By: Barbara Malenky
* * *
I was having a bottle of pop over at Homer's when these two fellas showed up. They was dragging a big mama along with them, her arms as loose and limpid as a truck driver's morals.
She smiled this silly grin like she had been sniffing crazy glue. Her big mouth was painted red and greasy.
"We found her out on the highway," one fella said. He was big and pudgy, dressed in blue overalls. The woman clung to one fat shoulder. Her long hair was frizzled about her head like a crown of thorns.
"There's no phone here," Homer said. He stepped out on the porch wiping his hands on his apron, and warily eyed the strangers.
He was right to be nervous. The main highway had come through last year, bringing petty thieves right along with it. Any new face was suspect to Homer. Although to the average eye the rubbing of hands down his big brown apron looked like a coarse habit, the ones of us who was in with him knew there was a cold piece of steel strapped around his waist.
He liked to say "the next time one of them little bastards wanna try their luck, I'm gonna send 'em straight to the devil."
If anyone doubted the truth of his words, they only needed look at his souvenirs, hand carried from two stints in the Vietnam War; a dead enemies front teeth, a necklace of gook fingers and toe nails, and a key chain made from a mummified human ear. The story is he had personally collected those bits of trivial.
"The closest phone is over at the crossroads," Homer said. "That's a couple miles on up."
"There ain't nobody to call, mister," the burly man said. He shifted the woman's weight a little higher upon his shoulder. That put her head near his face, and a long pink tongue lolled from her mouth and flicked at his neck. "Like I said, we found her out on the highway. She ain't got no purse and no money and no ID. All we've been able to discover is a tube of that red shine she's sporting on her mouth."
"Yeah," chimed in the other fella, who was tall and reed thin with a pocked face, "and it says 'made in Paris, France'!"
We looked at the woman. She was bleary-eyed for sure, but in better condition she'd have been good to look at. There wasn't nothing wrong with her figure. Under that red shiny dress was soft curves of unbound flesh that jiggled in the right places.
"That's a sad story, fellas." Homer shook his head. "But I can't see how I can help you. There's no facilities here for a female. There's not even a toilet." He pointed to his left. A corner of the brown-planked outhouse was visible. "This is a poor old store keeper's haven and I'm just about to close shop for the night. Afraid you'll need take her on up to the crossroads. The two men looked at each other. Burly man nodded at the other one, and together they
carried their load and deposited her on the top step of Homer's shop.
"Wait a minute," Homer said. He took a threatening step toward them.
"We've helped her as far as we're going to, mister," Burly man said. "It's time somebody else lifted the burden, somebody with an automobile."
With that the two men turned and headed up the roadside. They didn't even look back.
"Hey!" Homer cried. "Well, I'll just be damned!"
We stared at the woman with a new eye, seeing how we were being straddled with her.
"Well, hell!" Homer cursed. His dark face reddened, and a few beads of sweat shown over his upper lip.
He squatted down. "You got a name, ma'am?"
Silence. Her head bobbed to one side like all the air had escaped from it.
"She don't seem to know nothing," I offered.
"Well, I know something for the both of us," Homer said and straightened up. "I've lived thirty years without a woman around, and I'm not about to get stuck with one now." He began to pace the porch still rubbing his hands down the front of the apron. "I guess I'll call the Sheriff."
"In that case," I said, "why don't you just shoot her?"
His eyes flickered on to me, then on to her, then on to the blue sky. He knew calling the Sheriff wasn't no answer to anything. Sheriff Coulter was the most loathsome, cold-hearted, corrupt man in Siler County. The kind of man who would be sure to enjoy this woman's dull-witted situation. There were stories abound of his lecherous ways with needful ladies.
"Let's get her inside, then," he said. "I don't want nothing on my conscience. Probably all she needs is some sleep. Whatever she's on will be gone by morning."
Now, she was floppy, but the feel of her bare skin was as soft as velvet and her heaviness was pretty sexy cause it was in all the right places. Homer cleared his throat and kept averting his eyes from her, but I got a good see of everything she had to offer. Call me a pervert if you want, but I felt it was a small price for her to pay for all the trouble she was causing. Besides that, the way she was dressed in the first place made it pretty obvious to me that she was as shy about her body as Napoleon had been about his military genius.
We down loaded her on the narrow bed Homer keeps in the back of his shop. He pulled an old Navaho blanket from a cabinet and covered her up all the way to her chin.
"Women are nothing but trouble," Homer whispered when we were back on the porch. "I've never met one that wasn't."
"What're you going to do with her?" I asked.
"Well, in the morning I'm going to talk to her and get whatever information I can, and then I'll escort her to the crossroads and advance her the money to make a call. Then I'll be shed of her. And it's good riddance as far as I'm concerned." Homer wiped his brow with a grease-stained kerchief. He pulled two bottles of cola from his icebox. He twisted off the caps with his teeth and handed one to me. "I've been meaning to ask you a question," I said, "and this seems the best time I'll ever have to do it." I took a long swallow of my cola. I was nervous. Just because Homer and me had been friends for twenty years, it wasn't cause to ask him personal questions. Homer hated talking personal. If a conversation wasn't about football, or truck repairs or what old Mrs. Finney was cooking up for next Sunday's Church Supper, or who was sneaking into who's drawers, then it was best to just keep your own thoughts. "Why haven't you ever liked women?"
"Who says I've never liked women, Marcus?" Homer's eyes narrowed. "I loved my mama same as any boy loves his mama."
"I ain't talking about your mama," I grinned. "I'm talking about..."
"I know what you're talking about, you old windpipe," Homer said low and evil, but he had a grin on his face. "I've had my share. Don't you worry about it."
"I'm not talking about your share, neither," I said. I finished my cola and sat the bottle by my rocker. "I'm talking about the story I used to hear."
Homer stared at me and his face got red.
"It's a good thing old Thomas died before I had a chance to kill the bastard," he said. This time there was no grin on his face.
"The story he told is true, ain't it?" I asked. I had come this far, and I didn't think I'd have another chance, so I took it.
"Let's just leave it at this," he said softly. "I got burned real bad once by a woman. And it taught me one hell of a lesson. You can believe me when I tell you it's never going to happen to me again. Okay?"
"Subject dropped," I said. Homer had this look in his eyes that I can only describe as rabid, like a diseased animal. The rumor was that he never got over the woman that done him wrong.
"That woman in there is just a mistake that's been dropped on my doorstep and after tomorrow morning you're not going to see her again." Homer pulled out a pack of cigarettes and tapped one out toward me. I shook my head and he held it between his lips and worked it out.
We sat in silence a while then I started home. Before I did, I took one more peek of the woman. She was asleep, but she had thrown off her blanket. Her dress was all worked up over her thighs and wadded around her waist, leaving her bottom parts exposed and naked as the day she was born. I don't know how long I stood there looking, but after a while I heard Homer clear his throat behind me.
"Guess it's time to get on home," he offered and his voice was thick.
"Yeah, I guess it is at that," I answered, but I didn't move. I don't know, but I had this feeling something was coming. Something not real nice.
I took a look back before I hit the turn in the road toward the house. Homer stood in the doorway staring inside like a man in a trance.
The next day when I stopped by after work, she was sitting out on the front porch big as you please, with her feet propped up on the wood railing like she belonged there. She still had on that red shiny dress, but now she wore one of Homer's old gas-pump shirts over it. Her little spiky red heels were replaced by a pair of his brogans. Her slim ankles stuck out of them like match sticks. She looked comical.
Her name was LeVolia, and she wasn't telling more than that. Or at least that's all the information Homer was willing to share with anyone bold enough to ask questions. Well, that and one other thing.
"She's going to work for me a while," he said, and I never saw such a sheepish look on anyone's face.
"Doing what?" I asked.
"I'm gonna pump some gas, and lube some tires, and when times are slow I'm gonna take care of this man here," LeVolia proudly explained. "But first I'm gonna get me some new clothes, seeing how I lost mine somewhere between Atlanta, Georgia and Siler."
And that was that. She wasn't going nowhere. All that tough talk from Homer had been just a cover-up, and his way of handling his own human condition. Besides, I knew what really happened. Homer saw what I had seen when she threw that blanket off her the night before. Drunk or sober, awake or passed out, pretty or ugly had nothing to do with the fact that this highway mama was all woman and still in her prime, and maybe most important of all, she was a lady in need. Homer was nothing if not human and male and protective.
I can say one thing for her, though, she knew automobiles back to front and left to right.
"My daddy and all my brothers was mechanics," she said, while bent over old man Parson's Chevy truck. "Where I came from it didn't matter if you was female or not. My daddy used to say that a woman needed to know what to do if her car broke down, or if she wanted to take revenge against some fella that had done her wrong."
Before long there was a line every day of trucks and cars and vans and motorcycles waiting for the loving touch of LeVolia's talented fingers. She got a reputation all over the county and into the next one, and it didn't hurt that she was pretty to look at neither. She had this way of bending over that made a man catch his breath, then go home and chase his wife around the kitchen. And I wasn't the only one to notice it. Homer saw everything and then some. He built her a little enclosed garage, put heat in it for winter, and an overhead fan for the hot months. He brought out Jason McCoy to install indoor plumbing. Far as I know she got to keep all her earnings, too. Homer supplied everything she needed in exchange for her companionship.
Not that he ever told a soul what arrangements they had, but a blind man could've seen what happened to Homer.
The thing was, once you got over her outer beauty, her true person came out and it was then you realized how sweet and unpretentious she was. Her past was behind her, and the circumstances of her arrival at Homer's belonged there, too. As for myself, I was happy to see Homer turtle-doving with something besides his old hound, Maalox.
It wasn't long before the distant sound of wedding bells rang in the air.
Then one night, things happened.
I was sitting on the porch having a bottle of cola when Sheriff Coulter pulled his black and white into LeVolia's garage. He climbed out, took a look around and then walked to the switch that opened and closed the garage doors. With one flick of the button, he sent the doors down. Now, this was something I wasn't happy to see. Homer was in Prattsville buying supplies. I babysat the store, but that didn't include LeVolia's space. After all, she was a grown woman and took care of herself just fine. But then, Sheriff Coulter was another sort of animal, and I didn't have to think about what to do long before my better sense dropped the lead out of my butt. I sat my cola bottle down and took a little stroll over. The Sheriff was a big fella about sixty years of age. Born and raised right here in Siler County. His papa, and grandpapa, and uncle and older brother had all been in law enforcement, so when he ran for Sheriff the very first time, he won hands down because of his relations and their good record of protecting the citizens of Siler. But he wasn't his papa, or grandpapa, or uncle or older brother. He wasn't even in their league. Within the first two years, he paralyzed the folks in these parts with fear. He used his gun, he used his blackjack and he carried around a tight little whip that he'd acquired someplace in Mexico. He knew how to use it so that it could wrap around a man's leg or arm or throat so fast and tight, it would cause its victim to become incapacitated and blabbing like a little baby.
And that wasn't the half of it. When he went into office he was just a good old boy living in a trailer near the left bend of the railroad tracks. By the end of his first year, he moved into a brand new split-level on five acres of land that once belonged to old lady Jackson. The talk was, she deeded it to him out of pure fear. Before it could be investigated she went and died a suspicious death. Over the years, Coulter somehow acquired a lot of wealth and that only made him stronger and more fierce. He wasn’t married, but there was no shortage of females hanging off his arm. He didn't seem to care what they looked like or how old they were or in what shape they were in. He used them for his own needs then moved on to the next one. The sheriff had a lot of enemies. He had been sniffing around LeVolia from the very beginning, but she so far, escaped his advances, maybe because of Homer, probably the only person on earth Sheriff Coulter could not intimidate.
So, here Homer is gone and I'm sort of in charge, and there's Coulter behind closed doors with this defenseless woman he hasn't had any luck with, and I can smell trouble.
I go around the side of the shop where there's a loose board, and I hunker down and peek inside. Coulter's got LeVolia pushed over the front end of Judge Lockhart's big white Cadillac. His hands move so fast it's like watching a spider wrap up dinner. But more disturbing is the reaction from his captive.
LeVolia laughed. She didn’t attempt to get away from him. Actually, from my point of view, it appeared that she egged him on. Whatever she did made Coulter mad as hell. He grabbed her by the hair and twisted her head half around, twirled her body to face him and with one hand, pulled open her uniform top, exposing her big breasts. He took one knee and pushed open her legs and with his hand continued to peel that uniform off her like she was a banana. He slipped down and bit one of her nipples hard enough to make blood run. All the time, she’s still as a stone, not fighting or yelling, nothing.
It made Coulter madder and suddenly he unzipped his britches and dropped them around his feet. He threw himself against LeVolia and slammed her back against car. He slid his hands down and behind her legs and jerked them up around him and gave a big shove into her.
The next thing happened so fast it's still blurred in my mind.
At first I thought Coulter was backing away, but at a speed of one hundred ten. He went across the room with his hands grasping the air and his legs kicking up dust. When he landed, it sounded like his head exploded. Had she actually and physically thrown off his two hundred fifty-odd pound lard? She couldn't have weighed more than one hundred ten soaking wet.
She stood and calmly took it all in. She didn't move a muscle. Her light eyes were fixed on Coulter, though, who lay stunned for some time before he tried to get up. Then the strangest thing of all happened; he burst into a thousand pinpoints of fire. He danced about, his hands slapping at the needles of flame. He still fought it when he dropped to his knees. The sounds of his anguish gave me incentive to run.
When I came around the side of the building, LeVolia tore out of the garage with her red hair jerking like wings. I didn't have a chance to say anything before she jumped on me and held on tight.
"Lord, I've killed him, Marcus," she breathed harshly. "I've done it and I'm glad I gone it but what am I gonna do now?"
She tugged me back into the garage. The smell of burning flesh made me gag and give up the remnants of my breakfast.
There's a blackened mound of seared flesh quivering with vapors. Like a star on the Christmas tree, his silver badge perched right on top of the mess.
"Mama of George Washington," I whined, "what happened?"
"I fried him, honey," she whispered. She didn’t sound hysterical anymore. There was
strain of proud in her words.
"I can see that," I said. "But how did you do it?"
LeVolia stared at him then at me, then she looked at the closed door.
"We've got to get him out of here," she said.
"Will you help me, Marcus?"
It was a simple question. I had no problem with burying Coulter. Siler County would be better off without him. What I had a problem with was what I didn't know. We loaded him in Judge Lockhart's Cadillac, drove to the old abandoned chicken pit behind the spool factory, where folks used to place dead animals when I was a kid. We dropped him in. When his body hit the bottom, it made a sound like a bag of lard. I waited until LeVolia crawled back inside the car. Then I cured my curiosity about something old Thomas Manley had whispered in my ear one time. I shone the flashlight down into the pit. What I saw made my spit dry up. I slid the pit concrete lid back in place, and added some weight with a few bricks I found lying in the weeds.
I slid under the Cadillac’s steering wheel. LeViola stared at me. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
"I couldn't bear it if I lost Homer," she said real low. "I don't know what I'd do. He's the only good thing that's ever happened to me."
"I get the feeling he thinks the same about you," I answered. Frankly I was a little
nervous. After all, I was the only witness to what had happened to the Sheriff, and although I'd
helped hide the body, my defense at being an accessory after the fact was plain out duress. But
what if…what if Leviola decided…
"Don't worry, Marcus." She scooted across the seat close to me. "I wouldn't hurt you. You're the only person who knows my secret and that's kinda nice. I don't feel so alone now."
"Well, I don't really," I said.
"I got the evil eye," she said simply.
"Which one is it?" I asked and tried to take a look. She laughed in that little girl way she had.
"No, honey, it's not exactly in one eye. It's like having a curse on you. It's all over me. My daddy had it, and his daddy, and his daddy's mama, and her brother and it goes back generations. As far back as when he had a relative that made some wizard mad in the middle ages, or something like that." She stopped and took a big breath. Her eyes jerked around and her nostrils flared. "It only comes up when I'm being harassed. I told that bastard sheriff plenty of times to just leave me be. This isn't the first time he got me cornered. I guess I just had enough today." She grabbed hold my arm. She was as warm as a puppy. "Last night Homer asked me to marry him, Marcus. I'd rather die than lose him. I'd rather both of us die, maybe all three of us,
if he ever finds out what I did, we did."
I looked at her. Her face was wet with tears. She was asking me to keep her secrets. To my way of thinking, LeVolia and Homer both had some secrets best left undisturbed. The story old Thomas Manley had told me about Homer and his other big love affair was one. He had
been taken in by a soft beauty who drove him crazy with jealously, then stole all his money
before trying to run off with some traveling salesman. Once when me and Thomas got fired up on liquid happiness, he told me that Homer had killed the woman and that he helped dump her body into the chicken pit. When we sobered up, Thomas swore me to secrecy, but I never believed it at all until I shone my flashlight down in the chicken pit and saw a pile of human bones cuddled up against the Sheriff's blackened remains. I was going to be the keeper of secrets the rest of my life.
Homer and LeVolia would make a good team, I decided. And that next spring, they did.
She made a beautiful bride, and I never saw Homer happier than when he kissed her as his wife. When they turned and slipped down the aisle, she gave me a special big smile and a wink of her eye.
The unevil one.