It turned out that Bobby Crouse was a big help in selecting quality clothes. She showed Alma and Bill what to look for in material and workmanship in the making of fine quality clothes. She showed what the latest fashions were and discouraged them from buying clothes that were stupid looking and destined to go quickly out of style, such as bellbottom trousers. She offered to split her commission when she had earned over five thousand dollars, but Bill refused, and got a hug from Bobby for refusing, a hug which irked Alma a little.
“Where is the finest restaurant in Megaville?” asked Bill of Bobby.
“The most expensive places serve food like what is eaten in France , Spain , Italy , and India . I think that food tastes like crap. They serve snails, raw fish, octopus, cow's stomach, food completely covered with curry, food that would make you sick just knowing what it was much less eating it; stuff you wouldn't dream of feeding people you know, and the prices are just outlandish. If you want good food, and by that I mean food that tastes like something your mother would feed you, go to Aunt Mildred's Eatery next to my shop. I'll buy.”
And that's where Bill and Alma ate with their new friend Bobby Crouse. The place was so crowded that Mildred herself asked her neighbor Bobby is she and her friends wouldn't mind eating in the dining room of her apartment which was in back of the restaurant. Alma had the pot roast with mashed potatoes, green beans and a side order of cottage cheese. Bill had the roast beef with home fries, peas and a side order of apple sauce. Bobby had the Mildredburger with cheese and a dill pickle on the side. She cut a piece of the burger for Alma and Bill to try and they both swore they were getting one of them when they come back. The bill came to nineteen dollars and fifty cents, which Bobby quickly grabbed to pay, leaving the three dollar suggested fifteen percent tip. Bill also left a fifty dollar bill under his plate for a tip but as the girls were leaving, switched it for a one hundred dollar bill.
The Blaze Hotel that Bobby recommended was fancy on fancy. Everything that could shine did, and anything that might get worn due to people touching it was covered with a lace doily. There were people to do everything you would ordinarily do yourself. They did everything except go to the bathroom for you. The car was parked for them, people to carry anything you might be carrying, people to turn on the lights, turn down the bed sheets, draw a bath if you wanted one, immediately replace anything you used in the suite, … yes they were in the adjoining Penthouse Suites, and everyone called Bill Mr. Giles , and Alma Miss Alma . No one held their hand out for a tip as is the custom in hotel service, for it seems Bobby Crouse forewarned the management that Mr. Giles had considerable money and would tip according to how well he was pleased at the end of his stay. Unfortunately all that attention made both Bill and Alma uneasy. They never had people do for them in that way. Bill left only a one hundred dollar tip at the front desk when checking out, not knowing that was considered a very good tip.
All the salespeople met Bill and Alma as they entered the new car dealership Bobby recommended. This dealer handled all the brands. “It's like a one-stop car shopping” Bobby had said. Bill was disappointed that the new cars did not have tail fins anymore. Rodney, the owner, said, “I have a brand new never-on-the-road 1957 Dodge D-500 in the back that no one ever bought. I could make you a good deal on it. It's a white two door hardtop, very sleek looking.”
“How come no one ever bought it?” asked Bill as he looked at the picture Rodney gave him showing its tail fins.
“It's fast like a race car, Mr. Giles. It has almost four hundred horsepower. My customers do not race. I offered it to some of the men who were younger, like forty, but they are all trying to save on gas mileage. This car only gets twenty miles per gallon. People are predicting someday gas will be as much as half a buck a gallon, so most married men are staying away from the big engines.”
“Is it faster than a Thunderbird?” asks Bill while smiling at Alma .
“It has the turbocharger on it. It is faster than a T-bird and a Corvette on a straight track, but those little cars take the corners better.”
“How much for it?”
“I will sell it for the thirty two hundred I have in it.”
“I'll take it. How much trade-in for my 1952 Plymouth.” says Bill
“Nothing. I would only scrap it.”
“Can you have the Plymouth delivered to my building?” as Bill hands him a business card.
“I will do that for no charge. Let's go sign some papers, Mr. Giles. I'll have our girl change everything from your Plymouth to the new car so you can drive it away today.”
Bill thought the new car drove like a rocket. “I can go over sixty miles an hour in first gear and can break traction in first gear by just stepping full down on the accelerator” he said as soon as he got on the highway. He dropped it into third gear and was traveling at eighty miles an hour when he saw a red light in his mirror. “Oh-oh. Groden's got me” he said as he slowed to a stop.
“Howdy Mr. Giles” said the Sheriff as he approached the driver's window, and then bent over the low car to look at Alma adding, “How are you today Miss Alma?” He stands back straight and continues, “You was goin' eighty in a sixty, Billy. Do ya think that is safe?”
“This part of the road is clear, Sheriff. No houses for the next two miles and no brush along the road to hide a critter that might jump in front of me, but I did break the law and admit to that speed.”
“Yer right, Billy. It is a safe speed on this stretch. Do you know the real reason I stopped ya?”
“Cuz yer drivin' the D500. Rodney at the dealership said it was the fastest car made, even faster than my Ford Interceptor. Now that's hard fer me to believe, so I told him to call me the minute the car was sold. When I heard it was you what bought it I knew jest the road ya would take back to Billyville, so I have Marvin my deputy who's settin' two miles down the road ready to hold up any cars that might be comin' the other way soon's I let him know to start. This road would now be safe for well over a hundred miles a hour, Billy. Think ya might wanna find out iff'n yer car is faster'n mine? There's sposta be a white flag by the road one mile down. First one there wins. Whadda ya think?”
They line up the cars and Bill asks, “Who is going to say ‘GO'?”
“Jest start whenever ya wanna. This is called a Interceptor cuz it's sposta catch whatever it's chasin'.”
Bill peels out throwing Alma deep into her seat. At fifty five miles an hour Bill shifts into second hearing the tires break traction and feeling the back end shift slightly to the left. At one hundred he shifts into third and again hears the back tires squeal as traction is again broken. He sees he is ahead of Groden by about two hundred feet. At one hundred and twenty the D500 peaks and won't go faster. He sees the white flag just a hundred yards ahead as Sheriff Groden's Interceptor flies past Bill going about one hundred and sixty or more. Bill drops back to sixty and continues on. As he drives past the deputy and Sheriff Groden one mile past the white flag, Groden smiles and tips his hat as Bill slowly drives by while Alma angrily says, “Billy, you made me pee my new panties.”
One month later when Bill took the D500 in for a check-up he tells Rodney, “When the car got to one twenty it just stopped accelerating even though it rev'ed faster rpm's in the lower gears.”
Rodney says, “Groden wanted to race anyone who bought this car to see if his Interceptor was faster. His can go one sixty five and he isn't afraid to drive it that fast. I put a governor on yours to keep it at one twenty because I didn't want Groden to lose. He would feel bad. Without the governor the D500 will go two hundred, much faster than most people can handle. I will remove it, but think twice about going that fast and never tell the Sheriff it was there.” Bill just smiled knowing it would be up to the Sheriff not to ask, as he would not lie to him.
One week later the doorbell rings at Bill's building. The cameras show Sis with Sheriff Groden waiting at the South entrance. “What now?” thinks Bill as he goes to let them in.
“Sheriff Groden wanted to talk to you, Billy. I didn't think you would want me to tell him he couldn't go past the moat, so I came along to lower it to get him across.” says Sis.
“The Sheriff is always welcomed here. Please come in.”
After being seated in the front small conference room that seats only twenty five people Groden says, “I'll git right to the point. There's a robber in my county that's got hi'self a Interceptor. I can't catch em with mine cuz it don't go faster than itself. I asked Rodney what goes faster than a Interceptor and he said ‘a D500'. I told em I already beat a D500 an' he said he jest did somethin' to yours to let it go two hundred. I want to borrow it to catch them bad guys” and the Sheriff waits for an answer adding, “You can come along to safeguard yer vehicle iff'n ya want.”
“I am afraid to drive it that fast, Sheriff.”
“I ain't, Billy. I'll check it out at one seventy first, to make sure it can even go that fast, and to make sure ever'thin' is balanced proper so's it don't blow apart at top end, assumin' I gotta drive it that fast to catch em.”
“There's only a few places in the county where you can go that fast safely. What if that robber decides to go one sixty in a residential area?”
“He always leaves town on the highway where we raced. I would have Gomer my deputy block traffic where he did for us as soon as I hear someone robbed somethin' and I'll be waitin' behind the sign where I was when you came by. No one can see me there. There's three miles of open road from that sign. Should be plenty of road iff'n your D500 can really go as fast as Rodney says.”
“I'll go with you but you drive.”
“He always robs on a Friday jest a'fore the factories let out. Prob'ly cuz all the banks still has all the money ready to cash them factory worker's checks. Meet me behind the sign at three. Back in right in front of the Interceptor so's the D500 is ready fer the chase. Now when do you want me to borrow the car for the check-out?”
“Let's go now.”
“Follow me to the highway. I'll call Gomer to hold up traffic when he sees us. You will be chasing me in the interceptor with the red lights an' siren on, jest so's any people that might be around knows to keep out of the way. Let's hope ya don't run me over goin' at one sixty five an hour if that D500 can't break one twenty.”
Groden burns out at the start of the three mile stretch while Bill follows flat out in the Interceptor. Bill liked driving the police car and pretended he was the Sheriff in pursuit. He sees smoke coming from the tires of the D500 as the distance between the cars increases. Just as the smoke stops another cloud appears from the tires as Groden shifts into second. Then shortly after that another cloud emerges from the tires as the D500 is shifted into third when it is about three hundred feet ahead of the Interceptor. Bill holds the Interceptor at one twenty because he does not want to drive faster than that, and he sees the D500 quickly go out of sight, now knowing what Groden must have felt like to see the bad guys get away.
Groden was waiting at the end of the three mile open road where the billboard sign was. He had a smile on his face. “I took it to two hundred and I think it even had a little more, but I got scared goin' that fast. This is one fast car, Billy. There's the sign where we will be waitin' for them robbers to go by. See you here Friday at three” and the Sheriff jumps into his Interceptor and slowly drives away.
That Friday Bill backs his car in front of the Interceptor. Groden asks, “Wanna ride with me on the chase?”
“Two hundred is too fast for me. I'll follow in your car. I have to get something from my trunk first.”
And the two sit and wait for about forty five minutes when suddenly Bill sees an Interceptor fly by and his D500 kick up gravel onto the Interceptor he is in. He follows but the two cars were out of sight by the time he got to one hundred. Down the road he sees the D500 sideways across the road in front of the Interceptor and two big men get out. Bill pulls over so as not to interfere with the Sheriff's arrest and reaches into the back seat to watch with the spotting scope he got from his trunk. He sees the two men waving their arms like they were angry. One man pushed Groden, the other punched him. Bill reaches in the back again and steps outside behind the door of the interceptor and continues watching with the scope on his Garand that he also got from his trunk. He sees one man pull a revolver from his belt while the other held Groden against the door of the D500.
Groden was almost helpless from the sucker punch to his stomach while one man held him and the other aimed his .44 magnum at his head. The pistol suddenly drops from his hand and the man drops to the ground with blood coming from his head. The second man picks up the revolver and he too drops with blood coming from his head. Groden stands there not knowing what happened; he could not see anyone around who could have shot the robbers. He sees his Interceptor coming down the road and was at first a little angry that it took Bill so long to get there to help him, but then thankful he was not there to be murdered as he almost was.
Bill rushes up to Groden and asks, “Are you okay?”
“Someone shot these guys just before they were going to shoot me.”
“I didn't want to interfere with your arrest, Sheriff, so I was watching eight hundred yards down the road.”
“What can you see that far away? You should'a been here to help me. They were gonna kill me!”
“I saw everything through my rifle scope. When that guy pointed the gun at your head with his finger on the trigger I knew I had to take him out. Same with the second guy.”
“You shot them guys yerself from eight hundred yards away?”
“Tom taught me how to shoot.”
Groden looks at Bill and says, “When you were a little guy you wanted to help me catch bad guys. I told ya you hadda grow up first. I never would'a thought back then you would not only grow up to help me catch bad guys but would save my life from them too. You are the best good citizen ever, Billy” and Groden hugs Bill like a proud father would hug his son.
Bill was neither happy nor sad. He just felt like he accomplished something good as he looked at the two dead bodies.
Bill shows Tom and Bertram the small precision lathe he is using to machine the casings for the ammunition from solid brass round stock for his new rifle. “The final machining pass is made with a diamond tool bit. It takes off one half thousandths per pass. It copies the template mounted on the back of the lathe with a pantographic hydraulic tracing attachment that reduces the template to the actual size. It is accurate and precise to within ten millionths of an inch.”
Tom says, “But you said it only had to be precise to within one ten thousandths.”
Bill explains, “You have to have the ability to machine and measure ten times better than the product specs. Did you notice both the furnace and air conditioner are on even though it is cool outside? They are keeping everything at sixty eight degrees plus or minus one tenth of a degree. Everything has to be machined and measured at sixty eight degrees Fahrenheit. When a measurement is given it assumes the temperature is sixty eight degrees, because at higher or lower temperatures the item is bigger or smaller respectively.”
“So you can only shoot the ammo at sixty eight degrees?” asks Tom.
“No. Once the ammo is made it remains all the same. All match rounds get slightly bigger over sixty eight degrees and smaller when colder equally. They remain match, meaning they are all the same, just like the less accurate match rounds. But it does make a difference where the bullet lands as far as temperature, so I am making the chamber in the rifle a little environmental chamber that controls the heat to whatever I want.
“Why would you want anything other than sixty eight degrees?” asks Tom.
“Because the powder fires more explosively if heated. I am trying to get over five thousand feet per second muzzle velocity with a .308 bullet”, as Bill picks up a prototype round showing a large powder capacity compared to the standard .308 ammo and continues, “These only have forty eight hundred feet per second.”
Tom takes the round and says, “It looks like a little cannon shell driving a BB. These are unique.”
Bill puts the round back into a rack containing a dozen and asks, “Wanna try them?”
“Where are we going to do that?”
“Follow me to my private shooting range” as Bill takes them to the Northeast corner of his building. He opens a small window in front of a shooter's bench. “My property ends two miles from here. The target is ten foot by ten foot by twelve inch thick plywood , one mile away. Behind it is a hill. I ran wires for cameras so I can make sure no one is in the vicinity before I shoot.”
He continues, “Behind the white cover on the target are hundreds of tiny pockets of black paint. If you hit the target it will show up black and can be seen with the spotting scope”, as Bill shows them the biggest spotting scope anyone ever saw. “The rifle is already set for distance” as Bill removes a cloth cover over the most unusual looking rifle Tom has ever seen or could even imagine, for it had a huge scope and also had electrical wires running to it to heat the round in the chamber. “Like I said, it is a prototype and I have to make it smaller and lighter.”
“How many shots do I get?”
“Two to sight it in and one to take the target out, unless you can convince the target to stick around so you can sight him in better.” Both Bill and Tom smile. Bill continues, “You will have to use the seated position because the rifle is very heavy and it really kicks. It will take out your shoulder if it is not supported and backstopped.” Bill shows a support for the weight with a recoil transfer mechanism to the brace behind the bench similar to what he made for his old friend Mike who was Tom's son before he passed away. Tom just looked at it, remembering, with his eyes watering, “Mike was the happiest I ever saw him when you let him shoot your new rifle that day. I wished I was his friend that day instead of his father. You guys must have had a lot of fun together.”
“We did, Mr. Brogen. I miss him too.” Bill goes to a shelf and says, “Now everyone should put on these ear muffs because this rifle is loud. There, you are set to fire, Tom. This pin is the safety. Pull it out whenever you are ready. There are five rounds in the magazine.”
Tom takes almost five minutes to send the first round down range. He looks through the scope and says, “Ten foot by ten foot target you said? I'm right on the edge of the target, how many clicks to the right? What's the MOA of this big scope?”
“At one mile it is one click per foot” replies Bill.
Tom turns his head and says, “How can you make these things so accurate?”
“This is the third scope on the eighth rifle. Each one gets better” says Bill as he watches Tom set the scope five clicks. Tom takes five minutes and fires the second round. “Damn. It hit in the same spot” hollers Tom.
Bill says, “I can see the veins in your temple and saw that you shot the first round between heart beats and the second one at the beat. I think that is where your error came from, not the rifle. Don't reset the scope. Just shoot between beats.”
Tom takes five more minutes and fires the third round. “Well look at that! A bull's eye, even though it is on the edge of it. I never thought I could shoot like that” and Tom was all smiles.
On the way back to the conference room for lunch Bill says to Tom, “That bull's eye is one foot wide, so in order to make sure you eliminated a target at that distance you would have to be right in the middle of the bull's eye. It seems like everything affects the accuracy at that distance. I had to make sure that even the side-to-side tilt of the gun was level when I made that support. If the rifle is to be used in the field all this stuff has to be built into it and weigh less than fifty pounds.”
Tom says, “Fifty pounds is a lot to carry in the field when you are trying to make time. Even the weight of the ammo adds up when you have to carry at least twenty rounds. One nice thing though, even as noisy at that is no one at the mile distance would hear it because just the low frequencies would get that far. So what is the next step in the design?”
“I went to Megaville with a cap activator to scare people and time their reflexes so …”
“What is a cap activator, Billy?” interrupts Tom.
“It's a kid's toy cap gun where I removed the barrel and handle so I just had the mechanism to blast a cap. I only wanted to scare people with noise, not a gun.” He continues, “I wanted to measure how fast a young man would jump after hearing a loud noise or a noise that scared him. The reflex was almost immediate, but it took almost two point five seconds for the person to move some way other than the reflex action of ducking down. The bullet will arrive at the one mile target distance in under two seconds with the sound arriving in four point five seconds, so I have to find a way of getting a second shot out in less than six seconds only knowing the target will bend forward on reflex after the six seconds.”
“Second shots at the same target are almost always impossible, Billy, but at a mile you have a better chance than I ever had at around the 800 yards where I did most of my work. The recoil will make you have to reset everything all over again, and all you are thinking about is if they will see the second shot now that they think they know the rough direction the first came from.” Tom sits down as the Sis and Alma bring out a big plate of Ham and cheese sandwiches with a watermelon sliced up for desert. Just before he bites into his sandwich Tom quietly asks, “Can I have a copy of the final rifle?”
Bill smiles and quietly replies “You know you are getting one. I will need another opinion on its operating capability.” He then hollers, “Wake up Gerty. Food's here.”
Alma and Bill had been spending months inside Bills large building. Bill was absorbed in his work and Alma was happy enjoying everything that staying with Bill offered. She loved her work, she had a beautiful apartment to stay in, but only wished she could spend more time with Bill just talking like they used to. One day Bill asked, “How about if we go to Megaville for some shopping and a dinner out?”
“Oh I would love to do that, Billy. What do we need that we have to buy? We already bought everything we need from the Montgomery Ward catalog.”
Bill answers “I've never been in a store before. My Mom always bought everything from the catalog. I had to learn my clothes size from buying a few sizes and seeing what fit. In a store you actually look at the stuff before you buy it. Wouldn't it be nice to see your new winter coat before you buy it? … after you've seen and tried on all of them. You could buy some new dresses, stockings, shoes, hats, and whatever you want after you try them all on first. What nice restaurant in Megaville would you like to have dinner in?”
“I never ate anyplace in Megaville. I've never even been in Megaville before. I've always stayed home to care for Gramma Edna.”
“Put on that nice red satin dress and let's leave now. Megaville is big and it's gonna take us a couple days to shop everyplace.”
“How do you know about all the places to shop? I thought you grew up in Pineville.”
“I worked at the aircraft plant for half a year. I walked past a lot of the stores, but I didn't have the money to buy anything. Now you are going to help me make up for that. We will stay overnight tonight at the fanciest hotel so we can get an early start for shopping tomorrow.”
“I'll bring the Thunderbird around to the front.”
“We'll be taking the Plymouth .”
“That car is like fifteen years old. Do you think it will make it there and back?”
“It only has to make it there. I'm going to trade it in for something new. Now chop-chop lady. We have a lot of work to do today” and Alma runs to her apartment all excited.
Alma never knew Megaville was so big nor did she even imagine stores as big as she was looking at. They walked down Main Street where she would almost walk into the people going the other way as she kept looking up at the tall buildings. Bill looked into the display windows trying to decide what to purchase. They were both like country bumpkins in the big city for the first time.
“Look at this store, Billy. It has some nice stuff and it is run by the Crouse sisters. I went to school with Bruce and Bobby Crouse. I wonder if it is the same people.”
“Two brothers call themselves the Crouse sisters?”
“They are girls, Billy. Those are the nicknames they have. Bruce is Brucette Crouse and Bobby is Bobette Crouse. The family was all girls and the father was so mad he gave them boy's names.”
“Their stuff is like what my Mom bought me in High School. I was hoping to buy some really nice clothes.”
“ Alma ?! Why Alma Krenshaw, what brings you to the big city?” asks a girl in her early twenties.
“Hi Bobby. Is this your store?” asks a smiling Alma .
“Mine and my sister's for one more week before the bank repo's it because we can't make the mortgage payments. I heard Mr. Snooty here say our stuff wasn't good enough for him. What are you looking for?”
Bill says, “I didn't mean your stuff was no good. It's just that I'm in the market today for top quality clothes for me and Alma.”
“That takes a lot of money, buster. You don't look like you have the kind of money that it takes.”
Bill smiles and says, “When I'm wearing the clothes I'm looking for I will look like I have that kind of money.”
Alma whispers into Bobby's ear, “He has a lot of money, Bobby, believe me, he has enough to buy this whole block of stores.
Bobby looks at Bill and then Alma and says, “If I bring in a customer for the big stores I will get a ten percent commission on what you purchase. They won't give you that discount and they won't charge you anymore than the price tag on the clothes, but that commission would help save our store. Could I come along with you and help however I can?”
Bill looks at Alma who is looking back and smiling. He says, “Sure. Come along.”
Bobby puts her arms around Alma's and Bill's and says, “The first thing we have to do is go ten blocks this way to where the stores are that sell the merchandise you are looking for” and they head towards the tallest buildings in Megaville.
It turned out that taking care of Edna was the only job the Krenshaw family relied on Alma to do, and she did that job since she was ten years old. With Edna's death she no longer had that job. She would go to Bill's building, when she could borrow her brother's car, to chat when she got lonely. “I have nothing to do, Billy. Maybe I should get a job in Megaville. Is there anything I can do here to help you?”
“You already cook my dinners, Alma . We could make that your job and I could pay you for the work.”
“I have dinner with you and you buy the food. I can't charge you for preparing and then eating your food. I was thinking of maybe helping you run some of your machines or cleaning the chips off the machines when you are done, or maybe unloading the trucks or moving the material around the shop.”
“You could run the office if you like.”
“What would I do in the office?”
“Learn where to buy the stuff I say I need. Get to know my suppliers. Find new suppliers when I need to buy new items. I would set you up as a signer on my checking account so you could pay for all the purchases too. That would free me up to just design and build.”
“How much will you pay me to do that job? … I mean, what would that job pay? I don't need much money, Billy, just some to buy an old car and some clothes and pay my parents some rent.”
“How does five hundred a week sound?”
“Huh? That's more than my father makes.”
“You can't make more than your father? Why?”
“It's just that … Well, he is smarter than me and he expects to earn more than me.”
“Then how much should you earn?”
“I don't know . You are the boss and you should know that stuff.”
“How much does your father earn?”
“Three hundred and fifty a week.”
“How does three hundred and forty sound?”
“Now go pick out a new car for the company to buy which will then issue to you to drive back and forth to work.”
“What kind of new car? How much should I spend?”
“I like those new Ford Thunderbirds. Buy one of those.”
“But then I would have a better car than my father.”
“It won't be your car. The company will own it, pay for the gas, upkeep and insurance and issue it to you to do whatever you want with it just like it was yours. As office manager you must learn tax loopholes. You will be getting the benefit of a new car without having to earn the money to pay for it after they take the taxes out of that money, and my new company Billyville Goods Corp. would get a tax deduction.”
“How did you learn all this stuff Billy?”
“The lawyer that set up my corporation tells me how to save tax money. Like when I tell you that my new company has a strict dress code for office workers and requires you to wear expensive dresses every day and gives two hundred dollars a week that you don't have to pay taxes on to buy them. You will not own them. The company will own them, but you can do whatever you want with them just like you owned them. See, you don't need to earn the money and pay tax on it to own a new car and nice clothes when the company will supply them and get a tax deduction. It is better than more money in your paycheck.”
“So when does this dress code begin?”
Bill pulls out a small folder from his shirt pocket and begins writing something. “Take this check to the Pineville Bank and tell the manager you want to cash it. If he doesn't have enough money tell him you will be back tomorrow for the balance. Then go pick out a Thunderbird and some nice clothes. Put the rest in your desk for when you need more money.”
“One hundred thousand dollars?!”
“When it runs out let me know so I can replace it. Keep track of the receipts for those tax deductions.”
The next day Alma drives her shiny new red Thunderbird into work at “BGC”, which is what Bill called Billyville Goods Corp.. She was wearing a shiny red silk dress and shiny red high heels with lipstick and nail polish to match. Although she looked even more beautiful than ever, she did not look happy. “Good Morning, Billy” she said with her head down so he could not see her red eyes. But Bill could see she was preoccupied with some thoughts on her mind.
“Are you feeling okay, Alma ?”
“No. My father kicked me out of the house.” She starts crying openly, telling Bill what had happened. “He asked me where I got the money for a new car and a fancy dress. I told him you bought them and they were yours but I could use them. Then he asked, ‘What are you doing for these things?' I told him I was running the office for you and he asked when I started doing that and I answered ‘today'. He said it was plain to him I was a hussy and that I could not live with decent people anymore.”
“You are a decent person, Alma. We both know that. Do you want me to talk to your father?”
“No. Let him think what he wants to. Mother was standing right next to him like she thought the same thing. She said Mr. Tilling at the bank called and wanted to know why I had a check for one hundred thousand dollars. She said he said that I would have to be doing unspeakable things for Mr. Giles for me to earn that much money. I don't need them, Billy. I only needed Gramma Edna and now she is gone. I will find an apartment to start living as best as I can alone.”
“Take one of the apartments in the building. They are just sitting there all furnished waiting for someone to use them.”
“I didn't know you had apartments in the building.”
“That's because you haven't been all through it yet”, whereupon Bill takes Alma to the second floor where his living quarters are. She sees him flip a switch and then slide open a very big sliding door to what she had at first thought was a very large hall closet door only to find it was actually a big doorway to a section of the floor that she never knew was existed. It opened at the end of a wide two hundred foot long hallway with large chandeliers every thirty feet that the switch turned on. There was a door at the far end and two doors on each side one hundred feet apart. “There are five apartments here. Take your pick or live in each one for a while until they get dirty. Your rent will be to keep them clean and to wash the sheets you use along with my sheets and clothes. That may sound like pretty cheap rent but I really hate doing laundry, so thanks for moving in and doing that job too, Roomie .”
Immediately after leaving Alma to decide which apartment she would like, Bill makes a call to the Pineville bank and lets the manager know he will be moving his money to the Megaville National Bank and suing the Pineville Bank unless Mr. Tilling was fired for damaging the character of his employee by implying she was immoral. Mr. Tilling was fired and could then only find the job as janitor of Pineville High School .
Alma picks the first apartment on the right because even though it was the smallest with only eight large bedrooms each with their own bathroom, a large dining room, a large living room, a large kitchen and a large laundry room, and had more area than the first and second floor of her father's big house that also had eight bedrooms, this one also had a beautiful spiral staircase to a wonderful cupola on the roof where she could see the stars at night along with whole of Billyville unhindered except in the direction of a taller and bigger dome on the roof just to the East.
Alma and Bill would now eat both dinner and breakfast together. Alma would prepare the food in her apartment and take the prepared food on a cart to Bill's apartment. At first they would clean themselves up and dress for breakfast, but after a couple of weeks they would just meet in their pajamas looking like they both just got out of bed. They would quietly eat without saying anything but a ‘good morning', afterwards both would watch the news on television. Bill would sometimes say something like, “Those politicians are all liars” while Alma might say something like, “I like her dress but not her husband” and neither would hear the other.
One morning Alma said at the breakfast table, “I have too much time left over after I finish the office work. What more can I do that would help you?”
Bill said, “How about working on your masks and costumes?”
“I already know how to do that.”
“Can you make a mask over a mask so I could quickly take off the outer one and look like the inner one? Can you make a costume that can be pulled off quickly and show another one under it? Can you make the mask easily and quickly burned without leaving evidence that it ever existed?”
Alma says, “I don't think that can be done. It's never been done before”, and Bill mumbles something with his mouth full about wondering how anything new ever got made if it couldn't be made because it never was done before.
Alma then began to spend several afternoons a week in the Chemistry lab, mostly studying Advanced Chemistry and doing experiments with rubber-like materials. The building had a full surveillance system outside the building with an intercommunication service all through the inside. Eitherof them could contact the other when needed, usually with short messages like “Lunch in ten minutes” or “I'm in the Chem lab now”, but sometimes, like now, with the message “Tom, Bertram, Gertrude and Sis are coming across the drawbridge.”
“Take them into the dining room, Alma ” came back on the speaker.
“Which dining room, the little one, the big one or the huge one?”
“Pick one and let me know. Tell them I'll be there in a few minutes.”
A couple minutes later Bill hears over the speaker, “The big dining room is gone, Billy. There is a six lane bowling alley there now with steps going down to it.” Alma gets the response, “Look behind the door, Alma . Keep everyone out of the room and punch the bottom middle button”
“Something is coming down from the ceiling Billy”
“It's just the dining room. Don't be afraid” and Alma along with Tom, Bertram, Gertrude and Sis see a floor coming down that covered the bowling alley like it didn't exist and looking like a normal very big dining room complete with an eighty foot Mahogany dining table, eight chandeliers now on the twenty five foot tall ceiling and chairs to seat eighty four people. Bertram says, “Billy must be thinkin' he's gonna meet a bunch more friends. Look Gerty, it's big nuff so's you can take yer choice of two table sides” and Sis punches Bertram in the arm.
Ten minutes later Bill enters the room to find Alma, and Sis sitting at the end of the table near the door on one side with Tom and Bertram sitting on the other side at the same end and Gertrude sitting at the end eighty feet away hollering, “All the food on my half will be mine.”
“What brings you guys here” asks Bill as he sits at the end of the table.
“We were wondering what you do all day here, Billy” says Tom.
Bill says, “I'm designing and building components for Megaville Aircraft. They pay a whole lot more to a subcontractor than they do an employee. I'm also designing a new rifle.”
“What's wrong with the ones we got now?” asks Bertram
“They are not accurate at two thousand yards.”
“That's over a mile, Billy” says Tom. I don't think you can get the power to have a bullet follow a consistent trajectory without uncontrollable dropage at that distance. You would need a cannon to shoot that distance.”
Bill says, “I know. I need to get every bit of push from the powder that is possible, and the rounds have to be so matched that the casings cannot be stamped. They must be machined to within one ten thousandths of an inch.”
Tom asks loudly, “One ten thousandths?”
Gertrude hollers down from the end of the table, “I don't weigh that much.”
“We ain't talkin' bout you, Gerty. Why don'cha come down here an listen” hollers back Bertram.
Bill asks, “Want to see what I have so far?”
Everyone at Bill's end of the table stands up and Gertrude hollers, “Ain't we gonna eat?”
Alma says, “I'll fix us an early lunch.” Sis says, “I'll help her” and hollers to Gertrude, “Early lunch in about one half hour.”
The men go to Bill's machine shop.
Gertrude finally gets Bill to start his lessons on how to be graceful. “What is the most graceful creature on earth, Billy?” she asks.
“A gazelle or maybe a deer?”
“No, it's not a animal. It's the human woman, Billy. Did'ja ever watch how a girl of about twenty, like Alma , walks? Did'ya ever watch how she moves her arms, her hips and turns her head? That is what graceful is. If ya ever wanted to look like a girl when you play dress-up with Alma, like Sis tells me you do, you would look like a man in what they call drag . You would look like a man in woman's clothes. People would know right off that you were a man by the way ya moved. Bein' graceful like a woman means you are limber and bounce a lil' like ya was made of jelly … no, Jello. Ya gotta look like you was made of Jello.”
“You want me to move like a girl? Is that what I'm supposed to learn to be graceful?”
“That is what yer spos'ta learn. I don't want you to walk like a girl. I want you to know how to walk like a girl. It ain't easy for a boy to do that as you will learn. First off ya gotta be limber” and Gertrude has Bill stretching his groin muscles by putting his leg over a bar on the wall and trying to do a split, one leg over the bar and then the other. Like all of her lessons before, Bill leaves this first lesson sore.
About twenty weeks later, on a Saturday afternoon, an attractive and shapely woman in her thirties knocks on Gertrude's door and asks, “Hello. My name is Penelope. Would you like to buy cookies for our Book Club?”
Gertrude says, “I love cookies. What kind do you have?”
“We have vanilla, chocolate, mint, pecan and oatmeal.”
“I'll take ten of each” and Gertrude sees the girl run to her 1952 Chevy station wagon and then what looks like putting ten boxes from different parts of the wagon into one big box. She carries the big box back and says, “That will be forty dollars even.”
Gertrude says, “Just put it down on the table inside, Sweetie. Here's a fifty. Close enough.”
As the girl puts the box on the table she asks, “Are you going to eat all these yourself?
If you are, keep the pecan for last They are like a desert.”
Gertrude, excited a young girl would like to talk to her, says, “Let's sample them right now” and pours two big glasses of milk after she opens a box of each kind and slides the box of pecan cookies towards Penelope. “So what do you do, Penelope? You are a pretty big girl, so I doubt you are a ballet dancer. I always wanted to be a ballet dancer, but I was always as big as a horse. Can you imagine one of those beautiful ballet boys of about one hundred and fifty pounds lifting me and pretending I weighed as much as a rose pedal?” and Penelope laughs, covering her mouth with her gloved hand, like girls sometimes do from reflex when not knowing whether it was proper to smile at what was heard, or like when trying to hide a smile from a teacher or a parent so as not to get in trouble.
“You are a delightful girl, Penelope. It is rare when you see a girl nowadays with old time values like wearing white gloves and high heels in the afternoon, although I think nylons would look nicer on you than those heavy cotton long socks you are wearing. The girls nowadays just wear dungarees. They call them jeans, but they are still plain old denim dungarees. I tried to buy a pair of dungarees once but the salesman said they don't make them in my size. The salesman said I was a plumper. I thought that was the size I wore. Later I found out that is what men call a fat girl. I went back and punched one of his teeth out” and again Penelope laughs while covering her mouth.
After a half hour Gertrude asks, “Why do you cover your mouth when you laugh? You must have a beautiful smile. You should show the world you are laughing.”
Penelope says, “You would not think of me as a lady if I did that.”
Gertrude smiles, pulls Penelope's hand from her smile and says, “Let me see that beautiful smile” and then sits there with a straight face as Penelope sits there smiling, asking, “Did I pass?” as her smile showed the front slightly crooked tooth that Gertrude had only ever seen on Bill.
“You bastard. Is that you under a mask, Billy?” smiled Gertrude as Bill peeled off the mask. “How did you do that woman's voice?” she asked.
“ Alma taught me how to change my voice just as she can do. There are neck and throat muscles that have to be developed. She trained me to do little girl's voices” as Bill speaks in a very high voice, “to a low man's voice like this” he adds in a deep voice.
Gertrude says, “The cotton socks to your knees kept me from seeing yer hairy legs, the silk scarf hid yer Adam's apple, and the gloves kept me from seeing yer man-hands, and of course balloons in a bra. Very good. All I could see was how you moved as a woman. Yes. You passed” and then she added with a smile, “Hey, do I know how to be graceful or not?”
It's 1960 now. Everyone learns Edna Krenshaw had just died. She was one hundred years old. Sis told a grieving Bill and Alma that she thought Edna was just somewhere waiting for everyone else to get to be one hundred. Alma did not understand, but saw hearing that made Bill smile.
Bill is twenty two years old and his new building on the North side of the quarry was just finished. None of the people living in Billyville went to see what he was building until it was tall enough to see from the lower south end of his property where the trailers and campers were. Even then when they did want to see it they were faced with the surrounding twenty foot pit and the twenty foot wall just behind it. It was a huge building and he was giving Tom, Sis, Gertrude and Bertram their first tour as they cross the drawbridge across the waterless moat.
“There are three front doors. The center one goes into my living quarters, the one on the left goes into my machine shop, and the one on the right goes into my airplane hanger.”
“You got a airplane, Billy?” asks Bertram.
“Not yet, Berty. Pretty soon though. Right now it's just a big empty room with a big door on the other side.
“Why is the front of the building facing the quarry?” asks Sis.
“The other side looks like the front too, Sis. Let's go in the machine shop first.” Bill pushes some electrical push buttons next to the door that must have been a combination, for when he finished a fourteen foot tall by sixteen foot wide overhead door opens.
“Whoa!” says Bertram. “Gerty could git in here to work”, and Bertram gets a punch in the arm from Sis.
“This is the machine shop” says Bill as they walk inside the fifty thousand square foot room and see a small precision lathe, a general purpose 15” x 60” lathe and a 60” x 40' Oil Country Lathe with 50” chucks on each end of the spindle and a twenty five inch spindle bore. There were three vertical milling machines, a standard Bridgeport , a 30” x 120” bed mill and a 20' x 80' planer mill. There were several surface grinders and several cylindrical grinders again varying in size as the mills and lathes, as were the drill presses, hones, broaches, vertical and horizontal band saws, and several small and large machines that were still being assembled. The whole shop was serviced by a 50 Ton overhead crane hanging twenty five feet above the floor, where parked in the corner were three fork trucks with lifting capacities of 6000, 20,000 and 50,000 pounds.
Bill pushes another electrical pushbutton and another large overhead door opens. “This is the one hundred thousand square foot Fabrication Shop” he says. “Here are the shears, the press brakes, the sheet and plate rolls, the punch presses, the welders and the sanders. All of the machines are not here yet.
Then he goes into a well stocked Chemistry Lab and then an environmental testing lab, then a Supply room that looked like a modern day Home Depot in that it was huge, containing all sorts of electrical and plumbing supplies, stocks of wood and metal, and fasteners of all sizes.
As he was walking down a carpeted hallway towards the living quarters he stops and says, “Here is my stairway into the basement” as he slides a small hidden section of the wall aside and pushes a button where they see a door slide open showing a room that was only big enough for ten people their size to fit in standing up. “Get in” says Bill.
“Why? To see if we can all fit in a closet?” asks Bertram.
“It's an elevator to my basement three hundred feet down.”
“Why so far down?” asks Gertrude, who then says, “Oh my gawd. I think I'm going to be sick” as the elevator descends quite rapidly.
When the elevator stopped a door opposite the one through which they came in then opens to show just a wall of rock at the end of a short hallway. Bill says, “I told the Brazillians I would finish this part. I didn't want them to know what was on the other side.” And then he smiles and says, “Usually when people have a grand opening they have ribbons cut or a bottle of Champagne to break. Today we are going to have a dynamite blast to celebrate the grand opening of my basement which is just on the other side of this wall.” Bill then points to the dynamite already set in the stone wall and lights the fuse. “Everyone back into the elevator” which they all did quickly. When the elevator reaches its upper floor they feel a jolt and see some rock dust float into the elevator. Bill then descends the elevator, and they just see dust and a light at the end of the short hallway. The blast cleared the stone from wall to wall and floor to ceiling of the hallway. “Who taught you to use dynamite so well?” asks Tom.
“Raul the explosives expert I hired to do all the blasting that had to be done on this job. I drained every piece of technology he had from him, even where to buy everything for cash … no questions asked.”
When they get to where the wall used to be only Sis and Tom know where they are. Sis says, “The cave is your basement? Amazing!”
Bill says, “Let's see what we have done with the little cave” and they walk over to the small opening into Gretta's private cave.
“It looks the same, Billy” says Sis.
Bill walks over to the small opening and pulls on the stone surrounding the opening. A section slides out revealing an opening big enough for even Gertrude to walk through. “I made a Balsawood stone to look like the small opening. Now everyone can see what those little girls built years ago” as Bill walks in the cave.
Once inside everyone sees how big the cave really was. “It must have taken them years to remove all this stone” says Tom.
“They were real workers” says Bill, and adds, “It took Alma a week to open the entrance hole.”
“ Alma worked down here?” asks Sis.
“See for yourself” as Bill picks up pictures he took showing Alma with a pick axe and in a dirty gray cotton sack dress smiling and looking just as the girls in the tintypes did. “She's beautiful, isn't she?” asked Bill, adding, “She made that dress herself from the tintypes. She can sew any costume she wants to go with the different faces she can make up.”
“What is the big table for, Billy?” asks Bertram.
Bill smiles and says, “For our celebration dinner. Alma is a good cook also.” Alma then appears smiling and pushing a big cart loaded with prime rib, fried chicken, barbecued ribs, pot roast, pork chops, a baked ham, a roasted turkey, a huge ten pound mound of mashed potatoes, and a small bowl of green beans that she just brought down by the elevator.
Gertrude asks, “What is everyone else going to eat, Billy?”
Bill says, “We are hoping you might leave a little marrow in the bones, Gerty”, and everyone laughs.
Sis looks all around Gretta's once private cave and says, “There was so much information and history she had in here. I almost wish there was more.”
Bill says to Sis, “See those three black stones in the wall to your left that are eight feet apart? I'll push one, Alma will push one and you push the center one. They push hard, so lean into them” and as they do a small stone comes out at the floor revealing another small hole like the one that used to be for the entrance to Gretta's cave. “ Alma has been the only one who was small enough to get in there and we haven't removed anything. It appears the girls working for Gretta had their own cave and knew Gretta could not push all three stones at once without two of them helping her, which apparently no one did. There is a flashlight and a match to light the lanterns on the floor at the entrance. Go in and find the secrets of the little girls who worked for Gretta. It is exactly as we found it.”
Sis crawls through the small opening with disregard for her new dress and one minute later they hear, “Oh my! … Oh my goodness! These were just young little girls.” And everyone could hear her quietly crying.
Bill hollers in, “The food is getting cold, Sis” and hears, “I'll be out in a minute … or maybe a week.”
It was an hour before Sis came back out to find no one waited for her to join the dinner. She dragged an old sack dress tied at the bottom so it could hold items she asked Bill if she could have. “It's all yours Sis, anything or everything in there. I won't be making that opening bigger as the rest of the cave is big enough for what I need. You can make that cave your secret hiding place.”
Alma asks, “Did you see the sign on the wall, Sis?”
“Yes. ‘ The Girls Club '. It's like they were all friends. They made the hole the same size as Gretta's so if the girls grew bigger than they could get through Gretta's hole they would be too big for the club's hole. I read a note where a girl named Edna Lou said that since Gretta and Hiram did not trust each other they should not trust either of them. Then there was a note by a girl named Hanna who says she thinks Edna Lou was killed by one of the big girls, whose job was to haul the stone dug out of the cave into the quarry, because she said if she didn't trust anyone then she was a danger to us all.”
Bill quietly asks, “They killed one of the little girls? You don't kill little girls. You don't even make them cry. If I was there I would have killed that big girl”, and Alma , seeing the anger and sorrow on Bill's face, puts her hand on his shoulder saying, “They are all dead now, Billy. There's nothing you can do. Life was hard and short for all of them back then.”
Trying to change the subject, Sis says, “There are a lot of funny things they say too, like this note saying ‘Margaret says she now has booby buds and is so proud of them.'” That made Bill and Tom smile and Bertram chuckle, but Sis continues, “it said ‘Margaret was so proud of them that she kept them protected with tissues in her new little bra and put more and more tissues in there every day to protect them. No one ever saw her little boobies but we all saw a lot of tissue in her bra'”, and Sis giggles adding her own comment, “Some things never change.”
Bill says, “You can come down to the cave here whenever you want, Sis.”
“How do I get here?”
“You can either walk the path around the quarry and come in the way we first did, that is until I close the outside entrance off, or just come through the building down the elevator. I will let you all know the combinations to the front door and the drop bridge across the moat. My building is open to all of you just as your homes were open to me.”
Tom asks, “How did you pay for all this? You know we aren't supposed to own gold so I know you didn't cash some in for dollars at a bank.”
“The Brazilians can own gold and even preferred that type of payment. When I needed cash they had some coins exchanged in Brazil for me. UPS doesn't know or care what's in the package they deliver. One time I received a package with four hundred thousand dollars worth of one hundred dollar bills.”
Gertrude burped, leaned back and pulled a pack of Beef jerky from her pocket, looked at it and put it back. This was the first time all of the friends were at a dinner table together with Gertrude where there were any left-overs, and the very first time any of them saw Gertrude full. She fell asleep at the table with a smile on her face.
Bill and Alma now talked more. “What do you do for excitement” asked Bill.
“I am an actress.”
“Are you famous?”
“No, because no one will ever know it was me doing the acting.”
“They will see you on the stage or screen. You will be named in the credits at the end of the movie or in the bulletin if you are on stage. Whoever is watching you act will see you.”
“They will see someone move around but they won't know it was me. Wait here, I will show you something” and Alma leaves Bill on the porch. Fifteen minutes later Edna Krenshaw walks out and says in her old voice, “Oh what a wonderful day. Look at those roses. They are beautiful, aren't they Billy?”
Bill stood up when he saw her come out on the porch. “I thought you were blind, Miss Edna.”
“Oh I am sometimes” and she comes right up to Bill and says, “Would you like to kiss me Billy?”
“Um … er … Why Miss Edna. You are Alma 's grandmother.”
“Would you like to kiss Alma ?”
“Um .. Well, yes, but …”
“Then kiss me Billy. I am Alma ” as the old lady tries to stand on her toes to have her lips meet Bill's.
“You are an old lady Miss Edna. Get off me.”
Then he hears, “Okay. If you don't want to kiss me you don't have to. Take me back into the living room.”
Edna Krenshaw walked slow and waddled, as all old ladies do, back into the living room with Bill's help. Once in the living room Bill says in a loud voice, “Two Edna Krenshaws?” The one sitting says, “ Alma . Are you teasing Billy?”
“He wouldn't kiss me Gramma.”
“So you thought if you looked like me he would? Oh Alma . I have such little hope for you” and Edna laughs like someone who was only forty would … well, maybe sixty.
Alma peels off some of the rubber-like make-up from behind her neck and Bill is flabbergasted that she could change the way she looked so drastically and look so realistic. How can you change so much?” he asked.
Edna says, “ Alma can make Rock Hudson look like Gretta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin look like Marilyn Monroe, anybody look like anybody. She made me up to look like Betty Boop back when she first started doing this. I had my eyesight back then. Oh I loved Betty Boop.”
“Who's Betty Boop?” asked Bill.
Edna holds her hands clasped on her chest and, like looking at the ceiling, says with a big smile, “She was before you were born, Billy. You missed the most wonderful girl that ever acted or sang. Sing like Betty Boop, Alma . Please? For me?”, and Alma sang “My Baby Just Cares For Me” in the high staccato voice of Betty Boop, dancing just the way she did in the cartoons. To Bill it looked like Edna Krenshaw singing a song with a weird voice ending with the words boop-boop-bedoop , but to Edna … well, she was picturing herself as Betty Boop and was moving her arms and shoulders up and down to the tune as she held her clasped hands to her chest. She was so happy tears flowed down her cheeks, and that was what Bill saw; he saw how Alma would go out of her way to please the ones she loved. He wondered if the girl in the tintype was as talented as Alma or as pleasant as Edna Krenshaw. Sis, who was quietly sitting in a chair near the corner of the room, saw a change in Bill.
When Bill met Alma back on the porch after she took off the make-up he asked her if she would show him how to look like anyone he wanted. She agreed, and that was how Bill was able to call to make his own appointment to visit her, for it wasn't for a date or anything romantic but only to meet for a lesson.
Bill and Alma only went once to Pinky's Ice Cream Parlor after that because Marty, the owner, would not let them pay for anything. “You kept scum out of my place, Billy. You will never pay for anything here ever again” he said. But every Sunday after that a different couple, from teenagers to a mother and son, to a father and daughter, to an old couple would come in, always around two o'clock in the afternoon, and order a vanilla cone and pineapple Sunday and would happily pay for the ice cream after hearing Marty tell his story of how a brave young man cleared villains from his store, always making the story better and better and now ending his story with, “It was like he was a masked hero who never came back for a reward.”
Bill was an excellent student and learned not only how to make up a face of his choosing but how to make the make-up himself from basic chemicals. There was nothing more Alma could teach him and he now concentrated on the construction of his new building.
Bill had learned Portugese in the evenings from a mail order language school that sold a kit of 78 RPM records for learning at home. It took Bill a year of nights to learn to speak Portugese fluently. Every morning now he treks up the hill to the North side of the quarry to supervise the Brazilian builders on every detail of his plan. He had purchased all the land Northward to the highway which was two thousand acres and two miles long. He then had it incorporated into his Town of Billyville , where he would have full say in what was built on it. He had a thirty foot wide private road built on it that connected to the highway for large trucks to access the building site.
None of the people in Billyville were aware of what was going on, other than they heard equipment running twenty four hours a day. They thought Bill was operating the quarry where none of them were interested in working. They paid no attention to the activities. The children that came to visit relatives that lived in Billyville would walk as far as the deep mote and see the twenty foot tall wall on the other side and return back down the hill, never knowing what was being built on the other side.
Tom, Sis, Gertrude and Bertram would see Bill only on Sunday morning at the big breakfast in Gertrude's kitchen. They would have so many topics to discuss that Bill's project got only fleeting attention. “Is yer new house almost done yet, Billy?” Gertrude would ask. “Ya shouldn't be tryin' to do it alone. That's why it's takin' ya so long” Bertram would say. Tom, who knew what was being built, would just say something like, “Don't ask me to help you. I don't even know which end of a nail to hit with a hammer” and would then laugh. Sis would ask, “Have you seen or talked to Alma lately?” to which Bill would usually answer “No. I've been meaning to call her”, and Sis would say, “A pretty girl like Alma won't and doesn't have to wait forever”, but this Sunday she said, “ Alma stopped in yesterday. She just got her driver's license and borrowed her brother's car. She found out that you lived here when she went to Pineville and met your family. She said they were nice. She wondered why you never call anymore. I told her you were building a new house on the hill. She found out you own Billyville and are rich. She said you probably have a sophisticated girlfriend now and lost interest. I told her you only had your new house on your mind and that you don't even spend time with your friends like us anymore. Should I tell her to go away, Billy? Are you going to throw away what was your most rewarding friendship with a wonderful girl?”
Bill hangs his head and shakes it as saying ‘no'. “I am afraid of her” he said. “She is too nice for me and I like her too much. I don't want to see her.”
Sis says, “Let's go for a ride this morning, Billy. There is a farm I want you to see.”
“Why would I want to see a farm?”
“You tell me after we see it” and one hour later they are in front of an old farm house and barn that looked in shambles. “There is something I want you to see inside the barn, Billy. Just walk in and look around.”
Bill is suspect of Sis's intentions. She knows he was raised on a farm and there would be nothing new that he would see. The barn door was slightly open and he walked in. There stood Alma with her back to the door. She was wearing a denim dress that looked like the cotton sack dress worn by the girl in the tintype. She wiped her brow and noticed some straw in her hair. She pulled it out and dropped it in a pile of cow dung she was shoveling onto a bigger pile just outside the back door. She suddenly turned and noticed Bill. She was surprised but pleased to see him after such a long time. She slowly smiled and Bill thought he was finally meeting the girl in the tintype. Bill walked over to her, but when he got close she said, “Better stay back. I must stink something terrible.”
Bill smiles that smitten smile girls know, and says, “You smell just awful. You are beautiful” and he tenderly kisses Alma, who does not resist. When they are just holding each other Alma says, “I didn't give you permission to do that.” Bill steps back and says, “I'm sorry Alma . It's just that you looked so, um …” and Alma puts her finger to her lips to quiet Bill, pats her hair as though primping, finds a small piece of straw in it, removes it and flicks it into the air and then says, “Now you can” and the next kiss lasts for several minutes.
Sis waited in the car for a half hour but Bill didn't come out. She saw that Alma had borrowed her brother's car and knew Bill would have a ride back home. She left.
Sis had drained all the old stories about her relatives from Edna Krenshaw. She knew that happened when the stories started to repeat. However, when Bill asked her the simple question: “What did you do when you were young?” and she replied, “I trained dogs for the Army and the Police”, Bill sat interested in all of her new stories about techniques on training dogs to hunt animals and humans, and how a dog would instinctively disregard its own safety to help its master. He found her techniques on how to throw a dog who was hunting you off your trail fascinating. Now, at two o'clock in the afternoon after Bill and Alma made themselves up for a trip to Pinky's Ice Cream Parlor, they would always bring back a Strawberry cone for Edna who would then tell stories about when she was a little girl in grammar school, some funny and some sad, like when the other kids would pick on her for being small and would make her cry. Billy would always wish he had lived back then so he could have hugged little Edna to let her know that nice people loved her, and also so he could have beat up those bullies.
Two weeks later Sis was sitting in Gertrude's kitchen when Sheriff Groden knocked on the door.
“I'm lookin' fer William Giles”, said a serious Groden.
“Billy's next door Sheriff. I'll go get him”, says Sis.
Gertrude asks, “Any trouble, Sheriff?”
“Yes. Serious trouble. A man with a deep bite mark and a man with a broken elbow.”
Gertrude already knew about the fight from Bill and says nothing more. Sis brings Bill into the trailer and Groden asks, “Mr. Giles, were you in Pinky's Ice Cream Parlor couple'a Saturdays ago with Alma Krenshaw?”
“Hands behind yer back, son” and Groden handcuffs Bill. “You have the right to be silent … bla-bla blabitty bla-bla. You know the speech. Do you want to tell me what happened or do you want to tell it to a lawyer?”
“I'll tell you everything I know Sheriff.”
“Start with what happened after ya walked in the front door of that ice cream place.”
Bill tells the Sheriff he walked up and ordered a vanilla cone for himself and a pineapple Sunday for Alma , then about offering to buy everyone in the parlor ice cream. He said there were only four other customers in there, described the two Megaville High School football players who took offense against his offer because they thought he was trying to impress their girlfriends. He told him about the boys following him out, wanting his money and starting a fight. “I tried to talk my way out of the fight, but they were determined to hurt us, Sheriff”, and Bill describes the fight.”
“Ya bit the guy, William?” asks Groden. “Ain't that what a girl would do? Ain't that considered cheating in a fight?”
“He had a knife, sir, and he tried to cut Alma . I wanted to kill the guy. I wanted to bite his jugular, but settled for biting the forearm holding his knife.”
“Did ya haf'ta break that other guy's arm? Couldn't ya jest bit him too?”
The first guy swung the blade and that made it easy to catch his arm before he cut me. All I had to do was bite him to make him release the knife. The second guy made a jabbing motion which is a more aggressive move. He wanted to kill me. He only dropped the knife when his elbow broke.”
“Twist yer wrists, Billy. Them is jest my grandson's plastic handcuffs. They'll break easy. I knew ya wouldn't lie. I already got that same story from Alma Krenshaw and Marty what owns Pinky's who was behind the counter that day. Yer story agrees. Marty said ya pleaded with them guys an even cried. He said ya did ever'thin' ya could think of ‘cept runnin' an' peeing yer pants to stop the fight. I know ya couldn't leave the lady an' had to face them guys.
Billy turns around so Groden could unlock the handcuffs. “I don't want to break your grandson's toys, sir.”
As Groden pushes the big buttons that release the plastic handcuffs he says, “Them guys weren't football players. They stole them jackets in Megaville from the real football players an' sliced them kids up very bad with their knives. They are members of a Latino gang. They are suspected of ever'thin' from robbery to rape to murder. They got a lawyer that always gits ‘em a mistrial. I had ‘em in jail for four hours on this charge when someone came to pay their five thousand dollar bail jest a hour ago. As they walked out they said they want to visit you, Billy, as soon as they can. They are a mean group of men. I'm here to tell ya that ya might wanna hang close to Bertram'n Tom Brogen fer the next few days.”
“Sheriff Groden, I want to tell you something about those cops that died here a while ago” and before Bill could say anything further Groden says, “No ya don't. That case is closed an' anythin' ya can say will only re-open it. It had a good ending. Don't wreck it. Ya did a nice thing offerin' to let Bertram stay at yer place fer them two days. It got him out of a lot of trouble. He is a good man that don't need trouble. Nuffs been already said. No need to add nuttin … understand?” and Sheriff Groden tips his hat to Sis and Gertrude and says, “Good day, ladies” and he leaves.
As soon as she sees the Sheriff's car leave Gertrude says to Sis, “Go git Tommy and Berty. We got some preparin' to do.”
Gertrude, Sis, Tom, Bertram and Bill took watches that night, but all was quiet. The next day as they were having breakfast Sheriff Groden again knocks on Gertrude's door, “Is Billy Giles here?” he asked when Sis opens the door a little.
Bill gets up and says, “Yes sir. I'm right here.”
“Got some bad news, Billy. Them Latino boys thought you still lived at the homestead cuz that's where you're listed to live. They invaded the farm house, scared the bejeezes outten the womenfolk and cut up some of the men pretty bad. Yer oldest brother Evan got it the worst. He's in the hospital right now gittin stitched up. They're all body cuts. No face cuts. The worst was a deep wound right under the rib cage like the guy wanted to kill ‘em. It missed the heart, lung and stomach like God himself was guiding that blade for minimal damage. He should survive alright.”
Groden then turns to Tom and Bertram and says, “Now I don't want no retaliation from you two. I don't even want to see you men near 105 Perkins Street in Mageville where they all hang out and ya can tell who's in the gang from the jacket they all wear. Ya hear me men. I don't want no more trouble like this in my county.” And Groden quickly leaves after grimacing like a big man might if he was holding back tears.
That night Tom climbed up the fire escape of the ten story building at 700 Broadway while Bertram walked down Perkins Street where he gives the finger to three gang members and then walks into an alley. The gang members pull their knives and follow him into the alley. One minute later, Bertram walks back out and seems to wave at someone across the street while Tom is watching through his rifle scope atop the roof of the tall building. The next alley only had two gang members for Bertram nearby. Bertram then meets Bill at the front door of 105 Perkins Street . Bill holds up two fingers while Bertram holds up five. They both look inside and see twenty gang members. They walk in, pull sawed off semiautomatic pistol grip shotguns from under their coats and blast fourteen of them with the seven rounds each gun held. Bill and Bertram quickly run back out the door with Bertram stopping for a brief moment holding five fingers up and then one. Bill runs right and Bertram runs left. Three of the hoodlums stop briefly at the front door deciding who to chase when suddenly they drop to the ground one after another. The three members behind them, seeing them drop and hearing the distant gunshots go out the side doors, one through the left door and two through the right door. Bertram was waiting by the right door; Bill was waiting in the alley on the left side of the building and greets none other than his friend with the cast on his arm. With his good arm he drew the biggest switch blade made and started swiping it widely back and forth saying, “I wanted to stick you but you weren't home. I had to be happy with sticking your stupid brother, but I felt up your sisters and mother. They felt good . Now I stick the prize”, and he lunges toward Bill who steps aside while flipping open a straight razor to wave it past the aggressor's neck. The thug wipes his neck and see an extraordinary amount of blood. “What did you do?” he screamed.
“I cut your external jugular vein, you creep. You will be dead in two to four minutes. Feel dizzy? Feel the strength leaving your body? Ready to meet Satan? Breaking your neck would have been too quick and too good for you. You have one to two minutes left to make your peace with God and watch Him send you to Hell” and Bill drops his empty shotgun in the alley, jumps over the puddle of blood and the body whose eyes stared into the darkness, and meets Bertram three blocks down where they go to pick up Tom on Broadway. They are back in Billyville by two o'clock in the morning.
The next morning Sheriff Groden didn't knock. He slammed open the door to Gertrude's trailer and seen the five of them at the breakfast table. He looked angrier than anyone had ever seen him. “Everyone show me the bottom of your shoes … now! ” he hollered, and everyone lifted their feet so Groden could see them. “No blood. You didn' do it. No one could have gotten out of there without blood on their shoes. Now I'm gonna have a hell of a time finding whoever killed all those nice club member boys. They were going to be leaders of our community their parents said. They were fine outstanding beautiful boys the paper said. And now they are all dead and Megaville has no members of their social club to carry on their benevolent work. The parents think it is someone who hates Latinos … ‘racist folks' they said.” Groden pauses as though grief stricken and adds “They all died instantly ‘cept that guy what had the broken arm. His throat was cut an' it looked like he spent his last minutes prayin'. I wonder how forgiveful God really is. Hope he made it to heaven or wherever God wanted him to be. This is great loss to us all.”
Groden looks at the floor and wipes what must have been a tear under his eye with the back of his index finger. “There were two shotguns left at the scene with the serial numbers filed off and some sort'a Skinhead gang emblem with White Pride carved in the handles. Those are my only suspects, but I think it was a set-up by a new rival Latino or maybe a Black gang. They ain't as bad as that Latino gang was. Sorry to bother you good folks. I'm jest tryin' to do my hard thankless job. Thank ya fer all being good citizens.” and he turns and leaves, where they saw his bloody shoes were wrapped in big baggies so as to not get blood over Gertrude's carpet.
Gertrude says, “What a nice man.”
Bill says, “One time he told me if I broke a law that had to be broken he would have to pretend to holler at me.”
Sis says, “Then what a great actor. Do you really think he knows it was you guys that did it?”
Tom says, “I think he only thinks we may have done it.”
Bertram says, “He knows we did it. I even tried to break them alley guy's necks a different way from how I did the cops, but I know some came out the same. He knows I was there, but he's got a job to do an' that's to protect the good citizens. I think he jest came here to let us know he knows an' he will try to keep us in the clear. I never knew how nice a partner would have been. Ya did a good job, Billy.”
Tom says, “How you feeling, Billy? This was the first target you had to take out.”
Bill looked at Sis and Gertrude and says, “I feel like I accomplished something. It's too bad I can't tell Evan I got revenge for him.”
Gertrude and Tom together say, “You can't tell anyone anything.”
Tom says, “We must never talk even among ourselves about this again. It never happened.”
Bertram asks, “Tell who about what. I wasn't even there. I was helpin' Sis clean my trailer”
Sis says, “I was there yesterday, Berty. I saw a cockroach. I won't help you if there are cockroaches living there.”
Bertram, with a concerned look, says, “They ain't livin' there. Just I live there. They are intruders. Jest kick em out an' start cleanin'.”
Gertrude says, “Now who's day is it to teach Billy somethin'? I got lessons waitin' on how to be graceful.”
Bill says, “Would everyone start calling me Bill?”
Sis says, “Sure Billy. Today is my day. I have a lot of interesting stories from Edna Krenshaw to review with you.”
“Don't you want me to take you back to get all of her stories before she dies of old age?” asks Bill.
“So you can hang around with Alma ? I guess we could go back. I'll call Alma to set up a noon appointment.”
“Let her know I'll be coming too”, says Bill.
And everyone's day starts just like every other day.
Sis sat in Gertrude’s basement looking at all the items from the small cave. “What aren’t I seeing?” she asked Bill, and thinking out loud while randomly looking at pictures asks, “Why did Grampa give the house to a woman? It was the man who owned property back in those days. Was she his mistress? Gramma would have known he gave the house to her; she died after Grampa did. If Gramma knew Mable Krenshaw was his mistress she would have left him. Is that why she moved all the valuables into the small cave? Did she kill Grampa? Is that why he died before she did? I need answers, Billy. You have to help me.”
“What can I do?”
“You have to go back there and ask why she hates Brogens even after all these years.”
“What if she hates me now too?”
“Take this tintype and show it to her. Hopefully she has the curiosity as to why this girl looks like her and will let you ask a few questions.”
Bill is again standing on the porch of 36 Kidney Street and knocking on the door. This time a boy answers the door. “Hi little boy. Can I speak to your sister?”
Bill shows him the picture of the girl smiling and says, “This one.”
“That’s Alma. What is that a Halloween picture of her? I don’t remember her dressing up like that. Wait. I’ll get her.”
A few minutes later she comes to the door and says, “Oh. It’s you. Where is that wretch you were with?”
“She doesn’t even know you. Why do you hate her?”
“I hate all the Brogens.”
Bill holds up the picture and says, “You didn’t always hate them.”
The girl closes the door, then walks to the steps with Bill knowing he was now blocked by a door he was not to enter and the steps he no longer had access to. She now had the wind to her back and Bill could tell she did not smell bad at all. She actually smelled wonderful, like vanilla. She asked, “What? … Who is that? It looks like me.”
“It is your relative who a long time ago worked for Hiram and Gretta Brogen.”
“I only heard good things about Gretta but only bad things about Hiram Brogen. I didn’t know Gretta was a Brogen. Everyone always called her Aunt Gretta. She was married to that scoundrel? So how are you related to them? You said you were a Giles. Are you related?”
“No. They are just my friends.”
“Are they as bad as the stories about Hiram?”
“They are the nicest and most generous people I have ever met.”
“So was Hiram … to your face, as the stories go, but he would let anyone die if it meant a penny more for him.”
“Hiram gave this house to your great whatever grandmother Mable Krenshaw, so he must have been a little generous.”
“That was to clear his conscious over killing my great great great grandfather.”
“He murdered him?”
“Worse. The story goes that he just let him die. Didn’t even try to save him and even held men back that tried to save him. Why? Because Hiram would have lost money if they saved him. How can you get more evil? I think my great great great grandmother Mable put a pox on the quarry because eighty years later when the pox took hold the quarry shut down.”
Bill didn’t want to point out that most business don’t last that long. He felt she thought some kind of revenge had been taken and didn’t want to take that satisfaction from her. “How did your grandfather die?”
So the story goes, he was a cart driver. He steered the mules up the path from the bottom of the quarry. He was only one hundred feet off the bottom when a wheel slipped off the side and the cart started leaning over the side. All the men in the pit knew they could not reach him in time to keep the cart from going over, so they wanted to stand under the cart to cushion his fall but Hiram would not let them. He held the men back and they all watched my poor grandfather drop to his death. That’s when Hiram had the house built for Gramma Mable and just gave her money every week to clear his conscious, and then he found out he didn’t even need drivers because the mules could pull the carts up the hill without any help. Then he had all the drivers become foremen just so he wouldn’t have to pay them to be drivers anymore.”
“How do you know these things?”
“My grandmother started to tell us some old stories and started with this one. I left even before she finished this story. I didn’t want to hear anything more about the Brogens.”
“Is your grandmother still alive?”
“Of course she is. She is right inside. Do you want to meet her?”
Alma takes Bill into the foyer and asks him to sit and wait. About fifteen minutes later she comes back and says, “She is waiting in the living room. Follow me” and Bill sees an old woman in her nineties who is staring at the walls. This is William Giles, Gramma. He is a man of about twenty. William, this is Gramma Edna. She is blind, not deaf, so you don’t have to holler to have her look at you when you talk because she is only blind, not deaf.”
“Alma!” said the old lady, “Must you be so concerned about details. I’m sure this young man has talked to old ladies before. How do you do, William. What do your friends call you? Bill?”
“I want to be called Bill, but they call me Billy.”
“Then Billy it is, young man. Sit down Billy. I understand you are familiar with the old quarry the Brogens own. That was the only place to work in the old days. Everyone worked there from what I heard. Those were the grand old days. It seemed everyone was happier then. My great grandfather worked there in the last days it ran. He used to tell me stories about the quarry. He said Miram hired the biggest men in the area to work the stone crushers, and Gretta hired the tiniest girls to help her on what she was supposed to have called a special project, but everyone knew it was a gold mine they were digging. They had a hole in the wall that only those little girls could fit through. It was thought they struck a vein of gold and were following it through the undug quarry. Some people said the Brogens only ran the quarry to cover up the gold they were really mining, but most thought the quarry was their real money-maker. Either way they were generous to the people who worked there with the money they earned. You know Hiram even had this house built and gave it to my great grandmother when her husband died in the quarry.”
“When he was murdered, don’t you mean gramma?” inserted Alma.
“Now why would you think he was murdered, Alma?”
“Hiram Brogen did nothing to keep him from dying when he fell.”
“He was already dead, Alma.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your great great great grandfather had a bad heart. He asked Hiram if he could ride the cart to the top to see the company doctor for some heart medicine that he forgot to get the last month he was there. Nitroglycerin it was called. Hiram said it was okay even though the mules usually took the carts up without a driver. Your grandfather had a massive heart attack on the way up and grabbed the mule’s rope such that the mule thought he had to turn right. A wheel came off the road and the men below saw it. They wanted to all stand under your grandfather to cushion his fall, but Hiram knew the ten thousand pounds of stone in the cart would crush all of them and he could plainly see your grandfather was already dead. He did not let them all be killed.”
“I didn’t know he died of a heart attack” said Alma.
“You were ten years old when I told you that story, dear. You only heard what you wanted to hear. You had the attention span of a gnat back then.”
“Gramma! There is a gentleman here.”
“I forgot. Well Billy, what can I do for you?”
“I have a friend who is the last of the Brogens who would like to learn as much as she can of the old days of the quarry. Her name is Sis Brogen. Could I bring her here to talk to you?”
“Oh I would love to reminisce about the old stories I’ve heard. When you get to be my age you yearn to have someone actually interested in what you say. Let Alma know when you will bring her and she will set me up for a four hour chat. I’m only good for four hours and then someone has to take me for a pee-pee.”
“Gramma!” said Alma.
“How about tomorrow at one in the afternoon, Miss Edna?” asks Bill
“That would be fine. And Billy. Tell her I’m blind, not deaf. Oh never mind Alma will do her shpeal when she gets here” and the old lady laughs while Alma just shakes her head.
On the way out Alma asks to see the picture again, and then asks, “Can I have it?”
“It is not mine to give away. It is Sis’s. I asked if I could have it when she was done. When she gives it to me I will give it to you, as now I have the real thing to look at.”
Alma blushes and smiles and walks back into the house.
Sis and Bill rode back to the Krenshaws together, but did not stay together. Sis and Edna talked in the living room while Bill and Alma walked in the back yard and sat on the swing. Alma said, “We have a malt shop down the street.”
“What do they sell in a malt shop?”
“All kinds of ice cream. Haven’t you ever been to a malt shop before?”
“No. I grew up in the country. But I like ice cream” and Bill bows almost to the ground with his left arm in the air and his right hand on his chest as the old knights used to do and asks, “May I buy you some ice cream my lady?”
Alma raises her head in the air with the fingertips of her right hand on her forehead and says, “If you must. I will allow it this time. Lead on my good man” and they walk briskly down the street laughing.
There were only two other boys in the malt shop, big boys each with a girl. They had High School jackets on showing they were Megaville High School football players. Bill buys Alma the pineapple Sunday she wanted and gets a vanilla cone for himself. “Ice Cream for everyone” he hollered as he put a twenty dollar bill on the counter.”
The girls with the other boys came over to Bill’s table to thank him. The boys did not. As Bill and Alma were leaving the boys got up and followed him outside. “Hey mister rich guy. We’ll take that pack of twenties from you” as one of them pulls a switch blade.
Bill looks frightened. “I don’t want any trouble, guys” he says.
“Just hand over your money and you won’t get any.”
“I can’t do that. Please don’t hurt me” replies Bill who looks like he was going to cry.
Alma says, “Why don’t you two thugs leave him alone.”
The guy with the switch blade swipes it across her blouse cutting it, hollering, “Shut up bitch.”
Bill now had tears coming down his cheeks and said, “Don’t hurt her. Hurt me instead.”
He then saw the blade coming for his face and grabbed the boys arm and bit it, making him drop the knife. Bill was then angry and it showed on his face. When the other guy thrust his knife at Bill, Bill pushed the arm aside before the knife met his face, held his wrist and swung his leg over the guys arm, came down on it with his weight until he heard a snap at the elbow and seen it bent backwards. One guy ran holding his bitten arm, the other guy lay there groaning holding up his broken arm with his other arm. Bill looks down at the guy laying there and says, “I did everything I could to stop this fight and only did what was necessary to end it. I’m sorry it had to end this way.” He and Alma walk away.
When they are only a few feet from the wounded guy Alma says to Bill, “Biting in a fight is cheating. I’m surprised you would cheat.”
Bill says, “Using a knife is cheating too. If I didn’t bite him and he killed us with his knife would we be the winners because we didn’t cheat?”
Alma looked straight ahead for the next ten steps, then looked at Bill for the next five, and turned straight ahead for another five steps. She then smiles and reaches for Bill’s hand to hold while they return to 36 Kidney Street.
It was 1957 now. No one forgot the bet Bertram made with Gertrude that she could make Bill a faster runner than Bertram. Little did Bertram know that Gertrude knew he was spying on her training of Bill. She had Bill run pigeon-toed in the fields and run like he was skipping fast. Little did Bertram know that Gertrude knew he was practicing these moves when he thought he was alone. Bills real training all happened in the secrecy of her basement where she seemed to find muscles in Bill’s legs to work, and make sore, that even Bill didn’t know were there. She would be relentless in her training, not allowing him to rest during the full six hours of his session, just constantly running and jumping, pretending to wipe off cobwebs on the fifteen foot ceiling that he had already had jumped up and wiped off.
Just before the race on this sunny Saturday morning she sat in her kitchen with Bill and laid out her plan. Bill chuckled and went out to meet Bertram who was jumping up and down in a pair of old short pants. “Ready to see my behind little man” he said.
Gertrude says, “This is going to be a six mile race clockwise around the quarry. It is laid out with yellow ribbons. Stay to the left of all the ribbons or you will be disqualified. That means you would lose, Berty, because you will fall into the quarry. Tom and Sis will be at critical points to make sure no one cheats.”
Bertram asks, “How they gonna git there a’fore we does? They would win iff’n they got there first.”
“They’re gonna to drive their cars, ya dumb oaf” says Gertrude and continues, “Get ready”, and Bill puts his toes together like Gertrude told him to, “Run” hollers Gertrude. Bertram quickly puts his toes together like Bill did and trips while watching Bill take off with his feet straight. Bertram hollers, “Ya didn’t say ‘on yer mark’ like yer sposta, Gerty” and he gets up and runs after Bill, seeing Sis one hundred feet down the track jumping up and down hollering, “Run Billy Run” like she was a cheerleader who also hollered just as enthusiastically, “Run Berty Run” a moment later as he ran past.
The quarry was on a hill and the race to it was all up hill. Bill’s legs were now conditioned to that strain and Bertram’s legs seemed to like the challenge. They ran neck in neck not knowing if the other was just slacking off to tease. The yellow flags went right through the twenty foot deep ditches Bill had dug for the mote around the house that was to start being built that year. The runners had a choice of going down and up the ditch’s steep walls or running around. Bill jumped down and was surprised his legs took the impact of the twenty foot drop so well. Bertram decided to run around the ditch. Shortly later Bill pops up on the other side of the ditch, thankful he found a ledge at ten feet for a mid-jump and now thankful he could jump so high, and he continues running. Bertram now knows he is about five hundred feet behind but also knows Bill has one more ditch to maneuver to get out from inside the mote. It will be hard to beat him, thought Bertram as he tries to run faster. Bill disappears down the mote and Bertram runs as fast as he can watching for Bill to pop up on the other side. “Where is he?” thought Bertram as Bill seemed to be taking a long time, when suddenly he sees Bill only a hundred feet in front of him. He catches up and they round the bend going towards the East side of the quarry together heading right for the thistle patch where the yellow flag is at the edge of the quarry, meaning they have a choice of running through the patch or going around.
Bertram knows of the thorns in that area and slowed down while starting to run around the patch, watching to see what Bill was going to do. Bill ran right into the briar patch and Bertram thought he was crazy. “Yer gonna git sliced up runner boy” he hollered. He ran towards the patch himself, only to feel the first thorn dig into him, when he turned to run around the patch, knowing it was over one mile more he would have to run. He wondered if Bill would even be able to come out of the patch.
Meanwhile Bill ran the path he already cleared to get down to the cave and knew he only had to clear the last half to come out of the patch unscathed. The branch he used to knock off thorns was right where he left it. He picked it up and started whacking away to remove only the thorns necessary for him to get through. He knew it took an hour to clear the first half of the path, but that was when he was sick from the berries. He now only had about fifteen minutes before Bertram would be around the patch. He whacked away as fast as he could, knocking down as few thorns as necessary to get through. Suddenly there was a clearing inside the patch that no one ever knew about. He ran through the clearing and found there was only ten feet of thorn trees left to battle. In three minutes he was running towards the South edge of the quarry and onto the home stretch. He saw Bertram in a distance with his hand on his forehead shading his eyes while looking towards the trailers and then the thistle patch and suddenly he sees Bill running. He starts running faster too.
It was all downhill towards Gertrude’s trailer and Bill knew that was where the long legs of Bertram would excel, as there is little effort needed in running downhill. Bill ran as fast as he could, and looking back now and then showed Bertram gaining. They could see Sis jumping up and down. She now had pom-poms, a white one and a green one. Bill wondered where she would get pom-poms, but had to concentrate on running. He was getting really tired and wanted to quit right there, but thought of those people in the tintypes who must have been tired when they got home from work in the quarry only to face more work at home. He thought of that beautiful girl, who must have smelled bad, waiting for him with a nice supper and that gave him the strength to not only go on but run faster. He pictured her saying, “Come home as fast as you can, dear. Run dear. Run” and Bill ran and ran until he could only hear “Run, Billy. Run. Run Billy. Run.” from Sis as he saw she was actually shaking a head of cauliflower in one hand and a head of Broccoli in the other as he crossed the finish line with Bertram patting his shoulder just behind him hollering, “Nice job Billy.”
Gertrude sat in her steel reinforced deck chair with a big bag of jerky and hollered, “Do I know how to run fast or not, Bertram?”
“Ya know, Gerty, I actually ran faster. I ran more distance in the same time. That weren’t a race. It was a obstacle course.”
“Did ya ever see runners hopping wooden horses, Berty?” she asked, and added, “Do they call that a race or an obstacle course?”
“Well, that’s a race, but …”
“But nuttin’ Berty. You made choices and ya lost. Ya could’a followed Bill and not had to run so far, but you decided to take the long route. Ain’t no one’s fault but yer own. If the runner decides to run the longer distance on the outside of the track and loses is he the winner cuz he ran further in almost the same time? No. The winner is the one who comes in first. That’s universal, so there’s no excuses. So I won the bet” and Bertram grabs Gertrude and gives her a big kiss on the lips.
“Oh gawd, Berty, I didn’t want that” hollers Gertrude.
Bertram smiles with his arm around an angry Gertrude and says, “Now we’re both losers.”
Bill wondered why he would be considered the winner of a foot race when it was obvious Bertram was actually the faster runner, but he knew he had to play the game as winner for Gertrude’s sake; for she relished winning that bet over Bertram so much they didn’t argue a lot afterward. “Now that I made ya a fast runner, Billy, we need only one session a week to make ya graceful” she said.
Bill used those Mondays and Fridays to work with Sis on the family history. “Look what I found, Billy” she said one day.
“It’s a picture of a house. How nice.”
“Look close at it. You have to pay attention to detail and have a good memory to be a detective in this matter, Billy. Look at the person raking the yard. Remember him?”
“Look at the family picture of that girl you like. See him?”
“Oh yeah. He is the oldest brother.”
“So that must be their house. I know where that house is. It is only five miles from here. Do you want to see it?”
“Because maybe they know the history of the house. Let’s first go to the county building and get a history of who owned it and how it was sold over the years. That might tell us a lot right there. I know the street is called Kidney Street and you can see the numbers thirty six on the front, so let’s go.”
They drive to the County Court House in Sis’s new red two seat MG-B convertible. It was the first time Bill was in it as she just got it two weeks ago. “Think it’ll go over a hundred, Sis” he asked as she drove it sixty miles an hour.
“It’s flat out now, Billy. The next one will be able to take off” as her hair whipped in the breeze and she smiled like she always did while driving.
“Can I drive?” asked Bill.
“When I get tired of it.”
“That’s going to be years from now.”
“You got it. Sorry” as she pulls up to the Court House.
Inside the Court House Sis quickly finds the records. “First built by Hiram Brogen and then transferred to Mable Krenshaw, then twenty years later to Randall Krenshaw, then fifty years later to the present owner Charles Krenshaw. It’s been in the Krenshaw family ever since my great grampa built it, Billy. For some reason it looks like he just gave it to Mable Krenshaw. Let’s go see if the present Krenshaws know anything of their past.”
As they pull up to 36 Kidney Street Bill notices the house is like it was new. It has been kept up beautifully. He and Sis knock on the door and a girl of about eighteen opens the door. Bill thought he had suddenly gone back in time one hundred and fifty years as the girl looked just like the one in the tintype. “Um, .. Hi. My name is William Giles.” And Bill sees the girl smile a most attractive smile while shaking what he noticed was her soft smooth delicate hand, but not being able to tell if she smelled bad because the wind was coming from his back.
Sis stands there knowing Bill is dumbstruck and introduces herself. “Hello. My name is Sis Brogen” as she extends her hand.
The girl suddenly has a frown and then a face showing anger. She not only does not shake Sis’s hand but slams the door shut.
Sis just stands there astonished. All she could say was, “I think the Brogen’s have some skeletons in the closet.”