(Last Sunday: Chartan reads a letter from Brazil and rushes Gina to the hospital after her water breaks.)
It was nearly noon in the hospital parking lot when Chartan put baby Jake in the car seat next to Gina. Then he drove the limo a few miles under the speed limit, in part, due to the time spent looking in the rear view mirror, switching from his son to his wife and visa versa.
“Keep your eye on the road, mister, “said Gina with a smile.
The ride to their apartment was uneventful other than the rapid fire thoughts he had about fatherhood, his beautiful wife, Brazil’s return from Ukraine, the Life Restoration class he was to teach the next day, the rent due notice on the kitchen table and the gas gauge needle nearing empty. He caught his breath and turned off the limo.
(The Adventures of Chartan will return in a few weeks.)
(Last Sunday, Gina and Chartan team up to turn down Thor’s job offer.)
“There’s a letter from Brazil on the kitchen table,” yelled Gina from the bedroom as Chartan closed the front door. Chartan grinned. There was only one table in the house.
He grabbed the heavily stamped envelope when he walked through the kitchen to the bedroom.
“How are you?” he asked his wife who was sitting up in bed.
“I’m ready for this to happen.” She gently patted the bulge. “What’s Skyler got to say?”
Chartan kissed his wife on the forehead. “Let’s see.” He tore open the envelope and fished out two pieces of folded paper. He started reading.
“He says Julie is going to file for divorce if he doesn’t come home.”
“’Don’t blame her,” said Gina. “ He’s been gone for two months and managed to write only one short note to her.”
“He says he’s coming home in ten days. He’ll be in time to see the birth.”
Gina grabbed her husband’s arm. “I think my water broke.”
Fifteen minutes later Chartan’s limo rolled up to the front entrance of the hospital where a nurse and an orderly were waiting with a wheelchair. He had called ahead to say they needed emergency assistance—the birth was coming sooner than expected. (This paragraph is dedicated to my daughter who was almost born in a car stuck in traffic.)
(Last Sunday: Gina and Chartan agree to go together to meet with Thor who has offered Chartan a lucrative contract.)
As Chartan walked to the limo office, he put his arm around Gina who was now 8+ months pregnant.
“You don’t have to do that,” she said. “I’m the size of a house right now.”
“I want to. Besides, this is our decision.”
A half-an-hour later they left the office with Chartan clutching Gina’s shoulder.
“You were magnificent,” she said.
Chartan smiled. Thor had been so desperate that he offered to name the limo service after Chartan. But, by then, the wannabe guru refused to give up his freedom and sense of right and wrong for money. Gina’s eyes convinced him that he was doing the right thing.
Chartan held the limo door open for Gina.
“Give me a few minutes to get in,” she laughed.
He watched her carefully shift her stomach so that it did not brush up against the dashboard. He sensed he was entering a special moment when time moved slowly, a marked contrast to the last 24 hours when he went back and forth on the limo job at a frenetic pace. The difference was Gina. He realized that he had been selfish in assessing Thor’s strategy without her. His wife was just as important part of any offer as he was.
“Ok, husband, you can safely close the door.”
He pushed the door shut, his gaze focused on his wife on the other side of the glass. He had never been happier in his life than now.
(Last Sunday: Thor offers Chartan $2,000 per week to return to the limo service. Chartan accepts but continues to distrust Minerva and Thor.)
Once the limo was parked in the apartment lot, Chartan remained behind the wheel, listening to the ping of a cooling engine. When the noise stopped, he began tapping the steering wheel. He didn’t have to sign the contract—that was one way to get out of Minerva’s grasp. He had roughly 90 minutes remaining before returning to Sloan’s. He needed to give Gina a reason for leaving. He could fabricate an excuse, or admit that $2,000 per week was too much money to pass up. What would she want other than honesty? He got out of the limo and gave himself 60 seconds to reach a decision.
“When did the class get over?” asked Gina looking at the wall clock.
“It was a great glass—there were amazing 82 people who signed up>”
“That’s so good—you’ve work so hard for it.”
Gina, seated at the kitchen table, was all smiles.
“And there’s something else.”
Her smile faded.
“Minerva’s friend came to the class and, afterwards, offered me $2,000 per week to come back.”
Gina had a blank look at first, then she gave her husband a quick grin. “What are you going to do?”
He sat down at the table. “The money will help but l don’t trust Minerva and her strange friend. What do you think?”
“I want us to be happy…not rich.”
Chartan placed his hand over Gina’s. “I have to go back in 90 minutes to sign, or not sign a contract. Getting a weekly enrollment of 75 will be difficult, but it can be done and I will enjoy doing it.”
(Last Sunday: Chartan, in need of money, commits to teaching his Life Restoration classes again. The first class goes well but at the end Thor offers to double his pay if he returns to the limousine service.)
Chartan doesn’t answer Thor, instead, he weighs the consequences of telling Gina he has changed his mind and will return to the service for more money.
“Are you interested, or not?” asked Thor firmly.
“I’d like 50 percent more on top of what you are offering,” countered Chartan.
Thor took a step closer to Chartan—the two men were now a few feet apart and the size difference was most notable—Chartan was a good six inches taller than the stocky Swede. Thor offered his hand. Chartan took it.
“Agreed,” said Thor. “Can you be in the office in two hours? I will have your contract ready to sign for what you ask—that will be $2,000 per week, if I am not mistaken.”
“Yes,” answered Chartan without a smile.
The two men parted quickly. Chartan sat down on the closest chair and thought how he and Gina would no longer have money problems. But, then he paused. If he were to be paid $2,000 per week, it would be like driving Minerva roundtrip to and from San Francisco five days per week with, of course, money taken out for gas, tolls, repairs and upkeep. Where would all the fares come from?
At the apartment he broke the news to Gina, beginning with $2,000 per week. She stared at him and replied,” Sounds too good to be true. Make sure you read the contract carefully.”
“I certainly will. Thor is strange and, for that matter, so is Minerva. I’ll be careful.”
A short time later he drove his limo back to the office. When he was a 1,000 feet away from the lot, he pulled to the side of the road and filled himself with a mixture of thoughts ranging from euphoria over finally having money to meet the expenses of bringing a child into the world to fear that Thor and Minerva had evil intentions. What could they do to him?
(Last Sunday: Chartan turns down Minerva’s offer that would have put him in charge of the limousine service.)
Chartan parked his limo carefully in the apartment complex lot. After killing the engine he held onto the steering wheel while thinking of the immediate future. Minerva will probably take back my limo. I won’t have a job with the baby due in little over month. If I find work, my problems will go away.
He left the limo after deciding that teaching life restoration classes again at the Adult Center must be his first go at income. He’d built up a good following, only to switch full-time to limo driving to earn more cash for their expanded family. Now the challenge was to build up enrollment to 75 students per class per week.
“I can do it,” he said out loud as he approached the stairs to the apartment. Inside he quickly told Gina how he had rejected Minerva’s offer before launching into his resolve to earn money from teaching classes.
Gina smiled. When he took a long pause, she spoke firmly.
“I like it when you have conviction,” said Gina.
Two weeks later Chartan stood before 82 paying students looking for insights on how to be happier with little effort. The key for him was how many would pay $15 for a second class. But for the moment they were entertained by Chartan’s guru mode where he threw out rapid tidbits about overcoming the chains of routine, dealing with other people’s mania and how to make the perfect cup of coffee.
When the class ended, the student chatter was loud and Chartan took the noise level to mean the first class was a success, save for one lone person who remained seated and motionless in the back row. It was Thor. He approached Chartan when they were the only ones left in the classroom
(Last Sunday: The police find the teens. Chartan promises Gina that he will turn down Minerva’s job offer.)
“Talk to Thor,” said Minerva pushing back from the desk usually occupied by Sloan. Chartan, per custom, sat in front of the desk. Minerva stood up as Thor, only slightly taller than the widow, squeezed into the cushioned chair. He wore a brown suit with blonde stringy hair falling on his shoulders.
Chartan had never seen Thor before, only heard his name from Minerva who had praised his invention of a special electric vehicle.
“Chartan, it is pleasure to meet you.” Thor’s deep voice had a tinge of a Swedish accent. Chartan was struck by the man’s deep set eyes which gave him a mysterious look.
“Welcome to Sloan’s,” said Chartan.
“Not for long—we’re going to change the name to The Viking Limousine Service.”
“Okay,” said Chartan. “Why am I here?” His tone was unfriendly by design—he didn’t want to be sweet talked into taking a job.”
Thor placed his hands on the desk for Chartan to see. They were thick and leathery–his face tightened with anger.
Chartan concentrated on not shifting in his chair—he didn’t want Thor to think he was afraid of the situation.
“I was told by Minerva that you would excel as the general manager of this operation.”
Chartan didn’t respond.
“I assume you will take the position.”
“I’m not interested.”
“Chartan!” Minverva’s voice rang out in shock.
Chartan blinked once, then he stood up, bowed to Minerva and left the office in a brisk walk.
Once in the parking lot, he jogged to the limo Sloan had given him. He got in, started the vehicle then accelerated to the exit. In the rear view mirror he saw Minerva waving frantically. He smiled and kept driving. His cell phone rang twice before he turned it off. It was time to make a new list.
(Last Sunday: In a letter from Brazil to Chartan, the retired combat vet admits he lacks the courage to leave the war in the Ukraine. Chartan writes back asking his friend to return home.)
The day after Chartan mailed his letter to Brazil, a detective notified him that the missing teens were found penniless in Las Vegas.
“Where are they now? asked Chartan.
“With their respective parents.” The phone went dead before Chartan could come up with a response.
“Who was that?” yelled Gina from the bedroom.
“The police found the teens and I guess they’re back home,” replied Chartan from the bedroom doorway.
“Cross that one off the list,” said Gina.
“We just need Brazil to come home,” Chartan replied. He went to the edge of the bed and sat down by Gina’s bare legs—she wore loose pajama tops that barely covered her underwear.
“I’m very pregnant today, so you’ll have to do everything.”
Chartan’s smile was short-lived. His cell phone rang. Minerva wanted to meet to discuss his role at Sloan’s—he hadn’t told her that he was turning down her offer down, although he envisioned himself boldly saying “no” to her several times while relaying his decision to Gina in a matter-of-fact way.
“That’s convenient,” said Gina. “You get to take two off the list today.”
“I’ll do it in person this afternoon at Sloan’s.”
“You’ll be back by 5 to take care of dinner?”
Twenty minutes later Chartan slowly pulled the limo out of the apartment complex parking lot. He looked at the limo’s clock several times. He had two hours to overcome his fear of saying “no” to the wealthy widow.
(Last Sunday: Chartan struggles with how to get his life in balance when he gets a letter from Brazil who is fighting in the Ukraine.)
Chartan took the envelope carefully from Gina, as if it were fragile glass. He stared at the line of stamps along the top of the letter.
“Aren’t you going to open it? asked Gina.
Chartan sat down at the table and methodically unsealed the envelope. He read every word before looking at his wife.
Chartan, I wish we were up on that mountain. Coming down from there was much easier than leaving here. It only took me a day to realize I am still a fighter and my instincts are as strong as ever. I’ve been here a month. The excitement has worn off. A few of my buddies have been killed. I want to come home but can’t find the courage to do it. Write back to the address on the envelope. Your friend, Skyler Brazil.
He handed the letter to Gina who put it down a minute later. “He didn’t mention Julie,” she said.
“Maybe he wrote her a letter,” said Chartan.
“I’ll check with her. And the mountain top—isn’t that the day you came to the diner for breakfast?”
“Yes, we got in touch with who were that day–then I met you.”
“Sorry for it?”
“Of course not.”
“Are you going to write back?”
“Yes, today. He’s been on my mind but he slips away so easily. I am making him a priority.”
“What about me?”
“Gina, you’re always my number one priority.”
Later that afternoon Chartan wrote a letter to Brazil. The words came easily as if he were talking to his friend at a coffee house. He made one point: please come home now.
He ran downtown to the post office with his letter and as he glided past the tree-lined streets, he replayed his life of the past year, from the devious Elisa, the road trip to the mountain top and the quick marriage to Gina to the mystery of the missing teens. Yes, Brazil would know how to find them.
(Last Sunday: Minerva tells Chartan she wants to buy the limo service and make him general manager. Chartan, distracted by the job offer, blurts out to Gina one of the names he likes for their baby is Thor, Minerva’s inventor friend—he is surprised that Gina picks “Thor.”)
As usual Chartan woke at first light while Gina’s eyes remained shut tight. He immediately sensed a loss of personal freedom. Minerva wanted him to work for her. Her aggressive attitude had even encroached on the naming of his son. Thor? That name is too war-like. These new developments have pushed him in a direction with much uncertainty. He would prefer to rise in the morning with a sense that he had simply helped people the previous day. But, on the contrary, two teens he had driven to a prom had been missing for more than 48 hours. He was clearly not in control of his life.
He took a few steps and entered the kitchen where he put the kettle on for pour-over coffee. He sat down at the table with a pad and pen, believing that somehow making a list of actions to take would begin the process of restoring order in his mind. (1) He would talk to the police and offer ideas for finding the teens. He had no expertise in police work, only a strong ego that allowed him to find logical answers to complex problems. (2) He would tell Gina that he no longer liked the name, Thor, and preferred “Jake.” (3) He would decline Minerva’s job offer, although the reasons why were not yet clear to him.
He examined the list. While the items concerned issues that bothered him, they lacked details. He folded the paper in half, rose from the table and put on his running clothes. He would jog downtown.
Two hours later, soaked in sweat, he opened the apartment door. Gina was at the table holding an envelope.
“This came in the mail this morning—a letter from the Ukraine,” said Gina. “It must be your friend.”