My name is Franklin R. Huffman, but everybody calls me Frankie. To give you a little idea of what I am about I am presently running a finance company over in Gastonia; this requires me to handle a lot of cash on occasions so I always carry a small pistol on me. I roar around on a 650 BSA motorcycle or in my ‘55 Ford sedan, make good money, and life is good. Got all the women I need and more and have done a lot of things in my life; I reckon you could say that I have practiced diversity. I’ll tell you about a few of my adventures.
Coming out of high school I was interested in the law, but couldn’t quite bring myself to becoming a policeman, but they had a paralegal program over at the tech school so I entered that and did alright; I got so into it that I decided to try law school, but soon found out that goin’ from tech school to law school was not the way of the world, but in my investigation on the subject I discovered that in the state of California they have a system of over fifty unaccredited law schools. The way these things work is that after two years of the program the student is eligible to take what they call the “baby bar”, and if you achieve a passing grade on this you are eligible, upon graduation, to take the California State Bar. These institutions are “distance learning” institutions, or correspondence if you will, and they send you tasks to perform and you write down answers from the law books they send you and so on. Well not speaking ill of the Northern California Law School, but after two years of study and two drives across the country to South San Francisco and two failures I gave up on it. But you know I still had the law in my blood, or at least somewhat, so when a buddy of mine told me about an opportunity that he had heard of in the world of private investigation I jumped at it. He introduced me to his friend and after a month of on the job training the guy handed me the keys to a Chevy van equipped with secret peepholes to the outside and cameras and such and pronounced me a bona fide “private investigator”. This is how it worked; the guy who trained me, Punch Thomas, would give me the leads to investigate and then would send me out into the field to get whatever info was desired. I have no idea where Punch dug this stuff up but I do know that it was a very interesting job; for example, a guy would contact Punch and say that he is thinking that his wife is cheating on him and then he will give him all the info he had on her comings and goings and then I would start tailing her. I’ll give you an example of one little investigation that turned out real well. This Baptist preacher came to Punch and paid the typical initial retainer of two hundred dollars and gave him all the information on his wife, who he suspected was having a dalliance with the choir director. This was my first case by myself and I must say that I hit a home run. Of course the information that had been provided me helped immensely, but I did work at it extremely hard. Here is how it went.
The preacher had noticed that it was kind of hard to catch his wife at home, and her not working and all he had become suspicious, plus he had noticed that his wife had starting wearing really short dresses to church, something quite out of the ordinary for his Geraldine. Then he had seen where she had moved from the second row of the choir to the front, right where the choir director stood. Preacher Doub had started watching this unfold and he was almost sure that his lovely Geraldine started forgetting to wear panties, but rather than confront his wife, which was just not his style, he decided to pursue the affair through the help of a private investigator. Enter yours truly. So I begin the job on a Monday morning, and when Reverend Doub departs to go to his office at the Holy Shrine of the Lamb Baptist Church I am parked half a block down the street. Within thirty minutes the lovely Mrs. Doub came out and jumped into the old BMW she drove and headed down the street. I stayed a respectable distance back and followed her to a city park on a dead-end street; this is where I had to be a little crafty. She pulled up behind a red convertible and hopped out; I could see that a man had already left the convertible and was sitting on a picnic table waiting for her. Using my long lens I verified that the guy was indeed Carroll Crisp, the highly suspected choir director. After switching to the four-hundred-millimeter lens I was afforded fifteen minutes of ‘bout as good porn as money can buy. You gotta realize that the setting was very private and I was far enough away to avoid suspicion, but the two of them were so busy that I think I could have walked right up on ‘em and they wouldn’t have been tempted to stop. Needless to say, the good Reverend’s suspicions were borne out so after twenty minutes of multiple positions, all orifices accounted for, I wrapped up shop and went back to my boss with the film. I remember wondering if the Reverend’s favorite picture when he saw them would the missionary position.
After a couple years of that gig I grew tired of it and that is when I got into the finance company business. The reason I am recounting all of this is not some kind of ego trip on my part; it is just to show you that I have a lot of experience and I think it makes me uniquely qualified to tell you the story I am about to put forth. To tell you the truth I don’t think anybody else around Ranlo would be qualified, with the possible exception of that tall lanky English professor out at the junior college. So here it goes.
I had this first cousin by the name of C. L. Now he was very prosperous due to a couple of factors; one was his daddy set him up in the paint business and the other was, to be perfectly honest, he was a hard worker. The sad thing was that he got cancer and had to go through all that chemotherapy stuff and of course his hair fell out and he had to wear a wig to the family reunion that summer before he died and my Aunt Sarah thought it was his real hair. My Aunt Sarah was a high-spirited redhead; her late husband and my daddy were brothers, while C. L.’s mother was their sister. When I was a little boy I played with her son Russ a so I was up at her house a lot. She teases me to this day about how I would come into her kitchen and beg for a “mutter and sugar miscuit”, which translated into a butter and sugar biscuit. I used to have some trouble with pronouncing words with a “b” in it; so Aunt Sarah will get me out in a crowd, like at the family reunion we have every summer and she will tell that butter and sugar biscuit story. By the way, a butter and sugar biscuit is just like it sounds, a slab of butter stuck on a day old biscuit and sprinkled with sugar.
Anyhow, from diagnosis to death took about ten months so cousin C. L. had a lot of time to sit around and ponder life and death and it was during this era that he developed a friendship with Rabbi Gettman, the leader of the very few Jews who lived in the greater Ranlo area. The way they met was cousin C. L. got real interested in different faiths while he was ill and started visiting different churches, so he had run through the Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics and such so he decided to try out the synagogue; he liked the Rabbi from the beginning and they struck up a friendship. The reason I am telling you this is that it figures into the story on down the line; so the two of them started having coffee together up at Nan’s Restaurant two or three times a week. They would drink coffee and chat, sometimes for an hour or two, and the conversation was pretty far ranging in topics; for example, cousin C. L. loved to go fishing, so naturally it came to mind to inquire of the good Rabbi if there was fishing in heaven. Rabbi Gettman assured him that there was indeed fishing in heaven and that made cousin C. L. feel a lot better. Then another day cousin C. L. asked about whether or not Jesus had been a vegetarian; this question had been prompted by the fact that in his condition he had not been able to digest meat well and had pretty much been limited to a diet of vegetables. The Rabbi immediately quoted several passages from the Old Testament to buttress his belief that God desired people to eat vegetables and had even made reference to the Sermon on The Mount, in a concession to allowing fish on the menu.
“Yes, as for the loaves and fishes story, it is quite likely that Jesus was indeed a pescatarian,” the Rabbi had said with some authority. After explaining what a pescatarian was he threw in a few more Old Testament verses for good measure and put the question to bed with a reference to the tree of good and evil in Genesis. This explanation seemed to satisfy cousin C. L. and it was a relief to the good Rabbi to be able to move on with the conversation since talking about Jesus and the New Testament always made him feel a little squeamish.
Well as time moved on and cousin C. L.’s condition worsened it got to where he was housebound, and even then the Rabbi would come over and visit up to the very end. When Rabbi Gettman would arrive at cousin C. L.’s large Victorian house with the big wrap around porch and the carved columns and all the decorative gingerbread he would help his friend onto the porch and they would talk about whatever entered cousin C. L.’s mind. What the two of them conversed about in the final months I do not know, because what I told you about their talks is just things that cousin C. L. had told me when I would run into him before he got so bad and was confined to his house. I must say I didn’t see him for the last three months before he died, so I can’t say with any ontological certitude anything about their last conversations, but what ensued after his death makes me think that what happened that hot July day when we heard of cousin C. L.’s passing was somewhat a product of the talks.
We got word of his death about eleven forty five Tuesday morning so everybody had time to fix casseroles, pies, cakes and such to take over to the big Victorian house; of course that is the way we do things here in the south. We brought ham biscuits, fresh green beans, and a banana pudding. When we got there we went on into the house and put the food on a table in the kitchen and went on out onto the big wrap around porch I mentioned earlier. There were already quite a few people sitting out there; Aunt Sarah was there and she and my mother started talking about how it was kind of a blessing that cousin C. L. was “finally at peace and would suffer no more.” Not being irreverent or anything like that, but I couldn’t help but have a mental image of cousin C. L. paddling around up there in heaven with his fishing pole just having a big time.
Like I said we were all just talking ‘bout what a good guy cousin C. L. was and everything when I happened to look behind me in that big bay window that faced the road and there was cousin C. L. laying right there on his bed in his pale blue pajamas; his little chihuahua dog, Hop Sing, was up there on the bed with him, licking him on the face. As you can imagine I was kind of taken aback to say the least and I kind of hollered out “well I be” and of course everybody looked where I was looking and gasped and took on quite a bit. It was about this time that I happened to notice that the fellows from the Bessemer City Funeral Home were just kind of milling about in the driveway over where the hearse was parked. If I do say so myself I have always been a kind of a take charge guy so while the rest of the bunch was staring in at poor old cousin C. L. I walked over to where they were. By the way cousin C. L. named his dog after Ben Cartwright’s Chinese cook on Bonanza and nobody gave it the first thought about it being inappropriate, naming a dog after a Chinaman. I reckon that is because cousin C. L. had already proved that he was not a bigot or racist by his association with the good Rabbi. Anyway when I got over to where Robby Coley and the rest of the dressed up boys were I could tell there was something wrong.
“How come y’all ain’t taken cousin C. L. to the funeral home,” I asked Robby. Tommy pumped gas down at the Sinclair station when he wa’n’t working for Mr. Blair at the funeral home. His claim to fame was that his daddy, Chub, who used to drive an oil delivery truck, ran off with a midget from the fair a few years back when the Spindle Center Fair was in town. It has got that name because Gaston County has a bunch of cotton mills in it.
Robby looked at me kind of sheepishly and pointed toward the porch where Mr. Blair, the owner of the funeral home, had emerged from the front door and was speaking in a hushed tone with Aunt Sarah and my mother, so I went back up on the porch.
“In forty years of being a funeral director I have never had this circumstance,” he was saying, kind of shaking his head. “It just beats all.” Then he explained that cousin C. L.’s wife, Rose, had told him that it was in his will that he did not want to be embalmed. When Rose was giving this news to Mr. Blair Harvey Bulwinkle, a prominent local attorney, had been standing there and he quickly informed the widow what the law had to say about such a situation.
“It is right there in black and white in the state statutes that if a body is not embalmed they must be buried within 24 hours; there is no getting around it,” the barrister explained. Turns out that lawyer Bulwinkle had quite a few Jewish clients and that was how he knew all about it. So that was what the whole delay was about, what with them deciding what to do and everything.
“But now we have everything worked out,” Mr. Blair said, smiling and showing off his brand new false teeth he had picked up just the other day down in Florence, South Carolina. They had a place down there where this dentist would get you fixed up with new teeth the same day. The new choppers were required since Mr. Blair had lost his last pair. Seems he had been down at an oyster roast at Hoag’s house and had got sick and had thrown up in the pot-bellied stove; unfortunately there was a raging fire going on in there and by the time anybody figured that they ought to throw some water on it the teeth were halfway melted. He explained that the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bessemer City had been contacted and that the funeral would be at ten o’clock the next day. This time was selected because according to Dr. Will, who had signed the death certificate, the time of death was eleven that morning; that would leave enough time to beat the deadline.
“Of course, under these unusual circumstances, the service will a closed casket one,” Mr. Blair said, running his hand through his silver hair and flashing that Florence smile. With that we all went on home, figuring that we should leave the bereaved family alone; there would be plenty of time to visit with them after the funeral. So we invited Aunt Sarah to come on down to the house and have supper with us and she quickly accepted. When we got to the house Aunt Sarah and I sat out on the front porch while Momma got supper ready. Momma is just like that; she likes to keep her kitchen to herself, so when Aunt Sarah insisted on helping she would not hear of it and me and her went on out on the porch.
“Well I swanney, Frankie, if this ain’t the oddest thing,” she said, and I assured her that I was in total agreement. “I just wonder where in the world C. L. would get such a notion in his head. He was always such a practical boy; it just don’t make a lick of sense,” she said, shaking her head and looking off into the distance. So I went on and told her what I had come up in the way of explaining things, ‘cause since Mr. Blair announced about how cousin C. L. was not going to be embalmed I had been studying on the thing mighty hard and had come up with what I figgered was a pretty good theory, so I went ahead and told Aunt Sarah what I had come up with.
“You know he had gotten right friendly with that Rabbi Gettman, and him being Jewish and all I think that maybe that is what influenced cousin C. L. to put that in his will,” I told her. Turns out that Aunt Sarah had not even heard of the Rabbi and had certainly had no idea about cousin C. L.’s friendly relationship with him.
“Why in the world would he want to hang around with somebody like that when he could be with us good Baptists?” Aunt Sarah said and had her face screwed up pretty awful. Me being a bit more worldly than my good aunt I calmly explained about how cousin C. L. had experimented with going to different churches when he was dying and how I didn’t think it really hurt anything, him having a Jew for a friend and all, and I also mentioned that this was not just a run of the mill Jew but was a bona fide Rabbi. Then I told her about how a Rabbi was like her preacher at Lander’s Chapel Baptist Church, except possibly a bit more educated.
“Hmmmmph,” she snorted, “if they are so consarned smart how come they don’t believe in the New Testament?” she hissed, and just got up, said “see you in the morning,” and cranked up her old ’86 Chevy Celebrity and went home, not even staying for supper. I went on into the house and talked to Momma in the kitchen, telling her what had happened, and she just laughed.
“Don’t surprise me a bit, son, ‘cause you know she has always been a little excitable,” she said, “but I bet she will be fine when we see her in the morning,” and then we went on and ate supper, and afterwards I laid out my good dark suit and then we sat out on the front porch in the dark and told stories about cousin C. L. until it was time to go to bed.
The day of the funeral dawned clear and hot, real hot. By nine thirty there was an overflow crowd assembled in the First Baptist Church of Bessemer City sanctuary. At a quarter to ten Mr. Blair the funeral director drove up in the big black hearse with three of his boys and backed up to the front of the church. Then me and three other cousins of C. L. went out and stationed ourselves at each corner of cousin C. L.’s casket and hoisted it up and took it inside the church and set it up on the portable table that Mr. Blair had set up at the front of the church. The other three pallbearers were Jitter, his brother Joe Bill, and Paul Smith. Jitter’s real name was Edgar, but all the young’uns in his family had nicknames and he was awarded his because of a twitch he had; about every ten or fifteen seconds he would kinda jerk his left shoulder around, like he was gonna throw it out of socket. It was just a habit of his and once you got used to it you didn’t pay any attention to it. But to the uninitiated, a word I picked up recently, it made him look like a spastic one-winged chicken; however, he was a good guy.
After we delivered cousin C. L. we went on over and sat down right behind the family. In a minute or two Miss Lizzie started banging on the piano and we all stood up and sang Holy, Holy,Holy—all the verses. Then Reverend Cline got up and started talking about how cousin C. L. was such a stalwart member of the community and how he would stay late after church and count the offering. Here is where Reverend Cline kind went off the program a little bit, ‘cause he sort of chuckled and said that “we selected C. L. to count the money because we all knew he had so much that we could trust him not to steal any.” The attempt pretty much didn’t work too well; in fact, you could say it went over about like a fart in church. Not a soul laughed, and to his credit the pastor just bulled right ahead like nothing had happened. I must say that the interjection of humor into a funeral service is certainly heading down a slippery slope.
So Reverend Cline droned on about how cousin C. L. had been such a good businessman and had been such a generous contributor to the church and to many charities; this was no news to any of us, and to be perfectly honest we had figured that the preacher would have told a lot of stories about cousin C. L., something like that time he asked the Rabbi if there was fishing in heaven. Of course I guess that could be construed to be shading toward humor, so I reckon it is just as well that he laid off that. It was getting on toward ten thirty when I heard Mr. Blair the funeral director clear his throat and when Reverend Cline looked at him he kind of jerked his head toward the graveyard. Pastor Cline revved it up then and we quickly sang one verse of “Farther Along We’ll Know More About It” and the good Reverend lit into the ending prayer.
“Dear gracious and bountiful Father in heaven, omnipotent and omniscient provider of all things good, we commit the soul of C. L. to you, and beseech that you welcome him into the portals of heaven and keep him there until we all come to join him. Amen”, he said. I was sitting right there behind Aunt Sarah and while he was praying I noticed her head moving around like she was following something; then I saw what had her all consumed. There was a big ol’ blow fly buzzing around up there where cousin C. L.’s casket was; one of the biggest ones I had ever seen, and it was making a considerable racket. I reckon it had been up there a while and we probably didn’t pay any attention to it until it got real quiet while the preacher was praying, but at the present it sounded pretty loud, and like I said it was as big a one as I have ever seen. I started watching it just like Aunt Sarah was, but then it was time for us to carry the casket out to the graveyard.
The graveside service was a short one and then everybody started toward their cars to head home, but I noticed that Aunt Sarah was coming over to where I was so I stopped to see what she wanted. She kinda had her face all screwed up like she did the night before on the porch when she was talking about the Rabbi, so I knew she had something on her mind.
“Nice service, wa’n’t it Aunt Sarah”, I said, and I give her a big hug.
“Yes, I reckon it was,” she said, and then motioned for me to bend down so she could whisper something to me. I bent over and she said “you know, I can’t help but think that that big ol’ blowfly was after C. L.” So I assured her that even if the blowfly had been after him that he was in the ground now and that the blowfly could not get to him and that the casket would be in a sealed vault and that she need not worry about it. Then she looked at me kind of hard and said “well I guess we wouldn’t be standing out here in the church yard talking about a blowfly if C. L. had been a little more particular about who he hung around with and maybe had taken up with some good Baptists instead of a Rabbi.” She kind of hissed the word “Rabbi” and stomped off and fired up her ’87 Chevy Celebrity and went home. As we were leaving the church I noticed a gentleman standing off by himself and staring at the gravesite. In a moment I recognized that it was Rabbi Gettman and I noticed that he had something in his hand. As I watched he went over to the grave and placed an object on top of the casket. After I left I walked over to see what it was and there, lying on top of the casket, was a Popeil pocket fisherman still in the box.