After Estelle followed Roddy Granger into the rest room's alcove, Lester's voice rose as if somebody had pried off one of his fingernails: "Es-telle!" He lurched off his stool and somehow managed to get his sleeve caught on the sink's faucet.
Estelle covered the distance between bar and restroom as a cheetah might in emerging from high grass on an African veldt to take down a baby gazelle. She pushed the stranger up against the warped wood paneling alongside the alcove wall, just out of Lester's sight. Her breath was hot as a Bunsen burner's flame which cause Roddy Granger's nostril hairs to curl and his head to propel backward against the wall with a loud dull thump.
Lester bellowed: "What was that goddamn dull thump I just heard? SHOULD I BE CONCERNED, ESTELLE? Somehow. . . " He yanked on his sleeve, entangling it even more on the spout. "I don't understand it, this goddamn. . . " Lester began to mutter. The bar's plumbing seemed to have caught him in its irrational grasp.
Estelle paid no attention to Lester, her jet black hair parting to one side revealing a single reddish wisp over a dark green oval eye, and swinging like a pendulum past the prominent patch of freckles glowing madly as if fueled by radioactive isotopes.
Estelle's hair has been fire engine red since birth. When she turned five, it was decreed by the town elders in her little Transylvanian village that her parents were to dye her hair black so as to avoid any inadvertent questioning of her lineage by outsiders passing through. The local Pentecostals they could deal with and did. Her father gave her his own tin of black shoe polish bidding her to apply it every day:
"You need to conceal that you're of the ginger sort from the rest of the world, Estelle, or they will hunt you down and burn you alive at the stake."
Estelle now used the cheap store bought dye that Jerry, one of the bars full time drunks slipped into her hobby cache every couple of weeks in exchange for a half pint of rye whiskey. She still kept her father's old tin of shoe polish hanging around her neck.
On seeing the single red wisp dangle there, Roddy Granger wanted to ask Estelle a question. As if anticipating his need, Estelle placed her index finger across the stranger's lips and counseled: "Tut tut. Now is not the time for questions but a time for listening, stranger. I need to tell you a few things."
Only a week earlier, while at his office and seated in front of his duty station's PC, Roddy Granger intended on typing the letters MLB into his Google search engine as he wanted to check the recent Minnesota Twins box scores. His fingers got a little bit ahead of themselves in the excitement and instead of typing MLB, he typed MILF. Curiously, there appeared right away fifty or more JPEG images of scantily clad older women all of whom had taken photographs of themselves standing in front of bathroom mirrors. Roddy Granger scrolled through the images one by one, stroking both his church card and church bulletin with a trembling hand.
"Granger what the hell are you looking at?!"
Mr. Jenkins, the head of Investigations, just happened to pop his head through the office door at that precise moment. "Masturbating to MILFs? Why don't I give you a little privacy then."
Jenkins gently shut the door behind him and Roddy Granger could hear him roaring with laughter. Roddy Granger arose, face beet red, stumbled drunkenly toward the door, flung it open and stammered to all those present, trying to explain he had nothing to conceal. Mr. Jenkins was already leaning against the coffee machine, sharing Granger's proclivity for MILFs to the rest of the fraud team, all of them gathered with paper cups in hand.
"No," Roddy stammered, "You don't understand. I had meant to type MLB!"
Mr. Jenkins laughed and pointed at Granger as if he'd made a funny.
"Sure you did, Granger, sure you did. Don't worry about it, fella. If anything, we were beginning to wonder about you. Who doesn't like MILFs to be honest?"
There were grins and nods from all the other seasoned investigators: All the boys in fraud loved MILFs! For the rest of the day, Roddy received more than his share of pats on the back and nudges in the ribs. He nevertheless still returned to his office, left the door propped wide open, cleared his search history and vowed never EVER to type MILF in the Google bar again. He certainly didn't mention anything to the missus about what set of JPEGs he had inadvertently lingered upon, lingered upon as if a few drops of some hypnotic love potion had been slipped into his decaf. The following Sunday, Roddy had been by far the loudest member of his congregation singing the doxology; even Pastor Reynolds complemented him after the service at the foot of the church steps.
The thing was, right before being interrupted by Mr. Jenkins, Roddy Granger glimpsed one of those MILFs who had taken her photograph, not in the bathroom mirror like all the others, but crouched within some oddly cramped and disheveled attic crawl space. Roddy Granger, being a full fledged fraud investigator, retained memory of that crawl space MILF, the one with oily black hair parted to one side and a red wisp dangling over a set of throbbing cold fusion freckles. That MILF looked an awful lot like Estelle, the woman who presently had him pinned up against the rest room alcove wall.
The truth of it all: Estelle WAS that crawl space MILF in that very same JPEG!
Estelle joined all the MILF chat rooms she could find the night Lester stole her thing. Even though she was unable to leave the bar, she continued to troll the internet, casting out her powerfully frustrated horny housewife vibe hoping some on-line masturbator would eventually show up to rescue her.
Estelle began whispering to the stranger :"Stranger, you need to know a few things right off the bat. It's male and female elements, stranger, but its not exactly gender specific. I'm the narrator, you're the narrator, Lester's the narrator. It doesn't make any difference. You're me, I'm you and every little piece of paper you saw out there on my work table represents an aspect of us both. Do you understand so far, stranger?"
Roddy Granger didn't but was thinking and thinking hard. He was trying to put what she was saying into the insurance fraud investigation algorithm, what he'd been taught in training and funnel it toward the light at the end of the appropriate tunnel. Roddy Granger blinked, shifted his lips then shifted them back, like a cartoon cat.
Some of the things Estelle was saying she'd been needing to get off her chest for a long long time. She placed one hand over the stranger's hand, ever so lightly, still out of Lester’s sight. She didn’t care she was touching him, didn’t care one bit, of course bit with a capital B. She’d seen this day coming and wasn’t about to lose the opportunity. She put something in the stranger's hand and closed her hand around his. She thereby formed his hand into a fist, which enclosed itself around the ball of paper she had placed there.
“Take this little scrap of paper, stranger and get us help. It's got our address on it. Get us all the help you can get. He’s holding us prisoner, Lester is. Get us help, Stranger. Lester’s an ass hole with a capital A. I call him Asster in my head, Lester ASS-TER. I say that to myself all the time. Listen to me, going on and all, after you having just. . . pushed yourself through that big ole door and all.”
Estelle normally did not have a southern belle accent but had assumed one because she read the stranger like a cheap romance novel, knew exactly what he needed to hear and how he needed to hear it.
In the meantime, Roddy Granger's investigative mode was in full swing. He leaned forward and whispered into Estelle's ear: “Is there someone else being held here? You said us?”
Estelle didn’t move away when the stranger whispered. Most people would have because it was too close and Roddy Granger was slobbering like a cow. She felt herself to be in the homestretch and allowed him to slobber-whisper if that's what he REALLY needed to do.
As soon as Roddy Granger started whispering (he didn't realize he was slobbering) in Estelle's ear, oddly, he was struck by the strong inclination to whisper some more; and it didn't matter what, even if it was just gibberish. He didn't care if she answered his particular question, concerning who else was being held there. Roddy Granger suddenly didn’t want to share Estelle. He had forgotten all about his own wife and children, as if they didn’t exist and frankly didn’t care if there WAS somebody else being held there, didn’t care about them one bit, who they were or if they had any feelings at all: He'd leave them behind. He wanted Estelle all to himself. With that wisp of concealed red hair and prominent freckles, her being that very same MILF in the disconcerting crawl space, he found himself to no longer be clutching his church bulletin but crushing it, crushing it like an ape at the zoo crushing a banana and preparing to pee on it.
Estelle saw the dull expression on the stranger's face, knew what that meant and felt it was all going according to plan. She wanted the stranger to continue to whisper if that's what would keep him occupied, and to whisper as close as he could get to her ear, right into her ear if he wanted, as if he was irrigating her canal with warm hydrogen peroxide and tap water; irrigating it with a capital I.
Roddy Granger continued to whisper-murmur gibberish as if he were the Oracle at Delphi breathing the ascending vapors underneath his tripod, dressed in contemporary male clothing but with ambiguous genitalia of course, so fashionably the topic of debate in the modern era. He had to summon Superman power not to stick the tip of his nose into Estelle's ear: Because that's what he wanted to do.
As if reading his thoughts, Estelle whispered back, “I can tell, you’re as strong as Superman, stranger. I’ve never been in the presence of anyone as strong as you before.”
“You mean my power to resist?“
Roddy Granger wasn’t sure whether she was talking about his power to resist or not. And in that moment of doubt, he located his church bulletin once again and stroked it like a kitten. In his other hand, he clutched the crumbled-up piece of paper she had place in his sweating palm, presumably upon it written an address and maybe other secret information. He would have to hone his hand writing analysis skills once back at the lab.
All that while, Lester had been trying to disengage his sleeve from the faucet and in his growing rage got himself tangled even further. The dish washing hose attached to the fixture somehow had snaked up into his sleeve, then out his shirt collar to thwack against his neck.
“GODDAMMIT! This is NOT what I wanted to happen. What are you two talking about over there? What’s all that buzz-buzzing in the restroom alcove I’m hearing? Stranger, what business have you with Estelle? Let me just pull this fucking thing out of my. . .and I'll show you what business. . . “
It was as if the sink had grabbed a hold of Lester, as if the sink was conspiring against him, was in cahoots, in goddamn cahoots, with the goddamn stranger, with Estelle, and the whole conspiratorial kit and kaboodle; holding Lester back through supernatural forces. He thought all that had been put behind him but apparently not. Lester hadn’t had an issue with any of that for donkey’s years. Estelle and he had been living in peace and quiet since he'd stolen her thing and hid it: That was what Lester had been thinking as he was struggled with all his might to free himself.
“What should I do?” The stranger whispered frantically back into Estelle’s ear, his own breath now hot and humid like dusk on a Bourbon Street summer’s eve. Roddy Granger felt the sudden inexplicable urge to prod Estelle’s ear with the tip of his nose. He didn’t care if he inadvertently inhaled a big ball of her ear wax in the process; it was worth the risk just to prod and prod and prod it.
He didn’t though.
The thought had come to him out of the blue, again as if having been placed in his cranial vault by a pair of nimble hands holding needle nosed pliers, just like that other thought earlier, when he blurted out he had to pee. Roddy Granger felt like Estelle had single handedly shoved a grenade with its pin pulled out up his behind, up into his sigmoid colon and that it was just laying there ticking. He didn't know why he thought that. He had never seen a woman with such prominent freckles, with greasy jet black hair, and the red horned rims stuck over the top of it all. Yes she was naughty, naughtier than all the MILFs in all the JPEGs put together so he wouldn't put anything past her.
"Like an alien who mates with thorny proboscises," he whispered, drenching Estelle's horned rims with spittle.
Estelle nodded and whispered back, not in a Southern Belle voice but with a matter of fact tone, as if she were Roddy Granger's accountant: “Go pee, stranger, like its business as usual. You need to pee. I knew the moment you walked through that door you had to. DON’T ask me how I knew. I just knew. Like putting a piece of red paper on a blue outline of a mustache. I just knew.”
“You knew,” Roddy Granger answered back mechanically. He winced: He had to pee and pee bad. Not only that, he felt to be swirling and swirling, caught up in a maelstrom off the coast of Florida. Roddy Granger couldn't explain it but felt for certain he was about to experience what the Bermuda Triangle was all about.