Chapter Two
Franklin J. Curtis III

Miriam had been extremely tired when she arrived back home from shopping in town the previous afternoon. She'd finished unloading her car, fed Tahloolah, showered, and had lain down across her bed to take what she thought would be a short nap. That's what had happened, as best that she could remember, while fuzzy thoughts began to creep into her head little by little. Miriam was disoriented a bit, the fog was heavier than usual, and for a moment she didn't know whether it was day or night. A sudden heavy roll of thunder startled her and she jumped. And then she felt an overwhelming rush, as if she must get up for work or was late for an appointment, but she remembered there were none when Tahloolah rolled lazily onto her back and stretched out to Miriam for attention. Miriam noticed the clock on the bedside table read 7:04 a.m., and she asked Tahloolah if the coffee was made. Making an obligatory meow, Tahloolah jumped from the bed toward the door where she waited for Miriam to catch up. When Miriam finally managed to stand, she untwisted the bathrobe that she'd slept in and noticed that she was stiff and walking uncomfortably, too much time spent on her feet yesterday, she supposed, or too much time asleep. She stopped at the bureau to brush her hair and noticed her tired reflection in the mirror, even after all that sleep, she thought she looked as if she needed some rest. Quickly exchanging the robe for her favorite pair of boxer shorts and a soft cotton tee, she headed for the kitchen to start her day. After she'd put the coffee on to brew, it was back down the hall to brush her teeth, and with Tahloolah dead on her heels at every step to remind her, Miriam made a mental note to feed the cat when she returned to the kitchen. "Aww, Tahloolah, I haven't forgotten about you my precious fe-lion," she teased, ruffling Loolah's fur. Her days usually started just this way, but not necessarily in this order, and after she opened the sliding glass door just a bit, she remembered at last to feed Tahloolah. Absent-mindedly putting away the remaining groceries scattered carelessly on the table, countertops and floor, she was finally able to help herself to a strong cup of coffee-heavy on the cream, heavy on the sugar. Plunking herself down in a chair that allowed her to look out the sliding glass doors and enjoy the view of her garden, it was there Miriam would sit, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes until the fog inside her head lifted.

Her garden was a cherished and remarkable place. She rarely invited anyone back there; it remained a private place where she could escape to when the world stepped in. She noticed her garden had taken some wind like Maddy's place had, but it was nothing so enormous that she couldn't take care of it herself after the rain ceased. Miriam loved the sound of rain when it fell slow and steady, and she also liked the way rain seemed to smell a little dusty as she took a deep breath to fill her lungs with the scent. She noticed that Tahloolah had finished eating her Beef and Liver Medley and had leaned in a corner in order to groom herself. Upon seeing that, Miriam knew for certain that Tahloolah needed a diet plan and she'd speak to the vet about it the next time Tahloolah went on 'the long journey,' Miriam's secret code name for a trip to the vet. Destination Bad Place, she thought, as she wrote the words "vet/diet" on a list after she lit her first cigarette, the place where mean people tortured little kitties. Her first smoke of the day was absolutely the best one, Miriam had tried to convince herself without much success. But she really knew it was a sure second compared to the smoke that followed a passionate lovemaking session. But since she didn't have sex anymore, it was the first smoke of the day that tripped her trigger. She glanced over her lists for things she had to do, but found the items were mostly outdoor related, and so because of the rain she'd begin a new list later for the chores that she could work on indoors. But for that moment, and until the coffee pot ran dry, she was content to sit where she was and admire the rain and her garden.

Around one o'clock she was coffee'd out, that's when she heard the fe-mailman at the box in front of her house and decided it was good enough reason to stretch her legs. She dreaded to go to the mailbox because there was rarely anything personal in it, and she longed somehow for a card or a note from some forgotten friend. She longed, too, for a melancholy love letter or postcard written by a secret admirer traveling in a far away land. Receiving either was never the case. She could have those, if she truly wanted them, but by choice she'd isolated herself from the mainstream lesbian lifestyle nine years ago. Now, except for one ex-lover turned friend-girl, she never heard from anyone in the big city again, and honestly preferred it that way after everything was said and done. Just before she came to Cool Lake, Miriam had dutifully promised everyone that she'd keep in touch, and she kept telling herself that she ought to do just that but she never got around to putting forth any effort to do so. Shortly after she'd moved away, she'd decided that those people were nothing but a bunch of fair-weathered friends anyway, ones that she hadn't needed and didn't want. It was just as well, too, for she never really cared for them even back then, it was just a necessary rule in playing the game. Her truest friend, Sammye, had stayed in touch with her through her darkest hours, however. Once, when Miriam was very sick, she'd even asked Sammye not to call her anymore, trying to eliminate the last player on the list, but then like clockwork, Sammye calmly phoned again the next week just as if nothing had happened. When Miriam tried to apologize for her display of anger on the previous call, Sammye had blown it off and pretended like nothing out of the ordinary had happened the week before. Sammye's denial made Miriam feel like shit because of her own actions, but also made her absolutely certain that Sammye's friendship was there to stay.

Sammye was just like that, and after their horrible break up, she'd been bound and determined for the two of them to mend their friendship. And so they had. Miriam had absolutely refused to speak with Sammye for more than two months just after the split, and decided they'd never be close again, trying to explain over and over to Sammye that there was a lesbian rule: after a break-up, ex-girlfriends cannot remain friends under any circumstances. Regardless of Miriam's wishes and trumped up rule, Sammye kept pushing the issue with Miriam, leaving countless phone messages and notes hanging on her apartment door. Sammye also proved that she had nerve. She'd shown up at Miriam's job and had spoken with Miriam's boss, Mr. Carroll, about the situation. He called Miriam into his office where he waited there with Sammye. When Miriam arrived, he'd told her sternly to sit and listen to what Sammye had to say because it was very important. After Sammye finished her friendship speech, Mr. Carroll turned to Miriam and asked her how in the world she could reject such a true friend. Miriam was floored. Mr. Carroll told Miriam that she was through for the day and excused himself. When Miriam gave in, the two of them drove to The Rose Butch, an off colour lesbian bar on University Drive, to seal the friendship deal with a couple of drinks. That evening, Miriam and Sammye had begun to forgive and forget by harmlessly laughing off most of the nasty exchanges that the divorce had prompted between the two of them, but before they knew it they'd gotten snot-slinging, panty dragging drunk. Miriam recalled that they wound up at the Cactus Flower Motel and fucked each other's brains out, and that it had been the best sex they'd ever shared. It was also the last time they'd made love with one another, period. However, as a result, they were better friends than friends could ever be, Miriam thought, allowing Sammye to become the sister she'd never had. After Miriam moved away, Sammye remained determined that Miriam would not lose contact with the outside world, and she hadn't.

Just as Miriam suspected, she'd received nothing personal in the mail, only a couple of utility bills and a newsletter from the church that Sammye attended. She'd just begun to read the bulletin about upcoming events as she walked back in, when she noticed that her phone was ringing. She let the first couple of rings go by before she darted for the steps, climbing them two by two before reaching the door. She thought the telephone would ring off the hook, so Miriam answered it quickly. "Hello."

"Miri-yummy? This is Laverne Lunsford."

"Oh, hi, Verne. How are you?" Miriam thought that she'd know Laverne's cornpone voice anywhere and always wondered why Laverne properly introduced herself each time she called. Miriam decided it was probably a carryover habit from saying it so often in her business life, and never asked Laverne to explain.

"I'm doin' a damn site better than Franklin J. Curtis, III."

"Who's Franklin Curtis, or should I ask?"

"He's that weirdo that works the graveyard shift at the Smithey Brothers Funeral Parlour on Sunset Circle. Haw! Haw! Haw!" Laverne was quite amused with her own self and usually found it necessary to laugh at her own jokes. "Or at least he did probably 'til oh, somewhar's around eight a'clock this mornin'."

Then Miriam remembered who he was and recalled seeing him the day before; he was one of the men moving the tree away from the front of Maddy's place. "What's up? Why do you say that he did until today?"

"Are ya sittin' down on yore sweet cheeks, Sweet Cheeks? Ya need ta be sittin' down comfortable fer this cup a tea that I'm 'bouts ta tell ya."

"No, hang on. I was out at my mail box when the phone rang, so let me switch phones." As Miriam closed and locked the front door behind her, she could still here Laverne's voice loud and clear.

"Well, hurry up. ol'Vernie's chompin' at the bit ta spill this'en here."

As Miriam switched to her cordless phone, she could hear the haws of Laverne's laughter. Whatever Laverne had to tell this time must surely be good, so she hurriedly went to her kitchen table and told Laverne to go ahead as she slid into her seat and lit a cigarette.

"Now listen here, Cutie-Patootie. This here's the hard-boiled truth ol'Laverne's 'bout ta tell. There ain't no rumour part 'bout this 'en one way or 'nother." Miriam imagined Laverne slobbering and rubbing her hands together as she spoke these words. "I got this juicy little tidbit from Patsy Clark after she got off shift from the 69 this mornin'. She caught me early while I was still drankin' coffee out at Maddy's, and she said she'd die if this'en turned out ta be a falsehood. So I know it fer a fact, it's the gospel truth."

"Okay, Vernie, okay. Calm down." Miriam had known Laverne for quite some time now. She knew her well enough to know that when she was excited about something that she talked loud, fast, and more country-fied than usual. Today, Miriam knew that she could have a hard time keeping up with her because Laverne was traveling at a record-breaking speed.

"I cain't slow down, you'll just have to hang on! I've set on this fer as long as I can, Honey, this egg has gotta hatch right now." Laverne pleaded, "I swore ta Patsy I wouldn't tell another livin' soul, but I've heard some of the 'xact same story from the fourth person now and if I don't git ta tell somebody 'xactly how it was purty soon, I'm gonna bust plum outta mah zippers." Miriam knew not to ask her to slow down anymore because in Laverne's state of high anxiety it would do no good, plus she now had a nasty visual image of Laverne busting out of her zippers to remind her not to ask again. "You jest set on back in your easy chair and be thankful ol'Laverne selected you ta be the million dollar prize winner."

Miriam chuckled and was about to tell Laverne to go ahead with her storytelling, but she never got the first word out because Laverne kept talking as if Miriam really wasn't a factor in the conversation at all. Miriam tucked her cordless phone under her chin and crossed the kitchen to empty her ashtray and then went down the hall to retrieve a towel to dry the rain from her hair, as Laverne began to tell her one of the funniest and most bizarre stories Miriam had ever heard in her thirty-nine years of living.

"It happened jest like the way I'm gonna tell it, no matter what ya hear from somebody else later on." Laverne warned, "people in Cool Lake like ta talk, so when they go ta tell ya, you jest say ol'Laverne's done told ya the whole story." Laverne asked, "are ya ready?" But again she didn't wait for Miriam's reply, saying "last night Patsy was settin' her stuff down to go on shift at the 69 Is Fine Truck Stop, when a man came up to her an said this here. "'scuse me ma'am, but there's a feller stuck in the last stall of the men's restroom. " Well, Patsy said she thanked him kindly and went to the door ta see what was a goin' on. First, she called for all the men that might be in there ta come on out or speak up, but there weren't any in there so she turned loosa the door and was gonna walk away. Patsy said that's when she heard this groanin' kinda noise, then a voice calling from the back sayin' 'help me, please.' Well, ya know Patsy ain't scairt a the devil his self, so she said 'I'm comin' back there and this had not better be no trick.' Then she said she heard the voice groanin' 'help me' again."

Miriam listened, but Verne's voice had trailed off quietly. Miriam waited and wondered, but then her voice returned speaking in low tones. "Sorry, Honey. I had to sign a invoice." She paused for another moment, and then said "now, whare in tarnation was I? Oh, yeah...the voice. Well, anyways, Patsy still thought this might be a trick so she inched her way back to the last stall and found the door cracked open jest a wee tiny bit so she peeped around. Now, Yummy, cain'tcha jest see it? Ol'Patsy wide-eyed a peepin' 'round in the men's bathroom? Haw! Haw! Haw! Hell, I can jest see her, cain't you?" Laverne bellowed then. "She looked purty wild outta her eyes, too, when she was tellin' this ta me this mornin'! Bet they wus twiced as big last night."

Laverne was almost yelling and Miriam moved the phone away from her ear just a little for comfort. She shook her head just a bit and smiled wide, both at the story and at Laverne's excitement to tell it. "Haw! Haw! Haw!" Laverne laughed and Miriam began to giggle out loud to spite herself. Then, Miriam said anxiously "hey, that isn't fair. C'mon, Vernie, you're laughing because you know the punch line, don't leave me in suspense, go on with the story." She tried to compose herself, yet at the same time she was curious beyond belief because everything she'd heard in Cool Lake was potential material for a book she was contemplating, and this was good stuff.

Laverne replied, "ain't it the truth, Sweet Cheeks, just wait 'til ya hear the whole dang thang, you ain't gonna believe it. You are jest not gonna believe it. Now, anyways, Patsy peeped aroun' the corner of the last stall and low and behold, there stands ol'Franklin J. Curtis hugged up tight to the wall,' Patsy said. His left hand was holdin' onta the top of the partition that separates the one stall he was standin' in from the next stall over, she said she could see that clear. But his right hand was down somewhare's below by his waist or somethin', but she looked away so fast that this part wasn't clear to her at first. She said she couldn't see anythang clear right off 'cause his shirttail was coverin' it up, but she thought fer a second and then inched herself in to get a better look. Then she said she could tell that since his pants - with his boxer shorts still in 'em now mindya - were nearly ta the floor that she knew his shirt must be coverin' up his pecker. She said she looked away again to think what in the world was goin' on, and that she just couldn't figure why it was that nearly his whole body was glued all tight up against the wall like that, and why his face was the color of a strawberry.

At that point, Miriam and Laverne began to laugh so hard that they both had to take a break, but as soon as Miriam began to calm down a bit, she screamed. "Giiirrrrllll, you don't mean this!" Then it was back to hysteria.

They both laughed a good while and quieted enough for Laverne to continue. But when Laverne said "Honey, you ain't heard nothin' yet," they both busted out in giggles again. In a few seconds, Laverne tried to be serious and said "now, Muffin, I ain't nowhare's near done so ya gotta let me finish my story." Miriam cleared her throat and encouraged Laverne to go ahead, but she quickly pushed the mute button so she could continue to giggle a little longer and remain undetected by the storyteller. Miriam could tell that Laverne's voice had become slightly weakened and could've easily laughed again, and would have, too, if Miriam would've started. But Miriam figured that, knowing Laverne, there was more laughter to come anyway, so she remained silent and let Laverne calm down enough to finish her story. "Now, he was in the last stall ya see up against the wall facing the stall next ta him, toward the bathroom door. So Patsy done what any red blooded American woulda done an eased open the stall door next to him. You know, the one that he was facin'. Patsy said she coulda fell plum out when she got a look at his winkie stickin' out through a hole ta the other side. Haw! Haw! Haw!" Laverne busted up. "Cain'tcha jest see ol'Patsy's face? I'da give the farm to have seen that picture."

Miriam's mouth dropped open in shock. When she finally got what Laverne was talking about, she roared loudly enough to scare poor Tahloolah out of a deep sleep. As Tahloolah scurried from the kitchen on two wheels, Miriam told Laverne to hold and started for the bathroom dead on her heels. Just barely making it in time to pee, she told Laverne when she returned to the kitchen "I swear your stories should come equipped with Depends undergarments, Laverne. I just about pissed my pants." This was a compliment that Laverne would forever hold in high esteem, for Laverne liked nothing better than to make people laugh.

"Aw shucks, you sweet thang, you." Still giggling a little bit, she chuckled "it ain't Laverne's story remember, it's the Cool Lake truth."

"Yes, but Laverne, you definitely have a way of telling the plain truth in a way that will make a person want to laugh their ass off."

Dead silence. Then Laverne said "Baby, now yore talkin' some serious stuff when you tellin' ol'Vernie 'bout yer ass. Now, don't go that away, Honey. That's some serious business there. Huh uh, no. Jest quit it." While Laverne was spouting seriousness, Miriam hit the mute button and roared again at Laverne's honesty.

"Now are ya gonna let me finish this story or do ya want ta talk serious 'bout yer ass, which? Makes me no difference, either way. Matter a fact, I'd rather talk 'bout yore ass, whatcha thank? Wanna talk bout yer ass, Yummy?" Laverne was quite serious when it came to conversations about someone's ass. Miriam believed it to be true that Laverne meant exactly what she said, too. She believed that Laverne would stop right where she was in the middle of the story, change gears and talk at length with Miriam about her ass.

Since Miriam definitely did not want to go there, she responded quickly. "No, no. I'm sorry that I distracted you, Vernie. Please, please, tell me the rest of your story." Miriam had to get Laverne past this subject, and fast. "What's his name's dick was caught in a glory hole. Now, what else?"

"Right, Franklin. Now, Franklin was standin' there with his dick stuck in a...what'd ya jest call it?" Laverne trailed off, "a fishin' hole?"

"No, Vernie." Miriam was amused. "It's called a glory hole by the guys that use them."

"Right. Well, his dick was caught in this glory hole thang. I supposed it was swelled sa big he couldn't get the damn thang outta this hole an back in his pants, which ya 'member was layin' on the floor. When Patsy figgered all this situation out, she was madder than an ol'wet hen. She didn't say nothin' to ol'Frankie Baby 'cept 'please try ta have that thang outta there by the time I git back,' which a course he wadn't, 'cause he couldn't reach it to doodle his self off. Then she went and got the 'out a order' sign and placed it outside the bathroom door fer security measures, and then she said that she went over to the register and took out the main set a keys and locked Mr. Franklin J. in the men's bathroom. She said she got herself a Cherry Coke and set down at the counter jest a minute 'to thank,' she said. Then it was Patsy off ta the races."

Laverne continued, "Patsy said she was thinkin' what she must do to git this weirdo outta the bathroom before anymore customers found out or she might lose her job. And I told her anytime that ever happened, she could come ta work fer me over at the yard, so fer her notta be worried 'bout that. Anyways, she said the first thang she thought of was to call the ambulance and the police and let them take care of it. But then she thought how that might give the 69 some bad publicity. Then she happened to thank how sometimes Roy, the security guard on the night shift, would sometimes hafta run off a feller or two tryin' to give a trucker a blow job to git a ride somewhare's or git some money from the truckers for booze and whatnot. She thought if she could find one a them what Roy called 'lot lizards' her problem would be solved. She noticed a few truckers standin' aroun' and went out to the fuel area where them truckers fill up their rigs, and she had brass on her face, Girl, and come right out an ask 'em all if there was any lot lizards there that any of 'em knew of. She said she had to ask 'em four or five times before they took her serious, but she persisted. Finally, this one ol'boy with bad teeth spoke up an said that he hadn't had anythang to do with him, but that he'd seen one down by the truck wash."

"Here goes Patsy, marchin' down ta the back a the property all by herself. Taught me she really wernt scairt a nothin', 'cause it ain't well lit down there, I know." Laverne was insistent that she knew, and Miriam believed her and encouraged her to go ahead. "Well, when Patsy gets down there, she said she was lookin' around but she didn't see nobody like that at first. Then she noticed this tall feller wearin' high heeled shoes and smokin' a cigarette all casual-like and a prancin' around the dollar changin' machine. She said she had to grit her teeth, but she went on up to him and asked him right out loud if he was one a them boys that, get this, liked to suck dick. He hauled off and called Patsy somethin' smart that Patsy wouldn't tell me, which made me 'bout half-mad. But anyways, she kept on at him, she said, 'til he finally told her that 'yeah, he sure did suck dicks,' and Patsy said that he said 'and the bigger the better.' Patsy said she told him she didn't know nothin' 'bout all that, and she said then he was actin' all proud-like of it and struttin' in front a her an everthang. Well, then she told him who she was and she told him furthermore that she had the 'thority to have him arrested on the spot if she was so a mind ta do that. But she told him that she wouldn't do that, and wouldn't cause him no trouble, if he'd come inside and jest talk with her a minute."

"He come inside with her, Miriam, and they both took a seat in one a the booths and they both ordered a Cherry Coke from Junelle, the other waitress on duty. Ya know, she's one a them college girls. She ain't from aroun' here but she is a purty little thang, real smart."

"Uh oh." Miriam said out loud, "Laverne you're leaving the track." When she cleared her voice in an attempt to get her attention, Laverne caught on quickly and continued on the right path.

"You're right. Okay. Well, Patsy said Junelle was 'bout ta go nuts all night but said she never told her what was up 'bout nothin'. And that was all I was gonna say 'bout Junelle anyway, 'cept her snatch must surely be sweet. Sorry, Yum, jest had to say it. Well, Patsy talked with this feller who gave his name to be "Stevie" and she told him what kinda pickle she was in. She asked him if he would perform his usual duties but inside this time 'steada out in the back of a truck somewhare's, and that he could make probly more than his usual fee by doin' so. Now, Patsy didn't know what his usual fee was, 'member? But she told him she'd pay him fifty dollars outta her register and throw in a cheeseburger and the soda he was drankin', I guess to wash it all down with. Haw! Haw! Haw!"

Laverne had done very well to keep her story going until now, and Miriam was impressed. However, she knew at that point the tale wasn't close to over, and waited just a moment before prompting her on. "Oh, brother." Miriam spoke patiently then, and added more interest to the story at hand "Laverne, how did Patsy hold herself together?"

"Girl, your guess is as good as mine. Now stop interruptin' me so I can go on."

Miriam got a kick out of that one and told Laverne that she had the floor.

"Okay. Now, this ol'boy Stevie raised his eyebrows when Patsy mentioned the fifty dollars, Patsy said, so she knew she had him interested. So, she goes on 'splainin' what the situation was and he told her it would cost her fifty dollars up front. And the gentleman would also owe him his wallet or fifty dollars whichever was higher, when it was all done and over with. She said that she vouched fer Franklin right then an there, 'cause he was in no position to give her no shit about it and it was a good deal. She told this Stevie guy that he could have every dime in the man's wallet at the end, plus the fifty from the register the minute he stepped into the man's bathroom to go to work. Guess what?" Laverne asked, but Miriam didn't know she was supposed to answer this time, and Laverne quickly added a follow up. "Hello? Baby, you still there?"

Miriam quickly responded, "Umm. Hmm. Sorry, Laverne. I was lighting a smoke. I'm ready, go ahead."

Laverne continued without a breath, "he told Patsy to have his cheeseburger ready."

"YUCK! Laverne! Are you making this up?" Miriam gave out a volley of disgust.

"It's the truth, Baby, I told you it was, ever word." Laverne nagged at Miriam "hey? Kinda leaves a bad taste in your mouth, don't it? Haw! Haw! Haw!" They both laughed heartily, then Laverne said "now Baby, ya gotta let me finish the story, it's fer your own good and the best part's comin' up, trust me."

"I trust you, Verne, go ahead."

"Patsy said that they both kinda took a deep breath, then that boy follered Patsy right on in the bathroom. She said she locked 'em all three in there at first and the boy held his hand out for the money first thang. Patsy said she 'splained to ol'Frank what that boy had come in there for, and that he'd come to his rescue instead of 911, so he'd best do what he was told to do. 'Franklin kinda gulped,' she said 'and he started to say somethin,' but Patsy said she gave him the evil eye and Franklin never said a word. I reckon ol'Franklin J. Curtis knew that he weren't in no position to say nothin' to nobody no how. She said the boy stepped aroun' her and looked at Franklin right square in the face. Then she said, that he said, that it was much purtier from the other side and went back 'round her again into the other stall. She said at this point she 'scused herself. She went outta the bathroom and locked the two a them in there by theirselves. She said she jest leaned herself against the door and drank on her Cherry Coke like nothin' was wrong, and smiled at the folks goin' by and gawkin'.

"And dig this," Laverne continued, "in about five minutes there was a knock on the door. Somebody wonted ta be let outta the bathroom. It was that lot lizard feller. She asked him if he needed anythang and he said nope, the job was finished. She said she was impressed with this boy's skill. Patsy said ta me that she thought about how long it took her with her ol'man and how she hated to suck on his ol'cock. She also said no matter how hard she tried, he never finished with nothin' in 'bout five minutes. Patsy said she got this ol'boy's number fer later, 'just fer a few pointers if nothin' else'. But Hell, I thank she musta been teasin' me just a little then. Anyway, she said she let 'em both out."

"So, that's it? That's the end of the story?" Miriam asked, somewhat disappointed.

"Aw naw, Honey. You gotta let me finish the rest. That boy was the first one out she said and he was grinnin' from ear to ear. Then out come Franklin Curtis lookin' kinda green aroun' the gills, rubbin' at his crotch area an 'djustin' his balls. She told Franklin that she'd struck a deal with this ol'boy, and to keep this outta the paper that he was gonna give this boy all the money he was carryin' in his wallet. Well, Franklin started protestin' but Patsy held firm. She told Franklin she'd already talked the situation over with Roy, the security guard, and that he was willin' ta call the cops at the drop of a hat. But Patsy really hadn't talked to Roy, you know, he was in the back on a cot sleepin' like he always was. She said she'd paid the boy her share of fifty dollars out of the register, and that she was gonna have to justify it missin' someways or 'nother. She said that she looked mean at Franklin and took him up by the lapels a his coat, and told him he was in no position to refuse anythang, that he must do the right thang where this boy was concerned and pay up to avoid police involvement."

"It's gonna get good here. Hold on to your panties, Miriam," Laverne snickered. "Franklin knew she was right and took out his wallet. Franklin handed out a fifty dollar bill, but Patsy said he had more, so she raised her knee up like she was gonna get his jewels. Scairt probly, Franklin held out a wad a cash to the boy, and Patsy said they all nearly fell over lookin' at it. Franklin began to hand it over and drew it back. Patsy said she hated to touch it, but she reached over and guided Franklin's hand over to the boy. She said to me 'Laverne, Franklin's hand was tremblin' so bad it shook my teeth to touch him.' Then she said the boy began to count out Franklin's money, and she said that he kept countin' until he'd counted out what was nearly fifteen hundred dollars. Patsy said, 'the door didn't touch his ass on the way out. She said, 'he kissed the money, then kissed Franklin right on the mouth, then headed round the counter to kiss her. She said she backed up a little and so this boy gave her a big ol'hug instead and tucked a hundred-dollar bill in her hand. Patsy said he picked up his to go bag with his cheeseburger in it and was gone like a ghost."

Miriam was taken aback and sat quietly for a moment, then asked the burning question. "Where in the world did Franklin Curtis get fifteen hundred dollars?"

"Well, that was my question, too. Patsy said he told her that he had closed up the mortuary fer his lunch break and had gone out to the 69, as usual. Just before he closed up shop, a customer came in and put a deposit down on the funeral arrangements fer a body that had come in 'bout an hour before from Brownsville. ol'Kitty Cleveland, God rest her soul. Do ya know her?" Laverne questioned.

Miriam replied no quietly, and then screamed "who cares?"

"Franklin had been 'fraid to leave the cash at the funeral home in case there was a fire or a burglary or somethin', and he'd put it in his wallet fer safe keepin'. Patsy said he sat there and cried like a baby 'til 'bout four this mornin'."

"Aww, Laverne. I feel kind of sorry for Franklin Curtis," Miriam said semi-compassionately.

"Aww nothin' hell. That ol'fart ought to had know'd better'n that. What was he thinkin' when he was stickin' his you-know-what through a hole in the wall with that kinda money in his pocket?" Laverne was beginning to laugh. "Hell, we don't go 'round stickin' ours up to no hole in the wall, do we?" She continued, "hell, not 'cause it wouldn't be no good probly, but jest 'cause we know better." She was absolutely silent for a moment. "Haw! Haw! Haw!"

Miriam teased "you would so put your snatch up to a hole, Laverne. I know you're trying to figure out how to do that right now! As we speak!" When Laverne began laughing louder, Miriam knew she had her. "You're busted, Laverne. Admit it."

"Okay, ya got me. I was thinkin' a little 'bout it, but that's all. You'll never ketch me tryin' it." Laverne went on with her protest "and if ya ketch me, I'll deny it 'til the day they put me under."

Miriam began to ease off because she didn't want to make Laverne upset by teasing her. Then as she shook her head no in disbelief, Miriam said "okay, Vernie. I believe you. I really do." Miriam's thoughts turned again to Franklin. "Hey! What about Franklin? What's he going to do?"

"Well, Toots, I'll tell ya. I ain't heard nothin' yet. But I'd wager that if Franklin J. Curtis, III don't have money enough in the bank fer a fancy box to put Kitty Cleveland in, them Smithey boys'll make sure his lights go out." Laverne made a distressful sigh, and said "Mr. Curtis might be underneath ol'Kitty when they lay her to rest."

"Oh, Laverne!" Miriam exclaimed. "You don't think they'd kill him, do you?"

"I ain't sayin' they would and I ain't sayin' they wouldn't. I'm just sayin' that I wouldn't be surprised at nothin' them boys would do. Nothin'." Laverne spoke flatly and with conviction. "There's a whole buncha thangs happened in Cool Lake before you got here, Girlie. A whole buncha thangs I ain't got time ta tell." Laverne went silent.

After an uncomfortable moment between them, Miriam asked if Laverne was all right. Laverne finally answered "I'm okay, Sugar. I was jest thinkin' back to a differnt time that's all. When we have more time, I'll tell ya a thang or two that ya don't know 'bout Cool Lake. Fer now I gotta go and get busy in the yard, I got thangs to do and purty girls to kiss."

Miriam noticed the time was just past two and realized that they'd been on the phone for more than an hour, but added "Vernie, I know something caused you to change moods just then. If it was something I said, I want to apologize."

"Naw. It wasn't you, Honey. You couldn't do no harm. Ol'Verne was just taking a stroll down Mem'ry Lane, and prayin' jest a little for Franklin J. Curtis, that's all." Laverne continued almost in a whisper "now, listen. Serious. I wantcha to call yore ol'Laverne so's that we can plan that birthday dinner. Promise me you will?"

"Yes, Verne. I promise I will call you very soon, but there's plenty of time for that later." Miriam finished with "Scouts honour."

"Okay. Now, I gotta go," Laverne whispered. "I hope you liked the story."

"Aww, Vernie, you know I did," Miriam cheerfully replied. "Thank you for picking me to be the million dollar prize winner."

Laverne laughed a little and then there was an open line indicating Laverne had hung up. Miriam was puzzled that the conversation had ended the way it did, considering the hilarious story that Laverne had just told. She started to call Laverne back, but something told her to leave it be. She guessed more would be revealed to her when she went to Laverne's place for dinner, and definitely she wouldn't worm her way out of it like she'd done last year. Miriam just hoped that Laverne didn't cook another Polk Sallet and Honeysuckle casserole, even if it was her grandmother's secret recipe. Miriam shuttered just thinking about it, and said "yuck" right out loud. Upon saying that, she got a ready "meow" from 'Loo, as if somehow she questioned if the coast was clear. When Miriam said "okay, Tally-Girl," 'Loo came waddling in for companionship.

Setting her thoughts of Laverne aside for a moment, Miriam noted the mail on the table and tucked the utility bills away in her top desk drawer for later consideration. She looked briefly at the headlines of the church bulletin and recognized Sammye's face in the choir photo. She dutifully cut it out and replaced the photo of Sammye from the last bulletin on her refrigerator when they'd snapped her as a server at a church breakfast. It wasn't that the church was small and there were few to take photos of, it was just the fact that Sammye had become very active with the church when she'd found a lover that could support her in the style to which she'd easily become accustomed to. She always beamed with elation at her appointment to one committee or another when she and Miriam spoke on the phone, and Sammye always followed her elation with some practical church related reason for Miriam to relocate back to the big city. Miriam thought that perhaps someday she might return, when she was older or in need of really good medical attention, but that day was not to come anytime in the near future, she hoped. Miriam didn't seem to have anything to do for the rest of the day except shake the bad feelings about Franklin J. Curtis, III. Easing back peacefully to view her garden and watch the rain for awhile, she noticed a fuzzy black and white figure scamper from somewhere near her back gate and cross her garden toward the garage. Miriam was suddenly excited. She had no doubts that it was Vidalia-Kitty returning to her new home, just as Miriam had instructed her to do. She retrieved a make-do kitty dish from the laundry room, scooped a bit of Loo's food in it and grabbed a can of tuna treat. She headed out the sliding doors and down the brick-laid path, without thinking twice that she was only wearing socks in the rain. But Miriam couldn't have cared less, she was a woman on a mission. When Miriam made it to the garage door, she almost stumbled over the dear little thing when she'd bolted from some soggy hydrangeas toward Miriam at a trot. Miriam began to talk to her about how she must've been a mistreated kitty elsewhere, and that now she'd found salvation, to which Vidalia responded with bits and pieces of meows while Miriam fixed her food. Vidalia was all over Miriam and Miriam drank it all in like a dry desert. Miriam had decided that she loved animals a damn site more than she liked most people, and was determined to rescue Vidalia because, she justified, it was a necessary pest control measure and she needed an outside cat named Vidalia to adequately perform such a task.

As Vidalia-Kitty began to eat hungrily, Miriam glanced around her garage noticing how dusty her truck was. It was a beautiful midnight blue number with ground effects and all the trimmings, complete with a tasteful but modest rainbow sticker that she'd acquired on one of her many trips to Queer Town. She knew it was a nice ride, yet she rarely took serious notice of it because the Falcon was her ride of choice when she had to go somewhere. And nice truck or no, she had no real sweat or tears in the truck to bond her to it like those she'd invested in the convertible. She even thought about selling the truck for a good price once or twice a year, usually around registration time, but she thought that she'd best keep it for her long trips eastward to the doctor's office, or when she traveled West toward the big city. Miriam figured that she could probably depend on the Falcon even then, but she knew from experience that Falcon parts were hard to come by if she were to happen to break down somewhere. She climbed up into the truck and noticed that despite the fact that it was four years old, it still had the remaining hint of a new car's smell. Locating the keys from the ashtray and starting it up, it made a low thunder kind of noise when it started, and Miriam mocked it aloud. "Rumba to you, too, Baby." She eased off the gas and it began to purr like a giant pussycat as she pulled it out into the drizzle to rinse away some away the dust. She decided to let it idle just a bit to charge the battery while she swept the garage.

She didn't find Vidalia when she got back inside the garage and she panicked just a little when she realized that the truck had probably scared the poor kitty's fur off. She hurriedly went through the door leading back to her garden to retrieve her new pet and there she was, hunched down behind a Lilac bush, looking wild eyed and afraid. When Vidalia saw Miriam, she meowed pitifully and arched her back for attention as Miriam reassured her with a chin rub, then the kitty came back toward the garage for more food. Miriam apologized over and over as she loved on Vidalia and to Miriam's blessed surprise, Vidalia sucked it up like a strawberry malted. Miriam scouted the garage for a chamois and then began to wipe down the truck in the rain after she killed the engine. Then Vidalia came just to the threshold of the garage and sat herself down to bathe and watch Miriam wipe away the dust. For Miriam, things were close to heaven until she heard a car leave the highway and turn onto Lake Circle. The driver picked up speed as it came down the hill and then blew by her doing no less than sixty, Miriam supposed, then the driver brashly honked its horn as it closed in on the curve near the lake, as if telling the bend to get out of its way. As best as she could recognize, the blur was a creamy yellow Mustang, 1965 model or maybe a '64. She didn't recognize it, but she thought she wouldn't have recognized the First Lady of the United States at that rate of speed. When she'd finished with the truck, she put Vidalia in the garden and closed the door so as not to make the same mistake by scaring her twice. After she backed the truck in, she gave it one good goose of gas and turned the key, and then wiped it down quickly one more time and closed up her garage. For lack of any other idea, she propped the garden door open with stones so that Vidalia could have easy access to a dry place to sleep and to the food that Miriam would leave out for her. Deciding that would just have to do until she could figure something else out. Miriam searched for her new friend in order to show her the way back in, but Vidalia had vanished. "Ingrate," Miriam said to the lilac bush. "Freeloader," she yelled into her rose bush, "you can't trust some cats for shit!"

Chapter One
Chapter Three

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