Chapter 8 of
Everyday, work progressed on the park. With Tessa's house and the dorm finished, the construction crews descended on the park itself. The first thing they jumped on, were the service facilities. The buildings for making things. First was the Costume Shop. Second was the Craft Shop. The concrete and plumbing crews were busy building the lagoon for the mermaid show in SeaSide then the waterway in Storm Bayou.
When the ride technicians returned from their training at the manufacturers, the big thrill rides had been built and would be shipped to the park for assembly. The first order of business, was the set up of the rides for smaller children. Kiddie Rides had already been delivered and sat in the staging area wrapped in thick plastic. That was how they started. The rides for the northern section of the park were taken in first and set up. The problem, there always seemed to be at least one, was the weather.
Winter was settling in, which meant rain and later on it would be snow and ice. Those were problems not even Tessa could force a solution for. One thing she could do, was keep her on-site people from being idle. On rain-out days, they were shuttled to the warehouse being rented for the costume makers to work in. Thanks to that, all of the mascot suits were made in time for the transfer over to the park's Costume Shop.
Another building had been built mainly to park vehicles in. However, it was now being used for cast rehearsal space. There was even a five feet deep above ground pool kit assembled and filled for mermaid training. An optional heater had been bought to keep the temperature of the water comfortable. At one end was the saloon show and at the other was the Cajun show, with the mermaid show in the middle. None were using anything louder than a portable radio, so they weren't competing to hear themselves over the others. The mermaids had an advantage of only hearing their music underwater and not the others.
For Nicole's Cajun show, Tessa did have to import some musicians. Those came from referrals, courtesy of Andre. Michelle was actually more than she advertised. She was very proficient with dance. With some tips and points from her, Nicole's Cajun dances had even more flair but still easy to watch. The dancers were one thing, the two clowns for the show were another. They were doing their very best to imitate Nicole's accent. Sometimes to her amusement, other times to her exasperation.
Michelle's Saloon Show had about the same amount of time devoted to songs and comedy that Nicole's did, but there was more emphasis on dancing. She combined tap and clogging with western dance elements for a grand duo dance for two young men in her cast. Four former cheerleaders, from different high schools, made up a kick-line. A member of one high school's rodeo club had been learning lariat tricks on his own and when the try-outs came, he was snapped up quickly. A three piece band was formed from a standing bass player, a guitarist and a violinist. They adapted to the cowboy songs well enough, but enjoyed the western parody songs more.
Danica's Mermaid show ended up including three Mermen as well. They had started out using a public pool wearing swim fins and simple straps to keep their legs together. Now they were in a shallow pool using practice tails. The plain white silicone tails weren't much to look at, but they did work. The oblong pool allowed them to build up speed for breaching, surfacing out of the water. For practice they even began hurdling in the water. They weren't able to go high, but they could go far. They were even able to rise almost waist high using the force of their tails to push up out of the water.
Danica and her team also had to work on songs as well. That had presented a problem when casting the Mermen. Many that tried out weren't singers, not that many had tried out, only eleven. The mermaids had been easier. Many were able to sing or swim, but only six of the forty that tried out were both strong swimmers and singers. In the water; they were all fantastic. Out of the water; Danica's group needed Michelle's help, alot. More than Michelle could provide so a ballet instructor was brought in at her suggestion to help choreograph their song and dance routine out of the water. She ended up giving some help for the water show as well.
Work went on to enclose the show venues. After the roofs were built to cover them, the valves were opened to start filling the lagoon and bayou. Chemicals were added to the water for clarity and eventually when the level was high enough, the pumps were turned on. For the lagoon, the walls were painted light blue and the bottom was a scheme of off-whites to simulate the ocean-bleached sand floor. Sculpted and tinted concrete simulated coral. Over at Storm Bayou, the bottom and walls were painted very dark colors to simulate the natural dark colored waters. Tinted and textured concrete were poured to look like log pilings for a dock. Those were the outer edge and would be visible. Support pedestals that would be hidden by boards were concrete as well but with their outer faces painted the same dark colors as the bottom of the bayou.
Two-by-twelve boards were laid over the support beams then covered with one inch plywood for Storm Bayou's dock. Certain sections of the dock had spacing between two-by-six boards instead to allow the plywood to resound louder from the impact of dancing shoes. For the Saloon Show, certain sections of the floor were made to amplify, like resonance boxes. The bar had the same construction. The boots of the cowboys and the wood heels of the Saloon girls' shoes would sound louder without sounding artificial, like with tap plates. The amplifiers would only be needed for the instruments and vocals.
Before walls could be built for the Bayou show venue, the artificial Cypress trees were put in. Sculpted polystyrene coated with thin concrete that had been tinted to mimic the bark. PVC pipe was used to make branches and covered with expanding foam then painted to match. These were draped with grey plastic faux-Spanish moss. At a later time there would be some animatronic animals. An alligator, an owl and a pelican that would talk. The recorded voices for the animals would be supplied by three members of Andre's kitchen crew that had also been imported from New Orleans. Gator would introduce the show and specific aspects. Owl and Pelican would trade one-liners and heckle the clowns.
Contrary to everyone's perception, Tessa wasn't just spending money left and right. She also had investments. She checked those everyday and adjusted them accordingly. One of the managers at the grocery store she had worked at was a self-taught investor. Over time and many mistakes he had learned just about all there was not to do. Years later, those results actually turned around into knowledge of how to invest wisely. Knowledge he shared with anyone who asked. During breaks and lunch, if he was in the room, Tessa had asked questions. All that was now put to use.
Tessa had told no one, but she had invested ten million dollars. Nine million were stable, slow stocks. One million was used aggressively. Some of those aggressive moves didn't get the results she wanted, the rest did. Steadily, the money increased. Twenty percent of the dividends went into her bank accounts, forty percent went back into play and the remaining forty percent went into the stable investments.
The local bank wanted to cater to Tessa and gave special rates to all of the park employees. Tessa was going to encourage them anyway, but the bank President himself and two assistants volunteered to come out to the dorm to set up the residents' accounts. They even offered bank cards with the park's logo. Though the local Office of Motor Vehicles couldn't do the same, the insurance company Tessa used did. They also came out and helped set up accounts for the residents that had their own cars already and even offered a special rate. The same company also had been selected for health insurance as well.
Discounts were given due to the residents since the meals there were cafeteria-style, but deemed healthy. An on-site gym also made them eligible for more discounts. That and the dorm had no smoking signs inside it. The three smoking areas outside the back and side doors went unnoticed as they were carefully concealed. Other things contributed to a good health insurance package. Wellness Evaluation Clinics every six months with Birth-Month Physicals. The fact that two Registered Nurses lived on-site brought in more discounts. Of course there were the other benefits such as retirement plans and so-on.
One thing no one would ever be able to claim was, that Tessa never thought about her people. If a person's field of work required some kind of license, they achieved it. Plumbers, electricians, mechanics and especially any medical personnel. Security as well. Whatever they needed; license, certification or registry. Tessa saw to it they had them whether it was state or national. She was even able to get one person in to take the health services course and test, to ensure that at all times the park would be able to meet any health requirements with exemplary scores. For certain, everyone knew that Tessa Frost wasn't playing around. She was making it clear that she was there to stay and there was no argument that VentureRealm was her park.
Around town, Tessa's machinations were also evident during the winter. Those who couldn't or refused to go into the shelters were helped with her secret projects, Street Table, two simple hot meals a day. The park chefs and their teams worked in the background while volunteers found with help from local Veterans' groups were manning the serving line. Idle Hands was the other secret project, clothing and other vital supplies needed by those staying outside the shelters were provided with the trading of time, shoveling snow and salting iced over public walkways. Also the cleaning of alleyways, especially those occupied by the street people.
Christmas morning many woke up to find a plain envelope hidden in their meager belongings that held some cash, a gift card and phone card. Some had stirred during the night and spoke the next morning of seeing a figure quietly passing through. An old slightly intoxicated man said he saw a angel made of snow, wearing all white with tinsel hair and blue eyes, smile at him as she passed by. He swore the angel gave them all the presents and even told him 'Merry Christmas'.
Zeke Malone had been surprised when the phone in his dorm room rang at eleven-thirty Christmas Eve. Even more so when Tessa asked him to come immediately to her house. All staff had been given the night off, along with the following day. Regardless he grabbed his jacket, hat and gloves then practically ran as fast as he could to her house.
"Good evening Mister Malone." Tessa said, standing beside a new red pick-up that had four-wheel drive. "Sorry to call you out so late."
Zeke shook his head finally catching his breath. "No problem Ma'am. What can I do?"
Tessa wore all white; jeans, down filled jacket, knee-high flat boots with faux-fur along the tops and gloves. "I'm going somewhere. I want you to accompany me. Will you?"
"Ma'am, I'll go anywhere you want. Say the word." Zeke said firmly then caught a set of keys.
Tessa had tossed him the truck's keys. "Take me to town. I want to go to the alley where the outcasts are. You drive."
"Aye Ma'am." Zeke replied then walked around to get the door for her.
Carefully Zeke drove the sturdy truck down the quiet streets. It was now late enough that even the most ardent carol-singers had finally gone home. The only ones on the streets were the police and those with nowhere else to go. It wasn't a problem for him to get to where she wanted to go. He had been there many times over the years.
"Don't park in view." Tessa said as he slowed down then parked as she wanted.
Zeke got out, but not fast enough to let her out. Tessa had got out on her own with a clutch of envelopes in her hand.
Tessa waved him back when he made to follow her. "I go alone, Mister Malone."
Zeke shook his head. "I can't let you out of sight, Ma'am."
"Then wait for me there, but don't follow." Tessa said then turned into the alley.
The former Marine watched with his heart twisting inside as she moved from person to person, almost as silent as a cat. He could see that she was giving out the envelopes. Her gentle voice telling Old Mac 'Merry Christmas' all but yanked the guts from him. Soon she returned.
"That's it Mister Malone. We should go now." Tessa said.
Zeke settled her back into the truck then went around to climb behind the wheel. The drive back was silent.
Back in Tessa's driveway she remarked. "I'd like help with one more task, please."
Zeke followed her inside then saw the stacks of wrapped gifts. "Those Ma'am?"
"Yes. These go under the tree at the dorm." Tessa answered.
Quickly he loaded them with her and they drove over to the dorm and parked at the main door. Inside it was quiet, with everyone up in their rooms. In no time at all the presents were under the tree in the cafeteria. He then drove her back and began to hand her the keys.
"You should hang onto those." Tessa said getting out.
Zeke looked at her confused." Why Ma'am?"
"Since you own the truck, it would be sensible if you did." Tessa said.
Zeke's jaw dropped, but he had to know. "The alley, was that because of me?"
"No Mister Malone. It was because any one of them, could have been me. Merry Christmas, Mister Malone. Good night." Tessa said then closed the door and went inside her house.
Somehow he made it back over to the dorm parking lot and saw an empty parking space with his name on it. After parking, he finally broke down. For a long time Zeke Malone wept without shame. He had no idea where Tessa Frost had come from or even why. None of that mattered to him, she was there and had saved him. She took him from being out on the streets, cleaned him up, gave him a job and a purpose. His loyalty went two ways, The Corps and Tessa Frost. After an hour of purging his out-of-control emotions, he made his way inside and collapsed on his bed, exhausted.
Christmas morning the residents of the dorm came down, kitchen crew first, and were surprised to see the pile of gifts under the Christmas tree. After breakfast, they quickly distributed and opened them. Each had something personal for them as well as the gift and phone cards. The kitchen crew though had to hurry and delivered the food and coffee to the Veterans' group for Street Table. Several of the residents were visiting local nursing homes and the Veterans' Home. Others were going to shelters. The Princesses would visit the hospital and Tessa herself went to the orphanage. She had already sent gifts to the group home she had lived in. All in all, Tessa Frost spent close to fifty-thousand dollars on Christmas, for those who would have gone without had she not.
New Year's Eve came with many of the dorm residents visiting the only LGBT nightclub in town. A good time was had by almost all. A few over-enjoyed the evening and paid the obvious price the next day. Everyone had been safe though, not driving themselves. Zeke Malone had volunteered to drive the shuttle-bus to bring the party-goers to and from the bar. He, himself, had made an early resolution of not drinking aside from three days. The anniversary of the park opening, the Marine Corps' birthday and Tessa Frost's birthday. He vowed that only on those days he would take up a single drink in salute.
Two days after New Year's everyone returned to work on the park. The major rides began to arrive and the assembly crews went right to work on them. Finally, in February, the only ride that remained to be assembled was the roller coaster. All eighteen million dollars of it. When it was finished and test run, everyone gathered to go for the inaugural first ride. The day ended up being an impromptu fun day, with everyone going on each ride in the park.
March started with the landscapers going full speed. First to be planted were all the new trees. Then came the hedges, azalea and rose bushes. Grass was being grown directly from seed, instead of sod. Tessa had chosen a hybrid grass called Improved Bermuda. Finally the flowers were planted. The final touches to be added were the ground lighting and all-weather speakers. After all that had been done, the workers came back with an army of mixer trucks to pour the pathways. They had no time to waste, as the dry weather would only last for two weeks.
Elaine Oberline sat in her office listening to her assistant.
"You're sure about that, Chet?" Elaine asked.
Chet nodded. "Checked it out myself. Street Table is being supported by the new amusement park people secretly. The Veterans' group is only donating their time. All the food is being provided and cooked by people working for Tessa Frost."
"That would be good P.R. why secretly though?" Elaine asked.
Chet shrugged. "I have no idea Mayor, but I do know there's more."
"More?" Elaine sat up. "What more?"
"Idle Hands is secretly her doing as well. The visits by her and her people Christmas Day was no secret, though they didn't make any noise about it. The two projects that have pretty much cleaned up the streets of Bayleston were both secretly Tessa Frost's." Chet informed her.
"So she is visibly giving to the needy and cleaning up the streets behind the scenes." The Mayor summarized. "Do you think she might be planning to run for an office?"
Chet shook his head. "That's the thing. She's not actually going out and interacting with the general public. Almost all her direct interactions are business. She's quick too. If a meeting of any kind runs over ten minutes, she becomes more blunt. The filters get turned off. Except for her own people, you take longer than ten minutes and she gets irritated with you."
"I heard that she is hiring people straight out of schools. Is that true?" Elaine asked.
Chet nodded. "That's very true. She's been hiring people right after they complete courses at the technical college and some have just graduated high school. There have been a bunch that came from out of town. At least sixty or so. I've heard that more have come. It's not so easy to tell now that they aren't at the hotel anymore. There is a dorm for alot of her staff and it's pretty big."
"How big?" Elaine was really curious now.
Chet shrugged. "I heard over a hundred rooms. Details are pretty sketchy. The construction crew is really tight-lipped."
Elaine could tell there was something else. "What are you holding back?"
"I keep hearing something strange. For some reason they all refer to Tessa Frost as 'Queen Tessa'. Not in sarcasm. It seems to be in respect. As for why; again, I have no idea and nobody is wanting to say." Chet said. "I do know for certain that Tessa Frost is big LGBT supporter and says so. In fact, she has made it clear that she refuses to hire anybody that isn't supportive. It was implied that she gives LGBT and Veterans priority hiring status."
"She seemed nice, but the no-nonsense type when I met her." Elaine remarked.
Chet shrugged. "Seems that way. I also heard that for those she wants to hire right out of high school, she has her eyes on more of the academic type than the popular and sporting types. Computer classes, Home Economics and drama clubs. But she has hired some recent graduates that were on swim teams for some reason. There is a rumor that she is also going to bring in 4-H club members, but that's not confirmed nor the reason why."
"It's strange they are so tight lipped about everything. I haven't driven by there in some time." Elaine admitted.
Chet smiled. "I've seen some of the rides working. I know for sure the roller coaster is. It looks fantastic! I can't wait to ride it."
"I'm really curious about the foods." Elaine stated.
"I know there is a Cajun chef. The hotel manager let him use the kitchen there for a weekend. One of the cooks said the food was wonderful and authentic. The chef comes from New Orleans. Some young girl that will be working in the park also comes from there he said and her accent is really heavy." Chet chuckled.
Elaine nodded. "That sounds interesting. Anything else?"
Chet shrugged. "Just her head of security. They call him Captain Dave. He was in the Army for sure and there's talk that he worked in Las Vegas."
"Was he?" Elaine asked.
Chet blinked. "Was he what?"
Elaine rolled her eyes. "Was he a Captain or is that just a nickname?"
"Oh! Yeah, he was a Captain. What he did, nobody is saying though." Chet answered.
"Well, as curious as I am, I think I should wait a little longer before requesting a meeting with Tessa Frost." Elaine remarked.
Chet nodded. "Might be a good idea. Maybe when she announces a firm opening date you could get in to talk with her."
"Sounds good. Well it's five o'clock and its quiet enough. Let's call it a day." Elaine suggested.
Chet grabbed his briefcase. "It's a day. See you Monday, Madam Mayor."
Five minutes later Elaine Oberlin was driving out of the parking lot and decided to take a very scenic route home, passing by the park.
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