Saturday, February 13, 2010

chapter 14

I went to pay my rent as usual, and found a puzzling note in my mailbox that an invoice for $100 from September 11 was now 20 days overdue, when there had not been any invoice issued to me for $100 or any other amount, on September 11 or any other date, and in fact I had never had any written communication of any kind from Lupin management before, not even a copy of the lease. For a while I had the theory that this $100 was a fine for "contempt of Stout" because I had served Jean's invoice on Lori on September 11 but that she had changed her mind about issuing this "invoice" to me, and then changed her mind again and billed me on it the weekend of the power cord, but later I had a different theory, and perhaps will never really know, for when I sent an e-mail demanding an explanation, and later demanded again, of course I got no response. But I did not get around to sending that e-mail right then, for as I was on my way to Tiger Lily yurt to compose it, I checked my phone messages and heard a frantic voice-mail from Jean that she had heard that Lori had cut their electricity, and I should check if this was true, and a follow-up that she had checked Rob's voice-mail, and found Lori's voice claiming that "the fire marshall" had shut off their power, which of course reminded me of Lori trying to claim that the fire marshall had ordered all the unpermitted landscaping Up Top. Indian Summer had abruptly ended, and I knew that the heat in Rob-and-Jean's trailers was as electricity-dependent as the air conditioning had been in hotter times, but I am ashamed to say that my first thought was to worry selfishly about whether Rob would show up the next day, as appointed, to fix my squeaky brakes and wheel-bearings, suspecting that he would prefer to stay away from this new Lupin drama, and worse, I had grown dependent on Jean's cooking, and suspected (correctly) that I would get no supper that night.

Jean, on the other hand, was nearly as upset about Bellingham as about herself, finally getting home to rescue him from the trailer as the sun went under the horizon, when the temperature, as will often happen at higher elevations, immediately shed ten degrees. She cuddled the dog while asking me incoherently what I had been able to find out or get done, which was absolutely zilch, since my quest all over the grounds, in search of Stouts, had turned up no clue of their whereabouts. But when we went down to the Circle, I spied Glyn, eating a late dinner in unaccustomed solitude, and stepped into the Restaurant proper, as opposed to the TV room, for what was the first time since the day of the water heater and would be the last time for over a month. The encounter was entirely unsatisfactory: I should speak to Lori, but she was out with the kids, and no, he did not know where, and no, he would not call her, and no, he would not give me the number, and no, he would not tell me the name of the "fire marshall" so I could try locating him, because he did not know it, but Lori knew, I should speak to Lori. Jean, though still in a weepy state, built up the courage to step into the Restaurant, for what was the first time in half a year and would be the last time to this day. As Glyn seemed to unbend a little, I relieved Jean of Bellingham as an excuse to leave the two of them alone. Tyler had offered the use of Jasmine yurt, but eventually Dara came with the keys to Chez le Ronde, so Jean and Bellingham had a warm place to sleep, and Jean plugged in her computer to try doing some school work, for in the midst of her battles with Lori and her sister, and making arrangements for the funeral of her dying mother, for she had the title deeds to the burial crypts, contentious pieces of real estate in New Orleans, from both sides of the family, neither of which had trusted the sister, and was deciding her mother ought to go to her kin rather than to her father, and of course the slow-motion marital breakup with Rob, she was trying to finish a program at Cabrillo College, to start a new career in the nursing field, taking Spreadsheets, which was a piece of cake, and Medical Terminology, which would have been difficult for someone without her solid knowledge of Latin, and Anatomy, which is hard, no two ways about it, and required concentration to study for, if she could find some.

The weather was sharply cooler than the evening before, perhaps going below forty degrees Up Top, and I fully dressed for the first time since I'd been at Lupin and wasn't heading into town, even breaking out a jacket from Pittsburgh, Maureen telling me, "You'll give up on this whole naked thing pretty soon: I'm just counting the days." Indeed, although Turtle held out longer than most, there were soon few nudists left, Butch appearing in pants, even if still shirtless when it was tolerable, and I would usually dress, prompting Chef Phil to remark, "I didn't recognize you with your clothes on-- now that's something you don't hear at most places!" But that night Brian went by, still naked, and when Maureen asked how he could stand it, he jested "Hey, I'm wearing my fur coat!" for, you see, he is rather fuzzy. I wasn't sure how late I wanted to stay up, although I had no work on Friday, but towards eleven o'clock I saw Wayne, whom I had never seen in that part of the grounds in my night patrols, walking around Chez le Ronde as if looking for an open window, and kept a discreet eye on him until I heard my cell go off in Tiger Lily. I failed to reach it before it went to voice-mail: it was of course Jean, very frightened, saying she heard Wayne skulking about and asking Carrie if anybody was in there, and I should come quick. I hurried back to the Breezeway and asked Carrie, "What's up?" She nearly jumped out her skin and said, "Ooh, you frightened me! It's just us," as Wayne slunk out the back, not to return although I stayed up past two. I advised Jean to keep all the doors locked, and myself locked both my car and Tiger Lily yurt for the first time since I had been at Lupin, putting a machete beside my bed and thinking of unsheathing it, except for a superstitious feeling that if I uncovered the blade I would have to use it. Come to think of it, I couldn't recall ever locking a place I'd lived in while I was inside going to sleep, and I wanted to write a protest e-mail to Lori, but the brief note about the mystery $100 money demand had to do.

In the morning I drove Jean down to the fire station to see if we could find the mysterious "marshall", but nobody from the station had been up to Lupin the previous afternoon, and when the friendly officer on duty put us on the phone with the two marshalls, one of them suggested that it might have been the county department, for the station was run by the state department, but the other said he had been in a meeting attended by the county fire marshall for most of the afternoon, including the time when Lori had said. All of the firemen were adamant that no-one in their profession would do something like cutting off a residence without leaving a notice and contact information, and while the extension cords running Up Top, pieced together, part of the way running across the road, did sound unsatisfactory to them, it would not be treated as an emergency situation when it had been that way for a year, and they were angry that Lori had accused them of such conduct, which was bad since we need the fire deparments friendly to us. Armed at least with this information, we returned to Lupin and saw Lori's car parked by the Blue House on our way Up Top, where we found that Rob had defied all expectations by coming in, so we debated who should go down to confront Lori, Jean showing me an e-mail from Lori forbidding Jean to ever speak to her again, and Rob expressing fears that his temper would push him over the edge into an act of violence, so I was deputed to go back down, where of course I found that Lori had vanished again and was nowhere to be found, so I joked to Jean that maybe Lori had grabbed all the money and taken off for Bolivia, but she was in no mood for jest, saying, "Lori's not that bright." Since the power cord was still running across the road, Rob asked me to check if it was severed or simply unplugged, but I found tracing it down the hill to be difficult in the brush, and especially I went wrong because I expected that, like the water hose, it originated at Barrington house.

I got Rob on the cell, and he directed me over to where the cord continued, down to Madrone cabin, that is, Wayne and Lonnie's, which surprised me greatly, but Jean got on and explained that she and Wayne had always been on very friendly terms, until now, but he might do anything if Lori asked him to, and I recalled hearing how Wayne had spilled his life story to Dan the landscaper, about how he had always been Lori's protector, even in fights where he knew she had started the trouble. Fortunately only Chellis was home, and as I traced the cord to where it vanished under the house, I answered her nervous, "I'm afraid I can't authorize you to reconnect that," with a shrug and a reassuring, "I wouldn't know what to do, anyway," so she shared what information she had, that she had indeed seen somebody or other in a car with fire department markings go Up Top the day before, but had no more details. I still had Jean on the cell, and put her on with Chellis, who tried to call Wayne on her own cell, but had to settle for leaving Jean's number for him on a voice-mail, and thanked me for acting as go-between. We adjourned to the Circle for desultory discussions with Maureen about what might be done, and since Rob did need the money I was going to give him for the auto work that obviously wasn't going to get done that weekend, Maureen paid him to draw up a diagram of where he would foresee the great trunks of the diseased oak tree falling, and which structures it would take out, Chez le Ronde of course, Hidden Oak cabin quite likely, maybe Butterfly and Wyvern yurts. Rob took off, probably to buy some pot with the fresh cash, and Jean and Maureen made bets on whether the diagram would ever actually get drawn up, while I tried unsuccessfully to raise Will on the phone. Jean said Richard B had expressed personal willingness to let her draw power from Barrington house, but reluctance to hook it up without permission from widow Barrington, who might not wish to be drawn into a conflict with Lori. As nothing was happening, she decided she had to get out of Lupin for a while, and went off to a coffee shop to do some studying, while Maureen split with me the oversized supper Johnny sent up. It was not long after that I saw Lori going up, Simone and Samara in tow, and when I asked Maureen if I should confront her, she egged me on, "Oh, you know you're just spoiling to."

I found her in the hot tub, and demanded the name of the mysterious fire marshall. "I don't have to talk to you," she replied, "What business is this of yours?" I insisted, "It's everybody's business here if you abuse tenants this way. Are you going to cut off my power next?" She still seemed calm as she said, "Look, I'm with my kids, not doing business. Come down to the office at 9 AM and we will discuss your concerns." I pointed out, "It's getting late, dark and cold. You have not been dealing with this for 28 hours. If you call yourself the manager, you are overdue to deal with it." Abruptly irate, she sprang out of the tub and shouted, "Back off! Right now! Or I call security!" I threw up my hands and walked away, but she already had her cell phone out: "security", of course, proved to be Wayne, who had apparently just gotten back as well. As I returned to the Circle, I saw Wayne coming up, presumably for me, with Roy by his side, and I came down to meet them halfway. Wayne, who had never previously spoken to me but had sometimes acknowledged nods and waves, got a few inches from my face and said in a low growl, "DON'T YOU FUCK WITH MY SISTER!" I stood my ground, telling him firmly, "You need to talk to Jean." He toned it down a little, asking, "How come you're trouble now, when you've never been trouble before? Can you tell me in what way this directly concerns you?" I said, "Jean cooks for me, and I haven't eaten in two days," slight hyperbole for the cause, "and Rob's supposed to be fixing my car, but your sister started all this aggravation. Didn't you get the message from Chellis that you urgently need to call Jean?" He acknowledged that he had let it go to voice-mail because he was driving, and walked away, I assumed to call Jean, but that never happened. Roy later apologized, unnecessarily since I had actually been glad for his presence, and added that the fireman who had been up was talking about fire-pits at the tent-sites and getting them back into shape after summer wear-and-tear, and that his disapproval of Jean's piecemeal extension cord had just been a by-the-way.

Nothing happened, so Jean tested Chez le Ronde and found it still unlocked, and I paced the grounds so late it grew early to make sure she was safe in there, but nothing happened, and I wrote another brief e-mail calling Lori's conduct "completely unacceptable", still managing to get up for the 9 AM appointment in the office, but of course Lori did not show up. We gathered for more desultory discussions, Jean insisting that it was completely illegal to be shutting off a tenant's power with no kind of notice or remedy, so Maureen decided, "It's time we called the sheriff's department." I made the call and went down to the office to alert them two cop cars were coming, earning a disgusted, "Go ahead, get involved, see if I care," from Sergeant Dita. Three deputies shuttled back and forth between the Circle and the Restaurant like Henry Kissinger, for there was still no diplomatic recognition, and finally officer Payton declared that the dispute was essentially "a civil matter" in which they preferred not to get involved, that Wayne's behavior did not rise to the level of an actionable threat, that Lori had agreed to put a generator Up Top for Jean, and that her attorney Brad would meet with us at 2 PM. Of course, 2 PM came and went and nothing happened, no sign of anybody setting up a generator, and while Brad ate lunch on the Restaurant patio and went up to the hot tub, as on any other weekend, he apparently had little idea anything in particular was happening, and certainly no idea that he was supposed to be meeting with us. Maureen finally lost patience, told Brad, "I'm going to Wayne and Lonnie's, so if anything happens to me, you'll know who it was," and drove off, playing Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord, but soon was back, saying that Wayne and Lonnie stood with arms folded on the porch of Madrone cabin, telling her she wasn't touching that power cord. The sun started going down again, so I made another call to the sheriff, which drew no response for over three hours: I have known better police response in Detroit, and better October weather too, for I had to break out a winter coat I had never thought to need in sunny California.

Jean was getting frantic again, so I advised her to go to the coffee shop for a while, and it was not until she had been there and called to say she was coming back that officer Harper and two others entered the Circle to say that they had spoken to Lori and Brad at length, that according to them Jean had never worked here and was nothing but a squatter who had never paid any rent, that power could not be restored that night because the power cord had completely disappeared, but that Jean was welcome to stay in "Chateau Round" as he called it. I asked him if he had investigated who had stolen the cord, which was Jean's property not Lori's, and he shrugged, saying a report on that would have to come from Jean, who wasn't there, and when I asked him to wait, since Jean was only minutes away, he was in a hurry to leave. I was incensed at Harper, making Jean call back to file a stolen-property report, but Harper refused to take it, and incensed at Brad, sending him a blistering e-mail that he had been an accomplice to giving false information to the police, and had been worse than useless in averting litigation, in which he might even end up a defendant now. Jean, settling exhausted into Chez le Ronde again, asked me to go Up Top in search of the lost cord, and I verified that it was still attached at Rob-and-Jean's, not actually stolen then, and no longer running across the road, so we thought it had actually been cut, but in the morning, with better visibility, it proved to have been roughly thrown up on the higher slope, some of the connections bent back so that they could not be trusted anymore, "vandalized" then would be the proper description. But to our great surprise, Lonnie ran a brand-new cord, all in one piece not sections, and better sheathed, and we thought that there might be peace in our times. I wrote my last long e-mail to Lori, explaining why I did the things I do around here, in a somewhat friendlier tone but still insistent that she could not keep managing the place this way.

Jean then had a very interesting conversation with Will, who had personal reasons for remaining in the area, despite the Lupin job turning out to be so much more than he bargained for, and while Jean would not breach confidence about Will's personal reasons, afterwards he let me know that his sister was battling cancer. Will told her that Lori had agreed to relinquish the management, so that he would be taking over completely as of the 15th, and he negotiated a settlement, whereby Jean would not bother Lori and Lori would not bother Jean, and her claim for back wages would be paid off with about three years' free rent, just until she finished school. Wayne apologized to Jean, getting from her some herbal formulations for the liver troubles that the doctors can no longer do anything about, the lordly crows all finally left the grounds, and the chill weather broke, yet not all of the omens were good. A big buck, not with little spikes like the cute deer from the Kitchen who still looked at me quizzically but not fearfully sometimes in the mornings, but with a great huge rack, was unseasonably randy with all the does and disturbed all the littler animals, and perhaps the lions were shifting territory as well. Mara knocked on my door late at night to ask if I had heard disturbing noises and I walked around the grounds a bit, deciding it was nothing but disturbed animals and returning to reassure Mara. Another night, Maureen was worried about the way her five raccoons were acting, which reminded her of how the animals had been before the Loma Prieta quake, and though Blonde Diane, whose sensitivity to impending and ongoing tremors is exquisite, was picking up nothing, and Maureen too would bet that it was just the buck or the lion disturbing them, no time was the wrong time to think about preparedness, so she had me summon the Army of One. We sat down and wrote up a good thorough list of things we needed to do, to get this place ready for another quake, and then we did not do any of them, for that would not be the Lupin way.

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