Back to the Desk

Sand Mountain

Section One Parts 1 - 4

©05 Levite

       [Note: All rights reserved, including the right to further publication. Distributed copies to proofreaders and editors remain property of the author. No infringement of copyright is intended. All persons are fictitious. Author has permission to use song Beneath Bright Texas Stars See Below    Email- dr_leftover{~at~}themediadesk{~dot~}com   Selah ]

1. Up the Hill

      "Somewhere between Castlerock Road and the Tennessee River."
      That was the first thing I heard about my new workplace. Then the follow up from the agent was even better.
      "It's in Alabama, but you have to go through Georgia to get to it."
      And the last comment, from old man Casey who seemed to be a fixture in the office is still my favorite.
      "Fer Jackson County, ya'lls on the wrong side the river."

      They couldn't explain to me how to get there so the real estate agent agreed to drive me out to it. As long as we could leave right then because he didn't want to be out there after dark.

      The comment about having to go 'through Georgia' to get to the place wasn't entirely true.
      "There's an entrance right up here Mr. Michels…. I think." The agent said as he slowed on route 73 and scanned the side of the road. He had just a trace of a Southern drawl and I tried to remind myself to ask him where he was from. A narrow gravel and dirt track appeared and then vanished down a hill toward a small stream. After we crossed the stream on what seemed to be a homemade bridge the 'trail' branched. He turned onto the left fork and followed it along the bank of the creek for a good distance. "Now. It should be…." He said a couple of times and then repeated the phrase at random as the tires of his SUV got ever closer to the bank of the creek. "Here."
      The agent drove up a lane that two weeks ago I would have dismissed as an erosion channel. And the term 'drove up' is appropriate. I heard the four-wheel drive engage with a solid powerful sounding "clunk" and up we went at an angle I was more familiar with as being part of a roller coaster.
      "The Georgia line is somewhere around here. But all your property is in Alabama." He laughed as we bounced over a rut. "I think it is anyway. There's some problems with the title and where the lines all are."
      "Oh… don't worry about it. The parcel is being sold as is. There's epilogue language in the deed that gives the owner right of transfer if any of it turns out to be in the wrong state. You just have to pay Georgia some taxes and fees. If they ever get around to surveying it again."
      I blinked and nodded and watched an ancient tree with roots growing as much out of the hill as into it. The car lurched and bounced a couple more times.
      Then we stopped on a more or less level space thick with weeds and young trees.
      "We're here."

      And there it was. The section of the world that was to become the Sand Mountain Retreat.

      I was the Field Representative and Project Manager for a group that had built a series of small and somewhat exclusive retreats for highly stressed (and highly paid) executives. There was a working Nineteenth Century farm in Pennsylvania. A horse ranch in Vermont. An urban retreat in Manhattan only a few blocks from Wall Street but with an atmosphere that seemed in another country. As well as a few other strategically placed operations. Many were relatively small places, catering to no more than a dozen or so guests at one time while a few, like the one we were to build here, would be somewhat larger and able to accommodate perhaps fifty participants, but all excelled in customer service. Where some centers like had accommodations for well over a hundred guests and were more hotels than retreats our group boasted about individual attention and the ability to transform our services into whatever the guests wanted or needed.
      My job was to take whatever the site had to offer and build the center in, around, or over it with one eye on the local flavor and character. Then staff and equip it and get it open. After it had been running, "Smoothly running" my boss had added, for about three months, I'd move on to the next project.
      I had been an assistant on the Pennsylvania job, taking the old farmhouse and out buildings and changing it into a nearly state of the art resort and never missed a milking time for the dairy cows that still live there. Then I worked with the team that reinvented the Vermont property. I managed the construction crews and decorators and insisted that heavy construction, including some blasting of the bedrock that was in the way, be done on a schedule that wouldn't upset the horses.
      And now I was up here.
      For an instant I thought about going back to work for one of the partners of the group managing rental property in suburban Washington DC. Compared to this place, maybe a gang turf war wouldn't be so bad.
      "Are you sure this is the right place?" I asked the agent.
      He seemed surprised by the question.
      I had been told that most of the existing 'rustic' buildings would probably have to be torn down and rebuilt. From where I was standing, they'd heard that rumor and had hurried their decay to where it looked like if I sneezed at them they'd fall down the mountain on their own.
      "Oh, yeah. This is the place. I sent your boss a portfolio of it and he agreed it was perfect."
      "Perfect." I repeated. That was Mr. Salmon's word all right. Things were either 'perfect' or they weren't. And the latter wasn't good at all.
      "Let's go see the view." The agent said.
      I nodded and told him to lead the way. And he started up an overgrown path with rotten wooden stairs cut into the hill.
      On the way up I got peripheral glimpses of what was obviously a breathtaking sight. But it wasn't until I got to the top that I dared take my eyes off the steps and rock-strewn path. There was the remains of an old stone and concrete foundation on top of the hill, the agent was standing on the largest intact section of it smiling at me.
      "Come up here and look." He said and stuck out his hand to help me up. "That way first." He pointed toward the afternoon sun as I climbed up and regained my balance.
      "Oh." Was all I could say.

      "So what'cha think, Mr. Michels?" He asked me as he drove down the 'road' that was the Georgia entrance to the place.
      "The view would have sold it if nothing else did." I said. "Just that view to the west."
      The agent nodded as the he eased the car onto a gravel path that turned into a county road that later announced itself as 'Old Stage Road' on a weather-beaten sign.
      "This is the fastest way out. We'll follow this north to 156 in Tennessee, then back to Bridgeport that way."
      All I could do was nod. I had a vague idea of where I was going to spend the next year or so of my life, but beyond the basic layout of where was what, I was lost on the local roads.
      "So where are you from?"
      "It shows huh?" He glanced as me as he turned onto the highway. "I started out in Detroit and Chicago. Been moving south ever since I got out of high school. You?"
      "Born in Virginia and been working around there all my life until the last couple of years."
      "Casey's brother still lives somewhere around Lynchburg." He said hopefully.
      "'Fraid not. Alexandria, up by DC."
      "He'll say something about it anyway." He grinned and told me that Casey had sold the real estate office years ago, but still came into the office nearly every day. "It's all he knows."
      I looked out at the Tennessee River as the car sped into the sun setting on my first Monday on this job.

      The place was actually in Bryant, Alabama. Or at least the address said it was. But Bryant wasn't someplace my company's travel agent could find. She got me a great room in Chattanooga, but that was a long way from where I needed to be. I only stayed there one night while we made other arrangements. Then it turned out the commuting time from the base of Lookout Mountain two states away to the site would have been less than from Bridgeport in the same county where the property was located. When the old man said it was on the 'wrong side of the river', he meant it. I talked to the real estate office and they found me a house to rent in Bryant that was actually cheaper than what the motel was costing me in Bridgeport. They assured me the power would be on and told me where to go to pick up the key when I got to town tomorrow.
      My next order of business was to find someplace to work out of on the right side of the river, then I needed a vehicle that could handle the seat belt straining drive up the hill to the site without suffering serious damage. Both required authorization from the home office which required me to find my boss.

      "You're kidding." Mr. Salmon said when I explained the difficulties.
      "No sir."
      There was silence on his end of the phone for a minute. "Will five thousand get you moving on the project?"
      "Do you want me to lease or buy a four by four?"
      "Buy one. I'll approve that separately, it'll be the service truck for the center when it opens, so get something decent, but not brand new."
      "Yes sir. I know exactly what you're looking for, and I think I saw one at a lot not far from here." I didn't tell him that I could see the car lot from my motel room window and there were at least two good looking trucks sitting there with big orange stickers on them.
      "Good. And set up a field office at the site." He paused. I could almost hear him thinking. "I'll be down for a visit in a week or so."
      "There's not much of a cel signal out there either."
      "Good. Make sure there's a cot in the trailer."
      I had to laugh. It was well known that Mr. Salmon enjoyed being out of contact with the office and would sometimes go to extremes to arrange it.

      The next morning I bought a six passenger four wheel drive and drove the considerable distance around to Bryant to find someplace closer to the site to work from. The Community Center Bulletin Board turned out to be the second best place to find information. The first best place was the Super Market. I had gone in just looking for a cold drink. I came out with two good leads on an office, a prospect for a trailer for the site, and an invitation to a church dinner Saturday.
      "Ya'lls not from around here. You just passin' thru?" The lady at the register asked me.
      "I'll be working around here for awhile ma'am." I said to her as she rang up my drink and pretzels.
      "Oh?" She stopped working the cash register and looked at me.
      "I work for the man that bought that property up off 73." I gestured to what I hoped was the North East.
      "Oh. On Porter Bluff." She said with a smile. "Why that's nice. Ya'll gonna be 'round here long?"
      "Most likely." I said trying to not sound too 'uppity' as my grandmother would put it. "I need to rent an office space and find some contractors for the work."
      "Oh. In that case you need to go down to the Home Center and talk to Cousin Marvin. Course, he's not my real cousin that I know of, but that's what we all call him."
      "He has office space?"
      "Oh no. He contracts out labor. Ya'll need to talk to him for workers."
      "Yes ma'am. Thank you." I wrote 'Cousin Marvin, home center' on my notepad. "Where would be a good place to go for a small office? Then I'll need a trailer for the site office."
      "Oh, you can talk to Marvin about a trailer too. They's got all that sort of stuff there. Or he can get it."
      I wrote it down.
      "But for your in town office. There's a building up the road. Half of it is a beauty shop, the other half's open. It used to be an insurance place that did taxes in the spring."
      I wrote down names and places and directions and in the end accepted her invitation to dinner at her church that weekend.
      By the end of my first day actually on the ground in Bryant I had more accomplished than a team of us had on a couple of the other jobs.
      Not only did the empty office come with furniture and utilities, Mrs. Krendel who used to be the receptionist for the insurance office happened to have heard that somebody was looking into renting the place and stopped by, so then I had a secretary to handle that side of things without even thinking about it. I called Mr. Salmon, he talked to her, and she was on the payroll, just like that.
      The owner was very happy to have the place rented, even for the short term lease he had agreed to. I had three sets of keys to the office, an emergency number in case the heater went out, and a promise he'd take the insurance company name off the window the next morning.
      "You'll need an Alabama business license and tax number Mr. Michels. Those things." Mrs. Krendel said.
      I told her again to call me Chet then answered her question. "Mr. Salmon already has them lined up. The company has an office in Mobile, they're arranging it from there. For the time being I'm operating under theirs as a branch office."
      She nodded and asked me where we would start as I carried in a box of company paperwork and forms. "And I'm Carol." She said and we shook hands.
      Later I told her I'd like to go see my rental house and see what it needed before I could stay there tonight.
      She wasn't going to be happy until she went with me to see the place and see if the Boone's had left the house a mess when they had been all but evicted.
      I got in the truck and followed her through town out on 90 toward Georgia. The house was one of a group of identical houses on a dead end road. As we walked up to the place she told me about how they had been built during the TVA years and were still owned by some remnant organization of the project.
      Inside it wasn't in the best of repair, but it wasn't overly dirty and didn't stink. The furniture that had been left was in fairly rough shape but useable for my purposes, and I promised myself that right after dinner I'd go buy a new bed and carry the old one out to the street and add it to a small collection of garbage already there.
      It was small, but it would serve. And that's exactly what I told her.
      She nodded and smiled. Then asked me what I was going to do for dinner.
      "I was going back to that diner then to the home center and get a new bed."
      "We'll stop by there on the way to my house and pick it up. You simply must come home to dinner with me and tell my husband all about your project."
      I learned long ago not to argue with women unless absolutely necessary.

      Mr. Krendel was older than I had expected by looking at Mrs. Krendel. But the gentleman, and there was no other word for him, was a wealth of local knowledge, and claimed to have a deer stand within sight of the old place on the ridge. Their whole family was there for dinner and it turned into a lively and entertaining evening.
      We ate a very good home cooked meal. Then the Krendel's and their daughter Angela, and their son-in-law drove out to the house with me. The men, including me, carried the old bed out and the new one in, while the women cleaned the place like a whirlwind.
      Then Walt, Angela's husband, volunteered to be my site supervisor for the demolition and site work before construction began.
      "He's a good one Mr. Michels. I don't have any idea why the mill laid off so many good men."
      "Me either, sir. It just happens sometimes." I turned toward Walt, "You know what we'll need and what has to be done to meet code right?"
      He nodded. "Yes sir. I worked construction before I got on at the mill. I know what needs done. And if I don't he does." He nodded toward Mr. Krendel.
      "And meeting code around here won't be real difficult. As long as it's on the up and up the inspector'll go easy on ya'll."
      "We're on the up and up. I wouldn't work for them if they weren't. And besides. My boss will be down before long to check up on me."
      We talked about it some more and I told Walt I'd pick him up at their house across the street from the Krendel's first thing in the morning. We'd make our plans from there.

      My first night in Bryant was spent trying to get used to sleeping in the absolute quiet of the house. Finally I went downstairs and found a radio station on the nearly antique console radio and record player then went back up and fell asleep to a ball game and car dealer ads from Chattanooga.
      The one thing I had forgotten to get was basic pots and pans and other kitchen things. So I had to go out to breakfast. I called Walt's number and asked him if he was in the mood for breakfast at the diner. He said sure and that he'd meet me there because he was going to pick up another guy he thought would be good on the project.
      I told him sure and that I'd be buying breakfast so his friend didn't have to worry about that. Then I got my clipboard ready and made sure I had my big tape measure with me and walked out to the truck.

      One of the things we had been told and I was beginning to believe had actually been understated was the job situation in this area. The profile we had said a couple of the local industries had been laying off and that a lot of the men around here were working as casual labor or commuting in van pools to Huntsville or Chattanooga, or even further for work. Mr. Salmon had even used that as the selling point to the rest of the board of directors.
      Jackson County and even the State of Alabama were all for our development in the area, and they had streamlined much of the paperwork and given the company some incentives to build the retreat. The home office grapevine had it that property taxes had been waived for the first year and some of the other fees had either been forgiven or reduced. I wasn't privy to all of that sort of information, but as the field rep, I was given a pretty good feel for how things had been arranged. The scuttlebutt fountain even had it that a local US Senator had promised to hold a series of seminars and think-tank sessions at the retreat once it was finished. Things like that always greased the wheels of progress nicely.
      One of the things I liked about the company was that once a decision was made, they moved forward with as much directness as they could. True, it took them over a year of research and evaluation to find someplace within driving distance of several major Southern cities that wasn't out of the question for parties from DC, New Orleans or even Houston and others given local air facilities. But once the Board had signed off on it, I was on my way inside of two weeks with boxes of plans and rolls of blueprints.
      Mr. Salmon was expecting to have most of the board down here in a couple of months for the formal construction groundbreaking. So I was delighted with the progress so far. On my last job, we put on a show for the groundbreaking, the site work hadn't been completed and some of the permits were still held up for review. Actual construction hadn't begun for several weeks after the ceremony. The way this job was going, I expected the ceremony to be held with a concrete truck waiting on a limo to get out of its way.

      Walt and Mr. Krendel were sitting on the tailgate of a pickup in front of the diner when I got there.
      Mr. Krendel shook my hand and said his wife had been getting ready for work when he had left. "She was as happy as a buck in velvet in an apple orchard." He said. "She said she'd get the office ready to go so when your Mr. Salmon comes down he'll be rightly impressed."
      I just smiled and nodded.
      "Here comes Pauly." Walt said nodding toward a battered station wagon that sputtered and smoked after he turned off the engine.
      Pauly was an enormous man with huge well worn hands and half a smile permanently part of his face. Walt introduced me to him and the big man shook my hand enthusiastically.
      "Oh thank you sir for hiring me on. I need work real bad sir."
      "If it works out we'll keep you on once the place opens. We'll need a good staff up there." I could tell by looking at him he would probably be the most reliable worker on the crew.
      "Oh yes sir. I'll make sure it works out real good for ya'll."
      "Let's go get some breakfast and I'll start explaining what we're doing." I said to them.
      After we ordered breakfast I put my clipboard in the middle of the table with its rough diagrams and sketches. First there was the site as rendered from an aerial photograph. It showed the existing structure, such as it was, some fence lines, and a few other features.
      "Yessir, and there's another shed down the hill this way." Walt said pointing to a rendition of a thick stand of trees.
      "I thought I saw that the other day. But I wasn't sure what it was."
      "It ain't much." Mr. Krendel said. "And there used to be a root cellar or something like that along in here someplace. But I don't remember exactly where." He ran his finger along what I remembered as a stone retaining wall that had seen better days.
      "When's the last time somebody lived up there?" I asked as the waitress refilled our coffees.
      "I don't know." Walt said. He looked at his father-in-law.
      "Not since 'fore I was a kid. We used to camp up there once in awhile. The house that was on top the hill had burned down before we ever went up there."
      I turned the page and showed them the site plan for what we wanted to do with it.
      "The conference center will be on top of the hill where the house was so it'll have the best view. Down here will be the housing building and the main office and support services building. The only thing we were worried about is parking. We won't need a lot, but it has to be adequate."
      "Ya'll'll need a new road up the hill." Walt said looking at the larger map of the site.
      "That's being worked on. Two lanes from route 73 to the complex." I dug through the clipboard until I found the road plan.
      "That's a lot of road building." Pauly said looking at it.
      "And a bridge." I nodded. "We've already cleared most of the permits for it. They should start construction on it before to long. The surveyors have been through there once already. We'll use the existing path to stay out of their way for the time being."
      The men looked at the plans and talked about how it was going to be a lot of work.
      Then the food arrived.

      We took the two trucks to the site. But first there was a stop at the office where Mrs. Krendel filled out the paperwork on the two new hires.
      In the office I called Mr. Salmon and told him I had a good start to my crew and they were even planning on clearing some brush and staking out some of the features today.
      He was extremely excited about it and said that he had been in contact with the contractor from Huntsville that was going to put in the road and do other heavy construction before the builders could start.
      Then he asked me a question I couldn't answer. "I think we could save some time if your crew did most of that brushwork and stuff itself. How're the equipment rental fees running down there?"
      I repeated the question to the office and Mr. Krendel answered it. So I let him talk to Mr. Salmon.
      "Fill out one of those for him." I whispered to his wife and tapped a new hire folder while they talked and the talk turned from what might be done to what they were going to do.
      Carol smiled and nodded and put his name and numbers on a blank form.
      "Thank you sir. I'll do my best." Mr. Krendel said to the phone, then he turned to me. "He'd like to speak to you sir." Then he looked over at Pauly. "We need to go get some equipment."
      "Yes sir?" I said into the phone as I half listened to them discuss a skip loader.
      "Sounds like you've got a couple of good men there. Keep'em."
      "Yes sir." I glanced over at one of them and voiced a thought I'd been toying with. "I intend to keep Mr. Krendel on as Assistant GM once the place opens." He frowned as I talked into the phone. "At least I'll talk him into staying on for maybe the first year until it's up and running smoothly." He nodded. "And I think he'll accept."

      After I got off the phone they had divided themselves up into two teams and somebody named Jimbo was bringing an old trailer up to the site to use as a field office for awhile.
      "We can go rent the equipment and let them get up there and make a spot for the trailer." Mr. Krendel said.
      I agreed and we were off.

      Cousin Marvin had heard about me and my plans and already had a good idea of what we'd need. I filled out a pile of forms while Mr. Krendel evaluated everything from chainsaws to wheel barrows.
      "We're gonna buy some of this stuff outright." I said pointing to some of the smaller tools. But I'll want to lease that and some of the other things for at least a month." I nodded toward the skid steer. "It's just easier to have it when we need it than to come get it."
      The home center man agreed.
      We loaded my truck with all the tools it'd hold, and then helped Marvin get the center's truck and trailer ready to go. Then we were off for the site.
      Finally I felt like we had actually started on the project.

2. Digging

      Walt and Pauly had already about half cleared where the site trailer would go. They were grateful for the break, and the ice chest full of soft drinks we had put in the back seat of my truck as well.
      Mr. Krendel and I walked the perimeter of the clearing and compared the plans to what the ground actually looked like.
      When the truck from the home center arrived we all pitched in unloading it. Walt proved something of a master of the skid steer and hauled things to a central location. Then he set to clearing the rest of the place for the trailer by back-dragging the bucket across the area.
      We heard Jimbo's tractor before we saw him.
      I walked over to the Georgia side of the hill and looked down to see a nearly antique tractor lurching up the hill dragging something that looked like an old aluminum skinned camping trailer.
      They were exactly that.
      But they both reached the top of the hill in one piece.
      Jimbo drove the tractor across the clearing and parked it right where Walt wanted it. Pauly unhooked the trailer and leveled it. Jimbo drove the tractor around and parked it next to the skid steer. Then he climbed down and walked over to us.
      "Walt say'd you needed me, the tractor, and the house trailer." Jimbo said sticking out his hand.
      "Yes sir. All three of you are hired." I shook it and thanked him for joining us.
      "Mister Michels. If ya'll's really paying what Mr. Krendel said you is, yer the best thing to happen to this county in a hound's age."
      "Yes sir. But you'll earn every dime of it." I was hoping the heavily built man with the reddish brown face wouldn't cry.
      "I plan to." He looked around. "Where do you want me to start?"
      Mr. Krendel established who was in charge of what right then and there. "Walt. Didn't you want the old drive cleared to the house?" He pointed to where the drive used to be.
      "Yes sir." Walt took over from there. "Jimbo, run through there with the tractor and I'll widen it with the end loader. Pauly…"
      "I'll clear the trees out of the stairs." He said and picked up a chainsaw and walked toward where the old steps were.
      "That'll work." He nodded to the big man.
      Mr. Krendel smiled at me. "Pauly will do the work of three men, but usually in his own way."
      "As long as he works." I said.
      "That he will sir. That he will."
      We watched the others set to, then Mr. Krendel opened up the trailer and looked inside while Walt got the camper's generator started. "It's cleaner than I expected. But Jimbo wanted to make a good impression, he needs the job too."
      I nodded. "We're going to need a lot more guys. And most of them will have to be day labor. I asked Mr. Marvin how many he could get us tomorrow." The camper was bigger than it looked, and had been well used, but it wasn't in bad shape at all.
      "How many did he say?"
      "He asked me how many I wanted." I looked in the cabinet over the sink. "I wasn't sure what to tell him. I said we'd stop by tonight and let him know."
      "Let's go get the plans out of the truck."
      "And set up the coffee pot." Mr. Krendel grinned and patted the camp stove with a new propane bottle sitting next to it.
      "Yes sir."

      I left Mr. Krendel pouring over the more detailed site plans and went out to see how things were going. Then I spied an unused chainsaw. I got a new pair of gloves out of the truck and gave the machine a quick once over, filled the gas tank and checked its chain oil. And I was off. I picked the hedge row along where the new road would come into the site and started cutting.
      An hour later I was putting the third tank of gas in it.
      "I'm sorry sir. But the surveyors are here again." Mr. Krendel said to me.
      "OK." I said reluctantly taking off the gloves.

      The morning was well over when Mr. Krendel and I ran into town to bring back lunch.
      It was on the way back in that I decided it would be worthwhile to pay somebody to bring the noon meal out to us. I made the note in my notebook about finding out what a reasonable charge per man per day would be, plus a reasonable delivery fee to tote the meals halfway up a mountain on a forgotten road.
      Which also meant we had to figure out how many men would be out there tomorrow.
      We discussed the crew while I drove cautiously up the trail.
      "So… I guess that makes ten more total?" I surmised.
      "Yes sir…."
      "So we should call for fifteen?"
      "You forget how tough things are down here. If you ask Cousin Marvin for twelve men, you'll get eleven as sure as the sun'll come up."
      "Twelve it is."
      Pauly seemed the happiest with his lunch. Jimbo couldn't believe I was providing a meal at no charge. Walt told them both that I was running a first class operation, then he asked me if we had brought ketchup.
      "Tomorrow." I said with a grin.

      After lunch we worked solid until after four. I took a turn on the skid steer showing some of the guys that yes I did know which lever made it go. As I drove it to the garbage pile with a bucket full of brush and scrap lumber I got a good look at the site. We were making good progress.
      I realized it was starting to get late when Mr. Krendel walked up to me as we were cutting down a big tree and had me follow him around the trailer where he didn't have to shout. He asked me what time we'd be knocking off. I glanced at my watch and said that we'd call it off at five, but we should probably spend the next half hour putting stuff up and securing the site.
      "You think we'll need a night watchman?" I asked Mr. Krendel.
      "Maybe down the road it wouldn't hurt. But not tonight."
      "We'll set that up too." I said patting my notebook in my pocket.
      It only took a few minutes to get the bulk of the tools that might be damaged by moisture into the camper. Then when we were discussing who was riding back to town with who Jimbo said he'd stay tonight and watch the site.
      "Besides." He said. "That one tree stump is bothering me. I want another crack at yanking it out."
      I asked him what he'd eat for supper. He said there was some stuff in the camper and that he'd be all right for tonight. He'd go back into town tomorrow.
      I felt better with him there than I would have with the site just open to the world.
      The rest of us got up on the trucks and headed back to town.
      Mr. Krendel and I stopped at the home center and saw Cousin Marvin and agreed to twelve men for the rest of the week and two 'helpers' who would earn minimum wage for being 'site gophers'. Then we went to the office.
      Mrs. Krendel had spent the day dealing with a pile of paperwork from the home office. She was a quick student and had my cheat sheet of key people and contact numbers for them at the home office. She'd secured a local bank account and had contacted the Alabama tax people and confirmed the information supplied by the office in Mobile.
      "Connie down there is really helpful." She said when I signed some forms for her to send into Montgomery.
      "Connie in Mobile?"
      "Yes sir. Mr. Chet. She knows all about the company and everything. She's even signed me up for the secretary's newsletter."
      "Oh no." I said with an almost real sense of dread in my voice. The secretary's newsletter was a well known source of company gossip, insider information, office tips, and even recipes. It was also the chief source of 'future music', informed, or somewhat informed, predictions about upcoming events and company news.
      It was through the secretary's newsletter that I first heard that the company was looking for a new site in the southeast. Little did I know that two years after I saw that note that I would find myself in Bryant, Alabama turning an abandoned Civil War era homestead into a state of the art executive meeting center and retreat.
      But even after only two days I had to admit that Mrs. Krendel was already the one really running the operation's business side.
      Mrs. Krendel even talked the diner into delivering twenty lunches to the site every day for five dollars a man and a fairly solid delivery charge. Her husband asked her what tomorrow's lunch would be.
      "Hot ham and cheese."

      The next day I met my crew in front of the office. There were twelve guys wearing well worn work clothes and two younger guys that looked like they should be spending the day at the high school instead of a construction site.
      One of the things I was conscious of was something the home office called 'genuine diversity'. We weren't supposed to operate under quotas or preferential hiring practices, but we were supposed to do it without being aware we were doing it. Which on my last couple of projects meant hours of paperwork and justifying every position right down to paying extra mileage in a couple of cases to bring in an insulation crew to meet the guidelines we were supposed to meet without any extraordinary effort. Just from looking out at the men waiting to climb into the various vehicles for the trip out to the site, we had our diverse crew without even trying.
      Mrs. Krendel had already gotten everybody's names and numbers and had them all sign everything that needed signed before I'd even got a good headcount.
      "Where's Dad Gilmore?" Mr. Krendel asked at one point.
      "Dad? Gilmore?" I repeated.
      "Somebody we need."
      "He was here, I think he was going to the Super Market before he went up to the site." Carol answered.
      "He's got the Uni?"
      She nodded with a big grin.
      "Uni?" I asked.
      "You'll see." Mr. Krendel looked around. "Everybody ready? We're burning daylight."
      I checked my watch. I had set it for Central Time but I was still on Eastern. It was just seven thirty local time. But in terms of construction crews, it was prime time for getting serious work done.
      We got up in the trucks and drove out to the site.
      I still held my breath whether I was driving, or like this morning with Mr. Krendel driving, when the truck made its way along the narrow gravel track between the creek and a steep part of the hill before we began our climb up. I was sure the road was actually too narrow for the truck. But, we made it again. With bushes scraping along the sides of the truck as it went, but we made it.

      When we rounded the thicket and cleared the small ridge I saw Pauly and a very old black man, there is no other description for him, standing next to the biggest and ugliest truck I'd ever seen.
      "There he is. That's Dad Gilmore."
      "He used to work for your real estate agent's old man, Mr. Casey." He said. I nodded at the name. "Dad's the elder at the Zion Church right across from where your house is. Some call him Pop, Pap… Pappy." He shrugged. "I've always called him Dad Gilmore."
      "I saw that place." The small white frame church looked every bit of two hundred years old. Dad Gilmore looked to be maybe half that. I ran over the names in my mind, I'd never used the word 'Pappy' in my life unless we were talking about World War Two flying aces. "Dad Gilmore sounds good. So why's he here? And what's That?"
      "That's the Uni. As for why he's here… you'll see."
      Dad Gilmore's truck was nearly twice the size of mine, it sat on huge tires, and looked like it could climb up here without a road. The name plate on the hood was battered and missing a couple of letters, but I could tell that at one time it had said Unimog.
      We all piled out and Walt started issuing orders and asking for volunteers to do various tasks.
      "Mr. Michels. Coffee's on. It'll be ready in 'bout half an hour sir," Dad Gilmore said to me. "I put the doe-nuts in the trailer. Figure the crew'll need a break in an hour or so."
      "Thank you sir. That's a great idea." I said to the old man.
      He smiled and nodded and walked slowly back to the trailer.
      "You just scored some major points." Mr. Krendel whispered to me.
      "I need all the points I can get." I patted my clipboard. "Let's get to work."
      We walked the 'new' road to the summit. And appraised the hole where Pauly had ripped the stump out of the ground and created a sizable hole in the side of the hill. There was only about a foot of topsoil with nearly solid rock underneath. But the stump had roots that spread out a dozen feet in every direction and into cracks in the rock. But Pauly had gotten it out.
      At the summit several men and the skid steer were working to demolish what was left of the old house. We were going to keep the stones from the old structure to use in the new building so they were being very careful with the sledgehammers and pry bars. The good news was that the old mortar was so brittle it just flaked off the stone. The bad news was, some of the rocks were huge, and a few appeared to still be part of the mountain.
      We talked to Pauly about what it would take to level an area suitable for the new building and the best way to proceed with starting to dig the footings.
      Then we walked down to where the 'new' road had been surveyed in. It took the scenic route from the highway to the site using a narrow and mostly forgotten lane for part of the way, but in doing so it missed the more interesting features of the existing roads. Namely the hair's clearance near the creek and the roller coaster climb up the hill on the Alabama side, or the 'dodge and swerve' ride down the Georgia side trying to avoid boulders and bushes.
      By the time we had walked back to the trailer Dad Gilmore was waiting for us with the news that the coffee was ready.
      He had set up a table on saw horses with two big steel coffeepots and several boxes of donuts. There were even a couple of types of creamer packs and sweeteners.
      "Looks good, thank you sir. Let's call the guys." I said.
      "I'll take care of that Mr. Michels." He walked over to his truck and climbed up on a step, then he leaned in the window. In a second a thunderous air horn blasted the countryside and left our ears ringing for some time afterward. Dad Gilmore waved his hat enthusiastically at the crew on the summit until he got their attention, then he waved for them to come down.
      While they ate the donuts and drank coffee I ran over a few things with Mr. Krendel and Walt. We had already made good progress, but I was worried that we might get a little complacent and let things slow down. We took cups of coffee that Dad Gilmore brought to us and looked at the site map.
      "Mind a suggestion Mr. Michels?"
      "No sir. Please, make all the suggestions you can."
      "I know ya'll needs to get that ol' foundation out of there, but then I thinks ya should clear all this out downa here," He said with a wide gesture toward the brush and decrepit buildings hiding in the overgrowth. "That'll give ya more room fer stagin' yer construction of the big buildin'."
      "Good point. Thank you sir." I looked at Mr. Krendel. "Once they get the stones out of the way we'll do that. OK? Walt?" I grinned. "In fact, I'll take a small crew and get started on that now."
      Walt nodded and looked at the plans. "When's your architect and the others coming in?"
      "Next week. I wanted to have the bulk of the site work almost done."
      "I thinks you'll make it Mr. Michels. These is good men."
      "Yes they are Mr. Gilmore." I answered.
      "Oh please Mr. Michels. Call me Dad."
      "I'll work on that sir." I said.
      The crew had chewed their way through a good amount of the donuts and were talking about getting back to work. Walt and Mr. Krendel went over to them and explained what the plan was.
      I had to go into the trailer and check on some of the measurements for how far back we had to clear the brush beyond the construction area.
      Mr. Krendel came in and we went over the plot map section by section and worked out everything including where the bonfire would be to dispose of a lot of the brush.
      We went out with the tape and he started measuring and staking. I got a couple of the men and we set to connecting his stakes with cleared ground. Everything inside the path would be taken down to dirt.
      The next thing we knew Dad Gilmore was bringing us two lunches and some drinks and telling the men where to get theirs.
      "Even bosses get lunch breaks Mr. Michels, Mr. Krendel." The old man said when I stopped my brush cutter.
      I looked across the site. The men were gathered around sitting on tool boxes or tailgates eating. "Sometimes I wonder." I said. "Thank you sir."
      We ate quickly while sitting on a log then took our drinks and went to see how the rest of it was going.
      Walt and Pauly weren't going to be content until they walked us up the hill to see the where the stones used to be.
      There were a couple of really big rocks still in place that would need a really big machine to move, but the rest of the area had been mostly cleared. There was only an hour or so of work left to finish it up. And even two good sized trees that had been in the way were gone. Not cut down and laying in a pile, they were gone.
      It took us a minute to find out where they'd gone. Walt refused to say and Pauly just grinned until both of us pressed them for the details. Then Pauly pointed over the side of the steepest side of the hill.
      The trees were down there, a good fifty feet below us.
      "OK. I guess." I said.

      The crew hit the last of the big rocks with renewed energy. I even got to help with the heavy pry bars and chains as the two tractors and Dad Gilmore's truck pulled what could only be called a boulder out of the foundation hole and roll it to a flat area that was to become the fountain. The huge round rock was so big that once they got the chains off it, it looked like it had been there since the Flood.
      "That was fun." I said.
      "Yes it was." Dad Gilmore grinned broadly showing his 'new teeth' from ear to ear.
      "Thanks for the help Dad." Several of them said to the old man.
      The old man climbed back into his rig and rumbled down the hill.
      There were two rocks left in the foundation area. One of them looked like it was part of the backbone of the mountain.
      "They'll blast those to pieces and haul them out." Walt said nodding to the huge stones. "It was all we could do to move that." He jerked his head to the giant reddish stone now dominating one end of the top of the hill.
      Pauly agreed. "I 'bout blew my 'droic pump on that. Ain't doin' no more."
      "No. Leave them for the next crew."
      We saw Dad Gilmore's truck coming back up the hill. He turned it around and leaned out the window. "Mr. Michel's yer road cap'n is here."
      "Thanks Dad." I said with a nod.
      The old man smiled. "Hop up and I'll give ya'll a ride down."
      Getting into the Unimog was an adventure in and of itself. Watching the old man drive it when the steering wheel was bigger than he was may have been another.
      The rest of my day was spent viewing and approving every detail of the road building plans and authorizing their use of explosives on part of it. Now I was liable for everything up to and including damage caused by 'unintended seismic effects' of their blasting.
      "Speaking of blasting. Can you do some clearing work for us?"
      "It'll cost ya extra." The man said.
      "We can give you an estimate right now if you want." The woman added.
      I agreed and we walked up the hill.
      Walt showed them the rocks and they agreed that blasting would be needed. They gave me a 'guessitmate' and I agreed to it without hesitation. They promised us a nice show in the morning.

      The crew continued clearing the brush and old buildings and building the bonfire for tomorrow's burning. One of the old buildings that looked like a chicken coop wasn't taking kindly to being demolished.
      We had hauled all manner of junk out of it, including parts that Dad Gilmore said were for a still. Then they began hitting it with sledge hammers. And it just sat there.
      Pauly fired up the big tractor and aimed the bucket at the closest corner. There was a solid crunching sound, and then the front wheels of the tractor were off the ground.
      "They don't build them like that no more." Mr. Krendel said.
      I agreed. I had burned up a new saw chain trying to cut through a rough cut beam that turned out to be solid walnut that had been there holding up the roof for a hundred years or more.
      It took some major violence and a lot of careful cutting with chainsaws through boards which were mostly rough cut trees that measured about twelve by twelve and up to eight feet long, pinned together with hardwood dowels, but the building was down. We put the good lumber out of in under a tarp for the architect to incorporate into the new structures, the rest went into the pile for the fire.
      The rest of the crew left and I was back to working with the road people. We walked the entire route of the new road and much of the old road that ended just past where the trees had been pushed over. We even spent quite a bit of time looking at the creek and deciding whether or not to widen and deepen part of it near the new bridge to make a 'water feature' for the approach.
      Being more experienced with New England and other more developed areas I was worried about permits.
      "Ahhh. No problem. The coun'y'' let us do jest abou' anyting." The man said.
      "Within reason." The woman answered. "We'll call it 'environmental enhancement' and they'll love it."
      "Will you stock it with fish?" Mr. Krendel asked as he walked over to us.
      "Aye, sure." The man said.
      "They'll love it." Mr. Krendel agreed.

      Back at the trailer I compared the estimates for everything from blasting to the new lake and that part was still under budget.
      "So far so good." I said to Mr. Krendel as Pauly got a gym bag out of his truck. He and Jimbo had decided to stay on as the night watchmen for the extra money and they alternated nights at the site. Something that made me happier than having to hire a firm to do it. "The main road is all set to start rolling, then it'll be easier to get in and out of here."
      "That's good Mr. Michels." Pauly said. He looked around at the clearing. There was still a lot of site work to do. "We'll give it a good kick in the morning."
      "In the morning they're gonna blast those rocks." I nodded up the hill.
      "Yeah." He smiled wickedly.
      "Have a good night Pauly." Mr. Krendel waved and got into the truck.
      "You too. Good night sir."

      As we bounced down the hill I told Mr. Krendel to stop and rolled down my window. You could hear the tractor running. "You wanna go see what he's doing?"
      "Yes sir." He drove down to a level spot and asked if I wanted to walk back up.
      We got out and hiked back up the hill. From the tree line we could see Pauly still working on the clearing. He was shoving a tangle of vines and small trees toward the staging pile next to the burning pile. Then he backed the tractor up and drove to the far side and began uprooting some more bushes.
      "He'll probably work like that until dark."
      "I heard Jimbo did it last night." Mr. Krendel said. "They're hard workers."
      "That and it's boring out here by yourself."
      "Good. Maybe I'll take a turn over the weekend." He grinned.
      I laughed and we walked back to the truck.

      Mrs. Krendel was waiting at the office for us. I had paperwork to sign, calls to make, and even an application for housekeeper for both my rental house and the office to evaluate.
      "She's real good Mr. Chet." Mrs. Krendel said with a smile. "And she's about your age."
      "And pretty." Mr. Krendel said. Then he looked at his wife. "Or so I hear."
      "She's very pretty."
      "Single?" I said looking at the references for one Alice Lasatter. The Krendels were listed as her second reference. The pastor of one of the other churches was listed first. Her pervious employment had included the Super Market and the Home Center.
      "She is now."
      "Oh." I said. "I could use somebody to keep the place up. Mr. Salmon said he'd stay with me when he comes down since I do have the extra room."
      "She'd be perfect." Mrs. Krendel said.
      I looked over at her husband. "Is she trying to set me up with a maid or a girlfriend?"
      He pursed his lips for a second. "I'd bet that one at about fifty-fifty."
      I nodded to him. "When can she start?"
      "About noon."
      "I mean, she started about noon, today. I told her if you didn't go for it I'd pay her for today. She's still out to the house last I heard."
      "Just who's running this office anyway?" Mr. Krendel laughed.
      I pointed to his wife and Mr. Krendel laughed as I walked out. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew she was calling the housekeeper to warn her I was on my way home.

      I knew she had a child from the paperwork. But I wasn't prepared to meet him before I met her. Alice's son was playing on the back porch of the house when I drove up. He was about eight and had set up an army of action figures of all kinds who were attacking a fort made up of some leftover firewood being defended by other figures. It looked like a good battle.
      "Hiya sir." He said to me with wide eyes.
      "Hi." I said and looked over at the war. "If I was up there I'd move those guys over there so they could get the enemy in a crossfire." I pointed to the pile of wood in the corner.
      "Hey. Yeah. Thank you sir." He crawled across the porch and moved some storm troopers to better cover the approaching enemy with their fantastic weapons.
      I went inside.

      Something smelled very good. The kitchen was spotless. I heard the washing machine running. I put my clipboard down on the table and walked into the living room just in time to almost run into a tall dark haired woman who was carrying a stack of sheets.
      "Oh. Mr. Michels." She exclaimed.
      "Miss Lasatter."
      "Please. My name is Alice."
      "Chet." I said and we shook hands around the sheets.
      "Robby was supposed to let me know when you pulled in."
      "I've already met him. He seems like a nice kid."
      "Thank you. He is." She smiled. "I was washing up the sheets in the spare bedroom for your boss when he comes down. Carol said he was planning on being here next week."
      I nodded. "He likes to visit new sites several times during construction."
      She smiled and said she needed to get the sheets in the wash.
      All of the sudden Robby burst into the kitchen still holding a warrior in a space suit. "Oh." He said when he realized I'd already met his mother without warning. "Oh mama, did he hire us?"
      "Us?" I said then realized that wasn't a bad idea. "Yes sir. I need your mom to keep house for me and Mr. Salmon when he's here. And I'll need you to keep up the yard after school and pick up sticks and take the trash out and things like that too. I'll make sure you both get paid well."
      "And at the office too sir?"
      "Yes indeed sir. The parking lot will have to be looked after."
      "All right!" He almost shouted. "I've got a job!"
      I looked at his mom. "If that's all right with you ma'am."
      "Yes sir. Thank you Mr. Michels."
      She smiled.
      I talked her into staying for dinner since they'd stayed late for my sake and there was more food there than I'd eat in three days. After dinner I had to make her leave the dishes for me to wash and take Robby home.
      Standing over the sink washing up I had a lot to think about and plenty of time to do it.
      And one other thing kept coming back to me.
      Mrs. Krendel had been right. Alice was very pretty.

      The next morning I got a call as I was getting ready to head out. A delivery man wanted to drop off the computers and things for the office and nobody was there.
      I checked my watch. It wasn't even seven O'clock yet. I mentioned that.
      "Oh. Sorry sir. I forgot about that. I'm on Georgia time."
      "I can be there in five minutes."
      "I'll wait. Thank you sir."
      We unloaded an entire office from the truck. Computers, a big copier, cables, boxes of forms, desks, chairs, lights, a white board that would print documents, even a programmable sign to put in the window. I signed off on the form just as Mrs. Krendel drove up.
      "They was wondering where you were." She said getting out of the car. "Walt took half the crew up to the site already."
      "We had an early delivery."
      "I see that. They're waiting at the diner. I can handle this."
      I looked around. "Yes ma'am."
      "What did you think of Alice?"
      "She did a great job on the house. I hired her and Robby too."
      "You know what I mean." She looked at me funny.
      I didn't have a clue.
      "What did you think of her?"
      "Oh." Light dawned. "She's a nice lady." I said. She didn't look satisfied. "And she's just as pretty as you said."
      She nodded with a big smile and took the packing list from me.

      I drove to the diner and picked up the rest of the crew. Mr. Krendel even had my breakfast in a bag ready to go.
      The ride up to the site was punctuated with one of the guys telling a very funny story about his wife and their cat and the dishwasher in their trailer last night. In the end there was no permanent damage done to either the animal or the appliance and the park's maintenance man said the fur should rinse through and be caught in the filter basket.
      "But this mornin' when I opened it up to get a cup the cat done took off like a shot and hid under the dresser."
      All I could do was nod and chuckle.
      We could smell the fire before we could see the smoke in the trees. They had started burning off the brush and scrap wood. I was worried that something would get away and we'd start a brushfire that'd make the national news. But they had the matter well under control with large buckets of water sitting around the fire and a couple of hand pumped extinguishers nearby.
      I had expected the road crew to be there and already doing their thing, but there was no sign of them. Walt said one of their guys had been up to make sure we were ready and said they'd be back to do the blasting at the foundation site.
      Dad Gilmore was working on the coffee and donuts and the men were working on clearing more brush and minding the burning.
      Mr. Krendel and I set to measuring out where the parking lot would end and the living quarters would begin. Then I jumped up on the tractor while the others were on coffee break and graded in the marked area inside the stakes leaving a low mound to indicate where the curbs should be.
      "Not bad at all Mr. Michels." One of the men called to me as I passed them back dragging some gravel into a passable road. I waved and smiled and continued up the hill to the upper site.

      My first impression of the summit of the hill was that it was barely big enough for what we wanted to do. Yes, we could get the 'hotel' and its rooms with a view and the support buildings, as well as the parking lot onto the lower plateau, but it'd be a little crowded. But now as the overgrowth receded and we staked things out and even outlined some features with string between stakes, I was starting to wonder if maybe we couldn't add a tennis court or something.
      "I don't know." I said to Mr. Krendel. "It still don't look like six acres."
      "Well. We got what? Three and a piece down here, maybe almost four. Maybe one on top." He tapped the map on my clipboard.
      "A really oddly shaped one if it's that."
      "And then bits and pieces here and there. I'd bet it'd work out to exactly…" He glanced at the papers, "Five point eight five acres of level building site."
      "That's something else I'm wondering about. They've got that area above the wall marked as level." I pointed across the site to where weeds and bushes growing above and below the retaining wall waited to be cleared and burned. The ground rose sharply just behind the wall making it appear the wall continued well up the hill in places where outcroppings of rock had been cut back.
      "We'll ask'em about that." Mr. Krendel grinned. "If that's level I'm a Yankee."
      Since I had mentioned it, I decided I would be the one to start clearing the area around the wall. I found 'my' chainsaw and started taking out brush. And I found out that a lot of this stuff had thorns.
      Mr. Krendel let me go and took the clipboard over to talk to Pauly about something.

3. Rock and Roll

      Later the blasting crew arrived and set to work. They were suitably impressed that our crew had moved the large round boulder. Then they got to drilling into the bigger rocks and doing all sorts of calculations that looked to me like they were sending a rocket to the moon.
      "How small of pieces do you want it in?" One of the engineers asked us.
      "Just small enough that we can move them out of the way." I said. Walt nodded.
      "You got it." The engineer said with confidence.
      The show was set for just after lunch. Everybody gathered by the trailer with anticipation. The engineer did a safety sweep then spent some time talking on her radio. Finally one of her assistants set off a siren, and then there was a countdown.
      I expected one big 'bang'. But instead there were a series of explosions like when they implode a hotel that we could feel through our boots. And where I expected a lot of dust and smoke only a thin light blue haze appeared around the top of the hill that blew away with the breeze. The one thing I did expect and got was a shower of little bitty chunks of rock. We got that right after the second explosion and then a few more after a one of the later ones. For that reason we covered the windows of the trailer with plywood and cardboard and parked the trucks further down the hill.
      Several of the men cheered and swatted at the falling pebbles.
      Then there was another long wait while the engineers checked to make sure the area was clear of unexploded charges. We finally got to go up the hill and see the results an hour after the event.
      The largest rock was in pieces all over the foundation hole. However, about half of the other rock was still sitting where it had been since Creation.
      "I don't believe it." The engineer said. "I really don't believe it."
      All of the charges had detonated, and indeed, some of the rock was gone, but all that had happened were that small sections around the part that was still there had been blown away while the bulk of it remained.
      "We'll do it again. No charge to you. And this time I guarantee it'll be gone." She said with a firm jaw and a glare to her eyes that made me glad I wasn't a rock.
      We all went back to work doing what we had been doing while the blasting crew drilled more holes and packed them with explosive.
      All of the men wanted to stay and see the second shot at the rock. So just before sundown we all gathered once again and listened to the siren and the countdown.
      I don't know if the blast would have registered on anybody's seismograph, but it shook the ground twice as much as the first round, and seemed to be twice as loud as well.
      It was almost dark when we got to go up the hill to see what was left of the rock.
      Now the solid chunk of the mountain that had resisted the first attempt was gone. Instead there was a hole full of gravel and pieces of the dark red rock scattered halfway to Atlanta.
      "She said she'd get it." Walt said. "She did."
      My first full week on the job had really ended with a bang. Or rather, several large booms.

      We all walked down the hill to the trucks leaving Jimbo to spend the first part of the weekend. Others would spell him now and then. I was even planning on going up sometime to check on the site.
      I had to go to the office to deal with some high priority paperwork after I dropped off the guys.
      Mrs. Krendel had everything organized and my desk set up. "I tried to put everything where they'd make the most sense." She said.
      "So I'll never find anything." I said looking at it.
      "Sure you will." She ran through where what was and how the drawers were arranged.
      Then she showed me pile of routine work that had been gathering since we had started that I had been putting off because we didn't have the proper office equipment or facilities to file and store the finished documents.
      "I guess now I have to do it." I sighed.
      But now I was faced with the dilemma that had been coming since the beginning. I had warned both Krendels that I didn't like having to make the decision and would probably have to be pushed into making it- When to work out at the site, and when to work in the office.
      "I started out in the field. My first job with the company was cutting grass at a complex. I enjoy being out with the work. At our last project I spent two days finishing sidewalks with a trowel when one of the other guys was out sick."
      "I can get you a trowel." Mr. Krendel said.
      "But he has responsibilities in the office as project manager."
      "I know."
      I nodded to Mrs. Krendel. "I just hate being cooped up in an office."
      "We'll make sure you get out to the construction site often enough." Mr. Krendel said.
      "IF he gets his work done first."
      "Yes ma'am." I said to her.
      "Monday, meet us at the diner for breakfast then I'll drop you off here." Mr. Krendel said.
      I started to say something about needing to check where the plumbing for the fountain would be run, but then I realized that we had talked about it extensively yesterday.
      "I'll call you if we need any command decisions made."
      "Thank you sir." I said to Mr. Krendel.
      "Now go home and see what Alice fixed you for dinner. I hear it's something special." Mrs. Krendel said.
      "Yes ma'am."

      All the way home my arms itched where I had argued with thorn trees, thorn bushes, thorny vines, and weeds with needle sharp thorns just above the retaining wall. I cleared out most of what I had set out to get, but was now paying a price for 'bulling' my way through a thicket no rabbit would venture into with the brush cutter. It had been about ten intense minutes of blue smoke and a lot of noise, but I came out the other side victorious.
      Now my arms were almost burning wherever one of the vines had managed to get to me.
      I tried to think about something else and refused to scratch them.

      For a split second I had the feeling that I was actually going home to my family when I saw Robby in the middle of another battle on the porch, this time with a large interesting looking toy tank-thing while his mom watched from the back door.
      The fantasy passed after just a second, but it had been very vivid and almost too real.
      "Good afternoon Mr. Chet." Robby said as the tank ran over a roadblock of kindling wood.
      "Good afternoon General." I smiled and saluted him. He saluted back.
      "What did you do to your arms?" Alice asked me as I opened the door.
      "Oh." I said and looked down at them. Which was a mistake.
      As soon as I looked at my right arm both arms began itching and burning like nobody's business.
      "I argued with some briars." I said trying to mask the pain in my voice.
      "Come here." She pushed me toward the kitchen sink.
      She rinsed my arms in cool water then sprinkled baking soda over them while they were still wet. It cooled them off a little. Then she evaluated the cuts and scrapes and said I'd probably live.
      "Thank you." I said a little sheepishly.
      "Now. Go get changed and I'll get those clothes into the wash." She evaluated me up and down. "I think you ruined those pants."
      "They're workpants."
      "Not the kind of work you were doing today. You have to have something decent left for when Mr. Salmon comes to visit next week."
      "Next week?"
      "Monday or Tuesday." She looked at me. "I guess Carol forgot to tell you."
      "No. I think she mentioned it. It just didn't sink in."
      "Now go on. I'll keep supper warm for you."
      I smiled at her and thanked her again for taking such good care of me.
      "And while you're at it take a shower and when you get out I'll put more soda on your arms. It'll draw the poison out."
      "Poison?" I said with some panic. "What did I get into?"
      "It's just what my grandmother used to say. But it seems to work."
      "Oh." I said with relief.
      I wrapped my bathrobe around myself and dropped my clothes in the hallway for her. Then got in the shower.
      Hot water was a bad idea. So was shampoo. It burned like liquid fire until I had rinsed enough off my left forearm where the worst of the scratches were in a cooler spray. But I didn't bleed to death as I rinsed my hair and watched three long thorns fall out into the tub. I picked them up and put them on the counter as souvenirs.
      In a few minutes I was dressed in some 'bum around' clothes and went back downstairs toward something that smelled really good.
      Tonight I didn't have to talk her into staying for supper. She wanted to make sure my clothes got taken care of, and she'd made some paste for my arms from baking soda and a couple of other ingredients that I don't remember.
      We ate together and I had to go through the whole rock blasting story twice for Robby who hung on every word with his fork halfway to his mouth.
      After dinner she had Robby help her with the dishes while she spread goop on my arms. Then they cleaned up the kitchen and she finished up my laundry. Finally she left after giving me orders to stay away from sticker bushes the next day.
      I told her I was working in the office tomorrow because I'd gotten behind on that side of things. She said good and that she'd check up on me when she went out to do some errands since Robby was spending the day at his grandparents.

      Saturday morning my arms looked like hell, but they felt a lot better.
      After breakfast I drove up to the site and checked on things. Pauly and Jimbo were there, but they weren't actually working. Instead they were just coming back in from hunting.
      "Mornin' sir." Jimbo waved at me. "We heard somebody comin', hoped it was you."
      "It's me." I said getting out of the truck.
      "We'd scared up some 'possums and coons the other day." The other man held up several of the animals tied to a thin rope. "Some good eatin' right there."
      "You've got the grill." I pointed to the patched together unit.
      "Nah, goona stew'em."
      All I could do was nod. In all my years and travels I had avoided eating Opossum Stew and all related delicacies, and I wasn't going to break that record now. "Ya'll's got that one." I smiled and tried to sound more like a local.
      "Yes Sir." Pauly said. "Ya don't mind us a huntin' on the site?"
      "No sir. In fact, if we thin them out now we'll have less trouble with them when we open. But you won't be able to hunt up here then. Some of the guests might not like being woke up by shotguns."
      "Oh. Yessir." Jimbo said with a frown, then he grinned. "We'll get'em all now then. I'll even freeze some for Dad G."
      "Yes sir. I think he'll like that." I answered.

      I left them to their stew and drove back to town and stopped at the office.
      I had planned on only spending a couple of hours catching up on interoffice emails. Hopefully finding one from Mr. Salmon that explained when he was coming down and what he wanted to see and do while here. I found a couple of notes from him, but nothing definite.
      Alice stopped by as promised and was surprised that the coffee I had made was actually drinkable.
      "It's something I learned early on. I use the same recipe no matter what type of pot it is. That way it usually comes out pretty good."
      "So what all have you done for this company?" She asked me.
      I stopped talking when I realized I'd covered the last ten years of my life, complete with pictures, and she was still listening.
      "Oh, don't stop. I love learning about all those other places. I've never been very far away from here. I didn't know Pennsylvania and them looked so much like down here."
      "I thought you were bored silly."
      "No no. We don't have internet at home yet and I haven't gone anywhere since… since I moved back here."
      "I can show you some more of them. I took a bunch of pictures up there."
      I looked at the picture of the Vermont center. The Green Mountains had some similarities to this area, and some differences that I remembered, like huge sections of exposed granite that hung oppressively over the road to the center. I remembered where that picture was and typed in the address. "You'll like this." I said as it loaded.
      "Oh my." She said once she realized the rock was actually overhanging the road.
      "They swore it was solid. That was before the Old Man in New Hampshire collapsed." I smiled.
      "I remember that."
      "This is the same mountain range. About a hundred miles or so from where the face was."
      "It's beautiful."
      "One of our best locations." I said. "I sound like a salesman."

      She kept me going until lunchtime. I offered to buy her lunch and we headed to the diner.
      Later she went to get Robby and I remembered I had that dinner at the church to go to. Alice told me to have a good time and left with a smile and a wave.

      The dinner was everything I expected, and more different kinds of pie than I could count. Later I nodded at the invitation to the worship service the next morning. By Sunday night I was rested and relaxed enough to be really excited about my second full week on the job in Alabama.

      Monday I dressed in 'office work' clothes and drove to the diner. The crew was waiting for me and several of the guys were disappointed that I wouldn't be going out. Until Mr. Krendel told them that one of the things I had to do was work up the next payroll. Then they were all for me staying in the office.
      But it still felt strange when he dropped me off at the office and I watched the big blue truck full of tools and men drive off. It felt even stranger when I realized my key to the office was on the ring still in the truck's ignition. I sat on the curb and ate my breakfast and waited for Mrs. Krendel.
      She rolled up to the office about twenty minutes later and laughed at me as she got out of her car. "You forgot your keys." She snickered.
      "No ma'am. I brought them with me. I just left them in the truck ignition."
      She unlocked the door and handed me her keys, "You should have an extra set." She nodded toward the small store down the block. I remembered seeing signs about fishing tackle and keys made in the windows.
      "Yes ma'am." I said and walked to the store.
      When I got back the coffee was made and she had set out a plate of homemade sweet rolls for us.
      We chatted for a few minutes, then I went back into my office and checked things out.
      Besides the pile of papers on my desk the inbox on my computer was full. And there were multiple 'important' messages flashing at me on my calendar.
      I wasn't sure where to begin, so she told me to start at the top and work down and she'd come in now and then and pick up the finished work and send it to wherever it was going.
      "OK." I said and pulled out my desk chair.
      I divided my time between clearing the inbox and working through the papers.
      Mrs. Krendel came in and topped off my coffee and picked up papers and relayed messages every so often. All I had to do was work.
      Then eat lunch. And work some more.

      It was about noon when Mr. Salmon called.
      "Good morning sir. We were expecting you today." I said when Mrs. Krendel told me who was on the phone.
      "Got held up by the board of trusties. I'm catching a late flight tonight. I'll be there in the morning."
      "Flight?" I questioned. "It's only a few hours drive from the office."
      "Not from Boston. I'll stay in Atlanta tonight and leave from there in the morning."
      "Yes sir. Can you find the place?"
      "Not on your life. I'll call when I get to… what is it?
      "The best way to get here from Atlanta is to cut up through Chattanooga and across on 24 to route 156." I traced the roads on the map on the wall behind my desk with a ruler. "It looks like it's about a hundred and fifty miles or so."
      "Tennessee? I thought you were in Alabama."
      "Yes sir. But you really can't get here from there."
      "You told me about that. I thought you were joking."
      "No sir."

      Just after lunch Alice came by to tidy up the office and check on things.
      We discussed Mr. Salmon's arrival and she said she'd have the house and office spotless for him.
      I nodded and wrote an email to his secretary with some of the local phone numbers and names she might need to track him down in an emergency since cel phone coverage around here wasn't the best in the world.
      "So you really do know how to use that thing." She told me indicating my computer.
      "Sometimes." I said sitting back relieved for the break. "Sometimes I just sit here and stare at it wondering what I did wrong."
      "Anything I can help you with?"
      "You do computers?"
      She smiled sweetly. "I was a tech lab assistant at the college in Rainsville for awhile."
      She nodded. "But then…" Her face got sad. "I ended up alone again and…"
      "And now you're here. It's OK. And if you want to use the Net here, we've got an extra work station." I nodded to the computer on the table against the far wall.
      She smiled at me grateful for the acceptance.
      Alice stayed at the office until Robby got out of school. He took out our trash, and ate the last of the sweet rolls, and talked about what they'd done in school today. Then she took him and went out to the house.

      I was about halfway through my 'assignments' as Alice explained to Robby what I had been doing all day, when Mr. Krendel came back from the site. I saved the document I was working on and left myself a note explaining to myself what I was doing and got ready to leave.
      But it was another half an hour before I actually got out the door.
      As I pulled out of the parking lot I remembered that Alice had left me a note and a receipt of supplies and groceries she had picked up that I said I'd reimburse her for so I had to go to the money machine. As I drove up to the machine I realized it'd be easier just to give her some money up front for things she needed, or actually, for things I needed, so I got out twice as much as I had planned so I could pay her back and give her a hundred dollars against future expenses.
      Tonight there was a war on the sidewalk, but the General was missing. I walked around the deployed forces and into the house. Just inside the kitchen Alice and Robby were putting stuff into garbage bags from the bottom corner cabinet.
      "Mama found a treasure!" Robby said enthusiastically. "This is older'n me!" He held up a faded can of vegetables.
      "Then that is a treasure." I said.
      "This soup went out of date in 1991." Alice said reading the top of the can through a thick coating of dust. "Did you know this stuff was down here?"
      "No ma'am." I picked up a box of noodles that had missed the bag. "Win four tickets to the Twenty Second NFL Championship Game in San Diego. Includes hotel and transportation." I read off the box.
      "Cool." Robby said.
      "The game was in 1988."
      "We could probably get good seats." Alice smiled.
      "Probably." I dropped the box in the bag and helped Robby take the bags out to the trash.

      Dinner was another home cooked delight. This time fried potatoes thick with sausage and onions.
      Robby wanted to know why my boss was named after a fish. I laughed and said he'd have to ask him. Alice looked at me with raised eyebrows.
      "It's OK, he has a great sense of humor about it."

4. Mr. Salmon

      "I left early." Mr. Salmon said. "And once I got through Chattanooga the directions made sense. That's a nice drive early in the morning." He sounded like he was smiling.
      He called me from in front of the office before seven that morning.
      I asked him if he'd like to meet the crew and told him I'd meet him at the diner just down the road.
      By the time I got to the diner he was already chatting with Mr. Krendel and some of the guys.
      "Good morning sir." I said climbing out of my truck.
      "Morning!" He said with a grin. "Sorry about the call. I forgot about the time change."
      "It's alright sir. You get used to it."
      The rest of the crew filtered in and I did the introductions. Our waitress took the crew's 'to go' orders and Mr. Salmon, having learned some early lessons well, ordered the same thing a local, in this case Mr. Krendel, ordered.
      He wanted to go straight out to the site and see what was going on up there, and insisted I come with him. Which meant I would be out of the office for most of the day, and probably come in tomorrow two days behind again, but I leapt at the chance.
      We stopped by the office just long enough for me to tell Mrs. Krendel what was going on and introduce her to Mr. Salmon, then we were off.
      He wanted to know everything about the crew and the town and the places we passed and every other detail he could think of to ask. Fortunately Walt and Pauly were riding with us so they gave him the full rundown on everything right down to the fact that Dad Gilmore's grandson managed the gas station we'd just passed.
      The trip along the creek and up the hill made his whole trip. Then when we stopped and he got out he said he loved the view.
      "This is going to be spectacular." He kept saying.
      He shook hands with Dad Gilmore and thanked him for taking such good care of his crew and listened to the story about the Uni. Then we went for the tour of the place and he checked out the boulder we'd moved. Then we walked down the hill to the new entrance and checked out where the road crew had been working on the new bridge.
      Mr. Salmon loved the new approach to the site, and the fact that you couldn't actually see anything of the place until you made that last turn into it.
      "We've got to preserve that effect. Plant some bushes or something along here so you won't see the main building until you're about here." He stood at the top of the new drive next to a survey marker and pointed to the top of the knoll where the boulder sat.
      "Bushes." I said to Mr. Krendel he nodded.

      The crew had been working on pushing back the overgrowth and thinning out the hillside, so I asked Mr. Salmon and how much of the natural growth he wanted to preserve.
      We traipsed up and down the hill about five times while Mr. Salmon and Walt and Mr. Krendel talked about landscaping details and the finer points of pressure treated timbers.
      I wrote everything down on my clipboard as they made decisions. Then Walt dispatched several of the guys to the home center to buy 'a lot of' heavy landscaping lumber.

      It was just after coffee break when Jimbo started hollering and waving at us.
      "It's over here! I found it Miss'er Krendel. Right there!"
      He had been 'rough clearing' a section on the far side of the level section near the cliff over the creek and the new approach road with the tractor. In the area where the upper hill was the steepest from the main clearing.
      My first thought was that the tractor was going over the side, or maybe somebody else had. But then he was almost dancing on the machine and pointing down excitedly.
      "It's Here! I found it!" He kept shouting as we ran toward him.
      "Well. There it is." Mr. Krendel said. Then he looked puzzled. "But I thought it was over there." He pointed toward the old road to the top over a hundred yards away.
      "Maybe there are two." I said.
      The tractor's bucket had pulled several large bushes out by the roots and had exposed a recessed door at the bottom of some rotten steps that descended into an excavated entrance into the hill.
      "Let's see where it goes." Mr. Salmon said with a grin.
      "I've got lights in the truck." Dad Gilmore said.
      "I'll get a crowbar and the camera." I said. "That door hasn't been opened in a hundred years."
      It seemed like a lot longer than a hundred years. And in the end the only way we got it open was by jamming a chain into a crack between the ancient boards and pulling with the tractor.
      The door almost exploded open.
      Then a second later a stream of bats poured out of the new opening. And a second later, an almost equal stream appeared from the other end of the hill on the other side of the old summit road.
      "THAT'S where it was." Mr. Krendel said with a sharp nod.
      "We hadn't cleared anything over there yet." Walt said.
      "That would explain why we hadn't found it."
      Dad Gilmore had three huge flashlights. He handed Mr. Salmon an old lantern on a six-volt battery and indicated he could lead the expedition.
      "You just want me to see if there's any more bats down there." Mr. Salmon said about half seriously.
      "Yessir boss." The old man grinned right back at him.
      Mr. Salmon turned on the old light. It was brighter than you'd expect from the rust on it. He nodded and said he'd take the point.
      We gingerly stepped over broken boards onto the decayed stairs and down into the hole.
      Mr. Salmon put the big light in first, then looked. "All clear Dad."
      "Thank'ee sir."
      "Now this is why I like going out in the field." Mr. Salmon said then he stepped through and down about another two feet. "Watch out for that last step there."
      "Yes sir."
      From what I could tell, the cellar was about thirty feet below the top of the hill. And it appeared to go even deeper as I watched Mr. Krendel join Mr. Salmon and then Dad Gilmore step down as well. I asked Jimbo if he was going to bring up the rear or did he want me to.
      "Don't make no nevermind to me. If they's snakes or bats or somethin' in there, they'll find it first."
      "OK. I'll go." I turned on my small belt flashlight and joined the others.
      I don't have anything against caves and cellars and even old mine shafts. But I liked them with electric lighting and marked pathways and even a refreshment stand. This was a little too raw for my tastes. I stood in a corner and tried to see what I was aiming the camera at, in the dark the viewer was useless. Then the flash blinded everybody, but I thought the picture would come out.
      The first room was lined with shelves. It had been a root cellar and pantry at one time. A narrow dark passage ran back into the hill to the left. It reminded me of a computer game I used to play about exploring an underground city.
      "This has been here a long time too." Dar Gilmore was saying. He was looking closely at some canned preserves. The contents of the old jars were as black as coal. "The juice is all gone." He tapped the glass. The contents shifted and some dust fell inside and out.
      "This is cool." Walt said as he followed Mr. Salmon through the passage.
      "You've got to see this! Chet! Come here!" Mr. Salmon shouted back to us. "You too Dad, Jimbo."
      "We's comin..." Dad Gilmore said. "Whew… stinks in here."
      "Yeah." I said not trying to think about what it smelled like.
      "Go on Mister Michels. Ya'lls first." He nodded to me and Jimbo.
      "Yes sir." I said and ducked to go through the smaller opening.
      It didn't immediately open onto another room. There was a narrow passage that was a lot narrower at the top than the bottom for several feet, then a wooden framed doorway into another good-sized room.
      "Oh wow." I said.
      The room was about three inches deep in bat droppings that were in various stages of decomposition. But it was the things on the walls that got my attention.
      A large nearly rotten Confederate flag half hung from a leaning staff. A rack of ancient rifles was almost falling off the far wall. I aimed my camera at the corner to capture as much of the scene as possible and took a couple of pictures.
      Mr. Salmon was carefully opening drawers in a bureau. "Oh my." He said softly. "Don't touch, just look." He said to us.
      In the drawer was a stack of yellow papers with lines of neat script on it.
      I zoomed in close and tried to get it so you could read the handwriting in the picture. The small screen on the back of the camera didn't do it justice.
      "We need to get a… ah… Archeologist?" Walt said.
      "Anthropologist." I said with a nod. "This is an important find."
      "Yes sir." Mr. Salmon said. "Let's finish looking. Then get those doors fixed and locked. I'll make the calls when we get back to town."
      "Good idea." Walt said. "Jimbo, you wanna see to the doors and locks? For both ends." He pointed both ways indicating where the bats had come out.
      "Yessir. I'll fix'er so God Himself will have to check with ya'll to get in here." The man said and went back out the way he'd come.
      Mr. Salmon had his lips pursed. "I think when they're done with this, we'll turn this into an exhibit and memorial." He closed the drawer gently. "Maybe a research center. There has to be a story to this. How it stayed here for all these years…" He shone his light around the other wall like he expected an answer from it.
      "Look in here."
      Walt had moved on into the next room.
      "OK." Mr. Salmon said. "We'll come back with the right people to tell us what's what."
      The next room was long and narrow with bunks all along one wall and about halfway down the other one. The far end of the left wall had floor to ceiling cabinets built into it.
      Some of the bunks were still made up as if for use.
      "What'cha think?" I pointed my light at a pair of well worn shoes under a bunk.
      "They need polished." Walt said.
      "This door won't open." Mr. Salmon said. "It's either locked or blocked."
      "Let's go around and see what's on the other side." I said.
      "Sure. We knows where the other door's at." Dad Gilmore said.

      We took our time going back out and up the stairs. They fell apart under us more than they supported us.
      We stopped by the trailer for a drink, then walked along the road to where the curve began to climb to the top of the hill.
      "Right in there." I pointed to where we'd seen the bats come out.
      "Let's go." Mr. Salmon said.
      It wasn't that easy, but in a few minutes we were pulling branches and sticks away from an almost identical doorway.
      The door itself was in pretty bad shape and it only took a couple of solid tugs on it to pull it away from what remained of its frame.
      We all half expected another flight of bats to make an exit. But in less than a minute Mr. Salmon was stooping through the opening and pronouncing this end even smellier than the other end.
      "Terrific." I muttered and followed him.
      The first room was small and low and looked like a storm cellar should look. But there was a low narrow opening beyond it that looked like it used to be covered with a movable shelving unit. The shelves were now lying on the floor with several broken bottles and ceramic vessels under it.
      "Yeah. This is what I remember from when I was a kid." Mr. Krendel said. "There's a bigger room in there. But there wasn't anything in it."
      "Let's go see." Mr. Salmon said and squeezed himself through the opening.
      This room had been another storage area. Every wall was covered with narrow shelves with what was left of an improvised table in the middle. The room was otherwise empty except for some dead bats and a lot of 'bat crap' as Mr. Salmon put it.
      "But that door has to be around here someplace." Walt said.
      "No wait. We haven't come far enough for the door to the bunkhouse." They all looked at me. "We're only a few yards from the entrance. The road should be about there." I aimed my small light up and drew a line on the ceiling. "So we're… Under those dogwoods we were going to try to save."
      Mr. Krendel thought about it. "Yeah. That's about right Chet."
      "Then they's another entrance?" Dad Gilmore asked. Then he looked at the back wall. "Or a sec-rit passage."
      "I bet there's a hidden panel or something." Mr. Salmon said. "We'll find it."
      We searched every inch of the far wall, and then moved to the 'back' wall.
      "Over here." Dad Gilmore said. "That one moves." He pointed his light at a set of shelves. "None o the others did."
      "He's right." Walt said. "Which way you think it goes?" He said pushing on it to no avail. Then he pulled on it and we were treated to a loud metallic screeching. "Sorry about that."
      "You got it. Keep it up." Mr. Salmon said.
      The shelves moved on a huge set of iron hinges that really didn't want to move. It took three of us to ease the shelves out enough that we could slip through to the passage beyond.
      "Well Dad. You found this one. You can go first." Mr. Salmon said to the old man.
      "Thankee sir. But I'll pass if'n its all the same to ya'll Mr. Sal-mon." He almost bowed to the boss.
      "Yes sir."
      I swallowed hard and led with my light. The narrow opening went back a little way, then turned.
      "It goes that way." I said after I looked down the passage.
      In a few steps the walkway seemed to be a natural passage in the rock.
      I knew the area hills were full of caves, and one of the most famous in the south, the Nickajack Cave was under part of Sand Mountain was just north of here. This was hardly the equivalent nearly endless passage of the now flooded cave, but I wasn't going to go much further without a better light.
      "I's right behind ya'll Mr. Michels."
      "Thanks Dad." I said with relief as his brilliant light illuminated the entire passage ahead of us.
      The natural crack went on for some distance more or less straight. Then it bent slightly and opened up into a room that was at least partially natural from the look of it.
      "We're there." I said as I recognized the door on the other wall.
      "Yes sir. This is som'thin'." Dad Gilmore said panning his light around the room.
      There was no evidence of bats or their leavings. But there was some sign of water having gotten in. Probably during the last hurricane to blow through the area.
      The others came in one by one and we investigated the room. There was a large desk in one corner with an oil lamp sitting on it. Another flag and a few guns. Several books and ledgers. A stack of hand drawn maps. And other artifacts that had been undisturbed for nearly a hundred and fifty years.
      After my fourth picture using full flash my batteries died, so I was left to just looking like everybody else.
      Walt evaluated the connecting door as just being held shut by age, and he didn't want to force it.
      "Definitely a Confederate hideout." Mr. Salmon said. "Look at this."
      In one of the desk drawers was a small metal box. In the metal box were Confederate bank notes and coins.
      "Next week's payroll?" Mr. Salmon kidded me as I fooled with the camera for just one more picture.
      "There's probably a few stores around here and over in Georgia that would still take it." Walt said with a grin.
      "Hello?" We heard Jimbo calling.
      "Through here." I said to the other explorers. I had heard him clearly through the wall. I looked in the general direction of the voice. There were a couple of spy holes in the stone. I peered through the nearest one and could see Jimbo in the first storage room with his light. "How about that?"
      "They were some clever folks." Dad Gilmore said.
      "Some of them were." Walt added checking out the other hole. "We're in here Jimbo." He shouted through the hole.
      "The new doors are on the way." The worker answered. "I got hold of Pauly. He got two steel doors and frames from Cousin Marvin."
      "What kind of locks?" I asked.
      "Oh, Mr. Michels. Didn't know you were back there too… We're gonna weld bars across them and then padlock the bars to the frames."
      "OK." I answered. It sounded like overkill to me, but it would secure the doors.

      To me the dates on the papers were actually more interesting than the documents themselves. One of them clearly said 19 June 1865. I wrote the date down on my clipboard.
      "What do you make those names out to be?" I asked Walt.
      "Hmmm. Lieutenant Colonel Augustus Samuels." He paused on the second one.
      "Looks like Major Harlan Reeves to me." I volunteered.
      "Yeah." He nodded squinting at the finely written words. "But it looks like a woman's handwriting."
      "That's what I'm thinking too. Somebody wrote the Colonel's letter for him."
      "Most of the officers could read and write. Some of them were very educated." Mr. Salmon said. Then he looked at the letter. "But I think you're right about this one. Probably his wife was writing for him."
      "So what was a Confederate Colonel doing with an underground office something on the order of two months after the war ended?" I asked.
      "The war didn't end everywhere at once." Mr. Salmon said.
      Mr. Krendel nodded. "There were some renegade units that never did surrender."
      "Maybe we found one."
      We stood and looked at the desk with respect.
      Then it was time to go.

      Mr. Salmon couldn't wait to get back to town and get the ball rolling.
      We grabbed our lunches and headed back to town as the guys were unloading the doors and other supplies.
      The ride to town was simply one long discussion, punctuated by exclamations and laughter, about the find and what it was likely to do to the center's progress.
      Once we got to the office Mrs. Krendel reminded us to wash up before we did anything else.
      I looked in a mirror that was hanging in the corner, we were both covered with dust, cobwebs, and had a thick layer of something on our shoes.
      "Yes ma'am." Mr. Salmon said. "Where's the restroom?"
      "This way." I said and led him to the back of the office.
      While we ate lunch I explained to Mrs. Krendel what we had found and Mr. Salmon called a friend of a friend at a University near the home office.
      "Doctor Junie will be down here tomorrow." He said in a few minutes. "She said she's bringing a grad student that's doing heavy research into the… give me a second… the Central region of the Western Theater of Operations during the war."
      "Sounds like she's got the right person for the job."
      He nodded to me. "She's real heavy into tracking down some of the forgotten units. This might be one."
      "Which unit?" Mrs. Krendel asked us.
      "We think they were from Georgia, but I didn't see any unit insignia I recognized."
      "It'll take more study to nail it down. Somebody will have to go through the papers and the drawers and look up the insignia that was on those uniforms in the cabinet." I said.
      "That's what Marilyn's for."
      "Yes ma'am. Doctor Marilyn Junie."

      We both spent the next couple of hours drawing diagrams and filling in the rough floor plan I had sketched on my clipboard and numbering the photos I was printing out to match the rooms I had taken them in. As well as searching Civil War websites for any information on the officers or the unit we thought they belonged to.
      Later Alice came in and Mr. Salmon really turned on the charm on my behalf.
      At one point I leaned over to Mrs. Krendel with a grin. "I thought you were the designated company matchmaker for Alabama." I whispered.
      "I forgot to tell Mr. Salmon." She whispered back.
      "And he really needs a good cook too." The boss was saying. "I caught him eating canned spaghetti out of the can cold more than once."
      "That's not totally true sir. Once it was ravioli."
      Alice laughed, then gave me a serious look. "I'll make sure that doesn't happen here Mr. Salmon."
      "Please, call me Dave."
      "Thank you sir."
      I felt like I was back in Junior High and my parents were telling somebody how great of a kid I was until I tried to flush a comic book I didn't like down the toilet.
      Then we made arrangements for Dr. Junie to stay with the Krendels and we'd find someplace for the grad student to stay depending on who it was. Southern Chivalry wouldn't hear of a woman staying in a house with two men under these conditions.

      Alice made a dinner that convinced Mr. Salmon I had found the best cook in the state. He bragged on everything including how cold her iced tea was. Then he told stories to Robby that had the kid either laughing until his face was bright red or sitting on the edge of his seat listening with everything he had.
      "… and then that old stallion reared up on his back legs and started kicking at the bulldozer with his front hooves until I was worried that the horse was going to win the fight." Mr. Salmon was leaning back in his chair and pawing the air imitating the horse.
      "He almost did." I added.
      "Really?" Robby asked wide eyed.
      "Yeah." Mr. Salmon said. "We had to get a wildlife officer to come out and shoot him with a tranquilizer gun." Then he laughed. "Then he shot the dozer driver with one too."
      "He's just kidding about that part." I told Robby when he looked scared for a second.
      "But they did have to drug the horse right?" Alice asked.
      "Oh yeah. It was so worked up not even the ranch hands could get near it." Mr. Salmon answered. "The thing was foaming at the mouth and neighing and kicking like mad."
      "Why?" Robby asked.
      "One of his mares was about ready to foal." I said.
      "One of the girl horses was going to have a baby." Alice translated for the boy.
      "What happened to him?"
      Mr. Salmon smiled broadly. "The old stallion dozed off and on in a barn for about two days. When he woke up that weekend our construction and his baby were both done."
      Then I realized that while I had been sitting at the table next to Alice and we had been talking about the old horse, she had been sitting there with her hand on my arm.

      Late that evening I turned in wondering what the next week or so would be like.

End Section One

Continued in Section Two

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