Tuesday, due to a shortage of employees, Mrs. Demster closed the bakery factory. Wednesday she kept it closed as well. Thursday, she called for Foster to come in and check on the machines and ovens. Friday was Mrs. Demster’s day to interview prospects to replace the Mexicans so Foster remained at home. The weekend was filled with bicycle rides around the outskirts of the town, an open chess match at a nearby park, and some good movies on the television.
Monday morning, Foster met an older Vietnamese woman who called herself, simply, Bich which, of course, was pronounced, colloquially, with the obligatory “t”. Foster smiled questioningly when he repeated her name with the “t”.
“Yes, Mr. Fosta. I know is bad woman word. Make people put eyes on me different. I like. Bich means ‘jade’ in my language. But my sister like Jade English name so I not make it to me.”
Foster pointed out all the equipment to her but noticed her short stature prevented her from easily reaching the top ovens of the three tier stacks of industrial ovens. Foster winked at her, went to the warehouse maintenance room and brought a small metal step stool for her. She giggled and thanked him.
While Bich was the cook taking Pedro’s place, Nesel was the shipper, receiver taking Julio’s place. Nesel was from Guyana, a small, English-speaking country in South America. Nesel had a wonderful habit of smiling with his entire face. He didn’t exactly have black skin but rather, just a very dark tan. Foster knew people would consider him a black man but Idaho was not known for its racial conflicts. He was as skinny as Pedro had been and taller which made him a bit comical. Yet his smile was genuine and when he shook hands, his grip was firm. His English was clear with just a hint of an accent. He knew shipping and receiving paperwork very well. But in other areas of the work, he had some issues that gave cause for some concern. But it was, after all, his first day.
That Monday morning, Foster helped Bich get the ovens started and showed Nesel how to operate the old forklift. It seemed to Foster that Nesel was not going to last very long as shipper/receiver, though. Twice, Nesel rammed the forklift into things. The second time, it was into a skid of flour with white clouds of flour dust coating the entire dock. Foster helped with the clean-up and eventually went to talk with Mrs. Demster.
“Just two bags got ruined, but the place is still a mess. Everything should be cleared up by tomorrow morning’s shift.”
“Ve must gif Nesel some time for za learnink, yah?”
Foster agreed. He paused to consider for a moment then asked, “Mrs. Demster, may I ask why you have only foreign employees? Mexicans, Vietnamese, Guyanese?”
“Vat country are you from, Herr Foster?”
“Born and raised in the U.S.”
“I believe you are German.”
“Yah. Julio and Pedro are from za Mexico und zey needed za verk for za money I could pay.”
“But you pay me well.”
“You are from za Strafanstalt,” she paused to find the correct English word. “Za prison. You write to me about your time for comink out of za prison. I know you must need guut moneys to make life again. Your vords do not told me you are za bad man. I need a guud man to do guud repairs. Za machines are my childrens. You must be za Fahzer for za machines, yah?”
“So you take in people who need work badly.”
“Yah. Same viss Julio and Pedro. Same with Bich und Nesel. All need za moneys. Herr Demster und me, ve come to zis country und ve needed za moneys. A family in za farm helps us und gifs much help to do some verk. Ve remember how guud za verk is for us.”
“So you are returning the favor.”
“Yah. Za farmer’s church has missions in uzer countries and ask Herr Demster to make verk for someones from zees countries. Ve say yah.”
Foster turned to go back to the cleanup project on the docks. Mrs. Demster stopped him.
“Herr Foster. Close za door und sit for some talk?” She motioned to an empty office chair.
Was she going to fire him for the troubles of the past week?
She moved some papers to one side of her cluttered desk so she could see him clearly. “Herr Foster, ve talk some verds of your prison? You said you make za Notzucht? How you say, ‘rape’? Und now, you haf beschädigt my verker. To make hurt.”
Foster knew what was coming next. He resigned himself to just letting it happen. “You want me to leave.”
She quickly replied, “Nein! You are za guud verker. But I ask you za uzer qvestion.”
“Herr Julio said you make za notzucht on za little gurl in prison.”
Her German terminology confused Foster, “Mrs. Demster, I don’t know the word you are using.” He attempted to pronounce it, “Notzush.”
“Ziss is za sex viss a little gurl. Herr Julio said you look to make za sex viss za little gurl on docks.”
Foster did not know which way he should take the conversation. Honestly? He sat quietly in the chair for a moment, and then took a deep breath.
“Mrs. Demster, I was convicted of raping someone but that’s not what happened. The woman had a 7-year-old daughter who fell in love with me and we were intimate with each other. The mother lied and created some false evidence against me to keep her daughter out of the courts. She said I raped her, not her daughter. The fake evidence was compelling even though I never put it where it was found and I ended up pleading guilty to raping the mother. What I did with the daughter was not rape. I kissed her and pleasured her but never had sex with her.”
Foster watched Mrs. Demster’s eyes for a clue to how she was taking his confession. He continued.
“The little girl near the docks last week was just interested in getting a cookie from me. The only thing I did that might be considered inappropriate was to give her two cookies that I was going to eat for my own lunch. If you want, I will pay you for those two cookies. If you want, I shall get up and leave here, now that you know of my true crime. But Julio and Pedro were wrong about me and that little girl.”
She glanced at her own fingernails for a moment and replied, “I know you do nussing wrong viss za little gurl on za docks. But I do not understand vhy you say okay to rape of za Muzer vhen you only kiss za little gurl?”
“It was not just a kiss, Mrs. Demster. I pleasured her.”
“You play za games viss her?”
“No, ma’am. I kissed her but not on the mouth.” The seat Foster was sitting in grew more and more uncomfortable.
“A kiss is a kiss. But you did not make za rape?”
Foster shook his head, “No, not rape. The only thing I did for her was…” He stopped. How to politely describe his encounters?
He gave up. He pointed. “I kissed her there.”
“Yah,” she replied, wryly. “A kiss is a kiss. But you say okay to rape of za Muzer? Vhy?”
Did she understand Foster had meant oral sex with the daughter? Should he make sure? How to make sure? The conversation was becoming very difficult for him.
“Mrs. Demster, I performed oral sex on the daughter. That’s where I kissed her. Between her legs.”
“Herr Foster, I know vat you say. Is just a kiss.” She waited for Foster to continue.
Struggling, he did continue. “Here in America, it is a horrible crime to kiss little girls there. Even though the daughter was not raped, even though she got sexual pleasure from my kisses, it is a much bigger crime than if I had raped her mother. So, when the mother said that I did the smaller crime, I agreed to it. If I had been convicted of “just a kiss”, I would have stayed in prison for the rest of my life. But the rape of the mother only gave me twenty-five years of which I needed only to do half of it. The mother was happy, the police were happy, and I was happy with a little prison time.”
Mrs. Demster’s brows furrowed, “Back in my country, vhen a children makes za zappeln… uh, za little troubles… uh, fidgety… sometimes ve put za hands on za children and make za sex for zem. Zey go to sleep sehr schnell. Happy childrens everyvhere, happy parents everyvhere, never za police make parents in za prison. I have never heard of za kisses for za childrens muschi. Um, muschi… um, ‘down there’. For some erwachsene, yah. Erwachsene: for some adults, yah. But, ziss is not a bad crime in my country. Is not a crime. Und here, is big crime, yah?”
Foster nodded, “Yes. A very big crime. But I never touched the little girl on the docks last week. I just gave her two cookies.”
“Pedro vas angry against you for giving za cookies?”
“No, ma’am. He thought I was going to rape her, later.”
“That is what he thought.”
“Zis is vhy he made to kill you?”
“Precisely. I can understand wanting to stop a rapist if that is really what he thought I was. But he made several mistakes. First, I was never going to rape anyone. In fact, I was never even going to get more involved with her other than to be a friend. To share a cookie or two with her. Second, there are other ways to stop a rapist. He could have called the police. He could have told you. He could have called my Parole Officer. Third, he failed in his attempt to kill me. He didn’t think it through. Fourth, if he had managed to kill me, how was he going to explain it to the police and, later, to the immigration people? The penalty for the crime of stupidity, in this case, was his own injury and deportation.”
Mrs. Demster shrugged, “Und he hurt his bruuder, und made many troubles for me.” She put her hands on the desk and regarded Foster carefully, “Zis little gurl viss za cookies? You vish to make za sex viss her? You vish to kiss her, uh, ‘down there’?”
Foster’s eyes widened, “Mrs. Demster? I mean, the little girl just walked by and asked for a cookie. That doesn’t mean I want to be intimate with her. There are just too many reasons to not get involved with her. Prison has a great way of making sure that smart people never return. If you want,” he dug into his pocket, “I’ll pay for the two cookies I already did give her. I’ll pay full price for any other cookies that I might share with anyone. Or if you like I can…”
She interrupted him, “Nein. No. Not necessary. Many times I give avay za free cookies. Is very guud advertisink. My only vorry is more police comes here. If you vish to be intimate viss her, please do far avay from za business, yah? Gif za cookies, yah. Make za smiles, yah. But don’t be stupid. Okay?”
Foster smiled, stood up to leave and replied, “You have been very good to me, Mrs. Demster. I’m sorry that this all happened at the factory. I have no intentions of being more trouble for you. I shall resign my job to make sure. I’ll continue to work until you have time to get a good replacement for me.”
“Again, nein Herr Foster. The ambulanz trucks and police cars actually vas guud advertisink for me. Not za best, but it vas free. Za best news television made to say you in ‘self-defense’. People like za heroes. No: bitte bleiben. Stay.”
The week passed slowly with plenty of things to keep people interested in what they were doing. For lunches, Bich left walking, from what she told Foster, to a restaurant that offered her a cheap meal in the back kitchen. Nesel had found a small abandoned and dusty office to curl up on some old sofa pillows and sleep. Foster agreed to wake him at the end of the lunch period. This left Foster on the back docks alone with his cookies and morning parades. On a Wednesday, Foster’s young Cookie Beggar wandered over to the docks.
She accepted two chocolate chip cookies and ate them as the conversation would permit.
“The two other guys aren’t here. Don’t they eat lunch anymore?”
“They usually slept during their lunch. But they don’t work here anymore.” Foster paused then added, “They both went back to Mexico where they are from.”
She climbed atop an empty 5-gallon can and sat facing Foster, flicking one of her puppy-dog tails away from her face, “You work all by yourself now?”
“No. There are some other new people working with me now. They eat lunch in other places. It’s just me here. By the way, you never told me your name.”
“I’m Wren. It’s a bird.”
“With a ‘W’ or an ‘R’?”
“A ‘W’. What’s yours?”
“I’m Robert Foster. How do you do, Miss Wren?”
She giggled, "I'm glad to meet you, Mr. Foster. You have excellent cookies."
Foster brushed crumbs from his lap and stared at her, memorizing as much of her as he could, “I’m sorry to say, I do not make them.” He started to tell Wren that Bich actually created the cookies but edited himself a bit, “Miss Vietnam makes all the cookies. She has many machines that mix the dough and many ovens to cook them all in.”
As the conversation continued, Wren idly tapped her tennis-shoe’d foot on the can she was sitting on, creating a quiet thump and that all but matched Foster’s heartbeat. She quizzed him on the different kinds of cookies the factory made, the different ingredients that were used, how many of each kind were made, and when he told her, her eyes widened and she stopped her tapping. “You have a thousand chocolate chip cookies in there? What do you do with them all?”
Foster laughed, “There are several grocery stores here in Boise that get some, some restaurants, and some convenience stores, too. Then, we put cookies in special boxes and pile them onto wooden pallets like those over there,” Foster pointed at a stack of pallets, “and Nesel, the new guy, calls trucks to come and take them to cities all around Idaho. Some go to Washington State, too.”
Wren leaped off the can she was sitting on and walked the few feet to the stack of empty pallets. She lightly pushed on them, turned to Foster and asked, “Do you make the pallets?”
He told her no.
“Do you drive a truck?”
He told her no.
“Do you test the cookies to see how good they are?”
“Yes, but that’s not my job.” He smiled at her.
Wren thought a bit, and then smiled, herself, at her next guess, “You sell the cookies to people.”
He told her no.
She frowned. She tried to peek inside the factory door. Obviously, she had run out of ideas. She walked back to the can she had been sitting on and hopped on top and, once again, had to brush some of her hair strands from her face. “Well, my bus is going to be here in a minute. What job do you do, then?”
Foster smiled and replied, “You come back tomorrow and give me a list of what you think I might do here. If you guess correctly anywhere in that list, I’ll give you some more cookies.”
Wren jumped back to the ground again, brushing some bits of dust from her narrow derriere, and then slowly walked towards her bus stop. Foster watched her slim form slowly depart. Suddenly, she turned as her two bunches of hair flew out in the breeze, “Robert, what if your job isn’t in my list? No cookies?”
"No cookies. You can ask your friends for help if you like."
She turned back to the bus stop, saw the other children begin to gather at the loading zone, and began skipping towards it with her hair bunches to either side flying behind her and stealing Foster’s stare.
Foster called to her, “Wren, what’s your last name?”
“Turner. With a ‘T’,” she called over her shoulder.
Foster watched her board her bus. Then he turned and went inside to wake Nesel from his nap. For the rest of the afternoon, Foster helped unload supply trucks with the forklift. It was apparent that Nesel could not be trusted to operate it at all. Nesel worked the paperwork while Foster ran the forklift. Yet while it was a very busy day, Foster’s mind incessantly wandered to the memories he had of Wren, her voice, her manner of speaking, her movements, everything about her that he could memorize. The end of the shift finally arrived but Foster was still fussing with pallets of supplies. Nesel confronted him, “Mr. Foster, do you intend to work the next shift as well?”
Foster looked at the big clock hanging on the warehouse wall, “Man! It’s almost 10! I guess the clocks all go faster when there’s much work to be done.”
Nesel laughed and pointed to the employee’s time cards, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” He went to pick up his card and clock out.
Foster muttered to himself, “Wren Turner.” He closed a couple tool boxes, closed a door or two, found his own time card, and clocked out himself. He continued, again to himself, “With a ‘T’.”