The A.L.F.: Resident’s Revenge

(Working title)

A Novel

By Bruce Cooper

 

This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons or places living, dead or otherwise would be purely coincidental and quite amusing.

©2016 Bruce W. Cooper, all rights reserved

 

 

 

List of Characters

 

Eve-Lynn...Lady with large Chanel hat.

April--------------Assistant cook

The Big Chef---------an unnamed assistant cook

Laura---------The young receptionist

Glenda----------Red headed lady

Mitchell Napolitano-------------Food service manager and head chef.

Carly-------Ring leader and spokesperson

Roland-----------------Carly’s friend

Herman-----Resident curmudgeon, nickname, “Oscar the Grouch”

Roseanna Rivera-----------House supervisor

Sergeant Henshaw-----SWAT team leader

Noel Bushmiller-----Facility administrator

Marcus----------Maintenance Department manager

Valery, Jennifer, Evelyn--------Case management ladies

Ned-------Resident with aluminum foil knife

Mona------Health aide

Ed--------Tall resident

Roger-------Resident protester

Mack--------resident genius

Chen----------Mack’s friend

Rena------New resident and protester

Hiram Nussbaum-----------Chief operating Officer, ElderSpace Corp.

Mr. Jacoby--------President of ElderSpace and Hiram’s father in law

Jan.....Mr. Jacoby’s secretary at ElderSpace

Shanisha-------Dining room server

Mr. Johnson-----Resident with unzipped fly

Mrs., Cochran------Want’s to zip-up Mr. Johnson’s fly.

Miss D’Angelo---------Resident looking for imaginary cat

Big Thom-------Resident and smoker

Melissa...........Recreation director

Delbert...Customer Service Rep.

Maggie...Unsocial resident.

Olga...Disgruntled resident.

Mary...Olga’s roomy who likes “Nykill” cocktails.

Ari Feinbaum..Head bookkeeper at ElderSpace

 

 

+ + + +

 

Chapter 1

 

It started out as a routine day at the facility. Residents arose from their beds at the usual time; washed, dressed, and headed off to the dining room for breakfast, which that day consisted of a bowl of medium warm cereal, two partially frozen toaster waffles, and a flat, round, and a gray sausage patty made of some innocuous meat by-product, in other words, it was breakfast as usual at the Center. 

Also, as usual, were the under-the-breath grumbles and comments made by the diners who were angered by the haphazard way breakfast was thrown together, again.

 

To the casual observer, these protestations would seem like the typical remarks made by any group of malcontents who are gathered in common surroundings like an army base, a prison, English boys boarding school or assisted living facility, but today, somehow the choice of words was more coherent, more focused and sounding much more rebellious.

 

As the day wore on, the grumbles turned to growls and the comments turned to accusations. Residents gathered in small groups in several corners of the facility to discuss matters in hushed tones, which quickly turned to silence whenever a staff member or “resident-snitch” came near. These small “cliques” would eventually break up and re-form into larger, more vociferous groups that, because of their size had to re-assemble in the auditorium upsetting those residents who had congregated there for the regular Tuesday Bingo game.

 

Chapter 2

 

As lunchtime approached, the larger groups began to break up and the participants slowly began to make their way to the dining room where they all went to their individual tables only to find that, like breakfast, an equally arbitrary “fast food” type lunch had been arranged. This time it was burgers, but not burgers made of beef but rather of turkey whose composition remained as unidentifiable as the sausage, they had for breakfast. Even the single slice of artificial American cheese food which tried, with little success, to melt on top of the lukewarm ground turkey meat could not make this boring burger taste any less lackluster. The sweet potato fries too, were cold which only incensed the residents even more. As each table was served, one could feel a swell of discontent drift over the room like a cloud of poisonous gas, precipitating another round of moans and groans, which slowly built to a crescendo terminating in a tirade of profanity, some of it quite colorful.

“Crap,” “horse dick,” and “bung-burgers” were some of the descriptive expletives shouted out by the residents. Some of the more colorful expressions included phrases, which I had never heard before and must have dated back to the First World War such as, “trench tripe”, “shell shit,” and “Hun burgers with mustard gas sauce,” were also tossed around. To say the least, there was a distinct ominous feeling in the room.

 

At meals end the crowd, now holding nothing back, began to chant in unison as they filed out of the dining room linked, arm in arm like protesters in a 1960’s freedom march. As they walked, rollated, limped, or shuffled out of the room they sang, “We shall overcome,” and a bastardized version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Glory, glory hallelujah, this food belongs in the sewer.” Yes, there was something definitely brewing that day and we old-timers knew it was not going to be pretty.

 

It was 1:30 in the afternoon, and residents once again congregated in small groups in different parts of the facility. There was no longer any hiding their displeasure and no more muted conversations. Even the most indifferent passersby could plainly understand what was being talked about. As I walked around the building, finding small groups that I could eavesdrop on, a few words and catchphrases came to the forefront. Phrases like “chicken shit again”, “don’t they fuckin’ know how to cook anything else,” and “I’ll just order a salad” were among the slogans most bandied about. While these words were normal and usual, never have I heard them expressed with so much bitterness. At one point, I am sure I saw a particularly cantankerous septuagenarian spit a wad of something on the floor after learning that chicken would be the main course for dinner that evening, for the third night in a row.

As the afternoon wore on, even the usual Tuesday “bootlegged” movie of the week, and a round of Rummikub could not quell the growing dissension in the ranks. At five O’clock as dinnertime drew nearer and each resident read the newly posted dinner menu, one began to get the feeling that some manner of retaliation was at hand. It must have been the same sentiment felt by Eisenhower while planning the invasion of Europe but with more secrecy. I tried hunting down the usual “troublemakers,” the ones that are always in the Case Management office or the administrator’s office complaining about the heat, or the cold, or the service or why there was no toilet paper in the lobby restroom, but I could locate none of them, not a good sign. I did come across a group of residents seated in the small kitchen area on the first floor. Some were eating takeout pizza while others ate TV dinners they had warmed up in the only microwave in the facility available to the residents. The “conspirators” spoke quietly and stopped when they noticed me near. Although they knew I was no friend of the administration, they could never tell if I was on their side or not. My position as the editor of an online resident’s newsletter made me a professional blabbermouth in their eyes, but more on this later.

 

In lieu of a dinner bell, chimes, or any other signaling device, the facility uses the old tried and true method of having a shrill voiced dining room attendant shout out, “DINNER FOR THE SECOND SEATING,” as if she were calling the hogs in for a nice trough of slop. I fell in line behind a particularly feisty woman who held the end of her cane with one hand while thumping the “hooked” part on the palm of the other hand in some sort of rhythmic beat, a beat that seemed to catch on with other cane-wielding residents.

 

Thump, thump, thump, three quick beats at a time; they beat a cadence all in sync with each other as they marched with determination into the dining room. They approached their assigned seats as usual, but this time they did not sit down. Instead, they stood behind their chairs, heads bowed in some mock silent prayer. The wait staff looked at each other in astonishment, unsure at what they were to make of this new show of solidarity. They looked to April, the assistant cook and temporary person-in-charge, for guidance but she was as clueless as the rest of them. 

 

“Sit down everybody, sit down, it’s time to eat. You’re holding up the other diners,” shouted April to no avail. The standees refused to sit. 

 

The words “BITE ME,” from an unseen resident resonated around the crowded room like a sharp report from a 75 mm field Howitzer. “Bite me, bite me, bite me, other diners chimed in using the same tempo as the cane thumper’s. Soon, it seemed as if the whole room was awash in chanting.” Bite me, bite me, bite me”.

 

There were some chuckles and snickers from a few of the non-participating diners, but not as many as one would think. Those residents, who were not into what was happening or just were too absorbed in themselves to care, just sat in silence staring into their bowls of Cream of Turkey soup. Some of them appeared embarrassed by this sudden outbreak of civil disobedience and continued eating their meal without even looking up.

 

The comparatively “polite” chanting turned rowdier when another, more imaginative refrain was introduced to an appreciative audience that cheered when the new words to the old mantra “Hell no, we won’t go”, became “Hell no we won’t sit, we won’t eat this crappy shit” was introduced. The words were now accompanied by the ringing of cups and glasses being struck with knives, forks, and spoons. It was like a wedding reception when the guests want the bride and groom to kiss. “Hell no, we won’t sit, we won’t eat this chicken shit” repeated the crowd which was now beginning to get surly. Finally, some of the protesters who could no longer stand had to sit down because they were getting tired and their legs would not hold them up any longer. 

Noticing that some of their compatriots were sitting, the other members of the group decided to join their comrades and sit too. Thinking that the protest was over, the servers began to resume taking orders for dinner. To all appearances, it seemed that the “rebellion” was short lived. 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Quietly and politely, the diners gave their dinner orders to the servers. It would have appeared that normalcy had returned to the dining room, that is unless one was observant enough to notice that all of the protesters, about thirty of them, had ordered the same main course, boiled chicken with pineapple mustard sauce over a bed of linguine. The very dish they were protesting against, very odd I thought, or was it.

 

A few minutes later, the servers arrived with the food, served on plates with plastic covers to keep it warm. Some folks ordered the alternate dinner item, a bland serving of store bought cheese filled ravioli with a teaspoon or two of insipid red sauce drizzled on top. By my count there were about 50 or 60 chicken dinners distributed among the multitude with the majority of them concentrated at the tables near the far wall where the heavily draped windows were and where the largest concentration of “rebels” were seated. This anomaly went unobserved by April, who thought “So far, so good.” 

April was now standing next to another one of the cooks, a large man wearing one of those tall white chef’s hats or toque’s, who surveyed the scene looking for signs of dissent. The diners noticed him too, and reasoned that they would have him to contend with if things got ugly.

 

“Yep” said the big chef, “All’s quiet on the Western front” he quipped, emphasizing the word “Western.” However, he may have spoken too soon because just as he made the “Western front” comment, the sound of one of those heavy plates was heard crashing against something hard. April and the big cook looked around and were relieved to see that the “crash” was caused by an empty dish slipping out of the hands of one of the new servers. A sigh of relief came from both April and the big cook. They both returned to the kitchen to complete assembling the plates of food.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

When all of the food had been served and all of the deserts had been brought out of the kitchen and the staff began, hastily to clear the tables in the hopes of finishing early, one of the diners arose from his seat near the dining room entrance and, in a big booming baritone, voice, yelled “Geronimo.”

 

Immediately upon hearing that signal, a plate containing a large boiled chicken breast flew, with the accuracy of a Cruise missile, across the room in the general direction of the kitchen entrance where it hit the door frame and crashed to the floor. From the opposite end of the dining room came another chicken part. This time it was a leg, no plate, covered with ketchup. Flying across the room it resembled a severed limb blown off by a hand grenade. The leg hit another diner square on the nose, a diner who was not part of the protest.

 

Taking exception to being hit with a chicken leg by one of those “troublemakers” the non-combatant resident went on the offensive and threw the only food he had left on his plate, a large slice of Boston cream pie, in the direction from which he thought the leg had come. Unfortunately, he was wrong and hit a red headed woman named Glenda, who wished to remain a neutral observer of the scene.

 

“Fuck,” she yelled as she wiped a dripping piece of cream pie from her red hair (the color of which could not be compared with anything in nature). She stood up from her seat, looked around the room, and spied a man who had just risen from his seat to go to the lavatory and, thinking he was the person who threw the pie and was trying to escape, lobbed some leftover three-bean salad in his direction. The clump of pickled green beans, chickpeas, and red beans broke up in midair like shrapnel and managed to hit not one, but four diners who were too preoccupied in their dinner to pay attention to the ensuing melee. The four diners, oblivious to what was going on, continued to finish their meal until another volley of food came raining down on them, this time it did make them sit up and take notice. The four of them stood up, grabbed some of their ravioli, still topped with sauce, and flung them, like little square Frisbees, in the general direction of Glenda who now had a dinner napkin covering her bright red head. The barrage continued with food coming from all directions. The “bombardment” was a combination of ravioli, veggies, pies, puddings, and a variety of chicken parts, which made up the greater part of the airborne assault.

 

Any staff still in the room, made a hasty retreat to the kitchen where, they gathered near, but not too near the automatic doors. They were content to watch the “action” from a safe distance. Bets were taken as to who started it, with the majority putting their money on red-headed Glenda.

 

Food was now flying all over the room with no specific target in mind, whether you were a protester or not, if you had food on your plate, you tossed it at something. Some of the residents aimed for accuracy while the majority was interested only in distance. An ex-high school quarterback was reliving his youth by reenacting a play he made back in 1952 when he tossed the ball more than 50 yards to his old friend Marvin for the winning touchdown. It appeared his accuracy had not diminished as his entire plate of mashed potatoes found its target, the “HOW TO HELP A CHOKING VICTIM” sign, across the room. “TOUCHDOWN,” he shouted, lifting his two arms up over his head in the “H” position signaling yet another game-winning toss.

 

Pointing in the direction of the kitchen, one of the resident ringleaders shouted, “It’s them, it’s their fault,” she yelled. “They’re the ones we should be throwing the food at.” A silence came over the dining room as the rebels stopped and, as if one person, all pivoted around and faced the kitchen. This prompted an immediate reaction from the staff, who tried with little luck, to close the automatic sliding doors. 

Too late, a dish of chocolate pudding with whipped cream whizzed by the head of one of the new servers who, took off her hairnet, threw down her apron and ran out the service entrance at the rear of the kitchen yelling “Them folks is nuts” and, “I knew I should have taken that job at McDonald’s”.

 

The barrage continued with whatever was left. Bread crusts, pie crusts, chicken bones and assorted deserts were now part of the salvo of food. When that was gone, the mob turned to the dinnerware and cutlery to provide fodder for the “cause.” Nothing was too big or too small to be considered ammo.

 

Chapter 5

 

April and the big chef found refuge in the thick glass-enclosed office in which the food service manager usually worked. Their “Boss,” Mitchell, had been away for a few days attending an “Assisted Living Food Service Managers Workshop” in Las Vegas. He had gone to the last one a year before and had found it “Most educational,” returning with new recipe ideas, none of which the facilities management would let him implement. Their chief complaint, the new menu included only six chicken-based dishes per week and besides, it costs too much.

 

April, in a shaky voiced asked the big chef, “Should I call the cops?”

“No, not yet, I’ll handle this,” said the big chef who grabbed a large aluminum mixing- bowl off the shelf and placed it on his head like a helmet. Straitening his white jacket and closing the top button of his shirt collar, the large man slowly opened the door, peeked around the corner and walked towards the automatic doors, which were still not functioning properly. The staff, which now had armed themselves with kitchen utensils, made way for the big man as he moved toward the opening.

“Whoosh,” a half-filled bowl of cold turkey soup flew past the big man’s head barely missing the glass doors of the microwave oven behind him. Not fazed by this personal attack, he picked up a large long-handled ladle and stepped out of the relatively safe confines of the kitchen. Someone had turned off the lights in the dining room leaving the place mostly in the dark with only a glimmer of fading sunlight left to illuminate the room. The big chef made an imposing figure as he stood about one foot outside the door silhouetted by the fluorescent lights against the background of the white tiled kitchen. He looked bigger than his 6ft. 4 inch frame.

 

Halfheartedly, a resident threw a small, mostly empty plastic mug at the chef, which fell harmlessly against the wall behind him causing no more damage than a coffee stain. For the moment, the battle appeared to be over.

 

April, feeling that it was safe to come out of the closed office also, fell in behind the big chef. Both of them walked slowly through the dining room surveying the damage and the mess. Some of the residents still had cups, forks, and even knives in their hands and only put them down when the big man walked near their table. Positioning himself strategically at the main dining room door, his big form blocking most of the entrance, the big man held the large soup ladle high over his head like a sword. “Don’t nobody move” he said in a stentorian voice. “We gonna have some words”. 

An elderly resident, who was profoundly hard of hearing did not respond to the command given by the big chef and began to leave the dining room. 

 

“Where you think you’re going? Sit down and shut up,” said the chef unaware that the man was deaf and could not hear a word he was saying. The resident naturally did not respond and continued walking towards the dining room door, whereby the big chef put his massive hand on the smaller man’s shoulder, causing the smaller man’s knees to buckle like a paper cup, sending him to the floor. The other residents, feeling that this was a blatant use of brute force, began to yell at the big chef using words like “bully”, “tyrant” and “Gestapo.” April, still using the big chef as a shield began to walk backwards into the lobby, wanting no part of what she knew was about to become an all-out insurrection.

 

One of the biggest taboos here, and most other institutions of this sort, is physical contact between residents and staff and the taboo of all taboos is the assault of a resident by a staff member. The dropping to the ground of the deaf man clearly was a violation of the trust between the two groups; a violation, which the rebellious group of residents felt had to be avenged.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

A strange quiet fell over the crowd. 

However, the quiet was short lived when a tall gray-haired man sitting at one of the tables in the rear, stood up, and with the aid of one of his table mates, tipped over the heavy glass-topped dining room table breaking, not only the glass top but, most of the china left on the table.

 

One by one, as in a chain reaction, adjacent tables began to tip over. The “wave” of rolled over tables moved from the back to the front of the room like a tsunami scattering residents to all corners of the L-shaped dining area. As fate would have it, the last table to go was right in front of the exit door, only feet away from the big chef. 

Realizing that discretion was the better part of valor, he let the large ladle he was wielding as a weapon drop to the floor. “This was not the time to display aggressive behavior,” he thought.

 

April, whose face was drained of all its color, was busy, in her head, planning her new career. She was supposed to be in charge and she blew it, and the prospects of landing a new job with “Caused a riot in the dining room” as a reference would not sit well with most prospective employers. “Can I call the cops now?” she pleaded as the group of incensed diners moved closer to the door. 

“Yes,” responded the big chef, stepping on April’s last word. “Dial 911.”

 

April removed the cell phone from a pocket in her chicken-blood-stained apron and pushed a single button. 

The button was preset to dial the emergency number. “IT’S A RIOT,” she screamed into her phone, “AT THE WESTERN ASSI...” what? Oh, you know the address. No, nobody’s been hurt yet, Huh, how many? About a hundred of ‘em with knives and forks, hurry…,What?, the National Guard, no, this is an assisted living facility not Kent State” 

She returned the phone to her apron but held on to it in case she had to make another call, “maybe to the National Guard”, she thought. Both she and the big chef retreated to the lobby and the friendly confines of the reception desk. The young girl receptionist on duty that evening had already found refuge under the desk; “This was definitely not in the job description,” she thought. The three of them waited patiently for the cops to arrive.

 

As with most Emergency Service Operators, the word “riot,” and “mob.” triggered an automatic response. Therefore, it was not just a police car or two that came to the main entrance of the facility, but a big blue and white police bus, loaded with cops in full riot gear. The “rioters” meanwhile, were planning their next move.

 

Most of the residents had remained in the dining room, or what was left of it, busily removing chunks of food and bits of broken dinnerware from their hair and clothes. Some were using the clean ends of the tablecloths to wipe off pudding, coffee, tea and cranberry juice while others just sat quietly like shell-shocked warriors.

 

“We’re in deep shit,” said a stocky blue-haired woman who was built like a middle linebacker. “We’re all going to get kicked out of here,” said another lady pulling a long strand of pasta out of her Little Orphan Annie-like wig. “This is the most fun I’ve had in years” remarked one man who was licking Jell-O off the back of his bare hand. “Hey! This ain’t cherry, it’s strawberry. I’m not allowed to have strawberry,” he said in disgust. “I’m definitely changing my dinner time to the early seating, this never would have happened with the early seating” he said.

 “We should leave now,” remarked a tall women who had the map of Ireland written in the creases on her face. "I know what happens next, first come the constables followed by the “regulars” and then the army and then we all get sent up to Long Kesh for twenty years, damn Black and Tan”, her heavily accented voice trailing off into some distant memory of a rebellions past on the streets of “Derry.”

 

While it wasn’t clear who exactly the ringleader or instigator was, it was generally believed to be Carly. 

Carly was a thin women with short hair who always had a book or a writing pad in her hand and was always spouting Marxist slogans such as “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains”, and “The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs”. It was rumored that she was an ex-lover of Lee Harvey Oswald, before he met Marina of course. Other residents too, began to voice their opinions on what to do next, while still others just wanted to watch channel 7 news and go to sleep.

 

Some of the more concerned residents said that they should all just go back to their quarters and tell everybody they slept through the whole thing. However, that idea was quickly quashed when it was pointed out that they probably had the whole thing on videotape gesturing to the security cameras on the wall. 

There would be no innocent people this night.

 

Chapter 7

 

Carly, the self-imposed leader and spokesperson, met with a few other residents and, after a couple of minutes of heated discussion, delivered their “plan” to the waiting crowd. 

With arms outstretched in front of her and palms down, Carly motioned for the crowd to sit on the floor, MAKE THE PIGS DRAG YOU OUT OF HERE,” she yelled. Somewhere she had found a tie-dyed t-shirt and a flowered mini-skirt, which she wore over the black pants and shirt she already had on. She proceeded to plop herself down on the carpeted debris-strewn dining room floor. Her friend Roland, a gray skinned, gray haired man with a scraggly gray beard, plopped down next to her. They were like two old hippies recreating the past.

 

While Carly was familiar with the “sit-in” form of demonstration, having spent more time on the floor outside the Dean’s office at college than in a classroom, most of the other residents had never participated in such a protest and, even if they could, they would not be able to get back up off the floor anyway. 

 

“Can we sit on our Rollators?”, “can we sit on the chairs,” “can I go to the bathroom,” were some of the questions shouted by other residents. “Yes, yes and yes,” said Carly. “As long as you remember this, don’t move on your own when the cops come, keep quiet, and remember, never hit a cop if he tries to drag you out. We don’t want any assault charges. Anyone that wants to leave, do it now.” 

 

Some moans and groans came from various parts of the room as a few folks began to get up from their chairs. 

“I didn’t like you commies back then and I don’t like you now. You can all rot in the slammer for all I care. I just wanted to have a quiet dinner and besides, I like chicken.” 

This came from the man the other residents called “Oscar the Grouch,” although his real name was Herman something. Oscar evidently had a “following” because he took about ten other residents with him leaving about forty or so defiant ones in place.

As the small group of “deserters” left the dining room, they had to endure the sneers and catcalls of the remaining residents who continued to taunt them as they exited the door.

 “Quitters,” “sheep” (I yelled that), “fraidie cats,” were just some of the more polite refrains hurled at them.

 “Peace out” said Carly. “Let them go, we don’t need them, there’s enough of us left to make a point.”

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Outside the building, cops from the S.W.A.T. team were amassing in the parking lot. With military precision, they leapt from the bus and lined up, two feet apart, in front of the main entrance, dressed in riot gear and, for some reason, black ski masks. A tall sergeant addressed the group of about 40 men. “Ten-hut,” he shouted. The “troops” came to attention. 

“Mens,” he began. “We don’t know what we’re up against in there. All we know is there’s a bunch of old folks hole up in the kitchen or somethin’”. We do believe that they may be armed, with what, we don’t know, so use caution. If it becomes necessary, use your mace. Try to refrain from using clubs, truncheons, brass knuckles, or Tasers. Some of them old geezers have bum tickers and gettin’ zapped from a Taser could kill one of them and we don’t need no more headlines after the last time”. 

The incident the sergeant was referring to happened a year ago when an overenthusiastic S.W.A.T. officer Tased an unruly five-year-old boy in a day care center causing the kid now to scream every time he hears the doorbell buzz.

One by one, the police officers filed through the automatic sliding doors, which kept opening and closing as each officer passed through hindering the fervor of their “assault.” 

Once inside they re-assembled in the lobby in front of a fountain, which was shut down last week after one resident was caught, naked, splashing happily in the water while others (including staff) were throwing pennies, nickels and dimes at her.

 As the cops lined up, April, and the Receptionist, and the big chef came from their hiding place beneath the reception desk to talk to the sergeant, who had been looking around for someone in charge.

“You in charge here?” he said, looking in the direction of the big chef. 

In front of the business office, which was located just opposite the lobby from the front desk, a small voiced said, “I’m in charge,”

“And you are…?” asked the sergeant gruffly.

“My name is Roseanna. I’m the House supervisor,” She said.

“And you guys would be…” said the sergeant turning towards the three staffers cowering in front of the reception desk.

“Cook.” 

“Chef”.

“Receptionist, can I go home sir?” They shouted out like West Point cadets.

“No, nobody leaves. Now can somebody tell me what the fuck is going on here?” He said, removing his helmet and mopping his brow. “God, it must be 120 degrees in here,” he complained.

 

“Eighty two”, said Roseanna. “The residents like it like that.”

“Shit, I forgot about the residents, where are they exactly?” demanded the sergeant who’s name they later found out was “Henshaw.”

“In there sergeant, that way” said Roseanna, pointing to the dining room. The sergeant noticed that the doors were shut and the lights turned off.

 “Is there another way in to that room?” asked Henshaw.

“There’s a small door in the corner there and the service entrance to the kitchen around back,” said the big chef.

“You ten men go with the big guy here and secure the kitchen,” Henshaw pointed to the first ten cops on line who, together turned right and followed the chef to the kitchen door.

“You two” shouted Henshaw to the only two black SWAT members present, “go to that side door and make sure nobody comes out.”

The remaining 25 or 30 S.W.A.T. Team officers shuffled nervously in place. 

The sergeant walked down the line of men adjusting a belt here and a strap there. Each police officer snapped to attention as he passed by. The “sarge” had formally been a gunnery sergeant in the Marines who had put in his twenty, quit and became a cop. He knew men and he knew difficult situations when he saw them and this looked like a difficult situation. If this had been just a bunch of kids or teamsters or striking transit workers he knew how to take care of the problem. A couple of raps on the head with a baton would put down even the burliest subway motorman, but this was different.

“You can’t go bustin’ old peoples on the head”, he said.

 “Their skulls are softer than regular people’s skulls,” or maybe that was baby’s skulls he was thinking of. Anyway he couldn’t do it. Turning to the three staff members that had come out of their hiding place, the sergeant yelled, “Now which one of youse is going to tell me what happened?” 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Everyone began to speak at the same time canceling out each others words.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP,” shouted Henshaw in a voice that only a marine drill instructor could summon up. April could swear she saw the crystal chandelier rattle as he yelled those words.

“You, with the funny hat what’s your name,” Henshaw said pointing to the big chef who had returned from showing the other cops where the service entrance was”

“Toque sir,” shouted the chef, military style.

“Your name is Toque,?”, said the sergeant. “Is that Jamaican or something?”

“The hat sir,” said the big chef. “The hat is called a toque.” He corrected.

“Live and learn,” said Henshaw, in a tone of voice that said he did not like having someone correct him. “Just tell me what happened, O.K.?”

“We was in the kitchen cooking dinner”, began the chef “When we heard this commotion going on in the dining room. At first, we didn’t think nuthin of it because that kind of stuff goes on every day here but now it was different. It was louder, and there was dishes falling and curse words and stuff. When I looked out I could see that a food fight was going on…”

“A food fight?” interrupted the sergeant.

“Yea, just like in that Animal House movie with that guy Balducci, you know from the Blues Brothers.”

“Balushi!” shouted Henshaw. 

To the big chef, “Balushi” sounded like “bullshit”.

“No, I’m telling the truth,” said the big chef.

“O.K., O.K., then what?” said Sergeant Henshaw.

 

“Then I grabbed a ladle, you know like for protection, and walked into the dining room. I thought it was all over until that deaf guy got knocked down. That’s when they called me names and wouldn’t leave the dining room”, said the chef”.

“You knocked down a deaf guy?” asked the sergeant.

“By accident, all I did was put my hand on his shoulder,” recalled the chef. He went down like a sack of potatoes. Then they all just sat down and started to chant”.

“Chant, what do mean chant?”

“Like them old hippie movies, you know. Hell no, we won’t go, and all that shit”, said the chef who was wondering when the SWAT team was going to storm the dining room.

“Holy crap, “Noel,” screamed Roseanna. “Did anybody call Noel?” 

Noel was the facilities chief administrator, the boss, if you will, who usually did not like to be bothered with bad news, preferring to let her assistants handle the tough stuff. They all looked at each other, wondering who would have the “honor” of breaking the bad news.

“You’d better do it, you’re the main person here now,” said April addressing Roseanna.

Roseanna, whose position at the Western was tenuous at best, shuddered slightly at the thought of what Noel would say when told there was nothing left of the dining room and the cops were ready to arrest everybody. 

Roseanna went back into the office to make the call. She shut the door so the others wouldn’t see her cry. Meanwhile the Sergeant was addressing his men over the walkie-talkie he had attached to the shoulder of his uniform.

“Sector 1, how do you read”? (Sector 1 was the group stationed at the service entrance).

“Five by five”, said a slightly garbled voice on the other end.

“Sector 2, what’s your position” said Henshaw.

 

“We’re right over here,” said one of the two men positioned at the small side door a few feet away, they waived at the sergeant from the corner of the lobby.

The sergeant raised his arm as if to wave back but instead motioned for the remaining cops to follow him,

 “Quick time men, one two, one two, one two”.

 With face masks down, nightsticks raised and a handful of plastic “handcuffs,” they began their assault on the dining room and the old folks.

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

“WAIT, WHERE ARE YOU GOING”, shouted a teary eyed Roseanna from the door of her office. 

“The Boss says she don’t want you to do a thing until she gets here”.

“And when is that gonna be toots?” said Henshaw.

“She’s on her way, should be here any minute”.

 Roseanna, still quivering after receiving a tongue-lashing from Noel, looked for a place to sit down. She, like her colleague April, was thinking about her future employment options.

“All right mens, back off,” shouted Henshaw over the Walkie-talkie to his half-cocked and ready crew, 

The Troopers, sweltering in their assault uniforms and helmets raised their clear face guards to an upright position and came to attention.

 

“Oh, by the way sergeant, Noel asked me to ask you if you and your men wanted some coffee or something”, said Roseanna.

“Any of you men want coffee?” asked Henshaw.

“Sir, no sir,” said the men in unison.

Twenty minutes passed before the sound of tires screeching to a stop followed by the thud of a door slamming on a late model Japanese car was heard outside the main entrance. It was Noel, and she was not happy.

Noel was a short stocky woman with a figure devoid of any curves. She wore an out of date pillbox hat and a vertically striped dress, which made her look like a fire hydrant with legs. A pair of fuzzy slippers completed the ensemble. Entering the lobby, it took only seconds for her to survey the scene. Her gaze landed on the ex-Marine sergeant who, in his starched black uniform, was the most imposing figure in the place. Reckoning he would know what was going on, she sidled over next to him.

“What’s going on,” Noel asked the sergeant without introducing herself.

The 6’4” cop spun around, wondering who was speaking. “Down here,” said 4’6” Noel.

“What the f…, who are you” he said.

“Noel, Noel Bushmiller” she replied. “I’m the administrator, what’s happening here?”

“That’s what I was hoping you could tell me little lady”

Noel did not like being referred to as “little” or “lady” but thought better of making a big deal out of it. 

“Where’s Roseanna?” she yelled, staring at the three staff members who were lined up near the reception desk.

Without saying a word, the three of them pointed at the office door, which Roseanna had left open.

 

“Go nowhere,” said Noel to the three, all of whom were now looking up the number to the unemployment office on their smart phones.

Her fuzzy slippers shuffling along the vinyl-tiled floor, Noel made for the office and Roseanna. About a minute went by before Noel stuck her head out of the office and motioned with an outstretched finger for the other three staffers to come in.

Lining up in size order, April, the receptionist, and the big chef walked, single file, into the office for what surely would be the end to their careers at the Center. When all three were securely inside, Noel asked the big chef to close the door, not a good sign, he thought.

“Can anybody tell me who and what started all this”, Noel asked softly, exhibiting great restraint.

“I think it was about the chicken” said April, surprised at herself for speaking up first.

“Chicken, did we run out of chicken?” questioned Noel.

“No “said the big chef.

“Was it overcooked again?” asked Noel.

“No, it wasn’t overcooked,” said April.

“Were the portions too small again? I told that SOB Mitchell, (referring to the absent head chef), to buy bigger chickens instead of those pigeons he’s been using”, yelled Noel.

“No, it ain’t that,” said the big chef, his eyes focusing on a spot on the carpeted floor. “It’s just that…um…we have been serving…err…chicken…ahem…for the last six dinners”

“So?” said Noel.

“So, the residents have been eating something with chicken six out of seven of the last dinners and they may be a little sick of it’’, he said, finishing his sentence.

 

“This is what started the riot?” asked Noel.

 “This is what they are pissed off about those ungrateful miscreants, I’ll show them. Start a riot in my house will they?”

Noel grabbed a large letter opener from Roseanna’s desk and headed out towards the dining room followed by the staff, the sergeant, and the SWAT team who now, were chuckling at the sight of someone who looked like R2-D2 shuffling off with a letter opener in her hand. 

Noel grabbed the two door handles and in one move, pulled open the heavy dining room doors…

“Who started this, who’s the instigator here, who threw what, will someone switch on the lights,” shouted Noel, who had lost a slipper in the lobby and now limped as well as shuffled. 

Someone turned on the lights revealing the true extent of the destruction. The crowd remained silent as Noel's eyes swept the room assessing the carnage.

Bits and pieces of food clung to every surface of the dining room. Strands of pasta hung from the chandeliers and sconces like some macabre moss hanging from trees in an antediluvian swamp. Most of the tables were overturned and all of the plates, glasses, and silverware were either broken or stuck in the walls and curtains. Various liquids had soaked into the carpet, and where it could soak in no more, puddles formed making the carpet “squishy”. However, it was the kitchen itself, which had taken the brunt of the assault.

The automatic door was stuck in the open position held there by a chicken bone, which had lodged between the door and the wall. 

Inside the kitchen, there was not a piece of equipment that did not have food or something dripping from it. The floor was slippery with greasy cooking oil and chicken fat. Raw chicken parts, wings, breasts, and legs, scheduled for the next night’s dinner were taken out of the freezer and left to spoil on the counters. That night’s dinner of boiled chicken had been fashioned into male body parts, and positioned, obscenely on the floor. However, the most frightening thing of all was the complete absence of any of the knives. All of the sharp 8, 10, and 12 inch chef’s knives were gone from their holders. 

 

Noel began to sob softly at the site of her dining room in such a deplorable condition. The fashionably decorated room was supposed to be the showplace of the facility, a place of relaxation and good cheer with happy diners enjoying sumptuous fare. Now instead, the very people for whom it was meant had reduced it to little more than an unusable trash heap.

“Why, why did you do this? Don’t we treat you well; don’t we give you everything you want?” Her voice cracking as she spoke.

Carly, the self-imposed ringleader stood up from the floor. Surrounded by a near silent crowd, Carly brushed some debris off her skirt and, obviously holding in her anger and in a restrained voice said, “You people don’t know shit from Shinola, do you?”

 

Chapter 11

 

 

“Now, do you want me to send my team in now?” said sergeant Henshaw eager to get this operation under way.

 “Some tear gas or some mace, then we haul ‘em away, whaddayousay?”.

“There’ll be nobody hauled away,” said Noel not wanting to escalate what she still considered just a “childish” prank. 

“What is it you want exactly Carly?”

Carly smiled slightly, feeling the thrill of victory at hand. She took a neatly folded piece of paper from her pocket, put on her glasses, which were hanging from a lorgnette around her neck and began to read.

“Resident’s Manifesto” she began.

“RESIDENT’S WHAT?” shouted Henshaw.

 

“Manifesto, a public written declaration of principles, policies, and objectives, especially one issued by a political movement or candidate” lectured Carly.

“I know what manifesto means, and you people are not, err…manifestites,” said Henshaw, proud that he could come up with such an appropriate rebuttal.

“Just let them read it,” said Noel.

 “We all want to go home sometime tonight. Go ahead Carly, read it”.

“Resident’s Manifesto,” clearing her throat, Carly began again. 

“We, the residents of the Western Assisted and Independent living Facility, heretofore known as WAIF, demand the following. First, and this is non-negotiable, we refuse to eat any dish, main course, soup, salad, sandwich, pie or appetizer that contains any chicken product whether it is prepared in its natural form or chopped, ground, diced or shredded.”

Noel, and the big chef and April winced at the thought of actually having to come up with dishes NOT containing chicken. In fact, they didn’t think that it was physically possible. 

“Second,” continued Carly.

“Second? There’s a second condition?

 “Shit,” cursed Henshaw who was about to spit on the floor when he realized that he wasn’t back at the barracks.

“Ahem,” Carly cleared her throat again.

 “Second, we demand adult-size portions and third…”

“Oy vey, there’s more” moaned Noel hoping this was the last demand.

“AND THIRD,” spoke up Carly. 

“We demand that the hot food comes to the table hot and the cold food cold.” Carly walked over to Noel and handed her a copy of the manifesto.

 

“Is this all you want?” said Noel relieved that at least the manifesto wasn’t “Unabomber” length and that she didn’t demand it be printed in the N.Y. Times.

“For now” said Carly.

“And you all agree that you will stop this protest if I agree to this craz….err…demands. And you will go quietly back to your rooms?” asked Noel.

Carly said yes, the others shook their heads in the affirmative, effectively ending the protest. 

The dissenters began to rise from their seats or the floor or their Rollators preparing to leave the dining room when Noel put her hand up like a traffic cop. 

“Wait one moment, and who’s going to pay for all this damage?” she said waving her arm in a wide motion over the wrecked dining room.

“Why you are, sweetie,” said Carly. 

“After all, this is entirely your fault. You’re the one who, when we pleaded for something else besides chicken every day for the past year you said O.K., but never did anything about it. When we complained to Mitchell about the children-size portions, our pleas were ignored. When we asked for our food to at least be served hot, you still did nothing, and you expect US to pay for the damage?”

“Now?” asked the sergeant who had remained quiet during the reading of demands. 

“Can I Mace them now. Do you want anybody arrested, huh?”

“No, I think you just better go. I’ll handle the rest from here,” said Noel glad that there were no arrests or any use of force.

“I got to fill out a report. What am I supposed to write?” said Henshaw.

“Write that you were able to quell the insurrection without any injuries or loss of life,” suggested Noel.

 

“Yes that sounds good, no loss of life. The bosses would like that ever since that incident at the home for the blind. Those red and white canes were sharp. Thankfully, he did not elaborate. “OK men, pack up, and let’s go, one-two, one-two”

The SWAT team assembled in the lobby and, one by one, filed through the automatic doors and back to their bus. 

“No loss of life, good, good and, insurrection, big word good”. Henshaw was so pleased to be able to write that.

“Is anyone hurt here? Any cuts or bruises?” asked Noel fearing any legal action down the road. 

She looked around the room, glad to see that nobody responded in the affirmative. 

“Now, please go back to your rooms and we’ll talk more about this tomorrow. It was nearly midnight, way past the bedtime of most of the participants.

Noel took one last look at the desolation that once was a dining room. 

“They will never believe this at corporate,” she thought as she limped and shuffled back to the lobby, “where the fuck is my slipper.”

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

The sun rose the next day as usual. However, today the sourness and moody isolation usually exhibited by a vast majority of the residents had become feelings of elation and solidarity. Instead of isolation, the residents felt “included.” They were part of a unified group of adults who not only made their demands heard but got them acknowledged as well, and from the boss no less.

 

As the residents walked about the building, went to their activities or to various therapies and medical visits, one could tell that there was a certain air of empowerment about the place. Heads were held a little higher and there was a noticeable spring in the steps of those who could still “spring.” Even the staff found it difficult not to notice the change. 

The morning shift workers began to straggle in. As they did, they watched as some of the maintenance staff and others carted out broken tables, chairs, and garbage bags full of who knows what from the dining room, and realized that the rumors of a riot were true. A large, hastily made sign on an easel in the middle of the lobby said it all. 

“Staff meeting at 10 am in the auditorium. All must attend.” The sign was written in red marker.

 

<|>

 

Ten o’clock and the seats in the auditorium were beginning to fill with staff. 

Present were all the maintenance employees, including their boss, Marcus. 

The med room and the housekeeping staff were there too, as well as some of the dining room crew. Unfortunately, 20 out of the 30 or so kitchen staff and servers had resigned their jobs over the phone telling Roseanna that they would not be returning to work, ever. The brave souls who did stay looked haggard and gaunt, some trembling nervously as they filed in to the auditorium. 

As a resident, I was not permitted to attend that meeting and any information that I will confer upon you from here on will be second hand at best. However, I believe my source to be impeccable.

As per my “spy,” the meeting was chaired by Noel, with Valery, Jennifer, and Evelyn, the Case Management workers at her side. 

Present too, was Roseanna who, much to her relief, had not been fired, and Marcus, head of maintenance. 

My source said that nobody was permitted to take notes or record in any way what went on in that room under penalty of dismissal. 

Noel began with a brief review of the events of the past evening. She took no questions but said that if anybody had to ask a question they should refer it to their department manager later. Noel went on to assess the damage done to the dining room with Marcus saying that it would take week’s maybe months to restore it to its original condition. Finally, Noel told them the real reason for the meeting. 

My source told me that Noel made sure that the doors were closed and that there were not any “unauthorized” persons within hearing distance of the auditorium. Nervously, she began to speak, almost in a whisper.

“They have weapons,” she said. 

She told the group about the missing chef’s knives and that they hadn’t recovered any of them. She did not know if it was one person who took all the knives or a group. She went on to say they would soon begin a room-to-room search for the knives and hoped that they would recover them soon. She also cautioned the staff to be wary of the residents and not to turn their backs on any of them. Finally, said my source, she told of her plans to sidestep the promises she had made to the mob (as she called them) and “would be damned” if she would bow to their demands.

 “I’ll feed them a rat’s ass if I want.” My source said.

 Noel ended the meeting by telling the staff to “Be careful out there.”

 

Chapter 13

 

If you think that a prison “grapevine” is swift, you should be aware of how fast information spreads around an assisted living facility. One only has to remember that these people have nothing else to do but listen, talk, and disseminate information, and do so with the swiftness of a hungry carrier pigeon. Therefore, the supposed secret goings on at the staff meeting was not secret for very long. Within an hour of said meeting, the residents knew almost word for word what had been spoken there, and they did not like it one bit. 

They knew about the room searches, and they knew about management reneging on its deal. But, most of all, they knew that the staff was scared, real scared. Something they might be able to use to their advantage.

Throughout the rest of the day, small groups of residents could be seen coming in and out of Carly’s small room on the first floor. 

Three or four people would enter as three or four others would come out. Each had one or two printed pages clutched tightly in their hands and each gave the other the “thumbs up” sign as they exited. 

As for the staff, they listened to Noel’s warning and whenever possible steered clear of the residents, making contact only when necessary. Most smiled politely as they passed a resident that they knew was one of the rioters, while others pretended to be busy when they passed one of them in the corridor. 

One old geezer resident thought he would have some fun.

Ned, an eighty something man in a wheelchair who resided on the third floor, fashioned a knife-shaped object out of some aluminum foil he saved from a takeout dinner he had eaten. He folded it, smoothed it out, and even put a point on one end and then placed it in the pouch hanging from the side of his wheelchair.

Exiting his room and wheeling himself down the long corridor towards the elevators, he knew he would have to pass a home health aide stationed at the end of the hall. As he came closer to the aide, he reached around to his pouch and, making sure the aide was watching, pulled out the aluminum foil “knife.” The aide, seeing the knife-like object, screamed and picked up a hard covered book she was reading and flung it at the old man missing him by a few inches. The old man, surprised at the aide’s sudden aggressive behavior turned, and with all the speed he could muster, made for the safety of his room. The aide meanwhile made for the safety of the rest room and locked the door. Similar incidents were reported on the other floors as well. 

Chaos had come to the WAIF.

 

Chapter 14

 

Breakfast had to be served in shifts, utilizing both the small dining area on the main floor and the even smaller one located at the end of the west wing. Lunch, however was in the main dining room, which, by that time, had been cleared of most of the debris. Rented tables and chairs arrived from a rental company as well as some basic cooking utensils. 

Mitchell, the chef/manager, had not yet returned from his Vegas trip but was informed of the situation by Noel, while he was at a craps table at the MGM Grand. He said he would come right home on the next flight, as soon as he rolled a hard eight that is. 

As 12:30 rolled around, the air was tense with anticipation as to what would happen next. The group of diners funneled in, (mostly the same group that were participants at the riot the previous evening) and quietly took their seats. 

Servers cautiously approached each table as if the President of the United States were having lunch there. Not surprisingly, the service was quite different from what had been the norm.

“Sir, what can I get for you this afternoon? We have a delightful Cheeseburger, cooked to order with delicious HOT French fries and some lovely fresh asparagus. 

“Can I interest you in a cold beverage while you wait for lunch sir, or would you prefer some of the chef’s freshly made salad?”

“I don’t know if we have blue cheese dressing this afternoon sir, but I’m sure the chef could mix some for you. May I also suggest the side order of hot garlic bread with your angel hair pasta sir? Yes, of course it’s real butter sir. I’ll return shortly with your entrée. Is there anything else I can get for you? Please allow me to wipe the drool from your mouth.”

This went on at all the tables. Food arrived from the kitchen quickly, efficiently and hot! In addition, as each course was finished a “bus boy” hastily recruited from the maintenance staff, quickly cleared each table and refilled beverage glasses.

Desert was a symphony of baked and non-baked sugary delights brought out to each table on one of those glass-enclosed serving carts. Under the glass were such favorites as tiramisu, Boston cream pie, éclairs and a variety of small “Napoleon” type cakes as well as ice cream and sherbets served to the oohs and ahhs of wide-eyed patrons. 

As lunch ended, I half expected someone to ask if I wanted some espresso with anisette.” I love the taste of éclairs in the afternoon it tastes like, victory. 

However, that “victory” was to be short lived. 

As the well-fed, pampered, and overstuffed diners left the dining room, the staff, realizing there would be no rebellion that afternoon, began to talk among themselves. 

“You know that little fat bald guy that sits near the kitchen?, said one server. 

“He called me an asshole. I didn’t do nothing to make him say that to me”. 

“That black lady with the funny skin tag hanging down” griped another server, “she wanted me to pick out all of the cucumbers from her cucumber salad. When I told her there would be nothing left if I picked out all the cucumbers, she said, “good,” I didn’t want it anyway and dumped it on the floor.”

Stories of that kind were recounted all afternoon as the crew cleared the tables. 

They did notice that although there were rude remarks made by the residents, not too much of the food was left on the plates and the deserts disappeared as soon as they were brought out. 

The staff, thinking that the residents had been “appeased” now felt that any possibility of another disturbance had been reduced considerably if not ended completely. They were satisfied that everything was back to normal. Unfortunately, they forgot that dinner was just five hours away.

 

Chapter 15

 

Yes, it was quiet at lunch, “too quiet” said one longtime home health aide to a group of her fellow workers who were taking a break at one of the empty tables in the dining room. 

Mona, a Jamaican lady, had been at the Western ever since it opened three years ago and had worked at various old age facilities since she was a teenager. She knew more about old people than any college trained administrator, doctor, or social worker. Moreover, while she liked working with the elderly, she knew one important thing about them, 

“They ain’t to be trusted.”

“Dey has dey own agenda”, she told her co-workers who lingered on her every word as if she were reciting phrases from the bible. 

“It’s what you call…um… a defense ting. They need to be crafty in order to protect dem frail bodies of dares,” she said.

“Manipulative, they call it being manipulative,” said a younger aide who was attending night school to learn to be a dental hygienist. 

“They will manipulate you to do what they want you to do,” she said with the intellect of a 14th grader.

“Maybe dey gonna try, but dey ain’t manipulatin’ ol’ Mona, I know dem like de back of me hand and most of dem are rotten to da core”.

 Mona reached into her overly large handbag, looked around the room, and pulled from the bag a wooden stick about a foot long, wide at the top, and narrow at the base. It was made of a dark hard wood like Mahogany and looked like a small baseball bat. “It’s what de Po-Lice call a “trunchin.” Mona returned the “trunchin” to her bag and folded her arms defiantly across her ample bosom. Mona, it appeared, was ready for anything.

<\>

 

The residents to, were ready for anything. 

They knew the overly solicitous lunch served that afternoon was only an apparition and the manner with which they served it, would shortly disappear like the bubbles in a two-day-old open bottle of diet Coke. The menu would return to its mind numbing repetitiveness, the residents would return to their old ways of non-involvement and non-participation, and all that had been gained during their protest will have gone for naught in a cloud of apathy and indifference. That’s why organizers of the rebellion wanted to stage another protest, and soon.

While the demonstration of the previous night was impromptu, the next “spontaneous” demonstration would be planned and much more cohesive. There would be no tossing of food at random targets and no wanton destruction of property. They knew they “bit the bullet” on the last melee and that it was a miracle that no charges were filed. However, management may not be as benevolent again. In fact, there would be a very good possibility that next time they would be arrested. Therefore, they would need a very good strategy indeed, something that did not involve the destruction of property.

Carly, her friend Roland and a few of the other, more rational residents gathered in the little kitchen on the first floor. They opened the plastic boxes containing the trays and tiles of the Center’s most popular game, Rummikub, a combination of rummy, dominoes, and mahjong. However, it was not Rummikub that they were there to play. They were there to plot their next move against the facility, if, and when they would need it.

“So, how did you like lunch?” asked Carly of the small group pretending to play with the tiles and trays.

“Did you all think that they were going overboard with their yes sirs and yes mams?”

“Overboard, I thought our server was going to cut and chew my food and feed it to me like a mother bird feeding her chick,” said one of the residents pretending to be an onlooker at the game.

“My server piled a shitload of extra French fries so high on my plate that it took me three minutes to find the cheeseburger underneath,” added Ed, a large man who never met a hamburger he didn’t like.

“My guy gave me two pieces of Boston cream pie and topped it with freshly shaved dark chocolate and then wrapped up some of them Napoleons to go” chimed in Roger, another resident. “How about you Roland?” asked Roger, do you think they were just too nice?”

Everyone stopped and stared at Roland who was just back from the hospital after receiving the wrong medication from the med room. His brain was still a little “mushy” from the effects of taking both a mood elevator together with a drug that helps with anxiety issues, usually a deadly combination which explains Roland’s inability to comprehend entirely, the issue at hand. Carly suggested that Roland just sit and not put too much strain on his brain for a 

while. 

Roland agreed and went back to staring into a container of CUP O’NOODLES he had been carrying around all day.

“Listen,” said Carly. Maybe the food-throwing thing is not such a good idea. I mean it was effective and all, but it’s been done, you know what I mean? Maybe we need something else, something less rowdy but more sinister”, something that would shake the place to its very foundations.

 

Chapter 16

Mack

Mack was a genius; there was no question about that. However, Mack was also nuts. Not crazy nuts, but nuts like the kind of emotional nuts where sometimes he just did not want to talk to anybody. 

Actually, Mack did talk to one person, a little Chinese man who barely spoke English. 

Chen was Mack’s go-between. If you wanted to talk to Mack, you had to go through Chen first. The two met and became friends because Mack told Chen that he once visited China as an executive for the “CHOPS-A-LOT” corporation, manufacturers of fine plastic food choppers sold exclusively on TV at 2 AM. In fact, it was in China where Mack first exhibited the symptoms of his illness.

As the story goes, while making a presentation to a group of Chinese industrialists, Mack suddenly stopped talking. 

Instead, he just stared at the breasts of a comely young secretary and finally, when he did decide to talk again all he could say was “Those are the biggest egg rolls I’ve ever seen in my life,” 

He was never allowed to go back to China or anywhere else again. However, what he was allowed to do was to invent. The Chops-a-Lot company knew genius when they saw it and didn’t want to lose Mack even if he was, “off his rocker” as his boss put it. 

Mack spent hours in his lab inventing such useful household items as the “EGGMATE”, a machine that cooked, cooled and peeled hard boiled eggs in less than one minute and the “VAC-U-PUFF” that instantly puffed-up squashed sliced bread. 

Unfortunately, the device was so complicated and so expensive to manufacture they could not sell it to anyone. It seems nobody wanted a $1000 bread puffer-upper. The Company tried to re-market the machine as a "breast milk expressor,” but women who tried it said it felt like they were being “assaulted.” Mack was fired shortly thereafter and then went to work for himself writing computer programs. This brings us to why the protesters wanted Mack to help them with their cause. Nobody knew more about computers than Mack.

<|>

The residents knew that any protest involving physical violence or destruction of property would end with one or more of them, either in jail or thrown out of the facility or both. Because of that possibility, the new plan must rely on subterfuge to gain an upper hand in negotiations that, could determine the way things would be run in this place for years to come. That is why they needed Mack and that is why they had to find Chen.

No one knew for sure; whether “Chen” was his first name, last name or even his real name at all, communication with the man being spotty at best. Chen kept to himself a lot, preferring to remain in his room, leaving it only to eat and take part in the Bingo games held ten times a week here. In fact, there was so much Bingo going on, the residents often said that they lived in a Bingo parlor with an assisted living facility attached to it. This is where they would have to wait for Mr. Chen.

 

Chapter 17

 

Noel sat, looking over a pile of invoices on her desk, which she had received from various vendors who sold or leased some of the equipment she had to replace after the residents destroyed “her” dining room. Noel shook her head and smiled as she initialed and approved each one for payment.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, pumping her fist, as she looked at the bill from a restaurant supply house for the replacement of most of the dinnerware broken during the melee. “Twelve hundred dollars, twelve hundred dollars for plain white plates, man, that’s a lot!” 

She made her mark on the bottom of the paper and went on to the next bill. 

This one from a glazier for the repair of two broken windows shattered when a chair (also broken) flew through them on its way to the parking lot below where, in turn, smashed the window of one of the resident’s own cars. The bill, from “The Glass Works” amounted to $780.27. 

Chuckling lightly, she once again approved the bill.

Noel spent the rest of the afternoon going over the bills and shaking her head hoping that she would not have any trouble with Corporate paying them. Whatever happened, she knew her bosses would not be amused.

After finishing initialing and approving the last invoice, Noel stuck her head out of her office door and found Roseanna still at her desk in the outer office; it was nearly 6 pm, way past quitting time. 

“You still here” asked Noel trying to act surprised. She knew that nobody on the management staff would dare leave before she did.

“Yep, still here” answered Roseanna, “Just finishing up some work,” she lied. 

“Need me for anything?” Hoping Noel would tell her to go home.

“Come into my office for a second would you” Noel asked. 

“I have something I need to ask you.”

“Ask me something?” thought Roseanna. “She never asks my opinion about anything.” This must be important. 

Roseanna scooped up her notebook and followed Noel into her office.

Befitting her station and the limitations of the facility’s budget, Noel’s office was furnished in a style that can only be described as “Early Office Depot Scratch and Dent Sale.” A chipped wooden desk, a couple of stained gray cloth-covered arm chairs, a beige colored filing cabinet with an extra-large combination lock and a large paper shredder which stood right next to Noels desk. The shredder’s wastebasket, noticed Roseanna, was nearly full of what looked like confetti. 

“Roseanna?” asked Noel. “I know you keep your eyes and ears open about everything that goes on around here, so tell me, what are THEY planning?”, referring to the residents.

“I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it, maybe somethin’ big maybe nothing,” said Roseanna.

“I think it’s something big, and I need to know what it is and soon. I know you have your little spies among the residents and staff so I’m asking you, as I have asked the other department heads, keep a watch out for anything suspicious OK?”

“Sure, no problem” replied Roseanna, not happy about being put in such a position. “I’ll get right on it, tomorrow first thing.”

“Alright, go home; I’ll see you in the morning. Good night and close the door behind you.” said Noel.

Roseanna arose from the chair, walked across the threadbare carpet and out the door. She could hear the sound of the paper shredder starting up.

 “I wonder what the hell she’s shredding,” she thought. “Hopefully my termination papers”, Roseanna let herself smile for a second before she put on her coat and headed out the door. The next day would arrive soon enough

Noel returned to her shredder. One by one, she fed the half dozen or so invoices into the hungry jaws of the machine. Tonight, at home, she would have to start working on setting up dummy companies with names to coincide with the real businesses that sent her the invoices. The Glass Works would become “The Class Works”, “East Side Restaurant Supply would morph into “Eastern Restaurant Supply” and “Long Island door repair” would just become “Long Island Repair”. She thought for a moment how she would use Photoshop and other graphics software to make realistic looking letterheads, envelopes, and invoices, which she would submit to Corporate with greatly inflated prices. Corporate would pay them and send the checks to post office boxes which Noel had purchased all over the county. The invoices would be paid without question, because Noel had been a trusted employee and corporate stooge for nearly 15 years. Noel would then pay the real invoices and pocket the difference. 

She had been engaged in this “profit sharing” scheme for a year now ever since she was denied a position at the corporation’s headquarters located in Florida where she really wanted to live. Her position at the Western had become her own personal source of extra income. 

“Damn if I am going to let a bunch of broken down old senile bastards come between me and my retirement fund,” she thought referring, again, to the residents. 

Noel fed the last genuine invoices into the machine. She had made copies, which she would keep at work if anybody asked to see them. She made sure that the copies looked like copies, wrinkled and smudged so she could say that she sent the originals to Corporate.

 “A couple more good ones like this” she thought, “and I’ll be on my way to Florida soon.” 

Noel reached in to her desk drawer, removed a half-full bottle of Absolut vodka, took a swig, replaced the cap, and returned it to her desk. “I should really get a refrigerator in here, Vodka should be drunk cold.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 18

 

It was Wednesday, and the resident “conspirators” waited at the entrance to the auditorium for the Bingo game to start. They looked around, impatiently, for Mr. Chen to appear. Finally, just as the game was to begin, in came Chen, a pocketful of quarters jingled as he walked. “Mr. Chen, could we speak to you for a second?” said the lady with the large hat whose name I still don’t know.

“What you want, I busy,” said Chen finding a seat on the aisle.

“We need to talk to Mack,” said Carly who had just walked in. “We need you to let him know that it is very important that we speak to him.”

 

“Mister Mack no speak nobody, he like be alone” said Chen arranging his newly purchased Bingo cards on the table. “I like be alone too, so you leave me alone, Huh?”

“Mr. Chen?” broke in Carly, “we only want to ask him if he will help us, it’s very important to all of the people here Mr. Chen”

“B-12,” said the Bingo caller, “B-12.”

Chen checked his card, “O.K., O.K. I tell him, but he no come. He’s sick, got the flu or something. Maybe he see you when he better. Now go away, I almost miss number.”

“I-9,” said the caller. “I-9, did everybody hear that” the caller repeated.

The group of resident-conspirators turned and left the auditorium not knowing if Chen would speak to Mack or, if indeed Mack would speak to them. They returned to the little dining area to have some coffee and make alternate plans. Without Mack’s help, they would have to resort to a more direct approach at negotiations with management. Moreover, they knew that any face-to-face encounter without the force of truth, logic, or deceit behind them would be futile. They needed an “Ace in the Hole” and they needed it from Mack.

Two hours went by and then three, the little band of dissidents were losing hope that Mack would join them. They did not see Chen after that first encounter so they didn’t know if he ever spoke to Mack.

“He’s not coming,” said Roland who was back on his meds and feeling better.

“Chen said he had the Flu, give him some time to get better,” said Roger.

“Even if Chen gave him the message and even if he is feeling better why would he want to talk to us let alone help us? He doesn’t care a bit about what goes on here. He’s a total recluse,” said Carly.

“You wanted to see me,” said an unfamiliar voice coming from near the vending machine at the back of the room. It was Mack, wearing a pair of cream-colored silk pajamas, top and bottom, with his initials monogrammed above the pocket over the left breast. “M.A.” for Mack Aronson, was sewn in an ornate blue script lettering. “I’m waiting.”

The group sat there dumbfounded at, not only the sudden appearance of the allusive Mr. Aronson, but at the outfit as well.

“Please sit Mack, thank you for coming,” said Carly pulling out a chair for him to sit on. “Are you feeling better”?

“Feeling better?” asked Mack, “from what?”

 

“From the flu, Mr. Chen said you had the flu,” remarked the lady in the big hat, the brim of which flopped down and covered her face.

“Chen is like a mother hen, I wasn’t sick. They increased my meds and I was sleeping all day but I’m fine now. So what can I do for you folks”? Mack sat down, pulled in the chair, and clasped his fingers in front of him on the table.

 

Chapter 19

 

The kitchen, for the most part, was back in business. Mitchell, the head chef, had returned from Vegas where he had attended seminars, met with colleagues, learned some new cooking techniques, and lost $3000 at the crap tables. He was not a happy camper.

“My knives, I can’t cut a fucking thing without my knives,” shouted Mitchell.

The knives he was referring to were the ones that had been taken, presumably by a resident, during the uprising. The knives were the personal property of the chef himself and, like all professionals; he did not like using an unfamiliar set of tools. The gleaming set of six chef’s knives that Noel bought to replace the missing ones may not have been the best chef’s knives money could buy but they sure were some of the most expensive. One of the larger knives, a Misono UX10 Gyutou 8” knife cost nearly $200, the very thought of purchasing such an expensive knife made Noel positively giddy. She would send a bill for $300 to corporate and pocket the difference.

Besides the knives, some of the ladles, spatulas, and serving forks had also been replaced because they were lost, bent, or too contaminated to use again. Mitchell cursed the residents for starting all this and he cursed the management for not stopping it in time. “Imagine stealing a man’s knives,” he said repeatedly.

This animosity towards the management, his kitchen staff, and especially the residents could only lead Mitchell towards one goal, to make the food as quickly and poorly as possible. He would make the food “just edible,” and just within the parameters of safety, with no seasoning, except for extra salt (“I’ll show those hypertensive broken down old bastard S.O.B.’s what salt tastes like”) he thought, “And lots of pepper too.”

Stealthily, Mitchel would go from pot to pot, kettle to kettle and, after one of his cooks had finished seasoning the dish, he would add some more, lots more. A quarter cup of salt became a cup and a half. A tablespoon of cayenne pepper became a half a cup. Some dishes he did not season at all, telling his cooks that “I’ll do the seasoning for that one” and then just “forgetting” to put any in. The soup, which that day was supposed to be minestrone and, usually seasoned with garlic, basil, oregano and pepper, would contain none of those. The only thing in that soup would be the vegetables and not too many of those either. Moreover, to add insult to injury, Mitchel would order that all salt and pepper shakers be removed from the tables and declare that they had “run out”.

In addition, all meat and chicken would be cooked into an unrecognizable char making sure any natural juices would be roasted out. Beverages were to be served at room temperature with no ice. Ice cream would be left to go soft, as would the Jell-O and puddings. In addition, while he couldn’t control the speed at which his servers served, he could control the time it took to put it on a plate. “Ruin MY kitchen; complain about MY food, will they?” Mitchell muttered under his breath. “They think they were eating crap before. After today, they’ll beg for crap.

 

 

Mack, Carly, the lady with the big hat, her “significant other,” and a smattering of concerned residents gathered around a small table in the corner of the little kitchen. 

“This is not a good place to be seen talking to Mack” said Carly. “We have to find some other place to talk.”

“Good luck with that” said Roland; now almost completely back to his “normal” self. “They got those new security cameras all over the place. Did you see the new ones they put in the dining room yesterday. I wouldn’t be surprised if they ain’t watching us right now.”

“There’s got to be somewhere they have no cameras,” said ED, a tall man with thick gray hair whose conflicts with management were legendary.

Blank expressions fell on the faces of the assembled residents, each in deep concentration trying to picture various parts of the facility where they could have complete privacy. “I got nuthin’, except maybe the toilets or one of our rooms”, said Rena, a new resident who was born in Cuba and was a pro-Castro radical until she became disillusioned with communism and made for the U.S. on the first raft out of Havana.

“The toilets are no good because they will know something’s up when they see a group of men and women go in and not come out for a half hour, and besides, it stinks in there” said Carly. “And the same goes for our rooms, too small and too suspicious looking and I never did trust those intercoms”

“We have to hide in plain sight,” said large hat women. “Look, it’s easy. Every day we get together to play Rummikub, but not here, too crowded. We go to the other room back in the Hamilton Annex. We push the tables together and pretend that we are playing with a larger group than before. As we “play,” (making the quotation mark sign with her fingers) we talk. Does that sound good to you Mack?”

Mack though about it for a second and showed his approval by unclasping his hands, placing them flat on the table and standing up. Straightening his silk PJ’s Mack said, “When do we meet?” The rest of the group also gave their approval and decided to arrange a “game” later that evening.

 

“You know this could get us all kicked out of here: said Carly. “So if anybody wants out, now’s the time”. Nobody moved or said a word.

 

Chapter 20

 

5:30 pm and time for the second seating dinner crowd to begin their evening repast. The menu, posted on the bulletin board outside the dining room announced that tonight’s dinner would consist of Minestrone consommé, baked cod fillets, onion rings, and string beans. An alternate of a cold-cut plate was also on the bill. The dinner was to be topped off by a serving of chocolate chip cookies. This, with only some minor exceptions, was a typical weekday evening dinner, bland, boring, and uninspired, but edible, so the residents thought.

 

Chef Mitchell, still pissed off over the loss of his treasured knives, had a “special” dinner in mind when he designed tonight’s menu. This dinner would be his initial venture into the world of “Cooking for revenge” for, tonight he would do everything, short of poisoning the food, to make as miserable a dinner as has ever been set before anyone. “Inmates in a Turkish prison get better food than this shit” he snickered.

 

The first seating and hour earlier had gone without a hitch mainly because dinner was served as advertised. It was a standard meal for the Western without any skulduggery or subterfuge. The diners, mostly older, less involved residents and having not a “protester” among them, just ate their dinner and left the dining room, if not happy, than at least satisfied. Chef Mitchell would perform his “magic” on the second, more rebellious group of residents, the ones that, in his mind, “caused all the trouble.”

 

Usually the large kettles of soup were filled from even larger kettles sitting on the stove immediately after the first seating had finished eating. However, this evening the procedure was altered, slightly. Instead of refilling the large tureens with hot, fresh soup, the refill for the “rebels” would be only hot water, diluting by about 80% of whatever soup remained in the kettles. When ladled into individual soup bowels one would be hard pressed to find even a spec of meat or vegetables in this swill, leaving the diners with little more than a bowl of reddish hot water. The baked cod entre’ would fare no better.

Cod fish, with little inherent flavor of its own, depends on the skills of the cook to make it palatable and, while the cook may have had those skills, none of them would be wasted on “these” people. Instead of baking or broiling the fish, which would have at least added some flavor and color to the mostly white flesh, the chef decided to poach the cod in hot, unflavored boiling water rendering the already tasteless fish even more so. The onion rings, a big favorite with the residents and maybe the one thing the chef did very well, would suffer much the same fate as the soup and the cod.

First, the well-seasoned batter that usually coated each tender ring of sautéed onion was washed off and replaced with a plain mixture of flavorless pancake mix right out of the bag. A large vat of cooking oil was set on the stove and heated until it resembled magma boiling up from a long dormant volcano. The pancake-coated onions were unceremoniously dropped into the bubbling oil. As each one hit the oil, it immediately puffed up to ten times its normal size forming, what resembled, a large onion filled donut. The chef, noticing the similarity between what he had “created” and actual donuts, decided to complete the metamorphosis by sprinkling a generous amount of powdered sugar on each ring. “Is it a desert or a side dish?” thought the chef knowing that the only thing that mattered was that it was awful. The other side dish of over-cooked string beans needed less attention because they were already boiled into a green soupy consistency. All, it appeared, was ready for the “mob” as Mitchell called them, to eat. The Chef was about to announce, “Dinner was served” when he suddenly remembered the alternate menu item, the cold cut plate.

 

The “alternate menu item,” devised so those diners who just did not feel like having the main, more popular meal, could still have dinner. The alternate usually consisted of an even blander, more boring and, if you could believe it, less appetizing meal that the main one. Tonight’s offering of a cold cut platter was a good example of such a meal. The trick here, thought the chef, was how to make the dullest thing on the menu even more dismal. He surveyed a sample plate set before him on the counter.

First, the chef removed any items that could even be considered as having any flavor. Fling! Chef Mitchell tossed, into a trashcan, the three rolled up slices of salami. Fling again, this time it was the ham, leaving only the plain white slices of processed turkey on the plate. Two more “flings” and the tomatoes and cucumbers, which made up the rest of the platter, were gone in a flash. “Walla!, thees eez my finest creation” he said and, mimicking a stereotypical French chef even more, put his thumb and forefinger together, placed them to his lips and kissed them. “Steal my knives, will ya,” he said as an unsuspecting server brought the first of his “special meals” to the dining room.

<|>

Resembling a flock of sheep heading to the barn for dinner, the second seating crowd had begun to file into the room, complete with a “pecking order.” The less mobile of the group, the slow movers with walkers, Rollators, or wheelchairs would make way for those with canes who in turn made room for those who were able to get along on their own. This system usually worked well unless someone with a Rollator, which is essentially a walker with wheels, thought they might have the speed and stamina to keep up with the regulars and, decides to be first through the doors causing a traffic jam, backing up a string of diners as far as the lobby. In addition, just like any traffic jam on the expressway, delayed “drivers” and start a “Rollator road rage” argument with the offending party. As the squabble heats up a crowd begins to form around the two combatants in what could only be described as “rubbernecking.” The line only resumes its forward momentum when one of the dining room staff -turned -traffic cop, manages to untangle the jam-up. Eventually, the diners are seated without mishap, except for some of the more “spaced out” residents who forgot that, they had eaten only a half hour before and sit down in some other resident’s seat which initiates a whole other series of arguments. This was usual behavior for a facility, which allows in anybody with a social security check and a pulse. Therefore, the scene was set for what was to be a defining moment for both the staff and the residents of the Western Assisted and Independent living Facility.

 

Chapter 21

 

Ft. Lauderdale (Noel’s dream destination) was where the headquarters of the Western assisted living facility was located. The “ElderSpace Corporation,” owns and operates 19 other senior communities with the WAIF being their initial venture into the business of housing the elderly. Over the past 15 years of operating these facilities, they have developed a keen sense of what was going right or wrong with one of their properties.

One of the signals that something was not right was a sudden, and extraordinarily high turnover rate. That is, there were more people moving out over a shorter period than the industry norm, and the WAIF, even though it was the companies oldest property, had the highest turnover rate of all of ElderSpace’s units, about 20% higher. The WAIF, it turned out, had an average of five residents leaving the facility every month and, even though they replaced most of them with new arrivals, the WAIF had never attained their full capacity of 200 filled beds.

Hiram Nussbaum was the Chief Operating Officer of ElderSpace. His father-in-law, who was the longtime owner and president of a company, which ran mostly failing nursing homes, brought Hiram into the business shortly after Hiram married Mr. Jacoby’s daughter. Mr. Jacoby, the CEO and principle owner of ElderSpace sold off all of his failing residences except one, the Western Nursing Home that he liked because of its suburban location and its proximity to a large metropolitan area. However, Mr. Jacoby was growing too old to take on the daily rigors of operating such a high stress business as a nursing home, and needed a younger man, a man he could trust, a man like his new son-in-law Hiram, to carry on the daily operation of the enterprise.

 

Hiram was a “fixer,” meaning he could come into a failing or poorly performing business, locate, and remedy the problem and then move on. The perfect man for what a failing nursing home needed. Hiram took the job after his new wife pleaded with him to do so. After only a few months, Hiram had the nursing home back on the road to profitability, but not profitable enough. He knew there would never be enough money generated by running a nursing home alone to grow the business. They needed to expand their horizons. For ElderSpace, a business used to dealing with the elderly, the business of assisted living, (which 15 years ago was relatively new) was just right for an aggressive company to sink their teeth in to. That’s when Hiram and his father in law gave up the Western Nursing Home and changed the name to the Western Assisted and Independent living Facility, (WAIF).

Hiram, being the mover and shaker type, usually never involved himself with the nuts and bolts of managing a business, leaving such things as purchasing, human resources, and bookkeeping to his managers. However, Hiram did like to keep an eye on changes occurring at the individual facilities and one of those facilities he had a special eye out for was his first and oldest property, the WAIF, the high turnover rate being just one of the indications that something was amiss. This had prompted Hiram to ask his managers to forward to him any unusual happenings or expenditures the WAIF had made. Thus, when the bills came into the business office at corporate HQ for all of the damage done during the recent “uprising,” a light bulb went off in Hiram’s head telling him that there was something rotten up on the hill and that an additional, more personal, investigation was forthcoming. Hiram might just have to take a trip up north himself.

 

 

Chapter 22

 

Back at the WAIF’s dining room, the nervous wait staff began to pour the soft drinks and coffee, which the Chef had not messed with. Cautiously they maneuvered their serving carts through the maze of tables, walkers, canes, and Rollators, strewn haphazardly about the aisles and in the space between tables, which caused an unwanted obstacle course for servers, and diners alike.

 

Shanisha, a young woman of about 25 years, had been a server at the Western for the last three months and, up until now, liked her job. She thought that the old folks were a “hoot” and commiserated with them when some of the food she was forced to serve was something she would not have, in her words “fed to her cat.” She knew what was about to happen and wished she had the courage to tell the residents what was in store for them, but she also knew that such disclosure would mean certain dismissal from a job that she needed to help supplement the meager income her husband made working at a fast food joint in town. Shanisha would have to just smile as usual and make believe she knew nothing of what would ensue.

 

Table 19, situated near the entrance to the kitchen, would be the first table Shanisha would have to serve. The four women who sat at that table, all in their late 70’s, had become close friends and wanted nothing to do with food fights, uprisings or protests, although, as one of the women said, they enjoyed the “action”. “Good evening ladies” said Shanisha, her voice tense with anxiety, “who wants soup”. The four women all turned and stared at her, wondering why her voice was quivering as if she were scared. 

 

Across the room, near the windows, where most of the dissidents convened, was table 33. At that table sat Carly, Roland, Ed and the woman with the big hat, none of whom had a clue as to what was going to happen in just a few minutes. Their server, a new hire, had his I.D. tag turned around so nobody could read his name. He figured the less anyone knew about him the less trouble he would be in when the shit started to fly and, after what he saw the other night, he knew the shit this evening would fly high and hard. He, like most of his co-workers, had made contingency plans as to what to do and where to hide when all hell broke loose. His plan, if he could not make it back to the relative safety of the kitchen or out the door, would be to duck under the nearest table and cover himself with a tablecloth, effectively removing him completely from the ensuing situation. The tension, as well as the temperature in the dining room, was starting to rise. The initial caravan of food carts were starting to leave the kitchen and, as the first course of watered down soup was placed before the diners it appeared that all the players were in place for what promised to be an interesting evening.

 

 

Carly, who usually did not order soup, had missed lunch and was hungry. The menu read, “Minestrone consommé” which she had never heard of let alone tasted but assumed would be a light thin tomatoey soup, but even she did not believe what she was expected to eat. As she stared into the bowl at the one small speck of carrot, and what appeared to be some sort of green thing stuck to the inside of the bowl, she thought that this was not soup at all but probably a bowl of dishwater somebody put into a soup bowl by mistake. Unfortunately, as she looked at the faces and then the bowls of the other diners she realized that this pigswill was indeed the aforementioned consommé. She tasted the flavorless, reddish liquid just to make sure and then beckoned the server to come to her table. The new server clucked his tongue, straitened his apron, and went over to table 33. “Be brave,” he said to himself. “Be brave.”

 

“Yes, what do you need” he said to Carly.

 

“The soup” said Carly.

 

“You want more,” said young man, not trying to be funny, but rather attempting to be oblivious as to what the real problem was.

 

“More, I don’t want more. I want some soup in my soup, this is just water” said Carly, trying to contain herself.

 

“I see the soup right there, in the bowl, its cornsuemay, that means watery in France,” he offered.

 

“Oy” said Carly picking up the bowl and making her way towards the kitchen.

“Whereyagoin,” asked the new kid.

 

“To the kitchen to throw this stuff at the chef” said Carly, half-kidding and half deadly serious.

 

“Now don’t be doin’ that” pleaded the new kid. “I’ll take it back Relieving the bowl from Carly, he headed back to the kitchen for what he knew would be a futile effort to replace the soup with something edible. Carly watched as the new 

guy walked slowly through the kitchen doors to see the chef. Carly wondered what he would bring back, if he came back.

 

Meanwhile some of the other tables were experiencing the displeasure of the evenings fare as well. Most of the diners either had not ordered the soup or failed to notice that it was a “bit off”. Still others just pushed the wishy-washy broth aside in favor of the codfish and onion rings.

 

At first glance, the codfish looked much as codfish is supposed to look, mainly white. However, upon closer examination, the diner could see that the white color was not because of the pristine nature of the fish but for the reason that any color the fish might have had, was completely boiled out, leaving nothing more than a lump of loosely held together fish flesh. Since there were no salt or pepper shakers on the table there was nothing to help make the cod, which smelled like a combination of dead fish and pond water, edible. Most of the diners just pushed it away while others spit it out on the floor. Still others made retching noises as if they were going to vomit. Those few diners that were unaware as to the true nature of tonight’s dinner attempted to eat the pancake battered onion rings, which, as one diner exclaimed, “were plumper than usual.” In fact, at first bite, the onion filled donuts, or the sugar covered onion rings depending on how big of a bite you took, did not seem so bad, but after savoring the flavor of this combination of sugar, onions and pancake batter one realized that this was “The onion ring from hell.”

 

Those residents who might have thought that they would be spared the disastrous main dinner by ordering the cold cut platter were equally out of luck. Three thin slices of slimy processed turkey roll were laid out on a bed of pale iceberg lettuce like three bodies on a slab at the morgue, cold and stiff.

 

Armed with the realization that dinner had been sabotaged, the residents began to bang on the tables with their knives and forks while stomping their feet in unison to some unseen drummer, one two, one two three, thump thump...thump-thump-thump, echoing the other diners repeatedly. The young, nameless server observing that the evacuation route to the kitchen was blocked by Rollator’s and walkers, turned towards the main entrance as an alternate escape.

 

A couple of tense minutes went by before the sound of crashing dinnerware broke the silence. A couple of more plates, a saucer, or two and some silverware banging together followed. Carly, still contemplating her next move stood up and in the loudest voice she could muster for a woman her size, began to address the growing crowd of rebellious residents.

 

“Stop, stop this now. This is not the way to show how you feel. We all know what’s been done here and they know we know and believe me, we are not going to let them get away with it, but not by destroying the very place in which we live,” pleaded Carly. “Just move away from your tables and walk out. If this atrocity continues we will get an injunction, OK”? Carly had no idea how to get an injunction or if it were even possible for an action like this but she had to do something before all hell broke loose.

 

The crowd, who had come to trust and respect the diminutive Carly, settled down, and still grumbling, walked out of the dining room. Some of the diners went over to Carly to ask what she was going to do. Carly would only say, “Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 23

 

 

Hiram Nussbaum was not a happy man. He hated travel of any kind and a trip to the cold, frozen North in the middle of winter put him in a foul mood. Stepping out of the airplane and on to the Jetway, Hiram immediately felt a rush of frigid air hit his face like a splash of cheap after-shave lotion on a razor burn. The long walk to the baggage claim area and then an even longer walk to the car rental area furthered the coarseness of his disposition. Adding to this, was the lackadaisical way the girl at the Econ-o-Drive car rental desk told Hiram that his car, a four door Toyota Corolla, had been rented to someone else and the only vehicle available at that hour was a van. Hiram, too tired and too pissed off, just signed the rental agreement and waited for the courtesy bus that would take him to his “truck.”

 

Hiram sat with six other rental customers on the courtesy bus as they made their way through row after row of cars, dropping off each customer at their vehicles. “How come these people all got real cars, and for who were all those dozens of other cars in the lot”, thought Hiram as the last of the six customers hopped off the bus and into a shiny new Lexus. The bus driver turned to Hiram and asked to see his rental agreement. The driver read it, smiled, returned the paper to Hiram, turned the bus around, and headed in the opposite direction from where the cars were parked. “We have to go to the commercial lot for you,” said the driver. 

 

After going through two security gates and a long drive down a dark road, Hiram finally arrived at his rental vehicle, a bright yellow Dodge van with the words “Econ-O-Drive Only $19.95 a day” painted on both sides and rear door panel. Hiram made a mental note not to ever use Econ-o-Drive again and to make sure he was charged only $19.95 instead of the $40.00 he was quoted for the Toyota. Grabbing his one piece of luggage, Hiram made his way to the “truck” as he called it, threw his bag into the large cargo hold and drove out of the lot and on to the highway heading north to a motel room, a shower, and a good night’s sleep. He would get to the WAIF early the next morning and surprise them.

 

 

 

 

Earlier that day, the Case Management department, which had tried to remain neutral in all of this, met for the first time after the initial riot in the dining room. The “team” was now thickly involved with questions and comments coming from the residents, the management, and now, the relatives of the residents who had learned of the recent difficulties through the UN-official resident’s newsletter page on Facebook. 

The newsletter, of which I am the editor, head writer and chief reporter, is the only way the residents can obtain the latest facility info ever since Management banned the monthly printed edition due to, as they put it, “Lewd and salacious content unfitting a family oriented facility like the Western”. Since the anal-retentive S.O.B’s own the copy machine, the residents could do nothing about it.

 

This morning, Valerie, Jennifer and Evelyn, the case management team, sat in Valerie’s office, each with a copy of the resident’s “manifesto” in hand. Although a smirk could be heard from time to time as they read, nobody was laughing.

 

“They don’t seem like unreasonable demands,” said Evelyn, the newest member of the CM team.

 

“Not so loud,” cautioned Valerie. “Never let them (referring to management) know you side with the residents. I did that once when I first came here and almost lost my job. We are management, and never forget it.” 

 

Evelyn shook her head knowingly and went back to reading.

 

“What do you think?” asked Valerie directing her question to Jennifer who had just finished reading her copy of the manifesto.

 

“They’re right of course,” she whispered. “I had lunch in there last week and was served a gray, cold hamburger and cold fries. In fact everything was cold except the ice tea, which was warm” she chuckled. The two other women nodded in agreement. 

 

“Evelyn, what have you been telling people when they call and ask about what was going on here?” asked Valerie, who had been recently made the Director of the Case management department.

 

“I’ve been telling them that the whole thing was blown out of proportion and that only a couple of the residents actually threw any food and that everything was back to normal,” replied Evelyn.

 

“And you Jen, what have you been saying?” asked Valerie.

 

“Pretty much the same as Ev, I say that it was no big deal and everything’s O.K. now.”

 

“Did they buy it?” wondered Valerie.

 

Both women shook their heads yes.

 

“Alright, let’s keep doing that for now. Keep it low key and generalize about everything. If, down the road, we have to revise that position we will worry about it then,” tutored Valerie. “What do you hear from the residents, what are they saying, or better yet, what are they doing?”

 

“The only residents that have been in here to complain are the ones that were not part of the riot,” said Jennifer.

 

“Please, don’t use the word riot. It’s not good for business or anyone if you admit there was a riot. Let’s just call it a “disagreement” from now on, huh?” scolded Valerie.

 

“OK, OK, the only residents that came to complain about the “disagreement” were the ones that were not involved in it. Some of them just came in to tell me what happened and others wanted to know who was going to pay for the cleaning bills,” advised Jennifer.

 

“Cleaning bills, what cleaning bills?’ asked Val.

 

“Mostly everybody got a whole bunch of “disagreement” on their clothes like tomato stains and all that, that won’t wash out,” said Jen.

 

“And what did you tell them” said Valerie.

 

“I told them what I told them the last time we had a similar incident, you remember. It was at the Friday Sabbath candle lighting when someone threw a glass of grape juice at the lady who lit the candle. I told them to send us the bill,” said Jennifer.

 

“What was that Sabbath thing all about anyway?” asked Evelyn.

 

“Well, not being Jewish, I’m not quite sure but I think it had something to do with saying the wrong blessing or something,” said Jennifer.

 

“The wrong blessing?” inquired Evelyn.

 

“Yes, the blessing, prayer or whatever they call it. The lady who was reciting the prayer used the wrong one. She used the one that was for matzo instead of bread and all hell broke loose, there was Challah and grape juice all over the place, the stain on the carpet is still there.”

 

“I don’t think the Western is going to pay for any cleaning, so don’t tell them that anymore, just say that we will let them know, OK?” said Valerie. “Is there anything else besides this rio…er…disagreement business?”

 

“Only the usual,” yawned Evelyn. “We still can’t get Mr. Johnson to zip up his fly. Mrs. Cochran tried to pull it up for him but he took exception to that and pushed her away. Blond Agnes was walking around the third floor again looking for her imaginary cat. I’m just worried that one day she’s going to find it and it won’t be a cat, if you know what I mean. Miss D’Angelo tried to warm a bowl of leftover pasta with a light bulb and set the paper plate on fire and, we caught big Thom smoking while hanging his head out of his window.”

 

“His window”, asked Val. “How could he hang his head out of the window? They don’t open out, just in.”

 

“That’s how we found out he was smoking. They had to call maintenance to remove the window after Thom got stuck. He was there for almost three hours before someone walking under his window heard him yelling for help,” said Evelyn.

 

“Is that all?” said an exasperated Val.

 

“Oh yes, I almost forget,” said Evelyn. A Mr. (Evelyn fumbled with a small notebook and read the name); a Mr. Nussbaum wants to see you in the boardroom at 9 am tomorrow.

 

Valerie’s face turned pale. “THE BIG BOSS IS COMING HERE?”

 

 

 

Noel, too had received a “summons” from Hiram to meet at nine and, although surprised at the sudden arrival of her boss, she was sure she knew why he was there and it made her nervous. She would have to speak to Mitchell about having some breakfast ready for Hiram in the morning.

 

Preparing for the meeting, Noel gathered the fake copies of the doctored invoices together and slipped them into a red folder. If requested, she would make copies of the copies to give to Hiram. Taking the red folder to her desk, she removed the copies and, very carefully examined each one. They were some of her best work she thought as she admired the way she had skillfully rearranged the logos and type fonts of the real invoices and turned them into fake lookalike companies. Maybe she could design letterheads part time when she retired to that nice condo she planned on buying in Florida. Noel smiled and returned the papers to the folder.

 

 

 

 

 

An hour after that disastrous dinner, Carly, Roland, the lady with the big hat and the rest of the protest gang gathered around a group of tables in the Hamilton Annex that had been pushed together supposedly for holding a Rummikub tournament, but Rummikub was far from what was on their minds. They were there to discuss both the reneging on their demands and the lousy meal they were served by Mitchell that night. Mack was there also, along with his sidekick Chen. Upon seeing the mysterious Mr. Chen, Carly took Mack aside and asked why the presence of this man was necessary.

 

“He insisted,” said Mack. “And besides, I sort of like him, he keeps me in focus.

 

 

“Yes, but can he be trusted. I mean, we will be discussing some very…um…delicate matters and we must be sure that he will keep what he hears in confidence”, said Carly.

 

 

“Chen has assured me that he will be inscrutable,” said Mack who also told Carly that Chen had been a spy for Chiang Kai-shek before Taiwan split with China. “He won’t say a word.”

 

 

Carly, not wanting to upset Mack would, for now, allow Mr. Chen to sit in on the meeting. She went back to the table and told the rest of the group, who had been staring at the Chinese man ever since he walked in to the room, that Chen would be staying. Although there were some rumbles of disapproval, the group decided that they would rather get on with business than to argue about Mack’s friend.

 

“Is everyone here that should be here?” asked Carly looking around the otherwise empty room.

 

“All present and accounted for” said Roland, saluting Carly in mock respect.

 

“Enough with the saluting, we are all in this together and there are no leaders, OK?” said Carly. The group acknowledged what Carly said. “Anybody want to 

start?” Mack took up the challenge and began to speak.

 

 

“After some due consideration and using my vast knowledge of how things work in the corporate world, I have come to the conclusion that the best way to get them to bend to our will is to hit them where it hurts….

 

“In their pocketbooks, right?” said tall Ed.

 

“If you would give me a chance to finish my sentence” said Mack, annoyed at the Ed’s interjection, “I would have said that the best way to get back at them is to hit them, not in their pocketbooks but in their reputation. They need a clean, clear spotless standing in the world in which they exist to be able to continue with, and grow their business. That means that the more black marks against them, the better it will be for us.”

 

“Black marks?” questioned Carly. “You mean like bad health department reports or patient abuse”?

 

 

“Yes, that and more,” responded Mack. However, it can’t be stuff the public already knows, it has to be stuff only they and us know and they have to be made to realize that making public that information would ruin them.” 

 

“Mack” said Carly. “Are you talking blackmail?”

 

“Blackmail is such an ugly word. It conjures up images of shadowy men in trench coats demanding payment before handing over brown envelopes to people they meet in dark alleys”, said Mack.

 

“How is this different?” asked Carly.

 

“Well, first we won’t be asking for any money, just demands,” said Mack. “And of course we will be doing this in the open. They will know what we have on them and they will be given an adequate time in which to respond, or not”.

 

“What happens if they don’t respond?” asked Roland.

 

“Then we threaten to make everything public,” said Mack.

 

“Public, how” said the Chanel hat lady. “You mean like the newspapers?”

 

“The newspapers and the internet, the main place where people go to look for places to drop off their old folks is online,” lectured Mack. “I know how to flood the internet with any information we can come up with.”

 

“Still sounds like blackmail to me” said Carly who was now questioning her decision to include Mack in their plans. Carly’s main requirement when she started all of this was to work within the law and this sounded a bit too “outlaw” to her. However, she knew too, that just telling people something they probably already knew is not much of a bargaining point at the negotiating table. “Do you have anything to start with Mack?”

 

Mack’s normally dour expression became a sly grin, “Let’s just say I’ll be looking at the “books.”

 

 

Valery too, was preparing for the morning meeting. Previously, the only contact she ever had with Hiram (Mr. Nussbaum) was when he called to inquire about the status of a resident whose son had somehow managed to get Hiram’s cell phone number and called him directly to complain that his father was not receiving the kosher meals he requested. That phone call from Hiram, she remembered, did not go well and she did not like the way Hiram spoke to her over the phone. She found his manner to be gruff and not sympathetic at all when she explained to him that, “They might have slipped in a non-kosher meal or two when they ran out of the kosher stuff, but it wasn’t pig meat or anything like that,” she said. Valery remembered that he hung up on her without as much as a thank you or goodbye. In fact, she didn’t remember whether he ever asked her name, which right now, to Valerie, sounded like a good thing.

 

The next morning Noel left her office ten minutes early for the meeting with Hiram, thinking she would be the first one in the room thereby impressing the boss with her promptness and diligence. She might also be in a position to have, perhaps, a private word with him about transferring to the main office, again. However, the other summoned staff members had felt the same way and, as Noel started for the boardroom, she ran into Valery, Marcus, Roseanne, as well as April and the big chef.

 

As Noel opened the two glass paneled doors, she found Hiram at the head of the table bathed in the light of a single overhead flood lamp. The bright, faint blue light, washed over Hiram with god-like luminescence.

 

Hiram looked up from what remained of his breakfast, which consisted of two fried eggs some toast and orange juice. He watched as the “brain trust” of the Western Assisted and Independent living Facility filed into the room, all of whom, he noticed, had grim expressions on their faces. “Why the long punims” he said, “it’s only cups and saucers,” said Hiram sarcastically.

 

“Yes, of course, just cups and saucers” repeated Noel, half giggling the words while the other staffers nervously echoed Hiram’s sentiments.

 

“And plates”, spoke up Marcus, trying to add frivolity to the conversation but, failing to understand the sarcasm, just made the situation worse. He sat down vowing to himself, never to utter another word, unless spoken to.

 

Hiram looked around the room and quickly counted the bodies, there was one missing.

 

“Where’s what’s his name, the chef” asked Hiram.

 

“Mitchell” said Noel, Mitchell is not here. He went to the restaurant supply house to shop for knives”.

 

“More knives, how many knives does he need,” asked Hiram showing his impatience.

 

“Not more, different. He didn’t like the ones I bought so he’s exchanging them” answered Noel.

 

Noel suddenly felt a wave of nausea sweep over her as well as that coldness at the back of the neck which one feels when one is about to faint. In her haste to falsify the vendor’s invoices, she forgot about Mitchell and his returned knives. The restaurant supply house where she bought the knives was one of those vendors whose bills she fabricated. While it would be no problem getting the credit memo from Mitchell, what happens if the vendor sends a credit memo directly to ElderSpace’s corporate headquarters? Surly they would cross check the bills and would notice the discrepancy. 

 

“Shit!” she said, not realizing she had said it out load.

 

Everyone turned and looked at Noel, including Hiram who was surprised to hear such language from this middle-aged matronly woman.

 

“I mean, sorry, I forgot to send him a text about the meeting,” said Noel thinking fast. “But you surprised us this morning Hiram.”

 

“O.K.” said Hiram. “We can do this without him, I guess. Now, who wants to tell me about the riot”?

 

 

 

Chapter 25

 

 

The meeting with the staff did not leave Hiram feeling any better about what had occurred at the Western earlier that week. Conflicting stories, lack of any coherence as to how to handle such a situation and the very fact that such a situation should have occurred in the first place shattered any confidence Hiram may have had with this staff.

 

“Did you enjoy breakfast?” asked Noel, before she noticed the mostly uneaten eggs left on the plate. A half cup of coffee sat next to his partially devoured meal.

 

“It tasted like shit, is this stuff what you feed THEM?” he said.

 

The big chef and April looked at Hiram’s plate.

 

“Yes, except you got the good eggs,” said April.

 

“The good eggs, What’s the good eggs” inquired Hiram.

 

“The good e-e-eggs, stuttered April, “Well, it’s got less; I mean more yolk.

 

”Yolk,” asked Hiram, sounding more annoyed by the second.

“You know, soft yolks,” said April.

 

“You mean the residents get different yolks,” asked Hiram, now turning a bright shade of purple.

 

“They can’t get no runny yolks sir, ‘cause the D.O.H. don’t want no salmonleather in the food,” said the big chef.

 

Hiram leaned back in his chair amazed at what he had just heard.

 

“He means salmonella,” corrected Noel. “And it’s true; we can’t give those people eggs like regular people” 

 

“And this, these pigeon eggs, these are the size eggs they get” asked Hiram. “Can’t we afford to at least give them larger eggs?”

 

Silence came over the room as all eyes turned to Noel, who ultimately was responsible for the allocation of funds for the different departments, including food services.

 

Noel could feel a cold sweat, starting at the top of her head and cascading over her as if someone had poured a barrel of Gatorade on her head. She was indeed responsible for the allocation and distribution of all funds needed to run the facility and the food budget was among them. The food budget was also one of the items that Noel had more or less “appropriated” for her retirement fund, having altered most of the invoices from the twenty or so vendors that serviced the facility.

 

The fudged invoices included those from fishmongers to green grocers, from dairymen to bakers. All had succumbed to the Photoshop and accounting skills Noel had developed over the last three years. She had a whole drawer full of doctored bills dating back to almost the first day the doors to the Western opened. “Think fast Noel, think fast” you knew this day would come.

 

“If Mitchell were here,” she started, thanking her lucky stars that Mitchell was not present. “He would tell you that food prices have risen substantially and that we do our best to stretch to the max what we are allotted sir. We do the best with what we get”

 

Noel was amazed at her Chutzpa. She couldn’t believe that she had just essentially, asked for more money. She also thought that maybe she better ease off on the embezzling for now while things settled down a bit.

 

“I’ll have a look at the figures and perhaps we can allocate more finds for the food budget,” said Hiram.

 

“As long as you don’t look too hard,” thought Noel.

The one thing Mack had, that very few people knew he had, was the password that would allow him to log on to the facilities corporate website. Mack had figured out the password through a little investigating and luck. The only passwords he did not have were those that would permit him to log into the specific programs and personal folders of individual employees, like Noel.

 

The password, used by everyone else in the building, including residents and guests was “West6544.” Mark, being a smart guy and having a bit of larceny in his heart, decided he would also like the corporate password, not for any evil purpose, but just to see if he could figure it out.

 

As with any puzzle, you start with what you have. Mack looked at the public password number and tried to understand what meaning the numbers “6544” had. It wasn’t an address and if it was part of someone’s social security number he would never figure it out. “6544, 6544,” he knew it sounded like something.

 

Mack Googled the number 6544, and Google, through its infinite wisdom, asked, “Do you mean 6/5/44.”

 

Bingo, 6544 was a date, most likely a birthday or anniversary, but whose. Who in the corporation was born on June 5, 1944?

 

June 5, 1944 would make someone around 69 years old. Whose birthday was it, thought Mack, “perhaps starting at the top would be of some value? Mack decided to give corporate headquarters a call.

 

The only person that could possibly be 69 years old and a big shot in the company was the president himself, Mr. Jacoby. Mack waited until almost 5 pm to call Ft. Lauderdale, when he knew that Jocoby would have left for the day. It was important that he did not talk to Jacoby himself; a secretary must answer the phone.

 

“Hello, Elder Space this is Jan how may I help you?”

 

“Great,” thought Mack, “Mr. Jacoby please”, he asked.

 

“Mr. Jacoby has left for the day, is there something I can help you with,” said Jan.

 

“Dammit, dammit, dammit”, cursed Mack out load feigning his bad luck at not catching Jacoby at work.

 

“Is there something wrong sir” asked Jan.

 

“Oh, it’s just that I needed some information from him for the article,” said Mack.

 

“Article”, asked Jan, now seeming a little less distracted, “What article?”

 

“I’m sorry, I forget to introduce myself. My name is Kramer, from the Assisted Living News and I am putting the finishing touches on a story I’m writing for next month’s issue,” he lied.

 

“Mr. Jacoby will be in tomorrow” offered Jan.

 

“Too late, the deadline is tonight,” said Mack.

 

“Maybe I can help, I know Mr. Jacoby better than anybody else here,” she said.

 

“Bingo, gotcha,” thought Mack. “Of course, perhaps you can. It’s no big deal but I like to be accurate and my editor insists on details. All I really need to know is what Mr. Jacoby’s birth date is.”

 

“That’s all,” said Jan. “It’s June 5th 1944. Was there something else?

 

“Not a thing, Jan. You have been so helpful. I’ll be sure to send you a copy of the article, thank you so much,” said Mack.

 

Mack and his new best friend Jan, said their goodbyes. Mack now knew that they used birthdays as part of the passwords at least that was true for Mr. Jacoby, would the others follow suite. Some companies insist that everyone use some sort of standard pass code so that their I.T. departments can enter an employee’s system if the said employee was out or been fired. Mack now wondered how he would obtain Noel’s birthday, which he was sure, was also her password.

 

 

It was not until after 4 pm that Chef Mitchell returned from the restaurant supply house where he had gone shopping for a new set of knives, knives that he selected, knives that felt good in his hand and not some two-bit fancy-handled piece of crappy Japanese cutlery someone else bought. However, instead of buying an entire new set he bought only one knife, the one knife he had always wanted. The one knife revered by great chefs the world over, a knife he would never have bought with his own money, a J.A. Henckels 8” Damascus Chef's Knife, on sale for only $999.00. Never had he dreamed he would own such an instrument. 

 

Mitchell carefully lifted the knife from its special velvet-lined wooden box and held it in his hand. Running his finger gingerly over the blade, he admired how smooth it felt. Holding the knife in his right hand, he felt the way the knife was balanced and thought about how it was too good to waste on those Cretan resident ingrates, this knife he would save for special occasions. He would use one of the Jap knives for everyday use. His only concern was for the argument he might have with Noel when she gets the bill for the Henkel. Even he thought $1000 was a lot to pay for one knife. However, Noel had gladly approved some “out of the ordinary” purchases in the past like the 16” butcher block table that cost $800 which he never used but kept in the center of the kitchen because “it looked professional”, why should the knife be any different.

 

 

 

Mack, feeling confident that a birth date was the key to the staff’s personal passwords, still needed to find out the year of Noel’s birth. While finding her birthday and month would be easy, finding out what year she was born would be a different story. He could try looking on line for any public records that might be available but that would cost money and leave a trace, as most of the online “people finder” services required the use of a credit card. There had to be another way, a cost-free way, to find out what year she was born. He could try the “I’m writing an article” ploy again but who would believe someone would want to write a story about Noel. Think Mack think.

 

While he was thinking about what Noel’s birth year was he figured he better find out what her month and date of birth was. “Shouldn’t be too hard,” thought Mack, as he fired up his computer. He waited a moment while the “Google” screen popped up and typed in “Noel Bushmiller” plus the state and city in which she lived. Mack wished he knew her Social security number but “you can’t have everything,” he thought. Almost immediately, Google located 12 Noel Bushmillers and 5 N. Bushmillers locally. Mack could not believe there were that many Bushmillers let alone “Noel's.”

 

Mack was able to quickly eliminate seven Bushmillers because, three of them were deceased, and the other four were way too old or too young to be his “Noel.” Two of the five “N. Bushmillers” were men, who were lawyers in the firm of Nathan and Norman Bushmiller Esq’s., LPC. That left eight Bushmillers to check out. It was going to be a long night.

 

 

Chapter 26

 

Carly and her fellow conspirators, still incensed over the evening’s deliberately lousy meal, knew that it would be difficult to control many of the residents who now, were demanding blood. All of Carly’s pleading with the crowd to remain cool and not to do anything rash might just have fallen on, if not deaf, than at least partially hard of hearing ears. She just did not want a rogue faction of residents going off on their own and disrupting, what Carly hoped would be a cohesive, well thought out, nonviolent plan, a plan that would bring a lasting solution to all of the ills of the Western Assisted and Independent living Facility. Unfortunately, Carly had placed herself in the position of leadership meaning, that if anything bad did go down, the blame would be pointed directly at her. The last thing she needed now was any investigation into her past, which up until now; she thought she had left behind.

 

Back in the day, when Carly was a young girl she lived in an apartment in the North Beach section of San Francisco. She lived there with two other girls and two guys, just a stoned throw away from the notorious Haight-Ashbury section of the city. It was there that economic circumstances caused her to become involved in the distribution of small quantities of marijuana, LSD, and whatever else was popular at the time. Although she was in no way a major drug dealer, she and her friends did good, so good that she could afford an apartment of her own in a fancy building near the Embarcadero with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately, that apartment building was also home to an actual major drug kingpin, which meant that the building was under constant police surveillance. Carly, despite her chosen “profession” was a naïve girl from a well to do Chicago suburb who knew nothing of the ways of the street. To her mind, the drugs she sold were not illegal, not like heroin, cocaine or stuff like that. It was only some weed and some acid for Christ sake.

 

It was on one unusually bright and sunny morning back in 1966, a day when Carly was feeling particularly good after sampling some of her own “vegetation”, that agents of The Bureau of Narcotics (forerunner of the D.E.A.) and members of the San Francisco police Department’s Vice Squad decide to raid Carly’s apartment building. They were there, not for Carly (the truth is, they didn’t even know who Carly was) but because they had a warrant for the drug lord that was Carly’s neighbor. Unfortunately for her, as the elevator doors opened on Carly’s floor and a swarm of cops burst out of the cab, Carly screamed and tried to hide a half ounce of pot she kept in her bag by stuffing it into her bra. An officer of the S.F.P.D. spotted her and grabbed her wrist and was about to put the cuffs on her when shots rang out from somewhere down the hall. The cop told Carly to “stay where you are” and ran to the aid of his fellow officers without cuffing Carly. That was all the incentive Carly needed to make her getaway and she ran down the twelve flights of stairs and out on to the street. Thinking the cops were now looking for her, she never went back to that apartment again. Instead she went right to her bank, withdrew all of the money she had in the world (about $10,000) and left San Francisco forever. For over forty years, she had been looking over her shoulder thinking they were still after her. So now, with all that was about to happen, Carly was particularly careful of how she behaved, not wanting to upset the status quo as it were. As far as she was concerned, they were still looking for the young girl who went by the name of Starbright Moonbeam back on the streets of San Francisco

 

Hiram left the Western before the news of the evenings sabotaged dinner was made known to any of the management. Returning to his motel room, his bright yellow van parked outside of his front door, all he wanted to do was to kick off his shoes and lie down, but something was bothering him. He had come north to gain a better understanding of why the Western was not performing as well as it should but had learned almost nothing except that maybe more money should be spent on some of the amenities. The one thing Hiram knew was marketing, having sold everything from shoelaces in his father’s dry goods store to selling used cars one summer between his junior and senior years at college. He knew it “takes money to make money” and if some more money had to be spent on the Western, he would do it however, there was that little matter of the food riot that Hiram could not reconcile. All of the other 18 facilities in the ElderSpace chain received approximately the same amount per person for food, and even if the fact that the Western was located in a more expensive region of the country; they should not be spending almost twice as much on food as the other facilities. Hiram would have to take a closer look at the figures when he got home.

 

 

Noel too, was thinking about money, the food riot and, the deceptive invoices she was producing. Maybe she had she gone too far with the skimming, and been too greedy as well. Had she actually caused the food riot by diverting some of the funds for her own gain? She tried to square it all in her mind but the only thing she could come up with that would reconcile what she had done was that “she deserved it”, and now, even she was finding that hard to believe. From now on or at least for the rest of the month, she would stop with the phony bills and divert some of the money earmarked for other niceties to an increase in the resident’s food budget. Noel opened the filing cabinet, took out the facilities list of services and expenditures and placed it on her desk. Next, with a big carmine red #2 pencil in her hand, she began to circle one item after another that she thought could use some “trimming”.

 

“Limit rolls of toilet paper to one a week”, that’s $200 right there”, said Noel proudly. She continued, “Vacuum only once a month to save on vacuum bags another $70”, perfect. “Save on cups by using real drinking glasses and washing them”, there’s another, let’s see...$500, WOW! She continued that way cutting things like paper towels, shutting off the hot water overnight, and turning off lights in the corridors. “Oh! and live music, she exclaimed. “I’ll have to tell recreation, No more live bands or groups, unless we can get them for nothing”.

 

“There”, she said. “A thousand dollars a week saved. That should put some bigger bialys and better food on the tables for a while anyway”. 

 

Noel carefully folded her list. She would call a meeting of the housekeeping and maintenance people the next day to discuss her new “budget”. However, in the back of her mind she wished that $1000 were going into her pocket.

 

 

Chapter 27

 

Once again, the tightly knit group of conspirators met in the far reaches of the Hamilton annex to discuss their next move. Present were the usual’s, which now included Mr. Chen as a more or less permanent member. As the Rummikub game came out and the “players” took their seats, one could feel a sense of despair among some of the followers. It had been almost two days and nobody had come up with anything solid in the way of a plan of retaliation for the way that they had been treated with disrespect at, not only dinner, but with everything. Carly, feeling this anguish, realized that she needed to give them some good news, but what.

 

“Has anybody got anything they want to say?” asked Carly desperate for something that would boost the spirits of this dejected group. After a second or two of silence, Mack spoke up.

 

“I’ve made some headway as far as breaking the computer password code,” said Mack proudly.

 

This did little in the way of motivating the other residents out of their funk. The truth be told, not too many of the residents were in favor of using that “computer thing” as a tool to advance their cause. Most of them knew little or nothing about computers or what they could do and had little faith in them. Both Carly and Mack knew they would have to overcome the resident’s apathetic view of the digital world if non-violence was to be how they would achieve their ultimate goals.

 

“Wow, great” said Carly with mock elation. At least she could get excited at Mack’s “news”. The rest of the group looked bored. “Maybe you could explain to the rest of us what happens when you get the passwords, Mack”.

 

Mack detected Carly’s false enthusiasm and realized that he had to say something that made sense to this crowd before cooler heads gave way to those more passionate protesters who were thirsty for a more immediate course of action. Mack rubbed his palms together, preparing to give a lengthy presentation but looking around at the group, decided to present the abridged version instead. 

 

“Look, it’s simple”, began Mack. “All the information about everybody is on the computer. This includes all of your personal information as well as some of the personal information of the staff, including Noel, Mitchell and others. In addition, there is bookkeeping data, very confidential data that may show where and how the money is spent. With this information, we will be able to compare what we pay in rent against what is allocated for the residents. I have always felt that we are not receiving our proper due and, (Mack looked around to make sure nobody other than the group was listening) that there may be some kickbacks from the facilities suppliers, especially when it comes to medications”. This got the attention of the group.

 

“What makes you think that?” asked Ed.

 

“Because”, (Mack looked around the room again). “Because any pharmacy that gets as much business as they get from us would break their nuts to provide better service than what we have been getting. All I know is that if it was my pharmacy and someone needed medication and couldn’t wait for the next delivery, I would get in my own car and personally deliver it here even if I were the president of the company. I have never heard of any special deliveries from our pharmacy, or from any of our vendors for that matter. This tells me that they may not have to worry about losing our business because they are paying off somebody for the privilege of providing poor service”. Mack sat down and folded his hands on the table.

 

“Who do you think is getting paid off?” asked Roland.

 

“I’m not sure, that’s why I need to look at the books and maybe even into some personal bank accounts”, said Mack.

 

“You can do that on your computer,” asked one of the formally disinterested members of the group.

 

“I could try”, responded Mack.

 

The group’s morale seemed to improve almost immediately with people asking questions and making suggestions. Carly, at least for now could concentrate on other things, things that she might have to resort to in case Mack’s way did not pan out.

 

“So tell me more about how you got the passwords,” asked Carly feeding off the groups new found enthusiasm.

 

Mack began to describe how he made believe he was doing a story on Mr. Jacoby and how he “tricked” the secretary into giving him the information he needed and how it would not be that easy getting that info from Noel. He also said that he did not know if he ever would get Noel’s birth date and he might have to scrap the whole idea when, from the back of the room came a voice, “I get Noel birth date, you no worry”. The voice was that of Mr. Chen. The group turned to look at their latest member with new respect. Mr. Chen might work out after all.

 

 

As various department heads assembled in the boardroom for a hastily called meeting, Noel knew her plan for the redistribution of funds would be a tough sell. After all, she was skimming from the budgets of the other departments as well as food services and now, she was going to ask them to cut even more. “Oh well, that’s why I’m the boss. Somebody has to make the tough decisions”, she thought , not even realizing that the reason she had to make these decisions in the first place was her own fault. Seated around the oval table was Marcus, head of maintenance, Roseanna who was in charge of housekeeping as well as Melissa, the recreation director and Chef Mitchell whose department would benefit most from this new austerity.

 

“OK people settle down”, demanded Noel. The group slowly came to an unsettled order. “I have something important to tell you, and you may not like it but there is nothing I can do about it so don’t even think about giving me an argument, got it! I, we, have to cut some items from your budgets”, (moans and groans from the group ensued) “I have made a list of what I am proposing. If any of you think, you cannot comply with what I have proposed, that’s too bad. I will only consider a change if you can come up with something else you could cut instead of what I have offered”. Noel passed out the list of her new “adjustments”. The department heads read the list and, putting down the paper, glared at Mitchell, who could not believe what he had just read. 

 

“They want to give me more money,” he thought. He had figured he would be getting even less seeing how he just spent $1000 on a knife. “There’s no accounting for the mindset of the corporate world” he snickered.

 

“Less toilet paper, what, are you nuts” said Roseanna, forgetting that she was talking to her boss. “Do you have any idea how much these people crap every day? It’s like being at the end of a circus parade after the elephants have passed by. Some of these people use a roll a day for Christ’s sake”.

 

“We don’t use vacuum bags no more,” said Marcus. “We got them bag-less vacuums, we just empty them out, but cutting off the hot water is a good idea”.

 

“What about laundry, can we cut back on that, like maybe once a week instead of twice”, offered Noel.

 

“It don’t make no difference whether it’s once or twice, they go by weight”, said Marcus proud that he knew something Noel didn’t know.

 

“So what else can we cut back on?” said an exasperated Noel.

 

Marcus thought for a second. “Soap, we could stop refilling the soap in the washrooms, and paper towels, and light bulbs. We take out every other light bulb and we could cut back on the lights in the corridors and turn the lights off in the lobby after hours and..., Marcus had to catch his breath as he excitedly began to check off more things he could cut back on, Marcus was on a roll.

 

Noel’s smile broadened. She now had a new respect for Marcus who she always thought of as slightly retarded. “OK, I think that’s enough. Get right on that OK Marcus. Now, as for the rest of you, if you can come up with anything else just do it, OK?” 

 

Melissa, who was in shock over the cuts made to her recreation department, just sat there in silence. No live music was one thing, but cutting back on Bingo was something else. She had already cut back on the number of Bingo games from 12 to 10 a week withstanding the worst of the acrimony that came from the residents, was she now expected to cut back the games to 7 or 8 a week, ethereal be a riot. “You don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t you realize what happens when you have a bunch of grumpy old people sitting around the lobby with nothing to do? They talk. And, the way things have been going here lately, that’s the one thing you don’t want them to do”.

 

“OK, forget the Bingo, just cut back on the parties and cake and stuff, alright” said Noel conceding her defeat on the “Bingo matter”. “Now go, all of you, cut...cut... cut, all except you,” she said pointing to Mitchell. “You stay for a minute”.

 

The rest of the “managers” slowly shuffled out of the small boardroom like puppies with their tales between their legs, shaking their heads as they walked. There would no discussion here; that would come later over beers at Donovan's Pub four miles away on Center Avenue.

 

“So what do you think about getting more money Mitch” asked Noel.

 

“I must admit I was surprised after what happened with the riot and all,” said Mitchell. “If anything, I thought I would be punished”.

 

“Punished, why would you think that?” asked Noel.

 

“You know about the little “surprise” I had for those ingrates last night don’t you? said Mitchell.

 

“Well, you might have gone a bit overboard with the soup and the cod and the onion rings”, said Noel.

 

“And don’t forget the cold cut platter”, said Mitchell proudly.

 

“Yes, the cold cuts too, but I understand your feelings and I’m not upset. Just don’t do it again, there’s too much pressure on us now. You know Nussbaum flew all the way up from Florida just because of that riot,” asked Noel.

 

“Yes, sorry I wasn’t here but I just had to get new knives,” explained Mitchell.

 

“About those knives….” said Noel. “I’ll need the credit memo you got for them from the store”.

 

“I didn’t get credit because I didn’t return them. I just bought one new knife instead, did you get the bill?” asked Mitchell.

 

“I didn’t look at my Inbox yet today, was there something special about it,” said Noel.

 

“Nooo, just that it wasn’t cheap” said Mitchell expecting an argument.

 

“Well, don’t worry about that” said a relieved Noel. As long as there was no credit memo…um…to give me that is. Just try to give them better food and a little more of it from now on, and maybe you could cut back on the chicken a little, that seems to be a sticking point with them, OK?”

 

“I’ll try” answered Mitchell. “But cutting back on chicken, that’s gonna be tough”

 

<>

 

Chen was in his element. Conspiracy, subterfuge and covert op’s was what he was born to do and, his years as an agent for Chang Kai Shek , made Chen the perfect man for the job. However, this operation would be unlike any he had ever undertaken. Back in the old days, all he had to do to gain the confidence of the “enemy” was just to fit in with the rest of them, which wasn’t difficult to do with Chen being a Chinese man spying on other Chinese men, but here it was different, he was different, Chen was the only Asian in the whole facility.

 

Normally, Asians such as Chinese, Japanese, Koreans even Indian’s and Pakistanis don’t stick their relatives in nursing homes or ALF’s or most other institutions, preferring to take care of their elderly at home with the family. Unfortunately, for Chen, there was no family. All of his relatives either had been killed in various wars or were assimilated into mainland Chinese Communism never to be heard of again leaving Chen all alone. Chen had been at the WAIF for nearly a year and was terribly lonely until he met Mack who, Chen had thought would have made a good spy. The two clicked immediately even though he thought that Mack was a bit, as they say in China, “Fungkuáng de”, crazy.

 

Chen thought back to his days in Hong Kong when he was a young man. As part of the British Empire, Hong Kong was home to many Englishmen in the early part of the 20th Century. That’s where Chen learned English and the ways of the Gweilo, (white man) and while he was never accepted as one of them, he could move around in their world with ease, as long as he kept his “place”. He would have to do the same here if he wanted to find out what Noel’s birth date was.

 

<>

 

Chef Mitchell spent the rest of the afternoon rummaging through the large walk-in refrigerator looking for something besides chicken that he could prepare for dinner. On shelf after shelf sat nothing but boxes of chicken parts. There were boxes marked “wings”, “breasts”, “legs” and “thighs”. “I bet I could stitch together a whole chicken using just what was in these boxes”, thought Mitchell as he continued to sort through the boxes. He would try his best not to disappoint Noel. After all, he did not want to lose any of his new found cash windfall. It would be a while before he could organize a proper order to give to his vendors, one that would reflect a drastic change in the makeup of the menu, meanwhile there had to be something else in this refrigerator that wasn’t chicken, maybe the freezer would offer more hope.

 

The freezer, located at the back of the walk-in refrigerator was a small room about the size of a clothes closet with one rack of freestanding shelves pushed against the wall. On the shelves were such items as frozen vegetables, boxes containing small cups of assorted flavors of ice cream and some leftovers, which consisted of bits and pieces of meat, poultry and fish. Chef Mitchell used these odds and ends to flavor soups and sauces. In addition to these miscellaneous items were jars of dry spices, kept frozen to preserve flavor, but nothing with which the chef could forge a decent non-chicken meal, and then he saw it. At the bottom of the shelf, almost hidden behind a carton of strawberry sherbet was a box marked “U.S.D.A. Prime Rib of beef. Product of U.S.A.”. 

 

“What the fu…” said Mitchell out load. “I thought we never got any of that meat. Mitchell knelt down, pulled the box from its resting place, and in doing so, discovered an additional carton of prime ribs nestled behind the first. Mitchell eagerly ripped open the carton and took inventory of the contents.

 

The first moisture resistant carton contained six standing rib roasts each with four large bone-in ribs for a total 24 individual U.S.D.A. prime meat ribs. The second carton had only five roasts for a total of 20 individual ribs, altogether there were 44 ribs of beef. Mitchell thought for a moment trying to remember the circumstances that led to facility receiving the meat in the first place. 

 

It was about four months ago, a week or two before Christmas Eve when one of the facilities major suppliers of beef called to tell Mitchell that as a “reward” for all of the business the WAIF had sent his way, he was going to send “enough prime ribs to give the old folks a fine Christmas dinner”. At first, Mitchell was overjoyed. Finally, he would have the opportunity to cook something worthwhile, something appropriate to his position as executive chef. He began to plan the entire meal in his head. He would start with a nice mushroom barley soup and a salad. Following the appetizer would be the main course consisting of the ribs, at least one giant rib per resident, a baked potato and some creamed spinach. Desert would be homemade chocolate layer cake. Mitchell was elated. He had been at the WAIF for only three months and never had a chance to show off his skills but, as Mitchell soon found out, those ribs had already been spoken for.

 

It appears that the meat vendor, eager to score some extra points with the facilities management, had actually told Noel of his intentions to send the prime ribs even before he told Mitchell. Noel, whose efforts to increase her “retirement fund” had been stagnant for a while had plans for that meat which did not include feeding it to the residents. As soon as the vendor hung up the phone, Noel was already calling a caterer friend of hers and offered to sell the meat at half the wholesale cost, some $1100 worth of beef. Noel then called the vendor and arranged for him to deliver the meat to her caterer friend in the guise that the WAIF “did not have the proper oven to cook the meat”. The vendor was more than happy to comply with Noel’s wishes. Mitchel remembered that a day or two before Christmas, Noel came to him and said that the vendor called telling Noel that they were unable to deliver the prime rib as promised due to some mix up with the date and would make it up at some future time. Satisfied with that explanation Mitchel went on to plan a nice turkey dinner instead. It was not until now that Mitchell began to realize what had actually happened to the prime ribs of beef and that these two cartons must have been delivered to the facility by mistake. “That bitch, she stole the meat”.

 

 

Chapter 28

 

“Chen Lee Hong” was the name that appeared on Chen’s naturalization papers right below a picture of a much younger man. The papers, issued in 1968 were part of a “Special Consideration” package given to honor certain “Friends of Freedom” which was a way the U.S. government had of thanking known anti–communists who were former agents of one of our allies, an honor for which Chen certainly qualified. The “Package” consisted of a chance to become an American citizen, a job interview and a small cash stipend to get started. Chen, having no other prospects for a life in the “New China” jumped at the opportunity. Now he had the chance to, once again, come to the aid of his “American friends” with a little “special consideration” of his own. Chen neatly folded his naturalization papers and returned them to his night stand but not before he took out a well-worn copy of a book printed in Chinese. Chen ran his fingers over the gold leafed Chinese characters embossed on the red leather cover of the book. “This should do it” thought Chen as he opened the book to an dog-eared page and began to read.

 

<>

 

Mitchell was in a quandary. Staring him in the face were two cartons of meat he was not supposed to have. If he fed it to the residents, Noel would know that he knew what actually happened to last year’s Christmas dinner, but was that such a bad thing? On one hand, he now had something on Noel, a “get out of jail free card” if you will, which he could use if things ever got tough. On the other hand, it was his word against hers as to what really happened to the meat and it would be difficult to prove where the ribs actually wound up. The vendor was no longer in business having sold out to a large corporation. Mitchell sat in his office in the back of the kitchen and rubbed his hands together, something he always did when he needed to think. 

 

On the fourth finger of Mitchel’s left hand was a ring. He received the heavy white gold ring from his father after graduating culinary school almost ten years ago. The ring looked almost like the ones baseball players get when they win the World Series but without the diamonds. Instead, there was a large blue semi-precious stone in the center of the setting. Mitchell stared at the stone wondering what it had looked like before it was cut and polished, and then it hit him. He knew what he was going to do with the meat. He would re-cut it into something else that did not look anything like the original prime ribs. He would cut the meat into cubes and make something the residents had never eaten here, shish kabob, and he would use his $999 knife to do it.

 

<>

 

 

Chen smiled a very “inscrutable” smile as he closed the red leather-bound book. The elderly Chinese man looked at his watch and noticed the time; it was only 4 pm, plenty of time to do what he had to do. He tucked the book under his arm and headed out the door. Taking the elevator down to the main floor, Chen rehearsed in his mind how he would approach Noel. As he neared the business office he noticed that door was closed, unusual for this time of day but, closed doors never stopped Chen in the past and it would not stop him now, he turned the doorknob and let himself in. Roseanna, who was typing something in to her computer stopped to look up at Chen as he closed the door behind him. 

 

“Mr. Chen, what can I help you with”, asked Roseanna, surprised at this visit from the reclusive resident.

 

“I need speak to boss lady please,” said Chen

 

“What about” replied Roseanna.

 

“About horoscope” said Chen.

 

“What about your horoscope” said Roseanna humoring the old Chinese man.

 

“Not for me horoscope, for Boss lady” he said.

 

“You want to speak to Noel about her horoscope?” asked Roseanna, becoming a little annoyed at having to deal with this obviously demented man when she had so much work still to do.

 

“Yes, must speak Noel, very much important, life or death,” As soon as Chen said, “life or death”, he regretted it. Maybe he was laying the senile Asian man act on too thick but it was too late to change strategy.

 

“Why don’t you come back tomorrow when Noel has more time for…um…horoscopes?” said Noel.

 

Chen was about to turn and leave, thinking that he was slipping after so many years away from the spy game when the door to Noel’s office opened and out stepped Noel.

 

“Who are you talki…oh, Mr. Chen. How are you?” asked Noel who was as surprised to see the man as was Roseanna.

 

“Mr. Chen wants to tell you something about your horoscope, Noel. He says it’s a matter of life or death, isn’t that right Mr. Chen said Roseanna winking at Noel.

 

“Well then, you’d better come right in and tell me all about it Mr. Chen. I’ll take care of this,” she whispered to Roseanna. Roseanna nodded, appreciating that she would no longer have to deal with the old coot, and went back to her computer.

 

Inside the office, Noel beckoned Chen to sit down. Noel had finished with most of her routine work for the day and was glad for the change in pace, and besides, this horoscope thing got her attention. “So, Mr. Chen, tell me about my horoscope”

 

 

Chapter 29

 

Mitchell carefully removed his brand new, very expensive Henkel chef’s knife from its padded wooden box and placed it on the equally expensive and heretofore virtually unused wooden butcher-block table. Taking a long steel sharpener from its holder on the counter, Mitchell began to run the shiny blade of the Henkel slowly over the diamond steel tool. He remembered what they taught him in culinary school about sharpening knives. He remembered to keep the blade of the knife at a 15 to 20 degree angle to the steel and slowly draw the knife over the sharpener away from the handle and then back, sharpening both edges of the blade. He loved this part. It made him feel like a real chef cooking in a real restaurant kitchen instead of this clown college of a kitchen in which he now found himself.

 

With the knife sharpened to his satisfaction, Mitchell brought the first rack of prime rib to the butcher block, which, was coated with cooking oil as per the manufacturer’s instructions. With one precise, deliberate stroke, he separated the first rib from the rest of the four-rib rack. Removing the bone from the meat and setting it aside for use later in soup, Chef Mitchell began to cut the almost two inch thick cut of meat into uniform squares, he would continue doing this until all of the meat was trimmed and cubed. Mitchell could feel his creative juices flowing again after much too long an absence.

 

<>

 

Chen sat down in the chair opposite Noel’s desk, the leather bound book resting on his knee. Chen opened the book and placed it on the edge of Noel’s desk.

 

“What you got there Mr. Chen?” asked Noel straining to read what was printed on the pages. When she realized the book was in Chinese she leaned back in her chair.

 

“This is Chinese horoscope book, very old and very accurate”, answered Chen.

 

“And what does that have to do with me Mr. Chen asked Noel, who was now even more curious. Noel had heard of how precise Chinese horoscopes could be. A friend, whose horoscope was read, was told things that even she never knew about herself and her family. Noel knew that the Chinese had a different way of dealing with the signs of the zodiac.

 

The foundation of Chinese Astrology arrives from Yin Yang and Five Elements, which are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. All Chinese Horoscope signs, Rat, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Chicken, Dog and Pig can be converted into the Five Elements. It’s all very mystic and very confusing to the western mind.

 

“Yesterday”, began Chen, “I did reading for my friend Mack. He have bad day yesterday and need my help. He then told me that staff also have bad day. Big boss come and yell at them. I figure I can help”.

 

“How’s that?” said Noel.

 

“If you know future you can change your life. Make feel better,” said Chen.

 

“OK Mr. Chen, what do you need to know?” said Noel, who now, just wanted the creepy old man to leave.

 

“Chen took the well-worn copy of his book from Noel’s desk and, without even looking up from its pages asked, “First need year you were born”.

 

<>

 

Carly had not heard from Mack, Chen or anybody all day, and was becoming impatient. She knew that if Mack did not come up with something soon the group of dissidents would ask for a more “vigorous” way of getting what they wanted which meant another food fight or worse. Carly needed a “stall” while she figured out what to do next. She decided to call for another “Rummikube game” for that afternoon with or without Mack.

 

After an hour of tracking down members of the “Rummikube Tournament” and informing them of the meeting that afternoon, Carly went quickly back to her room to make some notes as to what she was going to tell the group. She would have to come up with something that did not involve Mack, Chen or computers. Carly tried to remember what she and her hippy friends did back in the sixties when violence was not an option. “Perhaps a nice quiet hunger strike”, she thought.

 

 

<>

 

“November 17, 1967, do you need the day and time too”, said Noel.

 

Chen could not have cared less what day or time Noel was born, he had all the information he and Mack needed to try and “hack” Noel’s log-on computer password.

 

“No, no need,” replied Chen, almost giddy at how easy it was for him to get Noel’s date of birth, maybe she would give him her password too if he asked. “I take back to room now and figure out your future, I let you know. Goodbye”.

 

Chen stood up from his seat and was about to leave when Noel stopped him.

 

“Can you give me a hint Mr. Chen?” asked Noel.

 

“No give hint, this science. I get back to you”, said Chen gruffly. With that, Chen opened the door to Noel’s office and made a hasty retreat in the direction of Mack’s room. Having no idea how to do a real Chinese horoscope, he would have to make up something to appease Noel so she would not become suspicious. Chen had a grin from ear to ear, as he pushed the “up” button on the elevator. He knew he had done good, very good.

 

 

<>

 

 

Chef Mitchell was enjoying himself immensely; the meat, the knife, the sharpener and the butcher table took him back to his days at the Culinary Institute of Belize where he learned his trade. Mitchel’s father, being a man of limited means, could not afford to send his son to one of the more prestigious culinary schools like the C.I.A. or Johnson & Wales so, off to Belize it was.

 

Mitchell, being a quick learner swiftly proceeded through his classes but had to leave the Institute after only thee years instead of the usual four. Although he would have liked to learn more about how to cook for large groups, Mitchel’s father ran out of money leaving Mitchell without the knowledge of how to cook for people like the residents of the Western facility. The only experience Mitchell had, as a chef, was a stint at a middle school cooking for fifth, sixth and seventh graders. After considering that all the kids ever ate were hot dogs, spaghetti and meatballs and an occasional peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Mitch’s familiarity with stews, roasts, stir fries or anything that required seasoning was limited when it came to feeding more than two or three adult human beings. The only thing Mitchell had in his favor and, the reason why he got the job at the Western in the first place was, not that he knew how to cook but, that he knew how to cook small childlike portions, perfect for a budget conscious assisted living facility.

 

 

Chapter 30

 

“This is great Chen, how did you...”began Mack.

 

“I just get is all you have to know, now you get password O.K.?” interrupted Mr. Chen.

 

“I just hope this works,” responded Mack as he slowly entered what he hoped was Noel’s password to, not only the facilities accounting information but her personal folders as well. Mack entered, “WEST111767, translating Noel’s November 11, 1967 birth date to a possible password. The former computer programmer carefully entered each digit into his laptop. Mack watched as the cursor blinked on and off as the machine processed the data he had just entered. “Come on, come on” urged Mack, realizing that if the password were correct it would have connected almost immediately, this was taking too long.

 

“PASSWORD KEY DOES NOT MATCH” were the words, which popped up on the screen.

 

“Shit” was the word that popped out of Mack’s mouth. “I was so sure that would be it, Chen”.

 

“Maybe try another way,” said Chen. “Try small letters not capitals”.

 

Mack entered “west111767” and again the computer responded negatively.

 

Mack rubbed his temples as if that would somehow “rub” the answer to the password problem into his head. Something was wrong, the numbers didn’t look right, what was different? He typed in Jacoby’s password again, WEST6544. 

 

“Too many numbers” said Mack. “Only 8 digits in Jacoby’s password and ten in what he entered as Noel’s. Mack knew that some systems only allow a certain number of characters. Using Jacoby’s eight digit number as a guide, Mack entered, “WEST11767” leaving off the first “1”. Again, the computer beeped its disapproval, one more try. “WEST1176”, beep. “WEST1767”, beep. “WEST1117”, beep. Mack was at his wits end. He would give it one very last try before admitting defeat. Carefully he entered “WEST1177”, leaving off the first “1” and the “6”. The computer hesitated for a second and then the screen lit up with a welcoming “Good morning Ms. Bushmiller. Please choose a program from the list below”. Mack could feel Chen patting him on the back. “One small step for them, one giant leap for us” thought Mack, “Now what”? 

 

 

<>

 

 

The very distinct aroma of steak and onions wafted through the corridors of the facility causing the napping residents scattered about the lobby to sit up and take notice. Many of them could be seen sniffing the air like prairie dogs on coyote patrol. The staff also noticed the scent, particularly Noel, who came from behind her desk and out into the lobby. Sniffing the air like a Bloodhound, Noel followed the scent across the lobby to the side entrance of the kitchen where she burst through the double doors.

 

“What’s that?” said Noel to one of the kitchen staff.

 

“What’s what”? said the young girl, wiping her bloody hands in her apron.

 

“That odor, that smell, that scent, like meat, good meat” said Noel.

 

Chef Mitchell was busy behind a counter arranging layers of beef, onion, mushrooms and green pepper on a sharp pointed wooden skewer. Placing 20 kebobs on the rack of an aluminum-broiling pan and covering each pan with aluminum foil, he slid the pans into the overhead broiler, or what in kitchen parlance, is called a “Salamander”. The Chef would then cook the covered kebobs for 20 minutes and then uncovered for another five, which should give the meat and the veggies a nice char. This is what he liked; this is how he learned to cook. He was using good ingredients in the proper amounts and with the proper equipment.

 

Noel noticed Mitchell, his back turned to her, standing at the long stainless steel counter. Coming from behind, she tapped him on the shoulder. Mitchell, startled, turned quickly around and was surprised to see the diminutive administer standing there.

 

“Whatchagothere”, said Noel in an almost child like manner.

 

“Dinner” was the only retort Mitchell had.

 

“And just what is for dinner tonight” inquired Noel who noticed the exquisitely cubed chunks of marbled beef lying in a marinade on the counter.

 

“Its shish kabob, just plain ol’ shish kabob Noel” said the chef who did not skip a beat as he continued to skewer the remainder of the beef and veggie combination.

 

“Where did ya get the nice meat from?” asked Noel trying to get the chef to stop what he was doing for a moment.

 

“I found it Noel, I found it” replied Mitchell in a tone of voice that was more accusatory than informative.

 

“You found it where. On the street on the train in the free...”

 

“On a bottom shelf in the small freezer if you must know”, said Mitchell.

 

“How long was it there?” asked Noel who knew exactly when and from where the meat came.

 

“Look”, said Mitchell. “It was just there. I was looking for something different to make Them for dinner (pointing his thumb in the direction of the dining room) and I came across two cartons of prime rib roast OK”?

 

“How long were they there?” asked Noel trying to glean as much information out of the Chef as she could before planning a viable excuse as to why they should have been there in the first place.

 

“The box is dated sometime before Christmas”, said Mitchell putting down the last of the oven-reedy kebobs. “I wonder how they got there Noel? You got any ideas how they got there huh, Noel?”

 

Both were now locked in a “psyche-out” duel. Each knew that the other knew what they both knew together. Noel knew that Mitchell knew that the prime rib that was supposed to come to him for the residents last Christmas actually went somewhere else and that place was where Noel wanted it to go. Subsequently, Mitchell knew that Noel knew that he now knows that she had something to do with the meat never having been delivered by the vendor in the first place. 

 

“I guess it got there by mistake. What’s his name, the meat guy, must have delivered it by mistake. Is that what you think happened Mitch?”

 

Mitchel’s mind was racing a mile a minute. If he confronted her with what he actually knew about the meat, he might lose not only his newly enhanced budget but his job as well. On the other hand, if he shut up and capitulated he would be at Noel’s mercy for the rest of his life. He grabbed Noel firmly by the shoulder and all but dragged her into his soundproof office and closed the door.

 

“Listen you conniving little bitch” said Mitchell. “I can’t prove what happened to that $1000 worth of meat that was promised to us but I know you damn well took it. So now it’s just a matter of what I am going to do with that information”.

 

“You can’t prove..” broke in Noel.

 

Cutting her off, Mitchell continued with his analysis of the situation, “Shut up”, he said. “We can go a few ways with this. I can rat you out and hope for the best, we can go on as if nothing happened or we can improve both our...um...circumstances here”.

 

As he spoke, Mitchell could smell the scent of burnt meat and saw that smoke had filled the kitchen outside his office window. 

 

“Those schmucks”, he yelled. “We’ll talk about this later Noel. You think about what I said”, as he opened the office door and raced out into the smoke filled kitchen.

 

 

<>

 

 

Carly was also thinking about improving the “circumstances” of the residents of the Western hoping that Mack would bring good news when they met later that day. Meanwhile Carly had worked out the preliminary details of a hunger strike if Mack’s news was not forthcoming.

 

She thought back to a day in 1964. The Viet Nam war was heating up way past the point that anybody believed it was only a “police action”. Her friends were being drafted left and right and the university that she occasionally attended had reinstated its R.O.T.C. program. Carly was 23 and free to do whatever she wanted, having very liberal parents who were not only antiwar but anti much of everything else. Therefore, when Carly wanted to join in demonstrations involving anything from going topless to tuition increases, they sent her off with their blessings. 

 

That particular week , Carly’s latest passion was the university’s impending eviction of elderly tenants who lived in a building the school owned in an up and coming section of the city. The University wanted to use the space for a new law school and retail shops. About 50 low and middle-income families would have to go elsewhere. Carly could not tolerate such an obviously wanton act of autonomy and decided to join in a hunger strike organized by the S.D.S. (Students for a Democratic Society) a chapter of which had just formed on her campus. It was there that she met Marty Siegel, a 22-year-old radical, whose only occupation seemed to be organizing protests. 

 

Marty was tall and thin and had a dark scraggly beard, which he only occasionally trimmed with a pair of office shears. Carly liked him immediately and might have had a bit of a crush on him until one day when she realized that Marty’s main reason for organizing college protests was to meet and bed college girls, of which he had done quite successfully. However, Carly did learn the art of the nonviolent protest from Marty who, in between trysts, actually organized a demonstration or two. One of those was the sit-in she was to participate that evening in 1964.

 

Carly and a number of other students and non-students broke into the offices of the university’s administrator and sat on the floor, refusing to allow anyone to enter the office. In addition to the sit-in, the group also refused to eat, taking only liquids and an occasional orange section for nourishment. The protest lasted four days and made the newspapers and TV. Eventually, the university modified its plans and only evicted half of the residents and found alternate housing for the rest. From this, Carly learned that you could fight city hall and sometimes win. It would be this plan that she would present to the group if indeed Mack’s ideas did not pan out.

 

 

<>

 

Mack, after successfully entering Noel’s password, was met with a long list of menu items, which ranged from “Residents Health Info” to “Scheduled Maintenance”. However, although these items may be of value in the future, it was information of the “monetary” kind, which Mack was after. He wanted to see the bottom line, the balance sheet, the accounts payable and the accounts receivable but mostly he was interested in any delicate financial information Noel may have entered in a personal file. If he could find something, anything that would suggest that Noel was “cooking” the books for her own gain, whether it be kickbacks from vendors or actual theft of cash, they would have her on the hot seat. Moreover, although Mack did not like the word “blackmail”, they would in effect be using coercion to gain an advantage over the way things were managed at the Western. Maybe they could even get them to change the name to “Villa de Mack”. Mack laughed at the thought and scrolled down the screen to the line that read, “Cash on Hand”, a good a place as any to begin his quest.

 

 

Chapter 31

 

A strange scent crept into the nooks and crannies of the Western Assisted and Independent living Facility. The scent was strange, not because it smelled funny, but because it was something that the residents of the facility were not familiar with, the smell of prime beef. The essence permeated not only the corridors but the carpets, drapes and walls of the building as well. Residents and staff were drawn to the aroma like a kitten to a ball of catnip. It was intoxicating.

 

“It smells like Wollensky’s in here”, said one old codger who had wheeled his Rollator closer to the dining room entrance. He was referring to that venerable New York steak house, Smith&Wollensky where he may have dined sometime during his 80 plus years.

 

“Onions, I smell onions too” said Glenda, who’s bright red hair had been dyed to the color of a stop sign. The residents were all eager to know what Chef Mitchell had in store for them at dinner, which was just a few minutes away.

 

Mitchell meanwhile, had succeeded in saving all but two of the shish kebobs from being ruined by his numb-nuts kitchen staff, managing to remove a couple of the kebobs that had been placed too close to the Salamander’s heating element which caused the red bell peppers to burst into flame and smoke up the kitchen. Mitchell stepped back to look at his creations. Amazingly, the kebobs looked how shish kebobs were supposed to look with large chunks of juicy prime beef alternating with colorful and aromatic wedges of onions, peppers and mushrooms. Each kabob was a meal in itself and, when set next to a nice serving of wild rice, made for an evening meal of which to be proud. This new found culinary freedom made Mitchell feel that his two years at the Belize Culinary Institute had not gone to waste. 

 

“Open the doors, let em’ in” directed the Chef referring to the residents who, for the first time in weeks, he did not fear.

 

 

<>

 

 

Mack moved the on-screen cursor to the menu item marked “Cash on Hand” hoping to find loads of entries earmarked for things other than paying bills and salaries, but that was not to be. Instead, he found nothing. It was a blank empty screen. Mack went back to the main menu and clicked on an item called “Bookkeeping”. The screen opened immediately but like the previous file, it too was empty.

 

“Shitcakes”, said Mack aloud, a cold sweat forming on his neck and shoulders. “Where was everything”, he thought. Had he missed something? 

 

Mack went back to the main menu and clicked on the first item on the list marked “Assisted Living Rules and Regulations”. “Click”, the screen lit up with line after line of boring bureaucratic wording. “Crap, I don’t need this”, said Mack and went back to the menu screen. There were twenty items on that menu and Mack would have to search each one for any information he could use. “What if they were all blank”, he thought.

 

<>

 

 

Carly tried calling Mack on his cell phone but all she got was his voicemail, she would have to continue without him.

 

The “gang” as she now called the small group of hard-core dissidents, began to converge on the Hamilton Annex. The obligatory Rummikub game, removed from its box, had been set on the table before them. As the tiles were distributed to the “players”, Carly began to speak.

 

“I was hoping that Mack would be here to give us some good news, but I don’t know where he is and he doesn’t answer his phone so I have come up with an alternate means of non-violent protest that we can try”, she said.

 

Grumbles and sarcastic remarks emanated from the group as some of the more militant members expressed their concerns at the lack of speed with which solutions to their grievances were proceeding.

 

“We are going to lose our edge of surprise if we wait any longer”, said tall Ed. “We have them on the run and they’re running scared. If we don’t strike now, we will never get another chance. If we give them time to think, they will come up with something we won’t like, may even start to evict us”.

 

The word “evict” stirred the residents up even more. Many of them had nowhere else to go and eviction from the Western would be more than an inconvenience, it would be a catastrophe.

 

“Look”, said the lady in the big hat. “They already have gone back on their word. At this very moment they are planning something, I just know it, I can feel it in my bones”.

 

“You feel everything in those bones of yours, don’t you Evelyn”, said Ed. (I now knew her name, its Evelyn wow!).

 

“It’s Eve-Lynn not Evelyn”, she corrected. “I had these “feelings” ever since I was a kid and I’m never wrong, they got something planned”.

 

“And so have I”, said Carly. I have a plan, a real plan, and a protest just like you want”

 

Carly had the group’s attention. All eyes were fixed on her.

 

“A sit-it-hunger strike”, said Carly, “tomorrow, in front of the dean’s...er...Noel’s office”.

 

“I can’t go on no hunger strike” objected Rena. “I got diabetes and I can’t miss no meals”. 

 

“What about my pills. I need to take my pills with food or I get sick and puke”, said another “gang” member.

 

“Can we drink water? I got a UTI and the doctor says I got to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day”, one of the women inquired.

 

This was not how Carly remembered her days as a college student. Nobody had to take pills (at least not the prescription kind) and nobody had a urinary tract infection. There were no special concessions made to anyone. Back then, all they had to do is show up and sit on the floor. Carly knew she had her work cut out for her with this crowd.

 

 

<>

 

 

Mack meanwhile, was at his wits end. Why were the files on Noel’s computer empty? Surely, she would have reason to view such things as accounts receivable and payable and cash on hand. Where did she keep that info? “I’m going back in”, he said to Chen who had been sitting quietly on a chair next to Mack like a faithful Airedale.

 

“Maybe she hides in plain sight”, broke in Chen.

 

“What do you mean, in plain sight”, said Mack.

 

“You go back in, I show you”, urged Chen.

 

Mack once again brought up the menu and clicked on “Cash on Hand” and again the screen came up blank.

 

“Still blank”, said Mack

 

“You give Chen the mouse. I find what maybe you can’t see”, said Chen pulling the mouse over to his side of the table.

 

Chen took off his bi-focal wire rimmed glasses and cleaned them with a crumpled tissue he had in in his shirt pocket before moving closer to the flickering computer screen.

 

“Now we make bigger,” said Chen as he clicked on the “tools” button at the top of the screen.

 

Chen increased the size of the type from 100% to 200% and began to scroll slowly down the seemingly blank page.

 

“There, you see it,” said Chen excitedly.

 

“See what. I don’t see anything”, replied Mack, slightly annoyed at Chen’s elation.

 

“That”, said Chen putting his finger on a spot in the middle of the screen.

 

“That’s dirt”, said Mack.

 

“Not dirt, dot”, said Chen.

 

Mack squinted at what appeared to be a speck of red lint in the middle of the white background of the empty page, then using his fingernail, tried to scrape it off the screen. However, the “lint” did not budge.

 

“What the fuck is that”, said Mack as he looked more closely at the screen for any other dots, but that one red speck was the only mark on an otherwise very blank surface.

 

“Chen remember he see spy movie where they hide microfilm on dot at end of sentence. Now, you click on dot”, said Chen.

 

Mack used the mouse to move the arrow over the red speck and double right-clicked on it. The screen immediately came to life displaying not one, but a multitude of folder icons, each showing that there was additional data between their covers. Mack, and Chen, had hit the mother lode.

 

<>

 

 

“Why does everything we do here have to be such a big deal”, asked Carly. “Can’t we just sit down in front of Noel’s office and not eat for a day”?

 

Again, the group started with their tales of woe complaining about high blood pressure, low blood sugar, incontinence and irritable bowel syndrome.

 

“Are there at least five of you who won’t require hospitalization if they don’t eat for at least 6 hours”, pleaded Carly.

 

Nobody raised his or her hand.

 

“Four then, all we need are four people to sit with me”, asked Carly.

 

Evelyn held her hand half way up and then quickly put it down after she remembered that the doctor told her “sitting too long would not be good for her newly replaced hip”. Carly’s head drooped in dismay. The old days, it appeared, were gone forever.

 

“OK, you win. I’m open for suggestions”, said Carly.

 

“Sabotage”, yelled Carly’s friend Roland.

 

“Sabotage, sabotage, sabotage”, chanted other members of the group.

 

“Do you people even know what sabotage is” moaned Carly, shaking her head in consternation. “What kind of sabotage did you have in mind”?

 

Everyone began to speak at once drowning out each others voices.

 

“Electric” said one. “Telephones”, said another. “Food” blurted out a third resident.

 

“Anything we think we are doing to them, we are really doing to ourselves,” corrected Carly. 

 

The group conceded that perhaps sabotage was not the way to go.

 

“Anything else” asked Carly.

 

“How about fraud, bribery, and embezzling”, said a voice from the back of the room? It was Mack and he had some papers in his hand.

 

 

 

Chapter 32

 

 

Noel’s computer had been acting funny all day. Slow start up, slow file downloads and earlier it took three tries before her password would work. Normally she would call Chuck, the facilities I.T. guy and have him look at it but ever since she started her clandestine “retirement fund” she didn’t want anybody poking around in her business. She thought about transferring all her data to disk but the last time she tried that maneuver she permanently deleted everything. For now, she’ll just have to put up with whatever was wrong with the thing.

 

Noel clicked on the file marked “accounts payable” and then hunted for the little red dot hiding in the screen. She thought she was damn clever coming up with this idea even if it was by accident. A year ago, while searching for a recipe for borscht she was directed, automatically, to a Russian language website. As soon as Noel realized she couldn’t make sense out of any of the Cyrillic alphabet characters she attempted to exit the site by clicking on what she thought was an “X”, but instead of returning to the Google homepage, a different website appeared with what looked like an advertisement for a lesbian dating site. This gave Noel the notion that if she could go to a different page by clicking on only one letter, why wouldn’t the same hold true for a dash, a line, a comma or…a dot, after a few hours of searching the internet to find out how to hyperlink one page to another, the rest was easy. She set up accounts on three separate online storage drives (cloud drives), which should give her enough space to download everything she wanted.

 

Finding the speck of electronic “lint” noel moved the little arrow over it and double clicked the right button on her mouse, the screen came to life. She didn't even bother to password protect it because she was so sure nobody would ever find it. Sifting through a pile of invoices on her desk she stopped at one marked “Seniorware”, one of the vendors that supplied the facility and its residents with items like walkers, wheelchairs and canes. Returning to the computer, Noel searched the screen for where the Seniorware account was stored. Upon finding the folder, she opened it, scrolled down to the line marked December Invoices and compared the figures in the computer with the ones she had on her doctored invoice. Confirming that the numbers matched, Noel breathed a sigh, not of relief but of satisfaction in that, once again, she fooled the system. Seeing the numbers that she made up entered into the system instead of the actual numbers from the real invoice meant that the bookkeeper at corporate headquarters had accepted Noel’s “Approved for Payment” stamp and signature and entered the invoice using the phony name Noel made up, Seniorware, instead of the real name of the vendor which was “Seniorworld”. The entry also meant that a check would soon be cut in the name of the company she set up, mailed to the P.O. Box she had the key for and would be deposited into an account she owned. As soon as she had that check in her hand, she would take the real original invoice, showing an amount for almost $1200 less than the one she sent to corporate, pay the real vendor immediately, using a money order thereby avoiding any “Past Due” notices, and pocket the difference. “Simple” she thought. The only real work involved had to do with traveling from Post Office Box to Post Office Box to collect the checks and then back to various banks where she had the dummy accounts.

 

After closing the accounts payable program, Noel clicked on a tab marked NEB&T, one of Noel’s banks. She entered her password and user ID, and clicked on the “Check your Balance” icon. Noel smiled when she saw that her own personal IRA had grown to $5756, which was close to the $6000 limit she had for each bank in which she had an account. When she had the time, she would have to check the balances at the other 12 banks around the tri-state area she used to stash the cash. Eventually, all those accounts would be converted to cash and stored in a safe deposit box or sent to an island in the Caribbean; Noel leaned back in her squeaky vinyl covered office chair and smiled. “Fort Lauderdale, here I come”, she giggled.

 

 

<>

 

Upon hearing Mack’s voice, Carly turned around in her chair.

 

“Thank god”, she said. “Where have you been?”

 

“Well, it took me a little longer than I thought to find her password, and then, after I found it, it took some more time to get into her accounts”, said Mack.

 

“But you got in, right” please say you got in”, said Carly nervously.

 

“Yes, thanks to Chen. In fact, we have Mr. Chen to thank for everything so far. He got Noel to give him her birth date, and discovered how the accounts were hidden in the computer”, said Mack turning to Chen, who had found a seat in the corner of the Hamilton Center recreation room.

 

“Thank you Mr. Chen, would you like to join us at the table, we would like you to be a part of our group”, asked Carly apologetically. She was sorry that she doubted Chen’s loyalty or motives.

 

“No, Chen comfortable here, if you need I come”, he said.

 

“O.K., thanks again, so what have you got for us Mack?”

 

“Not much so far, but it’s a start”, said Mack. “As I said I got into the accounts receivable file and discovered some amazingly large charges for everyday items like food, cleaning supplies and even some medical items. In addition, I checked some of the bills that came in for the damage we did last week. Do you know that there was a bill for almost $2000 for coffee cups and dishes alone?” said Mack proudly.

 

“Wow, who got that order”, asked Evelyn, pulling the brim of her large black and white hat back over her forehead.

 

Mack looked at the paper he had in his hand. “A company called Dinner Ware West”, he said

 

“You mean Dinner World West, not Dinner Ware West”, said Evelyn.

 

“No, WARE, not WEST. That’s the way it was in the computer”, answered Mack.

 

“I used to be in the catering business and I dealt extensively with Dinner World West. I never heard of a Dinner Ware West, and I know all of them, somebody made a mistake”, insisted Evelyn.

 

“What’s the difference? World, West, who cares”, said Roland chewing on a Tums.

 

Mack thought for a second and then asked Carly if he could use her I-pad, which she always carried with her. Carly handed the tablet over to Mack who typed in the name Dinner Ware West. “Dinner Ware West not found” came back a message from Google.

 

Mack then typed in “Dinnerwarewest”, but again Google could not find such a name. However, Google did ask, “Do you mean, Dinner World West”.

 

Mack clicked on the line called “Dinner World West”, and was directed to a website that proudly stated that Dinner World West had been in business for over fifty years at the same location exclusively serving the restaurant and catering industry. The address on the screen was listed as 1227 Main Boulevard Briarhaven, P.O. Box 55, also in Briarhaven. Mack looked at the address that the computer had for “Dinner Ware West and noticed that there wasn’t any address, only a P.O. box which was not anything like the one for Dinner World. In fact, it wasn’t even in the same town.

 

Mack took out his cell phone and dialed the number listed on the website.

 

“Dinner World” said a cheery male voice on the other end. “How may I help you today”?

 

“I’m sorry, I may have dialed the wrong number”, said Mack. “I was looking for a restaurant supply company called Dinner Ware West”.

 

“You’re probably mistaken. We are a restaurant supply house and our name is Dinner World not Dinner Ware West. It’s a common mistake. We get that all the time”, said the voice on the phone.

 

“So, there is no company called Dinner Ware West”, asked Mack.

 

“Not that I know of, is there something I can help you with”, asked the voice on the phone which was becoming less cheery by the moment.

 

“Well, maybe” said Mack preparing to lie through his teeth. “I’m a bookkeeper for the Western Assisted and Independent Living Facility, and I’m checking on an invoice we were expecting for some dinnerware we had to replace”.

 

“Oh yea, the riot”, said the voice. “I think we sent that to you, but let me check”.

 

Mack could hear the sound of a computer keyboard clicking away at a furious pace. “This guy was born for customer service”, he thought.

 

“Yes, we sent it last week. It was for $1273.65. Is that the one you are talking about sir,” asked the voice.

 

“You said $1273,” inquired Mack.

 

“And sixty-five cents”, corrected the voice.

 

“Er...yes, that’s the one. I guess I did make a mistake about the name”, said Mack.

 

“Do you need a duplicate? I could email it to you,” said the voice.

 

“Yes, please,” said an elated Mack. “I’m working from home today so I’ll give you my home email, ready? Its Mack dash attack at G mail dot com” said Mack.

 

“Got it”, said the voice. “I’ll send it right over.

 

Mack bid the voice good-bye and hung up the phone. He knew that in a few minutes, he might have some information that would finally blow the lid off this place. Mack used the I-pad to get into his G mail account. Now all he had to do was wait.

 

Chapter 33

 

Roseanna was in a tizzy. Every day Noel would ask if she had any new information about what the residents were planning as their next move and, every day Roseanna had to tell Noel that she knew of nothing in the works. Roseanna was at a point where she was about to make stuff up just to get Noel off her back. She even went so far as to concoct scenarios in her mind where the residents were planning things like letting the toilets overflow, or opening all the windows letting the heat out or even kidnapping a staff member and holding them for ransom, all of which she dismissed as being too far out even for this place. Therefore, when once again, Noel asked her if she had heard anything, Roseanna thought for a moment and blurted out the only thing she actually had suspicions about, “A bunch of them spend a lot of time playing Crummidude”, she shouted.

 

“Crummidude, where”, asked Noel.

 

“Back in the Hamilton,” answered Roseanna eagerly. She was happy that she was able to give Noel something.

 

“And why does this make you suspicious”, inquired Noel trying to illicit more than just a single sentence from her assistant.

 

“Well, it’s just that it’s always the same people and always back there and”...Roseanna paused.

 

“And what”, demanded Noel.

 

“Well, they say they are having a tournament but I never see any other players sitting at the table and”...Roseanna, again hesitated.

 

“And what”, asked Noel, again.

 

“And, every time I go back there to check on my staff, they stop talking and seem to be very interested in the game. Of course I may only be imagining all this, but I think it’s odd”, answered Roseanna.

 

“Do we have a surveillance camera back there”, said Noel.

 

“We should, but you’ll have to go to the front desk where the monitors are”, replied Roseanna.

 

Noel left the office and walked to the other side of the lobby to where the reception desk was. Behind the desk sat Laura, the same receptionist that had been on duty when the food fight broke out almost a week ago. Laura had thought of quitting but decided against it because, despite everything, this was the easiest job she ever had. Except for the “food incident”, she had little to do. In fact, her job was of such little consequence to the Center, that she was excluded from most staff meetings. This is why she was surprised to see her boss, Noel, walking towards her with a purposeful expression on her face.

 

As Noel approached, Laura immediately put away a copy of the “News” she was thumbing through and began to tidy up her work space, even if there was nothing much to do, she didn’t want to make it look that way. When Noel was in front of the desk, Laura looked up to greet her.

 

“High, what’s up”, asked Laura in as casual a manner as she could muster up despite her anxiety of having the “Bulldog”, as the staff called Noel, in front of her.

 

“Is there a camera in the Hamilton activities room”, asked Noel without even as much as a hello.

 

“Yes, there’s one in the activities room and one in the lobby back there”, responded Laura. “You want to see them?” Laura stood up from her seat, grabbed one of the two monitor screens by its sides, and rotated the whole thing to a position where Noel could view it. “That’s the one”, said Laura pointing to one of the thirty small screen-in-screen pictures on the monitor.

 

Noel, squinting, glowered at the screen and at the small square of a picture showing the view of the Hamilton’s activities area. Noel noticed that there were people sitting at a table or tables but could not make out who they were or what they were doing.

 

“Can we make that bigger”, asked Noel, putting her finger directly over the small picture on the large computer screen.

 

“Yes”, said Laura looking for a small number, which was in the corner of each of the smaller pictures and corresponded with the number of the camera attached to the wall in a particular area of the facility. Laura found the number, “cam 34”, and typed that number into the computer using the keyboard in front of her. This “isolated” the camera, placing the image in the center of the screen. A few clicks of the mouse and that picture grew larger and larger until it filled the whole screen. With the view enlarged, Noel could now see who was sitting around the table.

 

“I knew it”, Noel said aloud. “Rabble rousers, all of them in one place, I know they’re up to no good. There’s no sound on this is there?”

 

Laura shook her head no, as Noel continued to stare at the screen.

 

 

 

<>

 

 

A soft chime sounded on Carly’s I-Pad, which Mack had in his hand. The chime signaled that a new email message had arrived in Mack’s “inbox”. Looking at the subject line of the newly arrived message, Mack saw that it was indeed a “FAX FROM: DELBERT AT DINNERWORLDWEST. Mack clicked on the little envelope icon and the message opened immediately. What was on the screen was an exact image of the original invoice Dinnerworld mailed to the Center.

 

Running his finger down the I-Pad’s screen, Mack scrolled to the bottom line, which showed a total of “$1273.65, just as Delbert had said. Mack looked at one of the papers he had in his hand, which was a copy of one of the items in Noel’s “Accounts Payable” file and compared the two. The invoices had a strange similarity about them but Mack could clearly see that there was a difference. 

 

First, although the typeface was the same, the name of the company on the invoice from Noel’s file was indeed that of “DINNER WARE WEST”. The only other difference about the invoice’s heading was the address, which only had a P.O. Box number and a telephone number, an address that was different from that of the real Dinner World. 

 

Scrolling further down the screen, Mack came across the invoice number, which was one digit off from the original, which was “112304” and Noels being “112305”. 

 

“This whole thing is getting more and more convoluted”, said Mack as he tried to fit the pieces together in his head.

 

Carly must have noticed that Mack was deep in thought and decided not to bother him even though she was very interested to know what Mack had found out. After what seemed like minutes, Mack’s look of perplexity turned to one of an all-seeing oracle as he put two and two together and came up with four.

 

Carly, saw that Mack had returned from his “trance” and was ready to tell all he knew, or thought he knew, to the group.

 

“You got something Mack”, asked Carly

 

“Yes, maybe, I don’t know, I’m not 100% sure”, said Mack hesitating with each word. “O.K., here goes. Here’s what I think is going on”.

 

 

 

 

 

Noel, looking at the live picture on the monitor tried, with little success, to tell what the resident, she knew as Mack, was saying. Noel could see that he was holding a sheet of paper with one hand and a tablet computer in the other. Noel also noticed that the so-called Rummikub tournament had come to a complete halt as all of the participants had turned to look at Mack and appeared glued to every word he was saying. “Damn”, said Noel. “If I only knew what the fuck he was saying”.

 

 

<>

 

Before Mack gave his dissertation as to what he thought was going on with Noel, the invoices, the facility and the residents, he made a couple of notations to the papers he had. He added some words and erased others. Mack read and then re-read the material he had gathered and when ready, he stood up, cleared his throat, checked his notes and began to speak.

 

“OK”, he started. “I want you to know that this is just conjecture and that I don’t know nothing for sure. I also want you not to go blabbering this around to anybody, you could get all of us in serious trouble because I am about to make some serious accusations, you understand what I’m sayin”.

 

All nodded in agreement except for tall Ed who was unwrapping a Snickers bar and couldn’t hear Mack over the sound of the paper crinkling.

 

“Ed, hey Ed. You hear what I said,” yelled Mack.

 

“Huh, wha”, mumbled Ed who now had the Snickers bar firmly planted in his mouth and was trying, with little success, to un-stick his caramel covered tongue from his upper pallet.

 

“You gonna keep quiet about what I’m going to say here”, demanded Mack

 

“Sure, sure, go right ahead with your little story, I won’t tell nobody” Ed replied taking another bite of the candy bar.

 

“OK then, here goes”, said Mack, again clearing his throat. “The way I see it, Noel’s been stealing, or should I say embezzling, from the Center.

 

The group mumbled some unintelligible words but quickly came to attention eager to hear the rest of what Mack had to say.

 

Mack looked up from his papers and began again. 

 

“Since Noel is responsible for approving all invoices and expenses from the facility, she is the first one to get the bills and invoices as they come in. You got that so far”, Mack asked. 

 

Despite some blank stares, Mack continued.

 

“When a bill comes in, she makes a copy of it and takes the original home or destroys it or something. When she gets it home, she changes the original just a little bit to make it look the same as a real bill but with different amounts on it, bigger amounts than the original, you all gettin' any of this”, he asked again.

 

There were still some stares but most of the group shook their heads yes.

 

“Take the bill from the restaurant supply company. She changed the original from DinnerWorldWest to DinnerWareWest so if anyone asked it would seem like a typo by the person who wrote the check or entered the account in the system. Noel would then fax the approved phony invoice over to HQ in Florida where, because Noel is such a trusted manager, they approve the bill for payment without question. As soon a Noel sees in the computer that the bill has been approved and that a check for the inflated amount is sent to a phony P.O. Box, Noel’s P.O. Box, she writes a check or money order for the real smaller amount, sends it to the real vendor and pockets the difference”. Mack put his notes down on the table and sat down, exhausted.

 

“How long has she been doing this” asked Carly?

 

“I don’t know, but I’m going to go back as far as I can and try to get some kind of total, it could be as long as three years.

 

“Wow, three years of stealing from the Center. There could be thousands and thousands of dollars involved”, said Carly.

 

“At least, and she’s be working hard at it. If the Dinnerwareworld thing is any indication, she’s been doing it a couple of hundred dollars at a time”, replied Mack. 

 

“Smart”, said Carly. “Small amounts won’t attract any suspicion. Even the banks wouldn’t pay any attention to small deposits and withdrawals; I wonder where she puts all the cash?”

 

“Either in a safe deposit box or under her mattress, she can’t put it in a bank account”, said Mack. “Anything over $10,000 and the IRS would have to know about it”.

 

“That means she has to have a lot of accounts in lots of different banks. When does she find time for all of this”, asked Carly.

 

“With 24 hour ATM’s and online banking, she can do it at night or anytime, it’s the P.O. Boxes that takes all the time. She has to go to each one personally to check the mail. She also has to spread them around the county and the state. Maybe even other states”, said Mack.

 

“We need to follow.”

All eyes turned to the rear of the room where Chen was sitting.

 

“We need to follow and take picture”, said Chen

 

“Good idea, but how can we do that, we need a car. More important, we need someone who can drive it”, broke in Ed.

 

All eyes turned to the little lady sitting at the end of the table pretending to play with the Rummikub tiles. Rena, feeling those ten or twelve pairs of eyes staring at her, lifted her head and threw the group a questioning glance.

 

“Wha, chew don ‘spect me to follow her all over de place”, said Rena in her thick Cuban accent. “And I don hab no car”.

 

“We’ll get you a car and somebody will go with you. It’ll be fun, like a private detective”, said Carla.

 

“Chew mean like Senior Mike Hammer’, said Rena. “I learn to spic English by reading Mike Hammer in Cuba”.

 

“Si, just like Mike Hammer but no gun, OK”, asked Carly.

 

Rena mockingly looked disappointed at the “no gun” remark but said she would do it if her friend Glenda could go with her.

 

“As long as she wears a hat over that red hair, its ketchup color now I think”, said Carly. “And one other thing Rena, you have to swear her to secrecy. She’s not a member of this group and we can’t have her blabbing what we are doing to everybody”.

 

“Chew mean she’s a jenta”, said Rena.

 

“You mean yenta”, corrected Carly. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Can we trust her?”

 

“We hab jentas when I was wid Fidel”, said Rena

 

“How do you say yenta in Spanish”, asked Ed.

 

“Chismosa”, replied Rena. “We knew how to take care of las chimosas in the montañas, they nebber jenta again if chew know wad I mean”.

 

The group just looked at one another with a bit of trepidation on their faces. Maybe Rena was going to take this too seriously.

 

“No guns, no knives and no machete’s, OK”, said Carly. “And no removal of any body parts is that clear?”

 

“I was jus kiddin,” said Rena. “I don do dat no more. When chew goin’ to ged de car?”

 

 

Chapter 34

 

 

It was late Monday morning when Hiram Nussbaum unlocked the door to his office at the headquarters of ElderSpace Inc. After a hectic weekend entertaining friends and family around the pool at his South Florida home, both he and his wife were exhausted and decided to sleep a little longer before starting their day. Even with the extra two hours, Hiram was still pooped and walking into the office late, did not make him feel any better. Faced with the usual pile of paperwork, which always seemed to accumulate, magically, over the weekend, Hiram logged on to his computer and began to read his emails.

 

There were the usual emails from the various department heads scattered throughout the ElderSpace network. Most of the emails were complaints about being short-funded on one item or another or requests for additional funds for a special project. Some of the mail was from lawyers who were always trying to solicit business from the corporation. Hiram would answer the requests from the department heads with a curt “We will take this under advisement”, while dismissing the lawyers inquiries altogether. Every once and a while there would be an email from a resident or relative of a resident complaining about the food, the rooms, or an increase in rent which Hiram actually paid more attention to than most of the other two dozen or so emails he would receive, and this Monday would be no different. The words in the subject line of one email in particular got Hiram’s attention, “Trouble at the Western Center”, it said. 

 

 

 

Noel’s mission to “toss every room in the joint” looking for the stolen kitchen knives was in full progress. She organized a “special squad” in the manner of an Attica cell toss, to go from room to room upsetting beds, looking through drawers and closets and generally making it known to the residents that she was serious about finding those knives. “After all”, told Noel, “Who wants these nut jobs walking around with 10” knives under their pull ups”.

 

The search was methodical and thorough. A “team” of two staff members would knock on each door and ask if they could come in. If the resident refused, they said they would come back later (preferably, when the resident was out). If the team came upon a room in which the resident was not in, they would go right ahead and “inspect” it anyway with one staff member searching drawers while the other looked in the closets. The bathrooms as well as the pockets of any clothes were checked, as was the space above the overhead ceiling tiles. Using the excuse of “residents and staff safety” as a reason for these unscheduled and unannounced visits gave Noel, chances to not only look for the knives, but to check for any other contraband which the residents may have in their possession like coffee makers, immersion heaters, bleach, over the counter medications as well as blenders or stream irons. If the truth were told, except for the knives, Noel could care less if the “inmates”, as she called the residents, had irons, pills or bazookas in their rooms. As far as she was concerned “they could all go and blow themselves up into little pieces”, but doing so would look really bad on her record so, she followed the state’s guidelines on such matters and confiscated any illicit material. Moreover, while the search for the knives was, so far, in vein the hunt was not a total loss. As one walked down any of the corridors there were piles of prohibited items spread out on the floor like a giant tag sale, waiting to be picked up by maintenance.

 

Besides the usual forbidden merchandise such as bleach, vodka, Sterno and a blowtorch, the squad found a toaster oven, a George Foreman grill, a pressure cooker and an unopened crate from the “Wine of the Month Club”, all laid out on the corridor floor, Noel vowed to keep up the search until the knives were found.

 

 

 

The email with the subject “Trouble at the Western Center” intrigued Hiram so much that he put aside reading the other mail and opened it immediately. The return address was from a Grumpygranny@outlook.com and began “Dear Mr. Nussbaum. I am a resident at the Western Center and I have information that may be of some interest to you about some dirty goings on here in this place that has come to my attention and i think you should be doing something about it before it becomes very serious”. Although the sentence was devoid of any punctuation, Hiram thought it to be direct, to the point and quite disturbing. He went on reading.

 

“Let me first say that I will not tell you my name because I am afraid I will be punished for what i know so don’t ask my name. Next I got to say that I don’t have any real proof so I can’t e- mail you nothing. You are just going to have to believe me what I say. Noel, the boss here, is stealing from the residents. Yesterday she came to my room and took my curling iron so I can’t curl my hair and now it looks like a hairy floor mat that’s on my head. She also took my roommate Mary’s bottle of Nykill cough syrup that she likes to nip on when she needs more sleep.I don't know what Noel does with all this stuff.I think she sells it because she don't have enough hair to use the iron on it herself. Please call her up and tell her to give me back my stuff because my hair looks lousy now and Jake my boy friend says he don’t like it this way. OK.

Yours truly

Olga

 

Hiram just shook his head but did not dismiss the email as the rantings of some semi-demented octogenarian. Instead he dashed off a reply to Olga (he laughed when he saw that she forgot to stay anonymous and signed her name anyway) telling her that he would look into it and then, he forwarded it to Noel asking, “What the heck was going on”, in the subject line. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire”, he thought, and he better find out about it before, as Olga said, it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

The parking area in front of the main entrance to the building, regularly filled with cars was, today, almost empty. Most of the cars belonged to staff or visitors or the occasional trades person, but today there were only four automobiles parked directly in front and one other parked at the far end of an overflow parking area, it was that lone car that Carly had her sights on.

 

The car, a ten-year-old brown Toyota, had been sitting in the same spot for nearly six months. It belonged to a resident who had been in the hospital for most of that time and nobody knew when she would be returning to the facility. Carly wanted to use this car to follow Noel, that is, Rena and Glenda to follow Noel with. As much as Carly did not like the Rena/Glenda team, Rena was the only resident in the group with a valid driver’s license, could drive at night and wanted to do it. Moreover, since Rena would not do it without Glenda, this crack spy team was all they had. The big problem was getting the car. Carly was not even sure who had the keys, and even if they could get the keys, would the damn thing start after sitting out there so long. Carly would have to rely on subterfuge to find who had the keys and then convince them to let her have them.

 

 

 

Noel was rearranging papers on her desk when a frog-like sound on her computer signaled that a new email had arrived. Noel opened her message inbox and read the subject line on the new correspondence, “Please read and respond”, read the message, which caused Noel’s eyes to go immediately to the senders address line. Nuss@ElderSpace.com, was what it said. This made Noel sit up straight in her chair as she continued to read the mail.

 

Dear Noel, it began. “I have just received the following email from one of your residents complaining that you have been stealing things from her and other residents. And, while I am sure that this is not true in any way, manner or form, I would like to know just what she is referring to when she says you came into her room”. Please read the email and let me know what’s happening.

 

Sincerely,

H. Nussbaum

CFO, ElderSpace Inc.

 

“Son of a bitch”, thought Noel as she read the forwarded email from the resident known as Olga. “Stupid whacked out cunt” said Noel as thoughts of retribution ran through her mind. However, after reading the part where she mentioned the curling iron and other contraband items, she decided just to let the whole thing go. She was in the right on this one. The only thing she did not like was that incidents like this bring unwanted attention to her and the way she runs the “WAIF”, and the last thing she needed now were more people watching her more closely. Noel dashed off a reply to Hiram using the same email as the message.

 

Dear Hiram. As you know from your last visit here, there were some dangerous knives stolen from the kitchen. These knives have not yet been found. Therefore, I organized a room-to-room search looking for them. During this search, other contraband items, like the ones the resident mentioned, were found in many of the rooms. According to the rules set forth by the State DOH and by ElderSpace’s own regulations, I confiscated these dangerous items and will put them in storage until such a time as the resident leaves or a relative picks them up. I can assure you that there is no “stealing” going on here.

 

Sincerely,

Noel Bushmiller, Administrator

The Western Assisted and Independent living Facility.

 

Noel re-read the email before clicking the “send” button. She felt a slight wave of nausea when she came to the “no stealing going on here” part. “If they only knew”, she thought. Noel watched as the email disappeared and the “Your Email has been sent successfully” phrase appeared on the screen. Noel hoped that this would be the end of it and that she wouldn’t have to hear from Nussbaum for a long time, if ever.

 

 

Chapter 35

 

Carly walked into the Case management office and found a place on the couch in the small waiting area. If anybody knew where the keys to the Toyota were, it would be Valery. The closed door to Valery’s office meant there was probably another resident in there with her. This was good because it gave Carly more time to devise a plausible story as to why she needed the keys to the Toyota. Fifteen minutes went by before the door to Valery’s office opened. Slowly pushing her Rollator through the door was a woman who Carly knew only as Maggie.

 

Maggie lived on the outskirts of the mainstream of Center “society”. That is, she spoke to practically nobody. She never ate in the dining room, preferring to take her meals in the small kitchen area near the lobby. Maggie never attended any of the Center’s functions or participated in any of the Centers organized games or recreational activities. The only thing that seemed to get Maggi’s attention was the 7-inch hand held Kindle reader, which she placed on the seat portion of her Rollator. Carly looked up as Maggie exited Valery’s office and, although Carly smiled at Maggie, the smile was neither returned or acknowledged. As Maggie slowly rolled her way out of the area, Valery motioned for Carly to come in to her office. 

 

“Hi Carly, what’s up”, said Valery, inviting Carly to sit on the cloth covered chair facing her desk.

 

“I’m surprised to see her here”, said Carly, motioning towards the departing Maggie. “I didn’t know she even spoke. She creep’s me out”.

 

“She creep’s me out too, but I have to listen to everybody, so what can I help you with”, replied Valery in a condescending manner.

 

Carly had spent the 15 minutes waiting on the couch devising and rehearsing a story to tell Valery as to why the keys to the Toyota should be handed to her. Unfortunately, she came up with a story even she did not believe, so she decided to be as forthcoming as possible.

 

“I want the keys to that car, you know the one that’s just sitting out there in the parking lot”, burst out Carly, “you know, the Toyota”.

 

“Sure, here they are”, said Valery, pretending to reach into her desk drawer in a mock attempt to find the keys. “Can I ask why you would like them?”

 

“I want to give them to Rena so she and Gladys can follow Noel”, burst out Carly.

 

Carly could not believe she said that, but now that she did, she felt a lot better. At least she would not have to lie. The next move would be up to Valery, putting the onus on her to ask the next question.

 

“And why do Rena and Gladys want to follow Noel”, asked Valery.

 

This is where it starts to get complicated, thought Carly but she had done O.K. with telling the truth so far, so why not continue.

 

“It’s not that Rena or Gladys want to follow her but Rena is the only person I know that can drive”, said Carly trying to be nonchalant in her answer.

 

“So who does want Rena to follow Noel and why”, asked Valery.

 

“Me, and the rest of the group”, replied Carly.

 

“What group is that”, asked Valery.

 

“The group that wants to follow Noel”, said Carly, trying to keep from laughing at her own poor attempt to stall as long as she could hoping that a believable answer would magically pop out of her mouth. “It’s like this”, Carly moved closer to the edge of Valery’s desk in a manner as to suggest that a big, confidential, secret was about to be revealed, Carly cleared her throat. “We think Noel is an embezzler”.

 

There, she said it. She came right out and said it, and to a member of management no less and, although she now wished she could take it all back, Carly knew it was too late. She would have to make Valery a confidant and let her in on the entire story.

 

 

 

 

Hiram read the reply he received from Noel and, although it seemed to explain the reason for the confiscations, it did not explain (to his satisfaction) why the resident Olga, thought that Noel was stealing the confiscated merchandise. In all his years in an executive management position, the one thing he learned is that there is some truth in everything and, considering all the crap that has been going on at the Western Center; he needed to know more. Hiram remembered that he spoke to someone in the case management department but could not remember her name. Turning to his computer, Hiram brought up a list of names of all employees at the Western and their job title. 

 

“Here it is”, said Hiram, “Valery Donacky, Director of Case Management. She’ll know what’s going on up there”.

 

 

 

 

Valery, jaw agape, looked across the desk at Carly for what seemed, to Carly, like a full ten minutes.

 

“W...w...what are you talking about”, stammered Valery, not believing what Carly had accused Noel of doing.

 

“It’s true, we have proof. Or we will have proof if we can follow Noel to the P.O. Boxes”, explained Carly.

 

“So you want to follow Noel to get proof of something you only suspect her of doing, are you nuts”, said Valery.

 

Valery was about to ask, actually demand, that Carly with her ridiculous accusations, get out of her office immediately when the phone rang. Valery said nothing to Carly as she picked up the phone. 

 

“Hello, case management, this is Valery may I help you”.

 

“Hello Valery, this is Hiram, Hiram Nussbaum, we met last week, do you remember”.

 

Did Valery remember Hiram, the impression she made on him was all she could think of for the last 5 days.

 

“Of course sir, nice to speak to you again, is there something that you forgot when you were here”. Valery regretted saying that as soon as she said it.

 

“No no”, said Hiram. “I’m calling you about Noel”.

 

The word “Noel” immediately sent a shock wave from the hand that held the phone, down Valery’s arm to the other hand, which now motioned for Carly to stay right where she was.

 

“Noel sir, what about Noel?” asked Valery.

 

“I’m going to read you an email that I received from one of your residents. The email accuses Noel of stealing stuff from the resident’s rooms and selling it. Now, I am sure that is not true, but why would the resident even have cause to think such a thing. Is there anything that you can think of why the resident should be suspicious of Noel”, said Hiram who went on to read Olga’s email. 

 

Valery listened quietly as Hiram read Olga’s words and when he finished she asked if that was all. Hiram replied by telling Valery that he forwarded the email to Noel. He went on to tell Valery of Noel’s reply which said she was looking for some knives and just happened to find all of the other contraband items. He then asked Valery if all this was true.

 

Valery could not believe the timing of all this. The visit from Carly and her seemingly far-out accusations and then this phone call, asking if the accusations of theft were true was a bit too much for her to take in all at once, or to ignore, she felt dizzy.

 

“Sir”, said Valery nervously. “I am sure that Noel does not sell anything she stea...er...confiscates from the residents”, she took a big breath and continued. “But if you want, I’ll try to find out why the resident would even think that”.

 

“Yes, but please understand I am not accusing anyone of anything. I just want to make sure this does not go any further. Can I count on you to be discreet Valery”, asked Hiram.

 

“I’ll make some...er...casual inquiries and get back to you, if that’s alright”, said Valery.

 

“That’s fine, no rush, but if I could hear from you by next week I would appreciate it”, said Hiram.

 

“No problem”, said Valery whose eyes remained focused directly on Carly. “I’m on the case”.

 

Hiram thanked Valery and hung up.

 

“Did I just say, “I’m on the case”, asked Valery of Carly.

 

“Uh huh, what was that all about”, asked Carly.

 

“How soon do you need those keys”, said Valery.

 

 

 

 

 

Mack was back at his computer, with his faithful companion Chen at his side. He was not thrilled with the idea of having that ditsy Rena and her equally ditsy friend Glenda shadowing Noel all over town therefore; he would continue to look for more “evidence” on line. Hoping that Noel was not one of those people who, as was recommended by Microsoft, changed their passwords frequently, Mack logged back in to the administrators corporate account.

 

“What you look for Mack”, asked Chen.

 

“I’m not sure, but I would love to be able to throw a monkey wrench into the works”, said Mack.

 

“What do you mean, monkey wrench”, asked Chen who was not familiar with that phrase as Mack used it.

 

“I don’t know, let me think”, said Mack. “Let’s re-trace exactly what Noel does to falsify the invoices and maybe we can figure out a way to intercept the process”.

 

“What you mean, intercept”, asked Chen.

 

“I mean that at some point in the counterfeit process, I would “tweak” what she did, change it in such a way that she would be unaware that I even did it”, said Mack.

 

“How you do that”, said Chen

 

“I don’t have the foggiest idea”, replied Chen’s friend.

 

 

 

 

Carly almost choked on a sour candy that she had popped into her mouth while Valery was on the phone with Mr. Nussbaum. She could not believe that Valery would actually be willing to go along with her and the group and actually have Noel followed, but she knew one thing, Valery and Noel never got along too well and whatever Nussbaum said over the phone must have nudged Valery’s sympathy in the direction of Carly and her cohorts.

 

“You still with me”, said Valery. “When do you need the keys”?

 

“Now, tonight maybe, this is all so sudden. What the heck did Nussbaum say?” asked Carly.

 

“He has suspicions about Noel, at least he wonders why a resident would say that Noel was stealing stuff, and since you came in with almost the same accusation, I think maybe there is something to all of this, tell me more about why you think Noel is, what did you say, embezzling”, said Valery.

 

“Who’s the resident”, asked Carly who wanted to make sure it was nobody in her “inner circle”.

 

“Olga, do you know her?” said Valery.

 

“Yes, but she’s not one of us. That is she isn’t in with our group”, replied Carly.

 

“Tell me more about this “group”, asked Valery. “Who’s in it?”

 

Carly hesitated to tell Valery the names of anyone who might be charged as conspirators in something that may be illegal but she did say, “We are a group of concerned residents who think money that should be going towards building a better environment for the people that live here is being diverted for other purposes”. 

 

“And those purposes would be...” asked Valery.

 

“To line the pockets of one Noel Bushmiller, that’s what”, said Carly.

 

“Tell me what you have on her”, said Valery.

 

Carly felt a cold sweat forming on her upper arms and shoulders, the same feeling she had when the SWAT team stormed into the dining room when this whole thing started. How much would she have to tell Valery and more important, what would Valery do with that info. For all Carly knew, Valery was part of the whole conspiracy along with Noel and god knows who else.

 

“I think I’ve said too much”, replied Carly. This is happening all too fast. How do I know I can trust you?”

 

“I hate the bitch and I want her job, and I will do anything to get it, that’s how you know you can trust me”, confided Valery hoping that a show of ruthlessness would convince Carly to tell her what they had on Noel.

 

“I’ll have to run this by the group. It’s their asses on the line here”, said Carly.

 

“O.K., but let’s not dawdle on this, time is of the essence in situations like this. Strike while the iron is hot. A stitch in time save nine”, said Valery.

 

Carly had never heard so many proverbs doled out at one time.

 

“I’ll speak to the group this afternoon”, said Carly. “Meanwhile, I think we should keep this very very quiet”.

 

“Mums the word”, said Valery as she simulated zipping her mouth shut.

 

 

 

 

“She gets the bills direct from the vendor”, said Mack to Chen. “But who gets the mail and who gives Noel the bills?”

 

“All mail go to front desk”, said Chen.

 

“Does the receptionist sort the mail?” asked Mack.

 

“Don’t know, but I see her put in separate piles and then it goes to business office in big box”, said Chen.

 

“So, someone in the business office opens the mail, probably Roseanna, what time does the mailman get here”, asked Mack.

 

“Don’t know, I’m never in lobby during the day”, said Chen. “We have to do stake-out”.

 

“Stake-out?” questioned Mack.

 

“We sit in lobby like old people and wait for mailman. Then we see where mail go and who open it, I’ll bring coffee”, said Chen who suddenly felt “the spy” swelling up inside him. Old Chiang Kai-shek would be proud.

 

Mack looked at his watch and saw it was 10 am. He wondered if the mail had already come.

 

“Let’s go now”, said to Chen. “Maybe he didn’t come yet.

 

Although both Mack and Chen did not use any mobility aids, both had a little “Hitch in their gettalong”, as they say in the old west, and the walk from Mack’s room on the third floor, to the elevator and then from the elevator to the front desk took a lot longer than they would have liked. By the time they reached the lobby, they could see that the mail had been delivered and transported to the business office in, as Chen said, a large tub. The tub sat on Roseanna’s desk as predicted but had not yet been opened.

 

“Look, there it is on her desk”, said Chen. “I get chair”.

 

“What...you can’t just sit there and stare at her opening the mail”, said Mack.

 

“Right”, said Chen. “I go in”.

 

Before Mack could grab hold of Chen’s sleeve, Chen was off in a flash making a beeline for Roseanna’s desk. Mack sidled over to the partially open office door so he could hear what Chen was saying to Roseanna. 

 

Through the background noise of Xerox and fax machines and laser printers and telephones, Mack could not make out everything Chen was saying to Roseanna, but what he did hear made him smile. Chen was saying something about having Noel’s special Chinese horoscope ready and he would like to give it to her, now. Roseanna was saying something to the effect that Noel was busy and could not see him now whereby, Chen said he would wait and sat down on a seat next to Rosanna’s desk. 

 

“The sly old bastard”, thought Mack. “Chen had planned for this all along. He set it up so that he would have an excuse to come back and see Noel and playing the crazy old Chinese guy was a perfect way of warding off any doubts Roseanna might have had as to why he was there”. It was perfect.

 

 

“It might be a while before she can see you, Mr. Chen”, said Roseanna.

 

“I wait a little longer,” said Chen.

 

“All right, but I have work to do”, said Roseanna who began to sort through the morning mail.

 

“O.K., I watch...I mean I’ll wait”, answered Chen as he crossed his legs and sat back in the chair. 

 

“No reason for me to stand here looking suspicious” thought Mack and he walked off to the small kitchen area to grab some coffee.

 

Meanwhile, Chen watched as Roseanna went through the fifty or so pieces of mail that had come in to the facility that day. She looked at the address on each one and put them in separate piles. One pile for the junk mail, one pile for resident’s mail and one pile for what looked like more business or official correspondence, such as bills. It was that pile in which Chen was interested. Chen watched as Roseanna finished her sorting and, taking hold of the stack of invoices, she stood up and turned to Chen.

 

“I’ll see if Noel can see you now Mr. Chen”, said Roseanna walking away.

 

“I go now, take too much of Chen’s time” said Chen and he stood up from the chair and walked out of the office leaving Roseanna shaking her head. The crazy old man routine worked again. Chen had all the information he needed.

 

Mack was sitting in the little kitchen sipping a cup of decaffeinated coffee when Chen arrived with a Cheshire cat-like grin on his face.

 

“Noel get all the bills”, said Chen. “Un-open”.

 

“So, nobody else but Noel ever gets to look at the invoices, what a fuckin’ racket,” said Mack.

 

“Fuckin’ racket”, dittoed Chen.

 

 

Chapter 36

 

Chef Mitchell looked at his brand new knives nestled in their teakwood holder sitting on the corner of the butcher-block table. 

 

“A thousand dollars”, thought Mitchell. “How did they ever let him get away with that”?

 

Mitchell, of course, did not know that Noel, after receiving the bill from the restaurant supply house for $999 decided, that it was indeed too much to pay for knives and instead, made up a phony bill for $599. The corporation would pay half and she would pay the rest. She would get the check for $599 and send that, along with her $400 to the real knife company. At least she would only be out $400 instead of almost $1000. This made her feel a lot better about things. The corporation would never even bother to question a measly $600, and the last thing she needed was some nosy bookkeeper getting all up in her business. 

 

 

 

 

Not wanting to get in trouble with the bigwigs at corporate headquarters, Mitchell gave considerable thought about paying for the knives himself. After all, the company owned 18 other facilities, some located in nice warm places, with better kitchens than the one at the Western, places where he might like to transfer to one day. It would be easy for him just to call headquarters and tell him that he meant to pay the bill himself all the time and that it got mixed up with the other bills for damaged dining room paraphernalia. “In fact”, he thought, “they would probably appreciate me even more”. All of this sudden remorselessness would, naturally, be left unknown to Noel who “didn’t really have to know about it, would she?” reasoned Mitchell.

 

 

 

 

Carly went back to her room and sat on the edge of her bed, the keys to the Toyota clutched firmly in her hand. Valery had handed them over without so much as a “good luck” or “be careful”, which left Carly feeling “used”. She knew that in the end, anything that happened would all be on the group and her in particular and yet she felt the need to continue.

 

Maybe it was the need to be a contributing member of society, such as it was at the WAIF, or perhaps her motives were purely selfish in that she was doing all of this just to improve her own lot here. Either way, she was too deeply involved to quit. Carly sighed and took out her cell phone and dialed Mack’s number. Mack answered on the first ring.

 

“Hi Carly, what’s up”, answered Mack after seeing Carly’s cell number on his caller I.D.

 

“You wouldn’t believe what I have in my hands” said Carly. “I got the keys to the Toyota”.

 

“Shut the front door”, replied Mack controlling his need to use more colorful verbiage. “She just gave them to you?”

 

“Yes, but I might have done something foolish”, said Carly reluctantly.

 

“Whaddayamean”, asked Mack.

 

“I had to tell her everything, well almost everything that is”, said Carly.

 

There was a long pause on Mack’s side of the line, which indicated to Carly that Mack was probably not too happy with what she had just told him. Sensing that she had to modify her statement, she told Mack that she never told Valery who else was in the group except for the name of who was going to be driving the car, something that Valery insisted upon knowing before she gave anyone the keys.

 

“So she only knows you, Rena and Glenda,” asked Mack. “You didn’t mention my name or what I’m doing on the computer did you?”

 

“Absolutely not, all I said was that we thought Noel was embezzling from the WAIF and we needed the car to follow Noel to her pickup points. She never asked how we got that idea”, said Carly.

 

“That’s when she just gave you the keys”, asked Mack.

 

“Yes, right after the phone call from Nussbaum”, replied Carly.

 

There was another long pause on the part of Mack.

 

“Oy vey, now Nussbaum knows too”, said Mack holding back his disappointment.

 

“No no, he doesn’t know a thing. He called Valery to ask what was going on with the room searches. It seems he got some email from a women resident named Olga who said Noel was stealing from her” said Carly in as a comforting a voice as she could muster. 

 

“O.K.”, said Mack, breathing a sigh of relief at Carly’s words of reassurance. “I guess you want to know what Chen and I found out?”

 

“Yea, sure, what you got”, asked Carly eager to get off the previous topic.

 

“Not much really. We found out one thing though, Noel opens all the bills. Nobody else ever touches them. She even faxes them over to corporate HQ herself after she does whatever she does to them that is”, offered Mack. “This means we don’t have a chance of intercepting them. They go right from the mailman to the front desk to the business office to Noel via Roseanna”.

 

“So Roseanna actually does touch them, even if it’s only for a little while”, said Carly.

 

“What good is that going to do us”, asked Mack.

 

“I have to tell you something else that Valery said to me before she gave me the keys”, said Carly. “When I asked her why she decided to give me those keys she told me, and I quote, “I hate the bitch and I want her job, and I will do anything to get it”. “Now I’m just wondering something”.

 

“Wondering what”, asked Mack.

 

“I’m wondering if Roseanna feels the same way”. Carly waited for Mack’s reply, which came in the form of a “Hmmm”. Having both staff and residents on their side would mean that a completely new world of possibilities would open up. The question was how to approach Roseanna on the subject of changing sides.

 

 

 

Mitchell checked the “balance” in his checking account on line and saw that he would have enough money to pay the $999 for the knife and, although it would leave a large hole in his bank account, he looked at such a large withdrawal as an insurance policy against further wrongdoings. Mitchell dialed the “800” number for the ElderSpace corporate headquarters in Florida and waited for someone to answer. 

 

“Elsderspace, good morning this is Jan speaking. How may I help you?”

 

“Jan”, said Mitchell. “I would like to speak to somebody in your...er...accounts payable department please”.

 

“Exactly what is the nature of your request”, Jan asked dutifully.

 

“Well, it’s like this Jan. My name is Mitchell Napolitano the Chef at the Western Center and I...um...want to...um...pay a bill that I think you got by mistake”

 

“We wouldn’t pay any bills by mistake,” said Jan. “Do you mean the bill is in error”.

 

“It’s an error that you got the bill. It never should have been sent to you guys down there in the first place. I just want to get the bill back and pay it myself”, said Mitchell.

 

“Is this a bill you approved Mr. Napolitano”, questioned Jan.

“No, I don’t approve any bills. Noel, my boss approves all the bills”, he replied.

“So it’s Noel who made the mistake. Is that correct”, said Jan.

“No no, nobody made a mistake, I mean there was a mistake but Noel didn’t make it. I mean I made the mistake of giving it to her in the first place. Do you understand”, pleaded Mitchell.

“Let me get this straight”, said Jan. “You gave Noel a bill for something you bought for yourself in error and Noel went ahead and approved it for payment. Is that what you are trying to tell me sir”.

 

“Yes, I think”, answered Mitchell, now very sorry he called in the first place. This was turning into an inquisition with Jan acting as the Inquisitor and he the heretic. “Look, I just want to get the bill back and pay it myself, is that OK. Now, who can I talk to about this”.

“O.K., I’ll transfer you to Ari, our head bookkeeper. Please hold”, said Jan.

Music, it was Andy Williams singing Moon River, played in the background as it took a few seconds for the transfer to go through.

“Yes, this is Ari, who’s calling”.

Mitchell inhaled slowly anticipating that he would have to tell his story all over again. The bout he had with Jan took a lot out of him. Mitchell was more comfortable around pots and pans than with people. Spatulas and ladles never asked him questions or complained about the food they helped him cook.

“It’s me; I mean this is Mitchell Napolitano executive chef at the Western Center”.

“How can I help you Mr. Nopalitayno, asked Ari.

Mitchell was not going to correct him.

“You may have received a bill we sent you by mistake”, said Mitchell.

“Who’s the bill from”, asked Ari without missing a beat.

“Harry’s Cutlery”, replied Mitchell, from about a week ago.

Mitchell could hear the sound of a keyboard clicking in the background. 

“The last bill we got from Harvey’s was more than six months ago, nothing recently”, said Ari. “How much was the invoice for”.

“$999 even” said Mitchell sheepishly.

“I don’t see any numbers for that amount, especially for a set of knives Mr. Nepolito”, advised Ari.

 

“It wasn’t for a set, it was for one knife” said Mitchell ashamed at even mentioning that it was for only a single knife.

“A thousand dollars for a knife, no wonder we didn’t get the bill. Somebody else must have paid for it because we sure didn’t, and wouldn’t”, said Ari.

“Do you have anything for that amount or any amount for knives anywhere”, asked Mitchell wondering what happened to the bill he gave to Noel to approve. Maybe she didn’t send it over yet, or was holding it. That would be O.K. but why was she waiting.

“You said Harvey’s Cutlery, right, questioned Ari.

 

“Harry’s, Harry’s Cutlery, not Harvey’s”, corrected Mitchell.

Again, Mitchell heard the sound of keyboard keys clicking furiously away.

“Nope, no Harry’s, Harvey’s” said Ari.

“There is no Harvey’s”, said Mitchell. “At least not in the knife business, you must have typed it in wrong”.

“First of all”, said Ari. “I don’t type in anything. The assistant bookkeeper does that and she’s a very good typist, but here is what I’m going to do. I will ask my assistant to go to the files and take out the original bill and we’ll see if there is an error. Is that O.K. with you Mr. Novello”.

“It’s Napolitano and yes, that would be fine”, said Mitchell.

“O.K. then, I’ll have to get back to you later today or tomorrow, O.K.” said Ari.

“Yes, O.K., thanks,” said Mitchell, as he hung up. “Asshole schmuck, I know where I bought that knife and it wasn’t at no Harvey’s. It was Harry’s, Harry’s Cutlery. He’ll see he was wrong”.

 

 

 

Rena, Glenda, Mack and Carly stood at the far end of the parking lot in front of a very dirty, very old brown Toyota Camry wondering if it would start or not. Carly dangled the keys over Rena’s outstretched palm. 

“Get in and see if it starts”, said Carly as she dropped the keys in Rena’s hand.

Rena cautiously opened the driver’s side door and stuck her head inside. She looked around and sniffed the air before placing her ample rear end on to the vinyl and cloth seat. The car was amazingly clean inside and since Myrna, the owner, never smoked; there was no odor to speak of.

“Here goes nothin”, said Rena as she slipped the key into the ignition lock located on the dashboard. Rena pumped the gas pedal a few times before turning the key.

“It’s fuel injected, you don’t pump it. Just hold the pedal down as you crank it over”, said Mack. When’s the last time you actually drove a car anyway?”

“Ten years ago, in Cuba. It was a 1957 Cheby Bellaire white, wid blue and white seats. Eet belong to my cousin Heraldo who put it together from parts from four other Cheby’s.” said Rena proudly.

“So you haven’t driven a car in over ten years”, said Mack.

“No, I drive a car two years ago once to take my driver test at the MVD”, corrected Rena.

“Did you pass?” asked Carly.

“Chure I Pass, second time I take test”, replied Rena who put her foot down, heavily, on the gas pedal and turned the key. The old car at first made a slow, grinding noise as Rena continued to keep her foot firmly planted on the gas pedal. The engine began to crank a little faster until it sputtered and died. Rena repeated the procedure and this time the engine sputtered and sent a puff of blue smoke out the tail pipe. Apparently, that was all that the venerable automobile needed because after the blue smoke vanished into the cold air, the engine came to life. 

 

Rena “gunned” the engine a few times and slowly let her foot off the gas pedal. “She run like a dream”, said Rena. “Less go Glenda”.

 

==

 

Ari, the bookkeeper at the ElderSpace, held a faxed copy of an invoice that his assistant retrieved from the files stored in the basement of the two-story building. Ari had a smile on his face because, as he predicted, the invoice showed it was indeed from Harvey’s and not Harry’s cutlery. He couldn’t wait to “call up that Mitchell idiot” to tell him he was wrong. It was 4 PM. “He’s a cook, he should still be at work” thought Ari and dialed the Western’s number.

“Goodmorningthewesterncenterhowmayihelpyou”, answered Laura the young receptionist who was on the second hour of an extended 8-hour shift.

“Your chef, what’s his name, is he there, this is Ari from Florida”, said Ari eager to flaunt his discovery.

“That would be Mitchell Napolitano, I’ll transfer you, one moment please”, said Laura as she pushed the button on the phone that would send Ari to Mitchell’s phone located in Mitchell’s little glass enclosed office at the back of the kitchen.

 

Mitchell was in the kitchen at the butcher block carving station, with a chunk of beef, cooked rare, and laid out on the freshly scrubbed wooden surface. Mitchell was about to slice some very thin, very delicately seasoned filet mignon which he had purchased especially for a special lunch he was preparing for a group of social workers and executives from nursing homes from around the country. The “tour”, sponsored by an industry trade group, was on its second leg of their trip across country having just flown in from Cincinnati. Noel, desiring to make a good impression on them and possibly get a mention in the industries trade publication Senior Life News, wanted everything to go well thus the filet mignon. As Mitchell began to slice into the medium-rare filet, he could hear the phone ringing in his office. Putting down his knife, Mitchel left the butcher block table and made for his office. Wiping his beef-juice covered hands on a dishtowel he kept tucked into his apron string; Mitchell opened the partially closed door to his office and picked up the phone.

“Hi, this is Mitch” he said.

“Mike”, asked Ari.

“Mitch”, corrected Mitchell.

“O.K., Mitch, this is Ari. I got news for you. I’m holding in my hand the invoice that was sent to me from HARVEY’S, not Harry’s cutlery see, you were wrong”, he said smugly.

Mitchell could not believe that he had made the mistake about the name of the place from where he bought a $1000 knife. Unfortunately, he no longer had the receipt because he gave it to Noel so she could compare it to the invoice when it came to her.

“You’re looking at the actual bill and it says Harvey’s not Harry’s”, said Mitchell.

“Yup, Harvey’s, H-A-R-V-E-Y- apostrophe S”, said Ari carefully spelling out the name.

“And the bill was for a knife”, asked Mitchell.

“Yes, a very expensive knife”, remarked Ari. “What’s so special about a knife that it costs $599?”

“Its just a great knife and not being a Chef, you wouldn’t understand. Did you say $599, that’s wrong”, corrected Mitchell. “It should be $999”.

“It appears that not only don’t you know the name of the store you bought it from, but you don’t remember how much you paid for it. Are you sure you’re not one of the residents there”, chuckled Ari sarcastically.

“Listen you (Mitchell was looking for an appropriate expletive to use but thought better of it), I may have been wrong about what the name of the place was but I sure damn well know that I paid $999 for that knife. Something is wrong, very wrong. Could you fax me a copy of the bill you’re looking at. Please”

 

“O.K.”, said Ari. “But I got to tell you, I don’t think we’re going to pay this bill no matter how much it is. Six hundred dollars for one fucking knife, you gotta’ be kidding”.

“That’s just it”, said Mitchell. “I don’t want you to pay the bill, that’s what I called about in the first place. We, they, she, sent it to you by mistake. Please, just send it back to me and forget about it, O.K.”

“Well, as bookkeeper it’s my duty to contact the vendor and straighten this thing out. I at least have to tell him that we will not be paying for this and that he should expect a personal check from you”, replied Ari.

“I’ll do it. I don’t want you to get involved in this in any way. I promise I will settle this and call you back”, pleaded Mitchell.

“O.K., but do it today. I don’t want any past due notices on my desk, you got that”, demanded the bookkeeper who prided himself on paying all of the corporation’s bills on time.

“No problem, I promise. Just fax me the bill”, said Mitchell.

“Alright, I’ll send it over right now, don’t let me down Mike”, cautioned Ari.

Mitchell reluctantly thanked that “arrogant bastard”, and hung up. He would have to go to the business office to retrieve the fax. Maybe he would speak to Noel about it while he was there, something he did not relish doing.

==

The steering wheel felt good in Rena’s hand. It had one of those nice soft foam steering wheel covers that gave Rena a good grip. Glenda was making herself comfortable in the seat next to Rena, adjusting the seat belt and heater vent. The car had been running for almost five minutes and the heat was just starting to take effect. The weatherman on TV said the temperature was going down to 27 degrees that night. Rena and Glenda were glad that the heater in the venerable vehicle worked well. 

 

Rena checked the gas gauge and saw that it was ¾ full. “That would be enough for tonight,” she thought as she once again “gunned” the engine. The ten-year-old Toyota sounded pretty good and, except for a slight muffler noise and an asthmatic wheeze coming from somewhere under the hood, was pretty quiet, Rena then checked the radio. 

After scrolling through the all-news stations, the conservative talk shows, the insane “rapper shit” (Rena’s words, not mine) and the oldies music, Rena settled on a Spanish language station, which played popular Latin favorites. In Spanish, the announcer said that the next song would be from a 1992 album by Cuban singer-songwriter Jon Secada, titled Otro Dia Mas Sin Verte. 

“Chew don mine, do you Glenda, Jon Secada es mi favorito, he’s Cuban you know”, asked Rena.

“No, it’s alright, just not too loud. My hearing aid isn’t working right and it makes everything sound too loud”, said Glenda tapping the device and sticking it back in her ear.

Rena agreed, and turned the volume down a bit. Both Glenda and she checked their handbags. The ladies had asked the kitchen to prepare some take-out sandwiches for them should they become hungry later on. Of course, they didn’t tell anybody the real reason why they needed the sandwiches, all they said that it was for a trip they were taking to visit a friend far away and they might not make it home until late. Evidently, the kitchen bought the story because they made the sandwiches without questioning the women any further. Now all they had to do was to wait for Noel to leave the building.

An hour and a half went by before Noel placed her most recent photo-shopped phony invoice in her file cabinet. Her latest “creation” was a small invoice from a plumbing supply company for the repair of a broken water pipe in one of the buildings utility closets. Although the bill was only for $125 Noel, had added an additional 50%, clearing a cool 62.50. “Every little bit helps”, she thought as she locked the file cabinet and walked out of her office; it was 6:15 PM.

 

Through her rear view mirror, Rena could see Noel’s stunted short-wasted body emerge from the Center’s main door. Noel had a parking spot in the first space in the second row of the lot. It was the only reserved space in the whole parking area and Noel made sure everyone knew whose it was by having a sign erected proclaiming “RESERVED FOR NOEL BUSHMILLER, ALL OTHERS WILL BE TOWED”.

Rena watched as Noel plopped down in the driver’s seat of her silver gray Honda Accord and closed the door. As soon as Rena saw a puff of white exhaust vapor emanate from the Honda’s tailpipe, Rena put the Camry in reverse and backed out of the parking spot.

Noel too, backed out and headed down the hill to the facilities main gate and the parkway entrance nearby. Rena followed slowly behind until she saw that Noel had entered the parkway, which caused Rena to increase her speed, she did not want to lose Noel so early in the game.

There was a small Mini Cooper separating the two vehicles on the parkway’s entrance ramp, both were waiting for a break in the rush hour traffic. Noel was in the lead, then the Mini and then Rena. As soon as Noel saw her chance, she gunned the Honda’s engine and swiftly moved into the stream of cars heading south on the parkway. Unfortunately, the Mini Cooper did not follow suit because, instead of being the next out of the gate, it stalled which caused Rena to jam on her breaks in order to avoid slamming into the rear of the little car. Rena let go with a stream of unintelligible Cuban curse words before turning to Glenda and apologizing. Glenda, whose hearing aid was turned down low, could barely hear what Rena was saying and paid her no mind.

The person driving the mini finally got it restarted and jerked the car on to the parkway where it disappeared into the twilight. Rena was on the parkway a second later and weaved her way through traffic in an attempt to find Noel’s Honda, which was now almost a half a minute ahead of them. Rena wished that Noel’s car were a color other than silver gray. It was like trying to find a silver needle in a pile of other silver needles. As Rena continued further down the parkway, all she saw were silver gray cars but none of them Honda’s and to make things worse, the next exit was coming up fast. If she didn’t find Noel before that exit she might never find her, especially if she got off at that exit. 

 

Just as she saw the sign for “EXIT 4, Naughton Ave” looming in the distance, Rena spotted Noel’s car. She knew it was Noel’s because of the “Save the Wildlife” sticker on her rear bumper. Noel’s right turn signal was blinking, signifying that she was about to exit the parkway at Naughton. Rena too, signaled for a right turn and slid her car between a green Cadillac and a tan SUV with a broken headlamp. Glenda meantime, had one eye on Noel’s car and one eye on the speedometer. In all the excitement, Rena had not realized that she had been driving at almost 80 miles per hour. Both cars slowed down at the exit and glided down a short exit ramp to a traffic light, which had just turned red. “Whew”, said Rena. “Dat was closs”. Glenda un-clenched her fingers from the Toyota’s armrest and stared at Rena. “Nice going Rena”, she said. “I didn’t know you had it in ya”. Both women then stared straight ahead and waited for the light to change. Both had large grins on their faces, if anything; they knew it was going to be a fun night.

 

==

 

Mitchell noticed Noels closed office door and that Roseanna’s desk was vacant as well. Mitchell checked his watch and saw that it was well after six and that both women must have left for the evening. “Just as well”, he thought. He didn’t want to answer any questions about what kind of fax he was getting anyway. Everybody just had to know everybody’s business around here. He guessed it was part of the inherent nature of the place; nothing was secret for long.

The combination fax machine/printer was located at the other end of the empty office and as Mitchell made his way past the other two desks in the office; he noticed a pile of unopened mail on one of them. On the top of that pile, Mitchell could not help but notice an envelope with a familiar name and logo. It was from Harry’s Cutlery.

 

Chapter 37

 

The Traffic light at the bottom of the exit ramp at Naughton Avenue was one of the longest in town. In fact, it took so long to change that it often backed up traffic on the parkway. This was good for Rena and Glenda however, who needed the time to get their bearings and finalize their plans.

Noel was two cars ahead of the old Toyota and Rena could see that Noel was signaling for a left turn meaning that she would be heading east on Naughton, in the opposite direction from where Noel lived.

“Look, she no go home”, said Rena. “She gonna go de other way”.

“Maybe she’s going to go out for dinner,” responded Glenda. “I’m getting kinda hungry myself”.

“If she stop, we eat our sandwiches. If not, we follow and eat later, O.K.,” asked Rena.

“Damn”, said Glenda

“What’s da madder,” said and alarmed Rena.

“Water, we don’t got any water or anything to drink”, shouted Glenda, whose hearing aid was acting up again not realizing how loudly she was talking.

“Chew no worry, I got water in the back seat” said Rena, pointing her thumb in the direction of the rear of the car where four bottles of Poland Spring Water were lying on the rear seat. 

“Sorry”, said Glenda. “It’s just that I take these pills and they make me thirsty, damn!”

“Now what”, asked Rena?

“I forgot to take the pills that make me thirsty,” said Glenda.

The light finally turned green and Noel was off heading east on Naughton. Rena followed, keeping at least two-car lengths distance behind her. 

“It won’t kill you to miss a pill, will it”, asked a concerned Rena.

“Naw, it’s just one of those lousy Lasix pills. All I do is pee and drink, pee and drink, damn!”

“Now what,” said Rena?

“What happens if I, we, got to pee,” asked Glenda.

Rena used her left hand and reached over to a plastic stick-on cup holder Marlene, the car’s owner, installed on the dashboard because she was left-handed and the right-handed factory cup holder was inconvenient. 

“We use this”, said Rena, holding a Styrofoam cup in her hand.

“A Cup, you expect me to pee in a cup,” said Glenda. “How am I supposed to do that with you watching and all”.

“Is easy, chew put eet between chew legs and let her rip”, said Rena. “We do it when I was wid Fidel all de time en la montañas”.

“Did Fidel watch”, asked Glenda?

“No, of course not, Fidel was always a gentleman”, replied Rena.

“So you will turn your head if I got to pee,” said Glenda.

“Eef chew insist”, said Rena as she checked to see if Noel was still a safe distance in front of them. “I don’t know what the big deal is; we all got the same equipment.”

“Yes, I know but I like to keep my “equipment” private if you don’t mind,” replied Glenda putting her knees as close together as possible.

“O.K., I dun look”, said Rena. “LOOK, she making a turn into dat lot”.

==

Mitchell hesitated when he saw the envelope with the logo from Harry’s Cutlery on it on one of the office desks, and wondered if he should pick it up. Mitchell looked around to make sure he was alone and that nobody was coming, and then snatched the envelope off the desk and stuffed it in his pocket, he would open it later. Meanwhile he had a fax to retrieve.

There was only one sheet of paper in the tray attached to the fax machine, the one from that arrogant bastard Ari at corporate headquarters. Mitchell picked it up and briefly glanced at its contents, it was indeed a copy of an invoice from Harvey’s Cutlery. Mitchell stuffed the fax in his pocket along with the letter and left the office. He would lock himself in his kitchen office and try to figure out “what the fuck was going on here”.

==

Noel had made a turn into a strip mall, one of many that lined the streets of this suburban community. The mall was typical, with the usual array of stores. There were a couple of chain restaurants, a shoemaker, a GAP, and a UPS store. It was near the UPS store that Noel parked her car.

“The camera, get the camera”, shouted Rena. “She going in the mailbox store”.

Glenda had the camera in the same bag as her sandwich and had to brush some rye bread crumbs from the lens before raising it to her eye. Through the eyepiece, Glenda watched as Noel exited her car. Snap, Glenda took her first picture. Snap, again, as she watched Noel open the door to the unattended UPS store. Glenda pushed the “review” button on the small Fuji pocket camera, and held it in front of her as Rena looked on. The picture was a little dim but not bad considering it was almost completely dark and she, as Carly told her, had turned off the flash.

“Ees too bad we can no see her face, we need to get closer”, said Rena.

“Rena!” exclaimed Glenda. “She knows who we are and if she sees us we’re finished, not to mention in a lot of trouble”.

“Don chew worry. You follow me and take the picture through the glass. Make sure you get Noel’s face”, said Rena.

“And where are you going to be”, asked Glenda.

“I am going to be talking to Noel”, smiled Rena.

“What, are you nuts”, shouted Glenda. “She knows who you, we, are”.

“Chew jus take the picture, let me worry about Noel”, replied Rena, who opened the car door and headed in the direction of the UPS store.

 

Noel was standing in front of her mailbox, part of a row of mailboxes, located near the front of the UPS store. She was just about to put her key into box number 117 when she felt the presence of someone behind her. Noel turned quickly around and was surprised to see a familiar face; it was Rena, who had a big grin on her face. Noel was so startled at the site of one of her residents standing right there in front of her that she dropped the mailbox keys on the floor.

“Rena, wha...wha...what are you doing here”, gasped Noel. “Are you alone”.

“No, I’m with Glenda...you know Glenda don you...she ees her wid me in the car”, said Rena.

“Car, what car, who’s car,” wondered Noel.

“We borrow a car to come have dinner at the “Friday’s”, and we see you come in here. What chew doing here anyway”, replied Rena, playing it very cool.

 

“I...er...um...getting some mail for a friend who’s sick”, stumbled Noel.

“Oh, that ees very nice of you, don let me stop you, go get the mail”, said Rena.

Noel picked the keys up off the floor and returned to the mailbox from which she extracted a single envelope. Over Noel’s shoulder, Rena noticed the name on the envelope, it was from ElderSpace and addressed to Quiet Medical Equipment. Noel quickly put the letter in her handbag trying, too late, to conceal the address from Rena’s view.

Meanwhile, Glenda had positioned herself at the corner of the big picture window outside of the UPS store and could easily see what was going on inside because the store was very well lit. Glenda brought the camera up to her face and pointed it directly at Noel and Rena. When Glenda saw Noel bend down to pick up the mailbox keys she knew this was the time to push the shutter button on the camera because, as Noel arose from her bending position, her face was easily visible. Snap! “Gotcha”, thought Glenda who put the camera back into her handbag.

“Would you like to have dinner with us Noel”, asked Rena.

“Um... no...I...I can’t, have to get home”, said Noel who just wanted to get out of the store as quickly as possible.

“Thas too bad, Glenda will be so disappointed”, said Rena.

“Well, maybe some other time, good night and drive home safely, no drinking and driving now”, warned Noel, who really hoped they would take a turn too fast and hit a tree.

“O.K. then, we see you back at the Center tomorrow”, said Rena who hoped she had stalled Noel long enough for Glenda to take a picture.

“Yes, O.K., tomorrow, well goodbye”, said Noel as she followed Noel outside and into the parking lot.

Rena waved as Noel hastily opened the door to her car, started it, jammed the gearshift lever into reverse and screeched out of the mall.

 

Glenda, who had found a hiding space in the doorway of a shoe store next to the UPS, sidled up next to her friend.

“You got it”, asked Rena.

“Yup, got it”, replied Glenda, who held the camera up to Rena’s face so that she could see what the camera had captured.

Rena smiled as she looked at the clear, well-framed, well-lit photograph of her and Noel in front of a row of mailboxes with a set of keys in Noel’s hand.

“Great, good job”, complimented Rena. “This picture along with what I saw on that envelope will make good evidence,” said Rena.

“She sure shot out of here in a hurry, what did she say when she saw you standing there”, inquired Glenda.

“She say she getting mail for a sick friend. The way she drove out of here, the friend mus be very sick”, laughed Rena. “She leave this place faster than Battista leave San Juan when Fidel come to town”.

“I got to pee and I’m hungry”, said Glenda.

“There’s a Friday’s down there, you can do both”, advised Rena. The two women walked arm in arm to the restaurant where Glenda used the ladies room while Rena ordered two vodka martinis, “Con dos olives, por favor”.

 

=

Mitchell closed and locked the door of his office behind him. It was the middle of dinner, the kitchen was alive with people, and activity, but Mitchell was dying to see what was in that envelope. Cautiously, looking around from side to side and out the office window, Mitchell slowly reached for the purloined letter, slid a steak knife under the flap of the envelope, and opened it.

Mitchell read the words at the top of the letter very carefully. Indeed the sheet of paper, which was actually and invoice read, in black and red letters “Harry’s Cutlery Sales and Service”, beneath which, in red letters was the word “INVOICE”. Mitchell then glanced at the amount at the bottom of the page; it was indeed for $999.00. He then checked the body copy of the invoice. There was a note that read, “Thank you for your purchase of the J.A. Henckels 8” Damascus Chef's Knife. In order to avoid additional service fees we ask that you remit your payment within 30 days from the date of this invoice. Thank you for your business”. On the bottom was a line that gave instructions to make checks payable to “Harry’s Cutlery” and mail it to their showroom at the address Mitchell visited earlier that week. There was no mention of any PO Box. “So who the hell is Harvey’s?” thought Mitchell.

 

==

 

It was a new day at the W.A.I.F., and Noel was dragging herself into the building after a particularly bad commute due to an accident on the thruway. The traffic helicopter guy on the radio said it was a jack-knifed tractor-trailer that had caused the backup which made Noel remember that there should be an invoice from that “knife company” in today’s mail. The door to the business office was open and Noel could see Roseanna at her desk, a cup of takeout coffee next to her computer keyboard and a pile of correspondence in front of her.

“Good morning is there a letter from a cutlery company in this morning’s mail because if there is I want it in my office right away o.k.”, said Noel in a single breath.

“I just started to go through the mail, I’m running a little late because there was an accident on the highway this morning”, said Roseanna. “I’ll look for it and bring it to you”.

“Alright, I don’t want to be disturbed for a while,” said Noel who, unlocked the door to her office, went inside, and closed the door behind her. She proceeded to her desk and, removing a small key from her handbag, slipped it into the lock on the top right-hand desk drawer and turned. Noel reached into the drawer and removed a yellow slip of paper. On the paper were the names of all of Noel’s banks together with the passwords for each one, there were eight banks on that list. The accidental meeting of Rena in the UPS store the night before made Noel very nervous as well as mindful of the fact that she was vulnerable to the prying eyes of everyone around her. She knew in her heart that the “jig would soon be up” and that it was just a matter of time before someone caught wind of her little scheme. “It was time”, she thought, “to tally-up her resources and start thinking about retirement”, before it was too late. The list was in alphabetical order. 

Atlantic Savings and Loan was first on the list and Noel entered the web address into the computer. When the site came up, she entered her email and her password. The screen switched to a list of her accounts of which there were only two, a checking account, and a savings account. Noel noted the balance, $8,235.00 and wrote the figure on a separate piece of paper. As with all of Noel’s clandestine accounts, there was very little accumulated interest and no withdrawals.

Bank number two was the Bordentown Bank and Trust, a small local bank she found in a neighboring state about 25 miles away. The balance at that bank had risen to $7, 567, which she again, noted on a slip of paper. Noel continued down the list until the amounts at all eight banks had been recorded, “now for the total”, she began.

One by one, Noel entered the amounts on the paper into a small hand held calculator and, when she was finished, pushed the “add” button, and noted the final total, $52, 657.87. Noel could not believe she had “liberated” that much cash. This money, along with her own legitimate savings, 401K, CD’s, Annuities, IRA’s and a couple of junk bonds she had, would make for a very tidy start for her retirement fund. In all, she figured she had amassed about $150,000, far less than the $250 thousand she originally set as her goal, but a good start nonetheless. Noel cleared the calculator and turned on the paper shredder. She inserted the slip of paper with the figures on it into the jaws of the machine and watched as the shredder gobbled it up and spit it into the attached wastebasket. As an extra precaution, Noel stirred the contents of the basket with a ruler she took off her desk. “A hundred and fifty thousand dollars, not enough,” she thought. “Not enough”.

 

==

Carly was sitting on a La-Z-Boy recliner, which was wedged into one corner of her small room, feet in the upright position; it had been a long day, and an unproductive one at that. The intelligence from Mack was spotty at best and she had not heard from her two “spies” Rena and Glenda all night. Carly just hoped that Rena had not driven the car into a ditch somewhere. As Carly reached over to grab the remote control so she could change channels, her cell phone rang (the ring was actually the first few bars of “The Battle Hymn of The Republic). 

“Hello,” answered Carly halfheartedly.

“Es me Rena, is great we get some good stuff, we get pictures of mailboxes and I looked at letters and I make Noel real nervous and she drive off screeching tires and then we went and had drinks and we are on our way home, you going to be up I got to show you pictures and Glenda did good too,” said Rena, all in one rapidly spoken, almost unintelligible Spanglish sentence.

“Slow down, slow down,” said Carly. “You are telling me Noel caught you taking pictures of her, are you alright?”

“Noel no see us taking pictures, Glenda was real sneaky, but maybe I think she knows that we know that something ees rotten in Sweden,” replied Rena. “We see you in a couple of minutes, where will you be?”

“Denmark”, said Carly.

“You going to Denmark”, said a surprised Rena.

“No, the expression is “something is rotten in Denmark.” 

“Something is rotten in Denmark too,” said Rena.

“Forget about it. Just come to me as soon as you get back and try not to let anyone see you coming into my room, O.K.?” cautioned Carly.

 

“Roger, over and out,” said Rena and she hung up.

Carly shook her head, had she gone too far. Should she stop and just forget about the whole thing. She would wait to see the photos before making up her mind.

==

Chef Mitchell held the invoice he stole off the desk in the office in his left hand; his eyes focused on the name at the top. It said Harvey’s and it had to be real. In his right hand, Mitchell held the fax he got from Ari, trying to pick out the differences in the two. 

The paper was different of course, but that was because one was a fax and the other an original. The Original, from Harry’s, was printed on a heavy weight stock with a faint watermark embedded in the paper. When held up to the light one could easily make out Harry’s logo, which was a capital “H” in the center of a crossed knife and fork. “This had to be real”, thought Mitchell because nobody would go through the trouble of faking a watermark. Mitchell thought for a moment. He now knew that Noel was trying to pull a fast one but he just could not get a grasp of how she was doing it. He wanted to confront her but he would need more facts.

==

It was nearly one thirty in the morning before Carly heard a knock on her door. She got up from the recliner on which she had been passing in and out of consciousness for the last two hours. Opening the door just a crack she could plainly see that Rena was alone and the corridor behind her empty. “Come in,” said Carly. Rena entered cautiously, looking over her shoulder making sure she was not being observed.

“Where’s Glenda”, asked Carly.

“Glenda go straight to her room, can’t hold her Martini’s,” giggled Rena.

“Exactly how many did she have”, inquired Carly?

“Two and a half, I finished the other half”, said Rena.

“And how many did you have”, said Carly frowning.

“Including Glenda’s half drink, four and a half”, smiled Rena. “It was a real girl’s night out. I haven’t drunk so much since Che give me a bottle of Don Q and made me drink the whole thing.”

“Che?” asked Carly.

“Si, Che Guevara”, said Rena

“You knew Che Guevara”, said Carly cautiously.

“Si, we have the sex”, said Rena without hesitating.

Carly did not know whether to believe Rena or not, but it could have happened. She was in Cuba at the right time in history and by all indications; she did fight alongside Fidel, and Che was never far behind. In addition, after you chiseled off 50 years of built up foundation makeup, you could see that Rena was probably a good-looking woman at one time.

“How was he”, said Carly, surprised at her frankness but she had to know.

“Media y media, so so” said Rena. “He no like to wash and he too busy with the Comunistas, also he always want to be on top”.

Carly figured she had heard enough about Rena and Che and would wait for the movie, which she was sure was in the works, somewhere.

“You got those photos,” said Carly.

“They on the camera” said Rena holding the back of the small digital camera up to Carly’s face.

Taking the camera from Rena, one by one Carly scrolled thorough the photos Glenda had taken of Noel and Rena in the UPS store. Both Noel’s and Rena’s faces were clearly visible as were the row of mailboxes in front of them. Another picture showed Noel bending down picking up some keys while another showed her opening one of the mailboxes and removing some mail.

“What’s this picture,” asked Carly showing the screen to Rena.

“Thas where I sneak a look at the envelope she takes from the box. She no see me,” said Rena proudly.

“And what was on the envelope” inquired Carly.

“The envelope says “Quiet Medical Supply,” replied Rena.

“Quiet Medical Supply, you sure it said “QUIET.”

“Si, es verdad, ees what I see”, said Rena wondering why Carly was so interested in that name.

Carly went to her night table and opened the bottom drawer. She pulled out one of those brown accordion folders with an elastic band around it. Opening the folder, she thumbed through some of the dozen or so papers she kept filed in there, stopping when she reached the one she wanted. 

“Did the envelope look something like this?” said Carly, showing what she had taken from the folder to Rena.

Rena looked at the envelope for a second and handed it back to Carly.

“Yes, it look jes like that, where you get that”, replied Rena.

“I bought some knee braces from them a couple of months ago, this is my receipt,” said Carly. “I want you to look at this again but his time I want you to look very closely at the name, O.K.”

Rena took the envelope back from Carly, put on her glasses, and re-read what was printed on it. It only took a second for Rena to understand what Carly was asking her to do. 

“Ay! Caramba,” Dice “Quick" y no "Quiet”, said Rena who always reverted to Spanish when she got excited. “Jesus Christi”.

“Exactimente” said Carly, “exactly.”

 

Chapter 38

 

Chef Mitchell put aside his confusion over the obviously doctored invoices from Harvey’s/Harry’s to prepare lunch for the almost 200 residents. Although this was not the kind of cooking job he had pictured himself doing after graduating from the Culinary Institute of Belize, it involved food and it paid well. 

Today’s lunch consisted of chicken fingers (for the third time in the last two weeks) and a side of macaroni salad. Lunch was usually a cut and dried affair involving pre-made frozen chicken “fingers”, each perfectly shaped like a chicken leg. All of the resident’s plates received exactly three fingers and a scoop of macaroni salad dished out of a large plastic tub. The only cooking Mitchell and his staff had to do was to make sure that the chicken was at least cooked properly. It was what Mitchell liked to call an NBM, No Brainer Meal. Early in his career at the WAIF, Mitchell felt guilty every time he had to prepare such a feeble, tasteless portion-controlled meal. However, after he was told, “that’s the way it has to be because the budget will not allow for more than $30 a day per person to be spent on food”, he was forced to go along with the “program”.

Standing at one of the stainless steel counters, a row of perfectly portioned meals in front of him, he motioned for the servers to come get the plates and put them on their carts for delivery to their respective tables. He sighed as he watched as the carts disappeared out the kitchen doors, knowing the diners would probably complain about how such a short time had gone by since their last chicken finger meal but what could he do. He tried to “fancy it up” a bit by offering a variety of dipping sauces “a la Mickey D’s” however, when you got right down to it, it was still chicken fingers. “At least lunch was coming to an end,” thought Mitchell, and now he could get back to “The mystery of the doctored invoices”.

==

“Did you get that invoice from that cutlery place yet,” asked Noel poking her head out of her office door.

“Not here” said Roseanne. “I looked through all of the mail that came in today and yesterday, nothing from no cutlery place”.

“Damn” exclaimed Noel, believing the invoice, should have been here by now. 

“You want I should call them and see what happened,” said Roseanne trying to sound helpful even though she hated talking to vendors, relatives, residents or anyone for that matter.

“NO DON’T”, said Noel in a voice so load it surprised even her. “I’ll do it, forget I ever asked, O.K.?”

“Sure” said Roseanna whose curiosity was now at a peak. She had never seen Noel get so excited over mail before, especially about mail from a vendor. “Oh well”, she thought. “That’s management for you. Everything is always a big deal.”

Carly too was pondering over what she should do with the information gathered from Rena, Glenda and Mack. She knew it was hot, but how hot. There was more here than met the eye. The one thing that Carly knew she needed was a lot more information and, perhaps, some corroboration. She wished she had that invoice from that “Quiet” equipment place because without it, all she had was Rena’s word and memory. Of course, she could call “Quick” Medical and find out if they sent an invoice for anything recently but without an order number or account number, they would not know what she was talking about. However, this did not stop Carly from devising and alternate method of acquiring the information she needed. She would take a page from the “Book of Chen”, and try some subterfuge, a back door approach if you will, to get what she needed. She would call corporate HQ and pretend to be someone else, but who, surely not Noel because they knew her voice. It would have to be Roseanna. “What the hell was Roseanna’s last name”, she wondered.

==

Noel was freaking out. “Where the fuck was that invoice”, she thought. She did not want to call HQ again and she certainly did not want to call Harry’s again because anything that would cause someone at Harry’s to contact headquarters bookkeeping would cause her a lot of trouble. “Fuck, fuck fuck!” she yelled out load, forgetting about the thin door that separated her from the rest of the office. There was only one place that invoice could be and that was with Mitchell, she would have to go see him.

Removing a small compact mirror and hairbrush from her overstuffed handbag, Noel began the rudimentary process of grooming that all women go through when they want something from a man. After running the brush through her hair, she took out a tube of Revlon Bright Red lacquer lipstick and applied it liberally to her dry, cracked lips. She “blotted” her lips with a piece of old tissue paper she found at the bottom of her bag, stood up from her desk, straightened her skirt and proceeded out the door in search of Mitchell and, hopefully, the missing invoice.

==

April, one of the assistant chefs, was running on automatic. She had been busy all morning preparing 100 meatballs for that night’s dinner. A scoop of ground beef rolled between the palms of her hand and placed neatly on a baking tin. She repeated the same motion again and again. When she finished rolling her last meatball, she counted them to make sure there were at least 100, there were. Any leftover ground beef she would use to make a hamburger for herself and her pal “The big chef.” Removing her gloves and washing her hands, April turned to look to see if Mitchell was in his office. Although he had never said specifically that any leftover food could not be used to feed the staff, she knew he would probably frown on such goings on.

 

Coming from behind the counter and into the space between the chopping block and Mitchell’s office, April craned her neck to see if Mitchell might be lurking in the corner of his office out of sight of the kitchen staff. She did not see him anywhere however, what April did see were some papers on the tiled kitchen floor just in front of the Chef’s office door. April walked closer to the paper and noticed that what was on the floor was an invoice. Believing that Mitchell probably dropped it, she bent over and picked it up. Without thinking, April glanced at the name and address on letterhead. It was immediately apparent it was from a vendor with which April was familiar. Knowing that all invoices were to go to Noel, April tucked the letter into the pocket of her apron. She would drop it by Noel’s office when she left for her break in a few minutes.

Noel meanwhile was on her way to the kitchen to see Mitchell. She was going over in her mind what she was going to say when she asked him if he had seen an invoice from Harry’s Cutlery. She would start with some casual conversation, “Good afternoon Mitch, nice day, some week huh? Oh, by the way, did you happen to get an invoice from that knife place, Harry’s I think they call it”? “Yes, that sounded good”, thought Noel.

==

Carly remembered that she had a list of email addresses of all the staff members, surely that would have Roseanna’s last name on it. Fumbling through an accordion file Carly kept on the small table in her room, she located the email list. Running her fingers down the paper, she came upon the name of Roseanna O’Reily. “O’Reily”, she thought, “Roseanna was an O’Reily”. Carly sat down on the edge of her bed, took out her cell phone, and dialed the 800 number for corporate headquarters.

“Elderspace, how may I help you?” said the voice at the other end of the 800 number.

“This is Roseanna.. er... O’Reily”, spoke Carly trying not to giggle, “From the Western center; I would like to talk to the bookkeeping department please”.

“One moment, I see if Ari’s in”, said the operator. 

A couple of clicks and a hum and Ari Feinbaum was on the line. 

“Feinbaum, what is it”, said the arrogant Ari.

Startled, Carly almost hung up but mustered up enough courage to continue.

“Er, this is...um...Roseanna, Roseanna O’Reily from the Western Center; I need a copy of an invoice that might have gone to you by mistake.”

“We don’t get invoices by mistake”, said Ari gruffly. “Who was it from?”

“Quick,” said Carly, “Quick medical supply in Millburn New Jersey.”

“You mean Quiet medical supply in Millburn New Jersey,” said Ari.

“No, Quick, Q_u_i_c_k”, spelled Carly.

“No, it’s Quiet, I have it right here in front of me”, said the now very annoyed Ari. “What the heck is the matter with you people over there anyway? Can’t you people read? You’re the second person today from that meshugganah place you run there that’s asked me to send them an invoice with the wrong spelling on it.”

“I’m sorry, I’m just doing what my boss asked me to do”, lied Carly.

“Who’s your boss, it’s not that idiot chef you got there is it?” asked Ari.

“My boss is Noel Bushmiller, the administrator”, replied Carly who was now becoming unnerved.

“Another nudnik”, said Ari. “Look, all I got is this bill from a place called Quiet medical. It’s a bill I got from your boss. It has her approval stamp on it so we are going to pay it, O.K.?”

“Uh huh sure, go ahead” said Carly. I guess we don’t need a copy after all, just forget it.”

“Look, I’ll send you a copy if you want it, I don’t want to get you in trouble with your boss. What’s the fax number?”

“Shit” thought Carly. “I can’t give him the office fax, shit.” “We...um...our...um fax is out of order. We’re waiting for a replacement but it may take a day or two, can you mail it to me, I’m in no rush”.

 

“Alright, alright, who do you want me to send it to?” asked Ari.

“Send it to me...um I mean my assistant Ms. Carly with a “C,” said Carly.

Carly with a “C,” O.K. goodbye,” Ari hung up.

Carly, shaking, threw the cell phone on her bed and then picked it up again because she forgot to shut it off. She hated herself for not thinking that through all the way. If he sends that invoice out today, she would have it by the weekend. That would be enough time to figure this whole thing out, she hoped.

 

“So, someone else has been calling about invoices eh”, thought Carly. “It couldn’t have been Noel, she already knew what the invoices said on them and it wasn’t Roseanna because Ari would have recognized that Spanish accent in a heartbeat. The only people left were Mack and Mitchell. Mack, she figured, would certainly have called because that’s just what he would do, but why would Mitchell be calling bookkeeping at HQ. Did he also have a problem with a screwed-up invoice?” Or, maybe Valerie had called, but about what. Carly’s head was spinning at the possibilities. If this were some drawing room melodrama she would have gathered the likely suspects in the parlor and confront them all al la Hercule Poirot. Carly took a bottle of Fiorinal from her dresser drawer, removed two of the blue and yellow capsules from the container and popped them into her mouth, without water. Fluffing one of the two pillows on her bed, she lay her head down and fell quickly into the arm of Morpheus.

 

 

Chapter 39

 

“I’m going to see Mitchell”, said Noel closing her office door behind her. “I’ll be back in a few”, and she walked out the door.

Roseanna breathed a sigh of relief as she did very time Noel left her office. Even if it was only for a few minutes, Noel’s absence was like a mini vacation.

Walking with a stride reminiscent of a German Field Marshall, Noel crossed the lobby on her way to see Mitchell. Approaching the entrance to the kitchen, she once again smoothed her hair and wet her dry, cracked lips with her tongue and pushing her ample bosom out to its fullest extent. Using both hands, she pushed open the double swinging doors and entered the busy kitchen. Grabbing hold of the first person she saw, a small girl server named Lola, Noel asked if Mitchell was in his office. 

Lola, who was afraid of everything and every body in authority, could only point to Mitchell’s empty office. Noel, seeing that Mitchell was out turned and was about to leave when April spotted her from her station behind a counter of uncooked meatballs. “ Wait Noel, I got something for you”, said April who met Noel halfway.

April took the folded, and slightly grease stained, invoice from the cutlery place out of her pocket and handed it to Noel who snatched it out of Aprils hand.

Noel unfolded the paper and could immediately see that it was printed on the same paper that they used in their office fax machine. Looking at the name on the paper, Noel could see that it was the same “invoice” she sent to corporate for payment which of course was her phony company. This could only mean one thing, Mitchell knows.

“Where’s your boss” demanded Noel of April.

“Uh, I don’t know. He’s busy getting stuff ready for that meeting with the executives” said April. 

“Where did you get this”, said Noel holding the fax up to April’s face.

“Uh...um..I found it on the floor, it looked important and I know that you get all the invoices so I put it in my pocket to give to you on my break”, answered April who was freaking out from all of Noel’s questions.

“There was no other papers” asked Noel.

“Nope, just that, did I do something wrong” said April nervously.

“Um...no...it’s OK. Just do me a favor” asked Noel, in a voice so sweet it would cause a diabetic to have a convulsion. “Don’t tell Mitchell you found it and gave it to me. OK”.

“What if he asks if I saw it”, said April.

“Lie”, said Noel smiling. “I’m just playing a little prank on him, you understand don’t you? Lets keep it between us girls, OK. I’ll tell him myself.”

“Sure, no problem”, said April who would agree to anything right then just to get Noel out of her hair and the kitchen before Mitchell came back. 

Noel refolded the fax and tucked it into a pocket she had in her skirt and walked briskly out of the kitchen letting the doors swing freely back and forth causing a bit of a breeze to waft over the hot kitchen.

April shook her head and went back to her meatballs, disgusted with all the intrigue around the Center lately.

 

==

 

Carly, from her vantage point overlooking the parking lot, could see Mitchell rummaging around in his car. Mitchell had gone out there in hopes of finding a receipt or a brochure or something that said “Harry’s” on it. All this confusion with the names was causing Mitchell to question his own sanity. Maybe hanging around all of those partially demented residents had finally rubbed off on him, he really needed to find something that would confirm the fact that he had not “caught” dementia.

Carly was running things through her mind. Duplicate invoices could mean only one thing, double billing or two sets of books or something like that. But who was profiting from this. Was it Noel or Mitchell or the corporation or the vendor. It was all very confusing for Carly whose daily dose of pain meds for her back was starting to kick in clouding her mind and making it difficult for her to think clearly.

She watched as Mitchell closed the door of his car and began to walk back to the building, apparently empty-handed. She could not believe that Mitch was crooked. He may be a lousy cook and a corporate toady, but he was anything but dishonest. And besides, this was too complicated a scheme for Mitchell to have thought up by himself. “A conspiracy maybe” thought Carly rubbing her temples trying to re-adjust her thought processes. The rubbing did not help.

 

==

 

Mitchell went back to his office in the kitchen and closed the door shutting out the sound of clanking dishes, silverware and pots and pans which, usually, was music to his ears, the “symphony” of the kitchen” he called it. Today however, that cacophony of sound was more like a drum roll proceeding an execution. Somehow he knew that someone was going to get fired when all of this panned out and he was sure it was going to be him, which might not be such a bad thing.

For years, Mitchell had dreamed of opening his own restaurant. Something small and bistro-like, maybe in the suburbs. He was going to borrow money from his uncle for the down payment. Or maybe he’d open one of those food trucks that were so popular now. He could sell tacos or enchiladas or knishes,  “yes, knishes,” that’s what I’ll do, he thought. At least he would be his own boss. He sighed as he began to rummage around his desk for the fax from Harvy’s Cutlery. 

It took only a few seconds of searching to realize that the fax was missing. It was not on his desk. He reached into his pocket to make sure he still had the original invoice from Harry’s, which he did. But where the hell was that fax. He got up from his desk and began to look around his office. He then went outside and scanned the kitchen floor for any papers, there were none. “Shit shit shit.”  What the fuck happened to that fax. Without it he had no proof of anything. And he wasn’t about to call corporate again for another one. “Shit!”

 

==

 

Carly arose from a brief nap, rubbed her eyes and glanced at the clock radio she kept on her night stand. The green, luminous numbers told her that it was 5:10, almost dinner time. She picked up her cell phone and dialed Mack’s number. Mack picked up right away.

“Yes Carly, what’s up”, he said after reading the caller ID on his smart phone. 

“I just wanted to make sure you would be available after dinner. I need to discuss things with you concerning all this double invoice business.” ,she said.

“Sure, where,” said Mack.

“Better meet back in Hamilton,” said Carly cautiously. “And come alone, OK”.

“Sure, you want to give me a hint as to what we will be discussing.” questioned Mack.

“I just need your input on what you think is going on and what we should do next. Quite frankly Mack, I’m getting a little scared.” said Carly.

 

“I’ll be there. Six thirty OK,” said Mack.

“Six thirty’s good,” replied Carly, feeling somewhat relieved that soon this whole business might be coming to a head.

“I wonder what’s for dinner,” thought Carly even though she wasn’t very hungry.

 

Chapter 40

 

Noel paced the floor of her office adding a little more wear and tear to the already threadbare carpet. She stared at the copy of the fax she got from April every time her pacing took her past her desk.

“This is going to be a problem,” she thought.






                                                             That's all I have so far. If you want more, let me know...

                                                                                     Thebeecee@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

&nb