He woke up give minutes before the alarm, but he stayed in bed awake, contemplating the ceiling until the alarm. He silently planned his day. Get up, make toast, read contract, call chuck. Another nice full day, and a guarantee of that for the next 18 months. Not to mention the nice little chunk of change that he coils set aside for the kids.
The alarm rang, it's twin bells signaling the start to another morning. He sat up feeling a little stiff, but he imagined that was part for the course for anyone who had the day that he had. He walked on down to the shower and stuff under the hot steamy water until ha felt his muscles relax, before he dressed and made his way downstairs.
He followed his usual morning routine with a smile that before was such a rarity on his face. He knew that this might be one of the last times he'd get to sit with his coffee and toast before he was ready for a year and a half of adventure. He buttered his toast, and prepared the paper when he remembered about the contract he had to go over. He thought to himself "How much you want to bet there is fine print everywhere all over that thing." He felt lucky that he knew more than a little bit about contracts and the like, having dealt with that nonsense as he liked to call it for most of his adult life. He grabbed the contract, and a red pen from the counter, and sat at the table, toast at the ready for breakfast.
The contract was fairly straight forward, which really surprised the old man. He was expecting to wade through the muck and mire typically seen in contracts such as this, but Ronin was telling the truth, this contract was simply written, and was in his favor as to the benefits. The old man still couldn't believe what they wanted to give him as a stipend, but he would never say no to money that could go to a good cause- namely his children and his favorite charity. As he finished his toast, he read through the contract one last time to make sure he hadn't missed anything. The old man made his way to the desk in his study, contract in one hand, coffee in the other. He sat behind the massive desk that he had taken from his law office before he had closed up shop, and opened the side drawer, removing a small box. He opened the box, and removed a beautifully enameled pen who's colors swirled like the water on a tropical beach. With a flourish, he signed and dated the line with the x on it at the bottom of the form.
He sat back and finished his coffee, thinking about the things that would need to be finished this week before he could start on his bucket list adventures. Taking the pad that had gotten him all this adventure, he began drafting another, but smaller list. In bold writing, he headed the page: Things to Do. He listed who he needed to call, and what had to be done while he was gone. All in all it was a very short list of things. He shrugged as he realized that the act of him doing something to keep him from fading away was a very good thing indeed.
The phone rang, he reached for the receiver and picked it up. Susan was on the line asking what time she should come on by and pick him up. He glanced at the large grandfather clock in the corner, and saw that it was just coming up on eight thirty. "In an hour or so would be more than fine Susan." He practically heard her nodding her head through the wire. "Sir, you can stop calling me Susan, nobody but my mother calls me that, and then, only if she's mad. Call me Sukie, every one else does." The old man laughed at this. "Okay, fine then, but only on one condition," said the old man. "Stop calling me Sir. You're making me feel old, and I don't want to be old anymore. Call me Jim, like everyone else, ok?" It was Sukie's turn to laugh at this. "Okey dokey Jim, roger wilco, I've got it. See you in an hour!" He hung up the phone and stretched.
One hour, he thought to himself. One hour to make all the phone calls he needed. First he called his eldest son, Jim Junior. Briefly he explained the whole story. At the end of it, he son just whistled. "Well, Dad, Geez, you've really gone and done it." his son said, before laughing. They chatted for a few more minutes, his son estatic with his father's good fortune. "As long as you've read through everything thoroughly, I trust your judgement. This will be a very cool thing for the kids to see you doing." After a few more minutes of excited chatter, they said their goodbyes, with the old man promising his son that he'd call every few days to let him know what was going on, and Jim Junior promising to tell his sister the whole story, and that the old man would call her later to elaborate on it all. With a smile on his face, he hung up, and checked off that call on his list.
Next, he picked up the phone and the card Chuck had given him the night before. He called the number, hoping that it wouldn't be too early for him. After the second ring, the phone was answered by a slightly groggy sounding Chuck. "Moore Bettah! You'll find none better than us!" The old man laughed. "Wakey wakey eggs and bakey Chuck!" said the old man.
"Jim! I see you've probably slept in." Chuck started before yawning loudly. "So, tell me, what happened?" The old man told Chuck about the whole of the experience, including his forty-five dollar entree. Jim laughed riotously at the mention of the waiter and the truffles, and congratulated him on accomplishing another item from his bucket list. "What's on the list of things to do today?" He told Chuck about calling his kids, and the call from Sukie. "Sukie now? Wow, that's almost better than being on a first name basis. I love that name, just rolls off your tongue. Sukie. Soo. Kie. I loves it." The two men laughed like teenagers for a few minutes, gossiping like old women until the old man heard a car pull up front. "Hey, Chuck, I need a favor. If I drop by later with a set of my keys, do you mind just checking in on my house from time to time? With all this craziness, I don't know when I'll be in or out, so it'd be nice to know someone was keeping an eye on everything."
"Sure, of course! I don't mind. Drop by any time today, I'll be in the shop. I'll be in the workshop until about noon, so if the door's closed, ring the bell, and I'll come up front for you." As they said their farewells, the doorbell rang. "Coming! Coming!" called the old man as he hung up the phone. He made his way to the front door, checking his appearance in the mirror in the hallway on the way.
He checked out the side window before he opened the door. Sukie was standing there, holding a briefcase. "Hey there Sukie! Good morning! It's good to see you again!" said the old man as he let her in. "Good morning to you too!" she said as she walked into the house. "Wow, nice house you have here," she said as she walked into the living room. "Come into the kitchen, put your stuff down, I'll get you some coffee and we'll go on the grand tour." he said, leading her into the kitchen. As she put her bag and coat down on one of the kitchen table's chairs, he poured the piping hot coffee into a mug. "Cream? Sugar?" he said while waving a shaker of sugar and a container of Cremora at her. She smiled, and replied "One shake of each please," as she walked around the large kitchen.
The kitchen's tile walls and counter were gleaming white, and the floors black and white check were so clean you could invite the Pope over to eat off the floor. The old man met her at the window facing the back yard, and handed her the steaming mug of coffee. She had a sip. "Thank you," she said as she gazed into the garden. She looked at him and said, "Ok, Jim, time for the grand tour, lead the way." The old man chuckled, and waved at her to follow him. From the kitchen, he led her into the living room, pointing at the pictures, and showing her where they were taken. They then walked into the study, where she commented on how beautiful the furniture was, the big desk awing her in its magnificence. Back into the hallway, he led her up the stairs, and showed her the very tastefully decorated guest room, his master bedroom, and then, last, but not least, his den, which he explained was once his son's room, many many years ago, but since he'd moved out, it became a place to put an extra couch and a television. His son, for his last birthday installed surround sound, and a new television. The old man likened it to going to the movies without ever leaving the house, and told Sukie, that his favorite times lately were the Saturday afternoon westerns marathons on the old movies channel, where he'd make some popcorn in the microwave that his son installed on the shelf, and sit and watch movies all day, a lot like in the old days.
"Ok, Sukie, tour's over, time to talk about business," he said, as he motioned for her to follow him back into the kitchen, by way of the study. In the study he picked up the contract, and brought it with them into the kitchen. Once there, he pointed her to the seat next to him while he sat down. He carefully opened and smoothed the contract out on the table. "I've read it over thoroughly, and I was surprised by this contract in a few ways." Sukie tilted her head to the side, "Surprised?" she said.
"Yeah, it confused me because this was the most straight forward contract I've seen in the fifty years I've been involved in contract law. Usually these things are written with so many loopholes, you can sneeze funny and end up hanging yourself. This, instead, it is so straight forward, I'm having a hard time even wrapping my head around it." The old man shrugged.
"Mr. Wong, he's really one for his word. He's big on maintaining that degree of simplicity when he really wants to, and with you, he really wants to. If he didn't want anything to do with you, he'd tell you outright, but he really fell in love with your ideas." It was her turn to shrug, "I guess there is one truthful and honest person in business today, and I think he's it." She chuckled at the thought. "You signed it?" she asked.
"Yep, last page, bottom." He handed her the contract, and she slipped it into the briefcase before he continued, "So, what now?" he asked.
"Now, we figure out an itinerary. Mr. Wong basically set up our expense account to be nearly limitless, but, he's asked us to try not to spend it all in one place, as he's so fond of saying. What we should do, is to make sure your paperwork, including passport are up to date, and if they're not, we can get them up to spec today. Also, we can figure out what we will do, and where we will do it." The old man smiled and nodded as she continued, "I was thinking we'll make a list of some of the major states and cities you specify- New York City, Hawaii, Venice, Orlando, Alaska, so on and so forth and work with them, making a list radially outward, within driving distance of things we can do."
"Hey! I have an idea- I have a couple of globes that we can use to mark out where we're going, you know, with those push pins, and what we're doing or something. It'll help put it in perspective, and I bet it'll be a great TV prop."
"Great idea. First the lists, and then the globe." Together they went through the old mans travel paperwork. His passport was still valid, was one major weight off Sukie's shoulders. "You know, Sukie, I haven't looked at this thing in quite a while, I think the last time I used it was when me and Martha went to Niagara, maybe two years ago." At the thought of the memory, he smiled, "I bet Martha would get a kick out of this. I don't think she'd be happy watching me fester here like I've been doing." The old man cast his gaze down into his coffee, a look of sadness in his eyes.
"Jim, you're probably right." she said, as she put her hand on his shoulder. "I imagine she probably always wanted whats best for you, we women tend to do that for the men we love, and I know she must have loved you a whole lot!" Sukie affirmed, just before giving him a big hug. "Okay, back to business you big mush, or you'll have me crying in my coffee." They both laughed, and continued going over the list of things to do.
About an hour later, they had a very basic itinerary put together. They would start nearby and start working their way out and across the country, east coast to west coast, moving in that general direction around the world until they were back home. The old man's excitement was palpable as they went over the list. He crudely drew a map of the United States, and put little stars and a line showing their planned path across the country. While the old man was doodling on his paper, Sukie started a rough time line of where she thought they'd be and when they would be there. Her basic time line put them at just under a year, but she knew that with delays, periods of rest, and other things going on at once, fifteen months was a more reasonable estimate, with enough buffer to make her more comfortable. The planning phase was nearly over, and she looked up at the old man.
"So, when do you want to start?" she asked. He looked up from his map, with a blank look. "Oh, started." he shook his head to clear the cobwebs. "Okay, how does as soon as possible sound? What's good for you?" he asked.
"Well, looking at this, it'll take us a little more than a year, but less than a year and a half, going at a nice relaxed pace to hit all our objectives. It'll take me a day to secure our transportation and first flight out, and, I think tomorrow would be a great day to get going. We could get Mike in here early, shoot some video of us starting, and getting you on your way."
"Excellent, that will give me a little time today to pack, and provision, and tie up a few loose ends before we go." said the old man, who was thinking of the little list of things he had left to finish today.
"Great, oh, and I forgot to give you something earlier." Sukie said while digging through her briefcase. The old man looked at her quizzically. "Mr. Wong wanted to make sure you had everything you needed on this trip, so as per the part in the contract about traveling expenses, he wanted to make sure you got this." She found the small envelope she was looking for and passed it to the old man. He peeped inside, and pulled out a small credit card, to which a post-it note had been attached. It read: "Jim, for your personal expenses for this trip. Have a great time! --Ronin." The old man was taken aback. "I thought traveling expenses meant hotel, and tips." Sukie nodded, and said, "Yeah, it means that, and in a traditional business rider, that would be about right, except that this is a television production." She paused and pulled out a small pad from the briefcase, flipped it open, and cleared her throat. "We'd like you to have a means of communication with your family, ie. a newer cellular phone, any clothing and toiletries you may need, including ones necessary for hot and cold environments, Devices for entertainment, including books, games, iPod, et al."
"A black credit card?" he said, as he flipped it over in his hand a few times. There was no detail on the card, except for only the small hologram and bank logo on the front alongside the raised numbers."
"It's kinda like a platinum card but better. We joke around at work and call it the unobtainium card."
"So," the old man lingered on the word trying on his next sentence in his head. "So, basically, I get to go shopping, all expenses paid, to fill in my wardrobe, and buy toys?" Sukie smiled. "Yep. And, he wanted to make sure you were entertained the whole time, especially considering that travel can be rather boring at times. That's why he suggests the iPod, so on long trips, you have some movies to watch or music to listen to, or even." Sukie paused to build suspense.
"What? What is it?" asked the old man, who was very intrigued.
"Foreign language learning tapes."
"Whoa? I though I'd use my old Walkman, I'm sure it still works."
"It might still work, but you'd never find current educational materials. The newer ones are excellent, and are tons more enjoyable."
"Okay then, that might be justifiable. But why the new cell phone?" he asked, pulling his current model out of his pocket, and handed it to her.
"Wow, that thing still works?" she surveyed the older model phone as if she was evaluating a fossil.
"Well, it doesn't hold a charge real well, but I'm usually not anywhere of interest," he trailed off and paused. "Okay, I suppose an upgrade is in order. I suppose you want it to have a speaker so you can hear me gushing to my friends and family too, like on all the television shows now?" She nodded. "Fine, I'll upgrade. But, can you come with me for that, I have no idea what's what now a days." Sukie laughed and agreed. Together they made a shopping list, and she agreed to drive him to the mall. "It's not that I can't drive," started the old man, "but I got rid of the car after Martha passed, I have my groceries delivered, and I only take the bus to the diner once or twice a week, tops. The maintenance and gas cost were just too much, you know?" She nodded and replied, "Well, if you want to take a spin, let me know, and I'm sure we can arrange to get you a little runabout while we're getting you set up today." The old man laughed and shook his head no. "Nah. Today's going to be a fun day, why involve the stress of parking. I figure you let me go to main street, I'll get what I need there, it's where I usually do all my shopping, and later, we'll go to the phone store, and you get me set up with one of those new fangled tricorders they're passing off as phones now."
The old man got up and took the two empty coffee cups to the sink where he rinsed them out, and set them into the small dish drain. He glanced into the garden, then turned to Sukie. "Hmm, I need to find someone to pull those weeds, before it turns into a disaster out there." She stood and looked out the window on the back door. "Your garden is practically perfect, I think a weed would be afraid to even look in there, let alone grow." The old man laughed. "If only that were the truth." he said with a chuckle. "I bet I could get some of the kids Chuck at the music store teaches to pull those weeds." He shrugged, "At least, whats the worst he could say." He carefully dried the dishes and put them away in the cabinets. "Time to get down to business," he said, as he reached for his coat from the back of the kitchen chair. "Your chariot awaits," said Sukie as she pointed in the general direction of her car. Together, they walked down the hallway to the front door. The old man was careful to remember to take the spare set of house keys from the hook when he took his own down. As she went towards the car, he carefully locked the door, making sure everything was just so. When he got into the car, Sukie had it running, and ready to go. Once he got in and buckled up, she pulled away in the direction of the main street shops.