Friday, January 23, 2009

Harper Creek Part II

Part II
Bessie watched the dust cloud behind Henry Johnson's car as it rolled down the dirt road to the highway and then she picked up her crochet work and sat down to plan her strategy. Meanwhile, her daughter Wanda was busy at Nan's Highway Cafe getting ready for the lunch rush. The little cafe filled up with local farmers and other townspeople who worked on Main Street. Wanda's best friend Faye Watson waited tables with her. They had grown up together, graduated high school together and both got married and left town the first chance they got.
Faye's marriage lasted only 3 years and she moved back to Harper Creek a single woman with 3 kids to raise.

The 2 best friends were practically inseparable. They lived on the same street just 2 houses apart and their kids all played and fought together like brothers and sisters. Wanda and Faye each had a teenage daughter so they didn't have to worry about babysitters when they went out on Saturday nights. They were like sisters who shared clothes and giggled about silly things. They commiserated with each other about men, money, and their meddling mothers.

Wanda lackadaisically filled the ketchup and mustard bottles while Faye rolled silverware in the white paper napkins. Faye's oldest daughter Tabitha was starting to date and Faye was none too happy about it. Tabitha's dates were beginning to conflict with Faye's Saturday nights out. That left the babysitting to Wanda's daughter Cathy. Both knew that Cathy would be dating soon too and that would create a real problem for Wanda's and Faye's social life. They might just have to hire a babysitter.

Henry Johnson made one more sales call before lunch. Lou Ann Stewart turned out to be an easy sell. Lou Ann seemed a little too happy to welcome Henry into her house and he was sure he smelled bourbon on her breath. She was a rather large woman who Henry guessed to be in her mid to late 50s and she sat a little too close to him on the sofa while he showed her all the features of the family bible. She marveled at every little thing he said and oohed and awed as he turned each page. As he tried to close the sale, she asked question after question while looking dreamily into Henry's eyes. It took her 15 minutes just to decide on a color and she finally chose burgundy. She didn't flinch at the $75 price but it took her another 15 minutes to find her checkbook and write the check. Lou Ann seemed disappointed to learn that Henry wouldn't personally deliver her new bible. He finally left Lou Ann's house feeling sorry for her husband but glad he would never see her again. It was half past noon and Henry was hungry so he pulled into Nan's Highway Cafe for lunch. He had to park on a dirt lot next to the cafe and right next to an abandoned service station. He guessed everybody in town was at the cafe for lunch. He knew his good looks and being a stranger in town would get a lot of attention inside. If he played his cards right, subtly flirting with the ladies would increase his afternoon sales in Harper Creek.

Just as he thought, everyone stared when he walked in the door and waited to be seated. He was used to the stares. He had started selling bibles last spring and was used to being a stranger after traveling from town to town over the past year. Finally Faye walked past with both arms full of plates and told him to seat himself. Faye noticed the handsome man and hoped he would sit on her side of the restaurant but she was too busy to pay him much attention. He sat down at a booth on Wanda's side of the restaurant and Wanda took him a menu and got his drink order. Wanda noticed that the man was rather handsome but didn't pay him much more attention after his food arrived and he was eating. The highway brought plenty of strangers into the little cafe and Wanda didn't really like clean cut men. She liked them a little rough around the edges. Faye teased her a lot, telling her that if she didn't have 4 kids she would probably be riding down the road on the back of a Harley or in a semi with some big hairy man with tattoos. Wanda just laughed and told Faye she was crazy but Wanda thought to herself that Faye might just be right. She would never know anyway, she figured she would always be a single mother with 4 kids in Harper Creek.

The lunch rush started to slow as people finished their food and went back to work. Henry managed to talk to a few ladies and none seemed very interested in what he had to sell but they seemed to like talking to him. One lady had to go back to work but told Henry he should see her mother and she gave him directions to her mother's house. Henry was happy to take the referral. If he could get another $75 bible order in Harper Creek he could cash the checks at the Harper Creek State Bank and have a nice dinner in the next town where he would spend the weekend and start all over again on Monday. He waited at the front counter to pay his bill and Faye hurried over. Now that all of her tables were taken care of, she had a few minutes to flirt with the handsome stranger.

Faye was rather bold when it came to men and she had no problem striking up a conversation with the handsome ones. She was a pretty lady and had kept a nice figure. She kept Henry talking and learned that he was a bible salesman. She thought that was funny, but she kept that to herself. During their conversation she managed to get a date with Henry and he left after she wrote down her phone number and directions to her house for that very evening. Wanda saw what was going on and laughed at Faye after Henry walked out the door.
“Girl, you sure work fast. At that rate you'll be married by the end of next week.”
“Honey, we may do plenty by the end of next week but I'll be damned if I marry a bible salesman.”
They both laughed out loud as they bussed the empty tables and refilled tea glasses.

Henry whistled as he drove down Main Street looking for his turn just past the First Baptist Church. There were no street signs in Harper Creek and Main Street was the only paved street in town except for the highway. It had been a while since he'd had a date and he knew he really needed to make another sale now that he would have to pay for 2 dinners that evening. He slowed the car as he came to the 4th house on the left after the right turn at the church. It was a green stucco house just as Faye had described and he looked in the mirror to check his hair and straighten his tie. After combing his hair he grabbed his briefcase and got out of the car. Faye's mother, Wilma, was a very nice lady with very bright red hair that was neatly curled and backcombed high atop her head. Henry actually enjoyed talking with her and she was another easy sale. He left with a $75 check and Wilma gave him a few more prospects so he set off hoping to make a couple more sales before 4 PM. He had learned that women were usually an easier sell if they were alone so he made it a point to end his business day at 4PM just to avoid husbands.

Faye rushed home after work to shower and get ready for her date that evening. She argued with Tabitha about babysitting that night. Tabitha had a date and was furious that Faye wanted her to change her plans so she could go on a date. Faye finally called Wanda and convinced her to babysit for the evening. Wanda didn't have any plans anyway so she didn't mind. Bessie had left a message for her and the kids to come over for a fried chicken dinner that evening but she had decided not to go. She could tell by the tone of Bessie's voice on the answering machine that she was up to something and Wanda just wasn't in the mood to deal with her mother that night. Wanda dialed Bessie's number to tell her she wouldn't come to dinner. She was happy to have the babysitting excuse to get out of going. Bessie was constantly nagging Wanda about going to church on Sunday instead of "gallivanting all over the countryside" on Saturday.
Bessie had rung the neck of one of her older hens and was boiling water to dunk the chicken in before she plucked its feathers when the phone rang.
"Hello, Mom. I got your message but I'm babysitting tonight so we can't come to dinner."
"Well, who are you babysitting for dear?" Bessie was really irritated but tried not to show it.
"Faye has a date tonight and Tabitha and Cathy are both going to the basketball game so I'm babysitting."
Bessie prided herself on being a quick thinker, "Well you can just bring those kids with you. We have plenty of food and I've already killed a chicken. Your father and I really want to spend the evening with you. We just don't see you and our grand kids very much you know."
Faye knew she was beat and reluctantly agreed to dinner before they said goodbye and hung up the phone. "Oh well," she muttered "at least I don't have to cook tonight."

The dinner was good and the kids played and talked while their grandpa teased and joked with them. Bessie decided to make small talk before she launched her plan to get Wanda to take off work next Wednesday.
"Well, I noticed that Otis Hooper's truck was over at Faye's house last Tuesday while I was delivering eggs. Is that who she's out with tonight?"
Wanda laughed out loud, "Are you kidding Mom? Otis Hooper is an old drunk. Faye wouldn't go out with him."
"Well, I did see his truck in front of her house so I just thought..."she trailed off not knowing what else to say.
"Faye met a cute bible salesman at the cafe today and he asked her out."
Bessie's eyes were as big as saucers and she put her hand over her mouth to keep from cussing.
"What's wrong?" Wanda asked.
"Oh nothing. Just nothing." Bessie cleared her throat before she got up and started picking up plates. Bill wasn't through with his but she took it anyway while he was distracted with the kids.
"Well, what's gotten into you mother?" Wanda stood up to help with the dishes. She took her father's plate from Bessie's hands and sat it back down in front of her father. He never knew it was gone. Bessie and Wanda washed the dishes in silence while Bill and the kids finished and then they washed those dishes too. Bessie's plan was foiled before it even got off the ground. Wanda noticed her mother's demeanor had changed but didn't pry any further. It was probably a can of worms that didn't need to be opened.

The next day at work Faye was in an especially good mood. She gushed and went on and on about Henry to the point of annoying Wanda. She didn't say anything because she didn't want to spoil Faye's mood, but she got tired of hearing about Henry Johnson all day long. The days turned into weeks and Faye and Henry had seen each other almost every night since they first met. It was truly a whirlwind romance and Wanda was a little jealous. She wasn't jealous because Faye had a boyfriend; she was jealous because Faye was spending less time with her. She felt a little guilty when she thought to herself that she would be glad when the relationship ended and Henry Johnson moved on. She wanted her best friend back.

One morning she got to work and Faye was already there. She was sitting at a booth with Nan and they looked to be having a serious talk. Wanda wandered over not knowing if she would be prying or if she was missing a rare and impromptu employee meeting. Nan looked up at Wanda and forced a smile and Faye bit her lip and finally looked at Wanda too.
“Henry asked me to marry him!” Faye didn't realize she shouted this and the cook poked his head out of the kitchen door. Nan motioned for him to get back in the kitchen.
Wanda was dumbfounded, “Faye, you barely met the guy.”
“Oh, I know what you're thinking and Nan has been trying to talk me out of it too but it won't do any good. I've said yes. I'm moving to Kansas City.” Faye stood up and hugged Wanda.
“Oh, Wanda. I'm going to miss you, but you and the kids can come visit and we'll come back here to visit too. He's wonderful. He loves the kids and treats me like a queen. I love him!”
Wanda was too stunned to hug Faye back and she looked helplessly at Nan who just threw her hands in the air and went into the kitchen.
Faye had agreed to work the rest of the week and her and Henry had arranged to be married by the Justice of the Peace on Saturday. Henry was taking Faye to Florida for their honeymoon and then they would come back to get the kids and move to Kansas City. Wanda eventually accepted the fact that her best friend was moving away and she would be stuck in Harper Creek by herself with her 4 kids. She did a good job of hiding her disappointment and even threw Faye a baby shower on Friday before they married on Saturday. Only 7 people showed up for the shower but Faye and Wanda both knew it was because of the short notice.

Henry went back to Bessie's house as promised to get her decision on the bible. Bessie was over the shock of the wedding news by then and was polite to Henry, but she didn't buy the bible. That was just too much money for a bible, even a fancy one like that. Henry was disappointed when he left because he sure could have used that money.

Henry and Faye got married on Saturday as planned and Faye's mother had a small reception at her house. Bessie and Wanda and the kids all went and had cake and wished the happy couple well. Bessie really wished it was Wanda who was marrying the handsome bible salesman. She wondered if Wanda would ever find another man. Not many men would take a woman with 4 kids and Wanda didn't seem to care anyway. After the reception Faye and Henry left for their honeymoon and Wanda and Bessie went home to their humdrum lives.

Sunday morning Bessie woke up late. She got up and went to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. She noticed that Bill had made himself breakfast. She looked out the back window and saw him in the garden hoeing and she smiled and wished that Wanda could find a good man too. She scrambled some eggs and toasted a piece of bread and sat down to read the newspaper. As she scanned the front page, an article near the bottom caught her eye. As she read the article her mouth fell open and she repeated, “Oh my, oh my, oh my....”
After finishing the article she jumped up and hurried to the phone with the newspaper. She looked at the article again and dialed the number.

Murderer May Be Stalking Texas Panhandle
Law enforcement officials are warning panhandle residents to be on the lookout for a dangerous criminal. On Saturday, Sheriff Joe Barton received a fax from law enforcement officials in Kansas City warning that a murder suspect may be in the area.
According to Kansas officials, the man has brown hair, blue eyes and is about 6 feet tall. He uses the alias Henry Johnson, Harry Jackson, and Hank Henry. He has been known to dupe unsuspecting housewives out of money by selling bibles. He goes door-to-door taking orders for family bibles and charging $50 to $75 dollars and promising the bibles will arrive in the mail within a few weeks. The bibles never arrive and the checks are cashed at local banks the day he receives them.
This same man fits the description of a man suspected in a string of murders in the Kansas City area last spring. He has also married at least 3 unsuspecting women in the Kansas City area and all 3 women are now missing.
Sheriff Joe Barton warned that the man is probably armed and dangerous and should not be approached. If you have any information or have been a victim of the bible scam please call the sheriff's office at 555-2254.

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The stories posted on this blog (Peculiar Impartations) are orginal fiction written by Steve Hamilton.
They are copyrighted on the date they are published on this blog.

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