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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Picket Wire
by Dennis Brock
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Don't Stand on a Miracle          

I was over at the Pipple's Diner waiting for lunch when a nun walked in. She should have been in the cafeteria at St. Pat's like all the other nuns, but she was in the Pipple's Diner ordering an egg sandwich and piling on the ketchup when it did get served. I guess there's nothing unusual about that. It just happened.     
     Walt Greenshaw came in after her and sat as far away as he could. Wondered if that was on purpose or a coincidence. Walt's a jerk and some nun toting a ruler could teach him a thing or two. Old Walt's a coward. He'd run off screaming like a girl if a nun approached him with a ruler. He did his time at St. Pat's. And that was before they had to watch themselves. He went to parochial school before parents got up in arms about nuns hitting kids. It wasn't abuse then. It was discipline.
     There's nothing to think about so I must've imagined Walt had memories of ugly Sister Bertha. Oh, she went by the name of Sister Miriam Michael, but we all called her Sister Bertha behind her back. She was about three hundred pounds and all of it mean. I saw her on some Memorial Day or something. Sometimes I drink a little too much and forget about things like days. She was standing all wasted away, only about a hundred and eighty pounds in her black habit. She still wears the habit even though a lot of them don't. I hear tell she had a stroke and lost lots of poundage. Still, I think she could terrorize like the best of them.
     This nun with the ketchup fixation was no Sister Bertha. She seemed like she could be easily scared by a rambunctious kid with a squirt gun. Nuns got no power anymore. They have to pay attention to parents like everybody else. Just because they're teaching in parochial schools don't mean they're saints.
     If I had a daughter, she'd never have to worry about Sister Mary Elizabeth making her stand so as to see if her skirt touched the middle of the back of her knee. I remember Sue Wendy Bellave standing so wierdlike to make her skirt touch the back of her knee so the nuns wouldn't call her mom. Didn't work, but it was a good show. I was there. I saw it all.     
     So there's this nun slopping ketchup all over the table but not on herself, gorging herself like she never heard of the sin of gluttony, when Officer Mitchkey comes in and slips in a puddle of water leaving the whole diner to laugh at him.
     There ain't nobody in town likes Officer Mitchkey. He's too full of the law and deciding who's right and who's wrong. He hits hard on who's wrong. So there's a diner full of the lunchtime crowd laughing except this nun who likes ketchup. And Mitchkey gets up all red and pissed and ready to cuff someone to haul him in for interrogation. He stands up and glares at us all so as to say, if he stops any of us for speeding, he's going to nail us with the biggest fine possible.
     Stupid fool don't know, no amount of fining's going to stop any speeders. Maybe make them cautious around Elk Street where it crosses Plum, his favorite hangout in the squad car. That's where there's three block of fading town, where the road turns into Route 8 and you can suddenly go 55 and no one can do a thing about it. It's just a long straight street so you can build up steam early. Mitchkey is such a jerk.
     I have to leave and I say to him, "Good job, Lucius." That being his given name. Once Old Mary McGruder yelled at him for three minutes flat when he tried to tell her she couldn't water her lawn and flowers on a Tuesday because her watering day was Wednesday due to the drought. It rained two days after he tried to fine her.          
     Like I said, he's an idiot.
     So I leave the Pipple's Diner and head along Liberty Street thinking, I have to do something soon or I'm going to be so broke that I won't be able to spend a lunch hour at the diner. Business has been so slow lately. I listened to Mark Sweetly when he said to go online, but I'm still broke and paying too much money to that bitch exwife.
     Never marry a woman named Hildie Edsel. Never been a good Edsel in the history of the world. Hildie ain't too bright but her mother told her to get my wages attached and since I work for myself and business ain't been too good, there's been nothing to attach. I listen to the phone threats and wonder if I have the nerve to shoot her in broad daylight on Liberty Street and then shoot myself. Some good paper coverage for the final fadeout.
     I don't have the nerve. I could shoot her easy enough, but I know I'd muck up the self-inflicted killing. What could I do in prison. What if I'm not a bitch to some good protector. What if I get a sleaze who farms me out for extra cigarette money. Could I do that?
     Well, the sad answer is, probably. You do what you have to.
     So prison isn't the scare that keeps me from a shooting spree. As I watched Mitchkey take a dive, all I could think of was, if I had to be arrested and carted off to jail, he'd probably be the one to do it. And I would have to shoot him just to get a respectable cop to do the job. Not a joke like Mitchkey. Cuss McCall would be all right. He's huge, always working out and people would respect you still if you were submissive to him. You wouldn't even think of whacking him one with some gun you can barely figure out how to shoot.
     Well, there you are. This idiot rambles in his thoughts and goes back into his room to work on the computer. To see if he's racked up any cash sales on eBay or Yahoo auctions. After all, I have to sell off my life to continue in the muck race called life. Money is the key and I don't have any. And what little I have, that bitchcake Hildie takes from me. It's time for all this to stop.     
     Then all I get is Mitchkey taking a nosedive in Pipple's Diner while a nun is munching ketchup on her eggs.
     What a life.      
     Where do I go from here.
You Don't Get AIDS with Telephone Sex     

I was down to the Sage Dime. It's this real cheap flea market where sometimes I can get a few bucks together on a Saturday. I always get there early and earn some money setting up the tables for the vendors. This Saturday, it's about 5:30 in the morning and I've been drinking a bit to get me going. I'm pulling them tables out of the closet, long bastards, eight feet by thirty inches. Heavy and still they're pretty beat up. It's a hot August day and I'm only wearing shorts and this gauzy shirt I got out of a mail order catalogue.
     I'm feeling good since Vince Clayton who owns the flea market told me he'd pay me extra if I oversee things that day. His daughter Melody is getting married. Girl's only seventeen and on her second marriage. Somehow, she ain't never had a kid. None of us can figure out why she does it. Vince says he's going to stop going to her weddings after she turns twenty.
     It's 5:30 and I'm pulling out tables, setting them up according to Vince's map. Whole sections are marked with: "These people're bringing their own tables." It's a moron's job but it's money.
     I see Tiffany Tiffany is on the list. She must be making them crap creatures on a stick again. In the fall, it's scarecrows on a stick. At Christmas, Santa and snowmen are on sticks. In the spring, it's Easter Bunnies and Jesus. She's got her suckers coming in for them and she dresses for them all. Just enough of that heaving bosom of her to entice the men who don't live in town and covered enough for the holy rollers.
     There there's Jimmy Mack on the list. I get out two tables for him. I'm about finished getting them in place when Jimmy Mack comes into the place carrying a big box. I tell him, I'm setting up his booth, just put the box down. Which he does, then I see he's wearing some of them bicycle shorts. You know, tight spandex with no underwear on under them. You can see all he's got cause they're bright green. He wears a stretched out tank top so you can see his nipples too. Jimmy Mack sells crap, but his table's always busy.
     Jimmy comes back with another box as I'm setting up a table next to his booth.
     "Kinda early, ain't ya, Jimmy," I says, being polite.
     "Haven't been to bed yet," Jimmy tells me. "Played poker all night. Won twenty-seven dollars but had to play six hours to get that. You know Sad Ackerman. He never quits."
     "Yeah. I know Ackerman." Worst gambler in town. Can't quit no matter how ahead he is. His wife, Leona, left him years ago. He works over at Fred's laundry service, doing people's wash and fixing machines. And he gambles so much that Fred lets him keep a bed in the backroom.
     Jimmy's spreading cloths over his table and bumping into me. His belly ain't as flat as it used to be. He ain't got a pot belly but them love handles is showing.
     "What ya selling today," I asks. All the tables are set up and most people start showing up around 6:30 or 7:00 and the flea market officially opens at 8:00.
     "Clay baskets. Glorie Divers made 'em. And some of my mother's jams and jellies. She's been canning for weeks now. Then a bunch of antiques."
     Jimmy's antique's are nothing but old crap. Rusted tools, some mismatched dishes and stuff like that. He always does pretty good.
     "You should learn about antiques," Jimmy says.
     I take out a cigarette.
     "When you know what you got, you can make money on the sorriest looking piece of shit. Think of all them people coming up from Pittsburgh and the money they got."
     Pittsburgh's over a hour away, but they're willing to travel for weekend entertainment.
     "Why do you think I dress this way," Jimmy says. Ladies brush me all the time. It's always an accident whether they touch my balls or my ass. They get a little thrill and buy something for the thrill.
     "So you're a kinda whore?"
     "Aren't we all?" Jimmy smiles those big beautiful teeth of his. "What kind of whore are you, Jeffrey Tanner?"
     "Maybe if I watch you, I can work on my selling skills."
     "How's the internet business?"
     "Slow. Hildie's mad as hell, but there ain't no more money to attach."
     "You gotta get her married off. What about Mitchkey. He should be handy for something."
     "Yeah, right." I'm smoking and Jimmy's bending over and unpacking. Vince ain't coming in today. And I'm horny as can be. "Take them shorts off and let me see what you got." It was a thought and I was surprised when I heard myself speak them words.
     Then, Jimmy grabs the side of them tight revealing shorts and pulls them down.
And he pulls the shirt off too.
     "We been here before, Jeffrey."
     I know it and I let him get real close and I let him touch me where I ain't been touched in a long time. Jimmy's groping me and I'm liking it but I have to stop him. "How old you now Jimmy."
     "Why, Jeffrey. Thirty-two. You know that." He's got my fly open and he's in my shorts getting me hard and anxious.
     I sigh and pull his hands away. I see he's hard too and I grab his cock and stroke it. "Maybe later." I say and walk away. Jimmy waits for me to turn around and he goes on setting up his booth with no clothes on. He goes out to his car and comes back and stays buck naked til 6:15. Or thereabout. I watch him and go over to help with a heavy box and I feel his ass and I notice he's lost a little bit of weight since I last saw him naked.
     "It's been a while, Jeffrey. How 'bout tonight. Give you all day to watch me work and get you revved up. He turns and puts his hand on my chest and he grinds his hips into me so I can feel his erection.
     "Sure." I says. "Why not."

A Dozen for a Dime     

So people start to coming into the flea market. Mostly people setting up, complaining they ain't got their table and they specified tables on their forms, which they did. It takes a while till they gets satisfied. I haul tables all over and listen to people moan and piss and piss and moan. Like I got nothing else to do.
     Herman Herschell comes in and he ain't paid yet. Vince left word that Herman don't get in less he pays so I have to strong arm him. Herman Hershell's a big guy and he talks a mean slime of shit. In the end though, Herman Herschell's a coward and I yell in his face. "Fifteen bucks or you're out!"
     He pays.
     Tiffany Tiffany comes over and shoves them big bazoombies of hers in my chest. "Oh, Jeffrey," she says in that little pout voice she gots. "I could use another table. I need to get my Jesuses on a stick out. Them Holy Rollers, why, they're buying me out. Can you get me another table, hon?"
     Tiffanny Tiffany is what every Barbie doll aspires to be. Big bazoombies that don't deflate as they get older. Tiny little waist always girdled with a tight belt. Big hips. My ma would've wanted child bearing hips, but ain't nobody ever to say Tiffany Tiffany gots child bearing hips. With her. It's all about sex. Nothing else.
     Jimmy Mack might wander round in tight spandex in colors so's his packet can be seen, now Tiffany Tiffany wear low cut belted things and just bout scares every man alive into an erection.
     I feel them nipples digging into the flesh of my chest and I can feel things stirring down below. Let me tell you. Tiffany Tiffany never gets a speeding ticket from a cop, 'cept maybe Mitchkey who's too stupid to know he could cop a feel. She's never stopped by Bible thumping men who want to convert her to Jehovah Witness or Born Agains.
     I swear I'll get her another table for her Jesus on a stick. Those breasts melt away from my body and I breathe. It takes a minute or two for me to get my breath back. I fetch another table for Tiffany Tiffany. I get her the best one left. It hardly has any scratches across the top and all the legs work. You don't have to prop this one up with anything.
     People starts to come in looking for junk to buy and I sit in back drinking coffee from Mae Ellen Sapron's snack bar. I get free coffee all day since I'm filling in for Vince. Mae Ellen's busy stoking her grill for hot dogs and burgers, though at this early hour she has Dunkin' Donuts that she overcharges for.
     Cuss McCall comes in wearing his cop uniform. He's making his first round for the day. Making sure people park where they're supposed to and not along Fred Early's road. Old Fred gets pissed when flea marketers block him in so's he can't get out. Old Fred never goes anywhere 'cept on flea market days. Then he only goes out to get pissed 'cause people's blocking him in.     
     Besides, Cuss likes to give tickets to the out-of-towners. They usually pay. Then the town makes money without getting the locals pissed off. That's Mitchkey's job, getting the locals pissed off.
     Cuss sits next to me but never says a word.
     "Jimmy Poole working today," I says just making conversation. Jimmy Poole's the Chief of Police what they hired from Connecticut. College degree guy. You know the kind.     
     "Jimmy's taking the goddam day off," Cuss says. "Hell, everyone knows he takes most shitting Saturdays off. Where the fuck you been."
     "Just making chat, Cuss," I says. "Don't get riled. Why you so hot."
     "Jesus, I just had to fucking haul some dumb asses car from fucking Fred Early's road. Some pissant city slicker shitting on me bout being fucking towed. And hell, I'm in fucking uniform today. Pissant little bastards. Think fucking just because they shitting spend their pissant money hereľ"
     It's a typical Cuss rant and he don't even work up steam. Just sort of fades away. "It's all fucking crap." Cuss says and walks away. He goes over to talk with Jimmy Mack for a while.

Grouch Elephant     

Not long after Cuss left me, Euphegenia Buntton walked in carrying her music stand and her violin. She always has that damned violin in a beat up old leather case her daddy done made for her. He probably was damned pleased with himself for killing that cow, butchering that meat, and tanning that hide. He fed Euphegenia well what with his wife dying young and all. Don't rightly remember what she died of. I wasn't born yet but I must've heard the story. Pretty dull then.
     Old Euphegenia sets out her music and sets down her violin and wait for her brother Luke to bring in her chair. She always totes round this big wing back monster and makes Luke do the heaving. Her daddy loved her, if you know what I mean, and didn't give a shit for Luke. Left Euphegenia all his money and left Luke with nothing. So Luke begs and pleads for what Euphegenia doles out and does nothing but grouse down at the Third Quarter about how he should've had half.
     Euphegenia sits her big bulk in that big chair and begins to play her violin. Mostly Mozart, since she's really too stupid to know of anybody who ain't already been in a movie. She played Gershwin for a long time. I don't know much about that classical music, but I do know Gershwin never meant for Euphegenia Buntton to play any of his. She squeaks and she squawks and people drop money in her case because when a woman's over 250 pounds and not five feet five, you give her what she wants.
     Ain't never been a Saturday when Euphegenia Buntton feels she should pay any money for the space she takes up. Vince gave up years ago thinking he could part her from a penny.
     So Euphegenia starts to squawking, the people starts to come in and they talk a lot. Place is noisy and I need a drink. I sneak into the office into Vince's secret stash of whiskey under the desk. Vince thinks no one will look in his trash bin but I have a couple of belts before I can go back out.
     It's going to be a long day.
     I sit in the office and look out through the window watching the floor. The office is upstairs from the flea market and Vince always watches the vendors. Sees who's slipping someone elses stuff onto their table. Old Vince is cheap and thinks he should be making money more 'n he is. There's always some pretty thing he wants to get upstairs so's he can have a little fun. But me, I just sit there watching who comes in.
     Jimmy Poole, our policeman from Connecticut, comes in and talks with Cuss. Ludi comes in. For a woman who makes her living balling the men in town, she still looks real good. She piles that hair real high but she's solid and firm and what every man wants. Least ways enough of them to make living profitable.
     My ex comes in and goes over to Jimmy Mack's booth and does some feeling maneuvers. I see Tiffany Tiffany's busy with a holy roller who dropped his Jesus on a stick into her bosoms. Them men are perverts, if you ask me.
     Clyde Brickhaemer is selling old tools in the corner and he's talking with Lou Ellen Peevey. His wife's visiting her mother, I hear tell. Mitchkey comes in and makes a beeline for Jimmy Poole and Cuss. Ramona Washington is selling cheap jewelry and making eyes at Cuss who's busy listening to Mitchkey who's all hot about something.
     Jimmy Poole leaves with Mitchkey and who walks in but that ketchup loving nun from the diner. She's with a couple of other nuns. None of them's wearing the habit but they all's got the veil on. Go figure a nun.
     It's shaping up to be a typical day at the flea market so I pour another drink. I know I'll have to make a trip to the liquor store to get another bottle before the day's over.
     And Euphegenia squawks clear through the cieling to me so's all I hear is her terrible playing. Fat cow of a woman.

Whiskey in a Plastic Jug

I guess I drank more of Vince's whiskey than I thought. I woke up and it's about two in the afternoon. Somebody's bound to tell Vince I was farting around and not helping out so's I gets downstairs real fast and make myself visible.
     Tiffany Tiffany is almost out of Jesus on a stick and is busy talking with Ethel Fromme, the local hotshot holy roller. They're drinking from paper cups, some sweet goo from Mae Ellen's cart. Jimmy Mack's sitting by himself. All his lady friends have moved on and he's just rubbing himself a lot, getting aroused enough for some woman late to the flea market to take a interest. He's smoking a cigarette and some ditz is yelling at him. He just rubs himself some more and she huffs off.
     I get to hear her complain and I say I'll take care of it even though I do nothing. She leaves after talking to me anyway. Shirley Besterman is at Jimmy's booth and she looks as if she's going to lock onto Jimmy's privates and he looks scared. Shirley ain't that big but she can beat the hell out of her husband George and he ain't no midget.
     Then I notice something I ain't noticed before. Euphegenia ain't squawking from her monster chair. Her chair's there and that damned violin is beside the chair. I ask Mervin Wexler where she got to. Mervin is deaf and always gets put near Euphegenia. He just comes back with "What!"
     "Euphegenia! Where's Euphegenia!"
     "Bathroom, I guess." Mervin goes back to selling his wife's homemade soaps and potpourris. Edwina Wexler makes nice soaps. I always gave my mama some for Christmas.
     Luke will show up at five to haul her home so I don't give Euphegenia no mind. Alan Shingledecker is hollering for all his girls to get the hell out to the car. He's going home.
     Mabel Sapwith is sitting on a bench watching the floor like she was Vince's wife. I know she'll tell Vince I disappeared for nearly five hours. He won't pay me now less'n I make real good and kiss up to him. You got to ply him with winning compliments and all of it's lies, but he don't care.
     Tiffany Tiffany cames over to me and pins me against the wall with them big titties of hers. "Jeffrey, honey. I'm all out of stuff to sell. I'm going to leave early. You won't tell Vince will you? I don't want him to fine me for leaving early."
     "Tiffany Tiffany, sweetie, you know, Mabel Sapwith will tell him. You better stay. It's almost four."
     "But Jeffrey, honey," and she nails me with her hand around my balls. "I want to go home. I'm tired."
     "Okay. Okay. I'll tell Vince you got sick and went home."
     Those expert hands leave my groin and I breathe easy again. I'm going to have to plow Jimmy Mack tonight or I'll go crazy. I ain't had sex in so long and I know that Tiffany Tiffany would never actually go to bed with me. I got nothing to give her. And she needs things if you're going to have sex with her.
     Why Ben Kensett had to buy her a meal at the Ponderosa and take her dancing to spend an hour at her house. And Tiffany Tiffany eats a lot. Them hooters need something to grow on.
     Carl Sandler had to take her clean to Pittsburgh so she could see something called Cirk duh Solay before he spent a night.
     Rickie Rumford took her over to Youngstown to see a psychic when her grandma died and Tiffany Tiffany wanted to talk to her in a séance. But Rickie Rumford got a peck on the cheek and "Ain't you sweet." When he got her home. He never even got inside her front door.
     So I wander over to Mabel and say, "Tiffany Tiffany ain't feeling too good. She looks kind of pale. I told her to go home."
     "She looks fine to me," Mabel says back.
     I just leave her alone.
     "Where you been all day, Jeffrey?" Mabel shouts at me. "I'm watching you, boy. Vince'll hear about this."
     "I've been here Mabel," I says. "What are you drinking today?"
     Everybody in town knows Mabel likes her vodka and Sprite.
     "You're a damned liar, Jeffrey. Worse there is!" Mabel yells at me.
     Everybody knows Mabel has to have the last word so's I just walk away.
     I sit down at Jimmy Mack's booth and start to talk but I don't get much out before Jimmy Mack says, "That old bitch Shirley Besterman, you know what she tried to pull on me? A goddam wedgie like I was still in grade school and she was storming round the playground looking for someone to torment."
     "What'd you do?" I asked. Some people can get the better of Shirley and she knows enough to pick on people smaller'n her.
     "I bit her tit," Jimmy Mack says with pride. "I bit her fucking tit. That's all it took. If you wasn't talking to Mabel, you would've seen it. I bit her fucking tit."
     I had to laugh. Shirley would never let on that someone Jimmy Mack's size caught her by surprise so's she'd never howl out. But I would've loved to see it. She probably punched Jimmy Mack one but he would've caught her off guard and it wouldn't've been much. Too bad I missed it.
     "Hey," Jimmy Mack says. "Whatever happened to Euphegenia."
     "Yeah. One minute she's playing her fiddle and the next she isn't there. I thought she must've went to the bathroom. But she never came back."
     "When did she go?"
     "Oh I don't know. I didn't see her there round eleven or so."
     "Luke'll know when he comes. Maybe she called him and he's just pissing round to make her mad."
     "Yeah," Jimmy Mack got a pleased look on him, "maybe she's throwing up in the toilet. You know, rumor is she make Luke sleep with her."
     "Oh, ha ha. Even Luke ain't that dumb.'
     "Coming over tonight, Jeffrey?"
     "Yeah, round seven. You better have something to eat."
     "I'll get some chicken."
     "How bout some ribs."
     "Sure. Seven then, Jeffrey?" He looked almost pathetic there for a minute and I almost said no. Ribs would be good and I could get a blow job afterwards.
     "Sure. Seven."

Cuddly Toy

Vince showed up as I was stacking tables back in the closet. I wasn't expecting him and had no lies ready for any question he was bound to ask me. Usually I have a couple of days to work out anything that might've gone wrong, sort of sift through the complaints and decide which ones to deal with
      "I hear Tiffany Tiffany left early," Vince says before I even say hello. "Not only that. Euphegenia Buntton disappeared. What the fuck is up with that? Luke done told me that when I walked in the door. Where've you been?"
     "Listen Vince."
     "Listen my ass. I trusted you," Vince reached for his whiskey but the bottle was empty. Hell I usually have time enough to replace it before he gets back. Why the hell's he back so soon anyway. "Fuck Jeffrey. Couldn't even leave me a drink. Hell, you ain't never getting this job again and I'll be damned if I'm going to pay you one red cent. That bitch of yours nailed me in the parking lot. When's the last time you gave her any of her money."
     "Ain't had none to give. Halle, she knows that. She's just making trouble."
      "Well, you ain't ahead nothing today. Where the hell is Euphegenia Buntton? Nobody saw her go? Where were you."
      "Look Vince-"
      "Get out. Get the hell out. I have to call Mabel Sapwith and find out what the fuck happened today. You're in deep shit, Jeffrey. No doubt about it. Now get out."
      Vince was so mad. What could I do. I got out.
      But I didn't get far. Cuss McCall nailed me in the parking lot. Everybody was practically gone and there's only a few cars left. Jimmy Mack's cleared out and I'm thinking about some good ribs. It's been a bad day and Vince wasn't supposed to be back so soon and Mabel's done shot off her mouth already and Tiffany Tiffany got me in trouble and where in hell was Euphegenia Buntton.
      "Hey, shit, Jeffrey," Cuss says. "Gotta fucking ask where the hell you been all goddam day. Christ, man, Luke's all ready to charge into court and claim Euphegenia's fucking cash, man. Pissant little slime bastard weasel.'
Cuss's swearing's a whole lot less since Jimmy Poole took over as police chief. Jimmy Poole keeps him in line like nobody can.
      "Shit, Jeffrey, you know what I found when I went over there."
      "Don't you guys have to wait a day or so before somebody's more'n missing?" I ask. I just want to go find Jimmy Mack and eat.
      "Het, it's Luke. He calls his fucking uncle down in Pittsburgh, you know, that bastard senator. Fucking State Senator, fucking shit. Ain't even some bastard who can do somefuckingthing. Fucking State Senator and you gotta fucking piss on him like he's a saint.. Goddam ass wipe."
      Cuss takes a minute to remember his train of thought, then says, "You know what the hell I saw in that fucking house he shares with his sister. His pissant whorebreath sister? I find one bed. Shit. The bastard sleeps in his whore sister's fucking bed! What're you supposed to make of that fucking crap. Take it down in a goddam book and make sure the pissant prosecution knows the old fart is fucking banging his sister. We all said he fucking hell did, but, man, shit, to actually see proof. That's one sick-" Cuss stops himself. "Shit, Jimmy says I gottta watch my language when I'm on duty."
      "What, you can't swear?" I get kind of playful with the thought of a clean mouthed Cuss McCall. "You can't say fuck."
      "Shut up Jeffrey."
      "You can't say shit. Or damn. Or Pissant."
      "Fuck you, you little bastard. You got a lot of explaining to do."
Just then Jimmy Poole pulled up in the squad car. Cuss McCall climbs in the car and they drive off. Cuss never asked me nothing and I began to feel pissed off again.
      I go over to my car and there's Harlene McDivitt leaning against it. She's a big one, she is. Mean and a friend of Hildie's.
      "Hildie told me to tell you she's taking the money you made today as part of what you owe her." Harlene swished her fat ass at me.
      "Ain't no money, Harlene. Vince ain't paying me."
      And I get in the car. Jimmy Mack is looking nicer every minute. I'm feeling so all alone all I want to do is to fall off the edge of the earth, but there ain't nowhere to do that anymore. Where do you go. Up the Amazon with man eating fish and worms that'll eat you inside out. Africa with AIDS and missionaries ready to reform you. Russia, that's too cold and I ain't crazy enough for that. Where do you go to fall off the edge of the earth.
      All I can do is drive and I drive for miles. Out of town. Anywhere but this pissant little shithole of a place in hell. I've just about had it. I can't make it ahead no how and all I do is try and catch up to yesterday's problems. I'm feeling fucked. Hildie wants my money. Vince ain't going to pay me. Ain't got no job. Nothing's selling on Ebay.
      What's wrong with my junk. It's just as good as anybody's and other people's getting bids on their stuff. What the hell does a person have to do to just break even.
      I'm pissing and moaning and driving and there I am at Old Fred Spivvey's farm. There's a nice swimming hole here. It's kind of private and quiet. Old Fred don't like kids being here, but he don't care about adults. So I pull over.
      The walk to his pond is nice. Not too long and it's easy. A person can walk it near drunk if he had a mind. I get to the edge of the pond and slip off all my clothes. It's a hot day and the water's warm as I settle in for a good soak. Ain't nobody around and I wouldn't care if there was. Even if that nun what likes ketchup so much was here, I'd strip down for a soak. I'm that upset with how the day turned out.
      I lie there and watch the sun.
      All the time I'm thinking. Tiffany Tiffany pushed them big bazoombies of her against me and all I got to settle for is Jimmy Mack. I ain't never going to get Tiffany Tiffany in a million years. She ain't refined like she thinks she is. Making Jesus on a stick sure don't make her holy.     
      One time I asked her, what's with these Jesuses on sticks, and she says to me, like it's not funny, "You put them in the ground so that Jesus is a foot or so off the ground. See these marks here," and she bent down so's I could see why all them holy men bought them stupid things, her tits look so good when you look down her blouse, "why I measured out inches so you can measure how much snow falls. See. I painted the numbers here."
      Jimmy Mack lets the women feel him up all accidental like and Tiffany Tiffany bends over so holy men get a look. What more to selling is there? Maybe I should buy a pair of spandex shorts and wear crap at the flea market. Then I could sell some crap and make some cash.
      I thought about it. I read those ads in the trader, in the Meet People section.
     Norman Feldman advertised to do nude housecleaning. I asked him how it went and he says he's got to clean for mostly horny men when he wanted to clean for horny women. He didn't make as much as he wanted and when some fat ass from Pittsburgh hired him, Norman almost beat the crap out of him. Women can touch his wanger, he told me, but not men. He let the men touch his ass and take pictures, but not his wanger.
     I could probably do that. Run a vaccuum while some horny summer crowd wierdo felt me up and gave me a blow job. Why if the money was good, and steady, I could do more. I understand why people turn into prostitutes. Desperation is a cruel boss.
     I soak for thirty minutes or so and I feel better. Jimmy Mack said he'd get ribs.

Rib Tickler     

I'm sitting on Jimmy Mack's couch eating ribs. He picked up some good ones. And cole slaw from down at Frenchie's. She sure knows how to slather beef, that Frenchie does. Can't remember her given name. Eulaelie or Mirabella or something.
     All the while I'm eating, Jimmy Mack's feeling me up. Not discreetlike neither, but full intense like he's ready to burst feeling me up. He's got my pants open and his hand working in my underpants like nobody else. And he's naked and working himself up and getting all excited.
     I keep telling him, take your time. We got all night. I ain't likely to do it more'n once. I ain't as young as I used to be. Over forty now, you know. Still he keeps going and all I wants to do is eat and the next thing you know Cuss McCall's coming through the front door telling Jimmy Mack he should learn to lock his door and maybe he should get some clothes on.
     Jimmy Poole's right behind Cuss and they're both near about laughing at Jimmy Mack and me. Jimmy just says fuck it and stops working me over.
     "I'm in my own home," he says and sits there all defiant like. And naked.
     Cuss just sits down and Jimmy Poole stands behind Cuss. They look like they're plotting something. Just like Elmo Hastings and Eugene Ledbetter used to look when they pulled another prank on the playground back when I was in grade school. I knew something was up.
     "Jeffrey," Jimmy Poole says. "We found Euphegenia Buntton this evening. Down by Fred Spivvey's pond. You been there today, Jeffrey."
     Course I didn't answer. I didn't see Euphegenia. Who could miss her. Seems like we got a lot of heffers in this county but they all are unique from one another.
     "Fuck, Jeffrey," Cuss starts.
     "Clyde," Jimmy Poole says stating Cuss's real name. "No swearing. Jeffrey, Old Fred Spivvey saw you down at his pond. He said you was buck naked and lying in the pond. Is there something you want to tell us?'
     "I was hot."
     "What about all the time you was gone from the flea market today? Nobody can remember seeing you from around ten o'clock until two or so. Where were you."
     Jimmy Poole don't ask no questions. He talks like there's nothing but what he's saying and you better listen up. I didn't feel right.
     "I fell asleep in the office upstairs. That's all," I says.
     "Fuck, Jeffrey," Cuss cuts in. "Damn. You make me swear, Jeffrey. I ain't suppose to swear. Not no more. But look here, man, where was you."
     "Who might have seen you, Jeffrey?" Jimmy Poole breaks in. Cuss just sits back and Jimmy Mack'' being naughty, flashing himself at Cuss.
     "Jimmy, that damned asswipe needs to get dressed," Cuss says.
     "Jimmy, put some clothes on. We got to take you both downtown for questioning."
     Questioning. I didn't know what to make of that. It scared me. Police always scare me even though I ain't never done anything really wrong. Leastways, never got caught. I tried to think what they wanted me for. So Old Fred Spivvey found Euphegenia down by the pond and he saw me naked. There ain't no connection. I don't know what high horse Euphegenia is on, her with her superior ways.
     Cuss shoves Jimmy Mack towards the bedroom and watches while Jimmy Mack gets dressed. Then we go downtown. Ain't no fun in the word when Jimmy Poole speaks it. Ain't no thought of going to Stookey's Bar for a beer or to Madam Irving's for another beer and some chance of catching one of Luti Ann's girls flashing. And winding up at the Third Quarter for another drink or two.
     Downtown now sounds dangerous and Euphegenia made up some lie about me. It's been a bad day. Maybe even that bitch exwife of mine has been to Jimmy Poole demanding I pay more money. I checked my eBay auctions this morning. There's some bids and I can get maybe two hundred together in a week or so. Maybe that'll tie her over so she leaves me alone.
     Then, I don't know what Euphegenia means to say about me. Probably something about the flea market. Maybe Vince has been to see Jimmy Poole too, but what could he do to me. Ain't illegal to fall asleep on the job.
     Jimmy Mack's dressed and we're in the back of the squad car heading downtown. Even here, Jimmy Mack is feeling me up and pulling my zipper down for some back seat sex. All the while Cuss and Jimmy Poole seem to be arguing about something but Jimmy Mack's got me so upset I can't listen clearly and just as we're pulling into the police station, Jimmy Mack's got what he wanted and I am just exhausted trying to keep it down. I never thought I'd explode like that in the back of a police car and Jimmy Mack just zips me back up, real careful like and has a big shit eating grin on his face.
     I just know, Jimmy Mack's going to tell all his fairy friends he did me in a police cruiser while Jimmy Poole and Cuss McCall was arguing in the front seat. Such is my legacy. What else is going to go wrong today.

Alone in a Group of Two

Jimmy Poole puts me in an office and takes Jimmy Mack somewhere else. The old separate them so they don't lean on each other technique. I seen it a million times in movies. Then who walks in but Mitchkey. God I hate that stupid bastard. Cuss walks by the door but he keeps on going. It's me and Mitchkey. All alone. Just the two of us.
     "You're in big trouble, Jeffrey," Mitchkey starts off. "Where've you been all day?"     
     This ain't going to be easy. Why didn't I get Jimmy Poole or Cuss. I hate Mitchkey and all I can think of is his landing on his ass at Pipple's Diner and everybody laughing. Guess I'm so nervous about how he says I'm in big trouble, all's I can do is laugh. Mitchkey took a good tumble at the diner and he ain't graceful to start with.
     "Don't you laugh at me, Jeffrey. I can get you locked away for a long time."
     His big bully stance ain't nothing but hot air. I can remember when Matt Drucker shoved him down a snowbank when he tried to tell Matt he couldn't park his truck there. Not even for five minutes. Nobody in town respects Mitchkey. That's why he ain't married.
     Hell, he even tried arresting Ludi once and the mayor put a stop to that. Sam Cash is mayor and he favors Ludi and her girls a lot. Especially now that his wife is in that home. You know the one where they watch to see where your mind went.
     I can't stop laughing and Mitchkey is getting hotter and he's screaming something at me and I laugh more til my sides start to hurt. When Jimmy Poole finally comes in and tells Mitchkey to go away, Jimmy give me some water and tells me to drink it down and to calm myself. Everybody wonders why he says things like calm yourself instead of calm down. Even stop it would be better. Must be some Connecticut thing.
     Anyway, I get myself together and wait for Jimmy Poole to begin.
     "Now Jeffrey," Jimmy says, "we got a problem here. We found Euphegenia down by Fred Stivvey's pond. And you were there swimming naked."
     "Lots of people swim naked there. Hell, I've even seen you down there."
     "I always have a swimsuit on."
     "It's pretty damned skimpy if you ask me. Don't hide nothing."
     "Be that as it may, Jeffrey, we found Euphegenia down there. What can you tell me about her, Jeffrey."
     "I didn't see her. Hell, last time I saw her was at the flea market. She was setting up to play that damned fiddle. You know she pisses people off when she plays that stuff and then she makes people scared so's they pay her a dollar before they can get away. She's a mean woman, that old bat is."
     "So you don't like her, huh, Jeffrey."
     Damn, I wish Jimmy Poole would sound like he was asking a question. He never even raises his voice a little at the end of one like Mrs. Woolfe told us we should back in seventh grade grammar class. Makes him sound like he knows something when he don't.
     "Nobody liked her," I says. "She was a mean old bat."
     "Did she give you a hard time at the flea market today."
     Why can't he ask a question proper. It's starting to bug me and I don't like the questions he's asking.
     "I didn't see Euphegenia at the pond today. Hell, I never even knew she liked swimming. I went out because I had a bad day. I went to the office this morning to get away from people and I drank too much of Vince's whiskey and I fell asleep. That's all there is to it. Then Vince comes back early and tells me he ain't going to pay me. Somebody complained about me letting Tiffany Tiffany go early. She's supposed to stay til five like everybody else."
     "Why'd you let her go early, Jeffrey."
     "Cause she's Tiffany Tiffany. She pushes them tits of hers against you and ain't nothing to be done."
     "What about Jimmy Mack?"
     This one scared me caused it was an actual question. He raised his voice at the end. What was Jimmy Poole up to?
     "What happened to Euphegenia."
     "She's dead, Jeffrey. Her body was found at Fred Spivvay's pond a little while after you were there. Can you tell me anything about that?"
     I don't know nothing. I was just upset and I wanted to cool off."
     "Why didn't you just go to Jimmy Mack's right after the flea market."
     No question again. Jimmy Poole was scaring the shit out of me.
     "Fred Early saw Jimmy Mack in the parking lot this morning and Jimmy Mack was stark naked. What do you know about that Jeffrey."
     "He was unloading his stuff."
     "Why, Jeffrey."
     I knew I was in trouble here. "I told him to take his shorts off. All I was was horny and I been having a bad week. My exwife wants money and Vince ain't paying me for today and Jimmy Mack is always available when you need some physical contact. You know how it is, Jimmy. I ain't exactly popular. I ain't young. Never going to see forty again. I ain't old with money. No gold digger's going to try to get some of my cash. What can I do. Can't afford Ludi's and that leaves Jimmy Mack. He'll give you a blow job when ever you need one."
     "Yeah, I noticed he gave you one in the back seat of the cruiser."
     "That going to look bad, Jimmy. You have to tell anybody that?"
     "No. You're secret's safe."
     "Did you do anything to Euphegenia after you killed her."
     Hell, I couldn't speak for quite a while. I was shaking and I began to sweat and I couldn't believe what I heard.
     "I didn't kill her, Jimmy. I just had a really bad day and I went out to Fred Spivvey's to cool off. Vince ain't-"
     "Yeah, yeah," Jimmy says like he don't believe me. "Do you want a lawyer. Remember Cuss told you your rights in the cruiser. Do you want a lawyer."
     "You really think it's me. What about Luke. He was gone all day. Nobody ever sees him once he drops off Euphegenia. He could've done it."
     "There were some marks on Euphegenia's body. What can you tell me about those, Jeffrey."
     "Marks? What kind of marks? I didn't do nothing. Oh, please, Jimmy. You got to believe me."
     I just couldn't help it. I began to cry and I wished they had put Jimmy Mack in the room with me and I sat there just bawling. Scared shitless and not knowing what to do. Jimmy Poole kept asking questions but eventually he left me alone.
     Hell, I was so scared. I've fucked up all my life. Never made a good decision. Married a money grabbing bitch and I'm still being hounded by her. No money. When it comes time to retire, there won't be any social security to draw on. I'm just hoping they'll see me as pathetic and put me on welfare. Old men find it hard to get a job.      
     I wait in that room for nearly an hour. I got to go to the bathroom but I'm afraid to ask. I hold it in as long as I can and I wait some more. All I can think of is I didn't kill Euphegenia. Luke must've done it. Cuss said there was only one bed in the house. There's lots of room in that place for more than one bed. Surely Euphegenia made Luke sleep with her. She must've been paying him to do it.
     Shit, once Luke stripped down to nothing in the Third Quarter for twenty dollars. Euphegenia kept him on a short chain and he was always looking for cash. But it was Peggy Shaw that gave him the twenty. I remember that. They went out to the parking lot after that and didn't come back for over an hour.
     "Okay, Jeffrey," Jimmy Poole says when he comes back. I been there near on two hours and I have to piss so bad. "You can go."
     I don't ask no question and I get outside real fast.
     For a minute I look for a dumpster to pee beside but think, don't do that. They'll get you on indecent exposure for sure and I hurry over to Pipple's Diner.
     It's been a bastard day.

Sunrise Ain't Nothing but a Postcard

Pipple's is open all night long. Never closes, so I hustle over there to use the bathroom and what happens is an accident. I swear, all I want to do is take a leak.      
     I rush in there and Rosalee Villegas is standing just inside the door looking at the parking lot. Now everybody knows Rosalee is lonely what with working there at Pipple's Diner from midnight to six and nobody comes in except for truckers and whatever cop is on duty. It's her job to mostly get caught up on dishes and mop the floors and get the place ready for Rudy Becker to come in and make his pies at four.
     I slam that door open with the force of a full bladder near ready to explode and run into Rosalee. And I didn't mean to do it but I grab her two little titties just because she's in the way and that's where my hands landed.
     She gets all hot and slaps me.
     "Damn you Jeffrey," she screams at me as I run for the john.
     When I get out Jimmy Mack is coming in the door all hot and pissed off. He's screaming at me, "What the fuck did you do, Jeffrey. Where were you when you were supposed to be at the flea market. I never saw you."
     "I was sleeping upstairs." Papers would later say this was my mantra. I had to look it up cause I never had no need for a mantra.
     "Mitchkey said they found Euphegenia down at Old Fred Spivvey's pond and she was dead and, shit, Jeffrey, she was naked." He shuddered in that over faggoty way he's got. "And, get this Jeffrey, Mitchkey said someone tried to saw off her head and her hand. Was that you Jeffrey. Was that why you wanted a blowjob tonight. You been putting me off for months. I said I'd give you one whenever but, no, not until you need an alibi do you come over. Well, shit, Jeffrey. I won't be your alibi. I told Mitchkey all I know. And I don't know shit."
     He goes to leave and I try to stop him.
     "Don't touch me Jeffrey. You think I want to end up down at Old Fred Spivvey's pond with my head cut off. You're never welcome at my house ever again." He looked like he was going to break down crying and I muttered something, don't remember what.
     "You killed Euphegenia Bunnton?" Rosalee asked me. She began to back up like and feel behind her for something. "You tried to cut off her head. What's wrong with you, Jeffrey. I always knew you were strange. I always said so. You best be getting on out of here, Jeffrey Tanner. You best move along now."
     Then Rosalee had her hand on a pie knife and was swinging it in the air and screaming like she was crazy and I just hightailed it out of there.
     Jesus Christ, this was the bad day to end all bad days.
I Wanna Know

So all's I can do is try and get some sleep. I check eBay and see that some china coffee pot I bought at a yard sale for two bucks is up to over two hundred and there's another couple of hundred in bids on other things. Things have to be looking up. Halley can't possibly trace this money and I can forget all about last night.
     I'm starting to feel better. Luke must've killed Euphegenia. Who else would give a damn. He had money coming if she died. I don't understand sawing off her head and hand. That's just odd. No sane man would do that. Maybe he'll get off with insanity and spend some time in a nut hatch.
     I don't sleep. I drive over to talk to Vince to see if maybe I can get some money out of him. The flea market only runs on Saturday. Sundays it's pretty empty unless someone wants it for a wedding reception or something.
      During the week, Vince lets other people use it. The ladies who pretend to be artists have naked models on Wednesdays. I've been pretty desperate sometimes and let them draw me. It's fifteen bucks and hour and you got to be there for three hours. Once I fell asleep during a lay down pose and they got a bit ticked off with me. You're supposed to concentrate. I had to concentrate hard to not get a boner that first time. Then Ellie Greenwater came in and set up her stuff and I looked at her as much as I could. Ain't nobody uglier'n Ellie Greenwater. Still she married Bob Greenwater. He's got that palsy, you know.
      Thursdays, the Women's garden club meets there. Fridays, it's some other group. They all pays Vince something. He ain't got no sense of charity. Vince even rents out space for teenager dances sometimes. He don't even give the hall to them for free. Guess everybody's got to make a buck.
      So I go into the building and go up the stairs to the office. I hear laughing and giggling but don't think much of it. Vince has Ronnie Sue Merton for a bookkeeper and Ronnie Sue likes to chatter and laugh.
      But when I get to the top of the stairs, I see Mabel Sapwith with no top on and no bra and Vince has his face buried in all her flesh and I hightail it out of there. Vince ain't never going to pay me if I interrupt that. Besides I don't want to see it.
      I get in my car and drive and before you know it, I'm at Old Fred Spivvey's pond.
      Now I like Old Fred Spivvey's pond. The water ain't too deep and it's always warm by August, clear to the six inches of mud on the bottom. You always feel better getting in it. It's like a mud bath at a spa and you just wash yourself off before getting dressed again.
      I want to strip down and soak for a while, but June Biddles is there with three of her kids and they're splashing around and making noise. I sit a long way from them and let my feet soak in the water. Pants are getting wet but I don't care.
     I lean back and close my eyes and before you know it I'm dreaming of Tiffany Tiffany and all the things I want to do to her.
     I'm taking off all her clothes and letting them boobies of hers out of that holster of a bra. I'm watching them fall out and I know they're perky as can be. They're firm and ripe and wanting sex like nobody's business. And I want to touch them and kiss them and fondle them. Only as I get close to Tiffany Tiffany, she pulls back and starts to disappear and fade from my dream.      
     Now this really pisses me off because ain't you supposed to get what you want in your dreams. Tiffany Tiffany could get rid of all the bad flavors left over from yesterday. She could ease my worries for quite some time.
     So what do I get. Old Fred Spivvey shaking me awake and telling me I best be getting home. I've spent the better part of a day there at the edge of the pond, he tells me and all I can remember is one lousy unfinished Tiffany Tiffany dream.
     Fuck, my luck is just going on in a bad way.
     June Bidddles and her kids are gone. Sonny Nadalman and Bert Crosby are swimming now. I can't see if they're wearing swimsuits and I'm curious. All I do is get up and walk back to my car.

Do Medicine Men Make Their own Pills?     

Life goes on as usual round here. Nothing to really get upset about. That's what everybody tells me even though I know they all think I tried to saw off Euphegenia's head off. Why don't they think it was Luke. He had motive and opportunity.
     Who else could lead that fat elephant away from her Saturday morning ritual. All he would need was some cock and bull story. He's done it a couple times before. Since nobody really suspects him. He was at Loodie Ann's and no doubt the local whore. Too many prominent men are familiar with Loodie Ann I guess. All I got is I fell asleep.
     Jimmy Mack won't even open his door so I can talk. He even called Mitchkey over once to tell me to leave him alone. Mitchkey just happened to be there. Either it was all planned or Mitchkey wanted a blow job. I think I'm being set up.
     I'm nervous all the time. What can you do though. I close all the eBay auctions and start to collect money. I have some good things I bought at yard sales over the summer and they're starting to move. The money helps.
     When I finally saw Vince, he said he decided to pay me for that Saturday, which was to be my last, but he gave the money to that bitch frog exwife of mine. Vince said he didn't feel at all sorry for me. If I was in trouble, shit, get a job, man.
     I did find that the ladies who do their naked man drawings on Wednesday afternoon wanted me to model for them so I did that a couple of times. Guess there's some kind of sex thrill about seeing me naked since everybody's thinking I done in Euphegenia and tried to saw off her head.
     Can't quite figure out why someone would want to saw here head off. I keep coming back to that. Then I think who uses saws a lot. There's George Lindhurst who has that tree service, but he was sawing down trees on Old Sadie Louise's property the day Euphegenia went missing. Sadie Louise was watching him close. His name did come up because of the saws but Jimmy Poole eliminated him right quick.
     Lots of people have chain saws round here what with all the wood stoves that get fired up during winter. But it's August and ain't nobody thinking wood piles yet. That's for October and November.
     Euphegenia's being dead does occupy my mind a lot and how to make more money. I got no possibilities, seems like. I talked to Grady McCcoo to see if he needed someone to pump gas but he said he wouldn't hire me. We had some bad history from when he thought I was balling his daughter when it was really John Stickey. He never did let go of that even when the two of them got married and ran off to Las Vegas.
     Course, they divorced not long after that. Never get married when the drugs kick in.
     Can't even pack groceries at the Weston's. They got a deal with the prison to let inmates on work programs do the grunt work when there ain't enough teenagers. I even applied at the old folks home. Nothing. I went to MacDonald's. Nothing. And on it goes. I'm getting desperate and I'm beginning to look at myself naked in the mirror wondering if I can pass for younger and maybe become a nude house cleaner and let some Joe from Pittsburgh feel me up and suck me off for cash.
     All these thoughts because Euphegenia is dead and everybody's thinking I did it . And Hildie Edsel is gathering my wages as fast as I can make them. Life sucks and I'm ready to get on with other things.

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