By: S. Scott Bullock
Carolyn Trendall opened her eyes and had no idea where she was. She knew she was in some sort of odd room. A living room/dining room/kitchen, combo sort of room. She knew she was seated on an ugly, threadbare, burnt orange chair. She knew she was dressed in a horrible blue faded house dress kind of thing. She knew that she was wide awake and she knew that it was cold. She shifted in the ugly chair and looked behind her. She saw a door and looking around further, realized that she was in some sort of mobile home. A trailer. A double-wide she thought they were called. She looked down at her feet and saw that she was wearing very shabby, brown, faux-leather house slippers and that the carpet beneath those slippers was a burnt orange, brown and mustard, tri-colored 1970’s shag. She suddenly felt an urge to bolt for the door but had no idea why. She actually didn’t know the ‘why’ of anything at that moment.
As she contemplated standing up she heard sounds coming for the very back of the trailer. She assumed the bedroom or bedrooms where back there. Then a voice. Shouting.
“And if you give me any more-a-your crap about it I’ll really hit ya next time. I won’t be pullin’ no punches no more. I mean it Charlene. Next time, I’m takin’ you out. And not for dinner.”
Just then the person that the voice belonged to burst into the room where Carolyn was sitting. Still utterly unable to comprehend her situation she just sat there, mute, as the man came crashing in shouting at her.
“You get your damn panties in a bunch over the damn stupidest things Charlene. And I DID NOT hit you. I pushed your ugly ass away from me and you fell down and if you tell anybody anything different, I’ll bury you. I swear to father God, I’ll freakin’ bury you!”
The man grabbed his coat off a hook by the door and as he put it on he turned and looked at Carolyn. His gaze was terrifying. His eyes were bloodshot and his greasy blond hair stuck to the top and sides of his head. His teeth were bared and Carolyn could see the spaces where two of his teeth were missing. He was unshaven and it looked like he may have bruises on his cheek and neck. He stared at her for what seemed forever and then spoke. Quietly this time. And this quiet speech was far more terrifying than the yelling.
“I am two loads away from being done with you, Charlene.” He hissed. “I’m goin’ to Carl’s now. I’m gonna get drunk. Then I’m gonna come home and you know what I’m gonna expect. And you better be ready. You better be wearing that see-through thing I like and you better have a cold beer and my smokes on the table. You better be smilin’ and you better be hot for me. Or I swear to father God, I am gettin’ my shotgun and I’m unloadin’ both barrels into your eyeballs. One barrel in each eye. You get me?”
“But I’m not…” She whimpered.
“YOU GET ME!?!?” He screamed at her.
She nodded her head, yes.
“Good.” He said in the scary quiet voice and walked out of the trailer slamming the door behind him.
Carolyn sat. Terrified. Her mind was reeling. What was happening? What the hell was happening to her. Was this a nightmare? Was she asleep? Had she lost her mind?
She slowly stood up, unsteady on her feet. Pain shot up her back into her neck. She looked at her arms and saw bruises and scrapes. Her desperate need for a bathroom was the only thing keeping her from bolting out the door and running. ‘Running WHERE?’ she thought. She walked toward the
back of the trailer, winching from pain and the desperate need to urinate. She found the bathroom and quickly lifted the ugly house dress. She saw that she wasn’t wearing any panties and that fact made her stomach roll over. She sat down hard on the toilet in a semi-collapse. She thought she was going to vomit but then the relief of peeing took over her whole body. She peed for what seemed like an hour and the relief was sublime. Her body shivered as the last drops of urine fell into the filth-splattered toilet bowl. She cleaned herself with the remains of a roll of sandpaper toilet-tissue that was sitting on top of the sink counter and stood up. She thought of washing her hands but again realized the danger she was in. She needed to flee. Quickly. That beast was going to come back, but from what he said, she knew she had some time before he did.
She left the bathroom and found the bedroom. She went to the closet and looked inside. She found what she was looking for. Clothes. They were really ugly, but they looked the right size. Carolyn grabbed a denim blouse and a pair of faded 501 jeans. She pulled them on quickly and they indeed fit her. The jeans were a little snug around the waist but this was NOT the time to worry about exact fit. She saw a pair of woman’s cowboy boots on the shelf above the clothes rack and grabbed them. She went to the beat up early American dresser and frantically pulled open the drawers. She found a pair of socks and grabbed those. She thought for a moment of getting a pair of panties out of the same drawer, because her naked skin was already feeling troubled by the tight denim pants, but then thought better of it. The last thing she wanted was this monster’s wife’s intimate apparel that close to her own privates. If she was his wife. Probably not. Probably some pitiful girlfriend, beaten down spiritually and physically by that sub-human animal. He was insane. Obviously insane and had somehow confused her with his girlfriend. But how had SHE gotten there in the first place, wearing a hideous house dress and torn slippers?
She sat on the unmade bed and felt a mattress spring dig into her thigh, she pulled on the socks, then the boots. She was not surprised when they fit. It seems that Neanderthal’s wife or girlfriend or whatever, was Carolyn’s size. Out of shear habit she assessed herself in the mirror above the dresser. She looked surprisingly stylish for what she threw on in sheer desperation. She had a brief thought that she was, after all, a fashion model and she could make anything look stylish. This miserable and horribly frightening situation proved that fact. Looking at her face in the mirror she also saw a prominent bruise at her left jaw line and a black eye beginning under her left eye. She had no idea how she got the bruises or black eye. No recollection at all. That thought scared her to her core. What was going on? Where was her memory?
She heard a noise outside the bedroom window and was yanked from her reverie. She spun around and headed for the bedroom door and in the process knocked over the bedside table. A half-filled water glass, an alarm clock and a stack of paperback books flew to the floor. The glass shattered and water covered the splayed stack of books. Carolyn saw that they were romance novels, all by the same author. She made the quick mental assertion that romance novels would be perfectly appropriate for the battered female occupant of a double-wide trailer. She flew to the front door, threw it open and ran into the cold night.
She ran out of the trailer park and onto a street. It looked like a main thoroughfare. Lots of traffic going in both directions. She contemplated hitching a ride then quickly dismissed the notion. She was not about to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. She flipped a mental coin and decided to turn right and head, what appeared to be, north. She took her first step in that direction and her right foot slipped out from under her. She ass-planted on the side of the highway and realized she had slipped on a huge pile of dog crap. Even through the pain of the fall she managed to chuckle at the absurdity of the situation. Here she was, Carolyn Andrea Trendall, one of the highest paid fashion models in the world, sitting splay-legged on the side of a rural highway, boot-heel deep in dog shit and having NO idea how she came to be there.
Out of reflex she reached for her cell phone. It wasn’t in her pocket. Because the pocket, like the pants, didn’t belong to her. She stood up painfully and began to walk. Where she was going, she hadn’t a clue, but she figured she’d know when she got there.
What seemed to Carolyn to be about an hour later she saw a town a short distance ahead of her. She picked up her pace and felt, for the first time since she opened her eyes in that hellish trailer, a struggling glimmer of hope. If she could just get to a phone she’d be able to get help. She needed to call Barbara. Her best friend, her mentor, Barbara Payton always knew what to do. But Carolyn knew that even Barbara was going to have a challenge with THIS situation. Still she felt confident that Barb would know what to do. How many hundreds of scrapes had Barb gotten Carolyn out of? Too damn many to even consider. Barbara was a miracle worker and could turn tragedy to triumph with a simple sentence.
As Carolyn got closer to what she thought was a town, she realized that it was actually just a strip mall, a diner and a gas station. All the shops in the mall were closed but the station and diner were open. She looked at the lighted diner sign with big city judgment. Even in this cesspool of fear and confusion she could still muster that condescending, privileged attitude.
Best Chicken & Dumplin’s in Alabama
Carolyn’s upper class posture suddenly slumped away. It was replaced with astonishment and terror. She shivered and spoke aloud to the chilling air and the diner sign.
“Alabama.” She said quietly. “I live in New York. How the hell did I get to Alabama?”
The ‘ding-ding’ sound of the bell at the gas station brought her back to reality. A rusted blue pickup had pulled in for gas and the driver, an old man who looked remarkably like Santa Claus, was singing along with the radio. She only heard a little of it but knew right away what it was. It was a hymn. A favorite of her father’s mother. A retched woman who used the bible and God as a weapon. Sometimes literally, as Carolyn remembered. Her paternal grandmother, Nunna they called her, hit her once on the back of the head with her treasured, gigantic, King James version of the good book. And she had struck her only because Carolyn had confided in her the unrequited love she felt for a class mate. Carolyn had seen stars whirling around in front of her after that assault and made a silent vow to never more accept her Nunna nor religion as viable resources for solace.
“Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee,” The Santa Claus man belted out. “How great thou art,” then with a huge finish, “HOW GREAT THOU ART!”
The Santa Claus man looked over at Carolyn and saw her staring.
“Praise the Lord!” He shouted to her.
Carolyn nodded to him then turned toward the diner. Her head swam again. ‘The bible belt.’ She thought. ‘Alabama and the bible belt.’ She couldn’t be more out of place. She was a jet-setter for heaven’s sake. She’d had dinner with Brad and Angelina. She had met Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.
She was the face of Donella cosmetics. Her over-made-up, photoshopped visage graced billboards and magazine ads.
“This cannot be happening.” She whispered to herself as she opened the door to Dumplin’s Diner.
“Sit anywhere you want honey.” A woman in her 50’s, skinny as a chain-link fence post, and wearing a waitress uniform straight out of a really bad ‘B’ movie, called out to her from behind the counter. “We’re dead in here tonight so the whole place is yours.”
“I don’t want…” Carolyn stopped short as the waitress went through the swinging door into the kitchen. She walked over to the counter and took the stool nearest the kitchen door. The diner smelled of old bacon grease and pine-sol and the florescent lighting gave a greenish tint to everything in the place. Then the swinging door flew open and the bone-thin waitress came over to Carolyn.
“You want a menu honey, or do you know what you want?” She said smiling and baring tobacco stained teeth.
“I just need a phone.” Carolyn said, and as she did tears began to burn her eyes. She swallowed them back and said, “Do you have a phone I could use. I need to make a very important call. It’s an emergency and I’ve lost my cell. I’ll pay any charges.”
“Oh shoot honey.” The waitress began. “That storm, night before last… could you BELIVE that storm?! … That storm, night before last, took out the phones. It took out the power too, but they got that back on this morning.”
“But I just…” Carolyn lost it then. Tears began to flood from her eyes. She dropped her head and sobbed.
“Oh shoot honey. What is it darlin’? What is it?” The waitress came around from behind the counter and put her hand on Carolyn’s shoulder. “I have a cell phone, darlin’. You want me to call someone?”
Carolyn looked up and into the waitress’s eyes. The waitress saw the bruises and black eye then.
“Oh shoot honey. You’re hurt. Who did that to you? You want me to call the sheriff darlin’?”
“NO.” Carolyn said a little too loud and strong. “No. I can’t have the pub… I can’t…”
Carolyn saw the waitress’s mouth moving but what she was hearing didn’t come from it. She was hearing Barbara Payton’s voice in her head. She was hearing Barbara laying down one her edicts. She was hearing Barbara say, ‘Avoid bad publicity at ALL cost. Never talk to the press outside of an interview. Never involve the police and I repeat, AVOID BAD PUBLICITY.’
“… I’ll just go fetch it.” The waitress finished.
Carolyn had no idea what she was going to fetch, but she was hoping it would be a phone. The waitress came hurrying back in talking a mile a minute.
“Mine was dead, honey, but Dumplin’s has a little juice left in the battery.”
Just then an enormous woman squeezed herself through the swinging door. Her skin was blue-black, like anthracite coal. She was wearing a filthy, cover-all apron and conservatively weighed four-hundred pounds. But she had the face of an angel. Even with the worried expression she was currently wearing, her’s was just about the most beautiful face that Carolyn had ever seen.
“This is Dumplin’, honey. She owns the diner.” The waitress said pointing to the large lady. “Here’s her cell.” She handed the ancient flip-phone to Carolyn. The waitress turned to Dumplin’ and said, “I gotta step out for a smoke, Dumplin’… all this has got me riled up. I’ll be back in a couple minutes.”
“Those damn cancer sticks are gonna be the death of you, Sissy-Ann.” Dumplin’ said, wagging a sausage-sized finger at the waitress.
Carolyn opened the flip-phone and stared at the keypad. Her mind was a blank. Technology reared its ravenous maw just then and bit her on the ass.
“I don’t know the number.” She said wiping the last tears from her face. “All the numbers I call are stored on my phone. I just press the person’s name I want to call. I don’t know any of them by heart.” She looked up at Dumplin’.
“Call 411.” Dumplin’ said scrutinizing Carolyn’s face. Then, “Do I know you, sweetie? Don’t you live around here?”
Carolyn’s mind swam then began to race. Dumplin’ must have seen her magazine ads. She MUST NOT be recognized. Avoid bad publicity at all cost.
“No.” She said firmly. “No. I’m from New York.” She stood up and turned away from Dumplin’. “I’ll call information. I’ll call 411.” As she pressed the three numbers on the grimy old flip-phone, Sissy-Ann the waitress came back into the diner.
“Colder than a witch’s…”
“Sissy-Ann!” Dumplin’ stopped the waitress mid sentence. “Not when we have a customer.”
Carolyn stood with her back to the two women and talked quietly into the phone.
“Can I have the number of Barbara Payton, New York, New York, please?”
As Carolyn waited for the number, Sissy-Ann and Dumplin’ began their own surreptitious conversation.
“She look familiar to you?” Dumplin’ whispered to the waitress.
“I thought so too, when she first came in.” the waitress whispered back.
“Has she been in before?” Dumplin’ asked.
“I don’t recall that.” the waitress said while taking a quick glance at Carolyn’s turned back. “I think I’d remember her if she came in. But she could have come in during the day shift. That’s why she’d look more familiar to you than me.”
“I wonder who hit her?” Dumplin’ said.
“Some back country asshole.” the waitress said.
“Sissy-Ann!” Dumplin’ chided. “Your mouth is ugly. You got a ugly mouth.”
Carolyn closed the flip-phone and turned around.
“She’s not listed.” She said quietly. “My friend is not listed. Just her publisher’s number. And they’ve got to be closed. It’s late.”
“Her what?” Sissy-Ann asked.
“Nothing.” Carolyn said handing the phone to Dumplin’. “Thank you for the phone. I owe you a dollar for the 411 call, but I don’t have my purse.”
“Don’t you go worryin’ bout no dollar now little girl.” Dumplin’ said smiling. “You come over to the counter and sit yourself down and I’ll get you a hot coffee. You hungry?”
Carolyn was surprised to find that she was, indeed, hungry. After all the shit she had been through it wasn’t hard for her to believe that her very well trained appetite was feeling a little out of control.
“I’m starving.” She said sheepishly. “But my wallet.”
“Don’t you worry bout no wallet.” Dumplin’ said leading Carolyn to the counter. “Sissy-Ann get this little girl some coffee and a menu.” Then to Carolyn. “It’s your lucky night sweetie. Anything off the menu is free tonight. Special Dumplin’s Deal.”
Carolyn remembered what she had thought when she first saw the Dumplin’s Diner sign and a wash of guilt flowed over her. Nobody in New York would care for her like this under these circumstances. Not in New York.
“I’ll just have some eggs if you have them.” She said. “Scrambled?”
“Scrambled it is. You like bacon, sweetie?” Dumplin’ asked her through a beautiful smile.
“Yes, I do. Yes, please.” Carolyn said smiling back despite her situation.
“And some hash browns. Would you like some of Dumplin’s Diner’s world famous hash browns?”
“Carbs.” Carolyn said reflexively.
“What sweetie? Cars?” Dumplin’ asked, her brow furrowing a little.
“Carbohy… oh forget it…. yes please I would LOVE some world famous hash browns.”
“White, wheat, sourdough, bagel or English muffin?” Sissy-Ann chimed in reflexively.
“Bagel please.” Carolyn was now grinning from ear to ear. “With loads of butter and even more cream cheese, please!”
“I’ll get all that started.” Dumplin’ said heading to the kitchen. “Sissy-Ann, you sit down next to … hey sweetie, we don’t know your name.
“Carolyn.” Carolyn said.
“Well that’s Sissy-Ann and I’m Doneetra but please call me Dumplin’. Sissy-Ann, you sit next to Carolyn and find out how we can help her out.” Dumplin’s huge frame swirled around and squeezed itself through the door to the kitchen.
Sissy-Ann motioned for Carolyn to get up.
“Let’s go over to a booth, honey. These stools are murder on the derriere.” She pronounced it Dairy-urr.
They moved to a booth toward the back of the diner and slid in. Carolyn’s mind was racing again. Should she tell them who she was and what had happened, WAS happening to her? Could she trust them not to talk about it. NOT to call the police or the press. Carolyn smelled the unmistakable aroma of frying bacon and knew right then and there that she should trust them. These were good people. They’d help her.
Carolyn began to speak and the words poured from her completely out of her control. She told Sissy-Ann her name and who she was. She spoke of waking up in the trailer and the abusive monster who threatened her and called her Charlene. She told Sissy-Ann of her escape from the trailer, her long walk to the diner and all the events leading up to the present. Carolyn barely paused to breathe and was so relieved by finally telling her story that tears were rolling down her cheeks and wetting the table between her hands. When she finished she looked intently at Sissy-Ann and spoke her last, most important words.
“So I have to contact Barbara, my friend Barbara Payton, she’ll know what to do, she always knows what to do.”
At that moment the kitchen door swung open and Dumplin’ came in with three plates of food. They were piled high with eggs, bacon, sausages, bagels, hash-brown potatoes and breakfast steak. Dumplin’ skillfully juggled the plates over to the booth and set them down in front of Carolyn.
“Here sweetie.” She said. “You eat all of this. Your butt is too skinny. I brought you a big breakfast steak too. You eat that all up now. I’ll get you some flat ware and a proper steak knife. Eat.”
Dumplin’ looked at Sissy-Ann.
“So. How do we help our new friend here?” She asked.
Carolyn started to recount the story for Dumplin’, but Sissy-Ann stopped her.
“You eat.” Sissy-Ann said to Carolyn. “I’ll tell the story.” Sissy-Ann turned to Dumplin’ as Dumplin’ put the flat wear and napkins in front of Carolyn. She spoke solemnly. “This here girl”, She began, “is a famous fashion model.”
By the time Sissy-Ann had finished telling Carolyn’s story, Carolyn had finished over half the food on her plates. She put her fork down and looked at Dumplin’.
“Thank you so much for your kindness.” She said. “I promise I’ll repay it. I promise…”
The door to the diner flew open and the monster from the trailer stormed in, followed closely behind by the hymn singing Santa Claus. The monster walked to the middle of the diner, spotted Carolyn sitting at the booth and snarled over his shoulder.
“Yep, that’s her. Thanks Bucky. That’s her.” He stepped closer to the booth. “Charlene,” He growled. “You get your skinny, white ass in the truck. You get in now or I swear to father God, I’ll pick you up and tie you to the hood. NOW!” He stepped closer to the table and Carolyn’s hand brushed against the steak knife Dumplin’ had brought her earlier.
Barbara Payton sat at her writing desk in her beautiful upstate New York Gothic mansion and took a sip of her tea. The IBM Selectric typewriter hummed and blended with the sound of Mozart coming from the stereo. Barbara wrote everything on that old Selectric. She refused to go computer. She had written her first book on that thing and she vowed that she would write her last on it too. She sipped the remains of her tea as her assistant knocked quietly on the door.
“Come in.” Barbara called out. “I’m at a stopping point right now.”
Barbara’s assistant, Lea Drake, came into the room. She wore an old fashioned business suit and looked like central casting’s version of an executive secretary. She carried a teapot in one hand and an electric tablet in the other.
“I’m stuck. I’ve written myself into a corner.” Barbara said.
“Have you been online at all this morning?” Lea asked grinning.
“No.” Barbara said. “Why?”
“May I read you something?” Lea said.
“Yeah. Why are you grinning?”
“Just listen.” Lea said putting the teapot down and opening up a page on the tablet.
“A rural Alabama woman fatally stabbed her common law
husband Friday night in a Grove Field, Alabama diner.
Charlene DeLance stabbed Macon Brunard in the heart
with a steak knife after a brief altercation in Dumplin’s Diner
in Grove Field. Brunard died at the scene.”
“Well that’s lovely.” Barbara interrupted. “But just why should this interest me?”
“Hang on.” Lea said. “The good part’s coming.”
“When police and paramedics arrived on the scene
they were met, one officer reported, by an
unbalanced and ranting woman. She was, according to
officer Donald Teak, ‘Screaming like a banshee and
running amok.’ When police finally restrained the
woman she was asked her name and to explain the
circumstances. She told them….”
“You ready for this?” Lea interrupted herself.
“Yes.” Barbara said. Then sarcastically. “The suspense is killing me.”
“When police finally restrained the woman she was
asked her name and to explain the circumstances. She
told them her name was Carolyn Trendall and that she
was a famous model from New York. She said she had
no idea who Macon Brunard was or why he was after
her. She told police she had felt threatened by him
and subsequently stabbed him.
Carolyn Trendall is a character from a series of
Romance/Mystery novels written by Pulitzer Prize
winning author Barbara Payton.
DeLance was taken to a nearby hospital for
mental evaluation and disposition.”
“How ’bout that?” Lea said grinning. “You were just YESTERDAY saying we needed a little publicity!”
“Fantastic.” Barbara said. “That crazy broad just gave me the best gift EVER. And unlike good old Carolyn Trendall who says we should AVOID bad publicity at all cost…. Barbara Payton says, there is NO SUCH THING as bad publicity. Now. Go do something secretarial. I think I found the next twist for my book.