The Man from Swift Current
© 2011 Russ Nielsen
All Rights Reserved




Chapter 63: The University of Minnesota

As soon as I got off the phone with Rick, I found Ben and said, “I talked to Rick and he thinks we should head up to Minnesota as soon as possible.”

Ben looked surprised, “Why?”

I sat down on the couch next to him.  “Because, l’m going crazy.   I hate being here where everything reminds me that Rick isn’t here.   He thinks that I’ll do better elsewhere, instead of being here.”  

Ben looked at me, “I’m okay with leaving today; but you had better call and talk to your Grandpa Scarborough about it first.   I’ve seen most of the tourist sites here in Atlanta now, so I’m good with heading north.”   He grinned, “Besides, it’s too dang hot here.   What does Keith call Atlanta?”

I laughed, “Hotlanta!”

Kerry said, “We’ve always called it Hotlanta.   It’s just as hot in South Carolina, but it seems hotter here because it’s a big city.”

Ben said, “That’s because of all the asphalt and concrete reflecting the heat back into the atmosphere.   Most big cities have the same issues with heat.”

Just then, my cell phone rang.   I pulled it out of my pocket and flipped it open.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello, Glenn.   This is Officer Jones,” she said.   “I’m calling to alert you that Rick’s cousin, Peyton, is being released on parole today.”

I sat there in total shock.   I thought that Peyton would be locked up in prison for a few more years at least.

“Are you still there, Glenn?” Officer Jones asked when I didn’t respond.

Ben asked, “Glenn, are you okay?   You’re white as a ghost.”

I finally found my voice and responded, “Yeah, I’m still here.   I thought Peyton had a few more years to serve on his sentence.”

“He does, but the parole board decided to let him out for good behavior.   He has to report to his parole officer frequently and will be living in a half-way house for a while.   I wanted to warn you.   I’ve seen people like Peyton try to seek revenge on those who put them in prison.   You and Rick need to be extremely careful,” she said.

“Thank you for calling me,” I said.

“Good-bye,” Officer Jones said.

“Good-bye,” I responded as I ended the call.

I looked at Ben.  “There’s another reason to leave Atlanta soon.   That was Officer Jones who called to say that Rick’s cousin, Peyton, is getting out of jail on parole for good behavior.   Melodie thinks that Peyton may come looking for revenge, and wanted me to know he was getting out of prison today.”

Kerry said, “I thought that Peyton had a few more years left to serve on his sentence.”

“He does, but the parole board decided to let him out on parole,” I said.   “I’m calling Grandpa.”

I dialed Grandpa on my cell and soon was telling him everything.   He agreed that we should leave as soon as possible.   After the call, I turned to Ben, “Grandpa agrees that we should leave soon.”

A few minutes later, Keith returned from the grocery store.   Kerry and I joined him in the kitchen.   As we helped him put the groceries away, Kerry told him the news, “Rick’s cousin, Peyton, is out on parole.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that Peyton is getting out of jail.   What about the others?” Keith asked.

I replied, “I don’t know.   Officer Jones didn’t say anything about the others.”

Keith gave me a hug and then followed me into the family room where Ben was working on his laptop.

Ben looked up from his computer screen, “Hey, Keith!”

Keith smiled, “Hey yourself, Ben.   It sounds like you two will be heading off to Minnesota real soon.”

Ben responded, “Yeah, I think we’ll leave for North Carolina in about an hour or so.   Your Grandpa suggested we stay with your Mom and Dad tonight.”

Keith said, “That’s a good idea, especially since Peyton’s getting out of jail today.   It won’t take him long to get to Atlanta.   It would be easy for him to find us on campus and follow us home.   Since Glenn and I look so much alike, I’m wondering if Kerry and I shouldn’t follow you up to Selma until we know more about what Peyton’s doing.”

I looked at Keith, “I’m sorry, cousin, to make things bad for you, too.”

Keith put his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes. “Glenn, it’s not your fault that Rick’s family has taken their religious views too far.   I’m happy that you found Rick, and that he makes you happy.”

I nodded my head as Keith released me.   “Thanks, Keith.   Ben and I had thought of leaving for school this weekend; so we had already begun putting our stuff together so it won’t take long for us to finish packing.”

Keith looked at Kerry and said, “Why don’t we caravan up to your parents’ place and spend the night there, and leave for Selma from there?”

Kerry smiled and replied, “Mom and Dad would love to see us.”

I looked at Ben who nodded his approval.    I said, “That’s sounds okay with me.   I’ll call Grandpa back and let him know of our plans.”

Keith said, “Sounds like we have a plan.”

Kerry said, “I can be ready in about 15 minutes.”

Keith laughed and said, “Sure, dear.”

Kerry glared at her husband and said, “If you help me, we can do it even faster.”

Keith put his arm around her waist and kissed her.   “Okay, let’s go get packed.”

The two of them left the room.   After they left, Ben said, “I guess I’d better shut down and finish packing my stuff.   It’s a good thing I haven’t collected a lot of souvenirs, or I wouldn’t be able to fit everything back into my suitcases!”

“Okay, don’t rub it in!   I know I bought way too much stuff on our road trip; but I don’t have to haul it to Minnesota with me.   I was thinking of buying some things up there instead of hauling stuff from here,” I said.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Ben said.

We went to our separate rooms to finish packing our stuff.   About an hour later, we had our luggage sitting next to the door, ready to go.   I took a few minutes to make sure everything was shut off.

Keith came out of their room with several suitcases and said, “We’re ready to go.”

“I checked to make sure everything is locked up and that all the appliances and electronics are turned off or unplugged,” I said.

Keith said, “Thanks, cousin.”

Kerry joined us in the foyer and announced, “I’m ready.”

We laughed as she added two more suitcases to the pile of luggage already stacked by the door.   We hauled everything out to our vehicles while Keith made one more check of the condo.  

I drove the Land Rover, following Keith and Kerry out of the parking lot.   A few hours later, we pulled into the driveway of the Mitchell’s home.   We had a nice visit with them.    The next day, we headed north as planned.   We stayed a couple of days with Uncle Stan and Aunt Sharon, before we continued north.   We left Keith and Kerry there, with promises to keep in touch with them.

Ben got on the internet and planned out a pretty direct route to Minneapolis.   We decided to drive straight through, since neither of us wanted to sleep in a hotel.   Ben calculated that it would take us about 23 hours to drive the 2094 kilometers (1301 miles) from Selma to Minneapolis.   We left Selma at first light and changed drivers about every 4 or 5 hours.  

We were approaching the Chicago suburbs when Ben said, “I think we need to stop and get some sleep.   I’m having a hard time staying awake.”

His voice startled me awake, “What did you say?” I asked.

“I said that we need to stop and get some sleep,” Ben repeated.

“Okay,” I said.  

Ben pulled off of the next exit and we checked into a Holiday Inn.   We woke up late in the afternoon.

Ben said, “We need to get back on the road, cuz.”

I stretched and yawned widely, “Okay.”

We checked out and made our way through the rush hour traffic and managed not to get lost in the maze of freeways that surround Chicago.   We arrived in Minneapolis after midnight.   We pulled into the driveway of the house Ben had rented.   We unloaded our stuff and Ben opened the door for us.

Ben said, “Welcome home, Glenn.   There are two bedrooms upstairs and two down.   We have the upstairs bedrooms.   Follow me.”

I followed Ben up the stairs.   “Yours is this one,” Ben said, opening the door on the right.   I walked in and set my stuff down on the floor.   “Mine is this one on the left, and the bathroom is straight ahead.”

Ben went into his room and put his stuff on his bed.   I looked around my room.  The walls slanted down on one side with a dormer window in the middle.   There was a window seat built in under the window.   The bed sat against the far wall with a night stand next to it.   I took a few minutes to put away my clothes before I headed to the bathroom to brush my teeth and retire for the night.   I sent Rick a text message, letting him know we had arrived in Minneapolis.  

I was already in bed when Ben opened my door.   “Are you okay, Glenn?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m just tired.   I’ll catch you in the morning,” I replied.

“Good night,” Ben said.

“Good night,” I said, already half asleep.

Rick and Sam headed over to the mess hall where the guys were gathering for a game of poker.   It was early evening and the guys needed to relax a bit before going to bed.

As Sam and Rick entered the hall, a couple of guys stood up.   One of them came over to Rick, “It’s about time you decided to return to real life.   I’m glad Sam managed to talk some sense into that brain of yours.”

Rick smiled, “It’s good to be back, Chip.   Sam’s been a good friend.”

Chip smiled, “Yes, he has and still is.   I wish we all had friends that are as loyal as Sam has been to you.”

Another Marine came up behind Chip, “Yeah, Sam let us know some of what has been eating at you, since you came out on active duty with us.   I’m sorry to hear about your folks.   I hope you can work things out with them when you get back.”

Rick looked over at Sam, wondering what he’d told the rest of the guys.   He responded to Stan, “I don’t think things will change much, but we’ll see.”

Stan nodded his head and said, “Just be patient with them.   Let’s get this game started.   I’m looking forward to relieving you of your cash tonight!”

They all laughed at Stan’s comment, knowing that he more than likely would do just that!  

Joe said, “Glad you could join us Rick.   Want a beer?”

Rick responded, “Sure.”

Joe handed Rick a Michelob, “There’s Coors and Bud Light if you don’t want the Michelob.

Rick smiled his thanks and said, “This will be just fine.”

Mark asked, “Are we ready?”  

Everyone nodded and Mark began dealing out the cards.   The conversation around the table covered a range of topics, ranging from what they had done for the day to the news items they’d seen on the television.   Nobody mentioned anything more about Rick or his absence from their usual evening activities.

Rick thought to himself, “Wow!   The guys are being pretty cool about me being here with them again.    The beer tastes good and I’m feeling okay.   I’m even winning a few hands of poker.”

Sam watched Rick closely as he started on his fifth beer of the evening.   He tapped Rick on the shoulder.

Rick turned toward him with his eyebrows cocked, asking the unspoken question.   Sam said, “Rick, you need to go easy on the beer tonight.   It’s been a while since you’ve been out drinking with us.”

Rick smiled, “Thanks Sam for reminding me.   I’ll be okay.”

Sam was even more concerned after hearing Rick’s response.   He could see that Rick was already starting to get drunk.   Sam didn’t want to push the issue; so they continued playing poker.  

Rick was feeling pretty good and the guys were joking around with him just like before he met Glenn or at least it seemed that way to him.  

As Rick reached for his sixth bottle, Sam decided he’d better intervene.   Sam said, “Guys, I’m calling it a night.   Rick, why don’t you join me and we’ll take a walk around the compound before we turn in?”

Rick looked at Sam for a minute before he pulled back his hand from the beer bottle.   “Okay, thanks guys for the game tonight.”

The rest of the crew continued playing after Sam and Rick left.   Rick was a little unsteady on his feet; so Sam put his arm around Rick’s shoulders and guided him to the barracks.   Once inside, Sam steered Rick to his bunk, helped him to undress and put him to bed.   By the time Sam returned from brushing his teeth, Rick was out cold.

Sam was about to climb into bed when he heard Rick’s cell phone go off.   He reached over and flipped it open.   He saw who it was and decided to answer it.

“Hello, Glenn,” Sam said.

“Hello, who are you?” I said in surprise.   I had expected Rick to answer his phone.   I knew I was taking a chance calling Rick, but he hadn’t returned my text messages all morning.   I’d gotten up late and figured Rick would be able to talk since it was 10:30 PM his time.   I’ve gotten pretty good at calculating the time differences between us so I wouldn’t interrupt Rick while he was on duty.

There was a silence on the other end as I waited to hear who had answered Rick’s phone.   Finally, a voice said, “This is Sam Meyers.   I’m Rick’s friend.”

I said, “Okay, but that doesn’t explain why you’re answering Rick’s cell phone.”

“Rick’s passed out from drinking too many beers tonight.   We were playing poker and he drank a little too much.   Before you start getting angry, please hear me out,” Sam said, trying to head off a confrontation with Glenn.

“Rick is having a really hard time here, Glenn.   I’ve tried to help him as much as I can.   I want you to know that Rick is in good hands here.   I want to make sure he makes it home safe to you, but I need you to help me.   Rick has withdrawn from almost all interaction with the rest of us.   He barely speaks to me and doesn’t talk to the other guys at all.   I finally confronted him about it, and it’s my fault he ended up getting drunk tonight.   I’m sorry for that.   Rick is very distracted and isn’t performing his duties to the best of his abilities.   I’ve tried to cover for him the best I can so he won’t get in trouble, but I need your help to get him back on track.   Are you willing to help me?” Sam asked.

“Do I have a choice?” I asked, with a slight edge to my voice.   I thought to myself, “What kind of a mess are we in now, Mr. Lernier?”

“Please don’t be angry with me, Glenn.   I really have Rick’s best interest at heart.   My brother is gay, so I’ve been able to put two and two together.   I know about you and Rick, and I want to help you as much as I can.   Okay?   Will you trust me?” Sam asked.

I didn’t answer.   I wasn’t about to tell Sam anything at this point.

Sam continued, “I’ve talked with Rick about trying to return things to normal, so the rest of the guys won’t figure it out.   He needs to come out of his self-imposed exile and interact normally with us.   Part of that is having a beer or two with the guys and playing poker.   I know that you don’t approve of drinking, and that Rick promised you he wouldn’t go clubbing with the guys (not that there are any clubs to go to here).”

The more Sam said, the angrier I became; as I started to wonder just how much Rick has disclosed to Sam about our relationship.

“Just how much has Rick told you about me?” I asked, barely controlling the anger that I felt boiling up inside.

“He hasn’t spoken about you very much at all.   What little I know, I’ve had to drag out of him.   Rick has been so secretive about you and all of his relationships with family and friends that I thought he had cut himself off completely from all human contact.   He shows many signs of depression, Glenn.   Quite frankly, Glenn, I’m very worried about him,” Sam said.

Listening to Sam talk about Rick made me think back on some of our recent conversations.   Rick had said a couple of times that he was having difficulty dealing with his fellow Marines.   Maybe I could trust this Sam fellow.

“Okay, I’ll do what I can to help,” I said still not wanting to trust some random guy who had picked up Rick’s cell phone.

“I want you to start a blog.   You need to write something every day about what you have been doing.   Post photographs and write poems.   Make a list of your favorite music videos and movies.   Make it dynamic so that Rick can visit the blog anytime of the day or night and read about what you are doing.   That way he can feel that he’s staying in touch with you,” Sam said.

“I can do that.   My cousin, Ben has a blog.   I’ll ask him to help me get it set up,” I said.

“Good.   Next, I’m going to ask you to stop texting him and calling him during the week.   Save that for the weekends or for when Rick has a day off.   I think that it will help him concentrate on his work better and will get him into the routine of being an active-duty Marine,” Sam said.

“That’s asking a lot, Sam,” I said, starting to get angry at the suggestion that my text messages and phone calls were causing Rick problems.

Sam responded, “I know it is, Glenn.   Please, at least try it.   If it doesn’t work, I’ll let you know, and you can start texting him and calling him like you do now.”

I said, “I won’t promise you I won’t send text messages or call him any less than I do now.   I will talk it over with Rick before I will do anything different than I’m doing now.”

Sam sighed in frustration, “Okay, that’s all I can ask.   Let me point out that your text messages are very incriminating and if anyone checked them, the game would be over.   You really need to stop.   I’m going to delete all of the text messages on his phone now so if someone confiscates his phone, he won’t have problems.”

Hearing Sam’s assessment of the danger my text messages represented to Rick made me stop and rethink my position.  “Okay, I’ll stop sending Rick text messages.”

“Good.   Thank you for at least listening to me, Glenn.   I understand how hard it is for you to trust someone you don’t know.   Believe me, I have Rick’s back and I’ve got yours, as well.  Good night,” Sam said.

“Good night,” I said.

As soon as I hung up, I got up and went across the landing to see if Ben was awake.   I peeked around the door and saw that his bed was empty.   I turned around just as Ben came out of the bathroom.

“Good morning, Ben,” I said.

“Good morning to you, too,” Ben responded.   “Do you know what time it is?”

“Yes it’s nearly 11:30 AM,” I replied.   “I’m starving.”

Ben laughed, “I’m hungry, too.   Let’s go see what’s in the fridge.”

I followed Ben downstairs.   We walked into the kitchen to see two guys sitting at the kitchen table.  

Ben introduced me, “Glenn, this is Takaaki and this is Fernando.   We call them Taka and Frank to make it easier.”

They both shook my hand.   “Where are you guys from?” I asked.

Taka replied, “I am from Kobe, Japan.   I am in my second year here.”   His English was heavily accented.   I had to listen carefully to be able to understand him.

Frank said, “I’m from Panama City, Panama.  I’m also in my second year.   We are both studying Business Management.”   Frank’s English was much better than Taka’s, but still heavily accented.

Taka stood up from the table.   “I have fixed spaghetti for all of us.   Would you like some?”

“Sure,” Ben said.

While Taka served us, I closely observed him.   Taka is very slender and is about 168 cm (5’6’’) tall, with jet black hair and eyes and no discernable body hair (at least none that I could see).   He wore only a tight-fitting pair of running shorts.   He appeared to be very feminine to me in some ways, with his perfectly smooth white skin and very fine bones.  

I looked across the table at Frank.   He looked to be about the same height as Taka, only Frank was very stocky.   He has hair everywhere and his skin looks like it has a permanent tan.   Frank wore a white tank top and a pair of white tennis shorts.

Taka sat a full plate of spaghetti before each of us and handed us a fork.   I began eating it, but spit it back out on the plate.   I was so shocked by the taste.   I tried another mouthful and managed to chew it and swallow it.

“Taka, what did you put on the spaghetti?” I asked.

“I used my mother’s recipe:   tomato ketchup, and lots of it,” Taka replied.

Ben asked, in surprise, “That’s all you put on it?”

I looked at Ben, who looked back at me.   We both burst out laughing.

Taka asked, “What’s so funny?”

“We normally use spaghetti sauce.   I think of ketchup as something you put on a hamburger or on fried potatoes,” I said.   “We’ve never had ketchup on spaghetti before, that’s all.”

Ben agreed, “Yes, it was pretty surprising to taste the ketchup, when I expected spaghetti sauce.”

Taka said, “We always use tomato ketchup for this kind of noodle.”

I looked at Ben. “I can see that we will be having a few adventures in eating new foods.”

Ben laughed, “I guess so.”

Frank said, “You won’t have to worry about my cooking.   I don’t cook at all.   My parents have a housekeeper, a maid and a cook to take care of the house and the cooking.   I’ve never had to cook anything in my life.   I’ll be eating at many restaurants just like I did last year.”

“Wow!   You parents must be rich,” I said.

“No, everyone in Panama has a maid or a housekeeper.   Many have gardeners and other people to help take care of the outside,” Frank said.

Ben asked, “Taka, what happened to your brand new Toyota Supra?   I didn’t see it in the driveway last night.”

Taka looked sad, “I smashed it yesterday.   I was driving on the freeway and hit the guard rail.”

Frank said, “Taka was drunk and lost control of his car.   The police brought him home not too long before I heard you guys come in last night.”

“That’s too bad.   Taka, are you going to buy another new car?” I asked.

“No, my parents say that I have to use my allowance to buy another car.   Right now I can’t afford my money to get a new one,” Taka said.

“What are you going to look for?” Ben asked.

Taka responded, “I found an old Ford Festiva.   It is very old and has lots of miles; but it’s the only one I can buy.”

“Where did you find it?” I asked.

“I found it in the newspaper this morning.   I already call on it and they are willing to sell it to me,” Taka said.

“We can take you over to see it if you want?” I said.

“Thank you, Glenn.   That would help me a lot,” Taka said, gratefully.

After eating lunch, I helped Taka clean up and then I followed Ben back upstairs.

“Ben, can you help me set up a blog?” I asked.

“Sure.   Let’s get showered, then I will help you get it set up,” Ben said.

“Cool!”  I responded, smiling at my cousin.

We got showered and ready for the rest of the day.   Ben spent a couple of hours with me, setting up a blog.   He showed me how to add posts, etc.   Later, we took Taka to pick up his new car.

When we saw the Ford Festiva, we tried to talk Taka out of buying it.   It was a pale yellow and the windows were stuck in the up position.   Taka managed to get the driver’s side window to roll down enough so he could slip his hand through it.   He looked pleased with himself.   The seats were pretty beat up, with huge holes in the upholstery.   Taka insisted that he buy it; so he paid cash for it and drove the piece of junk back to the house.   I leaned over and asked Ben, “Why is Taka holding onto the outside of the car?”

Ben said, “Taka says that everyone in Japan drives with one hand holding onto the roof of the car.”

“Really?” I asked in surprise.   “I can’t believe everyone there drives that way.   I bet it’s something only Taka does.”

Ben laughed and said, “I swear that’s what he said when I asked him that very question.   You can ask him yourself, if you don’t believe me.”

“I believe you, Ben.   I just don’t believe everyone in Japan drives around with their window down, holding onto the roof of their cars.”

It had been less than 24 hours, and I could tell already that this year was going to be a very interesting one; between adjusting to living with my new roommates and learning to navigate around the campus of my new school.

Prev To be continued . . .