TROUBLE TIMES TEN
Copyright: These are all my characters. Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlie brushed her blonde hair back into place and grimaced as she looked down at the neonatal pills sitting on the marble covered vanity counter. She set the plastic hair brush down on the beautiful surface with a sharp click. The strangeness of the glamour in her surroundings was not lost on her but after continuously using the luxuries for the past week she was becoming more familiarized. Her cheap dollar store hair brush with the chipped handle clashed against the elegant surroundings reminding her of where she’d come from less than a month ago.
A quick glance at her reflection made her pause. She leaned toward the mirror and brushed her fingers over her smooth cheekbones and soft lips. She had to admit she looked much better now. Her face used to be thinner, pinched and pale, with stress and worry. It seemed more open now. She blinked to stop the fascinated stare and picked up the overly large pills. A nearby glass was retrieved and she gulped the pills down with a swallow of the cold milk Ms. McCullen sent up earlier. And because she knew the older woman was practically counting the amounts of calories and nutrients she was consuming she forced half the cup down before returning it to the coaster.
Her current routine, for the time being, seemed to be rest a lot and visit with the children. She was beginning to think Becky Barton was refusing to let her earn her keep. But that would be changing today. She stood up and ran her hands down her nicest blouse and slacks. The waistline pinched a bit but she drew in a breath and let it out slowly. She would fulfill her responsibilities or figure out a way to start working with the hired employees, otherwise known as ‘the help’. Staying in this suite and having the children and herself just sponging off the owner was not her way. She squared her shoulders knowing she could clean with the best of them. And she wanted that woman to know. In fact, she barely saw her landlord in the last few days. Probably off being a shining knight to some other forlorn forgotten children, her inner sarcastic wit took a lame potshot of ungraciousness toward the silent provider.
With that thought a spark of pure stubbornness rose within and the instant image of the tall dark haired woman who was her chosen nemesis followed. That calm and steady blue eyes stare seemed to dominate her mind’s eye as she tried to keep the antagonistic feelings alive. But, as her hosts image grew clear so filled her body with a rush of feelings she couldn’t control. An uncontainable confusion ping-ponged through her causing a sharp breath to be drawn; a pinball of emotions bounced between vital organs striking her heart, stomach, and mind, recklessly ignoring her desperate attempts to calm it. Within the attack was a touch of anger, a lump of regret, and that ever unwelcome gratefulness. She looked back at her own reflection and shook her head at herself. Her green eyes showed a vulnerability she’d refused to express to anyone, not even the children.
“She is helping us, but, why? What if…what if I’m wrong?” She swallowed the lump and again felt tears. She closed her eyes and fought down the emotional abyss. “Stop!” she commanded. “I can’t be wrong?”
When she opened her eyes again they were the same hard emerald green she stared at every miserable day of her life. She would work and wait. That Barton woman’s true colors would show eventually.
An hour later Charlie made her way downstairs to try and find the woman she was working for. A strong knock on the office door and a muffled ‘one second’ made her quickly turn the handle and open the door with suspicion.
Becky glanced up startled as she tried to hide the project on her desk. Seeing Charlie she relaxed a bit and smiled a sheepish grin. Charlie rolled her eyes at the sight of the model car kit and the paints and stickers spread across the desk top. This was clearly an important issue and Becky was clearly a very busy woman.
“I see you are spending your time wisely.”
Becky cleared her throat and carefully picked up the entire sheet board beneath the model project and swiveled with her back to Charlie tucking it into a covered cupboard on her book shelf. She carefully folded down the cover and then swiveled back to face Charlie with a blank expression.
“Trevon expressed an interest in cars and I found a few of my dad’s old model car kits, but the trim is really a little above his age group so I thought I would do that part for him and let him complete the rest.”
Charlie internally winced at the nice gesture and cleared her throat, scratching her head.
“Have a seat?” Becky gestured to the chair in front of the desk. “I am guessing you are not going to go one more day to get rest without some idea of your new job position so I took the liberty of drawing up some employment documents and we would need to review them. With our rather brief conversation in the hospital I was hoping we could work together on these to iron out details but there are a few things I won’t budge on.” Becky opened her drawer and removed a fairly thick folder.
Charlie eyed the folder with complete suspicion as if it were a snake about to bite her.
Some of the papers that slid out of the folder were spread across the desk top and Becky tilted her head at the first.
This is your W4, prefilled. My attorney says it should cover the bases of support for the kids with the information she selected for withholding. I took the liberty of getting a copy of your driver’s license so we could update your information electronically with the DMV.” Becky glanced at Charlie and got a cautious nod.
“This set of document is your employment contract. It basically states your position, place of work, compensation, benefits, vacation time, confidentiality agreement, and some various clauses about options to quit, termination, over time, data controls, computer software clause, my standard inclusions that I felt were deemed appropriate for the task that I was asking you to do.” Becky slid the four pieces of paper together and looked at Charlie’s frowning face.
“Did you eat yet? Ms. McCullen has gone to the grocery and I didn’t eat. I was going to go make myself a quick snack. Do you want to split something? We can discuss this in the kitchen if that’s OK with you?” She gathered up the stack of papers and stuffed them back into the manila folder.
Charlie automatically took the folder Becky handed her and looked up at the standing figure.
“Vacation time and benefits, what are you talking about?” she blinked, cocking her head. Becky gave a small smile down at her perplexed soon to be employee and winked.
“Come on…let’s go talk about it in the kitchen. I’m starving.” Rounding the desk, Becky gestured for Charlie to follow and she headed out of the office. Charlie sighed at the back of the disappearing woman.
After relocating to the state of the art kitchen area, Charlie was seated at a high counter and Becky easily moved behind it to start gathering ingredients. Spreading some of the paperwork out on the counter she started reading. Becky gave a quick synopsis of some of the state laws concerning employment.
“First, the state of California does not allow an employee to work without the earning of vacation and sick time. I’m a fairly generous boss so you will earn three weeks out of the year toward vacation the same plus one week for sick time. Since we know that you will be using your maternity vacation during the year I’ve included the standard six weeks of fully paid maternity and the additional 16 weeks of half pay. Before you argue…” Becky pulled out bread and a tomato and gave Charlie a glance, “…the state law requires a minimum of at least 26 weeks to be given and all of my employees have the same package.”
Charlie’s fingers slid over the contract as she read. The digits twitched slightly as she slowed to read something.
“I’m going to make what?” Her voice exclaimed loudly as she pointed to the compensation section. The contract stated $60,000 dollars yearly. “What the hell will I be…?” She let that remark trail off as the next three paragraphs outlined her Job Title and description.
“I am hiring you to catalog my parent’s private collection of…let’s call them artifacts and collectables.”
Charlie looked up at Becky, blonde eyebrows raised, eyes wide. Before she could speak Becky held up her butter knife smeared with Mayo. Charlie snapped her mouth shut.
“Yes, you can do this. You will be working as an Accessions Specialist. That role is basically someone who examines, catalogs, and enters the items into a database. I have designed some software and will provide training on that as well as some assistance of some very knowledgeable individuals. That school nearby has been asking to have this cataloged for years. I’m sure they will send over a few students to assist if I ask politely.” Becky carefully placed the top slice of bread on her Dagwood sandwich and pressed down to cut the entire thing into two halves with a slightly diagonal cut. She picked up one side and licked her lips. A slight nudge and the plate holding the other half slid toward Charlie. Becky bit into the sandwich and gave a deep, gratifying sigh. She looked at Charlie who was staring back, slightly dazed. A sudden clearing of her throat and Charlie looked down at the papers. A large hand suddenly appeared in her view and the ½ sandwich, plate and all, was dropped on top of the papers.
Becky waited until Charlie took a healthy bite, then she continued. “Your real work will entail the determination of the origins of the items collected by contacting curators of galleries, museums, libraries, or various archives to inquire on possible proofs of those origins. It will be a game or puzzle of sorts to try and figure out where they collected the items and when they are from. My parents were plain crazy about certain timeframes and certain places. They left journals down there too. I’m sure you will spend a huge portion of your time doing research on the computer and there are books by the score in the Library. You also have access to a car to use for your work, to visit the local museums or libraries.”
Charlie brought a shaking hand to her forehead, her other softly pressed against her stomach. She seemed stunned at the offer. A slight hesitation was made before she spoke as she weighed her words carefully. “What if I can’t…do this?” her voice tapered to a whisper.
“Well, that’s really up to you. You have a year to learn it and if at the end of a year you don’t like it or don’t want to continue, or can’t do the job, then you quit. That was our agreement. The position was actually available before you arrived and it just so happens that I think you’d be quite good at it. It will entail corralling a bunch of college students and making them…mind you.” Becky gave a chuckle. Charlie looked at her through a curtain of her bangs. “You’ve been doing that with children for years, why should stuffy know-it-all college students be any different?” Becky toasted Charlie with her last bite of sandwich and popped it in her mouth.
Charlie continued to read the document and when she got to the last page she went back to the first. Becky grabbed a napkin to wipe the crumbs.
“Why don’t I show you the facilities and the collection? I had some of Doreen’s girls go thru with Mike a last week and clean the dust, but it’s a fairly large room and…” Becky shrugged in annoyance. “There is bound to be more. It just settles on everything.”
Charlie looked up in confusion. “I’m sorry…what…the facility? Are we going somewhere? Do I need to get my ID?”
Becky shook her head. “Umm…no. It’s actually here in the house. I called it the facility because my parents set up the room….well you’ll see. It’s in the basement.”
Becky motioned for Charlie to precede her out to the lobby and then she turned toward the elevator hallway. Stepping into the small lift she turned to face the door. Charlie stood at the entrance biting her lip. “I umm…don’t usually care for small…crowded spaces.” She managed to state as she looked all around the small conveyance.
Becky stepped back against the far wall and stood waiting; she smiled calmly at Charlie and lifted her chin in challenge. Charlie eyed the tall woman and with stiff neck and shoulders she stepped inside. Becky touched the letter B on the panel and the door slid shut. A tortuous two minutes of silence was endured between them until the door slid open. Charlie quickly got out and waited for Becky. The entrance room was dimly lit but the elevator lighting which showed a wall panel of light switches.
Becky flicked a few switches and the overhead florescent lighting flickered on before them. Additional lights lit further into the room, and then still more lights lit midway into what was obviously an enormous basement cavern. Charlie watched as it continued to flicker on in segments traveling clear out across one full wing of the house. What startled her besides the expansive space was the amount of stuff filling the basement to the brim. There were life size statues standing throughout the cavernous interior, stacks and stacks of cloth covered paintings, hundreds of mysterious boxes, triple stacked luggage trunks, and books as well as posters resting everywhere. Multiple rows of heavy duty metal shelves were prominent storage holders, standing almost floor to ceiling, leading back into the far recesses of the basement. They were jam-packed full of secretive objects, odd shaped packages, wrapped and indistinguishable. It looked like a massive estate sale gone bad.
Charlie took in the partial galley style kitchen with cupboards and a small refrigerator as well as a heating range on her left. This area, in discord to the rest of the dust filled cavity, was sparkling with cleanliness and smelling of bleach. About twenty feet down the wall of cupboards a waist high stainless steel counter emerged outward and defined the kitchen space with its ten foot length. The counter contained three large deep steel sinks, an obvious washing system. Past the end of the sink was a breakaway that allowed someone to enter the tiled kitchen space or move into the storage area. Four feet over continued the long metallic counter, strangely stark of any items. Its empty surface was the only uncluttered area in the basement.
Along the far wall was a long row of filing cabinets, eight in all. Papers and documents fought for space, wedged inside and stacked on top of their unorganized home. A fairly large oak desk was tucked into the corner with lamp lighting and holders of pens, pencils, and markers. The desk held a spanking brand new computer with a very nice large monitor.
Becky stood looking at Charlie grimacing. She cleared her throat and tried to smile. “Looks like a tornado hit it. But, it’s actually cleaner than last week.”
Charlie, eyes widening, absently rubbed her own arms.
“OK, so here is where I thought you would start your work. The filing system lists all the items in this basement. My parents were meticulous about that. Unfortunately, they did not know how to setup an organized filing system. That’s basically where you come in. You will take the paper documents, enter the data into the computer system, and setup a filing system. Then you give that info to the assistants and they will need to find the object. Once found it should be setup logically in the room so that others can find it, just like a library and books. In the software I’ve developed you can add a photo, and annotate the location on labeled shelves, and create a barcode tag to apply to the shelf near the object.” She handled a stack of four books that were sitting on the desk.
“I’ve pulled these four books out of the library to help you get an understanding on some of the artifacts my parents have gathered. There is also a book about the history of building a library. It’s kind of dry but once you read it you will appreciate the subject.” She handed the books to Charlie.
The shorter woman seemed less intimidated after having the job broken down and knowing how she would fit into the position. She could probably handle data entry, with practice, and God knows she knew how to file and stack shelves. The computer might be an exciting element to learn more about. Becky didn’t see Charlie having any previous opportunity in her work history.
“What are the kitchen and sinks used for?” Charlie asked, brushing her bangs back, continuing to look around.
“My mother spent a lot of time down here and Dad had the kitchen installed to allow her to have tea and make lunches. It’s a fully functioning kitchen, although the same rules will apply in its use that she had to endure. Dad never let mom eat dinner down here and you won’t be able to either. Dinner is usually served around 6 PM and we will all expect you to be present.” Becky commented as she fidgeted with the brand new tea kettle resting on the stove top. Charlie rolled her eyes behind the taller woman’s back. “The sink basins are for cleaning the collection items. I’ve actually never seen them empty until after my parents passed away and I had a crew come in to make sure the chemicals were put away. They were always in the middle of cleaning some priceless thing of any imperfections. I imagine the students will help you with that aspect.”
Charlie nodded her head slowly in blind agreement until she frowned in thought. “There were rules?”
“Yes. My father and mother discussed them for a bit but the rules apply to all that enter.” Becky turned around and pointed to a massive poster that was hanging on the wall behind them. She read them out loud and reached in her pocket.
1. Stay Safe.
2. Do not lift anything without a second person present.
3. Wear a face mask when cleaning or dusting.
4. Use goggles/eye protection when cleaning
5. Use hand gloves when handling items.
6. Turn off all kitchen appliances when leaving.
7. Know where the first aid kit is located.
8. Know where the fire extinguisher is located.
9. Carry your cell phone with you at all times.
She handed a cell phone over to Charlie. Charlie automatically took it and looked at the taller woman in surprise.
“The rest of the numbers, 10 and so on, will probably be filled in as you go, but safety first and foremost. You can see this is a white board so if you leave to go somewhere you can use it to list a location or phone number for contact. I expect that you will probably let Mrs. McCullen know if you have to go somewhere.” Becky looked back at the contents of the huge basement. She pointed out a nearby hanging fire extinguisher box, and the first aid kit in one of the shelves of the kitchen.
“It’s a mess but my parents have accumulated some very priceless items in this collection and I would like for others to experience them before they simply get lost in the clutter. I’ve been meaning to hire a team to do this and since you so generously volunteered I’m going to pay you what the job is worth. If you’re not feeling well, take the day off. Do not stress your body out. I’ve almost finished the first chapter of “We are having a baby!” so I’m an expert practically.” Becky gave a lop sided smile.
The corner of Charlie’s mouth twitched.
“Well, if you’ll walk with me a little into the fray I’ll show you the punch clock for the student to use, near the rear entry over here on the left.” They walked thru the breakaway and about twenty feet into the shelving. The outside light of day became apparent when the rounded the fifth shelf. A heavy glass-paned wood door with some thick electrical cables leading down to it, opened to the outside. Becky explained the thick metal arch surrounding the door which proved to be a metal detector alarm system. A mounted punch clock was just to the right of the doorway along with some small personal lockers that could store the student’s belongings.
“I’ll be asking the school to have any volunteers sign a disclaimer and allow a background check. Some of these items, Charlie, are priceless.” Becky ran a hand thru her curls and ruffled them up. “Most should probably be in a museum. I’ve seen some glorious jewelry, paintings, pottery, ancient rocks, scrolls, armor and weaponry. The things my parents saw or gathered in their travels are fantastic. But, I can’t find a thing because the very idea of alphabetizing a rock under R was a foreign concept. My father’s idea of filing was let’s just put it on this shelf. I’ll remember where I put it.” Becky’s voice became gruff and slightly accented. It sounded slightly familiar, like a bad Sean Connery.
“My mother was so much better as she wanted to file everything under a phylum categorization of some taxonomy ranking; however, she spoke seven languages and had trouble remembering which linguistics she used for the categorization. Was it Latin, Greek, European? She would file something one second and lose it at the same time. You are going to have so much fun!” Becky chuckled as she clasped her hands behind her back.
Charlie just drew in a steady breath. She carefully took a step and looked behind Becky. Becky raised her eyebrows in curiosity.
“Just checking to see if you fingers were crossed”, Charlie deadpanned.
Becky quickly brought her hands in front and wiggled them for Charlie to see. “No such luck.”
Charlie puffed a bit of her bangs into the air and tilted her head doubtfully, her green eyes sparkling for a moment.
Becky almost shouted a cheer at Charlie’s uncharacteristic show of humor. Except for her overwhelming fear of failure at cheerleading and the thought that the only real cheer she actually knew was YMCA, Becky stopped short of performing her best attempt. She did however give Charlie a wide grin.
Charlie shifted her weight and clasped her hands together in front of her. “When do I start?” she asked bravely. Becky was still grinning at her with that wide smile and it was sort of making her stomach flutter. Her gaze bounced around the room with the view of an invisible tennis match; she avoided her boss’s bright blue gaze diligently.
“Well…” Becky wiped her hand over her mouth to stop the grinning. Soberly looking at her houseguest she answered her with the attitude of a new hire. “…I’m sure you will want to read the contract more thoroughly, and if you have concerns you can make some notes and run them by Tika, she is our company lawyer. Or you can just ask me. If it’s logical then I’ll modify the contract with your concerns. I also suggest you read those books as a sort of preparation to this position. I’m sure you will have questions on this but the software will assist you as well. We can discuss any topic. If I don’t have the answer I can probably point you in a direction to find it. Then if you’re ready, we can begin the software training. That will probably take at least a week for you to feel comfortable. We will start your wages and time earning as of this Monday, two days from now, if that seems reasonable?”
Charlie put the folders and books into one hand and held out her other for a handshake. It was a clear confirmation that a deal would be struck.
Becky slowly held out her hand. She felt the smaller hand slip into her own, the soft warm surface pressing against her skin. They shook and Charlie quickly disengaged. “I’ll b...be ready on Monday then,” she brushed her bangs away from her eye sight and turned back toward the hallway behind them. Here petite frame was waiting within, a hand already on the button to return to the main floor, when Becky stepped inside. They rode the elevator silently but with much less tension between them.
Becky stepped out on the main floor only to find Charlie was going to go up another flight to her room. She wanted to look at the contract paperwork, books, and phone. Making her way back to her office she sat down and checked her calendar. One year from Monday seemed so short. As she swiveled back and forth slightly in her chair she smelled the strong odor of the model paint. Turning to the shelf she lifted the cupboard and pulled out the model again.
A brief idea popped into her head and she checked the time. Opening her email she tapped the address bar and quickly brought up Tika. Maybe she could figure out a way to bring the mountain to Mohammad? She wanted Charlie to get to know Tika personally, more than just as a lawyer. Tika and her husband were good people and Charlie really needed some good people in her life. Plus the twins really liked Tika and she seemed to really like the twins. If everyone was agreeable some new beginnings would include each other. But, Charlie needed to agree. Maybe she could set them up for a possible ‘play date’?
Typing a brisk message she paused and looked upward to the second floor, toward the direction of her stubborn yet fascinating guest. She gave a wicked little grin and quickly began typing again.
“Careful dear, your brain has been working overtime lately,” a motherly voice sounded inside her head. “Don’t forget Mohammad first called the hill to come to him, over and over. Sometimes things take more time.”
“But I’ve only got a year,” she whispered and continued typing. She hit the send button and turned to finish up with the model painting.
Continued in Part 11.
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