THE WAGES OF SIN—PART 3
I did talk to the girls, lining them up as I cooked a pound of bacon before frying two eggs for each of us. After my "discussion" they all understood to mind their own business and not Amy's and mine. I kissed everyone goodbye afterwards and drove off to work.
Fridays are always hectic. The men turn in their time sheets then Carolyn and her assistant Barbara review them, compute their wages and withholding for taxes and benefits using a payroll program I had bought last year. Finally, the program told me not only how much money I needed, but the exact number of each bill denomination, as well. Carolyn and Barbara were salaried and so was I. With all that information in hand I drove to the bank for a withdrawal and returned so the payroll was ready before noon. I always tried to visit the men on their jobs to deliver their pay personally. I had learned that this was an effective way to bond with and support my employees. I usually wished them a great weekend, but this weekend would be special.
I left early as was my habit on Fridays, but first I stopped by to check on the Johansen job. It was making great progress. The skylight was in and the roof completely repaired. They had selected a top brand that could be opened with a remote control, a wise decision in my opinion. It would be much easier to open and close than a manual and it would close automatically in the event of rain. The tile work was done and grouted. Only the placement of the plumbing and electrical fixtures and final painting of the upper walls and ceiling needed to be done. Mrs. Johansen was ecstatic. She told me how pleased she and her husband were with the job. Even better, I had earned similar jobs with three of her neighbors. Gotta keep up with those Joneses!
Saturday morning the girls knew they were responsible for their own breakfasts so Amy and I lingered in bed. Okay, we did get up to pee and use mouthwash, but then we were back in bed for even more fun and games. Amy had proven to be an adventurous, imaginative, and energetic lover. I had always tried to please Terri and now those lessons were used to Amy's advantage. We had worn each other down last night and now we barely had the energy to move. I pulled the blankets over us again, whispering, "I love you" in Amy's ear before we fell asleep again.
I knew that Amy planned to take the girls out to do their nails before their hair appointments, but she gathered the three of them in the living room just before lunch. I knew that something was up. "Tim, the girls want to get their ears pierced. I think they're more than old enough." I agreed. It was Terri who had refused them earlier. Amy told me she would buy them two sets of posts, one in gold and one in their birthstone, also in gold which I knew was good at avoiding infection. I agreed, telling Amy I had a few things to pick up for the party. I'd take their dresses and shoes to a room adjacent to the Coffee Pub's office where they could change before the party. They left at 1:30; I left at 1:45 to go to the restaurant and then to the airport.
I stood outside the exit's security area with a sign saying "MELTON" as I awaited my future in-laws. I recognized them immediately from the photos I'd seen on Facebook. We waved then I shook hands with George and received a hug from Margaret as they thanked me over and over for bringing them to see Amy and Amber. "I can't wait to meet your daughters, Tim. Amy phones us every week and Amber always has so much to tell us about them."
"They're good kids, Margaret, just like Amber. They've really stepped up since their mother disappeared." I grabbed their suitcase from the carousel and led them out to my truck. Two minutes later we were en route to the Sayville Motor Lodge. I explained that they were only a few miles from the restaurant. It's not the best motel in the area, but it has always been clean and I could testify about the quality of the plumbing. I dropped them at their room, gave George $30 to cover the cab and told him to call for it at 5:30.
I didn't know much about the restaurant's history, but I'd always considered the name "Irish Coffee Pub" to be a misnomer. It sounds like a bar or coffee house, but it really is one of the area's most elegant restaurants and catering halls. With an open bar for my guests I'd pay substantially more than $100 per person for tonight's party plus twenty percent for the tips. I didn't mind at all.
I returned home to shower and shave before dressing. Amy phoned around 5:00 to tell me that they should be able to leave the parlor around six. I replied that I'd meet them at the restaurant's entrance. I was there at 6:20; Amy's parents were already seated in the bar behind menus when we strode past. Twenty minutes later what I now referred to as my harem joined me in the restaurant. Our table was near the door so I would be able to greet our guests as they entered.
I had arranged the seating so Amy was on my left and Amber, Andrea, and Chrissy were on my right. I planned to put my parents next to Amy and hers next to Chrissy. Everyone was there by seven so I stood for some introductions.
"I think that everyone here knows my daughters Andrea and Chrissy." They stood as I mentioned them. Then I moved to my parents who had been thrilled to meet Amy and Amber. Finally, I pulled Amy and Amber up beside me. Before speaking I whispered into Amber's ear. "Turn your head when I push against your cheek. It'll be a surprise. Okay?" She nodded and I returned to my remarks. "You all know that I've asked Amy to marry me so now I'd like to tell you about our courtship." I explained how we had met at the supermarket and how we had gone for more than two months spending every weekend with our girls before Amy's housing emergency had finally brought us together. "Not only did I get a wonderful woman, but I also got another beautiful daughter. I intend to formally adopt Amber once Amy and I are married."
I nodded to the restaurant manager who had been standing in the doorway as requested before continuing. "Now I have the pleasure of introducing our final two guests. I just met them this afternoon, but I can already tell that I'm going to love them. They came all the way from western Pennsylvania to be with us tonight."
I moved Amber's head with gentle pressure from my finger. She screamed and jumped for joy when she saw her grandparents. "Grandma! Papa!" She pulled away and ran to them before Amy even had a chance to react.
Amy looked at the doorway then at me and finally back to the doorway. "How? How did you get them here?" By now they had approached the table and Amber was introducing them to my daughters and parents.
Finally, they reached Amy and me. "You have the most wonderful fiancée, Amy. He phoned me Thursday morning and invited your dad and me to join you. Tim offered us his office sofa-bed for a few days." She hugged Amy and then me before taking her seat next to Chrissy.
"I still don't understand how you managed this."
"It was simple, Amy. I went online to a white pages site I sometimes use. There aren't that many Meltons in McKees Rocks so I phoned and tried to explain who I was and why I was calling. Your mom recognized my name right away. In fact, she asked if I was 'Amy's Tim.' I guess I am. The rest was simple."
"Maybe, but I think you're just amazing." And then she proved it by kissing me. Once she broke it we turned our attention to drinks and dinner. I've never been much of a drinker. Sure, I'm Irish on both sides, but I've always hated how I felt the next morning so I never have more than two. After that I switch to ginger ale.
We were into our soup course when Margaret asked me how I got into the plumbing business. My dad and my girls laughed. They'd heard the story too many times. "My parents wanted me to go to college, but I knew at an early age that it wasn't for me. I was smart enough. I graduated in the top twenty of my class which was more than 600 by the time we graduated. I went to Wilson Tech afternoons after taking English, social studies, math, Spanish, and science in the morning. In the afternoon I went through my plumbing apprenticeship.
"Dad was a small general contractor, specializing in renovations and additions, and I always enjoyed working with him. Doing that I learned how reliable the plumbing side of the business was. Plumbing almost always thrives because of repair work, remodeling, and sewer problems and in good times there is always a lot of new work.
"Anyway, I worked as an apprentice for a year which is fairly typical of tech school grads then became a journeyman plumber at age nineteen which is not. My boss was an older man who knew that I wanted to become my own boss. I took the master plumber license test and passed it at twenty-three then he retired and sold the business to me. Two years later I married Terri and the rest is history. I did eventually change the company name and we grew from eight employees to seventeen. Next year we'll be even bigger. I have an important announcement to make later." There was a break in the service so I asked Amy to dance while my dad took Andrea, then Chrissy, and finally Amber to the floor.
Everyone at our table had the Coffee Pub's outstanding prime rib for dinner and we boxed up several large pieces we'd use for tomorrow's lunch. I stood again, tapping on my glass to get everyone's attention. "I'm glad that everyone was able to attend tonight. It's a small way for me to thank you for all your work during the year. You'll be happy to know that the Johansen remodel has resulted in three more jobs that will eventually be even more elaborate than theirs. But, that's small potatoes in comparison to what I'm going to tell you now.
"I spoke to the big-time architect Joseph Weiss this afternoon. We got Yaphank Pines." The room exploded in cheers and applause. I spoke again once quiet was restored. "For the benefit of the wives and my future in-laws, Yaphank Pines is a projected 3500 home development in the Yaphank pine barrens. There will be community buildings, three big shopping malls—each with a big modern supermarket--churches...everything to make it a small city. There will be work for the next ten years and I want you to know that we were NOT the low bid. We were close, but there were two major factors in the decision. There are to be no sewers in the development so that means cesspools. Our closest competitor was going to use concrete block, but my bid included pre-cast concrete which all of us know is far superior in strength and longevity.
"The other factor was my reputation for quality work and we all know that really means YOUR reputation for quality work, so I thank you again. Now let's dance and have a great time." And that's exactly what we did, leaving just before midnight. Amy's parents went with her; the girls drove with me in the truck, their preferred mode of transportation.
Amber pulled her grandparents into the house and up the stairs. Amy, Andrea, and Chrissy followed her as I carried the suitcases, leaving them in the hallway before joining everyone just as Amber was pointing out Andrea's bed, dresser, and desk. Then she began to mist up as she said, "And this is MY bed, and this is MY dresser and MY desk." She turned and hugged Chrissy then Andrea. "These are MY sisters." She hugged me saying, "This is MY daddy." Then she broke down, crying openly as she declared, "And THIS is MY family!"
I held her as she wept into my chest. I didn't care at all that she destroyed my expensive silk tie. Instead, I whispered, "We all love you, Amber. We're proud to have you in our family." Chrissy and then Andrea joined in with the hugging. We held each other for almost five minutes before I suggested that the girls shower and get ready for bed. Chrissy went to the master bath as I led George and Margaret to my office.
First, I rolled up a thick set of blueprints--almost fifty pages thick—the plans for Yaphank Pines—then folded my drafting desk against the wall and pushed my chair under the desk. In seconds I had the bed open, explaining that I had made it earlier this afternoon. After showing them the two dresser drawers I had cleared for them I suggested that they join Amy and me in the living room. "You won't be able to get anywhere near the bathroom until the girls finish." A minute later they were seated on the couch while Amy and I settled in on the loveseat.
"I'm so pleased for Amber, Tim." Margaret explained how she had always asked what Amber had wished for on her birthday. "She always said the same thing ever since her cowardly father deserted Amy and her; she always wished for a family of her own. Her wish has finally come true. Thank you so much for everything, Tim."
"I'm not the only one responsible. Amber bonded with Andrea and Chrissy immediately and Amy was really the one who realized our relationship's potential."
"That's true, Tim, but you're the one who started the ball rolling. I doubt that one man in a thousand would have given a strange woman $50 for her groceries and then refused to take the change. If you hadn't done that we'd never have had any kind of relationship." Our conversation ended then as three young girls ran laughing down the stairs. I had to join them in laughing. I knew they had at least a dozen nightgowns each, but they insisted on wearing t-shirts and what I had always called gym shorts to bed. They hugged and kissed each of us before returning up the stairs to bed.
I agreed that we should all sleep in, commenting that I thought God would understand if we missed Mass once in our lifetimes. I also explained that the girls would get their own breakfasts and showed Margaret how to operate our single-cup coffee brewer in case they were up before us. Finally, I suggested they leave the bathroom light on in case they needed to use it during the night. We hugged and retreated to our respective rooms.
Amy's parents stayed through Christmas as we all got to know each other well and had an incredible holiday. George and Margaret left on December 28th, receiving hugs and kisses all around. This time of the year is usually slow—who wants a plumber in their home over the holidays? Well, you might if you had a sewer stoppage, but otherwise—no way. I went to work every day, but only worked through noon. We had enough work to keep the men occupied and after the New Year we'd have much more.
We celebrated New Year's Eve at home. I drank a few gin and tonics, but Amy only had ginger ale. She prepared frozen hors d'oeuvres that were absolutely devoured by the girls. My parents joined us, but left early. We stayed up long enough to ring in the New Year, but tumbled into bed by 12:30.
Two weeks later I joined Amy in Walter Peterson's office. "I have good news and bad," he began. "Tim, there's no sign of your wife or her boyfriend. Pinkerton's thinks he changed his name and social security number to hide from his wife and to help escape his past employment problems. However, Amy, they have found your husband even though he's changed his name. He lives just outside Boulder, Colorado where he owns an insurance agency. His new name is Michael Clarke and here's the best news—he's married with a family. He'll have no choice but to sign off on your adoption paperwork, Tim.
"Amy, I was going to move forward with your petition, but now I think we should wait. We can call in the law if he balks at signing...and then there's the issue of child support." We talked for a while before agreeing that he and I would travel to Boulder the following week for a friendly chat with Mr. Clarke/Chambers.
We flew first class early the following Wednesday morning—Walter's treat--arriving in Boulder after a four hour flight. He rented a car for the day and I drove to the Clarke Agency. "Good morning," I said to the agent who greeted us. "We'd like to see Mr. Clarke."
"I'm sure I can help you."
I smiled as I informed him, "I'm just as sure that you can't. It's a personal matter." We waited about twenty minutes until Amy's current—soon to be ex—husband walked out of his office to greet us. He closed the door as Walter introduced us. "We have an important matter to discuss with you, Mr. Chambers."
He started for just a second before replying, "I think you've made a mistake. My name is Clarke."
"Let's cut to the chase, Michael. You were in the United States Army for two months before breaking your leg and getting a medical discharge. The Army always fingerprints their recruits for a variety of reasons. Shall I phone the sheriff and tell him we have a bigamist for him to arrest?"
I joined in then. "Michael, we have no desire to harm you or your life. Mr. Peterson is a well-established attorney in New York. I want to adopt your daughter Amber. I plan to marry Amy as soon as we are both divorced and I want her as my daughter. If you will allow Walter to explain the document I think you'll agree it is completely fair to you. I have plenty of money so we're waiving any claim to past child and spousal support and we agree never to disclose your current identity or whereabouts. All you need to do is have your signature notarized and we're gone."
Walter pulled the four copies from his briefcase and placed one in front of Clarke. He spent the next half hour reviewing and explaining. Amy and I had already signed before a notary in Walter's office. There was a space under our signatures for Michael Chambers to sign. "Okay," he said at last. "I selected Clarke as my name because I could basically use the same signature. My penmanship is pretty
bad." He called his secretary in and signed in her presence. She stamped all four documents. He kept one, we shook hands and left.
"Not too shabby, Walter; now all we have to do is sweat out mine."
He laughed. "Just leave it to me. It won't be a problem. You'll see." We were back on Long Island in time for a late dinner. We had an appointment in Family Court ten days later when Walter showed just how right he was.
Amy and I sat at the table watching Walter Peterson work the judge like Michelangelo had worked the marble when he created the Pieta and the statue of David. He produced evidence that both of us had been abandoned. I didn't understand at that time how he managed to get the judge to handle both cases simultaneously. The judge agreed to Amy's divorce almost instantaneously. She had been abandoned almost nine years previously, after all.
The judge balked initially at granting my divorce without Terri being present. However, Walter brought a high ranking official of the Pinkerton's Detective Agency to the witness stand. Over almost an hour he detailed every step they had taken to find my wife. "My client should not be penalized because his adulterous wife has skipped town with her lover, leaving him to care for his two daughters and manage all of the household duties while running a successful local business."
"Adulterous, Mr. Peterson?"
"Yes, your honor. I have here photographs taken by Mr. Moran showing his wife and her lover--her former supervisor--going at it in their marital bed." He handed the photos to the clerk who marked them for identification and passed them to the judge.
"I think you'd better put Mr. Moran on the stand, Walter." Now I understood; Walter and the judge had a personal relationship. I doubted we could have asked for more. I testified under oath about finding them, meeting with Chet Collins and Mrs. Ernst and about my subsequent discussions with Terri—everything right up until I found that Terri had left us. Then, to my surprise, he told me to continue—even getting into my relationship with Amy and Amber. When Walter produced the agreement with Michael Chambers the judge smiled.
"You wily old coyote; why didn't you show me this earlier? Am I to understand that you want to marry the current Mrs. Chambers and adopt her daughter, Mr. Moran?"