The fundraiser was in the high school gymnasium, and George Lesslie insisted he wanted to go.
“No way,” the cops said. “You stay here, right here. Watch TV with her.” Her, of course, being George Lesslie’s wife, Sally. Not an unattractive dirty blonde girl, but a little tough around the gills. “We’re liable to nab him this very night, and we can’t have you screwing things up.”
“I think they mean, you’d be getting in the way, honey. And you are not yet out of danger yourself.” Sally could be tough, but she was anything but stupid.
“Aw honey, no disrespect, but to see an old friend like the Katt up there, and you know, all the guys from the bowling alley and the firehouse are gonna be there.”
“And you’re going to be right here,” his wife said.
Still, there was something about the magnetism of the Katt that George Lesslie felt drawn to. At that moment, he would have literally killed to slip free and head to the gymnasium. And perhaps fate was about to cut him some slack.
The doorbell sounded, and Sally was allowed to answer it. “Pizza delivery, ma’am.”
“You’re an awfully strange looking deliveryman. I think you’ve lost your way -- we didn’t order any pizza.”
“Lesslie, George Lesslie?”
“Better not let it get cold -- may I come in?”
“No,” one of the cops said. He was standing behind Sally. “No, you may not come in.”
The other cop appeared beside him. “What is it?”
The stranger, now disguised as the deliveryman, hadn’t quite anticipated guests, and certainly not at this close quar-ters. Big George’s police detail was dressed in plainclothes, but the stranger knew a cop’s voice when he heard one. And these guys had business written all over their faces.
“Okay, I’ll admit it, you didn’t order this. It’s a gift -- from the Big Katt. Tonight’s the fundraiser, you know. Here, take it, with her compliments.” Before she could stop him, Sally found herself clutching the pizza, and the deliveryman had disappeared.
“Hey, wait a minute.” One of the cops moved down the steps following after the mysterious deliveryman, who was extremely quick to get back into his Chevy pickup. “Hey -- you!” But the truck quickly rumbled out of sight.
The cop beat it back to the house. “The Katt, get her on the phone.” Minutes later, the cop’s suspicions had been confirmed -- the Big Katt had not called in to have a pizza delivered to Big George. “It was him, and we let him get away,” the cop said. “He looked completely different,” his partner said.
“It was him all right. I didn’t get his tags, but I can APB a make and model. You get a decent look at him?”
“Go down to the office and have them draw up a detailed sketch of our new stalker.” And then he muttered under his breath: “Dammit, dammit, dammit.”
The departure of his partner was, of course, a tactical blunder of the first order. Divide and ye shall be conquered. Police work, like football, was a team sport -- one broken coverage, one broken assignment, and it could cost you a big play. Every defensive player had a gap assignment, and if someone shot that gap and got free, it could spell disaster. And now, as one cop left the house and headed downtown, a gap was being created, a seam, and the stranger sensed the possibility of, if you’ll forgive the expression, slicing through it. He was watching from the cab of his pickup, parked across the road not far from the Lesslie house, as the cop got into his car and left. He saw his chance -- he’d slip around back. One cop to deal with was easier than two. He saw daylight and he had to take advantage of it.
Elsewhere in Baton Rouge, in the high school gymnasium, a janitorial crew was putting together a makeshift stage at one end of the gym. And the bleachers had been pulled down and made ready on either flank. There would be a microphone for speeches, and there would also be a DJ and recorded music to dance to. Yes, it would be like those high school dances and proms of old, knees trembling, hearts aching, fearful young hearts frightened to make the first move, the gap between one side of the gym where the guys stood and the other where the girls trembled with fragile beauty seeming like a huge abyss. Yes, those were frightening years that left an imprint on the best of us. No matter how God had gifted us with beauty and grace, or strength and speed, those were the years when we must somehow feel inadequate.
“Testing, testing -- ” The microphone was working.
One of the work crew came over to the mike. “So, what do you think?”
“Not that, I mean, about the Katt? Do you believe it, the Katt is back in town.”
“Dirty old man.”
“Makes me yearn for my high school days. I’m big on nostalgia.”
“You just better make sure this thing holds up, this platform. You sure it’s steady under there?”
“Sure, I’m sure.”
Just as sure as Katt Hall was, being laced up in a magnificent white gown by her mama, that she would be radiant this night. This would be her Bette Davis hour, her finest performance. She was perhaps a bit too formally dressed for the occasion, but she wanted to make a statement.
Yes, in the coquettish history of Southern belles, Katt Hall was ready to make her mark for all time. She would show them all who was the grandest, most luscious, most desirable belle the South had ever produced.
No phony celluloid Jezebel, nor Technicolor Vivien Leigh as she hoop-skirted and sashayed her flirtatious way around an MGM sound stage -- honey, this was the real thing. One hundred percent pure Southern gal, born and bred. With the sharp beauty and regal cheekbones to prove it, and the coy little arch in her step. This was the real thing, honey, so Rhett Butler, baby, step back and move aside.
Indeed, here was a Katt for All Seasons. Not as ripe at the hip as the young Vivien Leigh, nor as petite of body and facial features as Bette Davis, but with her own personal stamp of Southern beauty -- slender, sylph-like, with skin so pure and soft, with long blonde tresses and all the social refinements that fairly reeked of aristocratic breeding. And when the word “dahhhhhling” issued from her lips, one could quickly forget Dietrich and all the other raspy, husky broads who had muscled their way into the hearts of American men.
In addition to the aforesaid refinements, there was one other quality the Big Katt had that all her competitors did not -- she could nail you with the Big Growl. She would pull her lips away from her teeth, roll her tongue on her palate, and let out with the most ferocious growl, which would cause the earth to shake and lesser creatures to run for cover. For in the vast kingdom of animal creatures, there might be venomous little swamp snakes and all manner of cunning killers and foragers with the sharpest of instincts, but there was none so large-as-life and imposing as the Big Katt, and when the Big Katt growled, all of the weaklings of the earth quaked and gave ground. Here was a woman who commanded respect. She would have chewed up and spat out Davis and Leigh for breakfast before continuing on her triumphant and terrifying way.
Yes, the Big Katt had the sleek, blonde qualities of legendary Southern beauty, and the jungle ferocity of the lion. And right now, she was aglow in her ball gown. Aglow, and ready to make her big entrance, her triumphant return.
“Honey,” she said, for Spud had entered the room. “Well?”
“I still don’t like it.”
“The gown, or me going to the ball?”
“The gown is beautiful, baby, and you’re a knockout in it. I don’t believe I’ve seen it before.”
“It was mine,” mama interjected. “A long time ago. Actually, not so long. We had an elaborate function to attend a couple of years ago and I had it specially made. It just so happens that Katt and I have similar proportions, although I’m a bit plumper in the hips.”
“I really haven’t worked on my speech,” Katt said. “I should have put something formal down on paper. But I suppose I shall simply have to feed off the energy of the moment.”
Feed, yes. As did Big George Lesslie, his wife, Sally, and the plainclothes cop, taking a chance on that mystery pizza, a chance that it wasn’t poisoned or otherwise booby-trapped. They had deposited the large pie on the dining room table.
“Chance it?” Big George had said.
“What the hell.” The cop was hungry, after all.
“I mean, you don’t think it’s poisoned or anything?”
And they stuck their faces in it and gorged themselves on the thick, oily slices of pie.
“Mmmm,” Sally said. “This is gooood.”
In the meantime, eyes were peering through the parlor window at them, eyes that had assumed a new identity in a costume shop but that still carried the same bad intentions. The stranger wanted the kill, and he wanted it now. He didn’t want to miss the Big Katt festivities, but his heart was pound-ing with a passion to eliminate George Lesslie. He watched now as Lesslie stuffed himself with pizza.
“Mmmmm,” George moaned. “Gotta have something to drink with this.” He got up from the table.
“Wait a minute.”
“Coke? Iced tea? Take me two seconds.”
“What the hell,” the cop said, and gestured.
Big George headed for the kitchen. There, he opened the refrigerator and spotted a nice chilled bottle of Coke on the shelf. What he failed to notice was the clicking sound of the back door popping open. And he failed to feel a slight rush of air from the outside.
“Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentleman. . .” The town mayor’s voice boomed over the PA system, as he faced the gymnasium crowd from the stage. “Citizens of Baton Rouge, I welcome you tonight and thank you for supporting a worthy, worthy cause.”
Chants began to go up from the crowd -- “We want the Katt! We want the Katt!”
“Yes, it is an honor and privilege to announce that it appears as though we are going to be taking in a considerable amount of money tonight, all for charitable causes. And I think we know the reason all of you have come here, though, of course, generosity was paramount in your motivations, and Christian sentiments of wanting to help your fellow man.” He cleared his throat. “But we know why you’re all here, and in just a moment, you shall meet our guest of honor. Indeed, she has traveled the world, but she has come home to us again, and we adore her so, truly we do. This treasure of the South, this radiant gal who has spread so much joy among us and who comes from an impeccable Southern lineage, with roots that go back generations in these parts. I speak, of course, of Katt Hall, our own beloved Big Katt. And she is right here tonight and about to grace our stage.”
“We want the Katt, we want the Katt!” The crowd was really revved up, and if they didn’t get what they had come for soon, they might just trash the place and tear it down.
“Yes,” a stranger murmured in the crowd. “We want the Big Katt. We want her now -- and forever.” The way he had wanted Big George Lesslie.
“We want the Katt! We want the Katt!”
And in the wings, the Big Katt primped and prepared to make her entrance.
Everybody these days seemed to want the Big Katt, and who could blame them? And the chants were becoming deafening, and the bleachers were shifting and shaking, and the noise echoed off the gymnasium walls, and things were reaching a fever pitch.
“Come on, Katt baby. Your public wants you,” the stranger chuckled.
“Katt! Katt! Katt! . . .”
Yeah, they wanted her, that was for sure. Her adoring public. But not quite as bad as one person in that crowd, a person who was a stranger in those parts. No, not as bad as he wanted her, had wanted her, in fact, since the day she left him thousands of miles away in a distant land.
“We want the Katt!” The crowd was still cheering.
And the stranger muttered, “And I know how to get her.”