When I finally walk up onto the porch I’m dog tired. I lean on the wall and lever off my work boots, listening to them down thud onto the wood. I shuffle through the door and hear Adele calling me.
“How was your day, honey?”
“Well, to tell the truth, it’s been an interesting day.”
“Really? I thought you was just drivin’ down the usual route, wasn’t you, honey?”
Adele’s right. I do the trip down from Portland to Seattle several times a month.
“You’re awful late, honey? You ok?”
She studies my face, a look of concern on hers. I know her face as well as the I-5, which is to say, like the back of my hand. I know every smile line, every frown line and pretty much what she’s thinking when she’s thinking it. I’ve made a study of her face every day for the 38 years that we’ve been married.
“Yes, I’m fine, but it’s been an interesting day.”
“You sit yourself down there,” she says, opening a tab of beer for me, “and eat your supper. It’s got pretty dried up keeping warm in the oven, but I reckon it’s not ready to put out for the dogs yet.”
I love my wife: she’s a damn fine woman, but shit, sure she sure can’t cook. She says I must have a stomach lined with concrete to put up with it but it seems a small price to pay for coming home to the only person in the whole world I want to be with.
I chew my way through the toughest piece of steak this side of Texas and wash it down with ice-cold beer. A buddy told me once that Brits drink warm beer. I just don’t get that, and I’m not entirely sure he wasn’t yanking my chain.
When I’m finished Adele can barely restrain her curiosity.
“So how come you’re so late, honey? Are you going to tell me and put me out of my misery or am I gonna have to torture it out of you?”
I consider the options and decide to tell her.
“Well, I’d just passed Kelso and was making good time when I suddenly saw this guy standing at the side of the road flagging me down.”
“Oh, honey, you weren’t picking up hitchers again, were you? You know it makes me nervous when you do that.”
“Am I telling this story or you?” I say almost crossly. That woman can never let me tell a story straight.
“Well, get on with it then! Don’t drag it out like it’s some sort of state secret!”
And did I mention that she surely loves to have the last word?
“Well, this guy didn’t look like no hitcher. For one thing he was wearing a suit and tie and had real fancy shiny shoes. Except he was looking pretty hot and bothered. And then I see that he’s got a woman with him. She’s wearing a suit, too, but with high heeled pumps! In the middle of nowhere! I figured maybe they’d broken down but I couldn’t see no sign of a car. So I slowed down the truck and the look of relief told me that they’d got theirselves in some sort of bother.”
Adele is leaning on her elbows, all ears, listening to my story. And it’s only just getting interesting.
“I tell them to jump on in. And the guy is real gentlemanly, helping the woman into the cab of the truck and then climbing in after her. The woman looks all done in and she kicks off her shoes like they’re hurting her like the very devil, which I suspect they are. She says her name is Ros and that the guy is her boss and he’s called Christian. This surprises me as he looks kinda young to be anyone’s boss and she’s, well, a woman of a certain age, shall I say.”
Adele gives me a look, being a woman of a certain age herself.
“But I figure maybe he’s one of those college types who get themselves promoted ahead of the guys who’ve worked their way up. Turns out I was sorta right and sorta wrong.”
Adele rolls her eyes at me but she knows better than to try and hurry me up – it’s my story, after all.
“So I ask them how come they’re so far from anywhere. And the guy, Christian, he tells me that they were flying up from Portland to Seattle in a helicopter and had taken a side trip to go look at Mount St Helens when the engines caught fire. Imagine that! Both engines failed at the same time. Ain’t that just a shitload of bad luck? I say that to the young fella and his face gets kinda dark like he’s thinking maybe luck didn’t have anything to do with it, but he glances at the woman, at Ros, and keeps schtum. So I reckon there’s more to that story than meets the eye. I ask him what happened to the pilot, thinking maybe he’d stayed with the chopper but Ros says no and that Christian is the pilot. I wondered if he were may ex-army as he’s got a look about his eyes that says he don’t take no shit from no-one, but then I figure is hair is just too long for him to have been in the military. Anyhow, there they were, 200 feet up, fire in the engines and the helicopter just about falling out of the sky and the only thing he can do is shut the engines off and try to land somewhere flat. He must be some pilot, I’ll tell you that much.”
Adele’s eyes are as wide as a sumo wrestler’s pants.
“He manages to land on the eastern side of Silver Lake and then uses a fire extinguisher to put out the fire. But it’s all happened so quickly they haven’t been able to radio for help and, like I been tellin’ you for years, cell phones don’t work out there. So they’ve got no choice but to hike around the lake and across to the I-5 which is about four of five miles. But there aren’t any footpaths around there, just a few animal tracks and I’m not entirely sure made my animals you’d want to meet when you’re just walking out there on your hind legs. Now, Christian, he looks like a pretty fit young guy, but Ros there is high heeled pumps. Why you women insist on wearing such impractical shoes I can’t imagine!”
Adele thumps me on the arm, just like I knew she would and reminds me I like a good pair of legs in some of them stiletto shoes just as much as the next man, and tells me to get on and tell the story.
“So they’s climbing over rocks and jumping across streams and Christian figures out which way is west so they can get to the I-5 but they can’t go a straight route because it’s too hard for Ros. He’s got some fancy gizmo on his phone that shows him the direction and he manages to navigate them to the road. They’d just landed up there hot and dusty after walking for near on three hours. Ros says that four cars and one truck had passed them without stopping but then she stops talking when Christian gets that look like he’d like to beat the crap out of those folks that didn’t stop.”
“Your language!” says Adele. “I hope you didn’t talk like that in front of those nice young folks!”
“Let me tell my story my way, woman,” I tell her and she rolls her eyes at me and scoots on over to sit next to me.
“They were real hungry and thirsty so I shared my lunch with them. Well, gave it all to them, figuring they needed it more than I did. They had a few hundred dollars between them and they tried to give it to me but I couldn’t take all that money, not for a couple of baloney subs and a bar of candy. Mind you, they were so thirsty, I reckon they’d have paid that just for the soda I gave them.”
“I knew you wouldn’t take money from folks in distress,” says Adele, stroking my arm.
“Well, then Christian asks if he can use my cell phone as his has died navigating over to the freeway and Ros’s has given up the ghost, too. See, I been tellin’ you those cell phones is a waste of good money. From what I can tell he wants to call his sweetheart and let her know he’s ok. He looks as surprised as hell when I say I don’t carry one and I can tell it really bugs him that he can’t speak to her. I can see him checking in his jacket pocket to make sure he hasn’t dropped something. Ros asks him if he’s lost something and he says no and goes kinda quiet and I tell she’s as curious as hell, just like all you women. And she’s teasin’ him and teasin’ him to get him to tell her what it is. And then he starts to get mad at her and she’s laughin’ at him so I guess maybe she’s more like a friend than an employee. And she starts making’ guesses, sayin’ it must be from his sweetheart if he’s that worried about it and how cute that is. And I reckon she wears him down or else he just wants her to shut the hell up about it, so he says that yes, it’s from his girl who’s called Ana, and he can’t tell us what it is because he don’t know. Turns out that it’s his birthday tomorrow and she gave him this gift but told him not to open it!”
“Oh,” says Adele, “that’s so romantic! She must really love him!”
“What a load of baloney,” I say, “it’s damn torture, that’s what is, givin’ a fella a special gift and then not allowing him to open it. And we can both tell he’s pretty curious about what it is, but he gave Ana his word that he wouldn’t open it and he sure as hell ain’t gonna open it for Ros and me! I can tell he’s taken as much as he’s gonna about that darn present so I say that he’s one lucky bastard to have survived to have a birthday to celebrate. And then he goes real quiet and says, ‘All I could think about was that I wouldn’t see Ana again’. And then I guess that makes us all pretty quiet and I was thinking about how I’d feel if I knew I wasn’t gonna see you again, Adele, and Ros is quiet, too, thinking about her young man, I don’t doubt.”
At least that’s what I tell Adele as I don’t want to spoil a good story, but the truth is I have my doubts about whether or not Ros has a young man as I suspect her inclinations are about due south of that idea.
“What happened next, Hank?”
“Well, we were passing a truck stop and I asked if they wanted to rest there and contact their folks and I could see that Ros was pretty happy with that idea but Christian said no, he just wanted to get back as soon as possible without any more delays.”
“Well, isn’t that just like a man!” snaps Adele. “So impatient, without thinking about how his poor girl must be feeling all that time!”
And even though I feel like I’ve got to stick up for men folk in general, I can’t help agreeing with her.
“Well, anyhow, I drove them right back into the city and dropped Ros off first.”
I kinda forget to mention to Adele that Ros grabbed my face and kissed me on both cheeks saying I was her knight in shining armor. Christian looked kinda embarrassed on both our sakes but smiled and waved to her. And there she was, walking down the sidewalk in her bare feet, carrying them silly shoes and grinning to herself like she just won the lottery. Christian’s champing at the bit to get back to his Ana. He lives in one of them real fancy apartments in Escala. He climbs out of the truck and tries to give me money again and I say no, it was my pleasure helping folks in their hour of need. And here I am, Adele, honey: a real life, hero-sized knight in shining armor.”
“Oh, Hank, honey,” says Adele, “you always been my shining knight,” and she kisses me real sweet which makes me think we could be having one of our early nights. But then I look up and guess what! I see a photo of Christian on the TV.
“Turn that up, Adele, honey,” I say. “That there’s the Christian fella I was tellin’ you about.”
“You didn’t tell me he was so handsome!” she says huffily.
As if I’d have noticed a thing like that!
“Why, he’s not just some young guy,” she says. “Don’t you know who that is, Hank?”
Well, no I don’t because I don’t read those gossip pages that she finds so fascinating.
“That’s Christian Grey,” she says, “one of the richest men in America. Hmm, maybe you should have accepted that money from him; it’s not like we don’t need it.”
Well, maybe she’s right about that, because we surely could use the money but I say to her, “Well now, Adele, I guess it would have come in handy but you’re the one who’s always tellin’ me not to judge folks by the way they look, even if they’ve got pink hair and rings through their noses. In which case how can I accept money from someone who needs help just because he turns out to be rich?”
And then I’m pretty certain that I’m going to have me some lovin’ tonight because she comes over and sits her ass on my knee and kisses me real hard and tells me that she loves me. And just are things are getting good, there’s a knock at the door.
“Who on earth can that be at this hour?” she says.
I don’t care if it’s the Archangel Gabriel himself I’m feeling so damn horny for my old lady, but she gets up and goes over to the door. And there’s this young guy in motorcycle leathers saying that he’s got a delivery for me.
So I get up and go over to the door and sign for the package. And he messenger gets back on his bike and roars off into the night and Adele is fussing over him waking up the neighbors.
When I open up the package it’s a bottle of malt whisky – a real good one, and real old, from Scotland, England. There’s one of them typed cards with it. Adele picks it up and it says,
From Ros and Christian
Who were grateful for the kindness of a stranger’.
Adele’s almost got tears in her eyes. “Isn’t that the sweetest thing ever?” she says. “But how did he know where to find you?”
Well, that’s a mystery to me because I didn’t tell him my name or give him my address but I figure when you’re as rich as he is, these things are as easy as falling off a log. Not that it makes me any less grateful because I figure he must have a whole parcel of things to do what with crashing his helicopter and nearly dying.
I’m trying to decide whether to try the whisky or see if I can persuade Adele to carry on where we left on when she says,
“What’s that in the box, Hank?”
I peer into the package that the whisky bottle came in and I see there’s an envelope.
“Hurry and open it!” says Adele, her eyes all bright and excited.
So I open it up and two pieces of paper drop out. The first is a handwritten note that says,