brought on by her new way of life. Without another glance at the dwelling, she urged the horse she was riding to follow Scott’s down over the hillside.
On the banks of a small stream Scott slid off his horse and allowed the animal to drink. Jet shook her head in disbelief, as he crouched by the stream’s edge to scoop up a handful of water.
Country schools must not waste their time teaching general science,
Jet decided as she watched him. Toxins, dirt, germs of all kinds, acid rain, cigarette butts, paper cups, and sewage all were powerful deterrents when it came to drinking water found out of doors.
“You’re drinking out of a creek?” Jet demanded after dismounting as well. “Aren’t you afraid of what’s in that water?”
The man took a drink then rose and shook the water from his hand.
“Spring water,” he replied. “Starts on hillside. Your land.”
“Is it safe?”
“Safer than tap water,” he spelled out.
Hesitantly, Jet knelt by the stream and scooped up a drink. She was thirsty, and it did look clean. She sipped cautiously, then paused. The water was cold, extremely cold; and it didn’t have the stale taste of store bought, or the chlorine of city water. She took a second drink and decided that she could easily get adjusted to this.
“Not bad, ” she said as she rose and allowed her eyes to follow the waters up stream. Just beyond the trees and hidden between two wooded hills lay a large meadow of flat land. From where she stood, the field appeared to be missing the saplings, tangling berry bushes and small shrubs that consumed the rest of these fields.
“What’s up beyond here?” she questioned.
“Not been there long time.” Scott replied. “Two valleys. Grass, bush, crabapple tree. Too much work clear this year.”
“It looks to me like the best we’ve seen so far,” she corrected, and Scott looked upstream then mounted his horse.
“Go look,” he decided.
Jet mounted her horse as well, and followed Scott up stream. This field, of thirty to forty acres of flat, fertile soil, had been plowed at the end of last season in preparation for the spring crop. Scott leaned forward in the saddle and drew in the sight with a grin.
“Beautiful,” he signed.
“If we block up this stream and make a lake,” Jet dreamed. “Then build luxury, town houses on the hillside, purchased on a time share program, find a place for a tennis court, swimming pool, riding stables, ski slopes and a club house, and charge unbelievable maintenance fees, I could make millions from this valley alone.”
“No,” Scott signed, “Good dirt. Plant corn, harvest corn.”
“Good real estate,” Jet explained, “Plant money, harvest money.”
“You no money to plant,” he corrected, “Plant corn.”
Only the Best is a work of Christian fiction, written primarily for women – a.k.a. Christian Chick Lit. If you are looking for a clean, fast paced,
inspirational novel, with a good Christian message, Only the Best just might be the e-book you are searching for.
Available for PC as well as all Kindle devices, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, and Android for just $0.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004A8ZTB8
Copyright © Susan M. Craig 2010 All rights reserved. This work in part or its entirety may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in print or any electronic form without written permission.