No Controlling Legal Authority Ch. 26byTheScribe©
They arrived in Posey's Bend around midnight. Caleb slept the entire way, not even stirring when they drove through the wildlife refuge, where the geese were honking so loudly Anne could scarcely hear Sam and Danny conspiring to undermine her virtue. She drove unerringly, straight into the heart of town, and, before stopping, she circled the deserted square once to get the feel of the place. It was, she recognized immediately, just like all the other small towns within a half-day's drive of Bentonville, Arkansas; it had been Walmartized to the brink of extinction. The windows of the grand old Victorian storefronts that surrounded the square were sporting more plywood than plate-glass, and the Christmas decorations, a motley, bedraggled assortment of mismatched foil candy-canes and Christmas trees that were hanging like dispatched ghosts of Christmases past from the light poles along the sidewalks, tended more to remind her of the Caruthers' meager observances of the occasion than to lift her spirits.
She slowed as she neared the main entrance to the courthouse, which occupied the center of the square and guided the car into a space that was marked with a sign saying "Reserved Parking – Judge Montcastle."
"Wake up, Caleb," she said softly, shaking his shoulder as she spoke. "We're home."
Caleb blinked his eyes and struggled to right himself in the seat. He looked around, staring through the windshield with a bewildered expression on his face while he tried to orient himself with his surroundings.
"Where are we?" he asked, rubbing his eyes with his fists like a little boy.
"Posey's Bend, or what's left of it," she said matter of factly.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he exclaimed in surprise when his eyes opened sufficiently for him to read the sign designating his parking place.
"Nothing to it, Caleb; I just followed Highway 51, and it brought me right here."
"What time is it?" he asked sleepily.
"Eleven forty," she replied.
"Have you seen Mood Dog and Hunter?"
"Yeah, they followed us down from Mayfield. They're parked behind us, across the street."
"Good," he said, glancing over his shoulder toward the sedan behind them with its lights off. "I'll be right back; I need to tell them what we're up to." Then he paused with his hand on the door handle and said with a grin, "You can scoot over while I'm gone; I think I can find my way now."
He was only gone a minute, and when he returned he slipped into the driver's seat and started the motor. As he backed into the street, he explained "They're going to follow us and return your car to you, when I drop you off."
"Drop me off?" she echoed questioningly. She wasn't sure where she was going to spend the night, but she hadn't expected to be "dropped off."
"Right," he said as he steered the car around the square and onto a side street. "I fell asleep and didn't get the chance to tell you. I made arrangements for you to stay at Miss Kate's boarding house. It was the best I could do on short notice, since the motel burned down last summer and apartments are in short supply."
"But, 'Miss Kate's boarding house?'" she repeated skeptically. She could just see herself rocking on a porch with a flock of senile, old pensioners and the thought hadn't a lot of appeal.
"Don't worry; you'll love Kate. Everybody loves Kate. God knows how old she is now, but she showed up eons ago and it seems like she's been around here forever. Hardly ever leaves her porch anymore, though, but she still wears her pink silk robe and matching slippers all the time, and she still smokes unfiltered Camel cigarettes in a foot long, ivory cigarette holder. Her hair's gone blue-white on her, but she'll be wearing it all puffed up like a cloud around her head, just like she did forty years ago."
"From your description, it sounds like she could have been the Cotton Queen's sole survivor," Anne laughed.
"Not quite," Caleb chuckled."
"Well, where did she come from then," she asked.
"Ah, now, there's a question," he answered, sounding a little mystical. "Where did she come from? You get the answer to that question out of her, Annie, my girl, and you'll give some of the folks in Posey's Bend the best Christmas they've ever had."
"Really?" she said with increased interest. "You don't know where she came from?"
"Nobody knows for sure. It's one of Posey's Bend's many mysteries; you'll learn about the others if you stay around a while."
"I thought in a place this small, everybody knows everybody else's business, right down to how often they wash their shirts and sleep with their wives."
"They do, believe me," he laughed. "But she's been as tight lipped about her past as a reformed madam at a job interview. She's French, or Flemish, that much I know, because her French accent's still so thick you can't understand hardly half what she says and she calls everybody 'Cheri' with every other breath."
"That's it? That's all you know about her?"
"That's pretty much it. Oh, there was some talk way back when she first got here. They say she was beautiful then, like a movie star or something of the sort, and the talk was that during the War she had worked for the French underground luring German soldiers into dark alleys and back rooms where the resistance fighters could waylay them."
"Wow," she whistled.
"Yeah. The rumor was that she had so much German blood on her hands that she couldn't stay in France after the War or some soldier's relative would hunt her down and even the score, so she came here."
"If that story's true, she sure picked the perfect place to disappear to," Anne observed, nodding toward the vacant buildings as they drove through town, "'cause, this is about the last place on earth anybody's going to come looking for anybody else."
"Oh, you might be surprised about that," Caleb laughed. "We used to be a pretty busy crossroads; that highway you came in on was the main road from Chicago to New Orleans a few years back, before interstate highway went through on the other side of the river. We've had all kinds of folks through here, from President Roosevelt to Al Capone."
"I don't doubt it, Caleb, but all of them kept moving 'cause they couldn't make a go of it here, didn't they."
"You got me there," he grinned.
"But, Miss Kate stayed? She made it work for her, I guess."
"She sure did. Settled right in and bought the biggest house in town. Paid cash money for it, too. Turned it into a boarding house right off the bat and started letting out rooms, but she always turned the old folks away and wouldn't rent to them. She said they were too old and stuffy, and she liked laughter and music, so she only rented to young people. She's still that way, pretty much. She'd rather have the place go empty than open her door to an old codger with a walker."
"Doesn't sound very practical to me," Anne observed.
"You're right. I doubt she's taken in more than two hundred a month in rent money the whole time she's been here, but making money never seemed to matter to her. She always appeared to have as much as she needed, kept the place fixed up, had a full time gardener to tend her flowers and always drove the newest, biggest Cadillac convertible she could find."
"I can see why there's all the talk about her, then," she smiled. "She sounds like quite a local character."
"I meant it, you're absolutely going to love her," he proclaimed, bubbling with enthusiasm. "Wherever she came from, you can bet she's been around the block a time or two in her day. She's about the most worldly woman to come through Posey's Bend since they shut down old Leviticus' tavern over at the River. Why, when I told her I was bringing a girl to stay with her for a few days, she winked at me and punched me with her elbow so hard I thought she had cracked a rib, and she told me, 'I put her in zee bes chambre wis zee beeg bed wis zee tres bon springs, n'est pas, Cheri?'"
"My kinda girl," Anne deadpanned, but she couldn't help wondering if her arrival might not displace Miss Kate as Posey's Bend's "most worldly woman."
"You'll have to wait till tomorrow morning to meet her; I'm afraid she went to bed hours ago. She gave me your key so you can let yourself in tonight."
"How much does Miss Kate charge for 'zee bes chambre?'" Anne asked apprehensively. "I haven't much cash left right now, and I somehow doubt that Rufus'll be in much of a hurry to forward my last check even if he knew where to send it."
"Don't worry about Kate; that's taken care of."
"I pay my own bills, thanks," she said bristling slightly.
"Hey, take it easy," he yelped defensively. "All I meant was that she's cool to wait a while till you get on your feet. I explained your situation, and she said you could pay her after Christmas."
"How much a week, please?"
"That's pretty cheap," she observed suspiciously.
"Well, I don't know about Missouri, but it's about standard around here, especially if you're a landlord who's more interested in company than profit."
"Did you explain to her exactly how I was going to earn enough money to pay any rent? I don't have a job, if you recall, and Posey's Bend surely doesn't look like its economy is going to offer me much of one, either."
"You have a job if you want it."
"Really?" she asked sounding skeptical.
"Doing what, exactly?" She glanced from side to side dubiously.
"Teaching third grade at the new school out in the county. It's about ten minutes from Miss Kate's place."
"You're pulling my leg, aren't you; tell me you're pulling my leg."
His eyes drifted to her legs the first time she mentioned the word and by the second time she said "leg," his gaze was fixed on her hemline and the shadow between her legs. Dammit, he grumbled silently, as, too late to avoid detection, he tore his eyes away. He always falls for tricks like that. Ever since he was a kid, he's been falling for such tricks; a sucker for suggestion, he thought. Even stupid kid tricks like pointing to one of the buttons on his shirt and then, when he looked down to see what the commotion was about, getting his nose flicked with the pointer's pointing finger.
"No kidding," he assured her. "The job's yours if you want it."
"Want it, of course, I want it," she answered excitedly. "Elementary education is my specialty and third grade is my favorite grade, but I only got to teach it for a year."
"Your principal that year still thinks very highly of you, too."
"You talked to him?"
"Not me, the Superintendent of Schools did."
"How, what?" she sputtered, because this time he had truly surprised her.
"The Super's an old friend of mine. I knew he had a vacancy opening up, so told him about you, and he thought you sounded perfect for the job. I gave him some names and numbers I thought might be good references, and he checked them out."
"You had the names and phone numbers where I worked before Hardwick?"
"Yes, I did."
"Wow! You are really something, you know that? Are you always that thorough?"
"Clarence, is thorough; I am a mess most of the time."
"Yeah, right," she jeered.
"Look, I know it's an intrusion and that I was assuming a heck of a lot by sticking my nose in to find you a job before you even knew where your were heading, but I figured, under the circumstances, if you didn't have any place else to go and wanted to stay here, that you probably would want to find a job. Did I screw up?"
She looked at him with her soft blue eyes and studied his earnest features in the dim light of the passing streetlights. His face was masked with a look of concern, and it was obvious that he was worried that his generosity wasn't welcome. She was deeply touched; moved by his kindness, of course, but his lack of assurance struck the more responsive cord, and her face broke into a smile. It was the kind of smile that can light up a room and hush a crowd, the kind of smile that can cause a cabby to slam on his brakes and back up in rush hour traffic or bedazzle a clerk into returning too much change.
"No, you didn't screw up, Caleb," she said gently.
"Whew," he sighed genuinely relieved. "I was a little worried that I might be getting ahead of myself."
"No, no, not at all," she reassured him. "It's just a lot to absorb unexpectedly, that's all. I'm stunned, I admit, but thrilled too. I feel like I'm lost in a dream or something and it's not real."
"Oh, it's real, all right," Caleb smiled with the enthusiasm returning to his voice. "Tomorrow, I'll drive you out to the school, and you can meet the principal and get a look at your classroom."
"Oh, Caleb, can I really?" she bubbled, and he could tell she was beginning to become excited herself.
"Absolutely," he answered, but then, looking sheepishly at her again, he continued, "right after we take care of another matter that I've arranged for you."
Her smile faded a little and Danny Devito popped up squawking, "Here comes the other shoe droppin', baby. You better loosen up those pretty lips of yours, 'cause five'll get you ten that 'other matter's' he's arranged for you's gonna be his blowjob comin' up."
"What kind of matter?" she asked darkly, heeding Danny's heads-up.
"You have an appointment with Jimmy Waller in the morning."
"Oh?" she questioned more than a little puzzled. "I don't know Jimmy Waller, do I?"
"No, you don't, but you need to."
"Why?" She questioned tersely.
"Because, he's the president of the bank, and he's going to open your account and give you a line of credit to see you through till your paychecks start coming in or whenever."
"I don't believe this," she gasped in stunned surprise. "The bank's going to give me credit? I don't even have credit."
"Yes, you do and it's impeccable; never been late on a payment on your car, your stereo or your computer."
"You're truly amazing me, Caleb," she muttered. "I had forgotten all about those accounts."
"They're still on your credit report following you around like a shadow."
She smiled like Freud when he let the word "shadow" slip, and so, she zinged him a little by remarking obliquely, "Shadows can be creepy sometimes, don't you think?"
"Well, I guess so; well, maybe," he answered a little off his stride, and she though she detected a hint of a blush on his cheeks but it was dark in the car and he continued talking before she could be certain. "But this account won't go on your record, so it won't be following you anywhere."
"Because, anybody with a computer and half a lick of sense can access your credit report and the minute a loan from the Farmers and Traders Bank of Posey's Bend, Tennessee, shows up on it, they will know exactly where to start looking for you."
"I see," she said, nodding reflectively for a moment, and then, she asked, "Isn't there a law or something that makes banks report the loans they make?"
"There are exceptions," he replied evasively.
"Like what?" she insisted.
"Like if Jerry Waller's your first cousin, that's an exception."
"He's not my cousin; I don't even know the man."
"Good Grief, Charlie Brown," Caleb laughed. "Jimmy's my cousin, and he's helping you out as a favor to me."
"How much money is Cousin Jimmy offering to loan me as a favor to you, Caleb?" She inquired in a carefully modulated voice. Danny was chuckling in the back of her mind in the vicinity of her control panel, "He, he, he, baby, here's where we gonna find out how much that precious little pussy of yours is worth, ain't we? I been tellin' your pal, Sam, here, that you done sold him a load of crap with that 'outa this world' pussy bullshit. I'm figuring two fifty, tops, babe."
"Twenty thousand dollars," he replied as casually as if he had been reporting the price of the morning newspaper.
"My God," she gasped in shock, "that's more than I was going to make at Hardwick for the whole year."
"I know," he replied calmly. "It's about what you'll make for the second semester in the county system here."
"Forty thousand a year?" she exclaimed, shaking her head in disbelief. "I've never made anything close to that."
"It's the standard pay here for a teacher with your qualifications and experience."
"God, it seems too good to be true. I know I'm dreaming now, so you may as well go on and finish it for me. Tell me, why on earth would Jimmy want to lend me twenty thousand dollars?"
"It's not a loan, Anne, it's a line of credit. You can borrow what you need up to the twenty thousand, that's all."
"Why so much? That's a lot of money."
"It's not all that much, really."
"It sure is to me."
"I set it up for twenty thousand just in case you had need of it."
"Just in case of what, pray tell, would I need a twenty thousand dollar loan?"
"In case you decided not to stay around here; wanted to start new some place else. It would take you a while to get on your feet, so I figured you would probably need at least that much to keep going."
"What makes you think I wouldn't just take the money and run and forget all about paying your cousin back?"
"Moon Dog vouched for you."
"I don't believe it." She declared flatly. "You mean that spooky old guy with the big gun who hardly talks at all, don't you? He vouched for me?"
"Actually, he did a good bit more than that. I believe his exact words were 'that young lady's got more guts and grit than a Ranger battalion, and if I had to bet on which was more likely, her not paying a loan back or a toddler taking down Ft. Knox with a toothbrush, I'd be puttin' my money on the toddler.'"
"Gee, he said that?" she grinned. "That's more than he said to me the whole past week; and you believed him?"
"Absolutely," he declared emphatically.
She sat in stunned silence for the last minutes of the drive, trying to make some sense of things. The succession of experiences, beginning with her flight from Hardwick and the terror of being hunted by Cletus and Nadeen, had left her shaken and confused, almost ready to crumble, and just when she felt like a rabbit that had run out of places to hide, she stumbled onto salvation.
"You really meant it, didn't you, Caleb?" she asked him softly.
"What you told me back at the Acock; that I could pick up and go whenever I wanted. I doubted you then, but…"
"I know," he replied understandingly. "You had good reason to; a person doesn't have many options, if they're broke."
"You knew I was broke?"
"Let's just say I knew you were stretched pretty thin." "God," she gushed like the wind had been knocked out of her. "Is there anything about me you don't know?"
"There's plenty I don't know, I expect," he said, steering the car to the curb and turning to look at her after the car stopped. "I was hoping to start filling in the gaps at dinner tomorrow night, if you'll have dinner with me, that is. I know a pretty cool restaurant over by the river called Le Maison du Maurice that you might like."
"Are you asking me out on a date, Judge Montcastle?" she teased half seriously.
"Well, I, I, I, guess you could call…" he stuttered.
"In that case, I accept," she laughed gently, and then she reached her hand toward him and placed it lightly on his arm. "Caleb," she began "I don't know where to start thanking you for all you've done."
He glanced down at her hand lying on his arm and was about to respond when a quartet of exterior flood lights on the house they were parked in front of came on and flooded street with a wash of dazzling light.
"Oh, hell," he grumbled. "That'll be Miss Kate. I guess the commotion of two cars pulling up in front of her house woke her up. You better get on inside or there'll be hell to pay."
"'Hell to pay?'" Anne questioned with a puzzled smile as she glanced toward the house in time to see the floodlights blink impatiently. "I thought you said she was worldly."