A cricket chirped somewhere in the room. Even in my sleep fogged brain I knew that it wasn't right. Even half awake I soon realized that it was the phone.
"Yeah," I grunted, after I found the phone on the floor by my warm bed. It probably hadn't been moved in days. Hell nobody ever called me anymore. Everyone I knew just emailed me.
"Hey Rick, it is me Willie." When I didn't respond, he went on. "You know, Willie, the tow truck driver?"
"Yeah sure Willie, what can I do for you?" I didn't add that this best be good, but I was sure as hell thinking it.
"Rick, I hate to call this late, but it is kind of an emergency."
"What time is it Willie?" I asked.
"Just about midnight, it's not really all that late."
"Willie, if you don't have a damn good reason for calling, it is too late to call." I hoped I sounded impatient, because I sure as hell was.
"Rick, it's like this, I know you always need money, and I know you don't have any job to go to tomorrow, so I thought of you."
"What did you think of me doing at midnight?" I was losing what little patience I had with Willie.
"Well, this lady needs a ride over to Ashley. I don't know anybody else who would come out."
"How many have said no before me Willie?" I knew I wasn't his first choice. I hardly knew Willie.
"A couple, John Thomas suggested you might do it."
Willie was at least honest, once I penned him down. John Thomas was my brother. I am sure he thought I needed the money desperately. I needed the sleep more, but then I was already awake. I might as well listen.
"Who is the Lady, in need of the ride?" I couldn't have sounded happy at the prospect of leaving my warm bed for a drive all the way to Ashley.
"The lady has one of those fancy Mercedes sedans. She thought it was a snow plow I guess. She ran it in a ditch about a mile from the highway. The highway patrol called me to pull her out." He paused a long moment.
"Are the roads bad again Willie?" I asked it knowing that it had been snowing heavily when I fell into bed several hours earlier.
"They got about a foot in some places. Rick, she ain't even got snow tires on the Mercedes. It is gonna be laid up a while anyway. Looks as though the fender is gonna have to be pried off the front tire. That tire is gonna have to be replaced. Anyway she says she has to get to Ashley right away."
"Why right away Willie? There ain't nothing over there worth rushing off to."
"I think it has something to do with her kid. She has a kid in that special school over there." Willie replied.
That 'special school' was some kind of private boarding school for the rich and gifted. At least that is how their brochure described it.
"So where are you now?" I asked it with resignation in my voice.
"I am down at your brother's garage. We are sittin' here with the engine running trying to stay warm, so how about hurrying on down."
"Put her on the phone Willie." I demanded it because Willie wanted to get rid of her at all cost. He wouldn't tell her the bad news.
"Hello," the soft voice said confidently.
"Ma'am, my name is Richard Blaine. I will be happy to drive you to Ashley, if I can get you there. With that much snow on the road it is possible we will have to turn around before we reach Ashley."
"You do have a jeep?" she interrupted.
"I have a four wheel drive, but ma'am that is no guarantee that I can get you through. If the snow has piled up in drifts, all the four wheel drives in the world won't get us through."
"Is that likely?" she asked.
"Not really, but you should know that it is possible."
"I appreciate your honesty sir, but I just have to get to Ashley."
"I can appreciate that ma'am, but it is after midnight. The school will most likely be locked down. We are going to get there around two or three in the morning. You most likely are going to have to wait until they reopen anyway. Willie can drive you over to the motel by the interstate. We can get an early start in the morning. We could be there when the office opens."
"The Headmaster is expecting me. I am sure he will allow me to enter."
"Very well, I hope you are dressed warm. You never know what might happen on the way over there."
"I assure you that I will be fine."
"You know best," I replied. "Tell Willie that I will be down in about twenty minutes."
"Can't you come sooner?" I had a feeling she didn't care for sitting alone in Willie's truck. She was as safe as a woman could be. She just didn't know that.
"Ma'am, I have to dress and drive down there. On these roads it is the best I can do." What I didn't tell her was that I didn't even want to get out of my warm bed. I only agreed because J.T. would be some kind of pissed, if I didn't. Since he owned, the other half of the two room shack where I lived, I didn't want to piss him off. J.T. had never asked for rent on his half of the place, and I wanted to keep it that way. He didn't need the money, but he would have been within his rights to demand it.
The fire in the old coal stove was still burning so the shack wasn't miserably cold. I was forced to move quickly into the room, which would be called a multi purpose room in a real house. The room was a kitchen, living room, and workspace for me. The only difference between that night, and the nights when my mother and father had raised J.T. and me, was that by the time I got Willie's call, the was running water in the house. J.T. and I had installed it after daddy died. Momma had it for a few years before she also passed away.
J.T. had wanted to toss the coal stove and go to oil after daddy passed. But momma wouldn't hear of it.
"Your Daddy was a coal miner all his life and we ain't gonna do nothing to blacken his memory." She never realized how strange that sounded. After she passed away, the place stood empty for a few years before I returned home.
I ran a pan of water from the large copper container perched above the stove. It was set just high enough off the stove to keep the water warm without bringing it to a boil. Every morning I would fill it with the short piece of plastic garden hose I would attach to the kitchen sink. It was just part of my morning routine.
The morning routine usually lasted all morning. I would empty the warm ashes into the large metal tray under the stove. After the stove was clear, I built a new fire then filled the large water heater. While it heated, I boiled water in an electric kettle for coffee. I would usually sat by the stove as it began to heat. I drank the coffee waiting for the stove to heat the room.
As the room became warmer I would become more active. I did the things I had planned the night before until the room and the water were warm. Then I would draw off a fair amount of the water to mix with cold water. The mixture was created inside a small camper type bathtub. It was too small for me to sit in but I could use the plastic garden watering can to give myself a shower.
At midnight the best I could manage was a thorough washing with the lukewarm water from the kettle. I did that while I waited for the water in the teakettle to boil. I poured the boiling water into a plastic funnel, which was lined with a paper towel. At the bottom of the towel was a small spoon of coffee grounds. The funnel sat over a chrome-plated carafe. I had purchased it from a restaurant that had gone belly up. Businesses seemed to come and go more often in our depressed coal mining area than in other places.
I knew there wouldn't be any place to eat for a while, so I toasted two bagels in the small quartz toaster oven. I ate them with jelly while I drank the coffee. It was going to make me late, but then hell it was going to be a long night regardless.
I drove down the mountain in the falling snow. I pulled into my brother's auto repair shop after only ten minutes. I was no more than ten minutes late. Willie looked more than a little upset. Ten minutes in a warm truck should not have made that much difference to him, but it seemed to have done so.
Willie opened the door on his side of the truck. He looked relieved to be out of it, even if it meant climbing down into the cold and falling snow. I noted that he wore rubber boots. Those had to be cold as hell, but still he had been inside the truck. He should not look so angry.
"Would one of you help me with my bags please?" the woman asked.
"Give her a hand, will you Rick. I have had about all of her I can stand." He didn't even bother trying to whisper. He didn't seem to mind her hearing. My guess was that they had already had words.
"Sure, hold on just a second Ma'am," I said.
"Mr. Blaine., it is very cold out here could we hurry please." The words were not offensive, but her tone most definitely was. I was already sorry I had agreed to the job.
"Willie, did you two settle on my money?" I asked it before I did anything else.
"Nope Rick, I just wanted her off my hands." He again seemed to want her to hear his opinion.
I shook my head at him. I walked to the rear of her car parked by the door of the shop. Since she had the trunk open there was a light burning. It lit her face. I could tell little, since she wore her hair under a knit cap. Her body was covered by the full length down coat she wore. Under the quilted coat, she could look like a model or like a blimp. It was just impossible to tell in the dark.
I did see that her face was thin, which would seem to indicate a body that was not pear shaped. That, I decided, might not make any difference since Willie treated her like poison. Worst of all she seemed oblivious to it. That could well be the sign of a true bitch. She just might not care what the riff raff thought of her. If that was the case, it was going to be a long drive into Ashley.
I carried two suitcases to the rear of the Samurai. After I had slipped them through the zippered cloth cover, I turned to her.
"Ma'am, we need to discuss the charge for this trip." Before she could answer, I noticed that Willie was pulling out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed. The son of a bitch left me there with the woman before we even had an agreement. Willie and I were going to have a talk when I got back.
"Are you a licensed taxi service?" she asked.
"I am sorry what did you ask?" I couldn't believe it.
"I asked if you are a licensed taxi service? If you are not, then I am going to have a problem recovering the charges from my insurance company."
"Ma'am, excuse me being so blunt, but that is your problem. My problem is collecting for this trip. You got me out of bed in the middle of the night to drive you over to Ashley. I expect to be paid. Since you are making noises like you might not want to pay me, I expect to be paid in advance."
"Oh all right, do you take MasterCard?" She began digging through her wallet.
"Lady, are you nuts? I already told you I am not a taxi service. Why in hell would I take MasterCard?"
"Please lower your voice sir. I am trying to get you paid." She did not look hurt. She looked angry. I knew I should get back in my car and drive off. Leave the bitch to freeze, I thought.
"I want cash lady. Surely you carry some cash on you."
"Very little sir, I seldom need it."
"Well, let this be a lesson to you. There are times when you do need it. Do you have a hundred dollars on you?"
"I might, let me look." She opened her shoulder bag. In the light of the trunk lamp, she checked her wallet. I stood in the cold waiting. I slipped my hands into my parka pockets to get them out of the snow. I realized, as I waited, that we both were going to be soaked, if we stood out in the snow much longer.
"Come on lady, we are going to freeze out here, you can look in the Sammie." She closed the trunk after removing a leather makeup case.
"I will keep this one with me," she said as I reached for the case.
"Sure why not," I agreed.
Inside the little jap jeep, she found the money. I thought for a moment I was going to have to take quarters to complete the transaction. The Samurai was lightweight, which was both good and bad. Good because the small winches front and back could pull her out of almost anything. Bad because she would tip over easily. The tipping I knew only by reputation since I was very careful not to take a chance.
"How long is this drive going to take?" she asked.
"A couple of hours I suppose." I could see the look on her face. "Lady, it is snowing to beat hell out here. I can't drive it at even fifty miles an hour. I might be able to do twenty or thirty."
"Very well." She didn't look as though she meant it.
I turned the baby jeep's heater on low. It was my one concession to the cold. I set it for defrost, so that the windshield would stay clear. The heat would also keep my hands from being so cold.
The woman beside me came out of the knit hat first. I noticed that her hair was very blond. It also seemed to be cut in a fancy hair do. With the little bit I knew about her, I felt she must be at least a little wealthy. Since that kind of woman wouldn't be interested in a country boy, I tried to ignore her. It seemed strange that it always came down to sex. I knew that if I felt I had a chance, I would have tried harder to be pleasant in spite of her attitude.
"What do you do for a living?" It came from nowhere. The woman sounded almost interested. I had a feeling that it was her way of passing the time nothing more.
"I am a struggling writer," I replied. "How about you?"
"Banking," she replied shortly. It seemed that I was an open subject. She on the other hand was not.
"That is a mighty fancy car for a teller." It was a joke but she missed it.
"It would be I suppose, if I were a teller." Her voice seemed almost angry.
"I kinda figured that," I couldn't help the smile that crept into my voice. The woman could take it any damned way that she wanted.
"Oh I see." Her voice was condescending again.
"I don't know that you do." I didn't offer any further explanation, and she didn't ask. I suppose she felt it was just too much trouble to bother.
"So what do you write?" I was surprised by her question.
"I thought you had decided that you didn't want to talk to me." I suggested.
"No Mr. Blaine., I decided that I didn't want to talk about me."
"I suppose that is fair. Most people enjoy talking about themselves." It was a simple observation.
"If you haven't already, you might want to notice that I am not most people," she replied.
"Oh I noticed."
"Did you notice in a good way?" she asked.
I couldn't help taking my eyes off the road just a second. I had to see if she was smiling. She had a different look. I wasn't quite sure what it was though.
"Not yet," I replied smiling at her.
She did one of those women things. She opened the coat. Without moving, she somehow slipped it off her body. She was still sitting on it, but it no longer covered her body.
A quick glance was all I dared. The road was treacherous enough without me looking away. I could see that she was probably a year or two older or younger than me. With a made-up woman, in the reflected glow of the dash lights, it was hard to tell. Her body looked about average from the quick glimpse I got. She might have been a little larger in the hips than was considered perfect. Since I wasn't exactly a muscle man, I could easily overlook an extra inch in the ass.
"I know you are probably sorry you took this job," she suggested. She seemed to be relaxing or calming down. I was not sure which it was.
"Well ma'am, I always tell the truth. It is one of the few things I got from my family. So, I am not going to answer that question." I smiled at the windshield. Since she didn't have to watch the road, I hoped she would see it.
"Well Mr. Blaine. that is not a very diplomatic answer. Since it falls short of calling me a bitch, I can live with it."
"You know my name but I don't know yours." I waited for her to answer. When she didn't, I was torn between ignoring her again and pressing the point. I took a leaf from one of my own books.
"I am sorry. I guess the wind must have made it too hard to hear. I asked your name."
"I heard you. I am trying to decide whether I should tell you."
"Then fucking lie to me. Make up something I can call you for god's sake."
"Mr. Blaine. there is no reason to use that tone of voice let alone those words." She didn't sound nearly as indignant as she should have.
"What possible harm could it do, if I stopped calling you ma'am. You are not my schoolteacher. All my teachers were a damn sight older than me." I was still trying to smile.
"Mr. Blaine., you live here in the mountains. I live in New York City. In the city we don't trust strangers, at least not with anything personal."
"Well Lady, you should probably take a look around. This ain't exactly Time fucking Square."
"I asked you not to use that word." She said it but there was no anger in her voice. She might not have really been offended or she might have finally realized that she was in no position to demand anything.
"I took your request into consideration then decided to ignore it. I assume you are a grown up and, as such, able to ignore offensive language."
"Frankly Mr. Blaine, that word and your attitude frighten me."
"Don't let it ma'am. Far too many people know you are with me. You are absolutely safe. Now tell me your name." I said it in a demanding tone of voice. I hadn't tried that approach yet.
"Griffith," she replied simply.
"That would be Mrs. Griffith I assume?"
"Yes it would," she replied simply.
"Very good, now Mrs. Griffith, if you can't convince the headmaster to come when you call him, do you have a plan B?"
"I wont need one. You see Mr. Blaine., I pay that school a lot of money to educate my niece. I am sure they make arrangements for relatives who have car trouble."
"I suppose you are right. We will know soon enough." The small sign adorned with the name Ashley crept up on our right. The long silence had eaten up the ninety minutes it took to make the half hour drive.
I pulled the Sammie. into the wide entrance of the drive. I stopped several feet from the intercom. Mrs. Griffith sat in her seat looking at the iron and brick fence.
"So Mrs. Griffith, what is your plan of attack?"
"I guess I should try the intercom?" She seemed to make it a question.
"Sounds like as good a beginning as any," I suggested.
It wasn't exactly a blast of cold air that entered the Sammie. It was more a sudden drop in the temperature. She quickly slipped back into the coat then out the door. I watched her in the headlights as she pushed the button. I watched as she shifted her feet while waiting. Since there was nothing to be gained from my standing in the cold, I sat in the warm car.
She pressed the button again. She waited a much shorter time then she returned to the car. She opened the door then quickly climbed into the high little seat.
"Son of a bitch nobody answered," she snapped.
"It is two in the morning Griff. This is not New York. Down here we don't sit up all night worrying. They are all in bed."
"They knew I was coming damn it," she replied.
"They probably figured that you were smart enough to know that you couldn't get into the place after ten or eleven. They probably think you got held up. I figure they expect you to be at the motel by the interstate, or still at home."
"Well I'm not damn it." I noted with a great deal of satisfaction that her language and attitude had changed considerably.
"Now about that plan B?" I asked it trying hard not to smile.
"Damn it Rick, I am going to call the headmaster and have a few words for him."
"Do you have his private number? I am sure his office phone is turned off for the evening."
"What, if there were some kind of emergency?" she asked.
"Griff, don't ask me. I don't have any family who can afford that school. In my family, if there is an emergency, we just walk down the hall to tell our kids."
"What the hell is that some kind of reproach?" She was angry. Her anger was different from her disdain. Mostly it was in the fact that her language had slipped. "You don't know a damn thing about me or my family." There were tears forming in her eyes.
"You got that right Griff, I just know about my family. Our kids stay with us and we take care of them. We don't farm them out." I was losing my temper. I was known far and wide as a man who didn't lose his ability to think, even when he was in a rage. I managed to make sense even while screaming obscenities.
"Why you overbearing asshole," she shouted. "What the fuck makes you think that being poor gives you all the answers. The only difference between us is I make more money. We both put on our shoes the same way."
"Ah, let me call my brother to see what time the maid comes in the fix breakfast for my niece." I was angry, but I was also loving the encounter. "Maybe we can get some breakfast there."
"Fuck you Rick," she said angrily.
"So breakfast with my brother is out. It is probably a good thing. I doubt the maid could make the drive in." I was still being a prick, and I didn't care a bit.
"Shut up and let me think," she said.
"Just who the hell do you think you are talking to?" I asked angrily.
"I am talking to the man who charged me a hundred bucks for a short ride. You took advantage of me, so don't get all high and mighty on me." I couldn't decide whether she was on the verge of tears or hysteria.
"Lady, if I was going to take advantage of you, the price would have been five hundred."
"Sure, what would it have been, if my car wasn't broke down?" she asked.
"The price for me to get out of bed in the middle of the night to make this miserable drive would be exactly the same," I said.
"This was a business deal damn it. A business deal does not give you the right to preach to me." She almost shouted it.
"Lady, what the fuck are you talking about preach to you?" I asked.
"That farming out of my niece shit, that is what," she answered.
"You are pissed at the school. Stop taking it out on me, or I am going to throw your ass out in the snow." I was angry as hell and about to lose my world famous cool.
She suddenly began to cry. I don't mean a sob. Hers were gut wrenching moans. The tears almost didn't come because she was choking so badly. I let her gasp for breath until she was in control again.
"Come on let's get you a cup of coffee," I said.
"Where?" she asked obviously trying to deal with way too many issues at once. She was going into overload.
"Hell I don't know. I am not usually up this time of night." I drove the Sammie. slowly through the streets of the tiny village. The village had been a coal mining town even before the school was founded in the abandoned community hospital.
The Blue Moon Bar and Grill wasn't exactly open. The beer and pizza signs were dark. I expected that Stella or her husband Eric would be in the place still. The frame building was in need of paint again. Everything in the whole valley was in need of paint.
I crossed the wooden porch then knocked on the door. I had demanded that Mrs. Griffith stay in the Sammie. until I tried the door. I looked through the smoked glass of the door. I could barely make out the figure of Stella washing glasses. I knocked on the door long and hard.
"Rick, what the hell are you doing here at this hour?" she asked as she cracked the door.
"Stella, I got a problem. I got a city woman in the car. She had a wreck up on the mountain. She is trying to get somebody from the school down the road. They are locked up for the night. I need a place nearby to dump her."
"No, you don't Rick. I don't take in no damn strays." She wasn't angry or smiling.
"How about, if I just bring her in out of the cold. She really needs a cup of coffee Stella. She is really upset about something."
"The coffee is still hot. I am going to be leaving in about half and hour. You and her gonna have to be gone by then."
"You are a dream Stella," I said as I kissed her on the cheek. I quickly moved from the warm bar to the cold car.
"Come on Griff, we got a warm place to have some coffee. We can stay a few minutes anyway," I explained.
The large Styrofoam cups were sitting on the low bar when I reentered. Mrs. Griffith took a seat in front of one. She didn't look as though she were interested. Stella looked at her as she cleaned the counter behind the bar.
"You okay honey?" Stella asked her. I have no idea why but she broke into the gut wrenching sobs again.
"Honey has this freak done anything to you?" Stella asked it but she smiled over at me. It was her way to start a conversation without prying. She knew the answer would be no.
Mrs. Griffith began to laugh and cry at the same time. It took her several minutes to get control of herself. When she did manage, she returned to the question asked by Stella.
"He is a freak I think, but a harmless one." Mrs. Griffith said.
"Yeah, that's what all the ladies say," Stella was grinning. "Are you hungry honey?" It was all Stella knew to do, I suppose.
Mrs. Griffith shook her head.
"Well I am," I admitted.
"Rick, I don't think I will be feeding you in the middle of the night. Hell, if it hadn't been for the lady here, I would never have let you in." She did give us a big ole smile to break the harshness of her words.
"Stella, why you treatin' me this way?" I grinned at her since I knew damned well why. Griff seemed to be listening intently.
"Rick, you know damned well why. You are a lay about and a womanizer. If it wasn't for your brother, you would probably be in jail now."
"Well, he did rescue me," I admitted.
"Damn, I hate that I am such a push over. I got some homemade vegetable soup. I can nuke a bowl for you." She almost turned away before she asked again. "Honey, are you sure you don't want a bowl."
When Mrs. Griffith tried to answer she gasped. The best she could do was to nod.
"Good for you honey, there is nothing better than soup on a cold night."
"Damn Stella, you make the best soup in the world." I made the comment after I tasted her latest concoction.
"You better say that after I let you in here in the middle of the night." She smiled at Mrs. Griffith. "If he don't treat you right honey, you let me know. I can get his big brother to whip his butt."
"You wouldn't say that, if your husband was around." I was grinning at her again.
"Rick, so help me I am gonna have J.T. tie a knot in your ass." She still grinned at me. It was no secret that she and J.T. did the dirty. I knew it and probably half a dozen others did. I didn't expect her husband or J.T.'s wife did.
"Ah Stella, you know I am teasing. Mrs. Griffith will be gone soon. She couldn't care less about our little peccadilloes."
"Our what?" Stella asked.
"It means shortcomings," I replied.
"Honey, ain't nothing short about your brother." She burst into laughter. Mrs. Griffith choked on her soup. She actually spit a large amount back into the bowl.
"Look what you done," I said to Stella.
"Honey, are you all right?" She asked Mrs Griffiith.
"I am fine. Did you two ever get along?" She asked Stella.
"Are you kidding? Rick here is the second love of my life. His big brother is the first. Hell, those two are the only real men left in this holler." She paused as if in thought. "On second thought J.T. is the only real man. Rick here is something else again."
"Hey take that back about me not being a real man." I was kidding and both women knew it.
"Oh honey, I know you got the equipment and know how to use it. You just don't know nothing about working every day and raising a family. You got your daddy's sense of right and wrong. You just missed the part about taking care of anyone else."
"I think that is about all I want to hear." I said it with a smile.
"We have a lot of those in the city. We call it the Peter Pan Syndrome. Guys who don't want to grow up," Mrs. Griffith said.
"That is a good description of Rick. He wants to play cowboys and whores forever." Both of the women laughed at me. I had to laugh along with them. Nobody much likes to hear that kind of thing, even when they know it is true. Even if it hurt, I had to laugh to keep up appearances.
"Well you two I really got to get to bed. The coffee pot is over there and it is full. Just sit where you are, the day people will be here in a bit. Rosa won't call the cops on Rick. Probably wouldn't, even if I told her too." Stella smiled as she went for her coat. She was out the door before we hardly had a chance to say goodbye.
"What a sweet lady," Mrs. Griffith said.
"Stella is okay," I replied.
"Come on Rick, she loves hell out of you."
"She loves hell out of my brother. Me, she tolerates," I replied. Mrs. Griffith made no reply at all.
"So, you are a womanizer?" she asked with a smile.
"Don't take that too seriously. I am between wives, so everybody thinks I am a womanizer."
"Are you?" she asked.
"Depends on what the definition of is, is." I replied with a big grin. The room fell into a long silence. It was one of those silences so deep that only a serious comment could break it. Either that or one so silly that it shattered the mood. I opted for leaving the silence in place.
"I'm between husbands myself," she said. "I would be in the city tonight alone with my computer, if it weren't for my drug addict sister."
I was barely smart enough to keep my mouth shut.
"She is the reason I am here. My other sister and I pay for this school. We took Emily when she was ten. We tried for years to help her but she needed more than we could give. We tried counseling and group programs all over New York nothing helped. We finally sent her here hoping they could do something."
"Are they?" I asked it because the world behind that fence was like another country to us locals.
"I don't know. She hasn't run away in the six months she has been here; that is a good sign."
"If you say so. So what brings you here in the middle of the night during a snow storm, all not well in the ivory tower?"
"You know you are charming, until you try to be witty. I came because my sister is back in jail. The lawyer is going to contact Emily. He thinks her presence in court will make a favorable impression on the jury."
"So you are here to take her home to be on display during the hearing?" I asked it with evident distaste. It smacked of a different kind of child abuse.
"Not on your life, I am here to make sure she doesn't budge from this place. I intend to see my sister in jail, damn it. It is time she answers for her life style. She has always slipped through the cracks. It is time she stood up and took her medicine like the rest of us do." Griff said.
"I wish you luck with it." I suggested.
"Why, do you think I am wrong?" She asked.
"What possible difference could what I think make?" I asked it seriously. "I don't mind giving you my opinion. Hell, I give my worthless opinion all the time. I just don't see you giving a crap what I think. I am just a country boy with a four-wheel drive."
"I am beginning to think maybe you aren't just that. Come on Rick, point out the fallacy in my thinking."
"About the sister, there is none that I can see. Jail wont help her. I would guess that, if you are spending this kind of money on the kid, you have tried everything with her too."
"We have. So why the look when I mention Emily?"
"That school is about as cold and sterile as the hospital that used to be in that building. I can't imagine anybody short of the criminally insane being helped there."
"She isn't insane, but she is uncontrollable. I mentioned that she has run off before?"
"You did in a way yes," I replied.
"Last time we found her in a motel outside a marine base. She was making her way in the world selling her body." She didn't look at me when she spoke.
"How old is this child?" I asked.
"At that time she was fourteen," she replied. I simply shook my head. I tried to think of something to help, but it just wouldn't come.
"Is she getting counseling at that place?" I asked it because I didn't know anything about the academy.
"Yes they say all the girls there get counseling. The prices they charge had better include counseling."
"I suppose you are rich?" It was a question. She recognized it.
"Depends on what the definition of is, is."
"Fair enough, so if this doesn't work, what is next for Emily?"
"Prison I expect. Oh her grandmother will do anything to keep the family name clean. She will keep her out of prison for a while anyway. Thank god that Emily is not playing around with drugs, at least not yet."
"Too bad I don't have a pocket full of pixie dust. I could make it all work out."
"You tell me what will make it work out Rick, and I will make it happen." The tears were back but not the choking kind. She was simply leaking tears. It seemed as though she was all cried out."
I refilled the coffee cups. I had to put them into the microwave since Stella didn't trust me to make sure the coffee machine didn't burn up. It didn't matter. The coffee was fresh.
"Griff, I want you to know this is not about you and your niece, but I am whipped. I need sleep. I am going to take my coffee over to that booth. There I am going to discover, if I can sleep sitting up. You are welcome to join me."
"Since there is a table between us, why not?" She slipped into the booth across from me.
I took about two sips from the coffee cup before I drifted off to sleep. I woke to the sound of Rosa shaking the door as it opened.
"Hey Rosa, it is me Rick," I shouted as she opened the door.
"What you doing here? I know you ain't robbin' the place." She had been startled for only a second.
"Nothing here worth stealing anyway," I replied.
"True, the food is good though. So who is the lady in the booth with you?"
"Her name is Griffith. She is here to see her daughter at the academy across the street. Ran her car in a ditch, so I am babysitting her till they open."
"Did that no good J.T. rope you into it?" Rosa didn't care much for J.T. It had to do with J.T. and Stella. Rosa was a member in good standing at the First Zion Baptist Church of the Missionary Position.
"Well he sorta did. How are your kids?" I asked it because Rosa had three kids and no husband. The husband she once had, ran off with a younger woman a few years before. That, as well as the church, was probably the reason she hated adultery.
I fell back asleep. At least until Rosa made so much noise in the kitchen that I could no longer sleep. Somehow Mrs. Griffith managed to sleep through it. Rosa scrambled a half dozen eggs for us. She did them up the way I liked them, all mixed with cheddar cheese. The thing that separated it from a silly omelet is that it contained no veggies. It did contain sausage bits though. Rosa dumped the eggs on two plates for me. I carried them along with more coffee to the booth.
"Hey Griff, wake up and you can have breakfast."
"Thanks, this place better take plastic. You got all my cash."
"Not to worry, it is on me. All part of the service," I said with a smile. I was trying to let her know there would be no strings. "It will soon be eight. The school should have someone there by then. Hell the kids are probably already having breakfast, even if it is Saturday."
"Good," she replied.
"Yes, you should be rid of me in a couple of minutes." I smiled at her.
"No, I meant the eggs. You are the one who can't wait to get rid of me." Mrs. Griffith gave no indication of how she felt about that.
"Oh well, I expect you will be just as happy to see the end of me." I said. She didn't answer at all, Instead she kept right on eating.
"God that was good, of course it was filled with animal fat. That one meal might have robbed me of a year's life."
"My God, if you are all that careful, you will only live to be ninety nine now."
"When you say it like that, I have to wonder about those damn bean sprouts." She looked amused at her own remark.
"Let us get you back down to the school. See if we can't get you in to see your niece."
"Rick, I want you to know that I am sorry about being such a bitch earlier. Would you just mark it up to city girl paranoia?"
"Sure why not," I replied.
"The visit won't take long, would you wait for me please?" She was pressing her luck, but I had gotten to the point of being able to tolerate her.
"Sure, I have to get home anyway, I might as well drop you at J.T.'s place." I smiled at her so as not to let her think it was personal.
"Two rides for the price of one. It must really be my lucky day."
"Well, let us see how you do at the school first. Emily might ruin what has started out as a good day." I smiled knowing I had brought her back to reality.
Five minutes later I watched her speak into the intercom again. Almost before she could get back into the Sammie. the gate opened. I followed the drive to the main building. I say main building because the old hospital was used as both dormitory and classroom building. There were a couple of other buildings which had been added since the school conversion.
I followed the guests' arrows to a parking lot at the rear of the building. Entrance to the building was from the rear.
"Why the hell are we using the servants entrance?" I asked.
"The front entrance isn't used by parents. The old lobby is used as the dining room. I suppose it was the only room large enough."
"That would make sense," I agreed. "You know I was born here." I said it to lighten the mood.
"Ah then, you must know the place from the old days." It wasn't really a question.
"I was a little young at the time. I must have been remarkably healthy since I never came back here."
We were up the granite steps by that time. I tried to push open the door. It seemed that it was locked. Mrs. Griffith found the bell. She was also the one who rang it. It was cold but we waited on the snow-covered porch since we had no choice. Our entry was noted by the buzz of the electric locking mechanism.