“Oh my goodness, it’s late,” the landlady said. Her husband stood behind her. He was short and lean, hair tinged with white, and he had a mean look on his face.
“Not to trouble you, but -- ”
“You heard her,” the husband said.
“Well, I’ll try somewhere else.”
“Not so fast.” There was a bark to the husband’s voice. Then he faked a gentler tack. “It’s not Christian to turn someone away. Go on up there, first room on the left. We’re about to turn in.”
“I really appreciate this.”
“Sure you do.”
And the stranger removed a wad of bills.
“We can take care of that in the morning,” the husband said.
“I insist.” And the stranger didn’t really bother to count, and the husband didn’t ask too many questions as the greenbacks piled up in the palm of his hand.
The stranger had seen the wooden sign from the road --
ROOMS FOR RENT. And taken the left turn that led him about a quarter of a mile into the woods. No one would think to look for him here.
“I’ll just get my suitcase.”
He got his luggage and found the empty room at the top of the stairs. It had a small bed with worn boxsprings and a tiny bathroom. Pale, dusty drapes covered the windows, which looked out on the backyard and woods. The stranger freshened himself up -- ran water in the wash basin, splashed his face, and grinned into the mirror, a twisted, evil grin. Who loves you, baby? And who loves the Big Katt? Yeah, you know who.
Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, a motel operator recognized the photo the two cops flashed in his face. “Checked out an hour ago.”
“Did he use ID?”
The one cop turned to his partner. “He’s been tipped. Mojo John?” They quickly phoned this new bit of information in, and headed for John’s shack.
At the Hall residence, the Big Katt, Daddy, Mama and Spud were sitting around the grand piano downstairs crooning songs of the Old South -- “I came from Alabama with a banjo on mah knee, I’m goin’ to Louisiana my true love for to see.
Oh Susanna, don’t you cry for me, I’ve come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee. . .” They scarcely heard the ringing of the doorbell.
“Oh Susanna. . .”
“Honey, I think there’s someone at the door.”
“Why, I declare,” Josephus said, “I do believe you are correct. You go ahead and sing away.” And he slapped Spud on the shoulder. “Helluva voice, boy,” he said.
The cops at the door were genial. “It’s late. We have to talk to the Katt.”
“Yes. Well, I hope y’all have got a strong tenor voice.”
“. . .Yes, I’ve come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee. . .”
The singing stopped as Josephus entered the room with the two cops.
“Honey,” he said to the Katt, “your presence is requested. But surely,” he said, turning to the officers, “you’d rather join in our little songfest first.”
“Then honey, you go with them out into the hall. I don’t want to break the spell of the music.” He gestured to Spud and Mama -- “Go on, go on, don’t let us stop you.”
In the hallway, the cops showed the Big Katt the photo of the stranger.
“Oh my God.”
“Ex-husband. Also known as His Majesty.”
“You and Deborah Kerr. What else?”
“He was a commodities trader, one of the smartest in all of Southeast Asia. He knew how to time the markets and screw the competition. Royally. But you can only cheat the markets so many times and sooner or later, they bite back. He lost big one day, our marriage collapsed, and I haven’t seen him in seven years.”
“Have you talked?”
“No. But he knew I had resettled in the Southwest. Friends of friends.”
“We found the rest of Horace Hazelton.”
The Katt blanched white.
“Your old sweetheart brought his head to Mojo John for shrinking purposes. And to hear John tell it, he wanted to plant a curse on your husband there, something to immobilize him. It might not be a bad idea for Spud to pretend to make sick for a day or two. At least until we catch this freak.”
“He’s clever, officers. Don’t underestimate him.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. We got word -- he vacated his hotel room an hour ago.”
“Ulp. Still, I read somewhere that sooner or later these wackos like to get caught. Isn’t that what they say on TV, officers?”
“It’s tough to predict these psychos. Do yourself a favor -- stay inside until we nab this creep. When we’ve got him, we’ll give you the all clear.” They turned to leave.
“You sure you won’t join us in a rousing chorus of the Old South?”
“We’re sure.” They went out. Yeah, these bastards were tough to predict. Devious and cunning. And right now, the bastard himself was pacing the floor of his rented room, looking for new angles, for ways to get what he wanted right under the nose of the police.
He had to take down George Lesslie. He could not consummate this affair without removing the last obstacle. All right, who cared about George Lesslie, and who really thought he had ever found his way into the Big Katt’s heart. Still, the stranger liked to keep things neat, to tie up loose ends, and that would involve taking Big George out.
He knew Big George’s address, and he knew that sooner or later the cops would let down their guard. He’d get to George, wife or no wife, he’d get to the big galoot and make sure he was good and dead. His big, dumb, stupid body lifeless for the cops to see, and then he would sneak into the lion’s den, eliminate her husband and take his beloved Katt in his arms again.
How sweet it had been, in the foreign, exotic jungles of Southeast Asia. In the modern high-rise apartment they shared, while he spent twelve hours a day on the phone and the trading floor, moving money and commodities hither and yon. “Sell four hundred thousand of those, buy fifty thousand of those -- ” Keep the deals moving, the trades, keep one step ahead of the competition. The demand for copper or soybeans surges, you might just time it right -- get in, get out -- there’s the fast money, the money that fills your pockets. And you go home at night to your luxury duplex and your beautiful blonde Southern wife, with her cute accent, and her lithe beautiful body, waiting for you. For Mr. Successful. But she’s not particularly happy that your nerves are frayed, and that she must be a whipping boy, a patsy, the object of verbal abuse.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
“Soybeans tanked. That’s all I’m going to say.”
“Surely there’s a demand for soy.”
“Motherf--kers lied. Gooks on the phone. Supply and demand. Suddenly, nobody gives a shit about soybeans. Corn futures are up, of course, but who thought this alternative energy crap would catch on halfway around the world. I was out of the corn market, and now I’ve blown it.”
But her soothing words would fall on deaf, hostile ears. And the abuse would continue into the bedroom and destroy the fabric of the night.
Back in the present, in his rented room, the stranger decided to call it a night. He slipped into bed and snapped off the night lamp. He pulled the ancient musty bed covers over him, and as he moved to get comfortable, he could feel the springs poking at his back and hear the bed creak. Not exactly a luxury duplex, this, or a giant, luxurious waterbed, that was for certain. Still, he must make concessions in order to reclaim the Big Katt.
Not far distant, meanwhile, other springs were squeaking, those of a giant four-poster, as Katt Hall worked her quarry -- or rather, husband -- pretty hard, hoping to produce that offspring Daddy so longed for. But who was she kidding -- it wasn’t offspring she was after, it was simple fleshy gratifica-tion. For the female lion must feed, and though her husband was somewhat diffident when she got that glint in her eye, he realized he was powerless under the weight of her mighty paws.
“The Katt must feed, baby.” And her golden hair streamed wildly as she threw her head back, and her eyes glowed red with desire, her slender body with its perfectly shaped breasts and pink, flawless nipples, arching as she moved into attack mode.
Many a man would have died for such an opportunity, to hold this golden Southern treasure in his arms, and feel the delicious warmth of her hot kisses. But Spud was not just any man. And memories of the Big Katt’s ferocity in the shape of a shadow coyote in the high deserts of the Southwest were all too fresh. Memories that grasped full well that when the lioness hunts, she is also apt to kill.
Apt to kill, yes. Like the man in the roominghouse, who now turned over under the covers but had a hard time falling asleep.
Katt, my beloved, Katt, he thought. You must, must, must be mine.