No Controlling Legal Authority Ch. 23byTheScribe©
The door opened immediately, but cautiously, just a crack at first, while identification was established, and then, after a moment of hesitation, it swung open.
"Hi, Clarence," the girl in the doorway said speaking directly to Moon Dog and ignoring Caleb. She had a sort of quizzical look on her face, and her eyes were reddened, like she had been crying, which Caleb suspected was the case given all that she had been through in the preceding few hours.
"Miss Noble," Moon Dog began a little self-consciously, and, summoning his manners, he placed his ham hand on Caleb's shoulder as though singling him out of a crowd, and continued, "May I present Judge Caleb Montcastle?"
Anne's head whipped toward Caleb, and her eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Oh!" she gasped, and she covered her lips with her fingers in an attempt to mask her astonishment.
Oh, shit, what's wrong, Caleb thought in a panic, and, as he fought the impulse to recoil, he glanced down to check his fly and then looked toward Moon Dog.
"Is something wrong, Miss?" Moon Dog asked solicitously, and he looked Caleb over out of the corner of his eye just to be sure the young fellow hadn't sprouted horns and a tail.
"I, I, uh, no, no, of course not," the girl stammered, recovering from her initial shock with a crimson flush in her cheeks, and extending her hand toward Caleb with an embarrassed grin, she explained, "I just expected you to be much older."
He shook her hand and obvious signs of relief spread across his face despite his best efforts to conceal them. The firmness of her grip amazed him nearly as much as the steady, level gaze she sized him up with as their handshake proceeded through casual to friendly and then to engaged. He pumped her hand with boyish eagerness, recognizing instantly the gravity of the injustice that had been done to her by comparing her looks to Gweneth Paltrow.
"Hi," she said, tugging her arm gently to extract her hand from his.
"Hello, Miss Noble," he replied seriously, but then, he wowed her with a grin that she guessed could charm the panties off any girl in his hometown, and said, "If you prefer, I'll leave and come back in twenty years or so."
A smile flickered across her lips and she shook her head. "That won't be necessary, Judge, just step into my room; it must have something to do with the décor, but I get the feeling I've been aging at the rate of about two years an hour in here. Come on in, and you'll catch up to expectations in twenty minutes or so."
She stepped back into the room, and he bent forward at the waist sort of reluctantly leaning through the threshold, and looked around. The furnishings were sparse in the extreme. The double bed was covered in a frayed, cotton chenille spread that sagged in the middle like the back of a broken down plow horse, and an open, but neatly packed suitcase was sitting on the foot. There was a cheap, motel-grade nightstand that was missing most of its veneer beside the bed, and it was supporting a lamp that was wearing, crookedly, a shade that looked to have been flattened and straightened about twice every week since Lee's surrender at Appomattox. A rickety looking desk with the center drawer missing was leaning against the wall in the far corner, and above it hung one of those God-awful paint on velvet paintings of Elvis Presley, the sort that you could buy all over Juarez for a quarter apiece, and, for another quarter, you could screw the vendor while she held the painting over her head so The King could watch while you did your thing. The carpet, which he speculated might have been shag at some point in the distant past, was worn clear through to the concrete flooring from the doorway to the foot of the bed, and, between the bed and the front wall, it was ripped for about three feet as though a previous tenants had tried to wrestle a three thousand pound safe into the bed.
"I was wondering about the "décor" at the Acock," he muttered shaking his head.
"Don't even go there," Anne moaned. "Your buddy, Clarence, here, said we were on a tight budget, so I've spent the last three nights rappelling just to get from one side of the bed to the other."
"Dog, this flea bag looks like a three dollar special in Saigon back in the old days," he complained. "I thought the budget could handle something a little better than this."
"Security, Judge, couldn't beat it," Moon Dog replied with an air of authority. "One way in; one way out. Eight rooms, none facing the street, and a ten foot security fence at both ends of the parking lot."
"Sounds like you boys were just lucky the State legislature wasn't in town this week," Anne interjected.
Caleb's eyebrows lifted, and he looked at her questioningly. Moon Dog peeked around the doorframe and asked, "How's that, Miss?"
"'Cause," she grinned impishly, "the clerk said this room goes for three hundred a night when the legislature's in town, but that I could make two thousand a night, easy, if I wanted to."
"You mean legislators actually stay HERE?" Caleb gasped incredulously. He didn't hear Moon Dog's cough or his feet scuffling on the walk outside the room, because the Dog had turned his back to him and was bending over looking at his shoes.
"Well, no," she replied without a hint of humor except for a twinkle in her eyes which Caleb failed to notice, "Actually, I didn't mean that at all."
"Well, wha…" Caleb began, but Moon Dog had managed to right himself and yanked on his arm to get his attention.
"Judge!" he gasped, sucking in air and nearly choking on the word. His face was beet red, and Caleb could have sworn there were tears welling up in the corners of the tough old warrior's eyes.
"What, Dog?" he asked, forgetting for the present his curiosity about legislative sleeping accommodations.
"We've got to check out of here, or we'll owe another night's rent on the whole place."
"Jesus Christ, right; when's checkout?"
"He gave me till two thirty for an extra fifty."
"Must be his off-season rate," Caleb grumbled. "What time is it, now?"
"Two twenty-one and thirty seconds."
"Damn," Caleb grumbled, "I thought Miss Noble and I would have more than nine and a half minutes to talk."
"Nine minutes, now, Judge, and counting down fast," Moon Dog responded glancing at his watch, "But take as long as you want, another thirty minutes'll only cost you fifty more."
"That's OK, Judge Montcastle," Anne said, "I'm all packed and ready to go."
She turned and leaned over the end of the bed to close her bag, and it was then that he noticed her legs. Her skirt was short, almost too short for the season, and it rode up her bare thighs as she bent. Her shoes were low healed, red pumps with sling backs that exposed her heels, and she wore a tiny gold ankle bracelet around one ankle. Her movements stretched her legs and her toned, athletic muscles rippled as she worked the clasps to secure the suitcase. Her skirt pulled tightly across her butt and revealed the prominent rounded globes of her firm cheeks. In his mind, erotic visions of those cheeks, bared, parting, warmed from within, began lifting off the pages of Moon Dog's report to dance like children around his stirring maypole.
"I'll take that, Miss," he heard Moon Dog say behind him, and he blinked to chase the images away.
"Caleb, please, just call me Caleb," he said, sounding a little distant.
"Alright, then, Caleb, it is," she replied agreeably, and she reached around him to pass her suitcase to Moon Dog.
"I'll put this in the car, while you two get acquainted," Moon Dog said with a knowing smirk.
"Miss Noble," he began awkwardly when the sounds of Moon Dog's foot steps had faded.
"Anne," she corrected him gently. "If I can call a judge by his first name, he surely can call me by mine."
"Anne, then," he nodded, "There are things we need to discuss; I had hoped…" His voice trailed off like he had lost the handle on what he wanted to say.
"What's to discuss, Caleb?" she answered matter of factly. "Your friend Terrell told me your terms, and I accept them. My mind's made up, if that's what you're wondering about. I'm outa here; where ever you're taking me, that's where I'm going. I don't know why, but you and your spooky friends out there in the parking lot are saving my life. If it hadn't been for them, I'd probably be dead like Jackson by now. If I hang around here another day, I will be like Jackson."
He remembered her friend and felt in his pocket for the bikini Moon Dog had handed to him in the parking lot, but he thought better of returning it to her then.
"I'm sorry about your friend," he said with genuine sympathy.
"Me, too," she said softly and a fresh tear rolled down her cheek. "He was a good man."
"I'd like to be your friend," Caleb proposed solemnly. He pulled a Kleenex tissue out of the box on the bed and handed it to her.
She dabbed at her eyes for a second or two, and then let her arms fall to her sides and turned to face him. She drew herself to attention with languid grace, bringing her feet together, squaring her shoulders and lifting her firm breasts toward him. Her chin rose resolutely, and her eyes, soft, yet absolutely determined, never left his face. She inhaled a deep breath as though calling upon some hidden reservoir of strength, and began speaking in low, measured tones that left no doubt about her decision.
"You can be what ever you want to be, Judge Caleb Montcastle. The way I see it, you're holding all the cards, and my life is in your hands. I'll do what ever you want me to do; be what ever you want me to be. Terrell says you're a good man, and I'm willing to bet my life on that assessment."
"What if he's wrong about me?"
"He's not; he's one of the good guys, too."
"How could you possibly be sure about that?" he questioned with a mildly puzzled look.
"Oh, girls have ways," she responded vaguely. "But, you don't even know where we're going," he protested.
"Do you think that matters, Caleb? Where ever it is, it's got to be better than where I've been, but I suspect you know that already, don't you?"
"What do you mean?" he answered defensively.
"Your friends out there, Clarence and the other one, uh, Hunter," she said, gesturing toward the open doorway. "They've been asking me a lot of questions, personal questions, and taking notes and tape recording everything. And, they talked to Terrell about me, too; I know about that, because he asked me if it was OK first, but God knows who else they've talked to. Rufus Justice, maybe? He could give them an ear full, that's for sure, and one look at them would have him spilling his guts like a tipped over mop bucket. Neither one of them looked like they were gathering information for a novel about the life and times of little Annie Noble, school teacher extraordinary, so they had to be reporting the information to somebody, and you were the only choice. By the way, Judge, your friends are a couple of pretty sinister guys, in case you didn't know it, and they carry guns, everywhere."
"You're right, of course," he replied candidly. "I apologize for the intrusion into your personal life, Anne, but when I'm asked to help someone, I have to know what I'm getting into before I agree to do it."
"So, now you know," she said unflinchingly.
"Now, I know."
"And, you're here?"
"I'm here," he answered, and she was struck by the gentleness of his voice and the kindness in his eyes.
"Where are you taking me?"
"I'm not 'taking you' anywhere, Anne," he corrected her. "You and I are going to Tennessee, because that's the best way I can help you today. What you do tomorrow or the day after that, is up to you."
"Do you think so, Caleb?"
"I know so."
"Easy as that? Just pick up and go whenever I feel like it?"
"Easy as that."
"We'll see," she sighed softly and without challenge, but he thought he saw in her eyes, or maybe in the set of her jaw, some of the coolly calculating, world-weary sort of hapless wisdom that he had seen before in the faces of convicts who were coming for the umpteenth time before an unfavorably disposed parole board.
There was a moment of awkward silence while she searched his eyes for the warning signs of insincerity, and he tried to make himself appear to be as innocent as his knowledge of her would permit. He was awe-struck by her, of course, but Moon Dog's report had prepared him for this moment, and he passed her inspection with flying colors, or so he thought. He had transcribed Moon Dog's words onto the pages of his brain, and the litany of her attributes glowed there like the Runish writings on Frodo's Ring: resilient, resolute, self-reliant, resourceful, capable, competent, canny, determined, defiant, undefeatable, strong, self-assured, poised, powerful… The list was nearly endless, and to it, now, he added, beautiful, sensuous, sensitive, seductive, curvaceous, divine, delicious and delectable.
"Am I riding with you, with them, or driving myself?" she asked with the tiniest hint of a smile, interrupting his mental note taking and leaving him to consider whether she might have been reading his last notes over his shoulder, as it were.
"With me; Moon Dog and Hunter'll take your car, if that's OK with you," he said, and he worried for a minute that he might have been subconsciously licking his lips while he was jotting down "divine, delicious and delectable."
"I'd like that, Caleb," she said, smiling warmly and patting his arm as she stepped toward the doorway, "that'll give me a chance to find out all about you, so I'll know what I'm getting myself into." "Touché," he whispered after she had passed him, but she was already gone, walking across the parking lot toward Moon Dog and Hunter, and only the swirling vapors of her perfume lingered to hear him speak.
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