The Slider, Chapter 10: Homely As A Mud Fence

TOM SLIDER

The place was hopping. Tania did indeed wait on me, swinging her sauciness about, patting me on the shoulder every other time she passed by to another table with somebody else’s order. Half Native and half Irish, she said of her genetics. Basically, a light-skinned, big-nosed Sioux girl with freckles. Broad in the shoulder, ditto the hips, but a surprisingly narrow waist in between. Not a trace of the barrel-chested build common to most of her kin. Sturdy legs, not long but with muscular calves well displayed below her knee-length skirt. I didn’t dare ask her age but guessed her to be around fifty. Not a safe guess. From time immemorial, women in the plains Indian tribes tended to age rapidly, most likely due to the endless hard labor they did from girlhood forward. If anything, present day life on the Reservation aged the girls even faster. Poverty, substance abuse–paint huffing, alcohol, crack, meth–along with a rape frequency that was flat-out horrifying.

Any lady on the Rez who beat the odds and still looked good at fifty was an exception, not the rule.

I hoped Tania might be one of those exceptions. Firing up a relationship with a fifty year old who’d beat the odds? Hey, that sounded a lot better than taking the next step with someone who was thirty-five and looked fifty. And yes, I did get the irony of my own age-deception role.

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An old jingle…is that the right term? An old something I’d not thought about in probably the last seventy-five years popped into my head.

Roll me over in the clover
Roll me over in the clover, do it again

Maria used to laugh about that one, daring me, her eyes dancing even though I never once rolled her over in the clover. Just about everywhere else, but never in the clover.

Once the memory gate opened, stuff kept spilling out. Such as,

Long tall Sally
She jumped back in the alley

and,

Get off the table, Mabel
The two bits is for the beer

I got up from the table and moved to the counter to pay my check.

“Going to the dance, Tom?”

“Yeah, thought I might at least play wallflower for a while.”

“Wallflower?” Tania smirked at me. “Yeah, right.”

“Hey, when it comes to dancing, I’ve got two left feet.”

“The better to go in circles with. You look out tonight, Tom. The Spotted Bull sisters are fired up and ready to rock. They’re aggressive, too. Get their teeth in you, they’ll eat you alive.”

“That sounds uncomfortable.”

“You have no idea.”

True. I was clueless when it came to the legendary man-eating Spotted Bull sisters. All I knew about them came from others who might or might not be stretching the truth. I’d never tried to pass as anything but white and the Native sense of humor could be merciless at times. If the stories were anywhere near true, there were seven horny Spotted Bull girls, not a male sibling in the entire family. Charles and Charlene Spotted Bull had given up on ever getting a boy after Vivvie was born. The baby of the family was now fifteen, or maybe sixteen. The eldest girl was in her late twenties somewhere but you couldn’t always tell which was which. You might be getting jail bait and not even know it.

Vivvie, they said, could pass for thirty.

Ai-yee!

Tania Snake–nice name, right?–was related to the Spotted Bull family. Second cousins, if I understood it right. Yet here I was, hormones discovering they weren’t dead after all, stimulated by a reptile female who could probably swallow and digest an entire white man all by herself. Rock Python Girl.

“I’ll be careful,” I promised, crossing my heart and hoping not to die.

She laughed, low and throaty. “If you survive long enough, I get off at midnight.”

I almost ran out of the café.

As it happened, I was safe from the Spotted Bull sisters, at least for this one evening. Never even saw them in the crowd. Much later, I’d find out why. Vivvie and Sisters had hooked up with a bunch of rodeo riders who’d won pretty much everything at the Central South Dakota Native American Rodeo the previous week. Can’t beat the magnetism of youth, fame, and the cocksure strut of a winning bronc rider. Thank goodness.

I did dance with several different ladies but never detected a spark of chemistry with any of my dance partners. Back to the wall, flower. As in Flower the skunk, Bambi’s buddy. I was certainly neither a pansy nor a shrinking violet and never in my life had I smelled like a rose. Although some who’d known John Cavanaugh would swear the man could fall into a pile of manure and come up smelling that good, I’d never found it to be true in the literal sense.

On the plus side, even my late daughter had admitted that I’d still smelled like a man, not like an old man, even in my nineties. Though she was dead and gone now, I still thanked her for that observation. It might be the only nice thing she ever said to me after I joined the Navy and ran away from home in 1941, as she saw it. Or had seen it, I guess. Still thought of her as a little girl. Still thought of her in the present tense. How miserable her entire life must have been after the age of five.

The dance was scheduled to run until 1:00 a.m. but I found myself drifting back to the café before midnight. Tania was looking like my best bet for the night. Even if all I got out of it was a final cup of coffee before she got off shift, I’d still come out ahead. Trouble was, though I know there have to be exceptions, women go to dances to dance but men go to dances to snag women. Or get snagged. And awkwardly the twain shall meet.

“Hey, cowboy.”

“Hey yourself. Figured I’d nurse a cup of coffee till you get off and then maybe we could go somewhere and…talk?”

“Sure.” She poured the coffee without raising an eyebrow. “Moon’s out tonight and I know a bluff where we can park and chat.”

“Popular place?” I circled the mug with my hands. The warmth was welcome. In midsummer, the owners air conditioned the dickens out of this place.

“The bluff? Not really. Too tough to climb. But you said your Dodge truck is a four wheel drive, right?”

“Last time I looked.”

“Then no problem.”

She walked away, looking good as she went, heading down to the other end of the counter to check on a customer. Big man, all Native, descended from mighty warriors no doubt. At the moment, he’d obviously had too much to drink but Tania had a way with him. I could tell. Before the clock ticked over to midnight, she’d gotten three full cups of java and two over-easy eggs down the guy’s gullet. Impressive.

Tania knew her stuff about the bluff, too. Had to throw the Dodge into four-wheel to make the top, spitting dirt and rocks out from beneath the tires. No sign of anyone else having driven up here in a long time. The view was spectacular. Looking through the windshield, never mind the bugs, we were facing southeast. Before us, maybe three hundred feet lower, the mighty Missouri flowed, broad and sparkling under the silver-blazing light of a near-full moon situated near its zenith but some to the south, allowing us to look at it without getting out of the truck.

“Wow.”

“Yeah.” She scooched over on the bench seat, settled with her thigh next to mine, and casually rested her hand on my thigh, just as natural as you please. Knew how to put a man at ease, this one. I returned the favor and we just sat there for a while, enjoying the moment, more like an old married couple than two strangers on a first date, teenager style.

She felt mighty, mighty good. Smelled nice, too, even after slinging hash for twelve straight hours. I felt her slowly relax, partly into the truck seat and partly into me.

At least for this cowboy, as she called me, nothing is more arousing than a good woman relaxing like that. My own tension, tension I didn’t even know I had, bled away in response. Except for the front of my jeans. Not much relaxing there. Which made me smile into the moonlight. No, doctore, we don’t need no steenking Viagra!

“You’re a breath of fresh air,” she said. Took me a second to realize she’d spoken.

“Me?” Genuine surprise. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life but never a breath of fresh air. Without warning, a sort of snort-chuckle broke free. “I appreciate that.” She wasn’t fishing. She really meant it. “My old man, when I was a kid…well, when I was a young kid. When I was ten, my dad fell off his horse drunk in the middle of a creek and drowned himself. So before that. He used to call me knothead. And bonehead. And when I couldn’t get something done exactly the way he wanted, his favorite thing was, Do I have to draw you a blueprint? It wasn’t until much later, long after he was dead, that I realized he wouldn’t have known how to draw a blueprint in the first place. He could barely read and write. Never dared tell him I wished he would draw a blueprint. Man talked like he had a mouthful of mush.”

Her turn to smile in the moonlight. I know because I was looking when she did it. Magical lips, sparkling eyes, I might just be in trouble. “There were only the two of us girls in my family, unlike the prolific Spotted Bull clan. Jace–she left the Rez at age seventeen, married a social worker. They live in Ohio now. Our dad went from liver cancer a few years ago. When we were growing up, he used to tell me constantly that I was homely as a mud fence. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties, looking through an old photo album, that I realized he was wrong. Took a while to rehabilitate my self image.”

“I bet.”

“Jace didn’t get told that but he did harp on her another way. Told her she waddled like a duck.”

I winced. “Ouch.”

Tania chuckled softly. “He never told her what he meant by that, though. As a young girl, Jace naturally walked with her toes turned way out. You know, like a saddle bronc rider coming out of the chute. She’s smarter than me. Corrected her own gait in her twenties. As an adult. That’s pretty tough to do.”

“I can imagine.”

“Not surprising, though. Jace wants to get something done, it gets done. Regular bulldog. Smart, too. Photographic memory. Straight A grades in college, 4.0. all the way through.”

“What did she study?”

“Molecular biology. Don’t ask me what that is, okay?”

“I won’t if you won’t.” That was Greek to me, too. “How about you? Did you go on past high school?”

“Yeah.” She sighed, more resigned acceptance than regret. “Two year trade school. I’m a certified welder. For what it’s worth.”

“I’d think it’d be worth a lot.” Certainly a lot more than molecular biology in my book. I understand welding.

“It would be, depending on where you lived. But my mom got sick and I came back to the Reservation to take care of her. That was a full time job and then some. I kept up my certification and managed to hang onto the welding equipment I’d acquired…until somebody stole the lot last year.”

Common story, here and elsewhere. Largely due to poverty and various addictions, anything worth selling to a fence is at risk these days. Which was a big part of why Otis and I were pleased to be living as far off the beaten track as we were. “You took care of your mother for how long?”

“That’s odd.” She tapped a forefinger, the one on my thigh. Nice. “I never really thought about it. I was twenty-seven when she was diagnosed with MS. I remember that. She just died last year, the day after Christmas and the day before my fifty-second birthday, so…twenty-five years, right?”

“Sounds like it. That’s a lot, honey.”

The honey part has just slipped right on out of my big mouth. What was I thinking? At least I knew what I was thinking when I’d told her things from John Cavanaugh’s youth. Otis and I had discussed that at length. Better to stick to the stories we knew best, we’d agreed, except where identifying marks were involved. For instance, I wouldn’t be mentioning my skills as a machinist.

We talked for hours, marking time only by the passage of the moon. In the end, I dropped her off back at the casino at 4:32 a.m., waiting until she’d gotten into her rust bucket of a car–an antique Dodge Dart or I missed my guess, but not even the guy on Counting Cars would want to try restoring that beast–fired it up, and pulled out of the lot. The machine sounded a lot better than it looked. I suspected my lady friend the welder possessed some mechanical skills, too, or knew some guys who did.

I hoped it wasn’t that she knew some guys. Heading home, it pleased me to dwell on the memory of our single kiss, on the lips but no tongue, right before she exited my truck. I might be in trouble but I was loving it. What a woman.

My little shoulder-devil was silent. He’s all about lust, conquest, the yee-haw! stuff. I think he was sulking.

========================================================

KERMIT CAVANAUGH LAW OFFICE

“Fire me now and be done with it.”

Kermit Cavanaugh looked up from the thick sheaf of papers Lanie Delaney had just slapped down on his desk. “Fire you?” His stomach roiled. Fire the vivacious blonde with the perky butt, brains out the wazoo, more energy oozing from her pores than anyone he’d seen since the long-ago African American girl he’d called the Energizer Bunny? He did not want to lose this girl. The realization came with a sickening jolt. He’d pay her to stay, even if she did nothing but office management. But he hadn’t become known as a super-shark of an attorney without developing a poker face. “Why?”

“Because,” she replied, dropping into a padded chair reserved for clients. Her blue eyes blazed. “I’m a total failure.”

“How so? You certainly did the job of getting Sheriff Dunmore off my back.”

“Yeah, okay, but finding your dad? I’m at the end of my rope. It’s like he vanished from the face of the Earth. Easier to find Jimmy Hoffa.” She nibbled her lower lip, troubled, down on herself.

“You’re in good company.” Kermit kept his voice gentle. Don’t spook the wild mare. “You do realize hundreds of people have given it their best shot. Including law enforcement professionals. Bounty hunters. Private detectives. Maybe even the government for all I know.”

“Yeah, well, they didn’t promise before they failed to deliver, did they?”

Cavanaugh leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers and thinking, how do I phrase my response to that? He’d never seen Lanie look more fetching. Hair in that trademark ponytail. Sky blue eyes. Fire engine red western shirt, silver-link belt–at least it looked like silver–with stone-encrusted buckle. Stone washed jeans tucked into the cutest little red cowgirl boots he’d ever seen. Red for the blood after she kicks a guy in the cojones, maybe, but danged if the girl wouldn’t be worth the risk. Not for him personally, but if he had a daughter who looked like that, he’d never leave his house without carrying a loaded shotgun.

“There are still a whole bunch of hunters out there,” he said finally. “Maybe one of them will stumble on dear old Dad. If I quit obsessing over John Cavanaugh, or at least cut back a little, think you could do the same? ‘Cause there are other ways you could provide value to Cavanaugh Law, PLC.”

“You think?” She looked doubtful.

“I think. Put your energy to work, partner with me in a sense, and I’m betting we could grow my law practice to gargantuan size.” Gargantuan? Where had that word come from? “You’re a people persuader. I’m not, except in the courtroom. That’s my forte. Glad handing is not. I dislike stupid buyers and hate stupid sellers despite the fact that their stupidity makes me money. I can just see it now.” His eyes rolled toward the ceiling. He really was seeing it. “You as the face of Cavanaugh Law, me as the dorsal fin slicing through the water, ready to strike.”

“Hm.” Lanie crossed her legs. Tapped a forefinger against magazine cover quality lips. “I guess I could see that working. But what if we powered up so much business, you had to hire like crazy just to keep up? Paralegals, clerical staff, maybe even an investigator for the more questionable cases. ‘Cause I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but not everyone out there is completely ethical. Or competent.”

“See? You’ve got the vision already.”

The blonde leaned forward, body language shouting interested involvement. “Maybe. But Kermit, could you afford it? To keep me on until we got business ramped up, I mean?”

Having the woman question his ability to afford her–afford to employ her! Employ her! It was like a challenge to his manhood. At that moment, having been manipulated like no woman had ever manipulated him before and also having absolutely no clue he’d been thoroughly had, Kermit sealed his own doom.

“I can’t afford not to give it a shot, Lanie,” he said in his sternest voice. “We’ll put old John on the back burner for a while. You get out there to your desk. Put together your ideas and we’ll go over them first thing tomorrow morning. Deal?”

“All right. Deal.” She nodded. Stood. Threw her boss a snappy salute, turned on her heel, and got to work. She didn’t smile at all. She was afraid that if she started, she’d never be able to stop. Might even wind up giggling and that would never do.

4 thoughts on “The Slider, Chapter 10: Homely As A Mud Fence

  1. Excellent chapter, Ghost. You do know how to build up suspense… LOL
    Manny

  2. Thanks, Manny. The curious thing is that while I deeply appreciate your encouragement when you read these chapters, all I’m really aware of doing is letting the characters move forward through life. They’re already telling their tales and I’m simply the stenographer, in a sense. 😀

  3. Well, the old man seems to have developed a crush. She is probably wondering why he hasn’t made the move on her yet. That seems to be the way guys operate now, making the moves before even letting the girl decide if she likes him.’As for Kermit, maybe he has found someone that can heal him a little bit.

  4. Yes, Tom clearly has a crush. And they both have Irish genetics. Tania may be wondering why he hasn’t made a move or she may be surprised but relieved. Seems like quite a few gals are willing to make the first move today if the guy takes too long, too.

    Tom and Tania. Slider and Snake. Hmmm….

    You’re likely right about Kermit. Being willing to make changes in his working life rather than lose her as an employee bodes well.

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