Monday, May 27, 2013

Ch164 Sweating bullets


          Simon might have laughed at his brother again, but Ronnie—riding shotgun-- was sweating bullets and looked like he might jump out of his skin or pass out any minute. He looked so darn pathetic that Simon didn’t have the heart to torture him any more than he already was doing to himself. This was a pity. Simon so liked torturing his brother!

          “He’s probably not your professor, Ronnie, so chill,” he said at long last as he slowed down to a crawl and turned up the bumpy, rutty, hilly dirt road leading up to Somerset Hill and eventually—if the truck didn’t come apart at the seams from all the jostling about— to Morris Kramer’s abode. “Like you said, what are the chances he’s the same guy?”
          “Ya think…like really?” Ronnie said, his eyes pleading for the right answer, the one he hoped and prayed for.
          “Yeah, and so what if he was the same guy? You quit school, didn’t you? He can’t exactly hurt you anymore. Not like he can fail you again,” Simon said. “You did that on your own.”
          “Well…not exactly,” Ronnie mumbled.
          Ronnie drew in a deep breath. “I didn’t flunk out of any classes.”
“You’re kidding!”
“I’m not as dumb as you think I am, Simon. I didn’t get straight A’s, but I didn’t fail any either.”
“But you told dad…”
“I know what I told him. I had to. Just ‘cause I was doing all right at Wharton doesn’t mean I wanted to stay there, and Dad would never have let me leave if he thought I was doing well. I hated it! It would kill me to spend any more time there when all I wanna do is…”
“Music,” Simon muttered. Flabbergasted, he could barely keep his eyes on the road, so incredulously he was at his brother’s confession. “That’s why you’re afraid of this guy…this man who might be your professor? What? He’s gonna tell Dad, “Oh, your son is just barely passing my class, but he’ll make a great business man one day!” I don’t think that’s gonna happen, Ronnie.”
“I aced his class if you have to know. He said…” Ronnie shook his head. “Nah, it doesn’t matter anyway. It’s not the same guy, right?”
          Simon frowned as he turned up a long, winding driveway lined on both sides by tall, narrow Virginia Cedars which gave the feeling of traveling through a tunnel. It was a relief when they reached the end where the view opened up onto massive Lake Kramer below and the large, sprawling, glass fronted home above. It was exactly as his father had described, except he hadn’t mentioned the long walk from the driveway and up the equally long flight of stairs to the house.
          “Great,” Simon mumbled. “Are we gonna have to carry the guy down all those stairs?”
          “It almost looks like it’s on fire,” Ronnie said, staring in awe at the house.
          Ronnie pointed to the house. With the blazing orange sunset reflecting off of the vast windows it looked stunning, blindingly bright, and yes, almost like it was on fire.
“Damn nice place,” Simon muttered, utterly impressed. “No way this is the same guy. This place is way too good for a professor. I think you’re safe. Come on, let’s go meet this Kramer guy.”
          “Uh…you go. Just in case.” Ronnie slumped down in his seat, half hiding.
          Simon laughed and got out of the car. “Chicken shit,” he said, and slammed the door shut.
          “Yup, that’s me,” Ronnie muttered, sinking further down into the seat. “Please, God, don’t let it be the same guy!”
          Simon had barely knocked on the gleaming oak door when it was thrown open and he came face to face with a gruff looking, slightly stooping, elderly man nearly a foot shorter than himself. Although he was leaning on an ebony walking stick, his piercing blue eyes-- like ice chipped off a glacier—made Simon feel all of two inches tall.
          “Hello. I’m Simon Romanoff. My father sent me to get…uh…I’m assuming you are Mr. Kramer?”
          The man glared at him. “You know what assuming gets you, young man?”
          Simon grinned. “My grandmother used to tell me it makes an ass out of you and me, but I contend that’s only when you’re wrong. I try never to be wrong.”
          “Used to?”
          “Excuse me?”
          “Your grandmother used to tell you,” the man asked.
          “Yes, she’s no long with us. Gone almost five years now. Still miss her,” Simon said, and he wondered what had compelled him to reveal so much to a complete stranger. “But, that’s not exactly relevant right now, Mr. Kramer. Ms. Bennett sent me. She wants me to bring you home with us. She’s cooking a Mexican feast and she insists you be there because she says you’ll like it. Frankly, don’t see anyone not liking it. I’d eat Goodyear tires smothered in gravy just as along as she’s the one cooking them, so I’m pretty sure you’ll like whatever she makes.”
          Much to his surprise and relief the man chuckled and said, “I know what you mean. She’s a might, pretty thing, but I know she can cook, too. They came up here over the summer a few times, that Violet girl with her beaux-- I assume he’s your father--plus a bunch of little orphans. Had themselves a grand old time they did, picnicking and horseback riding and hiking and swimming, and they always ask me to join them, which was very nice of them. Why don’t you come inside for a minute,” he said, and turned back into the house.
Simon stepped inside closing the door behind him and looked around. All knotty pine and gleaming as if freshly polished, he instantly fell in love with the house. Simon saw Mr. Kramer go into the little room next to the door, and when he reemerged he had a navy blue peacoat with large silver buttons and tweed cap in hand.
          “May I help you with that, Sir?” Simon asked politely, reaching for the coat.
          “If you don’t mind,” Morris replied handing the coat to him. “Very kind of you. Your parents did a fine job raising you, I see. Good. I approve.” After buttoning up the coat, he stared at Simon. “You don’t look much like your father.”
          Simon forced himself to smile as he always did when people commented on this sticking point. “No, I take after my mother, unfortunately.”
          “Don’t see why you say unfortunately. You’re not a bad looking lad,” Morris commented as he stepped outside and closed over the door. “Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”
          “Aren’t you going to lock the door, Sir? You’ll be gone for a good long while,” Simon asked.
          “Did you drive up my road, son?”
          “Of course,” Simon replied. “There’s no other way to get up here, is there?”
          “Precisely. No crook in his right mind would bother coming up here, risking damage to their get-away vehicle on my rickety road, especially just to rob the place of what? I’ve nothing much of value. My books and orchids are the most valuable things in here, but I’ll bet all I’m worth no two-bit crook would know that!”
          Simon laughed. “I guess you may have a point there,” he said, offering his arm to the elderly man as they descended the zillion steps down to the car. “My grandmother loves orchids. We owe her three or four new varieties because we broke off a couple of flower stalks when we were moving them.”
          “Excuse me?”
          “Orchid flowers grow on sprays,” Morris corrected. “Now is this the same grandmother who died?”
          “No, it isn’t. She just moved in with my father.”
          “That a fact? Why is that, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Because we felt she shouldn’t live on her own. She had a bit of trouble which landed her in the hospital and it rather scared us, although it didn’t bother her at all.”
          “Tough, stubborn old birds are like that.”
“Is that why you refuse to lock your door? You’re a tough, stubborn old bird like my grandma?” Simon asked.
Morris gripped Simon’s arm with his gnarled hand and chuckled. In a conspiratorial voice he added, “I have state of the art surveillance all around, Son…enough to rival what the CIA has, so no one’s getting within one hundred yards of the place without my getting his mug shot. Tell your friends!”
Simon laughed. “I assure you, Mr. Kramer, none of my friends are into breaking and entering.”
“Good to know,” Morris said, “Is that Ronald in the car? He doesn’t have to move into the back seat for me.”
Taken aback, Simon stopped on the step, looked to the car, then back to Morris Kramer. “Do you know my brother?”
“Course I do, although I didn’t know until know he was your brother. He was my top student at Wharton last semester. Took me a while to figure out he was one and the same that Violet girl told me about, son of her beaux, your father. Never can recall his name,” Morris said, lifting his cap an inch to scratch at his full head of silvery hair.
“Victor, but…How the heck can you afford this place on a professor’s salary?” Simon said, before realizing that was an entirely inappropriate thing to ask. “Forgive me. That’s none of my business.”
Morris laughed. “Who would make a better business ethics professor than someone knowledgeable and involved in many businesses?”
“Oh, I see,” Simon said, although he didn’t quite. “If you were so successful in business…never mind. None of my business.”
“I’m retired now, Son. I only teach every once in a while as a favor to the president of the school, who happens to be a good friend. I’m getting too old for that, though. Teaching business ethics is a contradiction in terms, anyway.”
“How do you mean?” Simon asked, finding this man more fascinating by the second.
“Take your brother for instance. He’s the kind of man who should run the business world. Honest as the day is long, he is, not a deceptive bone in his body and a great people person, but dang it all, if he wouldn’t be eaten alive by the sharks who usually pollute the corporate world.  I’d give Ronald about two seconds in the real world. Pity, is all…real pity.”
Simon resumed their long walk to the car as he took this all in. At last he asked, “You didn’t by chance tell Ronnie this, did you?”
“Sure did,” Morris said, grateful for the supporting arm. “I’m also the one that told him that without passion for business he wouldn’t make it. Hope that didn’t disillusion him too badly, but I’m not one to beat around the bush. I could tell his heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t think he should waste his time or his parent’s money needlessly. Hope he finds his real passion soon, though. A man’s nothing without a real passion to follow.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that, Sir,” Simon said. “He has long ago found it. Problem is getting our mother to allow him to pursue it.”
“Well, maybe I can have a little talk with her. Will she be at this dinner?”
“No, Sir,” Simon said, “My dad and mom don’t exactly get along very well.”
“Ah, yes, which explains Violet. Don’t know what he’s waiting for,” Morris said, irritably.
“Waiting for…?”
“Your father, he should marry that pretty little Violet before some other beaux comes around and takes her away. Happened to me once. Don’t like seeing it happen to others.”
“Well, I get the feeling they’ll be married very soon, but keep that under your hat,” Simon said.
“Secrets are safe with me. Got not a soul in the world to tell them to.”
“Surely you exaggerate.”
“Got some greedy distant family on my late wife’s side, but I don’t count them. I have not a soul in the world to give my accumulated wealth to when I pass on. It’s the reason I sold this land to your father. Here’s some advice to you. Be nice to me, son, and you might get on a very short list.”
“A short list for what?” Simon asked.
“My vast millions, of course.”
Simon stopped dead in his tracks and gaped. Then realizing the man must be either cracked in the head or making a joke, he burst out laughing. “How am I doing so far, Sir?”
“Mighty fine, actually, “Morris said. “You’re at the top of the list right after Violet and those little orphan kids.”
“I feel so honored!” Simon said, and they both reached the car laughing.
Ronnie was praying the whole time Simon was gone, but as soon as he saw Morris Kramer step out onto the wide decking surrounding the front of his house, he knew God hadn’t been listening.
“Oh, crap, oh, crap, oh, crap,” he mumbled, shrinking further down. Slipped on his hood, hiding his face as best as he could, then sneaking out of the front seat jumping into the back, where he hoped in vain, he wouldn’t be noticed. With any luck, perhaps Simon would keep Professor Kramer’s attention on him and the old guy wouldn’t even see him. He was old, after all, and maybe his eyesight wasn’t so good anymore. When they got home, Ronnie could feign illness and keep out of sight. Fat chance of any of that working, but it was his only hope!
His heart beat so loud in his ears he didn’t hear what was being talked of as Simon and the professor approached the car. He held his breath and as a final please-don’t-let-him-see-me gesture, he grabbed the atlas and held it in front of his face.
The door of the car opened and he heard, “There you go, Mr. Kramer. Hope that long walk didn’t hurt you much. My dad told me you just had surgery.”
“I’m fine, thank you, son,” Morris said, settling into the seat and sighing with relief.  “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.”
“Simon. Shall I help you with the seatbelt?” he asked.
“No, thank you, Simon. Never use them,” Morris said, gruffly. “I’ve survived this long without having to use them, so no two-bit, slimy, do-good, over-reaching politician with nothing better to do than shredding the constitution is going to take my right to not wear one. I have every right to die in a fiery car crash if I care to.”
Simon tried not to laugh, but he simply couldn’t help it. “You sound very much like my grandmother, but I hope you don’t mind that I have no intention of crashing my dad’s truck. He would get a bit upset, I think.”
“As you please, Simon,” Morris said. “Hello, Ronald. Why are you hiding back there?”
Ronnie sighed and lowered the map. “Hello, Professor Kramer.”
“Now, what you gotta call me that for? We’re not in school now, Ronald, are we?” Morris said.
“No, sir,” he said, glaring at his brother, as if it was his fault that he now had to have dinner with his college professor.
“Your brother tells me you found your passion. Mind telling me what that is?” Morris asked.
“Uh…why do you want to know?” Ronnie cautiously said.
“Just curious.”
“I…I don’t…”
“Music,” Simon said, as he buckled up and started the car. “His passion is music. He writes songs, plays guitar, the piano, sings and…”
“Wait, who told you I write songs?” Ronnie interrupted.
“Ron, we’ve lived in the same house for how long?” Simon asked. “I heard you through our shared wall. You played almost every night and you sing constantly. I particularly liked the song you wrote that goes something like, ♪ ♫…Golden hair, da-dee-da-da, Zoey, da-da-da, golden girl, da-dee-da-da,  Zoey, la-dee-da… Only I thought it was better with its original name. Sophie just had a better ring to it. Don’t you agree, Mr. Kramer?”
“I’d have to hear the entire song to properly judge. Perhaps we can persuade your brother to entertainment us tonight. I would like to see firsthand this new grand passion,” Morris said. “What do you say, Ronald?”
“Ron, did you hear?” Simon said, looking into the rear view mirror. “Mr. Kramer asked you a question.”
Ronnie gulped, and felt the blood drain out of his face. “I…I don’t feel so good.”
“No, I imagine you don’t,” Simon said, smirking.

©2013 Glory Lennon All Rights Reserved 

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