Wooden Spoons    A Novel


First Half of Chapter Twenty-Four

          A black Cadillac cruised slowly east on Main Street. The driver observed from side to side, scrutinizing buildings and sizing up pedestrians. Maurice Nicklow in his big car was a common sight in Lick Hollow. As he rolled by, there was an occasional nod of recognition from a business associate but no spontaneous smile or friendly gesture. Maurice was an attorney who had served Lick Hollow and the surrounding area for forty years.
          The attorney owned many buildings on Main Street, and as he passed these, his eyes narrowed and the car slowed. All his buildings were in need of repair and because of the high rent he charged, only half of them were occupied. This didn’t bother Maurice. That was a healthy percentage as far as he was concerned. In truth, he really didn’t need to make money on these buildings. To the attorney they were simply a long-term investment and a short-term tax write-off
          As the car passed the Lick Hollow Tavern, he slowed to see if his son’s truck was in the parking lot. He was relieved to see that it wasn’t. Further up the road, Maurice did see Donald’s black Dodge parked outside Martin’s Restaurant and he pulled in beside it. He walked past the truck wearing a sour expression. It was speckled with mud and the right taillight cover was cracked. “Why the hell does he always have to buy the biggest pick-up on the market?” he grumbled to himself.
          Maurice found his son sitting at the counter, leaning on his elbows, holding a cup of coffee with both hands. There was a cigarette smoldering in an ashtray nearby. Maurice Nicklow was a big man, six feet tall and weighing just over two hundred pounds. He dressed well, professionally, always in a suit. He had a big head with large ears and thick, wavy gray hair that was brushed straight back. Maurice’s face was long and he held his mouth in such a manner that he seemed to be always gritting his teeth. At sixty-five years of age, he looked good, confident and successful.
          Donald Nicklow was of a similar build, but he was larger than his father. His face resembled Maurice’s, but unless they were side by side, few would guess that they were father and son. Donald’s hair was brown, laced with gray. He wore it long such that when he turned his head, curls brushed his broad shoulders. He was dressed in a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans, and high leather boots. On the back of his stool was a canvas work coat with gloves protruding from a pocket.
          “Donald,” Maurice said as he positioned himself on the stool next to him.
          “Hey Dad, what’s up?”
          “How are things going over at the Batey farm?”
          “Good. Good. Right on schedule. Machine broke this morning but nothing serious. I had other business here in town, so I ran for parts. But, yeah, things are looking good. Any takers on those last two lots?”
          “One,” Maurice answered. "The other will go quick.”
          “Coffee?” a waitress asked mechanically. She was already pouring when Maurice looked up and nodded. Donald winked at her; she smiled at him and turned away.
          “Say Don, what do you know about the man who lives on Hemlock Knob in the old Reilly place, Daniel Whaley?”
          “The Professor, you mean? That’s what they call him. You know he was a college teacher, don’t you?”
          “Yes, I’m aware of that. But what kind of person is he? Have you ever spoken to him?”           “Nah. See him outside Campbell’s store with J.C. and George Haynes. Drives an old beat-up jeep. Looks pretty wild. Don’t know much more. J.C. or George Haynes, I’d talk to them. What’s up with him, anyway?”
          “It’s his property. He owns the top of Hemlock Knob, a hundred acres. Nice piece of real estate. I’ve inquired about purchasing it before, back when he lived in Wisconsin, with the standard letter that I’ve sent to all the property owners for years. He responded only once, if I remember right, said no. Recently, I’ve been approached by a man from Pittsburgh, a Mr. Tom Arnold, who wants that piece of property in a big way. Apparently he went hunting there with his father when he was a boy and has never gotten over the place.”
          “What about some of the other places we have? Some of them are up high with good views.”
          “I told him about what we have. He wants that place, and he’s the type of person who gets what he wants. Got lots of money.”
          “Lots of people got lots of money,” Donald replied with slight irritation in his voice.
           “Not like this guy. From what I know, he could buy and sell most of the people we have dealt with so far.”
          Donald took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled the smoke slowly in the direction of the ceiling, trying to imagine how much money that would take. “How do you figure that after all these years, this Whaley shows up right when this Pittsburgh guy is ready to make a move for the property?”
          Maurice shook his head. “Who knows? Happens in business.”
          “Too bad,” Donald said, grinning. “If he hadn’t moved in, I could have had somebody burn that old house down. That often helps people let go of the old home place.”
          Maurice thanked the waitress, who was refreshing his coffee and did not acknowledge his son’s remark.
          “Well, I’m sure The Professor has his price,” Donald stated confidently, lifting his coffee mug. “Hell, there ain’t even power or running water up there and he must be using that old log outhouse. The right amount of money should tempt him off the mountain, or maybe just a new house with a flush toilet.”
          Maurice agreed, but he still wished to gather as much information about Daniel Whaley as possible before he made a move. He took a deliberate drink of his coffee and stood to leave.
          “Say Dad, does this Arnold want me to do the building?”
          “Yes. He wants the complete package with us, from the legal work to the trim on the windows. It will be worth a bundle now and if we do it right, there will be spin-off business from people like him.”
          Donald gulped his coffee and followed his father out into the parking lot.
          “I think I’ll head up to The Mercantile now to talk to those friends of his.”
          “Need some muscle?” Donald asked, grinning.
          “No.” Maurice answered, frowning. The attorney pointed to the broken truck taillight as he passed. “Get this fixed. It’ll get you in trouble.”
          Donald shook his head as his father got into the Cadillac. “See ya, Dad,” he said after the door snapped shut.

          As Maurice continued up Main Street, he was thinking that his son looked clear-eyed and steady today, which was a relief to the attorney. Donald’s notorious drinking binges and consequent reckless behavior had been definite stumbling blocks on an otherwise remarkable road to financial success for Nicklow Developers, Inc.
          There was no question that when he was sober, Donald was good at what he did. He worked hard and handled the crew well, such that jobs were completed quickly and with quality work down to the details. Donald was forty-two now, and his father had hoped for many years that he would turn some corner in life and get his drinking under control. That was much of the reason why the project on Hemlock Knob was important to Maurice. It would keep Donald on a job site. Tom Arnold planned to build a small complex of buildings, which included a main house, a guest house, and a stable. This job would keep his son busy and focused for years.
          That’s what he needs now, Maurice thought as he pulled into the graveled lot at The Mercantile. The man needs to focus.

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