Yesterday was my wedding anniversary, so there was no post. Today, the second chapter of AE:
It was a just over a week to round everything up and get back to the states. Boring paperwork and packing were my least favorite parts of the job. After getting everything rounded up the four of us were on a big, slow truck, then a bigger, slower boat across the Atlantic. We made port in New York City, which was more exciting paperwork as we unloaded. Then we loaded our bounty into a different big, slow truck and drove down to home — a little town in Hadley Hollow County called Podunk. It wasn’t far from Charlottesville and the University.
Home for me meant the old plantation house my parents had owned. Old was the operative word as it had originally been built when the firmament first formed in the Old Testament, or at least it seemed that way when trying to add any sort of modern convenience to it. What it lacked in convenience it made up for by being big, and I used every inch of that space for my growing collection of dust. My superstitious grandfather had planted trees in various cross and other holy patterns on the property, always in groups of three, seven, or thirteen. Everyone thinks thirteen is an unlucky number but in reality when you count up the Disciples and Christ, you come to thirteen. There’s a lot of strength in the number if you believe in those sorts of superstitions.
My job made it hard not to, but most of what I’d seen was simply bits of the world science hadn’t made sense of yet.
We took a day off and I drew the short straw for delivering the goods and getting the merchandise. Fortunately it would all be one bumpy ride as it all fit in our truck. Introduced only a few years before, the Ford Model TT had changed our lives for the better. I didn’t imagine ole Henry Ford ever thought his truck would be carrying a mummy in a gold coffin with the devil’s face on it and a few random gems and other interesting rocks.
About an hour from the good Doctor’s museum and tourist repellent, I caught a glimpse of a car on the side of the road ahead of me. It was clearly not going anywhere anytime soon judging by the color of smoke billowing out from the open hood. Didn’t look like whoever was driving had stuck around so slowing down never entered my mind.
Until I saw the leg.
A woman’s leg stuck out from in front of the car and stretched embarrassingly long out from her hip, her dress pulled up to a dangerous point on her thigh. That was the international signal for “stop and help me, Mister” as far as I was concerned, and so I pulled the truck to a stop right alongside her broken down car — also a Ford, as it happened. The woman that stepped out of the smoke was the type that made gold and jewels seem like tin and rocks.
She clearly didn’t have any interest in the current short haircuts: her long black hair framed her face in wavy lines before also framing her outsized bust and terminating just above her hips, which matched her bust for curves. She was probably the tallest woman I’d ever seen, as well, with those gams going all the way up. On her face she wore a small pair of glasses over a cute button nose, and her blue eyes could stop traffic.
“Need a lift?” I asked. It was probably more of a stammer but why admit it?
“Sure thing,” she said. Her voice came out a deep southern drawl and I was hooked. “I’m looking for a museum in Mollis, ran by a Doctor… Baker?”
“You’re in luck,” I said. “I’m heading for Mollis.” I wondered what this dish was doing looking for a milquetoast like Baker. I reached across the front of the truck and opened the passenger side door. “Name’s Andrew. Andrew Nash. My friends call me AJ.”
The woman reached in and shook my hand. “Lela. Lela Garfield. AJ?” She asked. Then she opened the door to her car and bent in to get her things, and I have to admit, I looked. The back was as good as the front.
“Andrew Jackson,” I said. “My parents were big fans.”
“I see,” she said, sitting in the seat next to me and setting her large, leather case between us. “I work for the Virginia Gazette, and I’m supposed to be interviewing Doctor Kristoff Baker about an hour ago, but my car…”
“I’ve heard some good things about Doctor Baker,” I said. I left off that none of them were true, and that he was uncomfortable and stupid around women. It wasn’t that he was interested in them. He wasn’t. They didn’t shine nor were they from an ancient culture. It wasn’t that he was into men, either — he was just into old.
I watched her out of the corner of my eye as the road bounced us all around, partially because it was fun to watch and partially to get a better feel for her. I didn’t run across a lot of women reporters. In my field I didn’t run across a whole lot of women and especially not ones this attractive. After a while, though, I couldn’t hold my tongue anymore and decided to start a conversation.
“Road gets less bumpy up here a bit,” I said. “You picked a bad way to come.”
“There are no bad ways to come,” she said, or at least, I think she said. Her voice was a low whisper and I would have taken even odds that’s what she said, but…
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Nothing, just a prayer that whatever you have banging around back there doesn’t slide forward and crush us,” Lela said.
“Oh, that? That’s just David. Don’t worry about him.” I leaned toward her just a hair. “He’s a mummy, a real life mummy.”
One of her eyebrows arched upward. “Is he now?”
“Pulled him out of the sand myself,” I said. “Well, with some help — that gold coffin is mighty heavy.”
“Are there many mummies in Virginia?” Lela asked. Her tone was funny, if you consider condescending to be funny.
Closing one eye and sticking my tongue out to mimic someone having a difficult thought, I hesitated then spoke. “Maybe a half dozen, total. Most belong to Baker, but one belongs to a rich midget in Richmond.”
“Yeah, his name is Percy, and he buys things nobody else can. Including a mummy. It’s a woman mummy, too. Keeps her on display in his lounge, behind glass.” She just shook her head at me. “Mummies do weird stuff.” Again, an eyebrow went up. “After a while, the tendons in the jaw break up somehow — not a doctor or a mortician, so I’m not sure of the physics involved — and so a lot of them are found in an eternal scream. It’s made worse when the lips dry up in a grimace.”
“That’s… really lovely,” Lela said.
“No, ma’am, it’s anything but,” I said. “Gives me the willies anytime I see it. Percy put the glass up because I kept flicking peanuts in her open mouth to make myself feel better about the dang thing.”
“You spend a lot of time with rich midgets?” Lela asked.
“Just Percy. He’s a hoot.”
Our conversation continued from there but it was mostly me trying to say whatever I could to twist her dial. The more uncomfortable she seemed the better. It was a masterful work of baiting, but eventually I got to the main street and pulled up alongside the museum. Reaching over her, causing her to push her back flat against the seat behind her as though to avoid me accidentally brushing her breasts, I opened the door for her.
“He’ll be in there,” I said.
Lela got her stuff, and I watched her walk in. The back was definitely as good as the front and in addition to her curves in all the right places she had sway in all the right places — the subtle movement of the hips accentuated by her heels. Horace was right about the pretty ones being crazy. Lela Garfield was pretty and tall and hadn’t bought into the Flapper style. Cleopatra never had such a haircut but don’t tell those broads.
It wasn’t just the body: her face was pretty, too. Usually women seem to have one or the other, with lots of girls having faces like shovels and bodies worthy of a poem or two, or bodies like wheelbarrows and faces worthy of the same number of poems. Lela had a pretty face, with a small nose, luscious lips, and blue eyes that looked great with her black hair. That drove me crazy — light eyes and skin and dark hair. Nash men don’t have many weaknesses and that is one of them.