Dancing With Granny

  The summer had been a girl’s dream of life on the road. The kid and the very experienced woman were more like sisters than daughter and mother; both sexy, one leggy and fresh, the other athletic and knowing; dancing from town to town across the broad and believing Midwest, grifting a living as resurrection angels for a traveling evangelist. Coming down the aisle in hooker clothes and getting dunked and saved night after night, from Shullsburg, Wisconsin to Dickeyville, from Toolesville, Iowa down through Missouri, slipping into Knob Noster and Diggins, glimpses of their slick bodies in wet angel robes sliding through the narrowed eyes of farmers and scandalizing their wives. But now the Old Reverend was gone and the weather was chilly, sliding always south toward November. Instead of sunshine and laughter about the hick name of the next town full of marks, there were cold winds and tears and morning sickness. The last of the easy money went for a one-way ticket on Trailways.

  They stood in a place called Lonnie’s Convenient and Transmission on Missouri 266, a couple of miles west of Springfield. There was snuff and oil filters, and Little Debbie snacks made of cornstarch and foam. The kid scowled at them and turned away. She looked to the guy behind the counter like thirteen or fourteen; skinny, pissed-off, the way a kid that age always is; and dressed light for the weather. Straggly pale curls.

  “Don’t be stubborn,” her mother said. “You don’t eat, you won’t make it past goddamn Indiana, for shit sake. Take something, I’ll pay for it.” She dropped her voice a little, not much. “You’re eating for two now, you little slut.”

- - : - -

  We could start this like a ’20’s farce, with a ringing telephone on an empty stage. A maid enters and picks it up. “Good afternoon, the Maryland residence.” And right away, you know where you are.

  But Suellen (who was no maiden, anyhow) had gone into town for the day. I was a little surprised to hear the phone, really. It had kept pretty quiet since Suellen’s project - what she called her Whores' Lobby - hit the news.

  Not the Gabbro Intelligencer or WGAB (“All Country, All the Time”) of course. If our media had one principle, it was that Gabbro, North Carolina was a crime-free zone, right down to prostitution and parking. No, but the Raleigh News and Observer had got wind of it, and filled a white space inside their “Life Styles” section with a headline, “Hooker Unrest in the Cotton Patch” and a thumbnail photo of Suellen with Gabbro’s two prostitutes, and three from the neighboring town of Bozlee, around our kitchen table. They were planning a job action, and that’s what had caught the editor’s fancy, limning a country town’s mustachioed pillars going without their fun because the prostitutes were on strike for better working conditions. Little they knew. It was passing truckers, not Victorian-hypocrite city fathers ...

  Hell. If I don’t get that phone, I’ll never finish this.

  “Hap Maryland speaking.”

  Brief silence. A telemarketer, then. I was ready to slam it down when a country kind of voice said she’d been hoping to speak to Miss Ransom.

  “Suellen is not available just now. Can I take a message?” Figuring another client for the Whore’s Lobby, emboldened by the jolly-looking picture in the N&O.

  “Well, if you could please have her to call Miss Darlene Feely at (417) 555 - 5100. May I ask when you expect her?”

  Darlene Feely, ho, I bet. “I’ll do that, Darlene. I expect her back around dinnertime. Is this about ... Are you a ... are you interested in the job action?”

  “I beg your pardon?”

  Survival instinct kicked in. “May I tell her what your call was in connection? With?”

  “I am secretary to Mr. Amos Verry, Esquire, of Morris, Gerard, and Verry in Springfield, Missouri. I cannot be more specific than that. If you would kindly see to it that Miss Ransom gets my message? It is urgent. Thank you.”

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