Brian and Clarence came out the back door of the kitchen when they saw Andy Hester’s hot Mustang pull up. Brian was the owner of the bar, along with his wife Lucy; Clarence was the short order cook. Andy hopped out of the Mach 1 and ran around and opened the trunk. Brian and Clarence walked over to the trunk and peered in as Andy started unloading a week’s supply of Oodley Creek’s finest moonshine; Andy called it what the distiller, Tom Costner, called it: Clear Heaven.
As Andy pulled out nine half gallon jugs of the elixir Brian and Clarence busied themselves with carting them into the kitchen of the bar. When they finished Brian brought out one of the jugs and the three of them sat down on the short cable spools that one of the habitués of The Meadowbrook Supper Club who worked at Duke Power had provided. The spools were conveniently located under a giant Chinaberry tree; sometimes when the bar was packed the crowd would overflow and Brian would look out and see as many as fifty drinkers under the sprawling tree.
Brian screwed off the lid of the half gallon jug and handed it to Andy, who took a big drink out of it and passed it down to Clarence. It took both of Clarence’s hands to handle the jug, but he managed to take two big gulps out of it before handing it up to his boss. Clarence had been working as the short order cook at the Meadowbrook for two years; he had come to the area with the fair and had never left. At the fair, locally called the Spindle Center Fair because of all the cotton mills in Gaston County, Clarence Lipscomb had starred as “the amazing Frog Man”. Clarence was every bit of three feet tall and had seriously deformed legs, but he had managed to make a decent living on the fair circuit; additionally, he was double jointed and combined with his deformed legs it allowed him to perform such feats as putting both his feet behind his head at the same time. He could also hold a cigarette between his big toe and the adjacent one and bring it up to his very full lips and smoke it. Clarence told everybody that he was Ethiopian; it gave him a much greater air of mystery than the truth, which was that he had lived all his life in Boger City before joining the fair. Brian and Lucy had seen him when they had gone up to Gastonia to see the fair and in talking with him after paying to see “the amazing Frog Man” had discovered that he was unhappy with the fair life and that he claimed to be a “crackerjack” short order cook. Since Brian and Lucy were in the market for just such a critter they invited him down for a tryout and discovered that he had not oversold himself; in fact, Brian had told Clarence that he would put his cheeseburger up against anybody’s, and that included Tommy’s on Highway 321 and hired him on the spot. Of course being only three feet tall did present some obstacles, like the fact that his head only came up to the counter and the appliances in the kitchen; however, Brian had one of his carpenter friends build a two foot tall bench in front of all the counters and the culinary marriage was cemented.
Brian took two deep pulls off the jug and passed it to Andy for another round. It was three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, the time that Brian and Andy had set up for the weekly delivery over a year ago. It worked out very well for both Andy and Brian, Brian typically running out late Friday night and Andy coming home every weekend from Camp Lejeune where he was stationed in the marines. Andy was very entrepreneurial; in addition to supplying Brian with the shine he loaded up a whole trunk full of the stuff and carried it to Camp Lejeune every Sunday afternoon. His deal with Tom Costner for transporting provided him with a very good income; actually he made more hauling and selling shine than his marine check provided.
“How is my old buddy Tom Costner doin’ these days?” Brian said, smiling and showing a missing tooth in the upper right side of his mouth.
“Very well, very well”, Andy replied, looking over at Clarence. “You wouldn’t be able to fix me one of them fabulous cheeseburgers would you Froggy?” Andy asked, grinning at the little deformed black man. “Froggy” was a moniker that only Clarence’s close friends were allowed to use, Brian being very particular about his employee being treated with “dignity and respect”.
Clarence was smoking a cigarette with his left foot and feeling quite good after the slugs of Oodley Creek. “Sure, let me finish this Pall Mall and I will jump all over it”, he said.
“I reckon if anybody would be able to jump it would be Froggy”, Andy said, and the three of them laughed and had another drink before Clarence went off into the kitchen to fix Andy’s cheeseburger.
Brian looked at Andy and said “Ya know, this little deal is working out very well ain’t it”.
Andy Hester nodded in agreement as he took another hit on the jug. The deal was that Andy would bring nine half gallons of shine to The Meadowbrook Supper Club each Saturday at no charge. Andy’s perquisite was that he had free beer for life. When Brian had made this offer to Andy it was not without a lot of reflection; Brian was afraid that the “free beer for life” idea was too generous, but when he thought about how much money he made off the shine he decided it was an ok deal.
The Meadowbrook Supper Club was just like other little country bars in the northern edge of South Carolina; they sold beer and food, relying heavily on teenagers from the adjoining counties in North Carolina. The only difference with the Meadowbrook was that Brian had a twelve by twelve foot room attached to the back of the bar. The room was only accessible through the kitchen and Brian kept the door locked. Brian was very selective in who was allowed in the “shine room”, screening them carefully and only admitting the older teenagers. Brian smiled as he thought about the bountiful profits that free Oodley Creek shine sold at a dollar a shot brought.
In a few minutes Clarence brought out Andy’s cheeseburger along with some fries and handed it to him, along with a little glass bottle of coca-cola and a paper towel. Clarence grinned and watched as Andy devoured his food, interspersing mouthfuls with accolades for Clarence’s mastery of the perfect cheeseburger.
“I swear, Brian, that man makes the best cheeseburger I have ever had, and I have had some great ones, and I mean it”, Andy exclaimed, looking at Brian and the little black man. Clarence smiled broadly and fired up another Pall Mall, again smoking it with his foot. There was nothing wrong with Clarence’s hands; obviously he had full control of them or he would never be so talented in the kitchen. He just used his feet because it had become habit from his years of being “The Frog Man” in the fair.
Sometimes the regulars would get Clarence to talking about his former career, and Clarence would not disappoint them. If he was in the mood he would regale them with stories about the bearded lady, the morphydite, the wall rider, and if he was in the mood would talk about the “hoochy coochy” girls.
Andy pulled out three dollars and handed it to Clarence; Brian wasn’t going to charge Andy for the food and he knew it. The three bucks was a tip for The Frogman.
“How ‘bout tellin’ us ‘bout them hoochy girls, and that man in the zoot suit”, Andy said, looking at Clarence. Clarence grinned, exposing giant white teeth, and started in on the story.
“Well when I was ‘on tour’ for them five years we always had them ‘ hoochy coochy girls’. They came and went away; a lot of them were teenage runaways. They wuz lucky if they could get a month out of them. But the barker, the man who stood out front workin’ the crowd stayed the same. His name was Monroe Phillips, and he wuz from New York City. At least that wuz what he told us and we didn’t have no reason not to take him on his word. Any way, he claimed that he had been a preacher up there in some kind of storefront church called The Grand and Exalted Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Monroe said it wuz sort of loosely associated with the Holiness. He told us that all of his friends called him “the money man”, and if you ever seen him in action you could see why. Why he would get out there in front of the stage with that microphone dressed in that zoot suit and a wide brimmed hat and talk his ass off while he wuz swingin’ a gold watch with his other hand”, Clarence said.
Brian and Andy were listening and grinning, passing the jar back and forth. When The Frogman stopped to catch his breath Brian handed him the jug, and the little man took a great big hit off it.
“Talkin’ ‘bout the old days always makes you thirsty, don’t it Clarence?” Brian said, taking the Oodley Creek back after Clarence finished.
“I remember that man at the hooch show, shore ‘nuff do. Boy he could talk up a storm, and as soon as them girls came on the stage he would get into high gear”, Andy said.
“You’re perzackly right on that fact”, The Frog Man said, looking at the two men with a sparkle in his eyes. “I member zackly what he would say when he wuz out there drumming up the business. He would be swinging that gold watch with one hand and handling the mike with the other and saying ‘Come on up boys and see these little girls up real close and personal. I am here to tell you that they are the real stuff. They are as hot as a firecracker’”.
Andy and Brian were grinning from ear to ear as Brian handed the diminishing jug back to Clarence. Everybody loved hearing the little man tell the fair stories, and the “girlie show” tales were their favorites. After Clarence took another pull on the jug he started back in on the story.
“Ol’ Money Phillips would get the crowd going; what he would do wuz get them all out there at one time and have ‘em dancing around and shakin’ everything, and they wa’nt leaving a whole lot to the imagination. While they wuz all out there at once he would be goin’ on about ‘these girls will put some lead in your pencil, yessiree, these hot babes will put some pepper in your pot. After you boys come in and see these hot numbers you’ll be throwin’ rocks at them women you are hangin’ around now. Yessiree’. ‘Course they would have some kind of sexy music goin’ on while they were all out there, and then he would introduce them individually. He would call out a name and one girl would come to the front of the stage and the rest would get in the background. I ‘member how he would do it. ‘Boys meet little Mitzi, a hot little redhead just come in from Philadelphia. I can vouch for her, ‘cause I tried her out last night’, Money would holler into the mike, and Mitzi would come over and whack ol’ Money on his ass, turn around and bend over and shake her butt at the audience. Course them girls had on them dark nylons with the seam up the back and they wuz all lookin’ good. When Mitzi would pop Money he would act like it ‘bout knocked him over and act real embarrassed like and then say ‘well mebbe I just dreamed about it’, and then he would go on to the next girl, little Mitzi going into the back part of the stage with the rest of ‘em. So he would do the same thing with all the girls; he would keep as many as eight or ten. And then when he had introduced all of em’ somebody in the back behind the curtain would turn up the sexy music even louder and the girls would all prance around and finish up the outside show by bending over and shaking their asses at the crowd. ‘Course all that show wuz just to get them inside, and after they went behind the curtain ‘ol Money would start hollerin’ ‘only two dollars, only two dollars to have the time of your life. You have seen what a fine group of girls we have here tonight. You have seen it, but now you need to give me two dollars and go behind the curtain and EXPERIENCE it’ Money Phillips would holler, and he would stand up there on the stage as the clients, that’s what he called them, lined up and walked up the three steps onto the stage and paid their money and went behind the curtain.”
Brian and Andy were grinning and passing the jug. Andy took a big swig and handed it down to the little storyteller. Although both of the men had heard Clarence’s tale about the girls a few times they never grew tired of it, and they knew the part that was coming up next, the part they all liked the best.
“Course it’s just natural for anybody to have a favorite, and ol’ Monroe Phillips was no different”, Clarence said. “Her name was Wallenda Gibson; she wuz from right around here”.
Andy smiled when he heard the name; as many times as he had heard the story from the Frogman he had never let on that he knew Wallenda. Adrian figgered that there was nothing to be gained by the admission. In fact, most every boy in town had come to know Wallenda Gibson.
“In fact, Money wa’nt so awful stingy with his favorite; more than one night he invited me to his trailer and there would be Wallenda parading around in her white slip, that dark bush shining through the thin fabric”, Clarence said, his brown eyes shining.
Brian and Andy looked at each other and laughed because they knew that the Frogman’s favorite part was on the way. The conquest.
Brian played along with the little black man. “Well what happened then Clarence?” he asked, feigning genuine curiosity.
“I sure ‘nuff took care of business” Clarence said. “That Wallenda be likin’ the Frogman. After we had a few drinks she would strip off naked and lay down on the bed with them legs spread and holler ‘come and get it froggie—do me froggie style’. And that wuz all it took to get me goin’ and in just a minute I wuz outta my britches and had jumped up there and flipped her over and wuz doin’ the frog dance from behind. Man that woman would holler up a storm”.
Andy caught Brian’s eye and winked as he said “Well what did ol’ Money Phillips do while the Frogman was so busy?”
“That wuz the funniest part of the whole thing; Money would just watch and take an occasional picture with his Polaroid camera. Me and Wallenda always had a good laugh lookin’ at them after we had finished “, said Clarence, a wistful look coming into his dark eyes. “I shore would like to see her again”.
Brian handed down the jug to Clarence and the short order cook drained it. It was getting close to five o’clock and about time for the underage drinkers to start filtering in. Andy said goodbye, that he had a hot date, and jumped into the hot Mach I and roared off. Brian and Clarence went back into the kitchen; Clarence hopping up on his little runway and checking the oil that was heating up. He started “pattying up” ground beef for his famous cheeseburgers, while Brian went out front to help Lucy.
Monroe Phillips took off his long coat and the big pleated pants, carefully removing the gold watch and chain and placing it on the bureau. He crawled in bed and lay there thinking with just the dim light from the bathroom shining in. Money was tired; he had been on the circuit for over twenty years and the grind was starting to get to him. Sometimes he thought about getting out of the business and going back to preaching; he only thought about it when he was real tired, but when he did it seemed pretty appealing.
Then he thought about Wallenda and he realized that the relationship had gone around the corner, from just having a lark to being a serious affair, at least in his mind. He was not so sure what Wallenda Gibson thought, and when he would ask her she would just shrug her pretty white shoulders and say “dunno baby, just don’t know”. She had told him when she had hired on that she had been with only one man in her whole life, a guy named Leonard that she had worked with at the Parkdale Cotton Mill and Money had no reason to disbelieve her. Of course there was the thing with the departed Frogman, but Wallenda had only agreed to that after many hours of cajoling and begging on the part of the former preacher. Money still had the gift of persuasion, and eventually Wallenda had come around and agreed to do what he wanted. He had always just watched them and taken polaroids, but when he and Ms. Gibson were alone he “wore it out”.
“By far the best I ever had “, he said out loud to himself as he lay in bed. Money thought back to when he had recruited Wallenda two years in the past. It was on a night just after he had done his usual routine and had collected the money; he was standing there by the stage counting the dollar bills when Wallenda and a colored girl came walking up.
“Excuse me mister, but my name is Wallenda Gibson and this is my friend Carolyn Cirrus”, she had said, nodding toward her dark friend. “We are wondering if you are doing any hiring” she had said.
Monroe had looked them over purty good then and was fairly impressed with what he was seeing. “Come on up on the stage with me,” he had said, and when they mounted the stairs he ushered them a few feet back to where he would be able to close the curtains. Behind the curtain there was only a naked one hundred watt bulb, the thick curtain closing off the bright lights that hung over the stage.
“Strip off to bras and panties,” Monroe had ordered, using a rather authoritarian voice. The years on the circuit had taught the old preacher that they had to know who was in charge right from the gitgo. Both girls complied quickly and Money Phillips began his evaluation. Wallenda was a not unattractive brunette with a slender body topped off with an ample bosom; he could see a dark bush through her sheer white panties. She was smiling broadly as he perused her. Then he checked out Carolyn Cirrus; “Cirrus, eh, sounds like a Greek name”, Money said, and got the expected laugh from her. She was a little overweight but what she did next pretty much sealed the deal on her chances of employment. As he was checking her out she reached out and grabbed his crotch, not real aggressively, but hard enough for her to tell that she had her hand firmly around the Money member.
Money chuckled as he thought about the interview; Carolyn Cirrus had only stayed on a couple of weeks until she got a bad case of being homesick. Money realized it had turned out for the better; “wa’nt no use in keeping that temptation around,” he thought to himself. Monroe had decided that he was in love with Wallenda, and it was not a recent revelation; she was indeed the best he ever had, and he had had a bunch. The fact that she hollered and scratched when she “got to the short rows” was just icing on the cake. Wallenda had been talking about going to see her momma; she had been talking about it a lot, and seemed to be getting tired of Money’s “soon, baby, soon” answer.
“Yep, that’s what I am gonna do” Monroe said out loud as he lay in bed. “I am gonna take that girl to see her momma and when we are there I am gonna do the gentlemanly thing and ask her father for her fair hand”. Money smiled and thought about how surprised and happy he was gonna make Wallenda when he told her the news.
Connie Gibson was bustling around her little cottage cleaning everything in sight.
“Bud, when are you going to cut that grass? Don’t make me mention it one more time or you are going to be in for it,” Connie hollered into the living room where a short heavy man with little hair was rousing from a Saturday afternoon nap.
“Aw, it won’t take me but half an hour,” Bud Gibson called back to his wife of thirty five years.
“Well it is twelve thirty, and Wallenda and her man are coming at two o’clock, so do the math and don’t wait til the last second. Besides, I reckon you might clean up a little bit; you know Wallenda ain’t been home in two years, ever since she got that good job up north, and that fella she is bringing with her ain’t never seen us, so we need to make a good impression, don’tcha think?” Connie said.
“Who is this guy anyway,”’ Bud grunted as he got up off the couch.
“Wallenda said it was her boss, and that she really liked him,” Connie explained as she dust mopped the hard wood floor in the den. “She said he was a little older than her, but I don’t guess that makes so much difference, you being three years older than me and all,” Corrine said as she watched Bud head out the door to finish up the grass cutting. Corrine Gibson thought about her only child Wallenda and all the circumstances surrounding her. Connie and Bud had been married for twenty seven years and trying their best but had never been able to have a child, so when their friend Elma Jenkins from church had told them about her friend who worked for social services in the adoption program they decided to look into it. There had been an interview with the young girl and the social worker and Connie and Bud had liked the young lady, a girl of fourteen. Afterwards when Wallenda had left the meeting the hopeful couple had sat down with the social worker and learned some about Wallenda’s past. It seemed that her mother and father had died when their car had been hit by a train. Wallenda had been sitting in the back and escaped with a couple of broken bones, the front of the car bearing the brunt of the crash. There were no close relatives so when Wallenda had recovered she had become a ward of the state. All of this had happened in the last four months and Connie and Bud were the first people to be interested in Wallenda; the county worker explained that there had been one previous interview a couple of weeks before but although the people had liked her they had decided that a fourteen year old girl might be “more than we want to tackle” and had moved on, mentioning to call them when they had a boy.
So after a quick background check by the County, which Connie and Bud passed with flying colors, being rock solid citizens of Bessemer City, the papers were signed and Wallenda had a new home. Connie smiled as she thought back to those first days, getting Wallenda enrolled in the ninth grade at the high school, how the poor girl had looked so lost at first, and how things had eventually gotten better once she had gained some friends. Wallenda was a chatty and pretty little girl, so making acquaintances was not an issue. Boys seemed to like her a lot, but Corrine and Bud wanted to be real careful with the girl so they had not allowed her to go out on a date until she was fifteen and a half, and then only after the boy went through a pretty serious grilling session from Bud.. Connie remembered how “Bud’s third degree” went.
The boy would come to the front door and knock and Wallenda would go and let him in. Bud would be sitting in his overstuffed chair smoking an unfiltered Camel cigarette and Connie would be sitting nearby on the sofa.
“Wallenda, bring your nice young man over here to sit on the sofa,” Connie would carol. Then when Wallenda got the boy situated and introduced Bud would start in.
“Where do you live_________?” Bud would ask, looking down over the top of his wire rimmed spectacles, and his speech style would be gruff and matter of fact, kind of like he was cross examining someone on trial. Connie smiled as she remembered how she had “counseled” her husband on how to handle the situation. She had felt compelled to school him on technique because Bud was not an aggressive individual, preferring to allow Connie to tell him what to do and make most decisions and being very happy with the setup. But Connie had known about the first date for five days so she had plenty of time to prep ol’ Bud.
“What kind of grades do you make; you know our girl is a smart one and we don’t want her dating some dummy,” Bud had said, getting a hard look from Connie. She remembered thinking how Bud had gotten a little wild and had deviated from the script, but the look she gave her husband got him back in line right quick and he moved on to “well where are you all going,” and “what time you gonna have our little girl home”. Each question was followed by a twenty second or so pause from Bud; Connie figgered that it would let the boy know that Bud meant business. She had also told Bud to go “hmmph” a kind of a grunt after each question to sort of put the boy on notice that this was no sure thing and Bud was in control of the situation.
Bud finished the grass and went in the house and took a quick shower. After he got dressed and came out of the bedroom he found Connie sitting on the sofa in the living room. She was in a black dress, what she referred to as her “funeral dress”; Bud was attired in the grey slacks and navy blue jacket his wife had laid out for him.
“Reckon we are overdoing this thing, what with what we are wearing and everything?” Bud said, looking at his wife.
“Well, we do want to look respectable; Wallenda’s gentleman is a man of breeding and refinement so I don’t want him to think we are a couple of hayseeds,” Connie said, giving Bud a stern look.
“Well alright,” Bud said, tugging at his tight collar as they heard a car pull into the driveway.
Wallenda and Monroe Phillips were kind of quiet as they neared her parents’ house. The day before had been quite eventful; a day neither would ever forget. It had started out with Money announcing that he was gonna give Wallenda some time off to go and see her mom and dad. This announcement was extremely well received; the second announcement did not fare quite as well.
Money had taken Wallenda to a little diner near the Clemmons County fairgrounds, the latest stop on the circuit. That was where he told Wallenda about the time off. She beamed and gave him a big kiss when he said this, and immediately started chattering about how long it had been since she had seen them and how much she had missed her momma.
“Thing about it is I wanta go along with you on the trip,” Money had told her, fully expecting her to do something like swoon or gush, especially after he added the little tidbit about how he was going to ask her father for her hand in marriage.
Wallenda had choked on her meatloaf when she heard this and it took her several minutes and two glasses of water to recover. “Ain’t this kinda sudden Money,” she had blurted out. The two had been “going together” for over a year but the thought of marriage had really not entered her mind.
“What’s wrong, honey,” Monroe had said, a beaming smile leaving his face and a very worried look taking its place. What had ensued was a quick exit from the diner and a trip back to the fairgrounds where they went into Monroe’s trailer and had a long talk while consuming a quart of Crown Royal; after much cajoling and protestations of true love on the part of Monroe Phillips Wallenda agreed to the whole scenario and the next morning they were riding down the highway to make the three hour trip to Bessemer City, Wallenda having called her momma after her and Money’s long talk.
They were riding in Money’s big Buick Roadmaster and the ol’ preacher was feeling pretty good about things. He figgered Wallenda’s little spell was just a “case of the nerves” and she seemed to be ok now. Gone was the zoot suit and the gold watch, being replaced by a navy blue pinstripe suit and a conversative tie on a starched white shirt. As Money looked over at his pretty little girl decked out in a cute print dress he felt good about the circumstances. ”Maybe start a little family soon,” he mused, figuring since he had his little woman by a good twenty years that time would be wasting. “Might even mention that to my prospective inlaws,” he thought to himself as he pulled in the Gibson driveway.
It was four o’clock on that Saturday afternoon and Andy Hester had already made his delivery to The Meadowbrook Supper Club; he was sitting at the bar on one of the round stools working on one of the Frogman’s classic cheeseburgers and an order of fries. It was early and not busy and Clarence had climbed up on the stool next to Andy.
“Yep, she up and called me last night out of the blue,” Andy was telling the little man. “Been two years since I heard anything at all ‘bout her ass, ‘cept for your stories.”
Clarence laughed and said “so you be keeping that little thing ‘bout you and Wallenda being acquainted a secret all this time”.
Andy Hester laughed out loud long and hard. “’Acquainted’ is a kind of mild term for the relationship, or relationships, Wallenda has been involved in. I personally took her up to Flip’s house when she was still in high school and they wuz fourteen of us. I’ll never forget seein’ ol’ Bellyboy; he wuz about seventh in line and was holdin’ a big banana in his hand. You oughta heard him laugh when I walked by him and asked him if he wuz gonn put that in his corn flakes the next morning. Yessir, ol’ Wallenda took care of everybody, and would have handled ol’ Flip if he had been able to get it up, not that Wallenda didn’t make the effort.
Clarence laughed big and long; “she sure had Monroe Philliips fooled,”he said. “Wallenda had him plum convinced that she had only been with some guy named Leonard from the Parkdale Mill, and then of course there was the coupla times with the Frogman.”
“From what she said last night sounds like she is a fixin’ to get married and is ready to have one last big time”, Andy said, smiling and winking at the little man. “Reckon you will want to be included, right?” he said, and the Frogman nodded vigorously.
“How you figger this is gonna work Andy” Clarence asked.
“Got it all worked out Froggie”, Andy said. “Her and Monroe are up at her mom and dad’s house in Bessemer City this afternoon. According to what she said Money is gonna ask for her hand; she said when they get through with all that mess she is gonna be real thirsty and ready for a ‘good time’ and that she will get Monroe to drive them down here to The Meadowbrook. I think it will be a date to remember in the hallowed ‘anals’ of the Meadowbrook Supper Club. I have already talked to Brian and it seems that the exclusive ‘Oodley Creek’ room has been reserved and Brian is getting a queen size mattress delivered as we speak.”
Clarence slapped him hands down on the bar and hollered “Yahoo,like old times on the circuit”.
Andy grinned at him and they clinked beer mugs together in a salute to the pending arrival of Wallenda.
“Well, exactly what is it that you do, Mr. Phillips?” Connie asked as the four of them sat in the Gibson living room. Bud and Connie had met Monroe and Wallenda at the door with reserved smiles in place. The smiles were reserved mainly because the parents had not heard from their daughter for two years until the recent phone call. There was a little explaining to do on Wallenda’s part.
“I am an independent financial counselor; I have worked in this field for the last fifteen years after working in the ministry for ten years. I would probably have stayed with my original calling were it not for the pressures involved. You see, Mrs. Gibson, in the large Methodist church in upstate New York where I served I would average two funerals a week, and I am here to tell you that after a period of time it can kind of get to you,” Money Phillips told them. Money had no plan of what he was going to say when he walked into the Gibson home; well, not a thought out plan. He figgered he would play it like he always had; “just make it up as I go along,” he had thought to himself.
Monroe Phillips was watching Connie Gibson very carefully as he spun his tale; he had already determined where the power lay and he concentrated on Connie, giving the old man only a glance now and then as he spoke.
“And I understand that our little girl is your assistant,” Connie stated, looking inquiringly at the man in her living room. In her mind he looked every bit of forty five years old, but she wasn’t too awful worried about the disparity, especially since she had just heard about his ministerial past. Connie was beginning to think that Wallenda may just have her a catch, but caught herself, not wanting to assume too much.
“Yes, Mrs. Gibson, Wallenda has been my administrative assistant for almost two years now, ever since I ran up on her one afternoon on Wall Street in New York City. The lovely girl was striking in appearance but had a somewhat dazed look upon her face. My counseling side, the religious one, not the financial one, came out in me and I immediately struck up a conversation with her and determined that the young girl was suffering from some sort of amnesia since she did not know how she had got to where she was and could not even recollect her name,” Money explained. As he talked he noticed Connie’s jaw drop and even the staid Bud was paying real close attention to what Money is saying.
“Is all this true honey?” Connie asked, looking at her adopted daughter. Wallenda had been sitting there absorbing what Money had been throwing out. She knew he would come up with something, and she also knew enough to keep her mouth shut until he had set it up.
“That’s right Momma,” she said, getting ready to turn on the waterworks. Suddenly Wallenda jumped up from her chair and ran over to Connie and started blubbering and telling her momma how much she loved her. Bud watched from his chair grinning. After a few minutes of this Wallenda went back over to where she had been sitting and Monroe Phillips started back in on his yarn.
“Yes maam, after I took this young lady to see my personal physician and my amnesia suspicions were confirmed I acquired suitable lodging for Wallenda and had her come to my office every day. Ya see, my physician determined that a good treatment for Wallenda’s recovery would be to get her set up in some kind of routine, and when I suggested that she come to my office daily he thought it was a good idea. Well after a few days of talking and evaluating your lovely daughter I determined that she was quite bright and decided to train her in my field,” Money continued. “My physician suggested that I not press her about her past immediately, for he felt that whatever trauma had caused her memory loss needed some time to dissipate. So I did not even inquire about her background for six months; during this time she worked diligently at every task I assigned and in that six months period was able to grasp the essentials of the trade and become a valid and extremely valuable administrative assistant to me. Then after the six month period was up, at my physician’s direction, I began to gently inquire about her previous life. I was not aggressive in this endeavor, as my doctor suggested, and in a week I had learned that her name was Wallenda. However, it took a lot longer for her to come up with her last name, at least another year, and it was only last week that Wallenda was looking through the coat she was wearing and found an old driver’s license and that is when she contacted you. You may wonder why she did not offer an explanation for her extended absence, but the doctor thought it would be much better for you all to hear this in person,” Monroe explained, smiling broadly and walking over and pulling Wallenda from the sofa and giving her a big hug and kiss.
“Well this certainly explains a lot of things”, Connie said, looking over at Bud who was nodding in agreement. “Of course we had no idea what had happened; we filed a missing person report but obviously that never got anywhere. So honey, you ain’t got no idea how you got up there or nothing?” Connie asked Wallenda.
“No idea whatsoever,” Wallenda responded, still in the embrace of the financial counselor.
Connie started to get up out of her chair but fell back into her seat. Bud saw her and rushed out of the room into the bathroom medicine cabinet and returned with a tapered bottle with a round green cap. He unscrewed the cap and held it under her nose saying “take a sniff of this camphor honey.” Connie took a good hit on the bottle and sat quietly for a couple of minutes. Monroe was still standing embracing Wallenda; he whispered in her ear “I’m gonna go for it,” and Wallenda nodded. Wallenda had been shocked when Monroe Phillips had sprung this whole marriage thing on her but after some reflection she decided she was ok with it. She knew Money had a lot of cash socked away and also was aware of a substantial sum in the stock market, having paid quite a bit of attention to Money’s mail. Money released Wallenda from his hug and walked over to where Bud was sitting, having sufficiently revived his wife.
“Mr. Gibson,” Money said, standing directly in front of Bud and looking him squarely in the eye, “I have come here today with a joyous heart and an imploring question to ask you. When two people are in love like myself and your lovely daughter Wallenda it is traditional that there should be a formalization of the relationship, to show the world that they belong to each other. I am a traditionalist and that is why I am here today. Will you all please bow your heads as I pray.” As Money Phillips uttered this last phrase he turned to look at Connie and Wallenda; Corrine looked as if she had just seen Jesus and Wallenda was inwardly rolling her eyes and wondering how long this shit was going to take.
“Dear Omnipotent and omniscient Heavenly Father, I beseech you to give me strength to ask this most important question of your humble servant Bud Gibson, in Christ’s name I pray. Amen,” Monroe said, his mellifluous voice ringing out in the small den. At the word “amen” both Bud and Connie caroled “amen” while Wallenda’s inward eyerolling escaped to the exterior; fortunately everyone else had their eyes shut tight while the prayer was going on. At the conclusion of his prayer Monroe Phillips looked at Bud Ryan and said “Mr. Ryan, I now ask for the hand of your daughter, Wallenda, in marriage.” Corrine squealed in delight while Bud had that shocked look on his face like the time when he swallowed his snuff at church, but Bud did manage to croak “sure”. Money Phillips grabbed Bud Gibson’s hand and shook it vigorously and then turned to Corrine at which time he received a big hug from his future mother in law. Wallenda smiled beatifically as she thought of how she was going to present her little plan to her now fiancé, but she did have the sense of mind to go over and hug Monroe to make things look normal.
The four of them sat around for a good thirty minutes discussing when and where the wedding would take place, Wallenda opting for a small affair with family and just a few friends. Everybody thought this was a good idea, especially Bud, for he was known for being a man of frugality. Connie had prepared a light lunch for everyone, but before they went into the kitchen to dine Wallenda was able to get Monroe’s attention and motion toward the porch. Money caught the sign and said “we need to get a few things out of the car. Excuse us please.” When they got out on the porch Money Phillips looked at his bride to be and grinned broadly; “ain’t lost my touch, have I baby.” Wallenda was doing her inward eyeroll again but was hiding it well.
“Honey, that was just wonderful, and the way you led into asking for my hand with that beautiful prayer, well I declare if that wa’nt just brilliant. But you know this thing has been so emotional, so after we have lunch let’s tell them that we are going back home later this afternoon and when we leave maybe we can go let off a little steam. There’s this joint most of us kids in Bessemer City used to go to when we were in high school. It is down in the edge of South Carolina off Union Road and has got the best cheeseburgers in the world and good ol’ cold beer. Maybe we can go down there for a few drinks to celebrate. Whaddaya think baby?” Wallenda looked at Money Phillips and reached down and grabbed the business between his legs and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Money’s eyes bugged out a bit but he recovered quickly and said “sure baby” and they went to the car and secured the two token gifts they had brought to Bud and Connie and went back into the little white frame house.
Andy Hester was sitting at the bar chatting with Lucy; it was seven o’clock and Andy noticed that Lucy was starting to sort of bounce between the counters behind the bar. Brian and Lucy were pretty efficient bartenders but it was widely observed that both of them would be pretty drunk early in the evening. Andy thought of this as he watched Lucy and then saw Brian come careening around the corner with a tray full of the Frogman’s finest cheeseburgers. Brian was grinning broadly and winked at Andy as he went by. Brian had taken quite an interest in the pending arrival of the soon to be Mrs. Monroe Phillips, but he had cautioned Andy not to mention anything about it in front of Lucy. Lucy was very, very, jealous, to the point that if she could imagine that her husband was messing around with some other woman she would automatically assume it was true. This vivid imagination on the part of his mate of twenty five years caused Brian to be an extremely cautious man. Of course the mattress was placed in the shot room while she was not around; additionally, Lucy never came in there because “that bunch gets a little too wild and drunk”.
Andy had mentioned Wallenda’s visit to a couple of guys; for old times sake he had called up Bellyboy, and he would be there with his trusty banana. Dirty Dave Hoffman had dropped by about an hour before and in conversation Andy had told him about Wallenda and he had begged to be in on it and Andy had relented. Then Ray Hall had moseyed in and remembering that he was one of Wallenda’s favorites from days gone by Andy tipped him off. Ray was ecstatic and set up the bar in his celebration. As time had passed and the drinks had flowed Andy brought in a few more to the “secret” gathering. When he reflected a moment and realized that the number of “potential participants” was north of ten he had an uneasy moment, but when he thought about it a while he came to the conclusion that if there weren’t that many that ol’ Wallenda would be greatly disappointed, considering her capacity for volume.
Andy left the counter and went over to sit in a booth; after a few minutes he caught Brian’s eye and motioned for him to come over. Brian sat down across from Andy and sipped on his Jack and coke drink as Andy explained a problem and a solution.
“Brian, the way I see it if this party is gonna come to be we got two people we gotta take care of, Lucy and Wallenda’s betrothed.” Brian nodded in agreement and said “well I really hadn’t figgered on that, but you got yourself a point, a very good point. You got a idea on what to do, Andy?”
Andy grinned at the bartender and pulled four small blue capsules out of his pants pocket. “These are tuinal, and they will take care of things,” Andy said. Brian looked at Andy inquisitively and said “how is curing their headache gonna help, and for that matter how do we know they gonna have one,” Brian asked.
Andy Hester laughed out loud; “not Tylenol, but Tuinal. They are real strong barbiturates. Some people call them ‘downers’. All I know is two of them will knock your ass out; so when they get here and get settled in I will give you a sign and you put the powder from two of the capsules in Monroe and Lucy’s drinks. That shit works pretty fast; they will be snoring in less than an hour”.
Brian’s eyes lit up and he grinned; he was really looking forward to what he hoped would be a wild ass night, and the idea of not having to worry about Lucy being around made the whole scenario even more exciting. “You know that Clarence is shore nuff gonna want some more of that stuff, right Andy?”
“No doubt, and I got me an idea ‘bout that too. A friend of mine name of Punch Taft has got a video camera and a tripod and he has gotten into making porno movies, mostly of him and his wife. I know ‘cause I went over to his house one night with my girlfriend at the time to eat supper with Punch and his new teenage wife. Well, after supper we went into the living room to have a drink and ol’ Punch had a projector set up and a sheet tacked up on the wall. I remember him grinning at us and askin’ if we wanted to see a home movie; we said sure and Punch started up the projector. It showed a man and a woman taking their clothes off; the shot was kind of far off but when it got closer we could tell that not only were we gonna see a genuine porno movie, but the stars were our hosts. It wuz funny as hell and they did everything in the world, and whoever wuz running the camera was purty good at closeups. I can get him down here and get him to come in through the kitchen with his equipment. I am perfectly sure Wallenda won’t care and I know we would never forgive ourselves if we didn’t have film of Clarence doin’ his frog dance from behind on lovely Wallenda,” Andy said, and both he and Brian erupted in raucous laughter.
Wallenda was giving Monroe Phillips directions down 321 South into Gastonia and then over to Union Road into the edge of South Carolina and they were chatting about their meeting with Bud and Connie.
“I think momma and daddy liked you pretty good, Money,” Wallenda cooed, rubbing Monroe Phillips’ thigh. Monroe smiled as he guided the big Roadmaster onto Union Road.
“It ain’t too awful far, maybe six or seven miles; when you see the ‘entering South Carolina’ sign it will only be ‘bout a mile. I just know that you will like this place honey, but I want to warn you that I am liable to run into some of my old classmates from Bessemer City High School and I know how jealous you can be,” Wallenda said as she applied bright red lipstick on her full lips.
Monroe Phillips’ eyes narrowed when Wallenda said this and he glanced over at his fiancé. He knew she was telling the truth and that he was extremely jealous when Wallenda was around other men. Of course there had been those times with Clarence the Frogman, but those were different days and mostly forgotten. Money was satisfied that Wallenda would not stray; after all, he had badgered her into the Frogman affair. As he thought of this his eyes softened and he realized that his woman was just being practical and that he needed to control his nutty jealous brain.
“Don’t you worry none, Sugarpie, I will be okay, and I promise not to be over protective. Why any man that could call himself a man would be crazy not to want you. But I trust you and I believe you when you tell me that the only men you have ever been with are me, Clarence, and that guy Leonard from the Parkdale Mill, so you don’t need to worry your pretty little head ‘bout ol’ Money Phillips,”Monroe said as he passed the sign welcoming them to South Carolina. In about a mile they came to a stop sign and there across the road was a one story building with a large red and white sign on the top proclaiming “Meadowbrook Supper Club”. It was nearly seven o’clock and the dust and gravel parking lot had several cars in it; Monroe and Wallenda got out of the Roadmaster and approached the screen door to the bar. They walked in and took a seat in a booth; there were only a few people sitting on the stools at the bar but they could hear people talking in the large room to the left of the bar.
Brian had seen them enter and was over in a minute with a menu and ice water. “How can I help you”, Brian said and then “well I swanney, is that you Wallenda?”
Wallenda smiled broadly and said “of course Brian, and I want to introduce you to my future husband Monroe Phillips. We have just come from my parents’ house where Monroe very graciously asked my daddy for my hand.”
“Why hello Mr. Phillips, so good to see ya. I tell you you have got yourself a fine girl here. A real looker and a smart one too,” Brian said, stifling a leer.
Money Phillips beamed and put his arm around his woman. “Yessir, I know what I got, and I plan to hang onto her,” Monroe said, the last part of the sentence accompanied by a rather hard look in the direction of the bartender. Brian ignored the look and handed them menus.
“We won’t need those, Brian, since I have been braggin’ on how good your cheeseburgers and fries are. Bring us both a order of them and two blues in a long neck bottle”, Wallenda said as she squeezed Money’s thigh. Brian left with the order and brought back the beer and headed off to the kitchen.
Wallenda squeezed Monroe in his crotch and looked at him like she was gonna screw him on the spot. “Now don’t you let that green eyed monster jump out of you, you hear,” she said and gave him a big smile.
“I’m sorry baby, it’s just that I love you so much and I can’t stand the thought of you being with another man. Sometimes I think about the old days with Clarence and then I think about that guy Leonard at the mill and it just drives me crazy,” Monroe said, looking a little sheepish and ashamed.
“Don’t you worry about a thing honey, little Wallenda is saving it all for you. Tonight you can have an all you can eat buffet,” she said, winking at Money. This made him smile and he didn’t have any more jealous talk. Just then Andy Hester walked up and said hello.
“Why Wallenda, so good to see you. Brian said you were out here with your fiancé. How wonderful to see you sir,” Adrian said, smiling and extending his hand. Monroe shook hands with Andy and even asked him to join them. Andy accepted the invitation and sat on the other side of the booth.
“Guess you have known my little woman a while, huh,” Monroe Phillips said, trying to hide a hard look.
“Sure, at Bessemer City High Wallenda was one of the purtiest girls and well liked. She was the head cheerleader senior year and used to lead us in the school song. She had such a lovely voice. You sang in the choir at Antioch Church also, didn’t you?” Andy asked, continuing to smile at the two of them.
Andy watched as Wallenda talked about her cheerleading and singing at church. He was laughing inside as he thought about Wallenda and her head cheerleader designation. “If anybody ever knew about head it was most assuredly Wallenda,” he thought to himself. As they sat there and drank beer and chatted Monroe seemed to warm up to Andy; Wallenda took this as a very good sign and figgered that she had weathered Monroe’s little jealousy storm.
Andy called Brian over and said “bring me and my friends three more long neck blues please.” When Brian brought the beers Andy held his bottle up and said “to an old friend, and a new one,” and they clinked the bottles together. The three chatted casually, Andy inquiring about Wallenda’s parents and about Monroe’s financial advisor business. After they finished the beers Andy walked up to the counter where Brian was standing to order three more beers.
“Tuinal time”, he said, giving Brian a wink. “And remember to dose up Lucy also.” Brian set about emptying the capsules into the beer and the Jack and Coke that Lucy always sipped on. He smiled at what he felt like was going to be his pending great fortune and carried the beers over to their table, being sure that Monroe received the correct one, then took the dosed drink to his wife.
Andy was a “talker” and he was in very good form. He filled Monroe in on some of the local idiomatic expressions; “you know around here people don’t say the word ‘idea’, they pronounce it ‘idee’. One time in high school Terry Guess and some other boys were riding up and down Franklin Boulevard on a Saturday night and got pulled over by a Gastonia policeman. Well the cop came up to Terry’s window and said ‘have you got any i.d.’ That’s when Terry said ‘idee ‘bout what’, and he wuz dead serious.”
Wallenda and Monroe laughed long and hard at this story. “Yessir, seems that the true stories are funnier than anything that you can make up”, Andy said, noticing that Monroe was still laughing. “Reckon the tuinal is kickin’ in,” Andy thought to himself as he smiled at the two. Andy decided he might take a chance that Monroe was loosening up a little and tell a little more risqué but equally true story. He figgered that it would be good to direct the story at Monroe.
“Monroe, couple years back this boy by the name of Roger Hassler did something that I bet you ain’t never heard of,” Andy said. Monroe was looking attentively at Andy and said “well what was it?”
“Roger wuz an older guy, not a bad fella, but it did seem a little strange that a twenty year old guy would be palling around with a bunch of fourteen year olds. I ain’t sure what wuz goin’ on there, but I do know with absolute certainty that what I am gonna tell you is true. Course I wa’nt there, but my buddy Kong Hoffer wuz,” Andy said. “You ‘member Kong, dontcha Wallenda?” Andy said, and Wallenda nodded in agreement.
“It was a blistering hot day in August, and Roger Hassler and his little gang showed up behind Summey’s Drug Store, back there in the alley, with a watermelon. Ol’ Roger set that watermelon up on top of a barrel to where the melon wuz ‘bout waist high. Then he got his pocket knife out and proceeded to core it. I remember ol’ Kong saying that he thought Roger wuz just checking to see that it was good and ripe, but that wa’nt it at all”, Andy said, and paused to take a drink of PBR.
Monroe was listening closely and focusing on the story. He was not having as much success with focusing his eyes, things getting slightly blurry. “Guess I drank those beers a little fast,” he thought to himself, and then asked “what happened then Andy?”
Andy was watching Monroe carefully, and thought he could hear a slight slur in his voice, so he went on with the story, deciding to tell it graphically instead of cleaning it up. “What happened then wuz that Roger dropped his pants and showed a big hard on and proceeded to screw that melon. Kong said it beat anything he had ever seen, and I know fershure it is true ‘cause two other boys that were there swore to it also,” Andy said.
Monroe had been taking a big drink out of the long neck blue when Andy got to the watermelon screwing moment and when he started guffawing he shot beer three feet across the table and all down the front of his shirt, barely missing Andy. Wallenda got up from her seat to let Monroe get out and go to the restroom to clean up. When she sat back down and before Monroe got back Andy quickly explained about the tuinal dosings to Monroe and Lucy and even had time to tell her about Punch Taft and the video camera and the fact that the cheeseburgers had been done by none other than her old buddy Clarence the Frogman. Wallenda laughed and said “I was beginning to wonder how we could make this work, but I see you were way ahead of the game.” Andy quickly mentioned the “shot room” and the mattress before Monroe staggered back to the table. Wallenda stood up to let Monroe back in the booth and he slid across the seat and kind of slumped down.
“Sorry, Andy old buddy, but that was one hell of a shtory,” Monroe managed to get out. “I tell you what Walllyender, these beers are kickin’ my ass, I mean really kickin’ my ash,” Monroe said.
“Oh, you’ll be fine honey, don’t you worry ‘bout nothin’,” Wallenda assured him.
“I swear, I am gettin’ so shleepy, I can hardly keep my eyes open,” Monroe Phillips slurred. “Andy old buddy, if I take a little nap you will take good care of my woman, won’t you?” Monroe said, trying to focus his eyes.
“You better believe it, my good friend. She will be in the best of hands,” Adrian said, winking at Wallenda who was grinning broadly. And with that Wallenda and Andy helped Monroe into the adjacent room where there were a couple of sofas, one of which was already occupied by Lucy, her loving husband having steered her in that direction just minutes before. Monroe collapsed onto the sofa and immediately started snoring loudly, and Andy took Wallenda by the hand and headed toward the “shot room”.
Brian was nothing if not organized. He had placed eleven chairs in a circle around the mattress in the shot room. The magic number was fourteen when you added Andy, himself and Clarence. Frogman was tending bar while Brian got things together; as the chosen ones came in he had them draw a number from one to eleven from a hat. Brian had taped numbers onto the chairs so that there would be no confusion about who would be next in line. Of course it was understood that Andy Hester would be first and that the Frogman would be last; Brian figgered that he would just jump in whenever. Punch Taft had his camera set up and was ready to go. The chairs were full, Bellyboy sitting in the number six slot beaming, holding his customary banana. Brian had everything prepared early and the guys were hitting the shots hard when Andy tapped on the locked door and Brian went over and opened it. Wallenda sauntered in and waved at everybody; then she slipped off her dress and started prancing around the circle in her white slip, saying hello to all of her old buddies. Andy had already undressed and was “ready to work and at attention” as Wanda pulled the slip over her head revealing her generous titties; then she lay down on the new mattress and crossed her legs, exposing her shapely ass.
“Alright boys, this is what you are gonna get, so I want you to take a good look at it. Like my ancestors in Germany would say when asked if they were ready to get it on ‘Ferfukinshur’.”Everyone cheered when Wanda explained that “Ferfukinshur” was not a real word but one she had made up for the occasion.
“Come on Andy, let’s get this show on the road”, Wallenda hollered and Andy obliged. After Andy’s deposit the numbers followed, everyone having a wonderful time and drinking shine and whooping and hollering. The loudest cheers came when Bellyboy assaulted Wallenda with his banana; the little fat boy lay on his back and held the end of the green banana in his mouth while the guest of honor lowered herself on the fruit over and over.
Brian took his turn after the last number and then went out front to check on Clarence. It was after eleven and there were only a couple of stragglers left so he told the Frogman to get rid of them and lock up and then come on back for his time. Brian had never seen the little man move so quickly as he ushered the two teenagers out the door and locked it behind them.
“Come on Froggie, your woman awaits”, Brian slurred as he opened the door to the shot room. Clarence shed his clothes quickly and jumped on the mattress where a grinning Wallenda waited, no worse for the wear, and in no time he had got her situated and was doing the “frog dance” from behind to wild cheering from the crowd. Brian brought Punch Taft another drink and made sure that he was getting this memorialized; Punch downed the heavenly elixir and assured Brian that he had it all and that it was “hands down the very best home movie I have ever made.”
Brian had long since quit charging for the Oodley Creek and vast quantities had been consumed. As Clarence and Wallenda finished up and collapsed on the DNA laden mattress Andy Hester yelled out to get everybody’s attention and walked over and stood where Wallenda and the Frogman were lying.
Andy was looking a little funny and kind of sniffling; Brian had seen his friend get real emotional when he had a lot to drink, so he was not surprised when he heard what Andy had to announce.
“Boys, I know that ‘bout everybody in here attended Bessemer City High School, some of us even graduating.” This comment brought some laughter but died down as Andy continued, tears welling in his eyes.
“In honor of our esteemed guest I think it only proper that we pay tribute to our head cheerleader with the singing of the Bessemer High school song, a wonderful song written by Assistant Principal Pasour Markus,” Andy Hester announced, and everyone stood up and placed their hand over their heart and as Wallenda stood and a copious mixture of liquids dripped from her orifices they sang “Bessemer the school that stands for right, Proudly we hail thy name, Proudly we hail thy colors bright, the gold and the black, And when the game is o’er and done, In victory or defeat, We’ll sing to the school that’s best of all, Oh Bessemer the school for me.” As they sang the last line everyone moved their hand from over their heart and pointed it toward their chest. Then as Brian cracked open another jug of Oodley Creek’s finest the gang hoisted Wallenda Rhinehardt aloft and carried her around the room, singing the school song over and over while tears rolled down Andy Hester’s cheeks.