Disclaimer: The Characters of Due South belong to Alliance Communications. No copyright infringement is intended.
I have so many stories that I should be working on. Instead, I'm listening to Stan Rogers, Home in Halifax. Sigh. When the musae bash...
Speaking of bashings, I'm going to have to combine doing dishes with making soup. The last time that happened, Turnbull came and started whispering in my ear. I started that story, but when my soup was done, he was gone. Sigh. And he was being so nice and helpful, even if he wasn't doing any housework for me. That would have been really nice.
Anyway, this is, of all things, a Welsh story. Remember on Mountie on the Bounty, when he said he worked summers on the lake with his uncle? Well, try listening to the Mary Ellen Carter by Stan Rogers and try and tell me that it won't give you ideas. I'll apologize now for my long-deteriorated marlinspike seamanship. It's been more than half my life since I was 'into' seafaring, and I've never worked on a cargo ship, or even been aboard. My minimal experience involves sails and I have a lot more theory than practical experience, but I used to know a few seamen. Believe it or not, they were some of the softest and cleanest spoken men I've ever known. At least, in my company.
It's also a sequel of sorts to 'Why Didn't You Believe Me?' It takes place, well, part of it takes place the summer before Harding started his senior year of high school, and his brother (whom I'm assuming is just two years younger than him) was sixteen and working with their uncle for the first time. The rest of it takes place about six months after Harding regained custody of his four children.
This must be dedicated to the memory and music of Stan Rogers. After all, it was his song, Mary Ellen Carter that inspired this. It will also explain why their grandfather left the farm to Harding, instead of Wilson...
Once again, I make no claim on the characters of Due South, they are owned by others to whom I am most grateful for their creation and, moreover, that they refrain from suing me for their use.
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It was their last load for the summer. He'd be going back to school in just another week. He'd earned a man's wage, this year, and he'd bulked up from the skinny sixteen-year-old who had first come on board two summers ago. This year, though, he'd grown vertically, as well as gaining muscle and bulk. He played halfback on the varsity football team last year. This year, he wouldn't be surprised to be moved to tackle, or maybe even linebacker, he'd certainly grown enough, at six-foot-three and two hundred and thirty pounds, all solid muscle. He wondered what his dad would say, now? He glanced over at his kid brother, who was, like him, leaning on the aft fantail, watching the sunset. Wilson was sixteen, now, and would never be as tall or as strong as he was, but he was a determined cuss. Uncle Jackson certainly was pleased with both of them.
"Storm's comin'," Wilson called across softly.
He nodded, turning and looking at the clouds gathering to the east and north. Yeah, definitely a storm. Early, this year. "Hope it's not too bad. That last little gale had you pukin' your guts out for hours."
"I'll do better, this time. I already took some Dramamine," Wilson grinned at him. "You figured out how much we made this summer, Harding?"
"Yeah, gross, though, not net. I can't figure out how they do the taxes and stuff."
"So? What'd we make?"
He wasn't sure he should tell. After all, he'd been doing this for two summers, already, so he was being paid almost a full man's wage, whereas Wilson was just getting half-pay, because of his age and lack of experience.
"Enough for a car, I think. Maybe even the insurance, for you, if that's what you want."
Wilson grinned in excitement. "That's great. What are you going to do with yours?"
"Save it. I want to go to college." Maybe that way, he could avoid the military and going to Viet Nam, like so many others already had.
"Gonna try and skip the Army, huh?"
"Yeah, well, we'll see."
"You think I should save for college?"
He turned to look at his kid brother. "That's up to you. I figure that if you want a good job, you got to go to college. You got good grades, so why shouldn't you?"
"What you gonna study?"
He shook his head. "I got no idea. I've thought about it, maybe be a cop...maybe not. I don't know that I want to just keep working the sea, although, I do like it. Maybe. I'll just have to wait and see."
The last of the sunlight faded from the lake's surface and the two boys headed below to the galley to do their turn at serving supper. Because they were so much younger and less experienced, they drew the galley duty more often than the rest of the crew. Of course, they each also ate twice as much as any man aboard, as well, so it seemed only fair. They certainly didn't complain about it.
Once again, the captain and first mate skipped supper. Harding frowned. He knew where they were. Not up in the wheelhouse, nor even on deck. They were down in the captain's cabin, drinking their supper. But he was just a kid, and it wasn't his place to tell adults what he thought. He cast a worried glance at his uncle, who didn't seem to notice anything amiss.
After supper, he and Wilson cleaned up the mess and the galley, then headed for their bunks. One thing about working the ship, the work was hard, and the sleep was easy.
He didn't have any idea what time it was when he awoke, but he instantly knew that something was wrong. Wilson was still sleeping, so he woke him. "Hey, Wilson, wake up. Somethin's wrong with the ship!" Wilson grunted and woke up.
"What is it?"
"I don't know, listen to her. She's sounding funny." The two boys got up and dressed hurriedly. Going up on deck, the wind and rain nearly drove them back below, but the boys were determined.
"I'll check the wheelhouse!" Harding yelled at his brother, "You go wake the crew!"
"You think we should do that?" Wilson was worried that if they woke the crew, they'd get in trouble.
"Yeah, something's wrong. Go on. At least wake up Uncle Jackson. He'll know what to do." As Wilson returned below, he worked his way up to the wheelhouse. The gale-force winds battered him and he was twice nearly swept overboard before he made it to the shelter of the bridge. When he got to the wheelhouse, he was shocked to find it unmanned. He'd never been allowed to learn how to steer the ship, but he'd studied on his own, and knew how to read the instruments. Despite the stiff gale and the heavy storm waves, he could tell they had a definite list to port. That was not a good thing. He could see that they were heading south, and he knew darned well that their course should have been east-south-east. The wheel wasn't locked, so he tentatively grasped the controls and used every ounce of his newly earned muscles to hold on and start trying to turn them back on course.
He'd managed to get her turned a few degrees when Uncle Jackson burst through the door. "What the hell happened, Harding? Where's the captain and the mate?"
"Don't know. I found it empty and headed due south. I've been trying to turn us back on course, but I don't know how far we might have drifted." Harding was afraid. He'd been lucky, so far. They'd had rough seas to run and occasional squalls, but nothing like this. He cast a frightened glance to his uncle, who looked worried.
"Good boy. Try and hold her steady. What says the radar?"
"I'm not sure," Harding admitted. "I think we're listing to port, though."
"Aye, that we are." Jackson agreed. "Can you hold her?"
"I think so. How do I know where the rocks are?"
"I think it may be too late to worry about that, boy. I'm going to get the rest of the crew and we'll see what we can do. Try and keep her steady, Harding, that's the most you can do for now."
"Aye, aye, sir." He clenched his teeth together and determinedly hung on, trying to keep the ship going on course...although, no matter what, it wasn't the 'right' course.
Wilson found the captain and first mate; the captain was drunk and unconscious, the mate in little better shape. They had both been in the wheelhouse, drinking and not paying attention to what the ship was doing. Jackson got from the first mate that they had scraped bottom on something, and had gone below to see if there was any damage.
Jackson and one of the other crewmen went down into the cargo hold and found the damage. They were taking on water and they called out for the rest of the crew. They slaved like madmen, trying to stop the breach, but it was too late, and the ship kept taking on more and more water. Their cargo finally shifted and she started to wallow and threatening to roll.
There was no choice; they ended up having to abandon her. Harding held the wheel until his uncle came to fetch him. He was reluctant, until he was told that if she rolled, there'd be no way to save him. He followed the others, helping to toss the captain and mate into a boat and lowering them into the water. No one wanted to go with them, but the other boat wouldn't hold the rest of them, so one of the men joined the captain and first mate in the first boat, while the rest of them climbed aboard the second boat and Harding, with help from his uncle and brother, lowered them to the water. They watched in dismay as the ship sank.
"Twenty years," Jackson muttered. "I worked that grand old girl for twenty years, boys. This is a sorry end for her."
"Won't they salvage her?" Wilson asked.
"Hard to say. She's a good ship. The owners should raise her, she's worth a quarter million. I should think, even at her age."
They watched and listened as the ship groaned when she rolled and slipped beneath the waves. Jackson had tears running down his cheeks from the grief of watching his old friend die. That night, Harding learned something about being a man. That it's all right to cry when it hurts and you lose something or someone you love.
The storm blew out shortly after daybreak. The coast guard had picked up their transmission the night before and Jackson had called them again after they had abandoned ship. A Coast Guard Cutter came to escort them to shore, marking the location of the sunken ship on their charts and leaving a buoy to indicate the location for salvage.
He had just gotten home from school. Football practice had been extra tough that afternoon. Well, tough for everyone except the Welsh brothers. He and Wilson were laughing as they came down the street. Watching their teammates struggle to lift the barbells had amused them. Harding could practically lift them with one hand, except for the balance. The coach didn't know what he'd been doing, but that extra four inches and fifty pounds had moved him from halfback to linebacker. He was also a lot faster than he ever had been before. He could do a hundred yards in ten-five. Pretty darned fast for such a big man. The coach had to look up at him, now.
He saw his uncle's truck outside the apartment. He jostled his brother and started running, Wilson hot on his heels. They weren't even out of breath when they hit the door to the apartment. What was surprising, was that their grandfather was there, as well. He was glad, however, that their father wasn't there.
"Hey, Uncle Jackson, Grampa!" Wilson shouted upon seeing them. Harding, being older, frowned as he looked at them. Jackson's expression was grim, and he could see that his grandfather wasn't looking very happy, either.
"Wilson, Harding." Washington Welsh looked at his grandsons and was pleased with what he saw. Harding was a man, grown; and Wilson was growing rapidly to manhood. "Jackson asked me to come along with him, today."
"What's wrong?" Harding asked, worried, his mind automatically jumping to the more serious conclusions.
"Is something wrong with dad?" Wilson asked, paling.
"No, your father is fine. Go on, Jackson. Tell them."
"The insurance paid off on the 'old Salt'."
"When they gonna raise her?" Wilson asked, excitedly. "Maybe we can go and watch?"
"They don't plan on salvaging her. They got their money for her, from the insurance, so they're going to let her rot on the bottom," Jackson said savagely. "One of the most dependable and hearty ships on the lake, and those drunken bas...."
"Jackson! Enough." Washington looked at his grandsons and smiled. "That's no concern of yours, boys. I just thought I'd come along with Jackson and give you your paychecks."
Jackson held out two envelopes. Wilson eagerly snatched his up and opened it, whooping in excitement at the size of the number on the check. "Harding, I could buy a brand new car! A really nice one, with this!" He danced around the room in his excitement.
Harding looked in his own envelope, his eyes widened in surprise at the size of the number on the check, and then he frowned. "This is too much, Uncle Jackson. I didn't earn this." He looked up and his face showed his puzzlement.
"Bonuses for getting everyone off safely." Jackson explained, bitterly. "They don't want us badmouthing the captain or the mate, so they're paying for our silence."
"But, what about the 'Salt'?"
"She's rotting on the bottom." Jackson turned away, trying to hide his anger.
"Can't something be done? Maybe we could raise her?" Harding asked.
Jackson looked at his nephew, a surprised look on his face, which turned calculating. "Where would we get the money for it?"
Harding looked at his check, then at his brother and uncle. Holding it up, he said, "How far would this go?"
Jackson stared, frowning, first at Harding, then at the check. He chewed on his lower lip as he considered the idea.
"Let me talk to the rest of the crew. Since she's down, we're all out of work, so...maybe." He nodded, his mood lightening. "Yeah, Harding, just maybe." He looked at Wilson, who was frowning at them. "You want in on this, Wilson?"
"You mean, all of it?" He looked from one face to another, then at his check. He also chewed on his lip, wrestling with the idea of giving up more money than he'd ever seen at one time in his life.
"You don't have to, Wilson. Let me figure out how we can do this, or even if we can." Jackson was pensive, the wheels turning.
"That money is yours to do with as you please, Wilson. You earned it. Even if they decide to try and raise her, you don't have to invest in it," Grampa told him. He turned to his son, "How many are in the crew?"
"Not counting the captain and first mate, there are five of us, counting the boys."
"What's she worth, sitting at the dock?" Washington asked.
"Easy quarter million."
"So, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, if you go in equal partners, meaning every man putting up the same amount of money and/or work, that could be a fifty thousand dollar payoff." He turned to Wilson, "Of course, that would require you to work to raise her yourselves. That would mean that the soonest you could go to work on her would be next spring. A lot can happen between now and then."
"Your grampa is right. Let me figure out if we can do this, okay, boys?" They agreed.
Through the fall and winter, every weekend, they would talk about the idea. Wilson had been convinced to, for now, bank his paycheck and let it earn interest until they all decided whether or not it would be feasible to pool their resources to raise the ship.
As Christmas approached, however, Wilson couldn't stand to leave his earnings alone and went out and bought a used car. Harding never said a word, but left his alone, using money he earned after school, for Christmas and anything he felt he needed. He continued to ride his old ten-speed bike everywhere he needed to go. Wilson laughed at him as he drove past him to school one morning. Harding just clenched his teeth and ignored his younger brother.
His father wasn't any help, either. Realizing that Wilson was a soft touch, he started 'borrowing' money from his younger son. Of course, he never intended to repay it, and before long, Wilson's first paycheck was sadly depleted. Harding told him to stop giving money to their father for booze, and eventually, Wilson figured it out for himself and stopped giving in every time his father asked for money.
It was decided. Come Easter Break, weather permitting, they were going to go down and start the salvage operation. Harding had taken welding for two years, now, and was looking forward to diving on the sunken vessel. Wilson was upset. Now that it was going to happen, he had very little money left to invest in the project. Harding refused to feel sorry for him. He'd made his own decisions. He suggested that maybe he could use labor in exchange for a share, but Wilson wasn't willing to work that hard.
He couldn't believe how much it hurt. He'd done well the first two dives, but this was his third one that day. He had been working at least as hard as the grown men, his skills at welding coming in handy. It was a bit different, welding underwater, but it still worked. He'd patched several rents in the hull, already. They had suggested he not go down the third time, but he was young and didn't know any better. When he came up, he did so too quickly. He lay in his rack, his body in knots of agony as he suffered what he'd been assured was a 'mild' case of the bends.
They had borrowed a barge from one of his grandfather's friends. The hardhat suit was cumbersome and heavy, but he only had a week to work, before going back to school. There simply wasn't enough time to do the job in a week. It would be two more months before he could come back, so he was in a hurry to do as much as he could. Wilson was put in charge of tending the air pumps, as he was afraid of going down in the old diving suits.
The day after he'd had the bends, Harding was in a suit and preparing to go down when his uncle stopped him. "Where you going, Harding?"
He looked down at his uncle in surprise. "Where do you think?"
"How're you feeling? You had the bends half the night. You sure you want to go back down?" Jackson asked in concern.
Harding smiled grimly. "Yeah, I'm sure. I only got nine days to get as much done as I can. I'll be more careful coming up."
"Try not staying down quite as long, too. We don't need to kill ourselves. She'll wait for us. We bought the salvage rights, we have two years, if necessary, to lift her."
"And every day she's down there, she's getting more damaged." Harding shook his head. "We'll get her up by Labor Day. You'll see." Jackson watched, impressed as his nephew finished preparing to go down again.
Nine days had barely been enough time to examine and begin repairs. However, they were satisfied that they could raise her. She was only in sixty feet of water and the currents there were mild. Providing there weren't a lot of storms, they should be able to get her up, cargo and all.
Harding worked hard at school. He wanted to go to college in the fall. He was looking forward to working on raising the 'Salt' that summer, as well. Three days before graduation, he received his draft notice...he had to report the Monday after Independence Day. Not being the kind to run from his responsibilities, he went down to try and get deferred to go to college. When they explained that he would be better off to enlist, he decided to do so and his report date was Monday after Labor Day. He joined the Marines. He would have the summer off to dive on the ship, and (if he survived) the government would pay for his education when he got out in four years. Wilson told him he was being stupid, but he disagreed. His father called him a fool, and Harding knew for a certainty that he'd done the right thing. His uncle and grandfather said nothing, telling him he was grown enough to make those decisions for himself.
He got the bends twice that summer, each time worse than the time before. The last time, they had called the Coast Guard, who had come out in a helicopter and taken him to the hospital, where he was put in a decompression tank for ten hours. He was warned not to stay down more than an hour at a time, and to take at least another hour to come up to decompress. He did as told, but then tended to become dangerously hypothermic. The older men didn't stay down more than twenty minutes at a time and, although didn't do as much work as Harding, took less time to recover. He still insisted on outworking the older, more experienced men, and they respected him for it.
He had to report in just two more weeks. They'd patched the hull and placed temporary barriers over all the vents. They'd run cables fore and aft and had brought out a special air compressor to blow out the water. In less than a day, they would see if all their hard work was enough. Harding hadn't been ashore since his trip to the hospital. He'd stopped by the Seaman's Hall and heard the scuttlebutt. He was surprised to learn that the former captain and mate couldn't get work. No one seemed to want to take a chance on a couple of drunks. He found that satisfying. He also heard that the former owners were now kicking themselves over not salvaging the ship themselves. With any luck, the containers would have protected the cargo so that they could salvage some or most, if not all of it. Just salvaging the containers would be a pretty good profit. The others were talking about keeping the ship and hiring a captain and going into business for themselves. Harding agreed that that would be a good thing, even if he couldn't be there to join them.
There was a reporter and news crew on hand the next morning. Harding was given the honor of pushing the switch that would force air into the downed ship and bring her to the surface. It took several minutes, but suddenly, the surface of the lake began to bubble and 'boil'. There was a huge bubble, and from the midst of the swelling on the surface, the Sault Sainte Marie breached like a whale, water pouring off her sides. The men all cheered and scrambled to get the bilge pumps set up and going.
It made the evening news... and the front page of the paper, the following morning.
SAULT SAINTE MARIE RISES AGAIN FROM THE DEPTHS OF LAKE MICHIGAN
Harding kept the newspaper from the next day. After all, it had his picture in it.
It would take two more days before she could be towed to the docks for refurbishing. They'd already had several offers to buy her, and several more good offers if they decided to keep her and sail her themselves. When they opened the first of the containers, they found some damage, but nothing that was permanent. It didn't hurt, for the most part, for much of the cargo to have gotten wet; particularly not the steel bars that had made up nearly half the cargo. They had a buyer for the steel, the same foundry for which it was initially intended. With the money the steel brought, they had enough to overhaul the engines and pull her into dry dock to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb, repairing any damage they might have missed. Harding left his share for his uncle to take care of for him, giving him his power of attorney.
One week after she went into dry dock, Harding Welsh left for the Marine Corps, where they made him an MP. He was fortunate in that, although he went to Viet Nam, he was stationed in Saigon and not on the front lines. He still saw action, but was marginally safer than many of his comrades.
He finished his two-year tour and spent the remainder of his service time guarding installations and gates. Several times, he found himself involved in investigations of one sort of another, and decided he might as well put his training to use, after he got out. Using his GI Bill rights, he signed up for Police Science classes at the Community College when his enlistment was up. Because he had spent four full years on active duty, he didn't have to join the reserves.
When he got home, his first stop was his family's apartment. His father was, as usual, drunk. He learned that Wilson had managed to avoid the draft by taking college courses while still in high school. He was pleased to hear that, not wishing his experiences on his brother. Wilson was still living at home, but was out. He refused to stay. His father threatened him, but he laughed. He was taller and heavier than his father; he'd leaned his six-foot-three down to two hundred pounds, all solid muscle. The old man didn't try and stop him when he left.
He found his uncle at his grandfather's house. He was given a hero's welcome and he relaxed and told them everything that had happened to him in the past four and a half years. Finally, he came to the one thing he really wanted to know.
"What happened with the 'Salt'?"
His uncle laughed. "She's doing fine." He stood and left the room. Harding watched him, puzzled. He looked at his grandfather, who smiled.
"He's got some stuff for you, son." Harding nodded and waited patiently.
"Here you go." Jackson handed him a folder. Inside, was a bankbook and spreadsheets. He'd sent his tax stuff to his grandfather to take care of for him. There were copies of his tax returns, and he was shocked at the amount of taxes he'd paid. He opened the bankbook and stared at it in amazement.
"What's all this?"
"Well, we decided to keep her. We've been our own crew, and hired a pilot. We all decide what jobs to take, and how to run her. We've been doin' pretty good, as you can see." Jackson smiled. To think that they wouldn't be where they were now, if his nephew hadn't suggested raising the 'Salt'.
"This is a hell of a lot of money, Uncle Jackson. Grampa?" He'd never seen so much before. His twelve thousand dollar investment, along with his sweat equity and the fact that he'd spent nothing except taxes in the past four years...he was a wealthy man.
"You earned it, Harding. Every penny. Your share of every job goes straight into that account, except for what we send to the IRS for taxes." Jackson was proud that he'd done well by his nephew.
Harding stood there, shaking his head. "Oh, man. This, this is..."
"Just remember that it's yours. No one else's. Not your brother's or your father's," his grandfather said sternly.
"And, when you get married, you get her to sign some kind of paper that won't give her any rights to that money, you hear me, boy?"
Harding smiled and pulled himself up to attention. "Sir, Yes, Sir!" And with that, they all burst out into laughter.
The funeral was solemn, as they all are. There was no real sadness, however. Harding stood by the graveside and watched as his uncle's partners and friends paid their last respects. He was a bit surprised when his old man arrived with his brother. He'd never asked, but knew full well that Wilson's smaller share had been freely shared with their drunken old man. He'd followed instructions and had never given anyone a penny, at least, neither his brother nor father. He stood bareheaded in the cold drizzle, his children gathered around him.
His ex-wife had died six months earlier, and he had regained custody of his four children. They hadn't known their great-uncle very well, but while the old man was dying, he'd taken them with him a lot, asking the elderly sailor questions about his life and adventures. He'd taped each and every visit. He didn't want to forget. He hadn't done that with his grandfather and regretted it, now. He'd even taken up the habit of writing in a journal of his own, after a friend of his had allowed him the privilege of reading some of 'his' father's journals. The stories had been fascinating. He never expected his journals to be as interesting as Sergeant Robert Fraser's, but it was still an important legacy to his children and, perhaps one day, his grandchildren.
"Pretty fancy funeral, huh?" Wilson asked his brother.
Harding smiled. "Yeah."
"Whatever happened to that old boat, anyway?"
Harding frowned and glanced at the younger man. "Don't you still have stock in her?"
"Nah, I sold it years ago to Uncle Jackson. What? Don't tell me you still have stock in that rusty old tub?"
"Yeah, I do." He scowled, wondering why that annoyed him.
"Really? It worth anything?"
Harding closed his eyes, wondering what he should say. His brother lived in a smaller town and was the Sheriff, there. He lived in a travel trailer on a small plot of ground with pink flamingos out front. He shook his head. "A little."
"Hey, cool. So, who runs it?"
"She's still running, although I think she's about due for another overhaul."
"Yeah, but not compared with what she makes. Of course, I'm only a part owner, and not a major stockholder, but it's given me a nice, steady little income." His children watched them curiously, giving their father odd looks.
"You've never met my kids, have you?" Harding turned to introduce the children. "This is Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Abigail. Children, this is my brother, your Uncle Wilson." There were shy murmurs of acknowledgment.
"I thought your ex got the kids? When did you get them back?" Wilson asked, smiling at the children.
"'Bout six months ago, after their mother and step-father were killed in a car accident."
"You guys ever meet Uncle Jackson?" He was surprised by the four nods of assent. "What'd you think of the old man?"
"He had good stories," little Abigail piped up. "He told us about how Daddy and his friends and him got the ship sunk from under them by a drunken captain and first mate, and how they got her back up and running again." There was pride in the child's voice and she slipped her hand into her father's.
"Yeah, that was a lot of hard work. I remember how much I hurt every night."
The children frowned. "You were there, too?" Adams asked in surprise.
"Oh, yeah. I wasn't as careful with my money, though. I've never been a saver, like your dad."
"You're in his will," Harding informed his brother.
"I am?" Wilson replied in surprise.
"Yeah. Since I got the kids back, we're living in Grampa's house again. Come on out Saturday, and we'll talk."
"You the executor?"
"Not to my knowledge, that's just when the lawyers will be out. I was gonna call you anyway, but since you're here, it saved me a call."
Wilson looked over at their father, a frail looking old man, who was none too steady on his feet. "What about dad?"
Harding shook his head. "Not a thing." Wilson had nothing left to say and returned to his father's side.
"Dad?" Jefferson asked, puzzled.
"Don't you like your dad or brother?"
Harding shook his head. "I love them both, but sometimes I don't like them very much."
"Why?" Abigail, at eight, was always asking that particular question.
"We'll talk when we get home, okay?" His children agreed and turned their attention back to the graveside service.
Harding debated whether he should take the children with him to the wake, knowing that there would be a lot of drinking going on there, but decided that they deserved to hear everyone's stories about their great-uncle.
They didn't get home until late, but he remembered his promise and as soon as everyone had bathed and changed into their pajamas, they settled down around the kitchen table to talk.
"You want to know why I don't get along real well with my father and brother. It goes back a long time. I remember all the time, how I wished that Uncle Jackson was my dad, instead."
"Why?" Jefferson asked.
"My dad drinks. A lot. He always has. When he'd get drunk, he'd get mean. He'd take it out on me, most of the time, and when I wasn't around, he'd beat on Wilson."
"Then, why does Uncle Wilson want to be with him, if he's so mean?" Madison asked.
"I can't answer that. I just know that I don't trust my father and haven't since I was a kid. Wilson and me, well, we're trying, that's somethin' we haven't done since I got out of high school. We're actually a lot better, now. We at least talk, occasionally. Wilson let our dad run him, givin' him money for booze and stuff. After we were on the 'Salt', we put our money in the bank. Dad kept asking Wilson for 'loans', but he never paid a penny back and he drank up every cent. He bought a car and when it came time to pool our money, he didn't have much money left, so he used sweat and what little money he did have. He only got a half-share, instead of a whole one. Like you heard him say, he sold his share to Uncle Jackson a long time ago."
"That's sad," Madison said, the others nodding their agreement.
"Well, that's why I don't do a lot with them. I still got some bad feelings about my old man smackin' me around. An' when he wasn't hittin' me, he'd tell me that I was a worthless piece of...well, I'm not. It took me a long time, for me to accept that I'm not gonna be anything like my old man. I'm me, what I've made of myself." He smiled at his children. "Now, it's time for bed."
Wilson was nervous. He hadn't been back to his grandparent's house since Grampa had died. He didn't begrudge the fact that his brother had inherited the farm, after all, Harding had kids and still lived in Chicago. Of course, when his sister-in-law had left with the kids, he was pretty sure it was hard for his brother, but as he always had, Harding had buried himself in his work.
He was met at the door by one of the kids. Jefferson, he remembered. "Hey, Jefferson. Uh, is your dad home?"
"Sure, Uncle Wilson. He's expecting you. The lawyers are supposed to be here soon. Jefferson held the door open wide for his uncle to enter, then led him to the library, where they found Harding and the other three children, playing a game of Monopoly.
Harding looked up at his brother and grinned. "Pull up a chair. You want to play?"
"Nah, that's okay, thanks. I'll just watch." Wilson found a chair and pulled it up to the card table to watch.
"It's your turn, Jeff," Harding said, handing the dice to his eldest.
"Okay." Jefferson rolled the dice and the game continued, with Uncle Wilson kibitzing like mad every chance he got, much to everyone's amusement.
At two p.m., the doorbell rang and Jefferson got up to answer it. Harding looked at his watch and grunted. "That'll be the lawyers. Come on, kids, help me move the table out of the way." The children helped by picking up the folding chairs and putting them away, while their father and uncle lifted the card table and moved it out of the middle of the room.
There were two lawyers, both quite elderly. When everyone was seated, the older of the lawyers stood and began to speak.
"Your uncle was a very careful man, as you might imagine. Unfortunately, his wife died in childbirth and he never remarried. For that reason, he did what he could to interact with you two, his nephews. He took great pride in you, Harding. He said that you were always a hard worker and would put your all into everything you ever do. Having kept track of your career, I find I must agree. He's left you most of his shares in the Sault Sainte Marie. The remainder of his shares, he leaves to you, Wilson. In the hopes that you have learned from past mistakes." The second lawyer handed each man an envelope, which contained share certificates indicating participating ownership in the cargo vessel.
Wilson pulled out the statements that went with the shares and his eyes widened in surprise. "What's this?"
"Ah, those would be the dividends earned, Wildon."
"This is a lot of money." He looked over at his brother, who didn't appear particularly interested nor surprised by the fortune he'd just been given.
"Yeah, it is." He looked at his kid brother, "Don't you dare squander it on that drunken old man, you hear me?"
Wilson stared at his brother, the face was Harding's, but he could have sworn that the voice was that of their uncle.
"I'll do my best."
"As you can see, the dividends are automatically placed in the bank, and you have full access to the interest, although most of the principle is held in trust. If you decide to sell your shares, you must first offer them to your brother, then if the purchase is declined, to the other members of the consortium. Of course, should you die, the shares will pass to whomever you will them to."
"Right," Wilson said, still shocked at the size of his inheritance.
"Understood," Harding said, which caused his children to stifle their giggles. He just grinned back at them.
"The rest of your uncle's estate is to be liquidated and the procedes donated to the 'Sailor's Rest', here in Chicago."
Harding nodded. He'd been there a few times with his uncle, over the years. He donated to them annually, himself, primarily due to his uncle's influence.
"Well, if we can get your signatures on a few documents, we'll be on our way." The older man lifted his briefcase and removed several legal documents for them to sign. Moving over to the desk, the signatures were swiftly accomplished and the two elderly lawyers were soon gone.
"You'll stay to supper, Wilson?" Harding offered.
Wilson looked surprised by the offer. "Uh, sure."
"Good. That's good. I got a pot roast goin' in the oven. It'll be ready in another hour or so."
The table was brought out and the Monopoly game continued. Wilson's kibitzing was conspicuously absent, as he read through all the documents that went with his shares.
After supper, when the kitchen was cleaned and the children sent off to bed, Wilson stood up to leave.
"You're spending the night, aren't you, Wilson?" Harding asked.
"I don't want to put you out."
"You're not. There are two guest rooms, one upstairs and one down here. Your choice."
Wilson regarded his brother. "you knew about all this, didn't you?" he said, challengingly.
"Yeah. He made his will out years ago. Probably after you sold him your shares. What you got back was what you sold him, plus half of his own shares."
"Wilson, When I was in 'Nam, Jackson had my power of attorney. He was very careful to take care of everything for me. When I got home, I found I was a wealthy man. I made him and Grampa some promises, which I kept. Which reminds me, why is your car still in the barn?"
"What car?" Wilson frowned, confused by the change of subject.
"Your Jag. Mark IV? The one Grampa left you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"When Grampa died. He left you a car. A 1956 Mark IV Jaguar." Harding shook his head in confusion. "Why don't you know about it? Grampa died twelve years ago."
Wilson shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Harding frowned and stood, going to the file cabinet behind his desk. Pulling open a drawer, he rummaged through the files, quickly coming up with the one he wanted.
"Here." He handed the folder to his brother and settled back in his chair.
Wilson read the documents, which consisted of a copy of his grandfather's will and an itemized inventory of his property, the list had been added to in what he recognized as his brother's handwriting.
"What's all this?"
"Well, the list of his property didn't include some other cars I found out in the barn. I did find the titles on them and with the will, got them transferred, but the Jag's been sitting out there with the rest and I always wondered why you never came and got it."
Wilson looked up. "I never knew anything about it."
"I know I sent you a registered letter. I even got the receipt for it in there, somewhere."
Wilson looked through the folder and found the green card. He stared at the signature and frowned. "That's my name, but not my handwriting." His expression turned pensive for a moment, then cleared. "Damn. The old man was stayin' with me, then. He must have signed it and forgotten to give it to me."
"Well, it's sitting out there any time you want to come and get it. It will probably need some kind of overhaul before it's safe to drive. I know that several of the others do. I got a couple of guys who's workin' on 'em in their spare time. I could have one of them take a look at it for you, if you want. Or, you can afford to have a professional check it out, if you prefer."
"No, that sounds fine, Harding. I trust your judgment, after all, you've proven yourself to be good at that."
"Yeah, well, that's because I decided a long time ago not to ever look back. It's served me well."
"So it has, so it has." Wilson stifled a yawn.
"Come on, kid. Let's hit the rack."
"Sounds good, big brother. Sounds good." They rose and Wilson followed Harding up the stairs, where he was shown his room. He'd been in the house often enough to know where things were, so Harding left him to his own devices and went to bed, himself.
Wilson lay awake for some time, even though he was tired. He thought of all the mistakes he'd made throughout his life and decided to ask his brother to help him with his new fortune, not wanting to repeat his previous folly. As he drifted off to sleep, he wondered about the car his grandfather had left him, what it might look like...
Ray Kowalski was frowning at the car. He glanced over at his dad, who was also frowning as he examined the vehicle. Ray glanced over at the rest of the group, who were watching them, curiously.
"There's somethin' hinky about this car," Ray announced, his father nodding his agreement.
"Is there something wrong with it?" Wilson Welsh asked, anxiously.
"Nah, nothin' a good oil change, lube, tune-up, and replacing all the hoses and belts probably won't cure. I'm talkin' about the body."
"I don't see any dents," Harding Welsh said softly.
"Nope, that ain't it, either," Damien Kowalski commented, running his fingers along the fender.
"Hmmmm," Benton Fraser murmured, stepping closer to the vintage automobile. "May I?" he asked, looking at Wilson for permission.
"Sure, go ahead."
Fraser crouched to look more closely at the vehicle. He frowned and leaned in to taste the metal. "Hmmm."
"What does that mean?" Damien asked his son, at the same moment that Wilson asked his brother. Harding's children giggled, they'd gotten used to this already.
Ray crouched down and mimicked Fraser's tasting of the metal. "Hmmm."
The last member of the group made gagging noises. "Oh, man, that is so gross. What are you teaching people, Benny? Now you got Kowalski tastin' stuff?" Ray Vecchio refused to call Kowalski 'Ray', even though it was his name and the one he'd used most of his life; only his mother could safely get away with calling him 'Stanley'.
"You're right, Frase. I think it is."
"Is what?" several voices chorused in confusion.
"Gold." Fraser announced. "The body of this vehicle is either cast in or heavily plated with gold. If we were to weigh it, and compare it with the weight listed in the owner's manual, which I noticed is in the glove box, we should have a fairly good idea of precisely how much gold may be involved." Ray Kowalski nodded his agreement.
Wilson gaped. "A gold car? You mean, real gold?"
"Yes. Real gold. I would guess it to be fourteen karat, by the color, possibly only twelve, I suppose."
Madison Welsh reached up to remove her necklace. "This is a fourteen karat chain, with a twenty-four karat cross," she offered them up for comparison. The chain was a shade lighter, but the cross was darker.
"Hmmm, it will obviously have to be analyzed professionally," Fraser announced, as Ray returned the necklace to Madison, gallantly offering to fasten it around her neck.
Harding laughed. "I always wondered why he only left you one car, when he had all these antiques and expensive collectibles out here. Now I know."
"What am I gonna do with a gold car?" Wilson whined.
"I'm certain you could sell it, either whole or in part. There is sure to be several hundred pounds of gold, no matter what degree of purity it may be. That alone is quite valuable," Fraser said.
"Or, you could take it to a few car shows, stick a for sale sign on it. I'm sure there are people out there who would love to buy it, and could give you what it's worth, too." Ray Kowalski suggested.
"Or, you can loan it to a museum, or take it to Reno or Vegas. There's a car museum in Sparks that has that gold cadillac. This would look great beside it," Ray Vecchio added.
"Or, you can take it to car shows. It's sure to win prizes," Damien Kowalski agreed.
"It's not like it's something thieves could target, Wilson. After all, it's a one-of-a-kind vehicle, and the gold is probably of an odd karat, like seventeen or twenty-one," Harding advised.
"You think I should keep it?"
"Look while you guys all figure out what he should do with it," Ray Kowalski said, "Why don't you all go back in the house so me and my dad can get to work on her? Wait until we see what kind of shape she's in mechanically before you go tryin' to figure out what to do with her, okay?"
"Excellent idea, Kowalski," Harding agreed. "Come on, everyone. I've got a fresh pot of coffee and I kind of imagine that they're gonna be all day workin' on that thing, so maybe a house party is in order, okay?" The children cheered and dashed ahead, the adults following sedately behind them.
"Can I help?" Ray Vecchio asked, remaining behind.
Damien looked up when his son didn't respond. There was some tension, still, between the two men. "You can run out for parts, if you want."
"Be happy to." Vecchio agreed. "That okay with you, St...Ray?"
Hearing his name from the one man who knew best how to push his anger button, he popped up from under the hood. "Fine by me, Ray." He grinned. "Got some paper and somethin' to write with? First off, we need..."
As an admirer of classic cars, himself, Ray Vecchio learned, that day, the equal joy of getting greasy and filthy while helping his friends to work on them; and, although he knew nothing of fixing cars when they started, he had a pretty good idea by the end of the weekend, when they turned the key and started the elderly vehicle for the first time amidst cheers from the rest of their friends.
Wilson Welsh decided that, for now at least, he would keep the car.
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