EVERETT PEARSON AND BERT BERTRAM - PARTNERS AND CO-OWNERS OF PEARSON’S TREE BUSINESS
Everett and Bert entered together, as always, but without a word spoken between them.
Everett spoke to no one else either but peeled off almost immediately to sit at the last stool on the left where there was barely legroom between his stool and the wall. Everett preferred this to any other seating. Rather like a gun fighter, he liked his place tucked against the wall, where he couldn’t be surprised. Long ago, he’d learned how to push his thigh between wall and stool, where it remains, wodged solid, for as long as it would take for him and Bert, each and both, to have eaten their food and paid their individual bills. Then they always managed to reach the door and to exit together.
Bert on the other hand greets each person he knows and he knows most everyone who is a regular. This he does before he settling himself as close as he can contrive to the middle of the front counter.
EVERETT PEARSON looks to be in his sixties. He is tallish, rather burly, stubble-faced. It’s about four days growth now. Within the next day or two, you’ll find him over at Perry’s Barber Shop before Perry’s usual opening time. That’s when Perry will give him a close shave, and trim Everett’s full head of brown-going-iron-colored hair. Perry will put on an opera CD. He has is a top-quality sound system that can fill the small shop so that, with eyes closed, you feel that you are seated in the sweet spot while attending a live performance. The opera CDs are all Everett’s. He has asked and been granted this extra privilege in exchange for an extra tip, an old agreement hat, over time, has dissolved since Perry has come to be a bit of an opera buff, himself. No business awaits at 7AM in the mornings. Everett has an extra long spell lounging tipped back in the one chair, steaming towels wrapped around his face while Perry mirrors him, tipped back and lounging in the other. They both enjoy it.
But that’s for later in the week Today Everett is quite stubbled, and he is wearing coveralls. Those coveralls signal that tree shipments will be coming in today. And that means Everett and Bert won’t be in tomorrow until maybe late afternoon, if at all. You can always tell tell when Pearson’s is getting new stock by Everett’s coveralls. Which is rather odd in itself because Everett isn’t the guy out back helping unload the new stock. He’s the guy tending the counter and register. He’s always the up-front man. The day after a delivery, he’s back in overalls and Pearson’s Tree Business stays closed most of the day while he and Bert shift and move stock around, setting new stock where it’s needed, dropping saplings with their burlap-wrapped root balls into pre-dug holes and tamping the dirt back over them, finishing with a pail of water tossed in before the work of spading back in and and lightly tamping down displaced earth. The next few hours they ready any outgoing orders. Heavy work. Pearson’s does a good business.
But today Everett was working on his stubble and reading one of his omnipresent paperback mysteries. He doesn’t like hard covers because he can’t stuff them in a pocket. Everett’s coveralls and overalls both feature extra-deep pockets and always made of blue denim. Whichever one he’s wearing, underneath he always wears one of those old ivory-colored kind of waffle-textured underwear shirts - short sleeves in summer, long in winter. The only touch of color to Everett’s clothing is in his handkerchiefs. He favors bandanas. Buys the 12-pack eight colored double-sided paisley prints of 100% cotton made in America. He gets them by mail from a store out west. You can expect to see anything from banana yellow to dark green to bright red to deep orange to sky blue to lipstick pink come flashing out of a back pocket when he has to wipe his nose.
This day he’s reading a Laurence Block mystery for a little leavening because he’s been an a roll of Ian Rankin and Henning Mankell, both fairly dark writers - one Scottish the other Swedish. Block is all good old USA and though he gets into things pretty good he brings a light touch to his mayhem. Lighter than the other two guys, for sure. Everett is reading now, his book right beside him, flattened so as to lie open, pages spread. Everett doesn’t approve of damaging books, not even paperbacks, and carries with him a short and wide leather strap that is weighted at both ends. Could serve as a sap, if needs be, without a doubt. Everett uses it as it is rightfully intended, to weigh his open book so it lies flat. Everett does nothing but read while he eats. As soon as he’s gotten wedged solid on his stool of choice, he flashes Ruby a sign that he is ready, and then opens his book, never looking up again until he’s ready for his sweet. Otherwise, he leaves choice of what he eats up to Chef Belsen. A good short-order cook who knows what Everett likes. Today it’s a 3-egg omelette, 5 crisp bacon strips and two slices of dry seeded rye toast. Ruby knows to alternate between a large freshly squeezed OJ and a large glass of nearly frozen cranberry juice. And always coffee with a cream pitcher and a sugar bowl right to hand so he can lace up the re-fills Ruby keeps coming. He always choses his own sweet to finish. Today it he’ll have two cinnamon donuts with a glass of ice-cold milk. God knows what he eats any other time of day or night. As I say, he presents with a burly build. Not fat, though. Nor sloppy big, either. A tough man, Everett, with a rugged build.
He lives alone and keeps to himself. Never married that anyone knows of. Moved to Dawton some 12 years ago after he put the Pearson Tree Business partnership together with Bert by phone. He did everything up front, including buying the building and land from the bank. The former owner had gone into foreclosure and then ducked out leaving it to the bank, who was glad to off-load it to this Pearson company. It’s a good location. Sitting almost directly behind Everett where he sits right on his chosen stool, eating. Place had been a market and sat on a good sized paved double lot with drives in the rear that led from Pinter Street on the side and Wilton Street at the back. Perfect for large truck deliveries. Necessary renovations minimal. The same day the signs went up, the first deliveries were made and by the next week, Everett opened the front door and Bert put OPEN signs in every window , hanging the one that says “open” on one side and “closed” on the other on the door. And then it was game on. The whole set-up suited Pearson Tree Business to a T. Or maybe that should be to a P. Anyway, it all happened so fast the neighborhood was in shock at first. And learning anything about Everett himself is like trying to force open a clam with bare fingers.
He is a fanatic loner who lives in a mother-in-law apartment that’s built over the garage in back of the Simpson’s. The Simpson’s are a real elderly couple who haven’t owned a car in a coon’s age and who never had children. Both their parents are dead, as they expect to be - sooner rather than later. Everett saved them any worry about upkeep. He pays all maintenance costs, contributes to the taxes and pays a healthy rent besides. Over time he’s added a few things that people know about because how could they not with something like solar panels going in along with a large sky light? Since there are lots of self-seeded trees and overgrown bushes between the back of the Simpson’s and Everett’s digs, the only way you’d even wonder if anything is back there is by a long drive leading in from the street and disappearing into the greenery. Everett does all his shopping over in Fort Elder, a fairly large city about 30 miles north of Dawton, so his tastes are known only to himself. For the rest, his public life is what you got over the counter from him at Pearson’s Tree Business, what you know from Perry, which is little more than the fact that he likes the closest shave possible followed by a short hair trim, what you can see - which are his coveralls and overalls, his bandanas and his ability to eat a lot and enjoy it while reading paperback mysteries. Other that that, the bank teller at the small local bank, Moira, can only say he’s in very good financial shape and then she will blink, slowly, as if she is sending you a secret signal, but no one understands what it might be and strongly suspect it is just her way of trying to show she knows more than she actually does, which, Moira being a bit of a town ditz, is equally strongly suspected as being untrue.
BERT HATHAWAY comes in with Everett. Every day that Pearson’s is open, they come in together. And leave together. But they never sit together or even near to one another. The business closes from noon to one. That’s when they take their lunch breaks. The fact that they eat at the same place at the same time does not mean they do this together. Their are each on their own time.
Now, Bert is another bachelor, as was soon confirmed by the bank teller, Moira. For a short while, there were eyebrows lifted and smirks shared. That was until Everett let it drop at the local 7-Eleven that he’d run the same business for 17 years out where he’d lived before, in Iowa. And he’d only decided to come to Dawton because he needed a new partner - his other having been killed, victim of a highway multiple-car crash. Said he’d read about Bert Hathaway back-packing up a mountain in New Hampshire and helping to save some guy who’d broken his leg in a fall he suffered while climbing. Carried the guy back down. Kept them both alive for over two days until rescue services located them and took them out. Everett called Bert up right then and asked if he was in any line of work that fascinated him. Bert was in real estate, but the thrill of the chase had long ago glimmered out, so the possibility of something entirely other - with a tree nursery in effect - was intriguing. But Bert is nothing if not cautious. It had taken a few months of back and forth between Bert and Everett, with Bert checking on everything Everett claimed and his lawyer and accountant looking into Everett’s finances and the success or failure of this business back in Iowa. But it had all checked out. With high marks. And Bert decided he liked the idea so he told Everett all right, he’d invest his own savings and throw in his small inheritance from his mother. Bert was no slouch in the local real estate business, rumored to be well-heeled with plenty in the bank. Enough anyway to get out of the real estate game and settle down with something he really had always loved. Trees. Nature on the half shell a Dawton wit called it when the business first opened. But Bert did know a lot about trees. His lifetime love of hiking, and trail hiking in particular, had served to teach him much and he was avid to learn more. Which Everett freely taught him. The business now draws orders from all over the region, including developers in the rapidly growing nearby city, Fort Elder
Bert always was dressed in neat polo shirts and tan twill trousers, adding plain knit dark colored wool sweaters from late fall through late spring. He carried the NY Times paper in every day (delivered to Pearson’s Monday - Saturday and directly to Bert as his big house in North Dawton. He is a walker, is Bert. A walker and a hiker. You’d see him walking to and from work all the way out to North Dawton and on the trails in the foothills year round, weather no deterrent - he’d cross country using back fields or snow shoe on streets in necessary. He does speed walking and mountain climbing. Is fit as can be, trim as a wick, strong as fence wire. And a confirmed bachelor. At least that’s all people know him to be. Truth is, he has been in love with and lover with a man, Wilbert Harris, who lives over in the King Hill section of West Denton, for fifteen years now. And they keep it quiet and private, thank you very much.
His seat at the counter - as close to the middle as he can make it - takes him just to the right of Ellie and Sylvie, two other regulars who come in for coffee on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He likes Ellie’s husband, Stuart. A good man. Good businessman. Quiet. Good humored and easy. Ellie is a piece of work. She’s everybody’s idea of a busybody because she keeps tabs on everybody and everything in Dawton and files it in her head. But she doesn’t gossip. She just knows. If you need to know, you can ask her. If she believes your reason for wanting to know is valid in her judgement, you will have to meet her standards - and she has three: if your eyes blink as you ask, if, when she asks why, you look up and to the right or down at the ground, and do you say a simple and sincere thank you after she gives you an answer. And she’s crafty. She feeds you only a dry crust of what you’re after to see about the ‘thank you’ thing. Fail any one of these and you get bupkis. Or as Ellie would say, bupkis mit kuduchas. So you really can’t fault her. She has her ethics and sticks to them. Will stick ‘em to you if you’re rude or pushy. Or nosey. Funniest thing about her is that she can’t abide nosey people! Oh. Yeah, and people confide in her. That’s why he’s always formal in all his exchanges with her. Formal and brief. Confiding - in anyone except Bill - is out of the question. Sylvie is another thing altogether. Widowed back in the spring. Very reserved always, but truly shut down now. Everyone in town likes Sylvie and worries about her now. But she needs her space and that’s what she’s given. Other than Ellie. Well, Ellie.
Bert unfolds his newspaper, turns to the business page and presses the section into thirds and then in half so he has neat blocks of the paper that fit on the counter. Ruby’s brought him his coffee and since today is Wednesday she knows it’s grilled ham, cheese, tomato with pickles and chips and a tall iced tea with lemon no sugar. He’s hungry.
EVERETT PEARSON AND BERT BERTRAM - PARTNERS AND CO-OWNERS OF PEARSON’S TREE BUSINESS