By the time he slithered away in high huff and handcuffs, Mike Banter had nearly extinguished what remained of the marriage of Jim and Leslie Burk. Jim was one of six sales technicians unlucky enough to work for Banter at an instrument manufacturer desperate for business and obliging to tyrants.
I knew more about Jim and Leslie—about Banter and Abday Measurement Solutions too—than either of them suspected. They usually visited separately. Leslie wanted to plant roses and would cross our adjacent driveways when I was in the backyard tending mine: nothing tricky—a row of red Double Delight alternating with pink First Prize along the back fence, Gold Medal on both sides of the driveway in front of the garage. Leslie liked Gold Medal. I helped her plant half a dozen bushes where the sun hit the Burks’ backyard right and showed her how to feed and prune. While we worked, she talked. And I listened. Jim liked beer more than roses. We’d share a cold one now and then on my patio, sometimes more. Jim talked. I listened.
Jim and Leslie, a technical writer, bought the suburban, brick-veneer two-story next to mine after a few years of apartment life close to downtown Houston. They were daunted by the mortgage but eager to make babies. Someone like me, a silver-haired widower, retired and always home, offered them assurance that people survive most of what they worry about, like staying employed and making house payments for thirty years.