Chapter 4 – On The Road Again

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His fatigue caused all of the night lights of Denver to blur along with the melting snow on his windshield and the temptation to stop at a cheap freeway hotel was building. He was too tired to even maneuver the Jeep into a truck stop and so Denver became a blur itself as Scott made it around the beltway and left the city, heading south toward Rocky Butte. His gas gauge had hit the red empty line but he knew he had a good thirty to forty miles left after empty. He had proven this too many times.

Rocky Butte, Colorado was known for its being a bedroom town to Colorado Springs, where the aerospace industry and numerous colleges and universities enjoyed a prime view of Pike’s Peak. But since Rocky Butte had its own lone rock outcropping an enterprising town patriarch had the good merchandizing sense to call a butte, there was no talk of Pike’s Peak in Rocky Butte.

Everything about Rocky Butte was modest. Income was average, home size and prices were under the national, and there was a sign at the Saddled Pony Steakhouse that welcomed travelers into town with the saying, “You’re Not In Denver Anymore, Toto”. Hard as was to believe, liberals and conservatives both were so middle-of-the-road that they often agreed on things. Even Rocky Butte Creek, which flowed through town heavy in the spring and trickling in the summer had to have the brakes put on it for the winter thaw waters that came roaring through so as not to scare the tourists.

When all of her efforts to survive the trials in Los Alamos failed, Betti Bee was financially forced to relocate once again. She then found R&B, as she came to know the local nomenclature, and with it, a sanctuary of sorts.

Scott only knew Betti from Fairview, as he had lost touch with her when he fled to California and she to Los Alamos, and later, Rocky Butte. Five years had passed since his “work” with Betti Bee. She was no longer offering those services, as he learned through a mutual friend, Father Adrian Gastronelli, whom he had met in Fairview as Father Adrian and Betti often consulted and did work together. Scott had gathered from Father Adrian that Betti sometimes fell prey to bad characters, or at least hanger-on-ers in the practice of her spiritual calling who preyed on her desire to help others and her generosity; on the good nature that seemed to be of an endless source.

Even though Father Adrian was often likely to launch into sermonizing to Scott when they spoke by phone, he still liked the guy because he had a bawdy sense of humor and was always straight with him. So Scott kept in touch and in turn received updates about Betti’s life of service to others, her whereabouts, and news of her little family of four.

It was through Father Adrian that Scott learned of Betti’s current dire predicament and it was Father Adrian who initially asked for Scott’s help. Betti would never have imposed on Scott - or anyone, for that matter. In fact, when Scott thought about this, the glowing dash dials casting a blue light on his face as he drove down the highway in blackness, he smiled slightly.

“I wasn’t really asked by Betti to do this,” he said aloud. In his head, he constructed a rationale that allowed him to renege on his offer to Father Adrian, rather than to Betti. Then he decided no, he had already called her. But just in case, it could be a credible out for him. 

All of a sudden, a green and white sign Colorado state sign flared up in his headlights informing him he was entering the town of Rocky Butte. It careened past him on the left, putting him on high alert to his inevitable destination looming immediately about a mile ahead.

The dash clock read 11:38pm and Scott knew it was late for them when he pulled into the shoveled driveway and all but one upstairs windows was dark. The house itself was purposefully illuminated with the soft, multicolored glow of Christmas lights along the gutters and the porch. Scott felt a warmth flood into his heart and he squashed a pang of guilt for having been about to let this good family down. When the Jeep’s headlights lit the house even further, it slowly began to wake up, other upstairs and then downstairs lights then radiated from behind closed curtains and window blinds.

“Home for the Holidays,” Scott thought, flashing on his younger years at home and remembering the almost life-size plywood Santa, sleigh, and reindeers his dad had made to decorate the short roofline of their modest Indiana home. His mom, creative as the rest of the family, painted the scene on the cutouts in bright colors and the neighbors always commented on how beautiful and cheery the display was. Scott was always glad for the occasion to be up on the roof with his dad and older brother when the display was to be put up, despite the often thirty-degree-or-less temperatures.

Scott looked to the roofline of Betti’s modest house for a Santa and sleigh but there was none and by the time he had carefully pulled forward to the garage door and turned the Jeep off, the porch light popped on.

Scott scurried to tidy up the interior of the Jeep, grabbing up trail mix bar wrappers and stuffing empty plastic Diet Coke bottles, receipts, and used napkins into a large convenience store bag.

The front door opened and Betti Bee came out onto the porch, wrapping her thick purple terrycloth robe around her tightly, keeping her arms wrapped around her  slightly plus-sized body to keep warm. 

From inside the Jeep, he heard Betti call out, “Oh, Praise be to God! You’re here!” 

Scott saw that she was smiling broadly, tears glistening in her eyes, welcoming. She let go of herself with one arm just long enough to wipe a sleeve across her eyes. She was still beaming as Scott exited the Jeep. Strong emotions escorted him along the walkway to the porch, the prominent thought cycling through his mind was, “What have I gotten myself into?”. It was to be his mantra of sorts during most of his entire journey.

In that walk from the Jeep to the porch, Scott’s mind reviewed and scanned through his times with Betti in session.

~~~

“Just go.”, Dan said. 

Oh, how Scott hated to be told what to do! He was apt to automatically refuse anytime someone gave a direction to him without any say-so from him.

“And?”, Dan Buckheimer asked.

“What?”, Scott asked back.

“Are you gonna go?” 

“I said I’m thinking about it.”, Scott quietly but forcefully replied, looking around to see who might be overhearing their conversation.

The AM-PM gas station cafe was full, as usual for a weekday morning before work began and it was the center of the gossip universe in the small fishbowl community of Fairview. The Indiana morning sun peeked through the spring rain clouds and through the windows of the cafe where Scott - nay Alan - and Dan were sitting at the window counter, watching the cars swing through for gas and coffee.

Scott usually knew most of the people in the gas cafe on any given morning. He ran into them there, at the restaurants, the bars, the movie theater, and at the grocery stores that everybody their age went to. It was a small town. 

He had lived there since moving from his family’s home in nearby Washington, Indiana when he was only seventeen. With only his small savings withdrawn from the bank and stuffed in his wallet, Scott found an old, small mobile home to rent in a tiny mobile home court just on the town outskirts. He was too young to appreciate the Mid-Century era of the place, but the golden, real wood veneer plywood appealed to him because it reminded him of the knotty pine house he grew up in. And it wasn’t too much smaller than the little house his father moved them into after throwing in the towel on his dreams and had gone to work in a factory in Milwaukee. 

Way back then, he had shared the attic with his older and younger brothers where in the evening when it was dark and he laid in bed, he would see alligators and other predators in the ebony knots and undulating grain of the dark varnished pine planks that were on every surface and low ceiling of the tiny converted space.

As he turned around there in the AM-PM, Scott quickly counted seven people he knew after his six years of living in Fairview. There was Ed Nolan, a stocky young attorney in rolled up white shirt sleeves with a big personality and a need to glad-hand everyone, everywhere he went. Scott knew Ed would be getting around to him and Dan soon. Sitting in a corner and holding the hand of a pretty younger girl, her arm outstretched and palm up, big Pinky Walton was whispering, pretending to read the girl’s palm, his sincerity knob turned way up and it was working, her rapt attention assuring him he was going to get laid sometime soon. Builder Gary Richards was philosophizing with Sienna and Hillary, expertly making a case for straw bale houses as the women shared their recent experience with living off the grid. Myron Goodman, another young attorney, sat quietly by himself, dressed in a nice dark suit embellished with a bright yellow tie. He read the Wall Street Journal, exuding quiet success and confidence. Weird Allen Teller was talking with his girlfriend, Berta Atwood, about one of the many allergies he was always complaining about and she was having none of it, telling him outright and loudly that he was driving her nuts and that if she had a pillow right then, she’d smother the life out of him and how he better start sleeping with one eye open.

“Just go. For God’s sake, Alan.”, Dan insisted.

“You think it’ll help me?”, Scott asked.

“Yeah, I do. You’re losing the battles and you’re losing the war at home. I can see what it’s taking out of you and it ain’t gettin’ no better, dude.”

“Yeah.”, Scott admitted. “And I don’t have to pay her?”

“No. You don’t. But I’m telling you she’s got three young girls to support and it would be a real good thing to offer her something - a donation - she has to live off of them in addition to her part time job.”

Scott drew a deep breath and exhaled. “Alright. I’ll go. But if it’s a scam, I’m coming back to you on it.” Scott looked around again and saw Pinky looking at him with a smirk.

“I gotta go. You say hello to Ed for me when he makes it over. Tell him his breath is really bad today, make him paranoid.”

Dan laughed, “My pleasure! You got the number. Call her.”

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