PREVIOUSLY ON POP CULTURE MYSTERIES…
AND NOW THE POP CULTURE MYSTERIES CONTINUE…
Hettie threw herself at her father, his brittle bones barely able to resist the collision, but the smile on his face showed he didn’t mind at all.
“What? Oh, no no, Hettie May, you know better than that.”
“Hello Jeb,” Pa said to the new arrival.
“Gus. I suppose you’ve tried to talk these youngsters out of this expedition already?”
“To no avail.”
“Let me give it a go, then,” Jeb said to Pa and then to Hettie, “I’m gonna’ borrow your beau for a minute, darlin’.'”
The Good Reverend Jebediah Blodgett. Many a Sunday Hettie dragged me to listen to his sermons and to his credit, he was the liveliest speaker I’d ever seen, able to make you feel good about yourself and yet fearful of eternal hellfire and damnation all at the same time.
That’s a gift.
He didn’t much care for me. I didn’t take it personally. Like most fathers, he was convinced there wasn’t a man alive that was good enough for his daughter.
In retrospect, he wasn’t wrong.
Jeb and I walked a few feet down the platform. He grabbed me by both my shoulders. For a doddering codger, he had a good grip.
“Son, I’m going to guess this was your damn fool idea, takin’ an old man’s only daughter into the belly of the beast without so much as a how do you do?”
I looked down at my shoes, afraid to look Jeb in the eye. “Yes.”
He let me go.
“I see,” he said. I could tell he was going somewhere with this.
“So then, when I’m all alone on my deathbed, I can thank you for stealing away my last living relative, the only one I’ve got to take care of me?”
“Jeeze,” I said. “When you put it like that…”
“How else am I supposed to put it?”
I looked up with renewed vigor. I had an angle to play.
“Your daughter sings like a songbird from heaven,” I said.
“I know,” Jeb said. “And I know she won’t be happy here neither.”
I felt the sting of a boney finger poking into my chest.
“But YOU’RE the one who decided to drag her off to Los Angeles behind my back. She’d never try such a dumbfounded notion on her own. Boy, do you know that city is nothin’ but a steaming cauldron of sex, drugs, prostitution and a bunch of felonious perverts who wouldn’t know what to do with a bible if you threw one at their damn heads?”
“I’ve heard rumors, yes.”
“You gotta’ protect her now, Jake.”
“I mean it.”
Suddenly, there was a slight, playful slap on my cheek.
“That’s a good boy,” Jeb said. “And you know, it ‘aint easy to tell you this but…”
“It’s ok,” I said. “I know we’ve got your blessing, Reverend Blodgett.”
Jeb’s face scrunched up like he’d just sucked on a lemon.
“BLESSING? You think I drove my ass all the way to the train station to give you my blessing to live in sin with my baby girl?”
Boy, was I in for it.
“Son, what I’m tryin’ to tell you is this. If I EVER catch wind that so much as a hair gets misplaced on my baby’s head so help me, Jake Hatcher, the last thing I will do on God’s green Earth is drive all the way out to LA and turn your face into a pile of raw hamburger with my shotgun.”
He probably didn’t mean it.
“Oh, I mean it, boy,” Jeb said. “I’m old. I’ve lived my life. I’ve done every single last thing I ever wanted to do in this world. And if I’ve got to spend the last year or two I’ve got left wasting in away in a jail cell to avenge my baby’s honor then so help me, I’ll do it!”
I swallowed a gulp hard.
“All right, then.”
Jeb quickly returned to the sweet old man routine. He walked back to his truck and returned with a black, leather bound book and a cardboard box.
“Hettie, look at you,” Jeb said. “Lookin’ more and more like your mama every day, God rest her soul. I figure this train ride will be so long that you’ll get hungry so I brought you a peach pie. I made it the other day with her recipe, but my stomach’s been doing so many backflips I don’t have the gumption to eat it.”
I got a death threat. Hettie got a pie. Hardly seemed fair.
The waterworks started, and how.
“Now I know it won’t taste half as good as your mama’s but I hope you’ll make one for yourself when you get where you’re goin’ and think about how mama’s smilin’ down on you from Heaven when you do.”
Jeb handed me the book.
“And Jake, this is for you, some reading to keep you busy.”
On the cover? “Holy Bible. If lost, return to Ophelia Blodgett.”
“Make sure you see Hettie gets that when you’re done. It was her mama’s.”
“And make sure you pay close attention to the pages I marked, especially the ones that spell out how fornicating before marriage will earn you a spot at the devil’s side and so on…”
“Daddy!” Hettie said.
The piercing sound of a train whistle interrupted our goodbyes. The cross-country express arrived, passengers started boarding, and a portly, bespectacled conductor hopped out to make an announcement.
“Now boarding the six a.m…
“At 7:30,” I thought.
“…train, westward bound with stops to include New York City, Cleveland, Chicago, Omaha, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles, end of the line! ALL ABOARD!”
Copyright Bookshelf Q. Battler. All Rights Reserved.
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