Next Stop For Gracie Chapter 4 When The White Raven Flies

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Chap4In downtown San Diego, lower Broadway is a busy and crowded place, it has always been so. Close to the waterfront where several powerful Navy ships, working harbor tugs and a myriad of tuna clippers moor. They attract furious activity, and noisy lumbering trucks, forklifts and assorted stacks of goods and cargoes await their distribution.  It is the summer of 1940.  Gutters are not as clean as they should be, filled with cigarette butts, litter of all types, the debris, and muck a big city generates. It seems that in every block, one can find a sailor or a Marine who has had too much to drink, is in potential distress and about to succumb to his liquid induced unsteadiness. The smells wafting from many bar and lounge doorways of sour beer, spilt spirits, and cigarette smoke hit your nostrils in full force. The flavor of the landscape changes in the later part of the evening. Those fresh faced sailors and Marines start to stagger and walk even more unsteadily. Their starched,  crisp and well smoothed uniforms have become wrinkled and disheveled, hats and caps askew, kerchiefs and ties now loosened. They are obvious marks for the many  pimps and their women who ply their trade on these sidewalks and in the black, shadowy alleys, deep in alcoves,  foul smelling of piss and cheap perfume. Also in the dark corners of nondescript buildings only inhabited by rows of dented trash cans, a city's discards and piles of broken glass bottles.  The seedy bars and the loud music, the shrill laughter of women who have set their eyes on an unwary quarry, eerily blast into the street with the opening of every grimy and worn, leather padded cocktail lounge door. Some nights you can catch a live combo, pounding out  poor renditions of the day's popular tunes with out of tune horns, a half drunk crooner and a set of worn out drums. A brightly lit street corner is the perfect place to transact the business of lower Broadway most evenings.

"I'll bet you got what I want, girly," asked the Iowa youngster with remnants of peach fuzz on his chin.

"I sure do, handsome. You bring me lots of dough, did you, on your liberty tonight? Huh sweetie," she replies with a phony bright red smile.

"Enough, I got enough, " he exclaims lowering his voice while trying to appear much older than his years. He is wants to cover up the fact that his 18th birthday was just a recent memory.

"Well, doll face," she chirps sweetly as she strokes his face with one hand while feeling his butt gingerly for his wallet, tucked into his bell bottoms, with the other. "Are you gonna give little ol' Cecilia some of that liberty money tonight? I think you an' me gonna have one helluva time. One that you will remember for a long time, Sugar." Coupled arm and arm, they soon walked. Even if all he did was nod his shaky head as a vague approval, the girl in the loud red and blue flower print dress named Cecilia (if that is her real name),  he unsteady from cheap too many Bourbon and Cokes and she attempting to hold him up, now vigorously feeling around for that liberty wad. While they stroll to her room, before long down that dark side street, an unwanted chaperone steps out of the shadows, dressed in a pea coat and hat pulled down to cover his face, following closely behind. This sailor may get rolled tonight without ever having the fun he is fantasizing about with Cecilia on his arm. Cecilia with the red hair, the good times he plans on bragging about to his buddies back on shipboard, but most likely, a far worse fate will befall him before the bosun's piercing whistle calls for the end of liberty at 7 AM tomorrow.

The next time his family hears about this young man, in his hometown of Buffalo Center, Iowa, he has finally been discovered, luckily he's still barely alive. He has been severely beaten, bones are broken and twisted, his boyish face now swollen and jaw shattered, black and blue and one eye is shut, where he has been tossed in a lifeless heap on some wet, debris strewn mud under a waterfront pier. Instead of the chance telling vivid stories about his first liberty night in San Diego, he will feel ashamed and foolish. He has several months of confinement at Navy Hospital in San Diego to endure as his buddies will be deployed to their next station. He'll have to be happy with a liquid diet, endless games of boring cribbage, poker with matchsticks and sitting idly in a wheelchair in the hospital gardens. The unseen culprits have stolen his uniform and all of his money. His prized gold class ring, the one with the chip of a real diamond in the center, is already sitting in a pawn shop display case somewhere on lower Broadway. He was so proud of being the first in his family to graduate from high school. He saved that $56.74 over six months especially for a big night to remember in the best liberty town on the west coast. Six months to save the money and a lifetime to pay for the bad memories his first night of liberty brought him in San Diego, the town all of the old salts had talked up as "the best liberty town" as they steamed across the Pacific, where the only thing to see was the next sunrise, sunsets after an exhausting day of work and a bare endless horizon on the huge ocean. Such a fate was the chance these men and young boys took while looking for companionship by paying for a girl's time, being away from home for their first experience in a big seaport. The emotional impact on his mind is never to be healed, even though the body will. He is young. Next leave after his recovery will be embarrasing. He thinks to himself, "what will I say when I get back home in Buffalo Center and my friends, Mr. Nofziger, my baseball coach and Mr. Trask at Trask's Hardware, my first job, ask me about what happened in the Navy?"

 

She glances at the wall clock in the lobby, it is 7:55, as she races up to the third floor of the rundown hotel. "Oh shit," she thinks to herself.

"Gracie, I am so sorry. I am late. I know that I said after work that I would come back home in time for you and I to get some coffee and a doughnut before you had to walk to school," shouted her mother, out of breath, as she pushed open the door and hurriedly burst into the dingy hotel room. "Ramon, what are you doing up already? Where the hell is Gracie,"  she asked her man and pimp.

"Hold it down, God damn it,  Madeline,"  Ramon said in a low whisper. "We got some business goin' on here. We is makin' some money right now. Money,  you know, that green stuff you don't seem to be able to bring home anymore, " he said as he glared at her.

"You son of a bitch! Did you go out and get another girl?  I told you I would stay out all night and bring home more cash."

"I didn't have to go too far for this one, baby.  This one is going to pay me twice what an old tired whore like you can bring in, " Ramon snarled curtly. Just at that moment, Grace came in from the other room, straightening her skirt, walked to the table and shook a cigarette from the half empty pack, struck a match and lit it. "We can go after school, Mama. I'm sorry. That'll be OK. Right, Mama?"  she asked as she grabbed the pack of Chesterfields and the box of matches, shoving  them into her sad khaki canvas book bag. She quickly kissed her and headed for the door. "Me too," Ramon demanded with a wry grin as he pointed to his lips. She brushed his cheek casually with closed lips, her face in a grimace and skipped out the door.

Madeline Suarez has seen the years starting to leave their marks with lines around her eyes and at the corners of her mouth, even though she is only twenty-eight years old. Her jet dark curly hair, which she now has to dye from time to time, came from her Polynesian mother and she still believes is her best asset. Very proud that she spends twenty minutes every night brushing it religiously. Her pale olive skin lets the viewer know she was, like many people born in Hawaii, of many bloods. Her Dad, long gone, was a tall Filipino. This is where she got her height of almost five foot eight inches. Last night has turned into early morning and bringing home that extra money did not happen. "Why you mother fucker. Did you put my Gracie to work? I told you never, never! That would never, ever  happen. You fuckin' asshole, she is only twelve years old."

"Hold your horses, she agreed to help you out, " he blurted out in defense as if it had been agreed between them both. At that point,  the door opened and Chief 'Shoe' Shoemaker scuffled into the room, smoothing his tie and straightening his cap.

"What's all the fuckin' hollerin' about in here, Ramon? Hey Madeline? That daughter of yours is pretty fuckin' sweet in the sack, for some young pussy, let me tell you. I never thought Ramon would let you to put her ass on the street,  as she bein' only twelve. Nice titties too, kinda big! I was surprised. I got to say, more than a mouth full. I'm glad to pay double, anytime," he continued, not seeing Madeline's face growing redder. "I got some buddies who will do the same thing, any time. Hell,  Ramon, you gotta little fuckin' gold mine walkin' around in that crotch. I'll be back on pay day," he said with a big satisfied grin, his one gold front tooth sparkling. 

"If I ever see you around my Gracie again, Shoe, I will slit your fuckin' throat, ear to ear, with my straight razor, slice your dick off and shove it down your windpipe. Now try braggin' about that to any your bosun mate buddies on that fuckin' beat up assed bucket of rust  you call a sub tender." His eyes widened and he looked shocked. He glanced quickly at Ramon, and Ramon just nodded and his eyes seemed to say, "don't worry about it, she'll calm down by tomorrow." Madeline grabbed her pocketbook, dumped it out on the table, and pushing aside all of the greasy Chinese take out containers, odd pieces of clothing, day old newspapers and full ashtrays with her hand.

"I got to have a cigarette," she said desperately. "Your daughter just took the only pack I had. Listen here, calm down baby. I'll go down to Lefty's and get you and us a pack or two, grab a fifth of Old Overholt and we will forget this whole morning happened. What do you say to that, huh? "

" You are trying to please me and you are going to get some shitty, fuckin' rye whiskey? You know I don't like rye whiskey, you self centered asshole."

"All right, have it your way. I was just tryin' to be a nice guy. I'll get a fifth of Old Fitzgerald, your favorite. That make you happy, bitch," he said with a mean spirited snarl. With a swift motion,  she picked up the heavy crystal ash tray, from the debris strewn table . With a pitcher's motion butts, ashes and gum wrappers flew across the room as she hurled it at Ramon's head. It hit solidly, and then glanced off his right temple. The blood started to stream down his face almost immediately. "You fuckin' whore. You hit me with that God damn ashtray." he mumbled, his face covered with ashes and blood, it starting to trickle into his eyes and it stung. "Now look at my good shirt."  He then reached into the right front pocket of his expensive brown worsted trousers that Madeline had gotten him on his birthday last,  and at the same time he was starting to move towards her.  She knew he kept that nickel plated .25 caliber Colt pistol in that front pocket. He had promised her many times that if she ever crossed him,  he would use it on her and promised Madeline that her mother in Hawaii would never know what happened to body. He'd bury out on the Silver Strand, naked and he would cut off her hands so there would be no fingerprints. Suddenly the thought rushed through her mind.

She now knew that Ramon must have taken her daughter's virginity that day, before selling her to Shoe. If she didn't stop him now, Gracie would be tormented by him, she would take her place in his bed from this day on, let alone having to turn tricks nightly for him like she herself has done for the last, lousy and miserable seven years. As he was stepping towards her, she grabbed the top of one of the chairs from around the table, tilted it back and shoved the front legs into his advancing skinny shins. His eyes being full of blood, he didn't see her clearly and he tripped forward, and while falling, hitting his head on the heavy mahogany table edge. He landed face down on the grimy fake Oriental carpet, and tried one time to lift himself up with his arms, stopped, gasped and then let out an audible shudder, slumping back down to the floor. He lied there among the trash from the table, lifeless - motionless.  She kicked him hard in the ribs, fueled from her pent up frustrations and it felt really good. She was crying and shaking after all that had just occurred. Ramon still did not make a move.  She checked his pulse. Picking up her compact from the table, she opened it, and held it to his bloody mouth to see if it would fog over, like she had seen done in a gangster picture. None at all. No breath was showing in the mirror. The little man lying there was really dead. She wiped her face on his coat sleeve after picking it up off the floor.  She looked at Ramon's lifeless body again.  She hastily fumbled through her pocketbook contents that was scattered on the table and found the straight razor. She opened it, grabbed a handful of his bloody hair and yanked his head back. She wanted to slit his throat. "He deserves it ," she thought to herself.  She started  to make a cut from the left ear and had  just broken the skin close to his Adam's apple. She stopped. Wiping the blood off her hands and the blade on his coat again,  she folded the razor blade back into the handle. She had stopped sobbing, stood there over his body, finally feeling powerful for the first time in front of Ramon and decided the fact that the asshole was dead was enough. She liked that feeling. No pimp was ever going to do what he had done to her again. The son of a bitch sure wasn't going to get at her Gracie again.

Exhausted, she sat down, tired and still wanting a cigarette. "Get a hold of yourself, Maddy," she said out loud. "You didn't kill the little fuckin' prick. It was an accident."  She also realized that no one on earth would buy that story. She now was surely in big trouble! "Get a grip. What would Mama do," she asked out loud. Her mother, Kailani, was a remarkable woman, resourceful and had always made clever decisions, while living in a man's world. The beauty that Madeline had as a young woman came straight from her mother, one half pure Hawaiian on her mother's side of the twosome. Her father, one half Chinese and one half Hawaiian,  had died on a fishing boat. An accident during a storm going after big eye tuna. Her father was an excellent fisherman, well respected by his peers. They will never know the circumstances or how he died that day. Had he been thrown overboard? He was a strong swimmer and had competed when a young boy in school, but the rough surf off that part of the island was no match for any man. The lure of a big payday, plus he took out the boat without his friend and fellow fisherman, Cootie Joe, as was always their practice. The boat was found, smashed on the rocks, by some surfers early the next day. Her father's body was never found. The whole family, fellow fishermen,and all of his friends gathered at dawn the next day at the spot where the boat was found. His wife's sister Koko, who had a marvelous young singing voice at just fourteen years old, presented a song of her own composition in her native language, as everyone tossed vibrant orchid leis off the cliffs, into the crashing waves as a memory and tribute to Holokai, Kailani's father.  Madeline's mother, being only six years old at the time of her father's death, just remembers getting to stay up late, drinking hot chocolate, and helping everyone make all the of the leis for the ceremony.

She seemed to always make decisions that Madeline found were as clear and right as any man would make. Her mother had worked as a madame for one of the top houses in old Honolulu for many years from the turn of the century. After her father's accident, then her mother was killed in a freak street car accident while shopping in downtown Honolulu. Being a country woman, she never trusted the city and it took her life. Now a teenager, it wasn't long before Kailani was recruited by persuasive people to make some "easy money." Many years passed and the lifestyle took it's toll on her. In later life, arthritic hips made her quit the life altogether. Luckily, she has saved money enough to live comfortably, if not simply. When Madeline had brought home the handsome dark haired sailor from New Jersey and announced to all that they were going to get married, her mother was shocked, warning her that this man was not right for her, and never would be the right man. He would break her heart and only misfortune would be ahead for her. She also said she would not pay for their upkeep. If this guy didn't provide, then Maddy would have to go to work in one of the Honolulu houses. Her mother had been prophetic. Gracie was born six months later. The husband, a second class gunners mate, Freddy Dyson from Hoboken, New Jersey, was drummed out of the Navy right after Gracie's birth, his rate being reduced to seaman.  His pay was docked three months and he was given a General Discharge. Madeline never told her mother what charges were the reason Freddy was kicked out of the Navy, her only explanation was, "well, at least he didn't get a dishonorable discharge." Kailani didn't really care about any of that, but she knew what would happen next. Obviously that all came true. It was never stated, but inferred, that she was not an "I told you so" kind of woman. Freddy started drinking heavily, not coming home until late, always from the bad parts of Honolulu. He claimed that a he had a disability to anyone who would listen, while trying to borrow five or ten dollars from all of their friends, but there was no check coming every month from the Navy to pay those loans back as he would promise them. One day Madeline came home, the apartment empty, Gracie was at the neighbors and Freddie had gone back to New jersey or some other unknown destination. Good riddance was Madeline's feeling at the time. Her mother said his only disabilities were that he was born in the first place and then had come into Madeline's life. Quietly, she knew her prediction of Madeline turning tricks, like she had done herself when her father and mother both died from accidents before she was fifteen, would be the same.

Before leaving the room, she searched Ramon's pockets and only found thirty seven dollars in his wallet. In the front pocket, she retrieved his pride and joy, that nickel plated Colt .25 caliber pistol. She knew a bartender that might give her ten bucks for it. If not, maybe she could get a pawn shop to give her a few bucks for it. After all, it was a favorite of pimps and hookers. She was determined to find his stash of money.  Ramon did not know that she knew his hiding places. She went to the dresser,  checked behind the mirror, and nothing! Angrily she yanked all of the drawers out, and found a wrinkled yellow envelope heavily taped under the large bottom drawer. " Must be five hundred bucks in here," she exclaimed while thumbing through the contents of the envelope, not taking time to count it all.  She grabbed her pocketbook, and shoved the money in a zippered side pocket, then scooped her all of her things from the table into that tattered fake brown alligator pocketbook. "You son of a bitch! Now I will buy Madeline a nice pocketbook. Maybe I will even get one from Walker Scott's," she said out loud defiantly while taking a last look at Ramon. In the closet, she pulled the battered suitcase down from the shelf, grabbed some of her and Gracie's clothes, went over to the drawers on the floor and picked up stockings and lingerie. She quickly went into the bathroom,after all of this she needed to pee. She washed the blood from her hands and wiped them dry on one of the ragged gray towels hanging on a nail that were formerly white in another life. A quick look around and she double checked the zipper pocket to see that her money was still there,  and then out the door. "I better go down the back staircase, " she said while rushing down the hall to the stairs and then out to the back alley, hoping that no one who knew her saw her leaving. She caught the street car heading up Broadway to pick up Gracie at school. Only when sitting in a seat did she finally start to calm down and the morning's events start to be clear in her mind.

 

"Mama, what are you doing here," Grace asked as she came out into the hall from third period American history. "Mrs. Pace said you were in the hall and that there was family emergency."

"Gracie, quiet please!  Come away from the door and I'll tell you what happened."

"Well, what is it, Mama? "

"Ramon is dead."  

"Dead! Ramon is dead?  Mama, what the fuck happened? Did some pimp shoot him? I always knew..." she trailed off as she looked into her mother's eyes. "Mother? Did you kill Ramon," she whispered and did not even realize she had called her Mother.

"No, no I didn't kill him, of course not. Well,ah... well I. It was an argument. Just an argument. We were fightin' about you turnin' tricks and he hit his head on the table." 

"Hit his head on the table? Are you kiddin? What really happened, Mama?" 

"OK. I threw an ashtray at him and it hit him in the head. He was going to shoot me, for Christ's sake, with that little fancy fuckin' pistol of his. He was always threatening me with it. You heard him a hundred times,  the little fuckin' Filipino asshole. I am so glad he's dead. I am so relieved.  He tripped on a chair and hit his head as he was coming for me. Honest, Gracie. You gotta believe me. It was an accident." Frantic, but not showing it, Grace said with a calm tone, "What do we do now, Mother? "

"Go back inside and get your pocketbook and your bag. Tell your teacher there is a family emergency and you won't be in school for a few days. We have to get out of town,now!"Grace was seeing a strength she had not seen in her mother before, and she wasn't acting this time. "I got his money and that damn little pistol. We can sell it at Uncle Buster's Pawn Shop before we leave."

"Where are we going," she asked her Mother concerned. "How are we going? On a bus or a train?"

"I don't know yet, probably Trailways," she assured Grace. Madeline was really scared, but she needed to appear strong and secure, especially now. Usually Gracie was the much stronger one, much more than she could ever be. Gracie was her hero. She had never told her this fact, maybe because she thought she would not understand, but Gracie surely didn't behave like any twelve year old she had ever known. She was glad for that. Madeline's only memories seemed to be of when Gracie loved her doll collection given to her by her grandmother. Drunk one night, Ramon sold them for $3.00 to a barmaid on Broadway. Only $3.00! In these times, a woman had to be really strong willed to make it. The world was changing. The US would probably be in a war soon, either the Japs or the Nazis were stirring up terrible trouble, killing thousands of people all over the globe, and even though the Roosevelt government kept denying any future involvement, only offering support for other countries in strife, war seemed imminent. The people knew it. You heard them talking about it everywhere.

They got to the Trailways depot. Madeline nervously looked all about for any friends of Ramon, even though none of them would know he was dead for hours. They were all still in bed, either drunk or getting in one about now. It was 9 AM. "Here is five dollars, Gracie. Go get us a booth over at the snack bar. I'll buy some tickets and be over soon. Get me a newspaper too."

"Paranoid thinking, Madeline. No one has found his body and there wasn't any noise, except for the fight, which no one would have paid any attention to. They cleaned the rooms only on Mondays, yesterday was Monday, so why the hell are you getting in a tizzy for nothing?  Where the hell are we going to go," she thought out loud as she rummaged through her pocketbook for that envelope with the town name scribbled on it. Finding the envelope, she remembered when Jennie left her pimp so quickly that day last summer, at least she didn't kill him. She gave Madeline the name of the town where she had a for sure job. Jennie was a sexy Chinese gal, born in San Francisco and brought to San Diego to work by a really nasty pimp, Joey Chinn, who beat her so violently that she often couldn't work, then beat her when she didn't bring in enough money because she was sore and bruised. She was always in a cheerful mood, had dark and dancing eyes, and a figure that belied her young age. Madeline had known her for about a year and she called her a good friend. Once they had done a twosome, when a Marine Lieutenant had told Ramon that he wanted two Oriental babes, one young and one old, and stated he was willing to pay big for the experience, especially if the gals were a bit nasty. That surely was Madeline's style, and it seemed Jennie loved the kinky action too. Jennie had only been fifteen at the time.  It was the first time they had met. The two sat in McGill's on Broadway, drinking Pink Squirrels and bitching about their lots in life, smoking cigarettes, laughing and gossiping about most everything. Jennie was only sixteen, had a real sailor's potty mouth on her, but like Gracie, she looked much older than her age. She was quite a sight when all made up, her hair in the latest style and decked out in a tight Chinese red silk dress with a golden dragon motif, winding down the side of the dress that did a superb job of showing off her sharp figure.

"Madeline! I'm tired of this fuckin' shit. I'm not gettin' beat up any more by some asshole named Joey Chinn. Let him beat up some other whore, but not me. I am leaving this shitty town. It's not too far from here. Compass Point is where I am goin'."

"I've got an old envelope somewhere here in my pocketbook, write that name down for me, Jennie." After she handed the tattered envelope back, Madeline folded it twice, unzipped the side slot in her pocketbook, zipped it back up for safekeeping. She had a feeling that she may need to know what the name of that town is at some point. "It's up in the mountains just east of San Diego. They get some snow in the winter. That should be fun. It's just some little lawless town, got no cops, run by a crooked junk yard owner who is never around and an old Chinese war lord transplant from San Francisco. Name of Freddie Fong. He has a regular little crooked Chinatown empire going on there. You can get anything you want in that town, and I mean anything. They promised there was plenty of customers too." Madeline had been thinking about that day Jennie left, when two weeks ago she happened to run into Doris Wu, who had originally told Jennie about Compass Point on an earlier shopping trip to San Diego. The network in the trade is pretty active. They walked over to Newberry's and had a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Several of the gals came down with Doris from Compass Point and were shopping for clothes. Doris was sure that she and Jennie could talk the head Madame, Mrs. Lim, into getting her a job at Fong's. She talked about this damn little town that operates just like it didn't exist. Much like Jennie had said, seems it is off the highway, some distance down a dirt road and is in a pretty remote location, partially hidden by the forest. Only traveling salesmen, forest workers with fat paychecks, some curious lost travelers and Mexicans with pesos in their pockets, from over the border, end up in Compass Point. Some have been there before, but many find it strange. Soon they find the action, if they are looking for it. All the women get to keep a good portion of the money from the tricks they turn, Fong provides good protection and they can have all the opium they want. Doris said, she herself was averaging about $25 a week and the opium was free. "I only tried it once myself, in Honolulu, when a fat, rich Chinese trick took her to the local den. Madeline had always thought that she could get used to the stuff, it made a person forget their worries.

"So Mom, where have you been? I've  already read the paper, smoked four cigarettes, and drank three cups of coffee. Watch my stuff. I have to pee." Grace said, relieved that her mother had finally gotten to the snack bar. All of a sudden, Madeline was energized. She ordered orange juice, two eggs with hash browns and some rye toast with strawberry jam. The waitress was humming "Begin the Beguine" as she set the plates down at the table. It had been playing on the juke box earlier, and Madeline assumed this woman probably was an Artie Shaw fan as much as she was. She was spreading some of the jam on her toast, and glanced to her left. Gracie was slowly meandering back towards their booth. She was such a beautiful girl, and not just because she was her daughter, Madeline thought. Her long silky, black hair that hadn't been cut since she was a little girl, just trimmed occasionally, was swaying with every measured step. Already taller than herself, her figure was all woman and she would have to get her some new bras. She had been growing lately. Madeline's skin was dusky olive, but Gracie's was more pale and she had those vibrant green eyes, just  like her long, gone dad. "So, Mama, where the hell are we going? When does the bus leave? Do we have time to get some clothes, because I need some things?"

"Too many questions," answered her Mother with a mouth half full of toast. "Yes, we have time to shop, but not much. Gotta be quick about it. I still have to peddle that pistol. I'll need the money it'll bring. Our bus leaves at 11:45," She said, looking at the big round clock on the wall and ignoring the question about the destination.

"Well, Mama! Where the hell are we going," she repeated while nervously lighting another cigarette and asking for a refill of coffee from the waitress who was still enjoying "Begin the Beguine." Madeline took a big swallow of coffee, set the cup down. Lit herself a cigarette slowly and pushed the plate of half eaten eggs and potatoes away from her. "So,where?" Grace demanded with a direct stare.

"We're going to Compass Point."

"Compass Point? Where the hell is Compass Point? I figured we were at least going to Phoenix or San Francisco, or somewhere interesting that had people. Does this Compass Point have any people in it, " she asked sarcastically.

"Yes, it has people. All towns have people, Gracie. Do you remember Jennie, that left town about a year ago? I ran into her girl friend Doris Wu two weeks ago. She said we can get..." She mumbled and stopped herself. "I can get a job there at a place called Fong's. It's like a small Chinatown, and she said I look Oriental enough that I'll have no problem getting a good job. She's makin' $25 bucks a week!"

"Why did you stutter... just now," she questioned her mother.

"Because you are not going to be a whore like your mother when we get there. No discussions and that is final!, she said defiantly."

"We will see about that, when we get there," shot back Grace. "

"Final, I said." They gathered up their things to go shopping, paid the check and left 75 cents tip for the humming waitress. Grace had a queer feeling in her stomach as they walked out of the door. As they turned towards the stores uptown, Grace swore she saw a big white crow perched on the light post on the corner. She just passed it off to coming out in the bright sunlight and said to herself, "that's just another fucking seagull," as she squinted and again glanced back at the light post again. No, it was a big white crow. Just sitting there and staring right back at her. The unpleasant feeling in her stomach was not going away. Grace glared at the big crow and thought, "too much damn coffee and cigarettes at once."

"Come on Mama, hurry it up. The bus is going to leave without us," Grace urged her mother. Grace was half running and half walking, while wobbling in her new patent leather black high heels. They hurt her feet, but she didn't care. The cute shoe salesman at Walker Scott  assured that they would have a "break in time," and then they would be very comfortable. Madeline and grace had finished their shopping just in time to get to the bus. The diesel engine was loud and spewing gray, smelly exhaust as the driver revved the accelerator on and off, on and off. They clamored into the open doorway and Madeline said,"this the bus to Indio?" The driver looked at her and quickly finished the huge bite of his sandwich, almost choking and said in a labored and raspy voice,"yes'm. Going to Indio, with connections to Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Tulsa and on to Dallas. Got your tickets," he asked finally after swallowing his big bite of ham and Swiss and taking a big swig of cold coffee from his Thermos.

She was rummaging through her pocketbook, and looking pained at not finding them. "Here," Grace said while handing him the two tickets. He tore off the receipt, punched it with his tool from his belt and handed them back. Madeline just looked bewildered. She had not remembered that Gracie was keeping the tickets with her. She was growing up faster than she could believe. "How far is Compass Point? When will we get there," asked Grace. He was slipping the tickets into his leather pouch, didn't look up and replied,"it is not too far, but the roads are windy and there are some pretty rough gravel shoulders with some big rocks, maybe even boulders. Sometimes it's pretty slippery. This little shit ass of a town is off the main highway, down a bumpy dirt road. We should get there about 5 PM or so, if nothing crazy happens," he offered. Both wondered what he meant by that. Madeline shrugged her shoulders, moved towards the rear and found two seats without passengers around them so they could stretch out. She still had not been to sleep and getting some shut eye was going to be great, she thought to herself. They put all of their shopping bags and the suitcase she had traded for the pistol and $20 bucks in the top shelves above the seats. Grace immediately reached up and brought down two bags, set them on the space beside her seat. The look on her face was one of a child's Christmas morning. She wanted to admire of of  her treasures from the day's shopping. Grace looked over at her mother, across the aisle stretched out on the shabby brown leather seat. Clutching her pocketbook as a giant shiny fake alligator pillow. She was already sound asleep before the bus driver had even pulled from the covered garage and pointed the noisy metal beast in the direction of their escape.

"Mama, wake up. I wanna talk to you, " said Grace, her manner overly agitated.

"I'm awake. I'm awake. What do you want? Are we there yet," Madeline asked sleepily. It was getting dark and they had been in the mountains for some time, the bus laboring up the winding narrow road, the driver working feverishly, grinding and shifting gears to keep the machine up to a decent speed. "I want to talk to you, Mama. I do not want to live in the fuckin' Compass Point. I want to stay on the bus and go to Phoenix, or Tulsa, or somewhere. just not here in these deserted and lonely mountains. I'll bet they don't have Newberry's, a Woolworth's or a department store. I couldn't live without those," she complained.

"Look, Gracie. I am too tired to argue right now. How's about this? We get to Compass Point. Meet some new people and take a look around. We'll stay a day or two, or maybe longer. I can get some rest, then we can still move on if that is what you want to do," Madeline cajoled with a big smile. "How does that sound?" Grace nodded her head in agreement, reluctantly. Of course, there was no way that was going to happen. Once they were there and Gracie had some money in her pocket, she would feel different; department store, Woolworth's or not.

At that, they soon noticed that the bus had slowed to a crawl. He made a hard right turn down a dusty and narrow dirt road, full of pot holes and an odd boulder that had rolled from the cliffs on the left side. The big rolling box swayed from side to side and he had to slow to 5 mph. as he encountered washouts on the shoulders along the way. Grace got up from her seat, walked unsteadily up to the front of the bus, holding onto the backs of the seats of sleeping and snoring passengers, some had been jarred awake and were asking the same question she was thinking. "Mr. bus driver, is this the road to Compass Point, " she asked directly. His tight gray uniform shirt was soaked now with sweat, and not because he was a big man. He nodded a yes, his face dripping with perspiration and grimmacing in a look of determination at the same time.

"How much farther is it? "

"Look Missy, can't you see I'm working pretty hard here driving this thing?" He answered, "we will get there when we get there." Suddenly feeling that he had been to harsh, he added, "won't be too long now. This road is 17 miles from the turnoff to Compass Point. Use 'ta be all paved. In the old days, the highway went right through town, but they built, the WPA done it, the new highway and it pretty much killed this burg off. That's why it's such a rough place to be now." She said thanks and smiled at him. He had seemed to calm down now and was working less hard turning the huge steering wheel. "Mama, we will be there soon. It's 17 miles from the highway. He said it is a rough place to live now. I am convinced. I do not want to stay here," she said with resolve. She looked just like a little girl stamping her foot on the sticky rubber floor, littered with cigarette butts. "Look. Here we are, Gracie," Madeline shrieked as her voice raised. It seemed like a weight was lifted. The past was gone, finally. The events of that morning, hell-the last seven years could be washed away after she had a hot bath, some Old Fitzgerald and lots of sleep.

The bus came to stop, sliding in the dusty street and raising a cloud of dust that floated up so it was difficult to see out of the windows on the right side of the bus. The sign over the jumbled collection of buildings with one roof of many colors stated in large red letters on a white board, Willie's Place. A huge bearded man wearing worn and patched greasy overalls, smoking a pipe, was animated and talking to the driver at the back of the bus. There was an ever rising cloud of steam coming from the rear of the bus where the engine bay was located. Grace was all excited. She had to see what was going on outside, now that they had arrived. "I'll be back to help you with the bags and packages, Mama," she said as she skipped down the narrow aisle, jumping with bare feet into the dusty street. Her new black patent heels were still tucked under her seat, not yet broken in. "Yes sir, Bart. This here bus ain't a goin' no wheres," the huge man said to the driver. You got a water pump down, shore enuff; two hoses that I can see are busted, probably some brackets are gone. Probably fell offen somewheres on the road. That road has a way of tearing' up 'quipment right regular. Won't know til I git her jacked up over ta the shop. It will take about 2 ta 3 days ta git ya a new pump from San Diego. I can make the brackets. Got a welder that works pretty good."

"Big Melvin, that's the best news I have heard all day. Guess I'll be gettin' me a room over ta Mo's and catchin' up on my sleep. Right now, I'm steppin' in right here to say hi ta Willie and havin' me a cold one, maybe two."

"I'll be in there in a while for my supper too, Bart," replied Big Melvin, filling his ever present pipe with a load of fresh tobacco. "Dotty will fix you up, jes like always," he added in his West Virginia drawl. "I'll get the old Hudson wrecker and pull this ol' thing over ta git it off the street." At that moment, he noticed an odd street light reflection in the dust and looked up. "Damn white raven's here again. Up on that sign over ta Willie's. Strange? Ain't seen that varmint around for a long stretch now," he said privately.

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