“I’m going for a walk,” Spud said. The afternoon sun had begun to lose its intensity.
“Not without me, you’re not.”
“Baby, I need some air. The police are out there.”
“So is that fiend.”
“I need some time to think.”
“Spud darling, the Big Katt just has this feeling, this uneasy feeling. I can sense things.”
“And what is it exactly you are sensing, baby?”
“Don’t go for this walk. Come on, we’ll knock back a few bourbons, but please don’t go for this walk.”
“The warm afternoon beckons, baby, Spudster is getting restless. I need to think, to absorb these events, this new place. This has been traumatic for your Spudster.”
“And I have just the cure.”
“Unh-unh,” he said, knowing her cure would lead them to the four-poster, and he’d be sapped and shredded if she got her paws on him. “You and your mama prepare a nice dinner, baby, I won’t be but a few minutes.”
“I love you, baby, even if sometimes you are an alcoholic wreck.”
“Bye, sweet Katt.” He left the Great House, and could be seen by the police across the way coming through the shrubs that fringed the front yard. They eased the patrol car out and followed behind him, but at a distance.
At that same moment, a truck eased out of its hiding place in the woods and followed both the patrol car and Spud. The man behind the wheel of that truck was a familiar fiend, a kind of crazed Lon Chaney with a grudge. Yes, the stranger had waited and waited patiently, hoping for just such a moment as this. Things were once again breaking his way.
In a bowling alley downtown, Big George Lesslie was sipping a brew, taking it easy. That six o’clock rendezvous was very much on his mind. The cops had told him to go through with it, that they’d be ready.
’Course, every time they promised to be ready, the lunatic who was after the Big Katt somehow seemed to get the better of them. Even though Big George had surrendered the love letter to the cops, he somehow held out hope that it might be genuine, that there might be a real beauty waiting for him back of the Bayou Bar & Grill in less than two hours. It never hurt to fantasize. A knockout who was stacked to the hilt, but who had a sweet, yielding, devoted disposition. Surely after these tedious years of work in the dimness of the pin spotters, cleaning up wrappers, lugging bowling balls, stack-ing shoes, surely he had earned some sort of Nirvana. And the tones of that letter now aroused him. If that thing was on the level, maybe Big George would get out from under, maybe he could ditch devoted Sally, a woman he didn’t even deserve, for something hotter and more yielding, something that worshipped him.
He imagined the two of them together, he and his new sweetheart, in a sort of gingerbread house on a pond. Each morning she would kiss him on the cheek, bring him his breakfast, and in the evenings they’d sit out back on the verandah and hold hands. Yes, this was an angel sent to earth to look after him, not some increasingly hardbitten woman who wouldn’t put up with his grief. This was his dream wife, and George would cling to that dream, even as his hand clung to the beer bottle and he took another swig.
An angel, he thought, with sweet mouth and pretty eyes, who wore pastels and whose hair was honeyed and golden. Whose voice had a gentle, soft, adorable lilt to it --
“George, my baby?”
“I love you, I love you so much, and I am devoted to you. Now hold sweet soft little me in your big strong arms, but be gentle.” Dear God, George’s heart was swelling with love, not to mention other parts of his anatomy, and he felt ready to burst.
Yes, a dear and beloved and sweet and innocent angel awaited him, and he need only get cleaned up and betake himself to the Bayou Bar & Grill. Little did he suspect, of course, that that sweet and innocent woman whose words were so seductive in the letter hardly matched the woman he was about to meet, a woman recruited from a bar lounge, who even now smeared her face with rouge, and teased what was left of her thinning hair, in front of a mirror. Indeed, this was hardly a fragile angel preparing for their fateful rendezvous, but more like some sort of hideous wart-bumped hag out of Snow White. Yes, the barfly was prettying herself up -- a touch of rouge here, a nuance of lipstick there, some eyeliner. Now she’d add a bit of perfume behind the ears, and smile for the camera. Her lips parted, and what she beheld was hardly a sweet and nurturing smile, but a death’s head grin. She swal-lowed hard -- this George Lesslie was in for one hell of a rude awakening.
Meantime Spud, walking blithely down the lane that led from the Great House, felt a wonderful sense of liberation. No four-poster, no Daddy all the time nosing in, and no demands from mama or the Big Katt -- just fresh bayou air and the warm sunlight, and a chance to gather his thoughts.
He remembered the milk pails of his Pennsylvania upbringing, the innocence of work on the farm. Sitting in the small schoolroom, raising his hand when the teacher asked them questions, and the sense of freedom when school let out and he was able to walk back through the woods in the fresh air. He remembered his father hunting, and the hunting rifle he kept above the mantelpiece. It had all been a far cry from the high deserts of New Mexico, from his whirlwind romance with the Big Katt, and their life together in her adobe home. And he was now equally removed from those arid mesas to the rich texture of the bayous, to the old customs that Katt’s Daddy seemed bent on perpetuating. He’d come a long way, had Spud, physically and perhaps spiritually, and maybe, just maybe, he and the Katt would put down roots once and for all here and this would be a place they could call home.
The woods were thick and rich now, and he couldn’t resist the temptation to detour into them, just to have a sense of his Pennsylvania upbringing. This brought a state of panic to the police, who quickly pulled off to the side of the road. And farther down, in his truck, the stranger caught sight of Spud making his detour, and pulled over. He rummaged in the backseat and found a knapsack, and then he moved quickly to get free of the truck and into those woods, hoping to be able to get to Spud before the police did.
Spud was humming to himself now, some rock ’n roll tunes from the old days, and he sat himself down on a log, and took in the deep rich smells of the woods and the wonderful cool of the darkness. He heard the sounds of forest life, and he felt free again, released from the confines of the Great House, indeed of everything that had happened to him since he left Pennsylvania and struck out on his own.
He didn’t hear the crunch of feet in the undergrowth behind him, and when he did, he assumed it was the police. But they had remained in the car, figuring there’s no way he would go very far before coming back the way he came.
Yes, the feet were crunching, and then there was silence. The last thing Spud remembered as he whistled happily and looked up into the tall trees was a piece of cloth coming down on him, closing over his nose and mouth, and the smell of something strong invading his nostrils, something like chloroform, before he blanked out.