When Lester took his attention away from the stranger for no more than a split second and directed his gaze toward the money he'd been counting, Estelle’s hand shot out, took hold of Roddy Granger’s index finger and began squeezing it. She rhythmically squeezed it, to the point it hurt him just a tad: squeeze, squeeze, squeeeeeze; squeeze, squeeze, squeeeeze. Roddy Granger flinched, withdrew his finger, paused, then tentatively presented the finger again in order to receive more of the oddly painful yet pleasurable "secret communication." He hadn’t asked for secret communication but was getting it, and getting it in spades. He shut his eyes tightly and to the exact cadence as his finger was being squeezed, he in turn squeezed his church card, an item he always kept on his person, shoved deep down into his pants pocket in case a spiritual emergency might arise.
Roddy suddenly opened his eyes wide, wider than they'd ever been, practically, in his entire life with the realization that ESTELLE WAS TRANSMITTING TO HIM IN MORSE CODE! Squeeze squeeze squeeeeze was obviously the international radiotelegraphic character for the letter U. She was telling him: U, U, U.
Before marriage, the mortgage and the car, Roddy Granger had been in possession of a commercial shipboard radiotelegraphic licence 2nd class. Never having worked aboard ship, Roddy nevertheless managed to pass the FCC's notoriously difficult sending and receiving examination as well as the equally challenging theory portion and thereby came into full possession of the prized "ticket." He framed and hung the certificate over his bed, a foot above his foam pillow with posturepedic contours.
It became obvious to Roddy Granger, now a full fledged insurance fraud field investigator that Estelle was transmitting a plea for help. And Roddy, to his mind, was the only person who could save her: You, you, you, she was saying. You you you.
Estelle, of course, knew not a single character of Morse Code but was simply squeezing Roddy's finger as part of her pulling out all the stops gambit. The stranger had arrived, just as she had "premmed," and appeared as if he needed a little help getting motivated. In fact, the stranger looked to be a bit of a dufus, if not a simpleton, not exactly the broad shouldered Jesus figure with a full head of hard rock shoulder length silky hair, Nordic features and tribal tattoos she had envisioned. No matter. There was one thing Estelle knew to be true if nothing else: Every man on the planet was a dufus underneath it all. And squeezing their index finger rhythmically worked just about every time.
"They'll do anything you want them to," one of her Romanian aunties instructed her as a child.
In the meanwhile, Lester kept up his banter while fingering uncounted money: “It’s like the land of the weeping willows in here at the moment, the whispering mists of Avalon or whatever, secrets being divulged just out of earshot. Am I right?”
Lester banged on the bar with both hands and bellowed: "Am I right, stranger?!"
Estelle withdrew her hand. Roddy flinched then blinked, emerging from the hypnotic oscillatory state Estelle had placed him in. All he knew now was that he needed to save her: Swinging from a rope like Tarzan save her. From what he didn't know exactly. Probably something to do with his case. Probably something that would tie it all together, a red bow around a gift box, in the end, which he would drop onto his supervisor's desk, simultaneously working the gaps of his incisors with a toothpick like he imagined all seasoned insurance fraud investigators did.
Estelle didn’t blink, naturally, when Lester banged on the bar but turned to Roddy Granger and asked, in a voice calm as lava flowing from a volcano’s fissure: “What’s a big strong man like you doing swimming in a toilet bowl like this?”
Estelle couldn't easily hide her bitterness and resentment of being trapped in the bar. Roddy Granger, of course, understood nothing of her situation, and had the impression she was possessed of Southern Belle like lyricism.
“Do I need to be jealous, Estelle?” Lester barked right away. "DO I NEED TO BE JEALOUS!" He banged on the table a second time. An empty Schlitz cans jumped, making a tink when it landed.
After Lester completed his violent arm motions, Roddy Granger couldn't help himself and sniffed the air several times. Lester had begun begun to sweat as soon as the stranger appeared at the door, a rancid secretion evinced from a subspecies of apocrine gland present at the apex of his crusted yellow armpits, activated only on occasions of extreme duress. His body knew something he didn't.
Estelle ignored Lester as she usually did and continued to watch Roddy Granger like a hawk. Roddy Granger started to figit. Estelle was watching him a little bit too wild eyed for comfort even though she had just transmitted to him in Morse Code her intimate plea for help; indeed, a little bit too wild eyed for someone he'd never met; even though he couldn’t actually see her eyes behind the red rimmed glasses sticking against her jet black olive oiled bangs. He could only imagine that she was watching him wild eyed, inappropriately imagine, but went on to even further inappropriately imagine her gaze being not unlike like that of a gazelle chased by a cougar, a cougar who all of a sudden came skidding to a halt simply because the gazelle equally as suddenly had stopped in her tracks, turned and affixed upon him a particularly entrancing bug-eyed glare.
Estelle was breathing hard in addition to her watching Roddy and Roddy figited some more: She seemed like she could read his mind and was obviously waiting for him to answer that hypothetical question that she didn't actually pose out loud (Roddy had posed it silently within his own cranial vault): Why WOULD a cougar all of a sudden stop chasing a gazelle EVEN IF that gazelle was looking at him in a peculiar way? A gazelle, for all intents and purposes, was the equivalent of a mouth watering cheeseburger for a cougar. So what gives with the cougar stopping look? Roddy Granger had no idea. It was a conundrum which miffed him. He felt a bit dizzy as a result.
Lester at that point raised his voice a notch and commenced, what Estelle referred to as background banter, his usual routine when counting his money, his “cash with a capital C” as he called it, flipping through the same stack of bills for the fifth time that day, licking his fingers (a little bit too much licking, Roddy Granger thought), in order to make the count accurate; so he wouldn’t miss any of what he called the “stuck-togethers.”
The customers paid Lester with crumpled up currency that stank of sweat, urine and sometimes shit, whatever made its way into their grimy well fingered pockets. People generally paid for drafts or cans of Miller with ones, once in a blue moon, a fiver. Lester didn't like making change. He liked keeping all the money that was handed to him.
“Stay out of the stranger’s business, Estelle," Lester grumbled in the background then paused in his counting and raised his voice once again to an irritating volume. "In fact, come to think of it. I don’t think the stranger HAS any business here as far as I can tell. He’s just passing through and will be leaving after finishing his paid for draft. So there is no sense in getting to know him. And besides, What did I tell you, Estelle? You don’t know this man. You don’t know anything about this man, this stranger, where’s he’s been, what he’s thinking. He pushes through the door as you whispered he did, don’t think I didn’t hear that, and could be just about anyone. That’s why I don’t like you talking to strangers. And he’s a stranger with a capital S is what he is. No offense mister but I’m teaching Estelle how to be careful out there in the real world and I’m using you as an example, which might be obvious, as you having just walked in off the street and are providing us with the perfect example of an untrustworthy, even potentially dangerous stranger encounter.”
“No offense taken," Roddy Granger tipped an imaginary hat. "Is Estelle your daughter?”
Estelle giggled behind a flattened hand then cocked her head and trained her red horned rims on Roddy Granger's ears. And as soon as she did that, Roddy felt as though a thought had been inserted directly into his head by someone utilizing a long pair of surgical forceps.
"I have to take a leak!" he blurted, surprising even himself at the outburst. He had peed before he got in the car. As he considered the prospect however, going for a tinkle wasn't such a bad idea after all; once in the restroom, he would be able to catch up on a few moments of quality alone time with his church bulletin (which he carried at all times wedged into his rear pocket and was functionally a more powerful talisman than the church card which he kept stuffed deep in his pants pocket).
"God only knows that I'll be needing to harness the power of that bulletin right about now," he thought and almost whispered it out loud but didn't.
Roddy Granger had been getting a bit "touchy-feelie" with himself lately on the advice of his psychiatrist. Dr. Kerpowski told Roddy that everything was going to be just fine, that he simply had what was called a garden variety anxiety disorder. Dr. Kerpowski told Roddy the way to deal with it was: "Live in your anxiety. Feel it. Wear its skin. Take up residence there. It will teach you all you need to know."
By living in his anxiety Roddy had become somewhat of an train wreck but nevertheless learned to pay close attention to emotional cues and realized he had just now received one. Estelle had brushed the tips of her fingers across Roddy Granger's forearm at the exact moment Lester had turned his head to look down at his money again. Roddy had also been working with his psychiatrist on telling the difference between an emotional cue and a boner. He was pretty sure this was an emotional cue he had just received and NOT a boner. A boner would be unthinkable.
Roddey knew he had better start thinking like a claims investigator: Lester hadn't answered his question as to whether Estelle was his daughter and Roddy wondered now if Estelle could possibly be Lester’s young wife. He pursed his lips. It was his job to draw certain conclusions. At the same time, he knew he had no business delving too deep into Lester's private business although it remained that ANY CLUE just might be significant. At the same times, he didn't not want to go into the young wife thing, did and didn't: Estelle had something about her that spelled trouble (Lester would certainly have spelled it with a capital T). Roddy just wasn’t sure what that something was. And on top of that, she was asking for his help: You, you, you she had transmitted.
At the same time, Roddy Granger knew exactly what that certain something was about. He just didn't want to admit what that something was while in the field conducting his investigations: Estelle was carrying a bushel full of sex appeal right down the middle of main street on the shady side of boner city!
He would never have expected his first assignment in the field would be THIS arduous; much the same to an animal getting its paw caught in an iron trap and then not wanting to admit to itself that its paw had been trapped; that would mean the animal would have to knaw the paw off in order to get free. The animal simply didn’t want to go through with the knawing because the knawing would hurt like a mofo.
Dr. Kerpowski frequently evoked the image of the animal with its paw caught in order to aid Roddy in confronting his garden variety anxiety issues. From across the room, Dr. Kerpowski would yell at him: "Knaw it off, Roddy Granger. Knaw your paw OFF!"
Roddy flinched whenever his psychiatrist yelled OFF like that. His psychiatrist always, in turn, chuckled when observing Roddy Granger flinch. His psychiatrist enjoyed making Roddy Granger flinch as he was not only bored with his job but hated it; hated it with a capital H as Lester might say; and hated all of his patients as well, including and in particular, Roddy Granger.
Roddy Granger felt a stirring, like a magnet and a lump of iron had been dropped down the front of his pants while at the same time two other magnets had been inserted into both of his ear canals and pushed straight through both his right and left temporal bones directly into the grey goop of his cerebral matter. Roddy Granger needed to get in that rest room stall right away, take out his church bulletin, unfold it, smooth it, smooth it out real good, then start looking at it, licking his lips if he had to, and taking his sweet time pouring over that sucker. He stood abruptly and made a beeline toward the little alcove over which hung a crooked and filthy sign reading 'water closet.'
“That reminds me, I have to take a leak too,” Estelle announced and lurched to a standing position, inadvertently knocking her chair over with a loud THUNK.