Styled after Ray Bradbury sci-fi shortstories. It's a bit lengthy.
|**originally written in July, 1998**
(I had a problem transferring this from MS Word, so the format might be screwed up here and there.)
* * Part 1 * *
Judy is the kind of woman who is well aware of the modern status of 'female gender role', yet feels more secure making sure the home is well kept and food is on the table. She is a working woman, but rarely lets her husband, Charles (whom, unless she's furious, calls Charlie) do dishes, laundry, or cook meals. She disdains having to do the work over again, just to insure that it was done properly (or, as he puts it, 'her way'). She especially despises Chinese delivery; Charles' idea of dinner, if it were up to him.
After many years of marriage, Charles is rather used to not having any dealings in cleaning, rearranging, painting, or anything else inside the house that doesn't involve projects (of her design, of course) requiring the removal or addition of walls. Or doors. Or windows, floors, and so forth. He has even tried to convince her to consider a career in remodeling, but she refuses. She enjoys changing her own home around, but not the homes of others. Judy, in turn, is well used to Charles letting her make any decisions concerning the way the house looks. It's the only thing she's really particular about, anyway, other than the family.
When things are out of place, it upsets her. As does furniture or stands being moved around when she didn't want them moved.
Hence her irritation at the jars or bank deposit bags full of pennies left on the dining table, the entertainment center, the couch endstand, and even their bedroom bureau over the course of the last several days. The days had been blessedly nice, as well, a mildly hot summer in the suburbs. If not for the new collection Charles was putting together and leaving all over the house, she would be enjoying the summer. She told him in no uncertain terms to put them up somewhere. He began putting them in a corner of the basement. Though, simply putting them down there did not soothe her. The pennies put her in a foul mood after more than a week of seeing them scattered about the house.
If Judy is aggravated once in a day, it can linger hours on into that day, depending on what it is that upset her. Charles has incited her anger before, and knows well how to avoid it. Which she is well aware of, noting that these past few days Charles kept himself involved in building the arbor in the backyard until dark, then confining himself to his study immersed in his work until he slept. He avoided confrontation and quickly stowed the pennies he left sitting out when she informed him they are 'causing clutter'.
The day she came home to find several bank deposit pouches spilling old and shining new pennies out on the kitchen center-counter, she was suddenly curious as to Charles' new obsession, as well as being fully irritated by the copper currency being left out in her space again. She was immediately out in the backyard, where Charles was carefully calculating measurements for the arbor's frame.
"Charlie..?" Judy spoke as she walked the stone path through the flower garden, "If you're going to keep bringing these blasted pennies home with you...wherever you're getting them from, God knows...you might as well build a room in the basement where you've been stowing the damn things."
She surveyed the beginning fixtures of the arbor's frame built from the stonework foundation. It stood at the center of their small, yet diverse, flower garden. She always noted how good his work is. In her mind, though, it still did not make up for the annoying coinage. "Sort them out down there," she continued, "Not on my kitchen counters!"
"Oh, Jude, I'm sorry," Charles spoke while using a calculator, "I was waiting for Chad to call me back about the value of the near-mint 1947's, and-"
She cut him off sharp, "Well, those pennies can wait for the call somewhere else, yes? So, please, do me the favor and put them in the basement with the rest."
With that said she turned on her heels and headed back to the house, knowing he would follow as soon as he put down what he was doing. Which he did, not wanting to invoke her anger.
Once in the kitchen, Charles began filling the pouches with the pennies covering the center-counter, carefully keeping the newer coins separate from the more corroded older ones. Meanwhile, Judy began rinsing celery and onions and getting dinner going. Not one to just put down an issue, she spoke as he cleared pennies from her prep-space.
"Charlie, why are you collecting so many? I know that only a few of them are worth more than one cent. Very few. What's the point in having so damn many of them?"
He almost fumbled for an answer, which Judy caught. Charles has a quick wit, and seldom doesn't have an immediate answer to something.
"We're...I'm...still sorting them. And there's more than you think that are worth more than one cent."
He paused, and she spoke into that pause.
"Who is 'we'? And, I haven't seen any price guides. Unless you're only reading them behind your closed study door."
He looked her in the eyes, "Well, yeah, I thought if the pennies bothered you so much, I'd keep them and anything pertaining to them out of your sight, so as to not ruin your good demeanor." He paused, then added, "Darling."
She was still just glaring him in the eyes, holding a bag of uncooked noodles. "I'm not someone you can just appease with smooth words like I'm trying to buy a car. When you talk to me like you're at work, I know something is up."
He started to speak, then she slammed the noodles on the counter hard enough to break some of them.
"Whatever, Charlie. You've always got an answer. Well, obviously, today you must have forgot to get these out of my way before I got home. Just like two days ago, with the juice jugs full of pennies sitting all over the living room. And the day before!" She paused, noting that he had the coins all cleared from her prep counter. He cradled the bank pouches with both arms as if there were gold in them. Suddenly she wasn't so angry, and felt a pang of remorse. She usually does slightly regret her outbursts, and has apologized to Charles on many occasions afterwards. "Thank you for cleaning them up, though," she finally said.
He looked at her and smiled. The smile almost twinkled. "This really could turn out to be a good investment, Jude," he said.
"Maybe," She replied, "But, we have plenty of good investments. I would think so, at least. As far as I can see, it's just another of your estranged hobbies you'll spend time and money on then drop for another and forget about. If you wish to pursue it, that's fine, but, please, keep them down there."
He looked at her with that smile for a moment longer, then started for the basement door.
She turned to the now boiling water as he left the kitchen, and her thoughts strayed to the pennies, despite her efforts to not think about them. As she prepared the vegetable sauce, she wondered what Charles thought to gain out of cashing in valuable pennies. It kept gnawing at her. It was small change, in comparison to what they already have. She couldn't figure how that could make more money that their stocks or the car dealership Charles is co-owner of. Another hobby makes sense, but Charles had plenty. For one, he used to put together model cars, he still does from time to time. Also, woodworking projects in his tool shop, which takes up most of the garage. In fact, because of it, they don't have room in the garage for the vehicles anymore! It didn't make sense to her, but he had explained it to her. All of his reasons why. She still couldn't shake the gut feeling there was more to it.
She then decided to speak more to him about it after an exquisite dinner, and some sensational lovemaking afterwards.
The dinner and the sex turned out as she had hoped, but the pillow-talk did not. He was fast asleep afterwards, which is not his custom. She thought it a bit unusual, but put it out of her mind and fell asleep.
The next day, she was fully prepared for stacks of counted pennies on the coffee table or something to that effect when she arrived home from work. But there was none. She felt relief, but still she couldn't shake the image of the coins sprawled out on her kitchen countertop. She hoped to not see them anymore. She wasn't fond of the currency to begin with. In her opinion, a penny is a downright pointless and worthless coin. She leaves pennies given as change when she's shopping in the convenience change dish most stores have next to their registers. The coin was only good for covering small change at the
store, anyway, as far as she was concerned. If Judy had her way, they would be out of circulation.
She could hear and feel beneath her feet a hammer pounding in nails. 'So, he is building a room for them,' she thought, 'Good, they'll be out of the way.' She went straight to the bath and started the water. It occurred to her he was actually going through the trouble to build a whole room just for his penny collection. It was a bit surprising, but at this point she was tired of thinking about it. 'He's building the room. They stay in that room. I don't have to worry about it anymore.'
She slipped into the bath; her arduous day and thoughts of copper coinage soaked up by the water's calm shroud. Afterwards, she felt much better, as the dirty water flushed from the tub down the drain.
* * * * *
Judy and Charles have been married and living together since they hooked up in high school, twenty-six years ago. They went through college together, both getting their Masters degree in business management. Judy got pregnant just after they entered college. Charles' parents rented them an apartment so they could raise a family and go to school. After Jennifer was born, Judy convinced a doctor to tie her tubes off, not wanting more than one child. After graduating from college, Judy was hired by a shipping and distributing company that trucked shipments for chemical companies across the country. Charles and Judy moved to Chicago, where the company had its main offices. She has been working there since, and has a great record. She has kept a low profile there, though, and refused promotions to positions of authority. She considers those positions to be 'too stressful'. So, in turn, she barely makes more than forty-thousand a year, whereas Charles, who took five years and 3 jobs to get the one he has now, makes over one-hundred thousand a year. He is the co-owner and head account manager of a car dealership. A year after they arrived in the big city, they bought a great house five miles out of downtown in the suburbs, in a neighborly area of well-to-do folks. They have been making improvements on the house and property since.
They are very used to each other, and their daily routines, which have changed little in the last fifteen years. Unlike some couples, they don't feel 'caught' in this loop of events. The fact that they both receive a healthy number of vacation days each year helps in that, as well. With comfort and habit, they have enjoyed a stable marriage, despite Judy's outbursts and Charles' random interests. They have always made compromises over conflict issues.
Over the course of the following week, the agreement to make the room was seeming to Judy to be a good compromise, although he was spending time making the walls for a tiny confining space in the basement rather than finishing the arbor. Judy has had to put Charles back on track before. He sometimes gets involved in something else, leaving a current project unfinished.
It was Friday when she came down into the basement as soon as she came in the house. Their basement is all concrete, room enough and more to stand, and ready for furnishing, though they only used it for storage. She eyed the room's construction, now almost finished. The drywall was all up, and ready to be painted, if he wanted it painted. It seemed almost out of place to her, like an unusual protrusion from one of the concrete walls.
He finished the last screw into a border frame for the doorway, then turned to her. "What do you think, hon?"
She eyed it a moment longer, "It looks like a walled cage, with an opening. It might make a nice wine-cellar."
"We have a wine-cellar." He responded.
"Well, nonetheless, this room is already spoken for."
"So it is." She mused, then she decided a bottle of wine would be good for the evening, and crossed the dusty concrete to the wine racks. "I wouldn't even call that a 'room'," she continued, checking the bottles, "More like a closet."
She returned to other side of the basement with a bottle in one hand, noting Charles was putting in a hinge brace.
"You're putting a door on it, too?" She asked.
He turned to her, "Well, I know how you feel about my, uh, collection, so I figured why not the door? Out of sight, out of mind, as they say." He smiled, the smile that tries to sell a car.
She smiled back, now dusty and eager for a bath, "Yeah, out of mind." She paused, "It's going well, but please don't forget to finish the arbor. We can't put in those flower pots until it's done."
He nodded, "Don't worry, Jude, I'll get that finished over the weekend."
She gave the new walls one last glance, then headed upstairs to deposit the bottle in the refrigerator, and head straight to her bath. While she lay in the tub, it occurred to her that he didn't have that shameful look on his face when she mentioned finishing the arbor. Sometimes, he honestly gets so involved in one thing, he'll forget about the other. He usually catches himself, but sometimes she has to remind him. He feels kind of guilty when she does that. Maybe for himself, or for her, or for both. Either way, she was sure he was putting the arbor project off on purpose.
As if his minuscule eight foot square room was higher priority. Although she couldn't fathom how a room for storing a vast number of mostly worthless coinage could be more important than the arbor. They planned the arbor project years ago, and have been putting together the garden and rock paths to go with it when built. She told herself not to concern herself with it. The basement room was almost finished, and by Sunday the arbor would be as well. She wasn't about to bother him more about it. It was his thing, he could do it. She knows she would get irritated if he kept in her business. She has her life, he has his. This, in her opinion (and his), is what has kept them in a stable marriage all these years. 'At least we still sleep together.' she mused, thinking of friends and coworkers she knows, in marriages stretching decades, who sleep in separate rooms from their spouses, or are separated.
Judy knows that a marriage of complete openness and sharing of each others' lives is an impossibility. A dream for avid users of online dating sites. To her, it would be nothing but frustration. She couldn't imagine enjoying Charles' pass-times, like weekend poker or golf with his friends and associates, or putting together a model car that's three feet long. She leaves him to his personal joys, he leaves her to hers. He couldn't sit through two hours of Martha Stewart if he tried, anyway.
She settled herself with this, closing her eyes and breathing in vapors of warm water, and decided to put the pennies out of her mind from that point on.
Charles left early Saturday morning, before she woke. By dinnertime, she had grown worried and a bit perturbed, because the arbor stood in the backyard gardens, sun shining on its framework, unfinished. She called his cellphone, but no answer. It happens with those phones, she knows. Plus his job requires all day 'suddenly came up' situations that can have him gone until after dark, sometimes after she's fast asleep. She reads herself to sleep on these nights, sometimes forgetting to set her alarm. Charles has always made sure to set it for her after he gets home.
A car dealership is never a stable business environment, as far a she was concerned. Something always had to be rechecked, or tracked down. 'But when he gets home,' She thought to herself, 'I swear I'm gonna strangle him.'
* * * * *
When Charles did finally pull into the driveway, it was past midnight, and Judy was fast asleep already. He crawled into bed, so as not to wake her, though he did anyway.
He mumbled an apology, then she kissed him, and said "I'll yell at you in the morning. You had better be here for it."
She rolled back over to sleep. He pulled the blankets over himself and stared at the ceiling; the shadows from the streetlights.
"You'll see it's all going to be worth it, Jude."
She made a sound, though not one he could interpret, so he continued, "You won't want to know where I was all night, anyway. You don't want to hear about copper."
When Judy made no sound at all, except for her breathing, he concluded she was sleeping, and went to sleep himself with a smile, knowing her anger tomorrow would be well worth taking in the long run.
* * Part 2 * *
Charles is the kind of man who doesn't gent too bent out of shape about things he doesn't want or agree with. In fact, he has a rather youthful approach to life. He takes work and money very seriously, but those who have known him for a long time know he was brash and proud when he was in school. When he got his first car, he called it his 'Cadillac', even though it was an average Buick. He drove it to school every day, and almost envisioned himself a movie star, parading around and bragging about it. There were many things in Charles' life he has taken great pride in for a time, then moved on to something new, usually forgetting the former entirely. He only remembers his 'Cadillac' when reminded of it by others.
Despite his flurry of interests, Charles has managed to become a bit wealthy; somewhat due to his charismatic nature, but also his unswerving loyalty to his job. He had trouble being focused back in his younger days, but since he has been with Judy, he's learned to keep on certain goals without getting sidetracked. Thus he had worked his way in the car dealership to where he was asked to take over the co-ownership. The former co-owner had resigned her position, collecting a healthy retirement pension from the business. They asked Charles first, and he readily agreed. He has also become good friends with some of his work associates, and occasionally joins them for games of poker or golf.
Though a good amount of Charles' money is in the stock market, he has put large sums into remodeling and finishing both house and property. He pays for Jennifer's college education, and her internship at a chemical plant in Chicago (Jennifer always loved chemistry, mostly because of her mother's job). He spends his spare money on vacations and his unending spree of new hobbies or collections. He once had an obsession with collecting expensive paintings that lasted for about four years. Judy actually appreciated that one, and took part in choosing the paintings. He stopped, and not just because they were expensive (One of the more expensive of them cost almost $32,000), but because he simply lost interest. Seven grand works of art now help decorate the house, but Judy has noted to him more than once that thrift art is just fine and much cheaper. He collected stamps, as many people do, and still has the vast collection that took him six years to put together. It now sits in the spare bedroom closet, in a box, collecting dust. He was on the Fundraising Committee for a local wildlife preserve. He helped raise thousands of dollars for them. He got bored with it after two years and resigned, and has since forgotten about it, except when they contact him for donations (which he still grudgingly gives). He started a network of door-to-door sales of Health & Fitness drinks and drink mixers, and had almost twenty people helping him sell the stuff all over west Chicago. He even tried to convince Judy to do Avon sales, which she summarily refused. He got bored with that less than a year after he started it. Since then, Judy has occasionally found a bottle of some muscle enhancing power drink stuffed away in a closet or storage space when cleaning.
He has made some good investments with his tangents, though. Two years ago, Charles started buying large amounts of silver, either in jewelry (which Judy absolutely loved), or in tableware and household items. They have several silver decanters, candelabras, mantle dishes, picture frames, and even a solid silver bust of Theodore Roosevelt that's a foot and a half tall. The glass cabinet in the dining room has real chinaware in it, but also a large amount of silver dishware.
He stopped buying silver several months ago, but Judy was pretty certain he still had investments in that metal. She did recall him mentioning something like 'the modern investor is buying into precious metals rather than the stock market', but she was sure he probably stopped pursuing that interest. Although, the American economy wasn't doing so awfully great. Even as well-to-do as they are, Judy knows the cost of living is a bit stressful, and the national debt is still climbing after these many years of deficit. She would almost think that investing in precious metals is the wise thing to do these days, though her accountant certainly hasn't advised her so, and neither has Charles.
Charles has for many years now been a wise spender, giving himself, Judy, and their daughter Jennifer a hefty family estate and a prospective future. This is why Judy doesn't get too upset with Charles about his random endeavors. For one, he isn't out cheating on her. For another, he doesn't spend necessary money on his extraneous interests. Ever.
But, he has not gone through the effort of building a room just for one of his many interests. And of all the ones he has had, Judy was a bit fascinated that the penny collection happens to be the one that's worth its own space.
After Judy angrily grilled Charles about the unfinished arbor (which he took with a calm serene attitude), he made a trip to the hardware store for the stud brackets he would need to finish it. Judy made sure he had his cellphone, and that it worked. She called him once while he was at the checkout just to make sure he was quickly returning home to work on his backyard project. Which he did. Never before has Charles pushed her further than this. He does, after all, value his marriage.
Charles worked on the arbor and was done with it by the middle of the week. Which was good for Judy's spirits, especially the day he had finished it. Work that day had been immensely distressful for her. Her job is mostly filling out forms for orders, or making copies of them and sending them out to their required destinations. Thus, she is usually working at one computer station or another. It seems a simple enough job, except for consideration to the mistakes of other less dependable individuals and co-workers who feel it is their personal duty to make everyone's day a hassle.
Judy certainly had no love for calling three phone numbers just to get the right one so she could track down a receivable account holder who wasn't paying for a shipment, and who gave the wrong phone number. To make matters worse, that said account holder may have sent the return invoice with bank transfer to the wrong department, in which case Judy would have to walk herself to that department, and track down 'missing mail'. She certainly didn't use 'memos'; she considered them another unreliable kink in the chain. These corrections interrupt her normal flow of work and she gets backed up.
When Judy gets behind, Alicia, who schedules shipment transportation, takes full advantage of it by talking down to Judy about 'responsibility' in front of senior members of staff. The woman has never liked Judy, and the feeling has always been mutual. Alicia was a tall and slender woman who would be attractive if she weren't always poised like a hunting tiger, eager to strike. Her smile itself was enough to strike fear into the hearts of men. Judy has worked for the company thirteen years longer than Alicia, which gives Judy some leverage when Alicia is openly downsizing her. Alicia is not a stupid woman, though, she only speaks when there is evidence to back her up. Though these tiny onslaughts have done little to injure Judy's job and position, they do put her in a foul mood. Judy has bumbled badly when catching up, simply because she was so shook up by Alicia's comments and tone. Which serves Alicia's intentions, and Judy knows it.
When anyone asks Judy about it, she tells them.
"I hate that bitch. One day she's going to slip up bad for me to see, and I'll have her canned for it, I swear." Little does she care if Alicia knows that. 'Perhaps she will steer clear of me more often,' is Judy's thought on it.
The day Charles finished the arbor was one of those relentlessly bad days, when everything goes wrong. The morning meeting focused on the buy-out of a small copper industry by a larger corporation. Also, the smaller industry's business offices and factories were to be moved to different locations. This turn of events entailed a complete renewal of all chemical order contracts through the Chicago distribution company, and a revision of all the current accounts through the company. This meant that Judy would have to open all of the copper refining company's files in accounts received and accounts receivable and change addresses, phone numbers, and names. The true horror came when the computer for accounts received bit the dust. The technician had to plug the hard drive into a utility computer just to get the files off the drive. It was a disaster.
Of course, Alicia had to put her two-cents in.
By mid-afternoon, Judy wanted to kill the woman. She even said so to her department supervisor when he came to console her after she lost her nerve. Her work station was a mess of papers and data CDs, her eyeliner smeared by tears. It was her enraged outburst at realizing files were missing from the crashed computer recovery that brought Arnold to her station.
"Judy, you know you shouldn't let that woman get to you." He momentarily put his hand on her shoulder and she looked up at him as he continued, "She does it on purpose, because she knows you'll lose your cool."
"I know..." She responded, "It just...it's not just that. It's this whole day, and Charles has been acting weird lately, and he doesn't come home, and...Oh, it's just a bunch of little things, Arnie, really, I'll be alright."
She sniffled and wiped her cheeks with a tissue. Arnold stepped away, carefully thinking.
"You know, you should take the rest of the day off."
She looked at him for a second, "But, there's so much to catch up, here! And the product orders for the Albany water treatment plant are still not finished--"
"I know, I know," He cut her off gently, "I will get this mess fixed. Georgia apparently didn't do a good enough recovery. I'll make sure she and Vance get that back together, and I'll tackle that Albany plant order. I told the wife I'd be home late tonight, anyway."
"Yes, I guess I should," She murmured, then stood, took a guilty glance at the mess she was leaving, and looked at Arnold.
"Thank you." She said. He nodded with a smile, then went to send message to the tech department concerning the computer recovery. Judy left the office with a couple of goodbyes, and walked to her suburban sedan in a haze of thoughts. She really did want to put her hands around Alicia's throat and squeeze until the woman stopped breathing. She soon realized this secondary thinking was clouding her thoughts and quickly put it out of her mind. She firmly hoped that Charles would be finishing the arbor when she got home. This was her most comforting thought as she climbed into the driver's seat and started the vehicle. It would sooth her very much to know that their summer project planned long ago would soon be finished.
She turned on the car stereo, always tuned to public talk and news radio, and left the parking complex. As she drove home she listened to a debate between guest speakers concerning some city committee that was trying to undermine the Mayor's budget proposal. Not anything of real consequence, she thought, except for the city's overall property taxes. Judy knew her family would get by just fine, despite whatever budget the city finally agreed to pass.
She arrived home and went out to the backyard to find Charles putting wooden shingles on the arbor's circular roof framework. It looked wonderful. At the sight of it, the weight on Judy's shoulders was gone, and she felt relief flood over her.
He called down to her, "What do you think, hon?"
"It's perfect! I love it, Charlie, I can't wait until we start putting in the flower pots!"
He looked at her and smiled in response, then went back to tacking in the shingles.
She then went to the back patio, a raised concrete slab with a roof, and examined the large rectangular flower pots as if for the first time. The bags of potting soil, fertilizer, and mulch all stood stacked behind them against the outside wall of the house. She was almost ecstatic with the thought of filling the pots with soil, then purchasing the flowers and planting them. Plus, it would be a joint project between her and Charles, as the backyard and flower garden have always been.
She went in the house to wash up and prepare dinner. She was so thrilled about the arbor's completion that she was intent on making it the best meal they've had together in months.
The week continued on into the weekend. Judy, to her dismay, was the only one working on potting the flowers. She even had to carry the bags of soil and mulch herself. Charles spent the remainder of the week building shelves for his basement room. He was between the garage workshop and the basement in such a flurry of movement that Judy didn't ask him why he wasn't helping her. He passed her when she came in the house without saying a word, totally focused on his project. She let it go, not wanting a confrontation, and left him to his project. It did bother her a little that he wasn't helping her at all, and that he was unresponsive altogether. When Charles was in that mood, which was uncommon, he got a bit irritated with her interruptions.
Judy would rather finish it alone than start a fight, and she did. Judy is a prideful woman, so finishing the project herself wasn't upsetting to her, and she was extremely fond of the arrangements around the arbor when she was finished. Though it was a cold and cloudy Saturday when she planted the last few Hydrangeas, it was one of the most accomplished days Judy could remember. An eight year project was finished. Although the original plan called for a much smaller and quicker project, things had changed once the plan was implemented. Charles always did quote, 'no plan ever works out according to plan, as they say'. The flower garden, arbor, and small winding stone paths were far more splendorous than the original idea, and she loved how all of it together brought a fresh look to their old backyard.
What really bothered Judy by that weekend was the fact that Charles spent very little time with her. They had no conversations, no lengthy talks. It was either silence, or enough time in passing to relay everyday small talk, like whether or not the laundry was finished. Charles spent much of the time he wasn't working on the basement room in his study with the door closed. Charles enjoys his alone time, but she didn't recall him being this isolated for days on end. He didn't even go to the usual middle-of-the-month weekend golf game with his co-workers. He stayed home and worked in the basement, only coming up to get something from the garage or to eat.
Judy wanted to ask if there was something bothering him, but he never seemed to be down. In fact sometimes he was joking and cheerful. So she didn't bother. She figured that whatever it is that he's working on and is consuming his time, he would be finished with sooner or later. Then the typical Charles would resurface, and life would return to normal.
On Sunday afternoon, she did ask him, "Charlie, have you called our daughter this week?"
He was in the garage when she came out and asked him, cutting some sort of rubber stripping. He stopped cutting and looked at her, a bit concerned.
"No, actually I haven't," he said with a hint of guilt. "I should do that before she calls us, she excels at anger where you cannot."
Judy glared at him as he gave her a wry smile like he just made a funny statement. His smile faded under the weight of her stare, and he set down the utility knife and walked to the connecting door to the kitchen.
"Well, at least we still exist," Judy said with a bit of a smile, "I was beginning to think Jennifer and I had disappeared from your world."
Charles turned before opening the door, "Of course not," he smiled, "I just really want to get this done, Jude. You know I love you and Jen more than anything in this world."
Judy smiled back at him, enjoying the reassurance, but she still detected a hint of the salesman in those words. As he went in the house, she stood in the garage and looked around. Pieces of cut wood, sawdust, and tiny scraps of cut metal stripping nearly covered the concrete floor. She went to the worktable and examined the rubber stripping. It looked like a seal, almost the same kind used for industrial cooler doors. She looked around for signs of what was being made out of these materials, but there was none. Anything being made was in the basement.
Judy felt apprehension, as she did any time she thought of going into the basement and taking a close look at his penny collection room. She didn't like it, it felt like an isolation cell. She had originally thought Charles was just going to build some shelves, but he made a solid enclosed room, which baffled her.
'What is he sealing up down there?' she thought to herself, looking at the long strips of rubber.
Just then Charles came back into the garage and brought the phone to Judy.
"She wants to talk to mom," he said.
She took the phone and began the usual weekly exchanges while smiling at Charles. He smiled back, then got right into checking measurements and cutting the strip rubber. She went into the house with the phone, bragging about how she finished the flower garden, and that Jennifer should come by and see it now that it's finished. She walked through the kitchen with the phone, and paused before the closed basement door. She could hear Jennifer saying something about Wednesday and being able to see the arbor, but Judy wasn't really listening to her daughter. She stared at the door, curious as to what secrets the basement room was hiding from her. She shook her head and told herself not to worry about it right then. She walked on into the foyer and stood by the stand with the phone cradle on it, small address and phone books next to it, and told Jennifer that Wednesday would be good.
"And, bring Steven with you ," Judy said, "We'll be having dinner together, too."
They exchanged 'I love you's', then she clicked the end button and set the phone in its charger. She stood there a moment longer, looking down the hall to the kitchen at the basement door. She concluded she would have to take a look at that room sometime. But not then. She had dinner to cook and a house to clean. And that, to Judy, is top priority.
* * Part 3 * *
The next day, when Judy arrived home from work, she noted that Charles' car was not in the driveway. After walking in the house, she set down her purse and went straight for the basement. She descended the stairs slowly, as if something horrifying awaited her. Nothing looked out of the ordinary when she got down there, though, only the protruding walls of Charles' small enclosure. Sunlight streamed in through the small rectangular basement windows, illuminating boxes, a stack of old chairs, and the table Charles uses for model building. Nothing new, or changed around. Until she looked up. She noticed that all of the small water lines had been recently replaced by pvc plastic piping. Also, the gas lines were all new; a flexible hosing that resembled a mesh of wiry steel secured by clasps to the basement ceiling. All the copper piping had been replaced. And it seemed to her to have been done within the last week or two.
Her interest was fully peaked, then. Charles was making drastic changes to the house, and not telling her about them. This was highly unusual for him.
She walked across the concrete floor to Charles' enclosed space. The door was solid wood, and was set into its frame. She could see the black rubber seal squeezed between the edges of the door and its frame. The room was completely sealed off. She noted that the edge of the walls along the floor had been sealed with a black caulk of some sort, and that the top of the room was enclosed under the floor beams. There was a massive padlock on the door, and it was firmly locked.
She was suddenly just as concerned about it as she was curious. It was a massive enigma to her, the likes of which had no precedent in their marriage.
"What in the world are you up to Charles?" she asked the air between her and the sealed room. She shook her head in confusion and concluded she was going to have to put a personal interest into this project of his. Normally, she leaves him to them, but this one was getting out of hand, and it concerned her. She couldn't, for the life of her, figure out what would make pennies so important that he would make a veritable vault for them and stop communicating with his family. She was certain of one thing: the room looked complete. At least from the outside.
As she walked back up the steps, she hoped that maybe this would be over very soon, and that she wouldn't have to pressure Charles for an explanation that he hasn't yet given her. He would get irritated if there was nothing more to it than what he already told her, but she couldn't shake the feeling that there was more to this whole fiasco.
She was tired of worrying about it, and of letting it consume her thoughts from time to time as it has done since Charles first started his penny collection almost a month ago. Judy didn't like distractions, and this collection of his was beginning to be just that: a constant distraction. She went straight to the bath from there, and told herself she would have to ask Charles what this was actually about when he got home.
The evening passed slowly, and Charles did not return home. He didn't call, either, and wasn't answering. This disturbed Judy, for he has been out of contact and not coming home at night too often for a couple of weeks now. Plus he doesn't speak to her much when he's at home. She spent the early part of the evening wondering whether he really was seeing someone else, and what his absence has to do with his penny collection and his unannounced improvements to the house. By late evening, she was thoroughly sick of worrying about it and decided to try and read herself to sleep, telling herself she was getting bent out of shape over nothing.
Reading wasn't easy, she kept drifting back to thinking about Charles. It was after midnight when her eyes finally dropped while reading and sleep took her. In her distress, she had forgotten to set her alarm.
Bright sunlight shining in her face finally woke her. She suddenly realized she had overslept, by hours in fact. Their bedroom window faces east and catches the late morning sun. She leapt from the bed, frantic. She had never been this late, never overslept like this. She saw Charles' clothes crumpled on the floor, and they weren't there before she went to sleep. She knew then that Charles had been home, and had forgot to set her alarm. Something he had never done before. She shouted his name, but didn't expect a response. She didn't get one. He had gone to work.
She quickly gathered clothes to wear, then started the shower. She didn't much like to take showers, but had little time to bathe. When she was out of the shower and dressed, she called the office while warming a cup of coffee from the pot Charles must have made earlier that morning.
"Yes, Arnie, I know. It was a complete fluke incident. I really need to get a new alarm clock," she sighed heavily as Arnold spoke through the phone to her, then sipped at her coffee.
"Ok, I'll see that I get to those first. I'm on my way now. Be there in twenty."
She hung up and grabbed her car keys. She was in such a rush that she had the sedan backed halfway out of the driveway when she realized she left the door unlocked. When she got back into the vehicle, her mind was a scrambled mess of anxiety at the thought of how much work she was going to have to catch up. And what ridiculous scandal Alicia was going to cook up for this one.
When she arrived in her department office, Alicia was, of course, there and waiting for her.
"Guess your streak is finally broken," she said with a smug smile, "You know you will be written up for this. Charlene had to cover your ass all morning." Alicia leaned in on Judy as Judy's face grew hot with anger, "Is this going to be worth you crying about your stray husband all night and day?" Judy's hands formed fists.
Alicia leaned back, and Judy caught sight of Arnold over Alicia's shoulder. He was shaking his head at her. She knew he meant for her to keep her cool. She did, but still stared Alicia in the eyes.
"Well, as you said," Judy started, "I should let Charlene know that I'm here and that I can cover my end for the rest of the day."
"Good," Alicia smiled, "Oh, and do try to not have another emotional breakdown. The senior supervisor won't appreciate Arnold letting you leave early again like you did last week."
With that Alicia walked off to attend to other duties. Things she was holding off while she waited in the accounts office for Judy to arrive, as far as Judy was concerned. Conniving woman.
Judy went to her station for the day and replaced Charlene, who had no qualms about covering Judy's shift. Judy thanked her and then got to work.
There was a pile of new shipment orders that were waiting to be filed as 'paid' so they could be scheduled for shipment. Being that this was the very information that Alicia needed to get her department moving and working smoothly, she had every reason to be upset about Judy's absence. Judy began where Charlene had left off, entering names into the accounts received database and noting payment. Sometimes she would have to create a new account for a first time payer. She was an hour into filing these orders when she noticed she was typing in her husband's name for a new account.
'Charles Conrad' stared back at her from the account name field on the computer screen. It drowned all other thought in a surge of shock and wonder. She continued to look at it for several seconds before snapping out of it and taking a close look at the purchase order she was thoughtlessly imputing text from.
The order was for college research, and an on-campus class, in Los Angeles. It was for three different chemicals and was to be shipped under pressure. It called for a vast amount of it, she noted, enough to fill a fifteen foot truck. Universities generally order large quantities at once, so as to have enough for a full year or semester, but it was still a larger quantity than Judy has ever seen for only a few types of chemicals. And it was in her husband's name, paid from a California bank account. Over $70,000 worth.
She couldn't set the paper down, in fact she could hardly move at all. She just kept going over the order form again and again, as if trying to find more evidence of Charles' identity on it. Besides the bank account number, there was none. She would need to look up in the accounts receivable database for that particular account to find social security numbers or phone numbers. And she would have to have clearance to access the computer right then, which meant asking for it, which entailed needing a good explanation. She did not have a good enough reason to access the accounts receivable computer. Her husband ordering a bunch of legal chemicals was certainly not good enough.
She could only think of one thing to try other than calling Charles and asking him what this was about. She picked up the phone and dialed the campus and extension for the lab where Jennifer did her internship.
When Judy was told that Jennifer was free to talk, she smiled. Judy knew that her daughter would be able to identify what chemicals were on the order.
Judy's voice piped into the phone, "Hi, mom, what's the occasion? You're not changing plans for tomorrow are you?"
"No, honey," Judy began.
"Good," Jennifer interrupted, "Because I convinced Steven to come along for dinner. He's just concerned about you criticizing his life again."
Judy let out a quick laugh, "No, I won't, I promise. Besides, he's doing much better for himself, and for you. But, that's not why I called."
"What is it, mom?"
"I was hoping you could identify a few chemicals for me."
There was silence from Jennifer's end for a moment, then "Sure, mom. Can I ask what for?"
"It's a shipment order. I want to know what these chemicals on it do."
"Mom, I know you're not allowed to look into these orders. It's confidential corporate stuff. You could get into trouble for this. What's going on?"
"I'm pretty sure your dad ordered it."
Once again, silence from the other end. Judy continued, "Over a $70,000 order. Enough to fill a shipping truck."
"Wow," Jennifer responded, "I can't imagine he'd spend that much without telling you, mom."
"There's a few things he hasn't been telling me lately. I'd sooner believe this a coincidence of similar names if it weren't for your dad's odd behavior."
"We both know dad's weird sometimes, but this can't have anything to do with him."
Judy paused, "I don't know, like I said, he doesn't talk to me about much lately."
"Look, mom, I bet it is probably just a coincidence. Give me the chemical codes and I'll look them up for you. I'll bet they're something harmless and unrelated. Then you won't have to worry."
Judy read off the codes to Jennifer.
"Where was the order from?" Jennifer asked when Judy was finished.
"Los Angeles, for a university there."
"Well, that's enough to tell you is a far shot from dad. California's a long way away."
They both went silent for a moment, and it occurred to Judy that almost ten minutes had passed since she saw Charles' name on the shipping order. As she listened to Jennifer hum while looking up the chemicals, Judy became very aware that recent events have broken her steady and comfortable life. She was getting way behind at work, she was late for work, her anxiety level was on high most of the time, and all because of Charles' new hobby. She realized she needed to seize control of her life, and confront Charles about his recent activities.
It was almost as if he was a teenager again, all carefree and engrossed in his obsession-of-the-week. It was her that tamed his selfish pride, and now it was her that was being tossed about by it. It made her angry. She suddenly wanted to get the rest of the day's work done as quickly as possible so she could go home and point a finger of inquiry in Charles' face.
Jennifer's voice interrupted her thoughts, "I found it for you. As a matter of fact, it's a typical chemical for a school that size to order."
"There was more than one, honey," Judy responded.
"Oh, yeah, forgot to mention. When combined, they will make a liquid that is slightly reactive with plastic, and very reactive with metals. It's the chemical they make when combined that is used in certain lab tests and procedures. It will quickly corrode metals, and makes plastic brittle after prolonged exposure. Plus it can be dangerous if skin is left exposed to it. The three chemicals being shipped are gases at room temperature, and utterly harmless, but when combined they make a substance that is liquid at room temperature. It is used in class to show certain aspects of gases and liquids."
"Huh," Judy said, a bit perplexed, and not just because of her daughter's technical explanation. It really was ordered for university use.
"Nothing out of the ordinary," Jennifer said, "They must run a lot of tests or lab classes out there that use it to need that much, though."
"Yeah, you are right, Jennifer. It's nothing."
"Look, mom, relax tonight, alright? Don't think about it so much. You know dad, he's always had his moments."
"Not like this one," Judy sighed.
"Well, then, this is his granddaddy moment of moments. He'll be fine, mom."
"Yes, and I have to get back to this before more time passes. I'll see you and Steven tomorrow?"
"Oh, yeah! Can't wait! I love you."
"Love you, too, honey, thanks."
"Of course, bye."
Judy hung up and stared at the screen for a moment, then told herself the only way she was going to avoid a permanent scar on her work record was to concentrate on the work at hand, and put all else out of her mind.
She was well caught up at the end of the day, and felt very good for herself. She was less stressed out about what was happening with Charles, and was comfortable with her daughter's reassurances. Plus, Alicia had to accept that all the day's work orders were in by the end of the day. This would also result in Alicia having to stay late to schedule the shipments. Yes, the day ended up pleasing Judy very much.
On the way home, she was pleased to hear that the near future for the weather was bright and shiny. The news reported on the city budget being passed. 'It's about time,' she thought to herself. When she arrived home and saw that Charles' car was not there, her spirits fell a bit.
She was in her bath not long after, and enjoying the afterglow of a successful recovery from a potentially horrible day. She didn't even really think of Charles until she heard him just outside the bathroom door in the bedroom. Judy thought, 'He didn't come in the bathroom, so he must not have noticed the door was closed.' She had an idea then, and slowly pulled herself out of the bathtub. She grabbed a towel and quickly patted herself down, quick dried her hair, then wrapped the towel around herself and held it so she could drop it easily. She crept to the bathroom door, then quietly opened it. Charles had his back to her, and was holding a small potted plant in the air with one hand and putting something on the stand it rested on with the other. She looked close and swore she saw a key. He set the potted plant on top of it. Given that this was highly unusual behavior for Charles, she quietly closed the door, foregoing her former plan to seduce him into an evening of lovemaking.
As she finished drying herself and started dressing she listened closely for Charles. She heard him leave the bedroom, then she heard the car start and pull away.
It didn't make sense. 'He had to have known I was bathing,' she thought, 'yet he went in there and stashed, what, a key? Then he left without a word. Plus, he put it where I would probably never find it.' When she had enough clothing to roam the house in, she went out into the bedroom and lifted the plant. There, on the stand, was a padlock key. She took it, put it her pocket, then set the plant back on the stand.
She went straight to the basement, marched down the stairs and almost ran to the sealed room. She pulled the key from her pocket and tried the lock. It came free with ease. She took out the padlock, pulled the clasp, then yanked the door handle. It was, as she expected, hard to pull. The seal was air-tight. It finally opened with a quick swoosh of air.
She looked inside to see stacked on the floor and on shelves steel and glass containers of all sorts, and all completely sealed shut. The glass ones she could see were full of pennies. There was old dented or crumpled copper containers and copper distillery equipment crammed into spaces between the sealed containers, as well as pieces of copper heating coils, small electric transformers, vehicle alternators, and copper piping. Possibly the same copper piping that used to run through the house. In fact, there was so much copper crammed into the space, it reeked of the metal; she could almost taste it in the air. She opened one of the flip-lid sealed steel containers. It was full of nickels. She left it be after that, then left the room.
She pushed the door closed, now almost certain that Charles needed psychiatric help. It baffled her. The room was a collection of small change and old relics. Essentially almost worthless junk. She dropped the padlock on the floor in front of the door, then turned to go upstairs.
She went up the stairs slowly, figuring in her head the net worth of all the copper Charles had stored away. Though she couldn't accurately remember, it had to be worth somewhere around $15 an ounce. She couldn't imagine at that rate there would be more than five or six hundred dollars worth in there, if that. She was also counting a couple of hundred for the pennies and nickels. And she couldn't imagine where he was collecting all that loose change from.
She resolved to discuss it with him as soon as she could. She was beginning to be deeply concerned. She had seen on TV somewhere that middle aged upper-middle class working men sometimes go through a crisis period that requires a psychiatrist and maybe even medication. She sincerely hoped he had not become neurotic. On the other hand, she couldn't figure out why Charles wanted such a collection. Most of it was only worth selling as scrap metal.
He certainly did seem to have gone slightly mad.
Charles didn't return again that night until after she had gone to sleep. She didn't let it cloud her thoughts, though, and made sure to set her alarm and get to sleep early. She resolved herself to setting her foot down on the whole deal when next she could talk to him.
The next day at work there was another lengthy morning meeting, which meant more special work to interrupt the normal flow. It was another company transfer issue; a small spray-bottle cleaner company was bought out by a Walmart subsidiary, thus accounts had to be put under new names. It was an uneventful day, and she didn't see Alicia once.
On the way home, she listened to the national news. As she was driving through the suburbs, a report of mass thievery in the Midwest caught her attention. An Oklahoma sheriff was speaking from an interview, talking about arrests that were made on the heist of power lines from telephone poles in several states across the Midwest. He gave details of how the 'perpetrators' cut the lines at one pole, then went a couple of miles down the line and cut it again. They would then steal all the coated copper power and phone lines from the intermediate poles, then take the copper, possibly to sell it. It drove a spike of apprehension through her at the mention of copper. She suddenly had a vision of Charles helping to cut disconnected power lines from a pole, to collect more copper for his air-tight chamber. The thought made her suddenly angry. She would have been happy right then if the metal were purged completely from her life, and that she never hear the word 'copper' again.
She pulled into the driveway to find it once again empty. She couldn't imagine what was taking up so much of her husband's time. She was suddenly uncertain of her life, and thoughts of his possible infidelity sprung in her mind. It made her furious. She wanted to throttle him for putting her through so much anxiety.
She opened the front door and turned to go into the living room when she tripped over a rather tall standing object. She noticed it was a glass milk jug full of pennies, and it was tipping over quickly. She tried to catch it, but it hit the floor with a thundering smash, splaying shiny pennies and shards of shattered glass across the wooden floor of the foyer.
Furious boiling anger quickly replaced her shock.
"Oh, my God," she exclaimed, staring at the tremendous mess that just changed her whole day. Hundreds of shiny, almost brand-new pennies glimmered with the broken glass, reflecting the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows. Judy stood staring at it all for almost a minute, deciding how best to deal with the situation. One thing was certain: Charles was getting an earful to remember when he got home. He had definitely pushed her too far with his copper, nickel, and penny collection. She went to the utility closet by the kitchen and grabbed a broom and dustpan. She paused, looking around the closet, then grabbed a bucket as well.
She began cleaning the mess, and filled the bucket with the pennies. When she was finished, it was close to dinner time, and Charles still wasn't home. She left a pile of pennies on the floor connecting the foyer to the living room, right where he would step. Then she switched off all the lights, leaving the house in the orange glow of late evening. She went to the antique wooden hutch in the corner of the living room and opened a drawer that had not been opened in a long time. She pulled a pack of Camel cigarettes from the drawer, and a lighter. She grabbed a glass coaster to use for an ashtray, then sat on the couch, crossing her legs.
The cigarette actually tasted good for being so old. She had quit four years ago, and recalled that she didn't like the flavor of them anymore when she did. The nicotine made her fingers tingle, and she was suddenly relaxed and focused. Guilt rose inside her for breaking her vow and smoking another. She would probably end up a smoker again, she figured, but it mattered little to her right then.
Her anger at Charles was an all consuming volcano inside of her, waiting to explode with merciless fury. All else she thought about paled in comparison.
* * * * *
When Charles finally did get home, the sun was starting to set. The foyer and living room were dimly lit when he came through the front door. He called out for Judy, but she remained sitting on the couch, silent. She watched him as he walked to the archway dividing the two rooms. He stepped in the pennies just as he was reaching for the light switch.
"What the..." he mumbled, then clicked on the light. He then saw Judy on the couch, staring at him viciously. He noticed the pack of Camels on the end stand. She picked it up, pulled another out, and lit it. Charles looked at her in near disbelief. He finally had to break the dreadful silence.
"Judy, look, I'm working on something really important and--"
"Oh, yeah!? What's that!? Another woman?"
"No, Jude, it's nothing remotely like that."
He paused, thinking of what to say next.
"Trying to make an excuse? Or have you lost your mind?"
Charles looked straight at her, "No, I've not lost my mind. This is actually a delicate situation--"
"It certainly is, Charles! You're treading on thin ice right now! What has got into you!? I spent three fucking hours cleaning up broken glass because you left that damn jug of pennies right next to the front door!!"
He stuttered, not certain of what to say, "Jude, please, I forgot to take that one down....I've been in such a rush to get things done...I--"
"That's it!!" she interrupted him, springing up from the couch, "You're getting rid of them Charles! Take the fucking coins to the bank and change them in!!" She put two fingers in his face, the ones holding her cigarette, "And take that worthless metal junk to the scrap yard and sell it! You're done with this crazy obsession!"
"Judy, why is this such a big deal?" he asked, backing away from her into the foyer, "It's only a bunch of stuff. And I'm not getting rid of it!"
"The fuck you aren't! I'm done with it, Charles! You even had the audacity to hide the key from me!"
"I thought you didn't want to know anything about it! Why are you so upset!?"
"Because you have ignored me completely for almost a month! You didn't even finish the flowers with me! You hardly come home anymore!"
"Maybe it's because you've been a complete bitch about this whole thing! And, I didn't feel like having a fucking psycho blowout because of it!"
"Psycho fucking blowout!?!?" Judy suddenly went into a frenzied fury, "You're going psycho! Your lunatic obsession with this worthless metal is redefining psycho!!"
"It is not worthless!"
"It's as fucking worthless as you're becoming!!"
Charles beamed her with a defiant look, "Fuck off!" he spat at her. With that, he turned for the front door and swung it open. Judy growled as he did and reached down for a handful of pennies. As Charles began to step out the door, pennies struck him, the door, and even the window by the doorway. He glanced at her angrily in response, then continued out the door, leaving it open.
Judy followed him out and stood at the front step shouting "That's right, asshole! Leave again! That's what you've been best at lately!"
He ignored her and got in his car, starting the engine before he had the door closed. Judy noticed that the two neighbors across the street were on their porch watching, talking to each other now and then. The car screamed backwards out of the driveway, then sped off into the suburbs.
Judy felt slightly embarrassed about her neighbors, then turned and went in the house, closing the front door hard. 'Let them say what they want' she thought, as the reality of what had happened started to sink in. The cigarette no longer tasted good. Judy sat heavily on the couch, remembering the last time they had a fight like that, which was in the early years of their marriage.
She started crying, and really couldn't help it. It was then that Jennifer and Steven came through the front door. Jennifer called out, "Mom, dad!", then turned and saw Judy, on the couch, a complete mess. The sight and smell of cigarettes at once disgusted Jennifer and deeply concerned her.
"I didn't expect this," Steven said softly.
Jennifer touched his arm and looked at him. He nodded, concerned as well, but remained quiet and standing while Jennifer went and took her mother's hands in her own.
"Tell me what happened, mom," Jennifer said. Judy held back tears and began explaining everything, from the very start of it all. From the days when Charles collected pennies to the room being built, and the collection of scrap metal. She carefully explained Charles' aloof and isolated behavior.
Jennifer listened, and became a bit concerned and curious herself.
"I'm going to have a look at dad's little room," Jennifer said, then stood up. Judy looked back at her silently, and Jennifer took it as permission.
Jennifer turned and walked past her fiancé, down the hall to the basement door. She opened it and went down. Steven, who was watching her, was still uncertain of what was going on, and followed Jennifer down.
The basement was as Judy left it. The padlock rested on the floor, its key still in it. Jennifer walked over to the room and tried the door.
"It's sealed," she said. Steven tried the door and it pulled from the seal.
"Wow, it's air-tight," he remarked.
They looked in the room together and saw the massive amount of copper junk and electronic coil machinery stacked with stainless steel and glass containers.
"This is something," Jennifer said, "I think dad really is getting senile about his hobbies."
"Hmm," responded Steven, "Senile or not, it is well organized. The pennies are separated into jars of old ones and jars of new ones. All the rusting metal is on the left side of the room. In fact, it's almost all copper, except for these," he tapped a steel self-sealing box, "Very meticulous, if you ask me."
Jennifer looked at him, wondering. Steven continued, "There is some sort of method to this madness."
Steven looked around the basement and noted the brand new piping that Judy had mentioned, then pushed the door closed, tight. He stood studying the rooms construction for a moment.
Jennifer tugged his sleeve, "C'mon, lets go upstairs. I guess we're cooking dinner tonight."
Steven nodded and they turned to leave the basement. He glanced at the room on the way up. It did make him wonder, Charles did not seem like the kind of man to have strange happenings behind closed doors.
"It's odd," he said as they walked into the kitchen.
"My dad is odd. He's always had these weird collections," She opened the refrigerator to see what to make, "Although, he always did collect stuff that looked nice, did something, or was worth something."
She closed the door and looked at Steven, "This one is a bit far-fetched." She paused, looking around the kitchen, then back at her fiancé, "How about meatloaf?"
* * * * *
Judy listened to the muffled voices of Jennifer and Steven in the basement. She kept thinking that maybe she was a bit too heated with Charles, that maybe she should hear him out and accept whatever is going on. She realized she had been very ornery about the coins and the whole copper collecting thing. She really would have to apologize for that 'blowout'. She hadn't taken the time for understanding since he started the collection. Judy felt guilty for the fight, and for not talking to him about it long ago before she got all upset.
Hopefully Charles would explain the logic behind his actions. And tell her where he's been spending all this time away from home. She was certain his collection was just a random interest that he wanted to put unnecessary effort into, like other ones he's had before. She had just over-reacted and thought about it too much. She still hoped that he wasn't cheating on her, that there was good reason he didn't answer his cellphone when she called.
As she listened to the other two talking in the kitchen while they started to prepare dinner, she wiped away tears and consoled herself to be more understanding. She would have to wait patiently for Charles to return home.
'At least Jennifer is here,' she thought. 'It will be much easier to have her here for the rest of the evening.'
After all, Judy's family is the most important thing in her life. The last thing she wanted was for that to be taken for granted.
* * Part 4 * *
It was Thursday afternoon, and Judy still had not heard from Charles. She sat in the living room, watching the late afternoon light shine through the curtains. He was not answering his cellphone. Calls made to his cellphone went straight to the voicemail, as though his phone were off.
Judy was very concerned. It had been almost two decades since they had a fight that bad. He has been gone this long before, but was always easy to track down. She tried Jim's Pub, the Raceway, his work, Carl, Chad, Tommy, even Kaitlin, Charles' sister, who also lives in Chicago. He sometimes goes to see her when he needs to 'talk' about something.
He was nowhere to be found.
She gave Jennifer a call, but no sign of Charles. Her daughter told her to take it a bit easier, reminding Judy of the night before. The night did turn out better for Judy, she managed to laugh about the whole thing with Jennifer and Steven. It really was funny, when she looked back on it. Like some meaningless fight on a soap opera. It almost made her laugh again, except that Charles was still not home. She wanted him to be there so they could laugh about it together over a bottle of wine, listening to jazz in the living room.
She looked up from the couch to stereo arrangement. The record player stood atop the stack of stereo components, neatly tucked on the set-in wall shelving next to entertainment center. A small stack of records stood between the stereo and the shelf end. She stood and walked over, brushing by the fern next to the stereo, then switched it on. She pulled a vinyl from the shelf, 'Call It Jazz' by an all female group named Alive. The album was her favorite, her mother used to play it sometimes when Judy was really young. Her favorite song for many years was 'Wild Women Don't Get the Blues'. In fact, she and Charles kissed the first time in his 'Cadillac' while that song was playing in the tape deck.
She put the record on, then carefully placed the needle before the song. She pressed the Repeat button as it started then walked around the living room, listening to jazz horns and piano echo around the house. The tune was almost reassuring, and calmed her nerves.
The third time the song ended and the needle was swinging back to play it again, Judy heard the phone ringing. She went out to the foyer and grabbed the cordless.
"Hello?" she asked as the song began echoing through the house again.
"Turn on the Channel 7 news. This is crazy."
Judy laughed, "Is it that funny?"
"No, mom, this is something bad. Sidney, Australia went crazy a few hours ago. Not kidding." she paused, "Steve, put it back on CNN real quick, see if they're covering it yet. Mom?"
Judy was already walking into the living room. "I'm checking now, honey, hold on," she said as she switched off the stereo. The song died suddenly, cutting it off mid-chorus. She heard CNN reporters saying "unconfirmed" something or other from Jennifer's end.
"Channel 7 has cameras in Sidney right now, but CNN doesn't, how about that?" Jennifer said, "Steve, turn that up a bit."
Judy grabbed the remote and turned on the TV. She switched the channel to 7 and watched the tail end of a commercial. It went to the newsroom with a side video caption titled "Live, Sidney Australia". In the caption, Judy saw some smoke, people running, and saw police sirens flashing. It was early morning in Australia. The camera was shaking, as if the carrier were constantly moving. The reporter behind the desk was saying that their news team was first on the scene with a live crew.
Then the small caption devoured the screen, and its sound cut in. Shouts, sirens, and the sound of a roaring fire burst from the TV. A reporter started shouting over it.
"No, Jack, it does not appear to be subsiding! The riots continue throughout the downtown areas! The Sidney Police Task Force is out on the streets, now, as you can see, Jack."
The desk reporter then began asking for the details, and to reiterate earlier details for new viewers.
The man in Sidney looked into the camera as Jack spoke from Chicago. He nodded a bit after Jack finished, the message coming in moments after sending across the world.
"Well, Jack, the Police here are telling us it may be a terrorist attack, although we have received several eyewitness reports that point to what citizens of Sidney believe to be an anomaly. As I said before, Jack, people have reported pipelines, gas lines, and even brass stairwell railings disintegrating in the matter of a half an hour! A lot of electrical equipment, devices, and vehicles are not working, we are actually very lucky to have one working camera and our transceiver equipment. Our van stopped running a couple of hours ago, Jack, and we've been walking since. Emergency vehicles and a few cars are running still, as well as government vehicles, but for the most part everyone is grounded here in Sidney."
"Suddenly, my life isn't so bad," Judy whispered.
The reporter continued, "This all started about three hours ago, we're told, and local authorities believe this to be a chemical weapons strike by terrorists. Although, no terrorist individuals or organizations have come forward to give demands or claim responsibility. This seems very odd..."
Emergency vehicles roared by the reporter, sirens blaring. He paused until they passed, then continued.
"...very odd to several authorities in the Australian Defense Department. Terrorists always send a videotape or otherwise claim responsibility. The cause is so far unknown, Jack, and local authorities cannot pinpoint a source-- "
He turned as a group of people were running towards the camera, shouting. The Australian accent made it difficult for Judy to make out what they were shouting.
The reporter turned around and said something Judy couldn't make out over the noise around him.
"Isn't this nuts, mom?" Jennifer asked.
"It's frightening." Judy responded.
"...shouting at the Police, now, making some sort of demands..." the reporter shouted, while chaos continued around him. Judy shook her head, and sat down on the couch. She heard Steven talking about the recent horrible natural disasters, like New Orleans, and how this was another one.
"Yeah," Jennifer said, "This seems way too big for terrorists. I mean, that's more than just destroying some buildings. The whole city is a wreck."
"I think I should send some relief money," Judy said, "From our joint accounts."
"That's a good idea, mom."
"Yes, I know. Your father and I did it for New Orleans."
They went silent as the reporter continued.
"...explosions and fires started from rupturing, and dissolving as we are told, gas lines across the city..." Judy listened for a moment, then continued.
"I should call Bernard now, the government has probably already begun relief work for Sidney."
"You sure dad won't mind?" Jennifer asked.
"Look at it, Jennifer. If we have money, we shouldn't just sit by and watch it happen."
"Those people really do need it." Jennifer said, "Ok, mom, I'll let you go so you can call your money-man. Call me later if you need to."
"Ok. Thank you for letting me know, honey."
"Of course, mom. I could hardly believe it, but there it is. Hard to imagine what or who could have done that."
They said their goodbyes. Judy hung up and set the phone at her side, watching the TV. A different reporter was on the screen, in a suburb. She saw some smoke and firetrucks in the background. The reporter, a woman, was speaking to an Australian mother and young son outside their home. The mother was talking about everything shutting off, one by one, and wall sockets and switches shooting sparks.
Judy went out to the foyer and grabbed the address book. She looked up her accountant's number, then went back to the couch and called him.
The phone rang as the Australian mother on TV was talking about several neighbors having their houses flooded when their pipes 'broke and fell apart'. The woman said she was happy they used plastic pipes in her house, because their plumbing still worked. It made Judy think of how Charles replaced the pipes in the house with plastic, as the other line answered.
"Caldman & Associates, Bernard speaking."
"Hello, Bernard, it's Judy Conrad, I want to move a large donation to any official relief effort for the Sidney disaster."
"The Red Cross is taking as much as anyone can give, right now. Australia is allowing America to give full assistance."
Judy smiled, and began discussing numbers with her accountant. She knew Charles wouldn't mind; he agreed to send money for the New Orleans disaster. They had a large stack of thank-you letters and cards to show for it.
Judy continued watching the news on several stations after her donations were completed. She paid attention to eyewitness reports on plumbing, and noted that only copper plumbing ruptured. It made her wonder.
Special news reports sprung up, as disaster in Sidney became world headlines. Riots were under control by midday in Sidney (very late for Judy in Chicago), but much of the city was without power, running water, or transportation. The Australians took it all with a proud stance, saying constantly that they can withstand anything and keep going.
Judy switched off the TV at 11:00 and tried to call Charles. It went to the voicemail again. She waited for the beep.
"Charlie, please come home. I'm really sorry and I want to talk." she sighed, trying to think of something to say, "I...I was wrong. Please come home tonight..."
She hung up, then took the cordless to the bedroom with her. Her mind was a haze of thoughts, scrambled with the idea that all of this was somehow connected. As she lay in bed trying to sleep, the thought struck her that Charles might know something was about to happen, which is why he changed the pipes. Something like Sidney, only in Chicago. She shrugged it off. 'It would be impossible for the same disaster to strike in Chicago, and , anyway, Charles would have told me about that.'
She watched the curtains, telling herself Charles would be home when she returned from work tomorrow. With these thoughts she drifted to sleep.
* * * * *
The phone woke her in the dead of morning. It was still dark. She answered, groggy, yet hopeful.
"Yeah, it's me."
"Oh, honey, I really didn't mean--"
"I know, its ok. Look, Judy, I still have a couple more things to do, then I'll be home. I'll explain everything, I promise."
"Will you be home soon?" Judy asked, her voice cracked from waking.
"In a few hours. But, I need you to do something for me. Right now, as a matter of fact."
"I need you to make sure the door to the basement room is shut tight."
"It is, Steven said he closed it."
"Steven went down...? Alright, well, I still need to be sure."
"You want me to go down there, now?" Judy asked, mildly annoyed.
"Yes. It has to be closed. For sure."
"What's going on? We're talking about that room when you should be home and--"
"Please, Jude, I'll be home soon, but I need to know that it's secured, now."
Judy sat silent for a moment, still half-asleep and now very much confused. Finally she agreed.
"Thank you," he responded.
"Please come home soon, Charlie," she said, then they hung up.
She sat for a moment, wondering if it was even worth going down to check the door. She decided it wasn't, then looked at the clock. 2:48, two hours before her alarm goes off. She put her head back on the pillow. She couldn't grasp why it concerned him so much, and she really didn't feel guilty for not going down to the basement to check it. She was sure the room was closed tight, and if it wasn't, what could possibly happen? The room was unimportant to Judy, and sleep once again took her.
She was sure the alarm was set when she glanced at the clock.
* * * * *
The sunlight shining in her face woke Judy. The realization that she woke up late yet again sunk in quickly.
"Damn it!" she growled as she flung aside blankets and checked the digital clock for the time.
It was blank, without power. She blinked, looking at it, then looked to Charles' clock, which was also off. She got up quickly and walked to the bureau, then picked up the wind-up clock. It was stuck on 5:20, and not moving. In fact, the clock hands were slightly loose, as if some of the inner mechanism was missing. She could hear a siren in the distance, and a couple of people shouting down the street, though she couldn't clearly hear what they were saying from the bedroom.
She quickly checked everything electrical in the bedroom and bathroom. Nothing worked. She rushed downstairs and into the kitchen. The refrigerator was off, clocks weren't working, nothing turned on. She checked the cords, but they were plugged in. A black burst-like stain covered the safety outlet in the kitchen, as if it had thrown sparks and almost caught fire. She heard an ambulance, it sirens blaring, rush down the street.
Cold terror sunk into her. She tried the faucet. It sputtered out some water, lost pressure, then nothing.
"Oh, my God, it happened here!"
She practically ran out the front door. The sun shined down, but the eastern sky was occasionally blotted by large plumes of smoke rising from downtown Chicago. She could hear several sirens in the distance, all around the city. Water rushed down the street like a thin river, coating the pavement. It was pouring out of cracks in the road and from some of the houses. It was like the sewers themselves had run over, and all the pipes in the suburbs had burst at once. Cars sat in driveways, garages, and on the streets. People walked about, helping each other or just looking around in complete wonder. Some were trying to start their vehicles, without the slightest success, occasionally cursing and shouting 'what the hell's going on?' Not a sound came from a vehicle when the key was turned.
Judy looked around, astonished and frightened.
"I must be dreaming..." she mumbled.
Paramedics were down the street hooking an elderly woman on a wheeled stretcher to a machine. They had pulled her from her house while connecting her. Judy knew the woman. She had Oxygen treatment and has to use it twice a day, once in the morning. Judy could hear the paramedic speaking to her.
"You'll be ok, now, ma'am. Our machines are working good. I'm told its because they're made with gold wires or something. You'll be fine, but we have to take you to the hospital. Others will be needing this as several home medical devices stopped working earlier this morning and..."
His voice drifted as he helped pull her into the ambulance. Judy couldn't believe it, though the detail was before her eyes, and undeniably not a dream. She felt the morning breeze, and smelled smoke on it.
She thought of her daughter, and of Charles. She turned into the house and looked for her cellphone. She found it sitting on the arm of the couch, where she left it after she arrived home from work the day before. She flipped it open. It was blank. She pressed the on button and held it down, but it was unresponsive. She dropped it on the couch, then went back outside. Unsure of how to contact her family, she walked across the street to get help.
The couple that lived there were out front of their house. Water flowed from their front door. Judy approached them.
"What's going on?" she asked, "Do you have any idea?"
The woman turned and looked at Judy, her face a mix of shock and dismay.
""We are supposed to stay home and not go downtown," she said, "The police were here not too long ago."
Her husband turned and looked at Judy, his face full of anger, "They wouldn't let us know what's going on. If this is a terrorist attack, I certainly don't want to be caught standing here without transportation! The least they could do is inform us, the police only said 'details are not important at this time, just stay put, all will be taken care of'."
He glanced down the street, then continued, "They're long gone, now. If we had a working vehicle, Veronica and I wouldn't be standing here, that's for sure."
His wife nodded in agreement.
Judy asked, "So, they didn't tell you what happened?"
"No," Veronica responded, "But, it obviously is the same thing that happened in Sidney yesterday. It must be terrorists."
Her husband added, "I wouldn't doubt if the army got deployed on the streets of the city. I hear there's riots all through downtown Chicago."
Judy was scared of the thought of martial law. She saw the live footage from Sidney the night before. People were beaten and arrested for looting and being violent, and the very same thing was now happening a mere few miles away.
Judy didn't like guns, and the thought of several individuals, military or not, waving them about in her neighborhood really did frighten her.
She thanked her neighbors then crossed the street for her home. She glanced around for the police, but none were about. She knew they would be coming back through the neighborhood soon, and sat on the front steps waiting for them, trying to think of how to contact her husband and her daughter.
After several minutes, the waiting tore at her insides. She wanted to find someone, anyone, who could get her downtown and back quickly so she could get Jennifer. She thought about just running there, but knew deep down that these options were crazy, and not likely to help her. She needed to speak to the police, they would be able to help her to make sure Jennifer was ok.
She stood up, intent on walking around the suburbs to find any emergency or law enforcement individuals who could help her. It was then that Chad's black four-door pulled up along side the curb. It was an expensive car, a Delorian, and looked much like a Lincoln. Charles got out of the front passenger seat, then Jennifer from the back seat. Charles ducked back into the car to say a few words. He closed the door afterwards and Chad pulled away, leaving.
Judy rushed to them, throwing her arms around Jennifer. She told them how happy she was that they were safe, then noted that Charles was just standing there, a look on his face of great concern. Judy pulled back from Jennifer's embrace and asked, "Where's Steven?"
Jennifer smiled, "He's fine, mom. He's at his parents' place, making sure they're ok. There's crazy people running the streets in small groups, looting stores. The police are everywhere. Dad came to get me, Chad's car still runs. Dad says is because it has gold wiring and circuits. It's a good thing, apartment buildings and houses are getting ransacked, too. It's nuts. But, dad said on the way here that he knows what is going on, that he would tell us both when we got home."
Judy focused on Charles, "Charlie...? You know about this, and didn't tell me?"
"I couldn't tell you before, Jude, but I have to, now. It was all for our protection," he motioned to the house, "We should go inside."
Judy just looked at him, Jennifer was more eager and walked toward the house. Judy finally turned and followed.
When they got in the house, Charles closed the door, then Jennifer asked, "Is it terrorists? A government plan gone wrong?"
"No," Charles shook his head, "It is relative to both in one way or another, though."
Judy finally spoke, "Carefully explain this, Charles, from the start."
He paced around the foyer thoughtful for a few moments, carefully thinking of how best to say it. Then he stopped, and looked at the two women who were his greatest concern in life.
"Judy, you and I both know the American market is on a worldwide decline. In fact, most of the world market that depends on American industry is in danger of a crumbling infrastructure. The inflation of the American dollar is definitely going to result in a massive world-wide recession! Did you know that pennies and nickels aren't even worth the copper they're minted with? Have you not noticed how difficult it is for most people to buy food, let alone the insane prices for crude oil, and the real estate market's fallout?"
He paused. Judy and Jennifer remained silent, though Jennifer seemed less aware of such factors on world economy.
Charles looked at his daughter, "Do you remember what I told you about stocks and bonds? About how they keep their value?"
Jennifer nodded, "Yeah, stocks rise and fall in value due to changes or demand in the market for a product, and bonds rise in value as they age and the value of the American GNP rises."
"Yes, and now I will tell you both that our investments are in grave danger of becoming depreciated within the next five years. Stocks of mine and your mother's are mostly invested in the oil industry, an industry which is increasing profits in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, but losing American stock market value. In fact, this isn't the only part of the economy that isn't following the standards for supply & demand. Most of its profits are in overseas markets that your mother and I have no investments in! Transfer fees have big percentages, and the stock prices on the other side are higher. I would lose money, lots of money, reinvesting them.
"If the American dollar falls short on the world market for lack of value, the government will have to fall back on its store of precious metals, which it does not have enough of to afford all the accounts and investments, both federal and private, in America. This could happen very soon. Our government will suddenly become seriously broke, our bonds and investments will be completely depreciated, and the nations America is in debt to, like China, will probably go to extremes to get their money back from us. It is we, the people, who will suffer the consequences for this."
Jennifer was a bit shocked, "Are you serious, dad?"
Judy cut in, "That's the opinion of some people, Charles, others think the world can avoid this recession. Anyway, what does that have to do with what's going on?"
"You wanted me to start from the beginning. My concerns for this possible economic situation spurned the idea to begin with. I had to protect our family's future interests, Judy. I had to make sure our daughter wouldn't have a future of being stuck on the streets, a pauper. So I decided to find another avenue of investment, one that wouldn't cost so much in the overhead of buying into a new valuable interest.
"I spoke to a few international investment advisors, and got the same piece of advice each time. They suggested that putting money into precious metals is the single best way to invest one's money right now. Precious metals have held their value in any nation's market since the beginning of civilization. Because numerical and paper money investments are in grave danger of becoming worthless in the near future, a good number of economic analysts are advising investors to sell stocks and buy into metals such as platinum, gold, and silver."
Judy cut in, "That's why you bought all that silver."
He nodded, "I also put several thousand into the silver world market, but the metal is not worth as much as our investments, thus I lose money on it. Platinum and gold are too expensive, and all three are constantly on the rise in value. In fact, soon silver may become worth more than it ever was, but it still doesn't compare to the overall price of crude oil, when compared with the demand for either. So I had to find another precious metal to invest in, one that would be easier to acquire."
He was silent again, thinking how to say the rest.
Judy asked, "So, copper was the metal you decided to invest in? It's worth even less than silver."
Charles looked her in the eyes and smiled, "Not anymore. Now copper is likely to be the most valuable metal in the world."
Judy squeezed her eyes in sharp focus, almost angry. Jennifer was dumb-struck. Judy spoke, "What do you mean, Charles?"
"About a year ago, I brought this up to Chad, hoping he would have some ideas. He did, and it was more than I expected. He told me he knew a couple of people in Europe who were looking to fix the world market and secure their investments. With terrorism being a world-wide problem, and the nations in the Middle East being the largest marketers of crude oil, and supporting terrorism, the world's economy is in serious need of drastic change, or it will crumble, and the world will be in anarchy or at war over oil and natural gas. These people had serious intention of avoiding such future calamities. Given all the movement in the recent years to curb global warming and turn to alternate energy sources other than fossil fuels, the ideal would be better implemented and executed. They wanted to change the world market, and destroy mankind's dependency on fossil fuels.
"Now, this is becoming a reality. It wasn't just in Sidney and Chicago, but also L.A., New York, Atlanta, Miami, Paris, London, Rome, Cairo, Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing, and several other major cities across the world. They released a gas into the atmosphere that quickly rusts copper and any metal made with it, like brass. Electrical lines, transformers, and wiring all disintegrated, and also gas lines. Now more than half of the world's pollutant emitting vehicles and natural gas customers are no longer consuming fossil fuels! As I am telling you this, the world oil market is probably crashing, because the demand for vehicles that run on alternate energy is going to skyrocket! As well as the need for another source of heat and fire other than natural gas. We solved the problem of fossil fuel burning, Jude! And, most of all, the demand for copper to replace power lines, water piping, and electronic equipment is going to be massive! I moved all of our money from oil investments to the copper market. I lost some funds doing so, but by the end of the month copper will be worth more than platinum on the world market, simply because of the limited supply and intense demand.
"The only way large corporations and governments will be able to stay in business and power is to fix their computers and phones. The American government is going to need to recover as many pennies and nickels as they can to cover the loss of so much physical currency. We are, in fact, going to be better off than we were before. Think of all the pennies and copper I have in the basement!"
He stopped, taking a breath, but still smiling.
"So, that's why you sealed that room," Jennifer said, "To keep the gas from oxidizing the copper you collected. You did place that chemical order from California."
"I did," Charles responded, "But, Tommy paid for it"
Judy was visibly shaken, "You know what I heard earlier, Charles?" she asked, "Something about the army being deployed into the streets, you know, martial law. I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but what you and your associates have done what could be construed as conspiracy, or terrorism. So, how many of these 'other' people are there in your little change-the-world club?"
"Five, that I know personally. These people are from around the world, I don't know them all. They aren't terrorists. We guessed there might be some riots, but we didn't set out to hurt any--"
"You guessed!?" Judy burst out, now extremely concerned for this whole situation, "Might be some riots!? Did you not see what happened in Australia last night? There's smoke rising from all over downtown!"
Jennifer nodded gravely in agreement, "Yeah, dad, lots of people got hurt or killed because of this."
"Whether you intended or not!" Judy finished, "You didn't solve problems, Charles, you created them!"
"Jude, it will be over, soon, there won't be martial law, we can--"
"How do you know!?" She shouted back, "How can you be sure!? Federal agents could be looking for you right now! The people you did this with probably are a terrorist organization, and you just don't know it!"
Jennifer started to pace, running her hand through her hair nervously, "Oh, wow, this is like a movie or The Twilight Zone or something..."
Charles spoke up, "Look, we'll be fine, and with all the copper stored in the basement, as long as the door was sealed shut, we'll have plenty of real financing. All of the people involved are just investors, or businessmen, not criminals. The feds won't even know where to look."
"You don't know that for sure!" Judy shouted at him, "Wasn't it you who said that plans don't work out as planned!?"
The smile on Charles' face faded as he realized that neither Judy nor Jennifer were taking it very well. In fact, Judy was extremely upset, like she was the other night when she whipped pennies at him.
"I think this was all a mistake, Charles," Judy said nervously, "A big, big mistake. And I think you need to figure a way to get us out of this mess and away from anyone, like Chad, who had anything to do with--"
She was interrupted by a series of loud raps on the front door. All three of the family turned and stared at the door, suddenly silent and not moving a muscle. There was another series of pounding knocks, then Jennifer spoke, "Is someone going to get that?"
Charles tried to say something, but his voice froze in his throat. Judy stared at him for a moment longer, then went to the front door and opened it.
Standing on the front stoop was a tall man dressed in a black suit with tweed jacket and no tie. Behind him was a Marine in full uniform and gear, holding his automatic rifle at the ready. She noticed the black SUV and the tan Hum-V parked against the curb in front of the house. Two other Marines were standing next to the vehicles, weapons in hand. Judy's entire insides went numb.
"Judy Conrad?" The man in the suit spoke, with a touch of a smile. His eyes were ice-blue, and full of cold determination.
"Y-Yes?" She stammered.
"May we come in? We'd like to have a word with your husband, Charles." He looked Charles in the eye as he spoke, then walked in past Judy without waiting for a response. The Marine followed in behind him, carefully watching everyone and the rest of the house.
Jennifer was frozen solid, her jaw dropped in disbelief. Charles took a step back, then began to speak, "There must be...some sort of...mistake. I don't understand--"
"Don't play games with me, Charles," The man spoke solidly, then he pulled a federal badge from his inside jacket pocket and displayed it. He replaced the badge and continued, "We followed your friend Chad here. We've been on to him for sometime, and its unfortunate for this nation and the world that your comrades were smart enough to set the devices now rather than later, or we would have known more details about your disastrous scheme. So don't play the fool with me, Charles. Chad already told us everything."
Charles didn't say anything. He looked to Judy, who was in complete shock, and just shaking her head.
"My God, Charles, what have you done?" She gasped.
"He did something extremely rotten, Mrs. Conrad," The federal agent responded, "And he will be brought to trial for his crimes. This can and will be charges of Conspiracy, Terrorism, and Treason. Your husband helped to disrupt the American way of life and jeopardize our security. Charles, you're under arrest for these crimes, and have the right to an attorney, although I don't think it will do you much good. This seems pretty well clear and cut to me."
Charles continued to remain silent as the Marine put cuffs on his wrists and started leading him out the front door.
Judy grabbed the Marine's sleeve, shouting, "No, you can't take my husband! He didn't actually cause the problems, he was just trying to protect us! He only helped them so that our family's future would be secure!"
The Marine just glared at her, and when she paused, he simply said, "Please, ma'am, release your grip or I will have to force you to."
Realizing the Marine wasn't listening to her words, she let go of his arm and turned on the federal officer, "You have to believe me, Charles wouldn't do this to hurt people! He's not a bad man!"
The agent looked at her, that slight grin still on his face, "Well, then he should only be spending a few years in federal prison rather than a lifetime. The federal judge presiding his case will decide that. We're sorry for the disruption this may have on your life, but your husband should have thought of that before he got involved."
With that said, the agent followed Charles and the Marine out the door. He turned before leaving, "I suggest that you stay home for the next few days. Other authorities may be here later to confiscate the copper your husband has, depending on whether any of it is confirmed to be stolen. Half the country is under martial law, so it is in your best interest to stay put. Good day, ma'am."
Judy leaned against the door frame, gripping it. Uncontrollable sobs began to wrack her whole body. Jennifer was at her side, asking, "They're really taking him? They're taking him away? How...? Why...? What are we supposed to do?"
Judy just watched Charles as he was pushed into the vehicle. He chanced one glance back at her, his eyes full of love and regret, and it was all he could get when a hand pushed his head into the SUV and the door was shut. The windows were tinted black, and Judy could see nothing through them.
As the two vehicles drove off, Judy put her arm around her daughter and held her close, tears streaming from her eyes.
"I don't know, baby," She finally answered Jennifer, "I don't know."
(I tried to keep this story full of actual events and business methods and procedures, despite the fictional organization Charles was part of and their chemical-rusting-copper plan. I wanted their whole ideal to seem plausible in the real world. There are a few details in this story that I kind of guessed at, like government and emergency vehicles and equipment using gold wiring and circuits (the Delorian really does have gold wiring), or the actual processes of investing on the stock market world-wide. But I did a lot of homework for this story, and many details are based on actual events or practices. Such as, people really have stolen power lines from telephone poles for the copper so they can sell it (saw that on the news), and there are many experts who are advising that investors buy into precious metals instead of big business on the world market (take a look at http://www.monex.com, for one). Many of the economic factors Charles speaks about at the end of the story are considered extremely possible by many people across the world.)