10 • Cable
It would be a couple of hours before Mad Dog would expect him in the office. Will stood at the edge of the eave looking down the street where Cameron’s car was no longer visible. He fumbled his shirt pocket for cigarettes. As he flicked his lighter, he remembered.
He’d forgotten to call her last night as he’d promised. Odds were good she’d forgotten too, given the chaos with the kids and her exhaustion. At least he hoped she had.
“She’ll understand, ” he said out loud. “Can’t imagine she hasn’t dropped the ball a few times herself. Besides, it was late. She probably fell asleep as soon as the kids dozed.”
Will pulled out his phone and called Mad Dog.
“Hey little Willy sleepyhead. Did you have a nice rest at Grandma Pearl’s?” It irritated Will the way Mad Dog answered his calls without saying hello. It was a power move he made unconsciously, designed to throw the caller, who normally had the upper hand at the start of a call, off guard. Will hated caller ID for this reason alone.
“Fine. Great night. Listen, we forgot to call Nina. Can you check her file and give me her number?”
“Sure, Phillips. I’ll give you your girlfriends’ number. But why are you calling? The Schmidt claim is mine.”
“Well, it was yours. Until you pissed off the customer. Think she’s going to work with you now? I practically had to throw myself on top of you to keep her from scratching your eyes out. Reassign the case to me. You go off to coffee with Stu and Charlie. You can have the next one.”
“I could win her back, Phillips. I have a smooth side, you know.”
“Sure, yeah. I’ve seen your smooth side. So have a dozen women in town who call it something else. Forget it. I’m not risking a complaint from the insurance company because you forgot how not to be an ass. Give me her phone number.”
Mad Dog had no shame. He wanted coffee with his buddies Stu and Charlie more than he wanted to work his way through a house fire case that belonged to him, with a lonely, oversensitive woman and her histrionics, as he saw them. He told Will the number, laughed and hung up. Will imagined him doing an exaggerated fist pump in the air and shouting “Yesss!” while he spun a circle in his desk chair.
The breeze tickled Will’s neck and he brushed his fingers through his hair, thinking it was time to see Stella for a haircut. His normally-straight hair would curl around his ears when it got too long and Will found combing it every morning to be a significant commitment. He turned his face into the breeze and wondered how much of his workday he could spend up here on the roof, then punched Nina’s number into the phone. She picked up on the first ring and had not forgotten as he’d hoped; she was waiting for his call.
“Nina, hi, it’s Will Phillips. Really sorry I didn’t call last night. It was so late when we wrapped up, I think my brain just shut off.”
Nina was quiet, gracious. She said she was tired too, and thanked him for calling.
“Here’s my plan, ” Will said. “I’m going to send an initial report to your insurance company this afternoon. I’ll ask them to send Justin an advance, probably a couple of grand, to take care of your living expenses while we work out the damages. I’ll call a guy I like to work with who does good restoration, to get with you to sort out your contents—what can be salvaged and what can’t. And I’ll need you to get a contractor lined up who can do the structural repairs. When you find a guy, have him call me so we can crunch numbers.”
Nina sniffled into the phone but didn’t answer.
“Nina?” Will said softly. “Still with me?”
After a pause, Nina answered. “It’s too much, Will. I don’t know where to start.”
“You said the kids were going away, right?”
“My mom is taking the older two.”
“Okay then. After they go, you and Lucy Mae get some lunch. Then make a few phone calls—I’ll text you the numbers of a couple of contractors I know in Fergus. Ask them to come bid the job and call me. And when my friend Steve calls, tell him you need help with your contents. He’ll set you up good. I promise these guys won’t jack you around. Does that seem doable for today?”
Nina sniffled again. “I think so.”
“Good. Once you have everybody lined up—probably next week—I’ll come back and we’ll all meet at the house and hammer out a game plan. One step at a time, Nina. That’s all you have to do.”
“Oh, ” Will added, “and cry if you feel like it. I hear it helps.”
Nina laughed softly. “Okay.” Will pictured her pulling her curls away and pinching up her face trying not to cry, which he figured was far less attractive than just crying, but he knew women did this anyway and wondered if they realized.
“You have my number, ” he said. “Call me if you think of anything.”
Will disconnected the call and put his phone back into its holster. He finished his cigarette on the roof, then crawled back through the window, gathered his keys and wallet and left by the back stairway.
He drove past the telecommunications office on Main Street on his way to the office and turned the corner, circling back around the block while he debated whether to stop. It would be pretty nice to be able to watch a Cubs game any night he wanted. He heard there was a channel that played all major league games. He pulled into a parking space and checked himself in the rearview mirror, fiddling uselessly with a stubborn curl behind his right ear. Definitely needed to call Stella for an appointment.
He got out of the truck, tucked his shirt into his jeans and walked inside. A young woman sat behind the front counter at her desk and looked up when Will came in. He scanned the large open office space looking for his neighbor, in case she happened to walk by. Her office was toward the back, flanked with full length windows. Her desk was empty.
“What can I do for you today, Mr. Phillips?” asked the girl at the desk.
“I’m thinking of getting cable.”
“Oh, do you have satellite now? We can switch you out.”
“No, I don’t have satellite.”
“Are you switching carriers then? We can do that too. Easy, since the house would already be wired.”
“No, ” Will said. “I don’t have any service. Actually, I don’t have a television.”
“You don’t have a TV?” The girl’s eyes grew wide. Apparently she’d never heard of anyone who didn’t have cable, let alone a television.
“No. I should get one?” Will tried to prolong the conversation, looking behind the girl to see if Cameron would appear while they talked.
“Well, I’ve just never known anyone to order cable service without a TV. Why do you want it?”
Will smiled. “Well, I’ve been thinking of getting one. I figured maybe if I got cable hooked up, then I’d have more reason to get a television. You know, get my money’s worth.”
The girl hesitated, not sure whether to take him seriously or not.
“Which do you recommend getting first—cable or a television?”
“Ah, can you hold on just a second, Mr. Phillips?” She stepped back from the counter, not taking her eyes off Will. He folded his hands and rested them on the counter, amused with himself and looking winsome. The girl ducked her head into an open door and spoke to someone Will couldn’t see. “Ms. Julian, could you come out here for a moment, please?”
Will tried not to smile any more than he already was. The girl had played right into his hand, as he knew she would. She was wired the way the young adjusters were, at the big insurance companies he’d worked for. They knew their scripts, everything in an “if-then” cadence, and performed brilliantly as long as nothing came along that didn’t fit their carefully defined parameters.
Like a guy who wanted cable but didn’t own a TV.
She was lost.
Cameron Julian came out of the side office and stepped confidently toward the counter. “What can I help you with, Ashley?”
“Well, Mr. Phillips here wants to order cable service.”
“But he doesn’t have a TV.”
“Oh?” Cameron looked at Will, and Will looked back with a distinctively boyish grin.
“I know, ” he said. “I’m probably the only guy in town who doesn’t have a television. But I’d kind of like to be able to watch the Cubbies and I heard I could get that major league channel.”
“Cubs fan, eh?” Cameron said with a smile. “Twins fan, myself.” She put out her hand and introduced herself. “Nice to meet you Mr. Phillips. I’m Cameron Julian.”
“I know, ” Will said, then caught himself. “I mean, I’m an investigator. I guess I know a lot of things.”
Cameron raised her eyebrows slightly and tipped her head.
Will blushed. “I mean, not that I know a lot of things like I’m a genius or something. I just … collect information. Yeah. That’s it. Not that I’m collecting information about you. In particular.”
A smirk crossed Cameron’s face and she shifted her weight.
“Look, never mind that, okay? Call me Will.” He looked at his feet, wishing he’d gone straight to the office. “If I promise to get a television, can I get cable for it please?”
“Well, you’ll have to provide verification of ownership within 24 hours of installation.”
“Are you kidding me?” Will looked up at Cameron, who was grinning at him. “I’m sorry. I think I got this started all wrong. Umm. I rent a room from Pearl Jenkins in the old gray house on 7th Street. Do you know it?”
Of course Cameron would know it, but he didn’t want to reveal he knew where she lived.
“Oh, of course! Pearl Jenkins is a real gem. I live right across the street.”
“Seriously? In the old Downing place? What a coincidence.”
“You’re not the Mr. Phillips she keeps telling me I need to meet, are you?”
Will smiled. He shifted mentally between irritation at Pearl for not letting him make his own first impression on Cameron and relief that he did not have to make his own first impression on Cameron. He decided it was probably for the best, assuming Pearl had talked to her on a good day, when she hadn’t found him pantsless or on her roof. “She’s been telling you that, eh? I hope she’s said good things.”
“Well, she said you’re a lousy pool player, you leave your towels on the floor, and you smoke too much. But also that you are a marvelous storyteller and that your crankiness is just for show because of your work.”
Will put his hands in his pockets and looked at the floor. “She didn’t say much then, hmm?” He pulled at the curl behind his ear, wrapping it around his index finger.
“Oh, and she said you need a haircut.”
Will laughed. “Well, she’s nothing if not thorough. I guess you know all you need to know about me then.”
Cameron turned to the computer on the counter and tapped a few keys. “So. Are you really going to buy a television to use your cable, or are you just here to meet me on a Pearl’s errand?” She winked.
Damn, he thought. This is a bold woman.
Of course, he knew how it looked. And she was mostly right, except that Pearl hadn’t sent him. She hadn’t even mentioned Cameron, or her clandestine operation, which seemed curious. A good Yente usually worked both sides of the matchmaking equation. Unless, of course, she was trying to protect Will, didn’t want him falling for some beautiful woman who would never be interested in someone like him.
That was it: Pearl wasn’t sure Will could win someone like Cameron.
But then, Pearl had never seen Barbara.
Will straightened, smiled. “I want cable. Really. I’m stopping by Pete’s this afternoon to buy a television. Promise.”
“Very well then. Let’s get your account set up. Looks like Pearl already has cable to the house, so we just need to split it out and run it up to your apartment. One of the guys will be over later this week. And I’ll be sure to tell Pearl we met. “
“No, don’t, ” Will said. “Don’t tell her. Let’s just play along, our own way.” He winked.
Cameron frowned for a moment, then smiled. “You’re on, Mr. Phillips.”
(to be continued)