Monday morning Patton was waiting for the Shirk Brothers when they arrived to continue work. “Do you remember where you left off?” He tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“Mr. Patton! Good to see you back from da hospital! Although, I gotta tell ya, you look like you really went through da wringer. You gonna be OK?”
“Thank you, Art, I’m fine. My kitchen’s in worse shape than I am. And my toilets. How soon do you expect to finish this so I can stop using that plastic outhouse?”
I figure we’ll be outta here Wednesday around noon. Just let us get this here excavator fired up, and we’ll finish smoothin’ out the site in no time! We got our first load of gravel due in here around ten.”
“Just to satisfy my curiosity, how do you make sure everything’s pitched right? You need to set some stakes or something?”
Art Shirk was suddenly thoughtful, as if he’d just realized that this client wasn’t going to be quite the chump he’d thought. He called out, “Hey Mikey! You forgot to set the grade stakes!” Then he turned back to Patton. “Don’t worry, we’ll get that taken care of. Everythin’ll be all set for you by da time you get back from your mornin’ meetin’.”
“Oh, I don’t have a meeting this morning. I’m going to be clearing some of the rubble out of my basement instead. My doctor tells me I’m supposed to take things easy, so I expect I’ll be sitting on the patio forty minutes out of every hour. Don’t worry! I’ll just watch from there.”
He went down into the basement and was struck by how much he’d managed to clear out over the weekend. Most of the large stuff was already gone, leaving smaller chunks of plaster and lath, silverware, cookware, broken kitchen electronics and countertop appliances, smashed crockery and glasses, and the small bits of gravel that always seem to accumulate in the unused corners of old houses. Plus some packages of food which might be salvageable. Patton longed for the magical version of a broom and dustpan to collect up some of this stuff.
His thoughts of sweeping things up must have triggered something, for the next piece of rubble he focused on, a chunk of plaster, was joined by its siblings. In a single go all the remaining chunks of plaster went soaring out the window and into the dumpster. This was followed by the remaining pieces of lath, the broken glass, and the shattered dishes. Somehow his levitation skills had progressed to the point where he didn’t have to focus on each individual piece but could lift categories of objects at the same time. He looked at the silverware and tried lifting all of it off the floor, then he let it drop and tried just the forks, and then just the forks with on particular pattern. Next he tried just the forks to the left. Then to the right. He found could slice and dice pretty much any way he pleased.
This deserved a small celebration! He went back up to the patio for a beer, but before he sat down he walked out to check on the leech field. Art Shirk was good to his word — the stakes had been set and leveled and the excavator was working to pitch the grade by the right amount, as best as he could tell. Patton caught Art’s eye and gave him a thumbs up (just to let him know he was being watched) and then went back to his lawn chair.
He reached for a beer and was immediately reminded that yesterday’s ice had melted. He wasn’t all that fond of warm beer (unless it was accompanied by cold pizza and a frat party hangover,) but then inspiration struck. He extended his hand into the cooler and tried invoking the spell he had learned to put out candles by sucking the heat out of them. Frost started to form on his fingers, but when he stopped to check the water wasn’t that much cooler. Of course! There was an awful lot more mass that he was trying to chill than in a candle; that’s why it wasn’t working!
He pulled a bottle out of the water and tried the spell again, this time focusing just on the beer in that one bottle. This time it worked. He twisted off the top and enjoyed a nice cold brew.
The gravel truck arrived just about the time he finished the beer. Patton was a little surprised to see it was a slinger truck, with a long motorized conveyor that was able to shoot a thick stream of gravel fifty feet or more. It should certainly simplify the job of distributing the drainage gravel across the leech field. He wondered what strings Art had pulled to get that, and why. There must be some other job that they needed to get to in order to justify the added expense of the truck. On the other hand he might have just lucked into it. Such things happened.
Fascinating as watching gravel flying over his back yard was, Patton was more fascinated by his new-found levitation abilities. He went back to work, and in no time had salvaged the silverware and unbroken dishes and glasses, along with the cookware that wasn’t too badly dented. He stopped for a moment to see what else was left.
Then he saw it — a piece of the ball that had caused all this mess. One more bit of levitation and all the pieces were drifting in the air in front of him. He quickly got an empty box and put them in it, then he started trying to piece the ball back together. He wasn’t certain, but it looked like all the pieces of the shell were there. No sign of the crystal, however.
By lunchtime he had everything out of the basement. On the first floor was a heap of recovered food next to the kitchen doorway and other piles of neatly sorted utensils nearby. He brought up the box of ball parts and put them on the table in the next room, then went back outside for another beer.
Just as he sat down Rich popped around the corner of the house. “It’s good to see you’re hard at work!”
“It’s break time. Take a load off and have a beer.”
Rich sat down and took a bottle out of the cooler. “This stuff’s warm! How can you drink it this way?”
“I don’t. I chill it first.”
“Just the way you showed me — I treat it like a burning candle and pull the heat out. Can’t you do that?”
“Don’t know, I never tried.” Rich gave it a shot, but not much happened. “Are you sure you’re not cheating some how?”
“If I am I don’t know how.” Patton took the beer from Rich, chilled it, and handed it back. Rich was amazed as he opened the bottle and took his first swallow.
“I’m not sure how you did that, but it’s remarkable. You have hidden talents just waiting to be unleashed.” They sat together for a moment, not saying anything, just enjoying their beer.
A few minutes later Rich opened the cooler and said, “Houston, we have a problem.”
“I know,” said Patton.
“Are you boys referring to us?” asked Yvonne as she stepped onto the patio. Margaret and Elaine were right behind her.
“No,” said Patton, “we’re out of beer.”
“I guess we arrived right on time,” said Margaret, revealing the picnic basket she was carrying. “Now which of you gentlemen is going to help set the table?” She kicked Rich in the foot. He stood up and they spent a moment counting each other’s teeth with their tongues, then started unloading the basket onto the patio table.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit chilly for outside dining when you don’t have to?” asked Elaine.
“Don’t worry,” quipped Yvonne, “the heat of their passion will keep us warm!”
The meal that was set out on the table reminded Patton of a Parisian picnic — fresh baguettes, sausage and cheese accompanied by red wine and grapes. None of the American pre-sliced junk, you broke off chunks of what you wanted to eat just before you stuffed it in your mouth. Primitive and immensely satisfying.
Between bites Elaine asked, “How’s the cleanup coming?”
“I’m all done down in the basement. I did come up with something you might be interested in.” Patton stepped inside for a moment and returned with the box of ball pieces which he set on the table. Elaine picked out the largest and examined it.
“Very interesting! I really don’t know what to make of the inscriptions, but I think I may know someone who can help.”
“Who’s that?” asked Rich.
“There’s a shaman down in Salamanca, Mr. Orenda. He’s Seneca, and has an interest in pre-invasion magic. If this originated locally he can probably tell us what the markings mean.” She turned to Patton. “Can I have this?” He pushed the box to her.
“I wonder what was inside?” asked Yvonne.
“I vaguely remember a crystal ball popping out just before it blew up,” replied Patton. “I expected to find pieces of it in the basement, but I got nothing.”
“You think a crystal caused all that?” asked Rich, waving in the direction of the destroyed kitchen.
Elaine answered, “It wouldn’t surprise me. You know crystals can be used to store manna, and I understand that different types are better at that than other types. It wouldn’t surprise me that much to find that a crystal that large could store an awful lot of energy.”
Rich rubbed one of his hands on the pocket of his jacket. “Then whoever finds that crystal had better handle it carefully.”
“I wouldn’t be too worried,” said Margaret. “Considering all the energy that was released in Scotty’s kitchen I’d be surprised if there was much left in the crystal.”
“True,” said Rich, sounding relieved.
Around 3:00 PM the Shirk Brothers started cleaning up for the day. The slinger truck had made quite a difference, speeding up their work so that the drainage gravel was all spread and leveled and some of the pipe were already in place. Good thing, too, for just then a Town of Henrietta car pulled into the driveway and a plumbing inspector got out. He made a beeline for Art Shirk. Patton and Rich saw where he was headed and went over to meet him.
“Shirk. I should have known you were doing this job the moment the complaint came across my desk.”
“Good seeing you again Mr. Dubchek.” Art reached out to shake the inspector’s hand, but he wasn’t having any of it. He turned to Patton.
“Are you the homeowner, Mr. Patton?”
“Yes, sir. I take it you’re Mr. Dubchek?” The inspector handed him his card.
“Yes. Were you aware that your contractor here had neglected to obtain the proper permits?”
Rich introduced himself. “I’m Rich Waters, Mr. Patton’s attorney. Mr. Patton’s been hospitalized for the past week and was just released over the weekend. He received the citation, and will address the charges as appropriate.”
Art Shirk looked stricken. This job had suddenly gone from breaking even to being a serious pain in the ass, and he was going to have to do some serious dancing if he didn’t want it all to go down the shitter. “How can I help you, inspector?”
“It turns out Mr. Patton was able to obtain the permits even though the work has already begun, so I’m here to perform the necessary inspections. Let’s go over there and start with a perk test.”
The two professionals wandered off, and Patton and Rich headed back to join the girls on the patio. “Do you think it’s going to pass inspection?” Patton asked.
“From what I can tell the Shirk Brothers are actually quite capable, they just like to shave corners whenever they think they can get away with it,” replied Rich. “You came to them obviously in desperate need, with a fairly simple repair, and they priced the job assuming it would be a quick in-and-out, completed too quickly for the Town to catch on. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and now they’re having to do things right.”
“Serves them right,” chimed in Yvonne. “If they’d done it right in the first place …”
“Their price would have been twice what it was, and I would be in even deeper financial weeds,” finished Patton. “It’s a tough business all around.”
“I don’t think you’ll have any more problems getting the job finished,” said Rich. “Taking care of all the court issues, however, will be messy.” He gave a feral grin. “I’m looking forward to it!”