I checked my watch. Quarter after six. Hank and Frieda should be along any time now. On Sundays Hank liked to have everything ready to shut down at 6:00 PM sharp so he and his workers could get home at a decent time. In a way, he resented having to work at all on weekends, but when you run the biggest nursery and lawn service in town, you don't give up your prime time.
When he started out, he didn't mind at all. He realized that working the weekends would help keep him straight--you should pardon the expression--and out of any trouble. You see, Hank has a past. Well, I guess we all have a past. His is just a little more colorful than most peoples'.
I like to think that I played a part in "saving" Hank. It wasn't as big a part as Mack and Ike played, but I did contribute. I give Mack all the credit for turning Hank around, and I know that Hank would agree with me. To this day, Mack is still his closest confidant.
When he started the nursery, he asked me if I wanted to be one of the partners, but I had my own pokers in my own fires at the time, so I declined. Mack did become a partner and that added grist to the rumor mill. Mack had lost his seat in the Biology Department at the university allegedly because of an "indiscretion" with a student. The rumor mill said the student was Hank, but neither of them ever confirmed or denied it. And I wasn't going to ask.
I was one of his last customers in his old "business", maybe even the last, and I was one of his first customers in the nursery business. Plus, I had done a lot of ad work for him "on the house" at the beginning. When I had to start actually charging him for it, he never flinched, just said, "Give me the bill."
And in the best "you scratch my back and I'll scratch your back" tradition, Hank was my best "salesman." He referred a lot of business to me when I was getting started. I had to tell him to cool it at one point because I didn't think that I could keep up with the workload, but he just ignored me. He knew from experience that a good number of his referrals wouldn't be repeat business. When I complained, in a nice way, about all the work, he just smiled knowingly and said, "You've got to feel that you're working too hard or you're not going to make it. Or you can just hire a part-timer."
I did both. I've had a part-timer working for me ever since, even though it was earlier than I had planned. I kept most of my customers--Hank was right; some of them were "one-timers"--and I kept a good friend. We've been pissed off at each other over the years, but we've always kissed and made up. But we never got together again, if you know what I mean, like we had in the really old days. Too bad too; he was pretty energetic. And talented.
Hank finally showed up around quarter to seven, grousing about customers who show up five minutes before closing time and then can't make up their mind what they want. I reminded him that if he were a better salesman, he'd make up their minds for them. Frieda had passed on the invitation since they had worked so late and she felt she needed to be home.
Hank was tired but in good spirits, and Alan got back into his good spirits too once Hank showed up, but without his usual cockiness. When Mandy asked him about his red eyes at one point, he simply said, "Too much chlorine today." There may be hope for the boy yet.
I was introduced to Toby and Stick during a pause in pool activity. Mack did the honors since Hank forgets almost all his social skills when he's among friends. He figures that everybody already knows everybody else. Toby is Hank's son, but they had been kept apart for almost all his life by the boy's mother. Hank had promised to give me all the particulars about their new situation. Toby seems to be a nice kid, pretty outgoing, smiles easily and doesn't seem to have a shy bone in his body.
Stick is just the opposite. He was hesitant to shake hands, and when he did it was a boneless set of fingers in my hand. I had to use a crowbar to get a "Hi" out of him. He'd be cuter if he smiled more. But then, who among us wouldn't? Once the boys were back on there own away from us adults, however, Stick seemed to be just as animated as Toby. Go figure.