When Lester took his attention away from the stranger for no more than a split second, directing 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 Granger just a tad: squeeze, squeeze, squeeeeeze; squeeze, squeeze, squeeeeze. Roddy Granger had to yank his finger away, caressed it a moment, paused, then tentatively floated his hand forward in order to receive more of that 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 of the finger squeezing in turn squeezed his church card still shoved deep down in his pants pocket, the trusty church card always present, always available for just such emergencies.
In the course of having his finger squeezed, Roddy Granger opened his eyes, and not only opened them but opened them wider than they'd ever been opened them in his entire life, opened them with a capital O: ESTELLE WAS TRANSMITTING TO HIM IN MORSE CODE!
Squeeze squeeze squeeeeze was the international radiotelegraphic character for the letter U. Estelle was transmitting U, U, U.
Before marriage, the mortgage, the car, in the course of what he liked to call his “wild years,” Roddy Granger came into possession of a commercial shipboard radiotelegraphic license 2nd class. Although 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 component garnering the prized "ticket." Naturally he framed and hung the certificate over his bed, a foot above his foam pillow with its posturepedic contours.
Now being a full-fledged school trained insurance fraud field investigator, it was mere child’s play for him to deduce that Estelle had been sending him a radiotelegraphic message. He felt equally certain he was the only person in the world who could both understand the request and act upon it.
“You, you, you,” Estelle was telling him, essentially asking to be saved and for Roddy Granger specifically to save her: 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 "premmed" he would but 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 worked in about just every case.
"Squeeze their pointing finger like I taught you and they'll do anything you want," one of her Romanian aunties instructed her as a child. She was dead right.
In the meanwhile, Lester kept up his banter while fingering the 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 yet but was sure it would all tie together at the end like a red bow around a gift box, a gift box he'd drop on his supervisor's desk, having solved the case and saved the olive haired woman in the same deep breath. And not only that. He imagined himself dropping that gift box onto his supervisor's desk while working the gaps of his incisors with a toothpick. All seasoned insurance fraud investigators worked their incisors, or at least Roddy Granger assumed they 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. Roddy Granger, of course, understood nothing of her situation and was only impressed the lady spoke to him with a 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 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 peregrine falcon behind her waterfall of hair. Roddy Granger started to fidget. The woman with the oily hair was watching him a little bit too wild eyed for comfort even though she had just transmitted to him in reassuring Morse Code an intimate plea for help. She was a little bit too wild eyed for someone he'd never met.
He couldn’t actually see her eyes, of course, behind the red rimmed glasses stuck against her jet-black olive oiled bangs but could certainly imagine she was watching him wild eyed. He imagined her gaze not what it was, of a peregrine falcon, but that of a gazelle being chased by a cougar. As soon as he imagined her gaze thusly, that same cougar came skidding to a halt as the gazelle, equally as suddenly, stopped in her tracks, turned and affixed upon that cougar a particularly unnerving bug-eyed look.
Roddy Granger fidgeted some more. He didn't understand how that thought, of the gazelle skidding to a halt had made its way into his head. He sensed the woman was not only fixing him with the same bug-eyed look that the gazelle had fixed upon the cougar but somehow she could read his mind as well; and that she was waiting for him to answer a hypothetical question she didn't actually pose out loud but inserted into the goopy protoplasm of his own cerebral cortex with a medicine dropper: 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 asked himself. The conundrum miffed him and he felt his head spinning like a top.
Lester at that point raised his voice a notch and commenced, what Estelle referred to as background banter, his usual routine while counting money. He was 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 pockets. They paid for their 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, paused in his counting and raised his voice to an even more irritating volume. "In fact, come to think of it. I don’t think the stranger HAS business here as far as I can tell. He’s just passing through and will be leaving after finishing his paid for draft. There is no sense in getting to know him. And besides, what did I tell you, Estelle? You don’t know the man. You don’t know anything about the man, this stranger, where’s he’s been, what he’s been 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; you, having just walked in off the street, providing us with the perfect example of an untrustworthy, potentially dangerous stranger encounter.”
“No offense taken," Roddy Granger tipped an imaginary hat. "Is Estelle your daughter?”
Estelle giggled behind a flattened hand, cocked her head and trained the red horned rims in the direction of Roddy Granger's ears. And as soon as she did, Roddy Granger felt as though yet another thought had been inserted directly into his head by the same mysterious and most likely masked surgical personage, this time utilizing an incredibly long pair of alligator forceps.
"I have to take a leak!" Roddy Granger blurted out, surprising even himself at the sudden outburst. He had peed before he got in the car but oddly, the prospect of going for another tinkle seemed like not such a bad idea; once in the restroom, he would be able to catch up on a few moments of quality alone time with his church bulletin.
"God only knows that I'll be needing to harness the power of the bulletin right about now," he whispered. “And everybody knows the bulletin carries more oomph than the church card.”
Estelle cocked her head.
Roddy Granger had been getting more than just a bit "touchy-feelie" lately on the advice of his psychiatrist. Dr. Kerpowski informed Roddy everything was going to be just fine: He simply had a garden variety anxiety disorder and told him the way to deal with it was by “Living in your anxiety. Feel it. Wear its skin. Take up residence inside of it. It will teach you all you need to know."
By living in his anxiety, as Dr. Kerpowski advised, Roddy became a flaming train wreck within a few short days but at the same time, did learn to heed emotional cues. And in that, he realized he just received a cue.
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. Roddy had also been working on telling the difference between emotional cues and boners. He was pretty sure this was an emotional cue he had just received and NOT a boner. A boner would be unthinkable and inappropriate.
Roddey gave his head a shake, realizing he’d been dawdling and it was time to start thinking like a claims investigator. Lester hadn't answered the question put to him as to whether or not Estelle was his daughter. Roddy deduced from that that Estelle might very well be Lester’s young wife; perhaps he had taken her as a teenage bride. Roddy Granger pursed his lips as if was his job to draw conclusions like these. Any clue might prove significant in his bear claw claim investigation. At the same time, he didn't want to get into the young wife thing, did and didn't. There was something about Estelle that spelled trouble. Lester would certainly have spelled that kind of Trouble with a capital T. Roddy just wasn’t sure what that something was. To complicate matters, she was asking for his help. “You, you, you,” she had transmitted in squeezing Morse code.
Roddy Granger puffed out his cheeks. He couldn’t lie to himself. He knew exactly what that certain something was about Estelle. He just didn't want to admit what that certain something was in the midst of a field investigation. Plain as the nose on his face, 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 be THIS arduous; it was proving to be much the same as an animal getting its paw caught in an iron trap then not wanting to admit to itself that its paw had been trapped; that would mean the animal would have to knaw its paw off in order to get free. The animal didn’t face the reality of being trapped because the animal simply did not want to go through with the knowing; the knawing would hurt like a mofo.
Dr. Kerpowski frequently evoked the image of the animal with its paw getting caught in a trap in order to aid Roddy in confronting his garden variety anxiety issues. From across the room, Dr. Kerpowski would yell: "Knaw it off, Roddy Granger. Knaw your paw OFF!"
Roddy flinched whenever his psychiatrist yelled OFF like that. His psychiatrist always chuckled when he observed Roddy Granger flinch. His psychiatrist enjoyed making Roddy Granger flinch. As often as he could Dr. Kerpowski raised his voice suddenly or lunged forward with both arms outstretched or clapped his hands together without warning. Roddy Granger’s psychiatrist was not only bored with his job but hated it; hated his job with a capital H as well as hating all of his patients, including and in particular, Roddy Granger.
Roddy Granger felt a stirring, as if a magnet and lump of iron had simultaneously been dropped down the front of his pants while two other magnets were inserted into both of his ear canals and pushed straight through into his right and left temporal lobes. Roddy Granger needed to get into that rest room stall right away, take out his church bulletin, unfold it, smooth it (and not just smooth it but smooth it real good), then start looking at it, licking his lips if he had to, 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.