|Garden with a View
Author: Edward George PM
A person living in solitude can sometimes become his own worse antagonist. Steven R. Patrick, prolific author and self-imposed recluse had his world of one turned upside down by Barbara Wise, a young Kansas City journalist who became interested in Steven's life – and him.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 12,935 - Published: 06-09-12 - id: 3030556
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A young couple sat in the dark alcove of the café, outnumbered by empty seats, even by the employees. Barbara Wise journalist on assignment from the Kansas City Sentinel, of Kansas City, Missouri noted this as she sat at the counter of the Roadside Café in downtown Martinsburg, Colorado. Barbara jotted down notes in a notebook recording her observations of eastern Colorado, an area of the State that received little attention from either the state or the people, much less the news media in general. She made a circle around the date: 1997.
Barbara Wise was working on a report for the newspaper on the declining family farms of America's mid-west. She decided to focus her attention on eastern Colorado and western Kansas. Barbara knew that whenever the subject of Colorado was brought up, anyone from the eastern states would quickly say: Pikes Peak. Vail. Aspen. Skiing. They failed to realize a substantial portion of the State to the east of the Rampart Range and Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak area was nearly as flat in parts as Kansas.
The owner of the Roadside Café, Phil Harden leaned back against the ancient cold drinks cooler reading the Denver Post sports section. Adjusting his reading glasses, Phil Harden smiled as he read an article on the Denver Broncos that amused him.
Barbara regarded Harden again; she interviewed him earlier in the day; a native of Colorado, born and raised in Martinsburg. She thought about what she would do next as she glanced out the dust encrusted window at the street beyond. Wind whipped the dirty snow that filled the gutters and piled up against the sides of the buildings that made up the town's main street.
Angry gray clouds hung low in the late noon sky threatening snow again. A radio provided the only source of entertainment, the old Wurlitzer jukebox, seemingly broken for as long as anyone could remember, stood dark and idle in the far corner.
Barbara picked at the plate of French fries and sipped her Diet Coke as she gazed
out the window. She watched the occasional cars and trucks pass on the single business
street of Martinsburg, none appeared newer than 1980. She sighed and started to close her pad when a large mud caked bronze and white 1978 Chevrolet K5 Blazer caught her attention. She took another look at the truck with its array of antenna, equipment and large brush guard that set out from the extended front end. She could not tell where the mud stopped on the body and the dark bronze color of the truck started. It appeared the whole vehicle was caked with a thick layer of dried mud.
Watching the driver turn the truck in to an empty parking space in front of Sturgen's Hardware Store, Barbara studied the scene for a moment. Brushing her hair from her face Barbara felt her journalistic instincts telling her she was looking at more than just a newspaper article on Eastern Colorado. If this were true this small event could be an unexpected scoop for her.
Barbara sipped the watered down soda as she watched the truck and its driver. She recalled something she read about a new up coming author who lived somewhere on the eastern plains of Colorado; however, something about the truck piqued her curiosity. The driver's door was pushed open against the strong wind. A tall handsome, bearded man wearing denim jeans, a brown leather Army Air Corps jacket, and black western hat climbed out. He turned. For a second he appeared to be fighting with something inside the truck. She noticed the large gray-black furred head of what she supposed was either a dog or – a wolf. Barbara pursed her lips in thought. There was something about the truck, the dogs, and the man that fit a distant memory she had of that anonymous author - but who?
Barbara gestured toward the man across the street asking: "Who's that, there by the hardware store?"
Harden looked up, lifting his glasses from his eyes. "Who?"
"Him - that man who just got out of that truck." She pointed across the street to the man as he closed the door, dried mud chipping off the truck body. The man stepped onto the sidewalk and in to the hardware store disappearing in to the interior.
"Oh – that's Steven Patrick. Don't see him much these days. Mostly stays on that ranch of his a lot."
Shaking the paper out again, Harden resumed his reading.
"Steven Patrick – Steven R. Patrick …" She repeated the name to herself, testing the name —She ate another fry, then glanced at the check. "He isn't the author, Steven R. Patrick by any chance – is he?"
Barbara lifted her eyes back to Harden to see his reaction.
Harden turned the page of the sports section and muttered, "Yup, one and the same. 'Course, not everyone in town reads his stuff, though the folks `round `bout haven't got the time for such stuff."
"Have you ever read any of his books?" Barbara asked, taking out her wallet.
"Nope. `Said, ain't got the time." Harden flipped the page over.
Barbara inclined her head as she laid the exact change on the counter, with a tip.
She shoved the notebook into the oversized handbag and pulled on her coat and gloves to step out into the frigid late afternoon.
Crossing the street, she wondered how she would approach Patrick. She knew from other freelance journalists the man was impossible to get near. One free-lancer found out Patrick was living in Martinsburg but he found Patrick to be withdrawn and hard to talk to. Strange for someone of his stature.
Barbara also noted that none of Steven's books, had his picture on the dust jacket. From what she understood, according to a friend who owned a bookstore, Patrick always declined the offer.
Passing the large four-wheel drive, she looked at the snarling muzzles of the two gray wolves, their dark faces shoved against the glass. Barbara hesitated doubted the strength of the glass to retain the slavering pair of snapping predatory beasts, Barbara hurried toward the safety of Sturgen's Hardware
The interior of Sturgen's Hardware seemed to go back in to forever. Overhead florescent fixtures hung from the open ceiling. A mixture of odors filled the store's interior: paint, lacquers, rubber, wood, metals. Barbara paused by the front counter and looked around trying to locate Patrick.
"Yes, Ma'am?" The clerk looked up from a box he was unpacking at the counter.
Barbara noticed Patrick near the back of the store with an older man.
"Oh … um, yes," she began hesitantly, reaching into her bag for her journalist's credentials. "I am Barbara Wise with the Sentinel of Kansas City. I am doing a series
of articles on the decline of the American farm community, and I'd like to talk with the
owner – if he is available."
"Oh, yes," the clerk looked around. "Mr. Sturgen is with a customer right now –
Mr. Patrick to be exact. You know, the author."
The young man smiled proudly, obviously showing he knew the author.
Barbara allowed a wary smile looking around the store she was able to look along a row of shelves; he was with someone else at the back of the store.
"Patrick?" Barbara allowed a half smile to show that she had finally caught up with him.
"Yeah, the writer – you know?" The clerk nodded toward Steven Patrick who was examining a box with a part that he would buy.
"Oh, yes. One of the newest in adventure writing I understand." Barbara allowed a thin nervous smile waiting for Steven Patrick to return to the front.
Patrick turned, holding some sections of pipe and other hardware, followed Sturgen to the front of the store. He hesitated seeing the woman with a camera at the counter. He walked up to the counter to lay the parts down then checked his list one last time.
Introducing herself to Sturgen, as the clerk rang up Patrick's purchase, she indicated the small point-and-shoot camera she took from her purse. "Mr. Patrick, I am Barbara Wise with the Sentinel of Kansas City, and I am doing a series of articles on the decline of the American farm community. I understand you also have a ranch close by. If I may I'd like to would like to get a couple pictures first."
Crumpling the list, Patrick frowned at the woman as the clerk quoted him the total for the parts. Barbara paused. Patrick's pale blue eyes appeared as cold as the afternoon air.
"Sorry, Ma'am `don't have the time," Patrick replied handing the clerk the money. "Got a busted water pipe to replace."
"But this … will only take a few …" she began, holding the camera up.
Patrick turned to gather up the pipe and parts to leave. "Sorry." then said, "Later - `bye, Stan – Ken."
Sturgen leaned on the counter as Patrick shoved out the door with the pipes and
parts. Barbara noted Patrick's abrupt exit with curiosity. The store owner was the first
to break the silence. "Now, young woman, what was it you wanted?"
"Um, oh, yes. I was really hoping for a couple pictures of Steven Patrick," she said moodily as she shoved the camera back into the bag. "I understand Patrick lives
"Oh - out on Springmill Road - `bout four miles north on the county road, turn right and drive east. You can't miss it."
The late winter wind did not agree with Barbara. Although she had grown up in
Colorado Springs until she left for college; winters were still harsh and bitter in the Mountain State. She knew if she could do it, she'd move to California or Florida.
That evening Barbara found herself stuck in her motel room. She attempted to organize her notes from the day's interviews for the article. However, one kept coming back to her, her chance meeting with Steven Patrick still nagged at her.
The next day she ate breakfast at the Roadside Café. The Café opened early for those heading to work in the Denver-Commerce City area. She added another point to her notes: Few if any worked in Martinsburg, the money being with the high-tech trade in the cities.
Barbara sat at the counter picking at a stack of pancakes. She looked up when a man sat down beside her.
"`Mornin', Barb," Harry Harrison said as he shrugged his heavy coat off adding:
"Toast please, Bonnie," to the girl working the counter.
"Oh, Harry. `Morn'n'."
"So … how goes the article?" He asked, as Bonnie set a cup of coffee in front of him.
"Oh okay, I suppose." She allowed a thin smile in return.
"Hm. The weather has kind of screwed things up, eh?" Harry took his glasses off laying them to the side sipping his coffee.
"You might say that. Rather hard to find people to talk to right now."
A couple minutes later the toast popped up from an ancient toaster. Bonnie set the toast in front of Harry. He was silent as he buttered and spread jelly on the toast.
Harry Harrison was editor, writer, chief bottle washer of the local newspaper, the Elbert County Democrat. Barbara was using Harry's office as her base and a wealth of archived material as a source of material for the article.
"Mm. Weather is supposed to break this afternoon for a short time." Harry sipped his coffee and took a bite of the toast, inclining his head toward the large plate glass window with the faded name of the café and the steel gray sky.
Barbara continued with her pancakes.
"Incidentally, Harry, you're a journalist, how does Steven Patrick treat you?"
Barbara continued eating.
Harry almost choked on his coffee.
"Huh? Excuse me. You met him?"
Barbara was taken back by the other's unexpected reply.
"Mm." Harry set his coffee cup down as he wiped his mouth. "Tell ya what, take it from me, don't be too awfully anxious to make a local celebrity out of him. There was a free-lance …"
"Yes, I know all about him."
"Yeah, I suppose you would. Anyway, he was intent on getting an interview with Patrick but Patrick wanted nothing to do with him – um, kinda reclusive.
Long story short, one fact this guy over looked, Colorado has that 'Make My Day Law,' especially here in Elbert, Custer, Chaffee, Teller, and the West Slope counties. Some people tend to shoot first and ask questions later. They don't care."
Barbara stared across the counter at her reflection in the stainless steel backing of the grill. "That's what I heard a while back. Why…? I mean, what does Steven have against journalists?"
Harry sighed as he shoved the plate with the toast crumbs aside. Picking up the cup he swirled the last of the coffee around, drank it setting the cup down. "Not to be funny, mind you, but that's a long bitter story …"
"I've got nothing but time, Harry." Barbara waited for Harry to begin his story and relation to Patrick. She took out her small cassette recorder setting it between them.
Harry glanced out the window at the gray overcast sky. "You didn't hear this from me, mm?" He leveled a frown at Barbara, which made her hesitate.
"Okay. May I?" She rested a finger on the record switch. Harry nodded his head. The recorder set between them. Pressing the switch and sat back to finish her breakfast.
Harry looked down at the small device as he began: "Steve was in `Nam, as were so many others like him in the mid-Sixties his third tour late sixty-eight – Post-Tet to be exact. Steve had his share of duty over there: Five in all, more than most, but he kept going back. Almost as though it were some personal crusade – a death wish – I don't know. One tour was enough for me. Anyway – but don't quote me on that … understand?"
Harry continued to stare straight ahead. The waitress poured Harry another cup of coffee. Barbara picked at the remainder of her meal as she listened to the journalist.
"I met Steve on his third tour. I was an Army journalist, fresh out of the school at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Anyway, I got the glorious job of escorting this television journalist from some station in Denver. Guy was a real – um, jerk – if you know what I mean? To this day, Steve blames him for the loss of his tank loader …"
Harry paused as he sipped at the fresh coffee.
Barbara said, "So Patrick blames this journalist for the loss of his friend? I'm sorry, but I don't follow."
"Sorry. Actually it was his cousin who was killed. Let me explain this in a bit more detail. Steve was a tanker – armor, um, armor-infantry. Anyway – tanks, Eleventh ACR as I recall, the unit was in Na Trang Province, east side of the Iron Triangle. As I said, Steve was in tanks most of his career before he retired, `bout two years ago, he was one of the best tank commanders in Germany later in seventy-two in the Third ACR, master-gunner and top gun in the Army. He was second only to another guy, another master gunner by the name of Rick Staal, when they were in Second ACR in the Eighties as I recall."
"Anyway, tell me more about this other journalist. Who was he?" said Barbara, sipping her coffee. "How does he fit in with Steve's military career?"
"I'm getting to that. The journalist was – or is, Rich Price."
Barbara bit her lip in thought for a second, then said, "So, because of one man's
mistake he blames all journalists for the life of his cousin?"
The rationalization of what Harry explained to Barbara was beyond the scope of her reasoning.
"Yes. I know. Despite an auspicious career, Steve has carried this hatred with him for the past twenty-two years. I know for a fact, if he ever sees this guy again, Price may not live to see the light of the next day. As it was, Steve was close to killing Price on the spot and claiming the Cong had killed him."
A chill slid down Barbara's back like someone had dropped an ice cube down her back.
"He wouldn't…" Barbara cut off the rest of her comment at a frown from Harrison. "He would?"
"Ask that journalist you said you knew. Problem is the guy was over ambitious and was out to make a name for himself, just as Price tried to. At least you have fair warning."
Barbara felt the inside of her mouth become dry as paper. She asked, "Have you
talked with him lately? I mean, you said you were there in Vietnam with him, but how
do you know him so well?"
Harry smiled as Harden refilled another customer's cup. Then Harden started to refill Barbara's. Barbara shook her head and held her hand over the top of hers signifying she did not want anymore.
Harry took another sip of the coffee then continued:
"War brings people together. It doesn't matter what your job was: You could have been a desk jockey in Saigon or the door gunner on a gun-ship we were all brothers of the green machine in those days. Anyway, getting back to what I was saying, I had to escort this jerk Price out to where a large-scale operation in the west of the Iron Triangle, some referred to it as War Zone C, and Na Trang in late Sixty-eight – Indian Territory as it was called. This was about three months after the Tet of March Sixty-eight and just prior to the Cambodian Operation of early seventy."
Harry paused for another sip of coffee then went on: "It was a real slugfest. It was late in the first day of the operation that I took shrapnel from an RPG. For some reason Price wanted to get closer to the action – guy had no sense of what was going on. He was there to get his meal ticket punched. By this time I was looking at the world from ten thousand feet up in a slick. Just so happened at this time Steve's tank, from what I later heard, was hulled down into a rise of ground. His loader, his cousin –Louis Waverly, spotted VC trying to encircle their position and an infantry platoon that was working with them. Louis pulled the Sixty off its pintle mount at his tank position, jumped off and began to hose the VC with it – at the same time he covered Price and a Vietnamese camera man, trying to get them to cover beside the tank. Price wanted to get closer to the infantry squads and the action just ahead of their position."
Harry paused to sip his warm coffee and gain control of his nerves. He stared ahead at the grill seeing his reflection in the stainless steel back. Twenty years came back to Harry in a rush. The staccato rattle of AK 47's, PK7, 50 calibers, the blast of the 105-millimeter main guns from the M48A3's; Harry could still hear it all sometimes. A veteran never forgets the sounds of war; the odor of the cordite, the screams, the Cobra and Huey gunships hovering just above their heads laying down volumes of suppressive fire.
Barbara lifted her gaze to see Harden was watching the stark, blank look on Harrison's drawn features with concern. Shifting her eyes she waited until Harrison
snapped out of the thoughts that took him back nearly twenty years.
Drawing in a deep shuddering breath, he continued: "Anyway, Louis - oh did I
mention the loader was Steve's cousin?" Barbara nodded her head. "Anyway, he was still fighting off the VC took two steps to the side toward a fallen tree … and," He choked. It was several minutes before he went on: "Sorry."
Barbara cut the cassette as Harrison choked another swallow of coffee. She looked closer to see moisture in his eyes.
"I understand, Harry. That's okay."
She finished her coffee and breakfast that was now cold. Harry slipped the glasses back on and coat and paid for his coffee and toast and departed in to the cold morning. Barbara felt stung by Harry's comments.
Harden watched Harry leave, the door shutting with a bang.
"Satisfied, miss?" Harden, asked bitingly, peering over the rim of his glasses, flipping the pages over on the Denver Post sports page. "Now you see why we leave Mr. Patrick to himself? Mr. Harrison there, who probably knows him the best of anybody here about doesn't even bother him with the past. It's best to just leave those things alone. Mr. Patrick gives us a friendly wave as he drives by, and we leave him to his privacy. Best that way."
"Hm. I suppose." She mused, chastened by the retort. "And I had to be the one to ask."
Feeling like she had just been told off, Barbara paid for her breakfast and stepped out into the cold morning air. She stood on the sidewalk looking around. Inhaling deeply, she turned and walked along the wind swept sidewalk toward the edge of town. She had no idea where she was going, but she felt the walk would do her good.
The walk took Barbara around the small town back to Harrison's storefront newspaper office. The walk helped clear her head and bring her back to the purpose of her assignment. The antique bell over the door jingled when she entered. Harrison looked up from the pile of old newspapers, and copy that littered the top of the desk.
"Sorry …" she started to say. "Didn't mean …"
"No…please, my fault, Barb." Leaning back against a counter, he took his glasses off. He said quietly: "`Nam is still something long in the past. Yet it's still as much a part of a vet's life that some of us have just never learned to cope with, even now."
"I was going to say, my brother was killed in Vietnam in Seventy." Barbara
cleared some papers off a chair next to the desk to sit down. "And I still miss my big brother."
"Oh. I'm sorry." Harry swallowed hard then said, changing the subject: "So, what are your plans then today?"
Barbara sat back in the chair looking at some old photographs on the wall of Martinsburg's past.
"I've seen the town, what about the farms and ranches in the area? I need a solid tie," she said, glancing sideward at Harry.
Harry adjusted his glasses to look back at the old pictures. He said, "Not many left in the area."
Barbara narrowed her eyes as she focused on one picture, a ranch during the fall
roundup season. "Then what about Patrick's ranch?"
The two exchanged questioning looks across the desk.
Harry raised his brows in mild surprise at the girl's question. Slipping the glasses off he sat back to regard her for a moment. He said after a few thoughtful seconds: "Whoa, a real glutton for punishment, aren't you?"
Barbara merely grinned. "I understand it's out on Springmill Road."
"Oh? How did you find that out? If I may be so bold as to inquire as to your source of information?"
"Mr. Sturgen. Why?"
"Figures. I sometimes think we're both in the wrong business. Well, I'll tell you what…"
"I didn't hear it from you…"
"You got it. Because, Patrick is very jealous of his privacy. That's one of the reasons he bought that ranch in the first place. Remote."
"Is that why he refused to let me take his picture yesterday?"
"You tried to take his picture?" Harry blew out a gush of air. "Hell, you're lucky you didn't come out there wearing your camera for a necklace."
"So you explained yesterday. So how do I get out to his place then?"
Harry chuckled. "It's about a quarter mile up a dirt track that'll be axel deep in mud to a John Deere 5530. That little Datsun of yours will never make it past the intersection. Tell you what …"
Harry dug into his jacket pocket for a ring of keys. "Here, take my pickup. It's an automatic. It'll make it up to his place all right. When you turn off the County Road, you can see the ranch."
Barbara felt a sense of trepidation as she climbed in to Harry's pickup, started the
engine, shifted into reverse and backed out from the sidewalk on to Main Street.
If, she considered, half of what she was hearing about Steven was true, she knew she would be in for a rough time with him.
It was late morning as Barbara followed County Road 61 east out of town until she found Springmill road. She hummed along to a tune from a country western station from Denver. Traffic on the road was steady, a convoy of cattle trucks was heading west toward Denver then she was passed by a mud splattered pickup truck that left her like she was parked on the side of the road. She slowed when she spotted a green and white road sign.
Turning on to the mud track from the hard surface road, she realized it was everything Harrison had warned her it would be. Easing the truck onto the dirt – mud—track, she carefully followed the tracks, which obviously, were freshly made by another truck. She slowed when she noticed the tree lying across the road.
"Oh great, just what I need."
She could see where the other truck had driven around the tree. Shrugging, she decided to attempt the detour, figuring if somebody else could make it, then why shouldn't this truck handle the mud like Harry had said it would? Studying the road ahead, she could make out the ranch a short distance ahead. The house and most of the out buildings were surrounded by copse of cottonwoods and wind wiped pines. A small cluster of heifers was gathered around racks of hay while in an adjacent corral three horses huddled in a shelter from the wind.
Drawing in a breath, Barbara started around the obstacle in to the ditch. Catching her breath, she felt the front end sink in to the mud. Barbara began to accelerate hoping the maneuver would force the truck through the thick gooey mess. Turning the steering wheel, she gunned the engine. The left rear wheel began to spin digging a neat hole in the soft ground as the front end dug in to the mud to the bumper.
"Ohh …" she moaned, laying her head on the steering wheel.
Putting the engine in reverse, she tried to back out; the rear wheels dug in deeper until the engine stalled. Letting off the accelerator she looked around. A sick feeling began to grab hold of her. Opening the door, she watched as the bottom scrapped the churned up ground.
"Terrific, Barb. You're a wonder… I wonder how the hell you're going to get yourself outta this one?"
Closing the door, she sat back, pulling the coat tighter about her. Assuring the transmission was in park and, window open an inch for air she started the engine again letting it run with the heater on. Barbara hoped something would be along soon. Harrison's truck did not have the usual mobile CB system that was popular out here. She studied Patrick's ranch for a minute. She considered walking the short distance to the ranch to ask for help. Barbara could well imagine his reaction when she explained her predicament.
Considering the situation she was in, Barbara wondered if she should avoid a confrontation with him altogether and just walk back to the County Road for a ride back to town. Barbara's mind began to wander as she considered her alternatives. The warmth of the heater began to take the chill off the pickup's cab. She listened to the radio and the DJ ramble on about each group's latest songs and personal appearances
Fatigue began to overcome her; Barbara noticed for the first time just how flat the northern counties of the state were compared to El Paso and Pueblo Counties that are hilly and rough. Wind whipped snow filled the low places as it was piled up against the low embankments along the road.
The roar of a truck engine woke Barbara out of a sound sleep. Forcing her eyes open, Barbara looked at her watch. She had been asleep for less than twenty minutes.
She looked back at the large truck stopped behind her. It was Patrick.
The big mud caked bronze and white Chevrolet 4x4 appeared to hulk over the smaller truck. She could just make out Patrick's startled expression through the K5's mud smeared windshield. Seated next to him was his pair of wolves, their snarling muzzles pressed against the windshield.
"Oh boy, I think I'm in trouble now…" Barbara bit her lip as she watched the door abruptly swing open and Patrick climb out into the ankle deep mud.