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Saturday

Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

SATURDAY EVENING, AS I WAS WATCHING A FINE performance by Vincent Price in The Masque of the Red Death on television, Doctor God-love called to thank me for my work in looking into Mack Macmillan's death. I'm quite satisfied with the results of the investigation. Luscious Miller told me you persuaded him to press manslaughter charges against Woody Woodruff. I'm very glad that nobody connected with the college or from Lickin Creek was associated with the unfortunate incident.

I sputtered a couple of times before I got my voice under control. But I never suggested Woody was responsible. I merely reminded Luscious that the guns didn't load themselves. He assumed I meant

Godlove interrupted me. Of course, the college would like to express its appreciation for your efforts. We'll be sending a small check as a thank-you.

I don't want your check. And I'm not satisfied that Woody was to blame. I'm going to keep asking questions.

There was a long pause. Then the college president said, Please don't do any more investigating. That's an order.

I hung up and counted to ten twice to let myself cool off. He had no business giving me orders. And in my mind and in my heart I was sure Woody would not have made such a terrible mistake. Not at something he took such pride in. Somehow, someone had gotten hold of the keys to that storeroom. And I was determined to find out who that someone was.

Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

Every TV cop show and every movie I'd seen recently had a scene set in a strip joint. I'd always thought the scenes were superfluous, added only for viewer titil-lation, and yet that's exactly where my investigation was taking me-a porno shop called the Brick Shed House, which advertised nude dancers.

The sign over the door said OPEN 24 HOURS. There were no cars in the parking lot behind the stockade fence, only a disreputable pickup truck parked by the side door marked STAFF ONLY. That was good. There would be nobody here to recognize me. Even better, there would be nobody there for me to recognize. I knew I'd have a difficult time facing a man at a church social if I'd once come face-to-face with him in a porno shop.

To disguise myself, I'd stopped by Garnet's house on the way out of town and borrowed some of his old clothes from Greta. In them, I looked the way I thought most Lickin Creek men looked-country macho. A pair of Garnet's khakis were rolled up at the bottom, a very large red-plaid shirt concealed my too ample bosom, and a John Deere tractor hat covered my unruly curls. I'd even padded my feet with two pairs of wool socks and I wore his oldest hunting boots. With a pair of sunglasses on, I thought I could fool almost anybody into thinking I was a man, especially if the place was dark.

The sign on the door said CUM IN. I overcame my disgust, pulled the sleeve of my shirt down over my hand so my bare skin wouldn't come in contact with the door, and gingerly pushed it open. The interior of the Brick Shed House was lit by only one small red light bulb, hanging from the ceiling, and an EXIT sign over the side door. I blinked, and the room I was in slowly began to reveal itself. A glass counter to my right, shelves of videos straight ahead, magazine racks on my left, and a few plastic chairs were all I saw. An unfamiliar, unpleasant odor made me feel terribly unclean.

Remembering the way a lot of young Lickin Creek men walked, I tried to swagger slightly as I crossed over to the shelves. There, I pretended to browse for a minute, pulled a magazine out, and sat on one of the plastic chairs. While I feigned an interest in the well-worn magazine, I looked around for any sign of the person I'd come to see, Lillie White, Mack Macmillan's former girlfriend.

While I was so occupied, I didn't notice a man approaching, and I nearly fell off my seat when he said, Do you want a booth?

With my head down, I shook my head.

Hot tub? Massage?

Nope.

Lap dance?

I made my voice as low as it would go and said, Lillie White here? I knew she was because I'd called and asked only half an hour ago.

Let's see your ID, son.

Oh Lord, I hadn't thought of that. To him I must look like an underage teenager. Don't have it with me, I growled.

The man grabbed my chin and jerked my head up. He stared at me for a minute, then began to laugh.

What's so funny? I muttered as I pulled away from him.

So you're one of them

One of what? Too late, I realized he knew I was a female and misunderstood my reason for being there.

You people always try to dress like men, he said.

I let my voice return to its normal register. Might as well go with it, I thought. I'm here to talk to Lillie White.

Sure you are, honey. Well, you ain't gonna like it. Lillie don't swing your way.

I said I want to talk to her.

His scornful smile showed what he thought of that statement. Twenty-five bucks and she's all ears-for fifteen minutes.

I dug in my pocket for my money. After counting the crumpled bills, I said, All I've got is twelve dollars.

He took it from my hand. Close nuff. She's through that door in the back. He walked over to the counter and pressed a button, which triggered a buzzing noise. Go ahead. Can't keep my finger on this damn thing all day.

The walls of the back room were covered with dark vinyl panels that some optimistic person must have thought looked like wood. Like the front room, its only light came from a dim red bulb. There were four Formica-covered tables with about half a dozen chairs squeezed around each one. All the way in the back was a small wooden platform, which couldn't have been more than four feet square, and behind that hung a red curtain.

I sat down at the table closest to the platform and waited. Nothing happened, so I called out, Yoo-hoo. Anybody here?

The curtain was pushed to one side and through the open doorway behind it came a young woman. She wore a shiny purplish-blue polyester kimono, too much makeup, and shoes with ankle straps and the highest heels I'd ever seen. Her hair was long, permed to the breaking point, and the color of the hay bundles in the fields of local farms.

She walked over to a portable CD player on the edge of her small stage and pushed a button. A Bee Gees tune that had probably been popular around the time she was born blared out at top volume. I covered my ears and yelled, No music. Turn it off, please.

Lillie White looked surprised, but cut off the music. Before I had quite realized what she was doing, she untied her robe and let it drop to the floor. She stood before me wearing nothing but a G-string and pasties, and began to gyrate to an unheard beat.

Please, I said with averted eyes. Put your robe back on. I only want to talk.

Whatever. She picked up the robe and put it on.

Sit down, please. I pointed to an empty chair at my table.

You only got twelve minutes left, she announced.

Then I'll talk fast. You are Lillie White, aren't you?

She nodded.

I want to ask you a few questions about your relationship with Mr. Macmillan.

You a cop? she asked, narrowing her eyes.

No. Just a concerned citizen.

She giggled. Never heard that one before.

I've been asked by the college to make some inquiries about his death. I didn't think it necessary to mention that last night President Godlove had called and told me to stop my investigation since he was satisfied that Woody was to blame. I wasn't about to stop, because in my mind and in my heart I was sure Woody was not involved.

You sure talk fancy, sort of like a teacher I had once. She wasn't from around here.

I sighed. This was getting me nowhere. I decided to be blunt. Lillie, did you have an affair with Mack Macmillan? Answer yes or no.

Sorta.

What does sorta mean?

I mean we went out for a while, and he sorta fell in love with me. It don't count as an affair if you're going to get married, does it?

The man was already married, Lillie.

Yeah, but he was going to divorce her.

It occurred to me that if Lillie truly believed that, she was even dumber than she looked. How did you meet him?

Her eyes opened wide as if she thought I was dumber than I looked. Here, of course.

You mean Mack Macmillan was a customer of I struggled for a descriptive word and came up with this establishment?

Not a customer, silly. He owns it. Tears began to streak her pancake makeup. I mean, he done owned it. She covered her face with her hands, and I noticed her nails were bitten to the quick. Nobody was supposed to know, but I guess it don't make no difference now.

While I waited for her sobs to stop, I thought about Mack Macmillan. He was hardly the kind of person he'd appeared to be. Not exactly a man like you, as his political campaign ads proclaimed, unless you happened to own a porno shop and cheat on your wife with a stripper.

I felt really sorry for her. Only about twenty years old, stripping in the seediest place this side of Atlantic City, and deluded by an older, wealthy man into thinking he was going to marry her.

Lillie, you seem like a nice girl. Why are you working in a place like this?

The only other choice is fast food. I got a four-year-old daughter to support.

You don't look old enough to have a four-year-old. Now I really felt sorry for her.

Got pregnant in high school. My first time. She shrugged. Shit happens.

What is she going to think of you when she gets older?

Lillie unsuccessfully tried to toss her stiff blond hair. Under the makeup, she was actually pretty. Kayla ain't gonna know. I'll quit when she starts school. I'm working on my general equivalency diploma so's I can get a good job.

Does her father help support her?

Said she ain't his kid.

There's DNA testing, you know.

Can't test a guy's DNA when you don't even know where he is. Lillie crossed her arms over her chest. Time's up, she announced.


Saturday Morning | Death, Guns and Sticky Buns | Monday Morning