18 Ferry Godmother

Hans knocked on Earnest Arbuthnot’s door but there was no reply. He scribbled a note on the back of his business card and tucked it under the door. Hans was amused that his message read like a telegram. ‘Please call. Urgent. Hans.’ As he decided to try next to find Mrs. James, he wondered whether anyone still used telegrams or whether that brevity was merely usurped by Twitter.

“Oh, good afternoon Hans, do come in. I’ve just been typing up minutes from the last meeting. I was going to call and ask you to clarify a number. Can’t read my own writing.” Gesturing him to sit down at her perennially cluttered table, she drew out a paper from the pile and pointed to a line. He took out his pen and made a  correction to the notes.

“That should work a little better for you.”

“Would you like a cup of tea, Hans? I just put the kettle on.”

“Sure, there’s something I want to talk to you about.” She bustled about briefly in the kitchen while Mullins came over to investigate, rubbing up against his leg.

“What’s your cat’s name, again?”

“Mullins, Mull for short. You should be honored. He’s abandoned his sunshine to look you over.” She laughed, returning to the table bearing a tray, and examined his correction. “Silly me. Milk, sugar, honey, lemon?”

“Just tea, please.”

“By the way, I’ve been recommending you and your accounting services to interested parties.” She poured out and handed him a cup. “I hope something comes of it for you.”

“I appreciate that, thanks very much. Yes, there have been a few new inquiries.”

“Now, what is it that you wanted, Hans?”

“I’ve just come from Earnest’s unit but he wasn’t home.  I wanted to give you both a heads up about something I’ve heard.  I’ve left him a note to call me.” She nodded, and he went on. “You know that my full-time work is writing, keeping up with financial and development news here in town. I’ve just been reading a report of a planned development next door to us. Right next door.”

“What kind of development and where could it possibly be squeezed in? There is building all around us, as it is.”

“It’s another condo development, proposed by a local developer who’s done other condo projects. It’s a tower, but bigger and taller than ours. It seems very likely to be set on the space very close to our building and certain to affect views. Of course there are many planning approval stages to go through.”

“I don’t understand much about how this process works,” she said. “You’re saying that, depending on the proposal, plans have to go before several committees of city government before they are approved?”

“Yes, typically the Zoning Committee, the Plan Commission, the Common Council, and if there is any historic preservation issue involved, that adds even more layers to the cake.”

“So imagining this condo proposal as a giant wedding cake isn’t so far off the mark, then?”

* * * * *

As Hans walked towards the elevator, he heard it whoosh to a stop. Out stepped Guy Karon, a towel slung round his neck. Exchanging hellos Guy said, “You know,” lifting his gym bag and grinning “it always seems silly to take the elevator home from a workout downstairs.”

“If I did work out, it would be even lazier for me, I suppose, with only one floor to go. At least you have five floors to go up.”

“A much better excuse, I agree, Hans.”

Guy Karon was a widower and owner of a Lake Michigan ferry service running between the Wisconsin and Michigan sides. Coming up with a name for the service had proved tricky, requiring that both states retain equal billing. He’d begun with ‘Shore to Shore’. Then to take advantage of rising gas prices and highway construction at the time, he considered ‘The Shorter Way.’ He abandoned that as too much like a formulaic self-improvement method; twelve, decidedly watery steps across the lake, and not a name to enhance the experience of his rider clientele. He finally opted for ‘The Shorter Way Home.’

Leith 'Lee' Karon, sixteen year old daughter of Guy Karon, with their cats Sticks and Oblio

Leith ‘Lee’ Karon, sixteen year old daughter of Guy Karon, with their cats Sticks and Oblio

During the POP’S construction phase, he’d bought two units and combined them into a large, three bedroom plus den. He lived there with his younger sister Carrie, his teenage daughter Leith, and two cats, Sticks and Oblio. Carrie was the sole owner of Pluto’s, a downtown salon and spa. Leith, nicknamed Lee, attended a parochial high school downtown. Lee referred to as her aunt as ‘my ferry godmother’, who drove her to school most mornings on the way to work. On other days, Lee was content to walk back and forth, refreshed by the twenty minutes outdoors. She was a latch-key kid but at least she had Sticks and Oblio to supervise her homecoming, which they were punctual and attentive in doing. They never forgot.

Mrs. James lived on the same floor and sometimes Lee went over to visit after school, if she got really lonesome. Mrs. James was looking after Poppy and Pansy on weekends. Lee had on occasion sat for them, too. There weren’t very many kids at the POPS, and she’d pretty much had the corner on any babysitting jobs.

“Did you know that we’re rivals,” she joked to Mrs. James one afternoon, “the only babysitters here?”

“Oh, that reminds me. Could you watch the girls for me for a few hours? I have a chance to visit with my niece on Sunday afternoon. Maybe we should start a sitting service and share the hours.”

“Well, as my Dad says, ‘Honey, you’ll never get rich that way!'”

“I daresay your Dad’s correct. Shall I take that as a yes, or a no?”

“Sure, I’ll be happy to. I suppose you know they like games but they aren’t very good at them. They keep helping each other.”

“Yes, they do.”

“I showed them how to play pick-up sticks. For some reason, I don’t know why, I’ve always liked playing with sticks.”

“Isn’t that your cat’s name?”

“Uh-huh. I was a baton twirler, too. Loved it.”

“Maybe it’s in your bones, dear. Would you like to try some knitting? More sticks. Or crochet, with only one hook, or would just one stick be too constraining for you?”

“I’ve always wanted to learn. Nobody to teach me.”

“‘Til now. Poppy and Pansy might like to try. I draw the line at including any more cats in our knitting circle, though. Sticks and Oblio will have to stay at home. Mull will go mad chasing yarn from four knitters at once.”