We did talk about it, though, right then and there.
All of us did, including the Sleuth Brothers and Missus Glueck, who’d come down right when Heidi called.
About a quarter of the way through the telling I saw something like understanding cross my father’s face — not understanding of what had happened — he already grasped that — but understanding of a deeper, more meaningful kind. When we’d told it all, including every detail that everyone could think of, my dad finally said what had come to him.
“Suzanne,” he began, but by his glance around the living room he included everyone, “I’m sure, in fact I know now, that the stuff you found in the Reuhausens’s garage is the missing stuff from RENTandRUN. I don’t even have to see it. I trust your eyes completely for that.
“What I didn’t realize, until now, is where it might have gone — how it might have turned up missing, I mean — and how it might have come to be where it is.
“Your grandfather had this — this thing — about equipment that didn’t work properly or that needed to be fixed too often, or that just looked rough from use. He kept coming to me, this was years ago now, and saying ‘Look, no one ever checks this mower out any more, even if it’s the last one in the place.’ So to prove him wrong I’d sometimes check something out to a fictitious name. Then he’d admit this or that was still bringing in the profits.
“But somehow, when he knew I wouldn’t miss it any more, I now realize, he’d get rid of something once and for all. And I never missed it. Until lately, now that he’s no longer around, and I came to the uneasy conclusion that things had been stolen. Oh, there were things we’d throw away on purpose. But you know how we fix things there until everything we have gets to be like George Washington’s hatchet on the wall.”
George Washington’s hatchet was Grampa’s idea of a great joke. He had mounted an old-looking hatchet on the wall behind the counter and told countless people that it was the very one that George had used to chop down the cherry tree, and that it had been in the family for generations. Oh, the head had been replaced once or twice, and the handle had been broken and replaced several times, but yessir that was the genuine article. To Grampa it was nothing more than a gag, but for my dad it had become a symbol of his frugality. Why replace a whole drill when you can replace the chuck? Why buy new rakes when you can sand the handles and then straighten and repaint the old tines?
Dad finished explaining: “I can see now what Grampa was doing all along, there. The stuff he thought we should throw away, he was slipping out of there right under my nose and taking it to Beacher’s scrap dump. Karl Reuhausen and Chop Beacher are old cronies. They used to build houses in Franklin and West Franklin thirty years or so ago. Then Reuhausen went into the paint business and Beacher went into the junk business.”
Dad paused and smiled grimly at me. “Suki, Mister Reuhausen came by that stuff fair and square. Probably paid well for it, too. I’m going to check all this out, but I’ll tell you right now: That stuff is no longer ours. Grampa threw it away. Sold it, maybe, for scrap, or gave it away, or traded it for parts — he sometimes bargained with Beacher for wheels and things. Mister Reuhausen is no thief.”
We all sat in silence for a long time.
The phone cut through everyone’s thoughts. Dad answered. We could tell by the way Dad was saying: “I’m-sorry-you-feel-that-way” that it was Mister Reuhausen. He was on a long time, and in the meantime the Gluecks and Harvey all excused themselves and left.
When Dad hung up the phone the only thing he could say was: “We have a lawsuit on our hands.”
The phone rang again, and Dad came back after a minute to say: “That was Cal Vanbeck. He said if there’s anything he can do to help us find peace or if anyone just needs someone to talk to, he’s there. That was really nice. He’s also going to call the Reuhausens.”
It turned out that the Reuhausens were not amused and were not forgiving. After that one conversation between my dad and Mister Reuhausen there was no direct contact between our households. In a few days there were calls to and from lawyers. Finally, in one conversation I overheard as I walked in the door from school, my dad was saying: “I hope you agree that that’s the best thing both for your client and for a very scared and repentant thirteen-year-old girl.”
At dinner that night he explained the “compromise.” The Reuhausens had started out demanding a very large sum of money for damages. (To their reputation.) I don’t have to tell you that the story of my humiliation had traveled all over town. I was told to say at school: “I’m sorry, but I’ve been advised not to discuss it.”
The compromise was this: That in order to have the case settled as quickly as possible, the Reuhausens were willing to have it heard before an arbitrator.
They would drop their demand for money but would leave it up to the arbitrator to determine whether damages might still be due, and how much. That was a gamble my dad was willing to take. Furthermore, I alone would stand trial, if you can call it that. This was possible since the whole affair was clearly my own doing. My parents were away and therefore weren’t a party to it. Oh, and the lawyers for each side would be retained for advice but wouldn’t be expected to present the case. That’s about all I can explain of the legal process.
The trial itself could be scheduled for a morning in late October before an arbitrator who had been a regular judge before he retired. It was about a month-long wait.
The Clover Street News – Chapter 1 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 4 – Chapter 5 – Chapter 6 – Chapter 7 – Chapter 8 – Chapter 9 – Chapter 10 – Chapter 11 – Chapter 12 – Chapter 13 – Chapter 14 – Chapter 15 – Chapter 16 – Chapter 17