The Mower – A Free Short Story

I learned putting my short story on the ‘Net’ does not mean any of the 4 plus billion active internet users will find my work. Concessions had to be made; the title, “The Janitor a Free Short Story,” was conceived to meet SEO (Search Engine Optimization) keywords. Did you know “Short Story” gets 60,000 searches each month? I hope a few of those searches for “Short Story” will trickle through here.

I did not however alter the Body of the Story to make it optimized SEO speak. Yes, there is software out there to do just that- Frankly, that scares me. Anyway, thanks for finding my site and hopefully reading “The Janitor a Free Short Story” and the other short stories posted here.

Ray Mills

The Mower a Free Short Story
It was a short five-minute drive from home when Colin  McGregor pulled in front of his first lawn for the day – Mrs. Camille Trachman. His choice wasn’t random, and he knew Camille was an early riser. Colin had learned early that some people were very particular about what time he could start mowing. He worked his way around the house, walking behind his mower when he saw Camille sitting at a little cafe table on the back deck.
Collin took note of the two coffee cups on the table. Camille’s significantly older husband Neil had died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago on a business trip at 45 years old. Collin thought she seemed lonely and always was keen to strike up a conversation. Not that he minded, Camille was a real ‘looker’ with olive skin, dark eyes, and a full figure. He had decided some time ago that It wasn’t that she dressed provocatively – it was there were just too many curves to hide. He smiled and let go of the mower, which automatically shut off when she waved him over. “Good morning Mrs. Trachman” “Good morning Collin, please, I’ve told you to call me Camille – have some coffee” Collin felt a bit ambushed but didn’t want to be impolite, so he reluctantly agreed. They chatted for a few minutes about the weather, the lawn’s need for a spring fertilizer before Camille said, “Do you know a trustworthy plumber? – My kitchen a sink has a steady drip,” Collin told her he didn’t because he did all the plumbing repairs around his house. “Could you take a look?” Collin had started doing handyman jobs during the winter slow months years ago. As both way to get new lawn customers and to stay busy. She leads him to her spacious kitchen, and sure enough, the faucet was leaking; it was a well-known “washerless” brand that was easily repairable. Collin agreed to come by in the late afternoon, repair the faucet, thanked her for the coffee, and quickly went back to mowing. Even though Mrs. Trachman made him feel a bit uncomfortable, he wouldn’t say no to a few extra dollars. Never leave money on the table, he thought to himself.

Collin spent the next uneventful several hours mowing 5 lawns and swinging by the big box store, buying the $4.99 faucet repair kit. It was 5 PM when he knocked on Mrs. Trachmans door toolbox and repair kit in hand. Once again, she leads him to her kitchen, and Collin saw she had emptied all the contents from under the sink. Before he considered it, he said: “I see I have a helper today.” Camille sheepishly smiled like a schoolgirl who just received a rose from an admirer. Twenty minutes later, Collin had repaired the faucet and the kitchen cleaned up. Collin wrote a quick bill on an invoice pad – $20.00 labor and $4.99 parts for a total of $24.99. He knew a plumber would easily charge twice that, but she was already a customer and a widow to boot. Had he known that Camille’s husband’s life insurance policy and a very successful business had left very her well-healed, he might have upped the bill a few dollars but, fair prices brought more business. Collin said, mail me a check when you get a chance and hustled himself out the door. Collin thought to himself a man on a diet should stay out of the kitchen – she was just too attractive and stood close enough that Collin could smell her perfume.

Ten minutes later, Collin backed his trailer into his driveway with the confidence of someone who has performed a task countless times before. He stepped out of his older immaculate truck, took a glance over the modest ranch-style home, took a deep breath through his nose, and considered what his senses told him -it was going to be a warm, beautiful spring evening, confirming the prediction by the weatherman; Collin thought who says you can’t smell what a day of sunshine does? He glanced around his property and was pleased with what he saw. The vibrant flowers, expertly pruned trees, and the oh so lush green lawn supported his belief that his home was his best advertising. There was little doubt this was the home of a gifted gardener or someone who just cared.

Had Collin thought about it, he might have realized that it was 37 years ago to the day that his ‘career’ of pushing a lawnmower had begun. A neighbor with a broken mower needed his lawn mowed. They struck a deal: $8, and it took the then 16-year-old Collin about an hour to mow and turn over the beds. Collin’s large family always struggled to make ends meet and rarely had extra money – he usually just felt lucky to get have a full belly and decent pair of sneakers to wear. When the neighbor handed Collin the money and thanked him, something forever changed in him. He said to one of his brothers, “that was easy. I want more lawns”. In the beginning, he towed his mower with a few hand tools tied on behind the beefy old bike he found in a collapsed garage. He learned only to take customers he could ride to in a few minutes. By the time he passed his driver’s license exam, he already owned the first several used pickup trucks and trailers he would own over the next 37 years.

Collin was smarter than his high school grades would lead one to believe; the school wasn’t a priority in a family worried about having oil for the furnace, frankfurters for dinner, as well as new tires and brakes for the aging family automobile. His first semester at the community college cost $230 – more money than he could fathom. He borrowed the money and funded the books from his lawn business. In the community college’s small business course, taught by a 70-year-old professor with 7 kids, he would learn about the benefits of minimizing operating costs. “I buy a two or three-year-old car – the depreciation on a new car is massive for those first couple years.” – A seed was planted and took root in Collin’s mind, and as a result, he never owned a new car or truck in his entire mowing career. Many a Saturday morning when one would expect Collin to be mowing, he was busy passionately searching lawn sales for used mowers and tools. Collin wasn’t by nature cheap – he just loved a good deal. He had learned an important secret: It isn’t how much money you make. It is how much you manage to hold onto. Collin had managed to hold onto a great deal.

Somehow, between mowing, snow blowing, and tree removal, Collin managed to earn an accounting degree at the local state university. An accounting job with a small CPA firm beckoned, but Collin knew his heart wasn’t in an office. Much to his family’s consternation, he declined the offer, and he never looked back.

A few years later, when his Mom finally sold the family home, he moved into a carefully selected small apartment in town where he could keep his trailer locked in a nearby rented garage. He stayed there for almost four years before finding the small ranch house that he now called home. The former owner had died in a nursing home after a seven-year stay, and the house stood vacant all the while. The property was a mess, the house smelled bad, and everywhere you looked, there was something in need of replacement or repair. Other house hunters saw filth and dollar signs for repairs and turned away, Collin saw a large barn-like garage to store his tools and a long driveway to park his truck. In May, He bought it, contents and all, for $80,000 from the nephew heir who was sick of paying the real estate taxes. The nephew agreed to hold the mortgage. For the next five months, in addition to keeping up with his thriving lawn business, Collin put in a Herculean effort to make the house habitable before winter. He ripped out all the rugs, painted every wall, and gutted the original pink bathroom and small kitchen. While the boiler was one of the few things in good order, his first expensive addition was a quality wood stove that he found for sale in the local paper. As there was always a customer needing a tree removed, usually after a storm, Connors’s supply of wood was virtually inexhaustible. A roaring fire in the morning and the evening in all but the coldest days generally did the trick. Collin did admit to friends and family that sometimes it was difficult leaving his warm bed to get that morning fire going, but he always pointed his utility bills remained minimal. Within a year, the property was well-groomed, the house interior comfortable and as neat as a pin.

A few years after buying his home, Collin mowed one fateful early Saturday morning for a new customer when he met and struck up a conversation with their 25-year-old daughter Marie. Their third date was when she suggested they stay in and cook dinner at Collin’s house. Collin liked to say he heard the sound of a cash register ring at that moment, but in reality, he realized that this was the simple gal for him. They were married two years later in a modest ceremony about 40 people and honeymooned via a timeshare gift in South Carolina. Their $600 Thomasville bedroom set was found in the classifieds and came from a lady retiring to Florida. Over twenty years later, it still served them well.

Over the next few years, the house’s work continued- replaced Doors and windows, insulation blown in, a backyard paver patio added, new roof and siding, and a two-bedroom and bathroom addition. It soon became the prettiest house on the block. The two extra bedrooms were quickly filled with two boys.

The couple had shared an almost religious-like disciplined about saving and debt avoidance. Every time an extra tree or cleanup job came along, they spent a small portion and saved the rest. Everything purchased had to be on sale or with a coupon. Their only extravagance was a Friday night pizza, box wine, and a couple-dollar movie. The small mortgage was gone within ten years, and Collin had opened a brokerage account. His first investment was Exxon and Nations bank. It was the dividends that lured Collin to invest evermore. In the beginning, the shares were in Collins and Marie’s name, and the dividend checks came to the house. Every quarterly check brought back that old feeling when he got paid for that first lawn with the expected result. “Getting paid for doing nothing! I want more”. Later the shares were in two brokerage accounts which made tax time so much easier on Colin. Although He had an A in his individual income tax class, he hated doing the tax return. When Turbo Tax preparation software appeared on the scene, it was a godsend. Colin was a natural at computers and quite savvy.

Some weeks after that morning coffee, Collin was in the middle of mowing ‘Camille’s front lawn that he noticed a black nylon duffel bag lying in a garden bed behind a bush. When he picked it and inspected it- it was clean, rectangular in shape, had quite a bit of heft to it, and had a zipper across the top of it. He resisted the urge to open it as it wasn’t his, and Collin was as honest as they come. It was clear it hadn’t been there too long and must belong to Camille. He knocked on the door, and Camille answered almost immediately. “Collin, please come in.” “Hey, I found this bag in one of the beds upfront.” Camille eyed the bag and said it wasn’t hers. He put it down on the coffee table and unzipped the bag. It was filled with money, 20 dollar bills, and neat rubber-banded bundles. Both he and Camille let out a gasp. Collin’s mind analyzed what he saw with a trivia bit he knew. There are 233 new twenty-dollar bills to the inch or roughly 4,600 dollars. He estimated there were at least 50 one-inch bundles. These bills were not new, and he wasn’t sure how that affected the calculation, but he said out loud, “ill bet there is a quarter of a million dollars in that bag.”

It seemed to be an eternity before Collin went on to say, “I think we better call the police” It was then that Collin noticed movement through the picture window. There was a man out there wearing what Collin would describe as full biker gang attire. Leather jacket, Jeans, oversized belt buckle, black tee shirt. Collin said, “Call the police,” as he stepped out the door. He walked out the door and pretended to notice the man, and called out, May I help you? The ‘biker’ was on Camille’s property was bent over looking under every bush. He stood and said, “I’m looking for something that fell off my bike – just stay out of my way.” As Collin was now closer, he could appreciate that this was a huge dude. His face was pot-marked, tattoos ran up his neck, and any cop who could worth his salt could tell you they were prison ‘ink’. Collin was not a coward but was thinking this guy is way out of my weight class. Plus, he was certain I would bet he has got a gun or knife, possibly both. Collin said, “this is private property. We called the police”. Camille had not called the police and watched by the window, frozen in fear. That very minute before things got ugly, fate intervened, and a brush fire started by two little kids in nearby woods had gotten out of hand. Sirens seemed to erupt everywhere, and the ‘biker’ calmly turned and walked over to an unseen parked Harley behind Collin’s truck, started it, and quickly drove off.

After Camille calmed down, they talked about what happened. Drug money- they both agreed it could be nothing else. The Inquirer had been running a week-long exposé on Gangs, drugs, and the nearby city’s resulting violence. Camille, Collin, and nearly every other person in this suburb had both read every article with their morning coffee. There had been some particularly vicious, gruesome murders. The police chief said it was hard to make progress because no one was willing to testify for fear of reprisal against their families. Camille was grateful that she had installed surveillance cameras in her home in addition to the alarm.

Collin said, “We need to call the police,” and Camille almost shouted, “absolutely not! Haven’t you been paying attention to the papers? What will they do to us if we hand their money over to the police?” Collin was still unsettled by the morning’s events and wasn’t thinking clearly. In truth, he had a hard time saying no to Camille. It was one of those forks in the road where one way means certain trouble and the other safety. Today Collin and Camille chose poorly. “Alright, what do you want to do?”. Camille said, “First hide the money where they can’t find it. Then when things calm down, we will donate it to the church”. Collin said I need to get back to work. We will talk later. Camille said, “take the money, hide it, I don’t want it here…please, Collin” Collin reluctantly grabbed the bag and carried it out to his truck, and threw it on top of his toolbox, and put it behind the seat…

Collin cut the 5 other lawns that he had planned on for the day, but his mind never drifted from that bag of drug money. Call it superstition, but Collin felt that money was evil and no good could come from it. He knew where to hide it: His next-door neighbor was an elderly lady named Kitty. Collin had mowed her lawn for almost eighteen years now and knew Kitty never ventured out to her shed as soon as he got home. That is exactly where he hid the money on a shelf in plain sight. Collin decided to say nothing to Mary No point in the two of us worrying about it.

A little after dinner, Collin announced he needed to buy some oil for the mowers and run to the big box store. He didn’t particularly like lying to Marie, but he felt it justified in this rare instance. He needed to get out of the house. He called Camille from the truck on his cell phone. “I’ve been thinking this over, and I still think we should turn the money over to the police,” Camille was emphatic. “Absolutely not. They will kill us; besides, they can’t be certain who has the money.”

The next morning, Camille enjoyed her morning coffee when she was startled by the doorbell; She put her coffee cup down and glanced at the monitor. There was a well-dressed man with a clipboard. She thought not today, not now! When she opened the front door intending to send the salesman packing quickly. She looked at the man through the screen door and immediately something felt wrong. It was when her eyes settled on the tattoo on his neck that her internal alarm bell went off screaming. She started to close the “I’m sorry, I am just not interested” The man grabbed the storm dorm and began violently yanking at it. Like all the things her late husband Neil bought, the door was heavy duty. Neil was a firm believer in buying quality. Today that investment paid off in spades. Camille slammed the door through the deadbolt and hit the nearby alarm console’s panic mode. To say that the alarm was loud was an understatement. It had the intended effect the ‘salesman’ took off in a hurry. Even though she was terrified, this time, she had the presence of mind to dial 911. Later after the police arrived, they discovered that the man never looked up at the camera, so identification was impossible. The police promised to increase their patrols.

When Camille called Collin, he was behind a mower, mid lawn, and was lucky to feel the phone vibrate in his top pocket. Camille said, “Someone tried to force his way into the house. I’m sure it was one of them…please come over as soon as possible.’ After Collin confirmed that she was all right and there was no immediate danger, he promised to come over after he finished for the day.

It was 3:30 PM when Collin parked his truck in front of Camille’s house. As he approached the door storm door opened, and Camille ushered him in. She threw her arms around Collin and buried her head into his chest “he tried to force the door open.” Collin allowed her to linger in the embrace. Eventually, she stepped back and quickly recounted the incident. Collin repeated his desire to “Turn the money over to the police” Camille was more terrified than ever at the prospect of angering the drug dealers and would not hear of it.

Collin spent an unusually restless night thinking about how to get out of this mess. He knew there was a chance Camille was right- if they turned the money over to the police, the druggies might take revenge on Camille. When he was driving to the first lawn of the day near Camille’s, an idea struck him. That night, Collin went to Kitty’s shed and transferred all but 1 packet of the twenties into an old duffel, replaced it on the shed shelf, and closed the door. He then took the packet of twenties and the black nylon duffel and tossed it into the passenger’s side of his truck.

The chief of police home lived 5 doors down from Camille’s. He wasn’t a particularly likable guy; he had continually harassed Collin about parking his truck with the commercial plates truck on the street whenever Collin was renovating his home. Early in the morning, Collin drove buy cops home slowly and tossed the bag and the now the twenties out the window, being careful to make sure they landed on the front flower bed. The money flew like confetti landing everywhere.

About an hour later, 16-year-old Matt Porter was three-quarters done with his morning paper route when he nearly zipped past the bag and money.

A couple of hours later, Collin was busy taking down a customer tree when Camille called and reported that the planted bag and ‘seed‘ money had the intended effect. Throngs of neighbors were in front of the chief’s house, and the police had arrived. Word would get out suspicions raised that the Chief had the money. Two days later, Collin saw on the morning news the chief had shot an intruder in the wee hours of the morning. Collin thought, “well, what do you know about that.”

Two weeks later, Father Paul waked across from the modest rectory to his old stone church. As he approached, he noticed a duffel bag leaning against the side door. He thought, “Ah, a clothing donation” He pitched the duffel up over his shoulder and thought “too heavy,” brought it into his title office, and tossed it onto the well-worn couch. He had a busy day didn’t get to open it until late the afternoon. Along with the $233,000, he found a typewritten note, “Please discreetly use this money to do some good.” Father Paul smiled; this would be a secret between him a God, a private emergency fund, and would help many people with that money.

Collin’s bond with Camille was both undeniable and troubling for him.

If you enjoyed this short story may i suggest you click on the follwing:
The Janitor – (A Short Story)

 

Memories Of The Deep Water Drifter

Raymond Mills, M.B.A., M.S. has spent over 30 years of his career as a Controller and Investment Bank and Credit Card Technical Auditor.  He now spends his time writing his blog, short stories and running his boutique Microsoft Office software customization business.

You can contact Ray @ by emailing him Here or by using the contact form on the right border.

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