A Bad Day for Sorry
Whuppin' ass wasn't so hard, Stella Hardesty thought as she took aim with the little Raven .25 she took off a cheating son-of-a-bitch in Kansas City last month.
What was hard was making sure it stayed whupped.
Especially on a day when it hit a hundred degrees before noon. And you were having hot flashes. And today's quote on your Calendar For Women Who Do Too Much read Find serenity in unexpected places.
"Fuck serenity," Stella said. And she shot the trailer.
Stella knew from experience that Roy Dean Shaw wasn't a particularly brave young buck. But then, the ones who smacked their women around rarely were.
Hunting him down was going to consume a sizeable chunk of her day off, and Stella was plenty annoyed. She only took Sundays and Tuesdays off from the sewing machine shop, and lately her sideline business was eating into her free time. Today, for instance, she'd had to cancel an appointment down at Hair Lines—cut and color—for the second time, and she hadn't done laundry all week.
It didn't help Stella's mood any that menopause had kicked into high gear now that her fiftieth birthday had come and gone. If widowhood had given Stella license to explore her authentic self, menopause stood under the window yelling at the bitch to come out and rumble. She felt like biting the heads off kittens—though that might actually be an asset today, given the talk she needed to have with Roy Dean.
A month ago, shortly after their first meeting, Roy Dean had called to give her his new address. It was one of the rules: all of her parolees were required to inform her of any change in their personal information. Besides address and phone number, they were required to report all their income sources and what they did in their leisure time and, most importantly, any new relationships with the fairer sex.
Reporting back to Stella was not optional, but her parolees were usually anxious to comply. First meetings with Stella tended to have that effect.
Second meetings—if a parolee was dim-witted enough to require one—put any lingering doubts to rest.
Stella wasn't bound by all the bureaucratic red tape that real parole officers had to wade through. She didn't have to fill out paperwork. She didn't report to a boss. She didn't have to appear in court. And she could make the parolees tell her any damn thing she wanted to know.
She couldn't, however, always make them tell the truth. Stella had no doubt that the address Roy Dean had given her, on Cedar Street in Harrisonville, existed. She'd even lay odds that Roy Dean or one of his relatives had lived there at some point.
But a punk like Roy Dean would never give her a fact if he could spin her some fiction instead. It was in his blood.
After a late breakfast of Pop-Tarts slathered with peanut butter, Stella made a half-hearted effort to get the laundry started, and paid a few bills from the bottom of the stack. Then she set out to track Roy Dean down.
She found a lead an hour later in a dank and yeasty booth in the back of the High Timer. The place was little more than a squat shed at the intersection of a couple of farm roads five miles out of town, but it was popular with local bikers, and Jelloman Nunn was exactly where she thought he'd be, enjoying a lunch of Polish sausages sizzled in the deep fryer and a mug of Busch. Jelloman was happy to see her, folding her into a hug that mashed her face against his greasy leather vest and tickled her forehead with his long, scratchy gray beard.
He was even happier to tell her what he knew. Jelloman, it turned out, had been to Roy Dean's new place to extract payment for some weed, and Roy Dean had been sufficiently reluctant to pay up that Jelloman was irritated. So he made sure to give Stella fine, detailed directions. There were a lot of turns at landmarks like "the busted-up Esso station" and "a refrigerator somebody dumped", which Stella copied carefully into her case notebook, which she then accidentally set down into a pool of spilled beer and had to dry off with a borrowed bar rag.
Her notebook was in sorry shape already, with a big coffee stain on the current page, and tomato sauce gluing several of the previous pages together. The tendency of her working papers to meet with misfortune dictated that every new case got its own notebook. Stella liked to pick them up in the school supplies aisle at the Wal-Mart when they went on sale. This particular one had a Happy Bunny logo and "It's all about me. Deal with it" written on the front.
Todd Groffe, the thirteen-year-old boy who lived two doors down and spent most of his free time finding new ways to be a pain in the butt, had informed Stella that Happy Bunny was over, a dead trend. Probably why the notebook was in the half-off bin at Wal-Mart. Luckily, Stella didn't spend a lot of time worrying about trends. "It's all about me"? That tickled her plenty—maybe she ought to tattoo it on her arm or something.
Stella tossed some money on the bar to cover Jelloman's lunch, and endured another boozy squeeze and a loud kiss on her ear. Back in her Jeep, Stella laid the notebook out on the passenger seat to dry, and tore out of the bar's dirt parking lot fast enough to spin gravel.
Nothing like a drive in the country to settle a person's spirits.
Stella's Jeep, a sweet little green Liberty with chrome aluminum wheels and a sunroof, had been her husband Ollie's pride and joy. He bought it new less than four months before he died, and never let Stella drive it once. Ollie said she didn't know how to handle a car that sat up off the road like that, so she kept driving the crappy little old Neon that Ollie himself had creased along a guard rail after a few too many beers coming home from a fishing trip.
Once Ollie was gone, Stella sold the Neon to a neighbor's teenage daughter for a few hundred bucks, and drove that Jeep like it had fire in the wheel wells. It never failed to light her up to take it out on the highway, with her favorite music cranked, rural Missouri flying by outside the windows.
"Love is like a cloud holds a lot of rain," Emmy Lou sang as Stella drove, and she hummed along. There was just nothing in the world like old Emmy Lou's drank-me-some-razor-blades-along-with-my-whiskey voice to smooth out Stella's own rough edges and ruffled feathers.
And today was turning out to be that kind of day. It wasn't just the hot flashes and the mood swings, either. Stella wasn't anybody's poster child for the Serenity Prayer on her best day, but thinking about Roy Dean's pretty wife Chrissy sitting in her living room trying not to cry, wearing long sleeves on a hot day to cover up the evidence of her husband's displeasure—well, that just made Stella's heart hurt.
Emmy Lou launched into "Sweet Old World." Stella sang along, squeaking on the high notes. Emmy Lou had no trouble taking her alto voice up into soprano territory, but Stella's own voice hunkered somewhere south. "Not much of a range" was how her junior high choir teacher put it, before making Stella a prompter, her only job to stand in the wings holding up cards during the performances. Well, screw Mrs. Goshen—Stella figured she'd sing any old damn time she wanted now.