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Miles to go, p.12
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       Miles to Go, p.12

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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  “Where did you meet Nicole?” she asked.

  “I came across her while I was walking. She had a flat tire and I stopped to help her.”

  “Always the good Samaritan, aren’t you?”

  “Not always.”

  “Next time something happens, you call me.”

  “I promise the next time I’m stabbed, I’ll call you first.”

  She grinned.

  “How is the liquidation of my estate going?”

  “Well. I think we’ll probably bring in another twenty thousand on furniture before we’re done.”

  “I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done.”

  “You can start by keeping in touch. Every week.”

  “I promise.”

  “… and when you arrive in Key West, I want to be there.”

  I wasn’t sure how to respond to her request. “Let me think about it.”

  “Okay,” she said, “you think about it.”

  Falene and I sat and talked for nearly two and a half hours, long after the ice had melted in her Coke and the sun had started to set. Afterward we drove downtown to look at the lights.

  Nicole’s car was out front when we arrived home. I pulled up behind her car and we got out. I led Falene up to the house and opened the apartment door. “Nicole,” I shouted. “We’re home.”

  Nicole walked into the front room from the hallway.

  “Nicole,” I said, “this is Falene.”

  “Hi,” Nicole said, extending her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

  “It’s my pleasure,” Falene said.

  “We’re going to get Falene checked into a hotel, then we’re headed out to dinner,” I said. “Want to come?”

  “No, I’m sure you two have a lot to catch up on.”

  “We’ve plenty of time for that,” I said. “Come on.”

  “Yes, come,” Falene said. “It will be fun.”

  “Actually,” she said, “I already have a date.”

  I looked at her with surprise. “Really? With who?”

  “Bill. We’re going to see the ice sculptures at Candlelight Park.”

  “How romantic,” Falene said.

  I started laughing. “Bill’s her landlord. He’s like ninety.”

  “Oh?” Falene said. “You can’t be romantic at ninety?”

  Nicole smiled. “Exactly. Besides, he’s only eighty-seven,” she said lightly. “And it will be romantic. Bill’s a real gentleman.”

  “My apologies,” I said. “Have a good time.”

  Falene and I walked out to the curb. I opened the door for her, then walked around to my door. I looked back once more. Nicole was still standing at the window watching us. She waved. I waved back then got in and we drove off to dinner.

  CHAPTER

  Thirty

  Old friends are memories personified.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Falene checked herself into the Davenport Hotel, and we decided to eat at the Palm Court Grill in the hotel’s lobby. The restaurant was quiet, and we sat in the corner away from everyone else, which was good since we laughed so much.

  It was nice to laugh again. I think Falene remembered every amusing anecdote from our time together, including my April Fools campaign for KBOX 107.9 radio. I had created a billboard campaign dealing with their radio hosts’ body parts, such as:

  MARK HAS AN EAR FOR THE HITS

  The words were positioned next to an enlarged picture of Mark’s ear. There was also:

  DANNY KNOWS YOUR FAVORITE SONGS

  The words appeared next to a picture of Danny’s nose. Yeah, it wasn’t my best campaign, but it did the job.

  Since the campaign was scheduled to start on April Fools Day, as a joke I had the printer change the lettering on one of Danny’s signs, which I personally brought down to the station. He sat quietly as I unveiled the board. Next to a very extreme close-up of his nose were the words:

  DANNY PICKS YOUR FAVORITES

  His expression was priceless. I then told him that I had made an executive decision and changed all thirty exposures at the last moment. “They’re going up as we speak.”

  I thought he might hyperventilate. Even after I told him it was a joke, it took him nearly a half hour to calm down. Falene nearly choked on her drink recalling the experience.

  “There were some good times,” I said.

  Falene smiled. “There were a lot of good times.”

  As the evening wore on, our conversation slowed and we began to talk about weightier matters—the final days of our time together.

  “I was so worried about you at McKale’s funeral,” Falene said. “I watched you standing alone next to her casket in the rain.” She looked down. “My heart was breaking.”

  “You were the only one there for me.”

  She hesitated. “I was really afraid you might take your life.”

  “Honestly,” I said softly, “me too.” I reached over and took her hand. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

  “I’m glad I could be there for you.”

  The moment fell into a sweet silence. After a minute I said, “You must be tired.”

  “I am a little. I didn’t sleep well last night.”

  “I’ll let you go. It’s been good seeing you.”

  “You too.”

  She stood. “I still need to get those tax papers signed. Should we do them tonight or in the morning?”

  “The morning’s fine,” I said. “When are you going back?”

  “I was thinking tomorrow afternoon. My brother just got out of rehab and he’s living with me.”

  “Always the good Samaritan,” I said.

  “Not always,” she replied. “Breakfast around ten?”

  “Great. Good night, Falene.”

  “Good night.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek, then she turned and walked down the hall. A group of men’s heads swiveled as she passed by them. She turned back once more and waved to me.

  One of the men said to me in passing, “You are one lucky dude.”

  I turned away without comment. In the last two months I had lost my wife, my business, my home, and had been beaten and stabbed. And now I’m “lucky.” I started laughing on my way to the car.

  CHAPTER

  Thirty-one

  When I am tempted to compare my life with Job’s I remind myself that he never had a Falene.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  The next morning I picked Falene up at the hotel. She had already checked out of her room and was standing with her luggage near the hotel’s front doors. I threw her things in the back seat of her car, then drove to the IHOP. Our conversation was light. She told me that a major modeling agency had discovered her and wanted her to move to New York.

  “You’re going to do it, aren’t you?” I asked.

  She looked vexed. “I don’t know. Right now my brother needs me. We’ll see.”

  After we finished eating I signed the tax papers, then Falene drove me back to Nicole’s house. We pulled up to the curb, and Falene put the car in park.

  “Thanks for coming,” I said. “It’s been great seeing you.”

  “It’s been great seeing you,” she replied. “It’s going to be a better year for you.”

  “That’s not setting the bar very high,” I said.

  “I guess not,” she laughed. She brushed her hair back from her face. “Don’t forget, you need to decide if I can meet you in Key West.”

  “I’ll let you know.”

  “… and you’ll call every week.”

  “Every week. I promise.”

  She leaned over, and we embraced. “Take care of yourself, Alan.”

  “You too.”

  I climbed out of the car and waved again from the sidewalk. She waved back then pulled away from the curb. After she turned the corner I walked back to the apartment. She really was lovely. I wondered when I’d see her again.

  CHAPTER

 
; Thirty-two

  There is a Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. How gladly I would welcome a boring year.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  New Year’s Eve is a drunken night, when police dispatchers are patching through calls with the intensity of a fifties telephone operator. Nicole worked up until 8 P.M., about the time “things started getting interesting,” she said.

  Bill was supposed to be over at the house by eight-thirty, but he never came. This didn’t surprise us, as he called Nicole earlier and said he felt a little under the weather and might just sleep it off. “You youngsters are working me like a rented mule,” he said.

  Christine was back from Portland, and she came over around six to help me make cake doughnuts, one of McKale and my favorite traditions. We rolled them out, cut them, then set them in a minifryer to cook. When they were golden brown we laid them on paper towels around the kitchen. We made nearly ten dozen, enough to last for months.

  As I think back on that night, I suppose our party wasn’t so much about celebrating a New Year as it was about discarding the old—a year neither Nicole nor I would ever forget as much as we wanted to. A New Year’s celebration was the best way I could think of to drive a stake through the last year’s heart.

  As the clock counted down, we all sat on the couch and watched Dick Clark in Times Square ring in the New Year. At midnight our neighbors emerged from their otherwise docile domains to light firecrackers and bang pans.

  “Happy New Year,” I said to the women.

  “Happy New Year to you too,” Nicole said. “And to you, Christine.”

  “And to both of you,” Christine said. “I hope next New Year’s finds us all here together just like this.”

  I glanced over at Nicole. “That would be nice,” I said. Nicole smiled. “That would be nice.”

  Nicole and I slept in the next morning. It was Saturday and Nicole had the day off. I got up before she did, so I made Belgian waffles with Reddi-wip and sliced strawberries, then called her to breakfast. She came out in her pajamas to eat.

  “I really need to keep you around,” she said. “I may have to stab you again.”

  I grimaced. “Now you’re scaring me.”

  When we had finished eating, Nicole said, “We need to take Bill some doughnuts and wish him a happy New Year.”

  “We have plenty to share,” I said. “I’ll bag some up.”

  Bill lived near the hospital in an upscale, older neighborhood called South Hill. His home was a large red brick rambler, surrounded by mature evergreens. His truck was parked in the driveway, and Nicole and I walked together up the stone path to his front porch. Nicole rang his doorbell, but he didn’t answer. After a few minutes she knocked on his door, but there was still no response. She turned back to me. “Would you mind checking to see if he’s in the garage or backyard?”

  “No problem.”

  I walked around the side of the house, but the garage was locked and his backyard was filled with snow, which had drifted up over his patio. As I was making my way to the back door, I heard Nicole scream. I ran around to the front of the house. The front door was open and inside Nicole was kneeling on the floor next to Bill performing CPR.

  “Call 911,” she said.

  I found the kitchen phone and dialed. “What’s the address?” I shouted to Nicole.

  “Twenty-two thirteen Yuma.”

  After I hung up, I walked over and kneeled next to Nicole. I put my hand on Bill’s neck to check for a pulse. There was none. His body was cold. I looked up at her. “He’s dead, Nicole.”

  She continued to push on his chest.

  “Nicole, he’s dead.”

  “I know,” she said. She stopped pushing, covered her eyes, and wept.

  CHAPTER

  Thirty-three

  We can only lose what we have first claimed.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Nicole went out and sat in the car and cried, unable to be in the same room as Bill’s body. My heart grieved for her more than for Bill. I was certain that Bill was where he wanted to be.

  I waited outside for the paramedics and led them inside when they arrived. After examining Bill they made no attempt to revive him.

  “When was the last time you saw him alive?” one paramedic asked.

  “My friend saw him a couple days ago.”

  “He’s been gone awhile,” he said.

  Nicole and I spent the rest of the day working through the affairs of Bill’s death. The paramedics called the Coroner’s Office and they came and took him away. Nicole went through Bill’s things looking for someone to call.

  While she was looking for contact information, I went downstairs to see the train set she had told me so much about. Bill’s train layout was truly remarkable. It was built on heavy boards and elevated, probably 10 by 20 feet, with hundreds of feet of track, tunnels, and miniature towns with plastic buildings.

  Bill had left the train’s power on, and I pulled on a lever and a small locomotive began winding its way through the Lilliputian landscape. So that’s how the old man spent his time, I thought.

  After some searching, Nicole found a business card for Bill’s attorney, Larry Snarr. Fortunately, the card listed a cell phone number, which she immediately dialed and he answered. She told Snarr about Bill’s death, and he said he’d take care of everything.

  That afternoon Snarr called back for Nicole. “I just heard from the Coroner’s Office,” he said in a low voice. “Bill died of a massive heart attack shortly after midnight.”

  “Everything’s been set up with the mortuary. He didn’t want a funeral service. He told me no one would come, so the mortuary will just bury him.”

  “That doesn’t seem right,” Nicole said. “Could we at least have a little graveside service?”

  “You just work it out with the mortuary,” Snarr said. “He’s over at Larkin Mortuary. And let me know if you decide to go ahead with it—I’ll be there.”

  Bill was buried two days later in a plot next to his wife. The mortuary had cleared the snow from the grave, and the casket lay aboveground for our makeshift ceremony. Nicole asked if I would say something, but I declined. McKale’s funeral was still too close to me.

  There were only four of us that day; Nicole, Christine, Snarr, and me. We gathered in the frozen landscape around the grave, our breath freezing in front of us. Nicole had bought a Christmas wreath, which she laid on top of the casket.

  Nicole said, “I just want to say how grateful I am that I got to know Bill. I’m certain that I gained more from our friendship than he did. I’ll never forget his love and loyalty for his wife. And I’m glad that he and his sweetheart will be reunited.”

  Nicole then asked if any of us wanted to say anything. At first I shook my head, but then I said, “I really liked Bill. He had a good heart.” Then I felt stupid, thinking, If he had a good heart he’d still be alive.

  Christine said: “Bill was always very good to me. He told me that he was worried that I might slip on the ice, so he put down a little extra rock salt on the walk for me. It may seem like just a small thing, but it made me feel good. I’m glad I got to spend Thanksgiving with him.”

  Snarr said, “He was an honorable man.”

  That was it. On the way home Nicole said, “I wonder if I’ll have to move.”

  “Why would you have to move?” I asked.

  “New owners.”

  “I wouldn’t start packing,” I said. “I’m sure it will take a while before anything happens. Besides, the house has been divided for apartments. Whoever gets it is going to need tenants.”

  “I hope you’re right,” she said. “I don’t want to move.”

  Three days later I was doing my aerobics in the living room when someone knocked at the door. It was the attorney, Snarr.

  “Is Nicole here?” he asked, standing in the building’s lobby.

  “She’s at work.”

  “I need to speak with her about Mr. Dodd
s estate. Do you know when she’ll be home?”

  “She’s usually home by five-thirty.”

  “Would it be a problem if I came back tonight for a few minutes?”

  “No, that should be fine.”

  “Very well then. I’ll see you this evening.”

  Nicole arrived home on time. I told her about Larry Snarr’s visit as she walked in the door.

  “Did he say what he wanted?” she asked.

  “He said he needs to talk to you about Bill’s estate.”

  “He’s going to kick us out,” she said flatly. “Or raise the rent. I don’t know where I’m going to find another place at this cost.”

  “Wait to worry,” I said. “Wait to worry.”

  A couple minutes after six, Snarr pulled up to the house in an older-style Mercedes-Benz. He was wearing a wool overcoat and scarf, and carried a leather briefcase. He walked up the stairway and I met him in the building’s lobby. “Come in.”

  Nicole met him at the apartment door and motioned to the couch. “Have a seat.”

  “Thank you,” he said.

  Snarr and I sat on opposite ends of the couch while Nicole sat in an armchair facing us.

  “What is this about?” Nicole asked anxiously.

  “I am the executor of William Dodd’s will.”

  “Is Nicole in his will?” I asked.

  “Actually, Nicole is Mr. Dodd’s sole beneficiary.” He turned to her. “Bill left everything to you.”

  “What?” Nicole said.

  Snarr opened his briefcase and brought out a dossier. “These documents specifically outline the whole of Mr. Dodd’s estate. They include trust funds, life insurance policies, a few mutual funds, and several rental properties, including this property right here. The entire estate is valued at about $3.6 million.”

  Nicole gasped.

 
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