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Evening mists licked the feathered edges of the shadows as they lengthened across the valley floor. Dusk was enveloping the low depression and the tattered big top that stood in a sort of forlorn solitude, alone except for an equally neglected Winnebago and a rusted-out pickup parked nearby. Along the perimeter of the adjacent property overlooking the valley, banks of lights awakened in the gloaming to illuminate Alright Ford’s ranks of gleaming new cars. Long fingers of pale illumination crept under the raised flaps of the tent where lines of empty folding chairs, arranged with precision like the crosses at Arlington, awaited the arrival of the evening’s congregation. Arliss Tate walked quickly to the front of the tent and pulled a thick canvas cover over the top of the baptismal tank before making his way in the growing darkness toward the battered Winnebago.

From the window of her darkened office, Jackie Alright watched the indistinct figure emerge from the side of the tent far below, and she felt the tightening of anticipation in the pit of her stomach. Her suit jacket, blouse and skirt lay in the chair beside her, and she was stepping out of her slip while the figure moved toward the dilapidated camper. A sense of urgency propelled her and she quickly stripped her bra and panties and tossed them on the pile of clothes. Cool air-conditioned air washed over her bare skin, puckering her nipples, and she cupped her breasts in her palms to warm them. She closed her eyes for a moment and instantly Arliss Tate’s face took form in her mind; a handsome face by any measure with a look of open, innocent earnestness that had taken hold in her imagination the moment she laid eyes on him just a week before. She leaned against the window subconsciously thumbing her nipples and felt again the warmth of his smile, the subtle hunger in his eyes when he looked at her and the strength in his hands when he shook her hand and thanked her for coming. Her pulse quickened as she imagined his eyes looking into hers and his hands exploring her flesh, and the beginnings of a smile curled the corners of her mouth. Her nipples throbbed and sensation flowed into her womb like hot lava. Her eyes blinked open in time to confirm that the subject of her fantasy had reached his destination, and then, she turned from the window and slipped a gray silk sheath dress over her head and shoulders. A tentative knock at the door interrupted her preparations.

“Come in,” she called out softly, still standing by the window, smoothing the wrinkles from her dress with her palms and plucking the fabric over her breasts to make her prominent nipples less conspicuous.

The door opened cautiously and revealed a young, blonde woman framed in the doorway.

“Miss Jackie?” the silhouette questioned, straining to see into the darkened office.

“What is it, Angie,” Jackie answered her new secretary.

“Your lawyer just sent up some papers for you to sign,” the girl answered gesturing with a large manila envelope.

“Oh, great,” Jackie replied. “I’ve been waiting for those. Just drop them on my desk, honey; I’ll look at them in a minute.”

The girl stepped hesitantly into the office and asked, “Do you want me to turn on the lights, Miss Jackie? It’s awful dark in here.”

“No thanks, Angie, I like it dark; helps me think better.”

The girl made her way to the desk, placing the envelope in the center and then turned to leave.

“Miss Jackie?”

“What is it Angie?”

“I don’t mean to speak out of turn, Miss Jackie, but me and a lot of the others around here are real glad the way things have turned out for you, what with you taking over management of the dealership and all.”

“Why thank you, Angie, that’s sweet of you.”

“Well, I, ah, we just wanted you to know that we all thought he, Mr. Alright, that is, treated you real bad, and that he ought to be ashamed of himself for what all he done, especially after you gave up a modeling career and all to marry him.”

“Well, honey, don’t feel too sorry for me. You know I did pretty well for a five year investment.”

“Yessum,” the girl giggled, “we hear you skinned him right down to his socks and skivvies.”

“And, I left those only because I couldn’t bear another look at what was under them,” Jackie joked in return.

Angie giggled again and blurted out, “Oh, I know what you mean; Lucinda says there wasn’t much there to get excited about.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, who is Lucinda?”

“Oh, gosh,” the girl gulped, her eyes bulging in dismay, “I wasn’t supposed to tell that.”

“Well, who the hell is she?” Jackie was scowling.

“Please, Miss Jackie, please, just forget I said anything.”


Even in the poor light, the girl could see Jackie’s face darken.

Please, Miss Jackie, don’t do anything to her, please, I promised I wouldn’t tell.”


“She works in the finance department setting up loans for the customers.”

“Is she any good at her job?”

“Oh, güvenilir bahis yes, ma’am, she’s the best one over there.”

“How long has she worked here?”

“About six months, I guess; why, you aren’t going to fire her, are you?”

“Of course not, Angie, if I fired every woman my ex’s fucked in the last five years, this place would be empty and I would be importing women all the way from Raleigh just to answer the phone.”

“Oh, whew, thank you, ma’am,” the girl gasped with relief.

“I am a little surprised that the son of a bitch didn’t get into your pretty little panties though, honey. Don’t tell me he didn’t try.”

“Oh, no ma’am, I mean, ah, yes ma’am, oh, heck.”


“He tried, once.”

“He ‘tried?’ ‘Once?’ You know Bill didn’t like being turned down and he was very persistent.” Jackie watched the girl squirm.

“I told my boyfriend what he did, so he came up here and grabbed Mr. Alright by the collar and told him that if he even looked at me crosseyed again, he was gonna come up here and shove that flagpole out front so far up his ass that every time he opened his mouth ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ would start playing.”

“I would have loved to see that,” Jackie snickered.


“Absolutely; a sort of poetic justice, I think,” she answered mysteriously.

“Poetic justice?”

“Lets just say, Mr. Alright was pretty good at throwing his weight around to get what he wanted, but he wasn’t much good at giving a woman what she needed.”

“Oh,” Angie muttered a little embarassed.

“So, Angie, just between us girls, I got me a little catching up to do, if you know what I mean, and you need to get out of here so I can get started.”

“Ohhh, yes, ma’am,” the girl stammered.

“Good night, Angie,” Jackie said with a smile, but the girl had already gone and the only response was the fading click of her high heels on the hallway tiles.

Jackie turned on her desk lamp and sat down, quickly reading through her lawyer’s papers and signing them. Then, she lifted a small suitcase that had been sitting on the floor beside her desk and opened it. She slipped the envelope beneath a neatly folded towel and robe, then snapped the suitcase shut and walked, suitcase in hand, to the window. Night had fallen and the valley was cloaked in darkness except for the small pools of golden light in the grass beneath the Winnebago’s windows. She squeezed the handle of her suitcase, squinted her eyes and imagined the encounter taking place in the camper down below. In the soundproofed silence of her office she could almost hear voices rising in anger and protest, the shrill ebb and flow of fear and anxiety, and the final submission to the inevitable. Her loins throbbed at the possibility of an end to her frustration, and she licked her soft pink lips with relish.

A hundred feet from the Winny, the throbbing beat of “I Feel Like a Woman,” blaring from the open windows, enveloped Arliss like a swarm of buzzing gnats. He yanked open the door with a grimace and climbed in. Ardmore McCandless, engrossed, with his face nearly touching the screen of their tiny TV, ignored him.

“What the hell are you doing, old man?” Arliss yelled over the din.

“What’s it look like, L.D.? I’m watching a Shania Twain video,” Ardmore shouted back without turning away from the screen.

Arliss frowned at the mention of his nickname, a reminder of the dreary months he had spent as a carney with Johnny’s United Shows. “L.D.” had its origin in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and the reports that the nominee was fond of calling himself “Long Dong Silver.” The Ferris wheel operator, who shared a mattress with Arliss in the bed of one of Johnny’s pickups, heard about that boast, and it wasn’t long before he was telling the girls in the peep show that, if that was all the qualifications it took, ole Arliss was a shoe-in for the Supreme Court hisself. Well, one thing led to another and “Long Dong” got shortened to “L.D.,” and pretty soon every carney on the lot had taken to calling him “L.D,” and the nickname had stuck.

“The name’s Arliss, old man,” he corrected for the umpteenth time, and then he added, “You better back off that TV some or you’ll go blind.

“Shit, boy, I can’t help myself,” the old man panted breathlessly, wiping the spittle off his lips with the back of his hand. He pulled back enough to expose a corner of the screen. Shania was hanging on to the microphone with her knees spread apart and her tiny skirt slipping up her thighs high enough that he thought, if they just had a larger TV, he could probably see the thatch between her legs.

“Look at her, L.D.,” Ardmore gasped. “Every time she throws them legs apart like that and her skirt rides up on her, all I can think about is crawling up behind her and licking the crack of her gorgeous ass till she can’t sing no more for cummin.”

“God almighty, old man; you are depraved and disgusting.” Arliss shook his head in a ritualistic güvenilir bahis siteleri display of disgust.

Ardmore turned slowly toward the younger man to skewer him with a disdainful scowl.

“Boy,” Ardmore started in that rumbling tone he used for telling folks to dig deep when the plate comes around, “don’t tell me you ain’t ever fucked a woman’s ass.”

“Hell, no, I haven’t, and I don’t expect I ever will, either, you old pervert.” The denial has just the right ring of righteous indignation, and, of course, all the better, it was the truth.

“Then, I guess,” Ardmore rumbled again with a sour note of contempt, “you haven’t had a woman kneeling with your tongue stuck in her asshole and her pulling her cheeks apart with both hands and moaning and begging you to tongue-fuck her ass till she cums, have you now, sonny?”

“Course not; nobody does that. Why, you’re so old, you’re probably just confused about which hole you’re supposed to stick your tongue into.”

“Goddam, L.D., for the life of me, I don’t know how somebody with your looks can be so dumb when it comes to women,” Ardmore answered shaking his head in bewilderment, and, dismissing Arliss, he turned back to the TV screen. The credits were rolling up in the bottom corner of the screen and the music was fading.

“Shit, look at that, you made me miss the best part,” the old man fumed.

“Well, excuuuuuse me,” Arliss taunted. “I don’t recon you coulda seen her anyway, the way you been slobberin all over the TV screen.”

“Any is too much to miss of that woman, boy. That’s one hot piece of ass, I will guarantee you. Why, I bet if she was right here, bare-assed and horny, you wouldn’t have no trouble sticking that virgin tongue of yours up HER ass, now would you?

“I don’t have to make up my mind right now, do I?” Arliss deadpanned. “It’s not like she’s gonna show up for tonight’s service, is it?”

“You never know, kid; stranger things have happened under the big top. You just need to decide whether you’re going to grow up and become a man or stay a boy all your life. You want to become a man? There’s things you need to learn about how a man treats a woman, that’s all.”

“Yeah, well, licking butts sure isn’t one of them.”

Ardmore studied him for a minute and then switched the TV off. “Maybe you’re right, Arliss. I guess I’d be wasting my time arguing with a man of your vast experience.”

“I got all the experience I need on that account, Ardmore.”

“Whatever you say, son,” he nodded dismissively, and then, changing to a more serious subject, he asked, “How are you doing on tonight’s sermon? You’ve got to come through big for us or we’ll miss another payment on the Winny; that’ll make three since Easter, and the bank ain’t gonna like that even a little bit.”

“Goddam, Ardmore, I’m not ready to start preaching. You know I’m not ready. What the hell am I going to say to those folks?”

“What do you mean, ‘what are you going to say?’ We got all that worked out. You’re gonna preach the abortion sermon just like Bob Tilton does it on TV every single morning of the week. You have been watching him like I told you, ain’t you?”

“I watched Tilton some, but he don’t know any more about abortions than I do. ‘Seed vows’ are his scam; you send him a hundred bucks today and the Lord turns it into a thousand by the end of the month.”

“Funny, he don’t look that stupid to me,” Ardmore muttered. “Them ‘seed vows’ sound a lot like them boxes I used to sell to the rubes that come to the carnival. You know the ones that you put plain paper in one end and crank twenty-dollar bills out the other. Soon as it stopped workin, though, which was the minute the rube got home and tried cranking the thing for hisself, why they would be hoppin mad and looking you up for a refund or worse. I like promisin ’em nothing but salvation in the hereafter, L.D., so’s they can’t be comin back on me if I don’t come through on my promises.”

“That’s fine by me; you preach tonight. You can promise ’em anything you want. I’ll watch and help you take up the down-payments on salvation.” “Look, dammit, Arliss, we planned it like this, and you agreed. I announced it last night; you’re gonna be sermonizing ’em tonight, and by God, you better not make a liar out of me, now.”

“Hell, Ardmore, I can’t just get up there in front of all those people and starting yelling about abortion.”

“All what people, son? We ain’t had more’n twenty any night this week, and the more we preach, the fewer they are. We’ll be lucky to have ten tonight.”

“Ten’s more than I’m ready for.”

“Don’t count em and don’t look at all of them. What you do is pick out one and focus on him. It’s like you’re talking just to that one, and the others will fade right out of your mind.”

“That won’t work.”

“Sure it will. It works for me. Hey, maybe that foxy young thing that’s been writin us them big checks every night will show up again. You know the one I’m talking about, iddaa siteleri don’t you? She wears them slinky, tight dresses with the droopy tops and her half hanging out of em? She ain’t missed a night yet. She’s a looker that one”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Arliss, blushing, replied a little too quickly. It was a lie and he wasn’t too good at lying. Sure, he had seen her; she stuck out among the bib overalls and K-mart smocks like a new copper penny in a drawer full of nickels. And, it wasn’t just her expensive clothes that stood her out, no siree, cause that woman had more curves than the road over Independence Pass they took that time when the brakes nearly burned up. Why, just last night during the second sermon collection, he was standing right next to her holding the plate, waitin, while she leaned over to get her purse that was on the grass beside her chair, and the top of her dress sort of drooped open, and he thought her breasts were gonna spill out right there in front of God and everybody. They were big, full, firm looking breasts, and they were tanned right down to her bikini line, and he kept staring while she fished around her feet for that purse, and then he spotted the dark circles and tight little points of her nipples, and he realized that she wasn’t wearing no underwear at all under her dress and he nearly lost his grip on the plate. All of a sudden then, the smell of brakes burning came back to him and all he could think of was her gorgeous curves and him with no brakes, careening downhill outa control and headed straight for Hell. About then, she looked up and caught him counting the tiny puckers surrounding her nipples, and all she did was stare right back at him with the brownest eyes he had ever seen and a little curl of a knowing smile on her lips.

“That’s funny,” Ardmore continued with a dirty smirk and a snigger, the sound of his voice shattering Arliss’ memory like a stone hitting a tin pan, “I coulda sworn I seen her looking at you like she was all worked up to receive the Holy Ghost or something. Maybe you should preach at her, if she shows up tonight.”

“I don’t know,” Arliss answered, fretting nervously. “Why don’t you stay and give the fucking abortion sermon; you’re the one who’s always saying you’re ready for prime time.”

“You know why, dammit,” Ardmore growled. “I got to pay a visit to Mrs. Maedeen Merriweather back in Bayside, while her husband’s still in intensive care. You do remember that before we had to pull out of there, she was hinting at a right sizeable contribution to the cause, providin, of course, that I would come minister to her some in private. If I can get the Holy Spirit moving inside that old girl one more time, well, we might have enough to do more than catch up on a couple of those late payments.”

“Unhuh,” Arliss nodded without attempting to mask his skepticism, “so now you’re calling it the ‘Holy Spirit?'”

“How else would you explain it, L.D.?” Ardmore grinned back at him. “When I get down to the serious ministering, why, they always start moaning and shoutin out, ‘Sweet Jesus,’ or ‘oh, my God’ or ‘good Lord, yes,’ you know stuff like that, so I figure it must be the Holy Spirit causin them to take spells and all.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Arliss groaned in disbelief. “Why her? Why not just bamboozle some old bag right here and save yourself the trip to Backwater?”

“Bayside,” Ardmore corrected. “Cause, boy, her pump’s done primed and ready, and she’s got herself a real nice doublewide up a holler with a little farm and a tobacco crop that’s near ready to come in. Soon as she can screw up the nerve to tell them doctors to take the old coot off life support, all that’ll be hers, and I don’t have to tell you how much cable television time that would buy. Why, with the right ministerin from me, sonny, you just might be lookin at the next Jimmy Swaggert.”

“Shit, Ardmore, you’re dreamin again. I’ve heard all this before, haven’t I? The last time, you were going to reinvent yourself as Jim Bakker.”

“That was two states back,” Ardmore snapped, bristling at the reminder of lost opportunity, “and she was this close.” He was holding his hand right in front of Arliss’ face with his thumb and forefinger so close they looked to be touching. “If that fucking sheriff’s deputy hadn’t showed up with them papers, I could have hung around long enough to close the deal, and then, sonny, it woulda been you and me over in Nashville, sittin on them big soft couches in Twitty City, broadcasting our message all over the country and rakin in prayer pledges by the bushel basket.” His face was turning red and his hand shook. ” This fucking close,” he sputtered.

“Take it easy, old man, or you’ll have a stroke yourself,” Arliss answered, doing his best to sound calm. He pushed Ardmore’s hand away from his face and continued, “All this crap ain’t helping me one bit with the sermon I’m gonna have to give, is it?”

“Naw, I guess not, L.D.,” Ardmore answered, his countenance brightening like sunshine after a rain and, reaching into his pocket for a comb, he continued, “and I’ve got to be going. I promised I’d be there before it got dark.” He leaned to catch his reflection in the window and began slicking back his graying hair.

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