I was in love.
Helplessly, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love.
She was everything I'd ever wanted; sexy, classy . . . so drop dead gorgeous that men froze in their tracks and women sighed with envy.
She was Italian . . . passionate . . . eager . . . insatiable.
And best of all . . .
She was candy apple red!
My name is PJ Wright. As you've probably heard by now; on weekends and after six on week days, the "PJ" stands for "Peter James". During working hours it's "Pamela Jane". How this all came about is too long a story to relate here. Suffice it to say; with the aid of the folks at Nu-Gen Transgender Appliances, the fellow born as Peter makes his living as Pamela, the female graphic artist.
I love the work. As time passes I'm growing more comfortable with the fact that I spend most of my waking hours as a woman. That the Nu-Gen I2000S I use to transform myself creates the perfect illusion of a lovely, sexy, young woman . . . well . . . that's just a little side benefit.
The firm I work for, Whitman, North and Arjer, is currently riding a tidal wave of success. We're a hot agency. We've "arrived". We can pick and choose our clients. The good times have translated into a very "healthy" bank account for yours truly. The days of living on macaroni and cheese and wondering where I'm gonna find money for the water bill are over. When a hefty bonus for my work on the Giancarlo lingerie campaign raised my savings balance to a figure well within six digits, I decided it was time to buy myself a toy.
It was love at first sight . . . my candy apple red passion. I knew it was meant to be the moment I walked into the Addagio Motors showroom. She was a new model, just introduced this year. They called her a "Bufera di Vento" . . . a musically beautiful rendering of "Windstorm". I named her "Buffy" and drove her out the door just as the sun was firing the clouds on the western horizon.
After large purchases I've heard you're supposed to experience something called "buyer's remorse" . . . the feeling that the purchase has all been a mistake somehow. Well, not me, not this time. Sitting behind the wheel as the wind flowed through the open convertible top, I was sure this was PJ Wright in his natural environment: an Italian sports car.
Buffy and I began the adventure that I'm about to relate when Josh, ( Josh Arjer, my half brother and the managing partner of the firm) finally surrendered and assigned me to meet with a new client out in Virginia. It was a pretty straight forward account, something that one of our new stable of artists could have handled easily. But the weather had just turned to warm spring, the skies were depthless and crystal blue, it was perfect weather for a road trip in a brand new candy apple red sports car . . .
As I say; Josh finally surrendered and gave me the account.
I allowed myself two weeks for the whole expedition. I figured five days to drive from the west coast to Virginia, two days to meet with the client and five days to drive back. That should allow for a leisurely pace and a good two day slack for sightseeing. I thought I was being overly cautious, that I was allowing way too much time.
As it turned out . . .
Buffy is a sports car and as such she doesn't have the largest of trunks. I did some judicious packing and managed to fit everything into two suitcases which in turn just fit into Buffy's 'boot'. It was a bit of a problem packing since I needed clothes for two weeks for two people.
See, there's a rub when it comes to Buffy and Pamela. Pamela doesn't have a driver's license. I've never figured out a good way to get one for my female alter-ego. I've heard that you can go down to the DMV "en femme" and ask them to use that picture on your license and they'll do it. But your personal information doesn't change. There's still that huge black letter "M" in the box labeled "Sex". And you can only have one license at a time. They check on things like that. The problems were just too great, the results of embarrassing discoveries too terrible to consider.
Pamela still relies on her "picture credit cards" for her ID and rides the bus to work everyday.
This being the case, Peter would be doing the driving this trip. Pamela would appear once we were safely in the motel in Norfolk to conduct her meetings, then it was back to Peter and the open road home.
At least . . . that was the plan . . .
In retrospect; I knew I wasn't even thinking that way when I did the packing. But it was subconscious. I'm sure it was. At the time I didn't even stop to wonder why I was packing some of Pamela's . . .
I'm getting way ahead of myself.
The ride east was everything I'd hoped it would be. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was uniformly spectacular; . . .the sere, desolate beauty of Utah's "high desert" . . . the Colorado Rockies gleaming snow white in the moonlight . . . the endless emerald fields of the Great Plains, vibrant with new spring life . . . the wide Mississippi sparkling in the afternoon sun . . . the Smoky Mountains, dozing hazy blue and dreaming of ancient legends . . .
. . . the shriek of gulls on the Chesapeake and the wide Atlantic curving over the edge of the world.
The meeting was the "slam dunk" I thought it would be. The new clients were very happy with the proposals. We closed after only three hours of meetings with their eager assurance they'd contact our sales department that very afternoon.
I headed back to the motel for a quick bath, a quick change and a leisurely start on the return trip.
Looking back I realize . . . this is where it all started, here in the bathroom of my motel room.
I'd shed her conservative business suit and was standing in the bathroom with the bathtub running, starting to slide her slip up over her head when "Pamela", (that minx) caught my eye in the mirror.
She gave me that pleading, pouting, wanton look . . . biting her lower lip and batting those huge, round, "starving orphan" eyes. 'Come on Peter . . . let me drive for a while . . . think how hot we'd look . . . Pamela's blonde hair flying in the wind . . . that little pink sun dress you know you brought just for this . . . Please Peter? I won't speed or get into trouble or anything . . . Please, Peter? . . . Please? . . . Pleeeeease?'
What can I say? She's got me wrapped around her little finger and she knows it. (Okay . . . okay . . . I'm rationalizing again . . . but damn . . . Pamela would look incredible flying down the Interstate in Buffy . . . my black aviator sunglasses perched so "butch" on her aristocratic nose . . . a haughty sneer on her full lips for all the poor "masses" in their blah little commuter-mobiles as she blazes by . . . the object of passion and envy of everyone she encounters . . .)
Gawd . . . I'm such a slut . . . I didn't even wear any underwear . . . just that little pink sundress and the old reliable white sandals. With the bags in the trunk and Peter's "shades" on her nose, Pamela roared out of the motel parking lot just as the sun had hit high noon.
I headed south on I-95. I was going to take the "southern route" on the return trip. I'd never seen the Gulf Coast, and I was dying to absorb a little of that exotic Creole charm I'd heard so much about. Besides, I think Pamela had always wanted to be a "southern belle" . . . what better time than the present? I swung down through the Carolinas, turned right into Georgia and was well into . . . let me be polite here and not name names out of class . . . let's say it was somewhere west of Georgia and east of California that the adventure started.
I was gliding down I-10 in fairly light traffic just after noon on the second morning. That little pink sundress had been just too perfect a match for Buffy and I was still wearing it . . . still too daring to bother with underwear. I was feeling so alive. My life was going well after so many years of struggling. I'm not so prepossessed that I don't know I've had more than my share of luck. But I've worked for what I've gotten too. I was happy with myself . . . my life . . . my car! . . . and feeling wicked and wonderful and free.
I'd just pulled around an eighteen-wheeler and was accelerating past the cab when I realized that the trucker was staring down at me from his perch behind the wheel. I glanced up, slid my dark glasses down with one hand while I steered with the other and locked eyes with him. I knew what he was grinning at; an impossibly beautiful woman wearing a skimpy little dress and driving a sexy sports car.
I slid the glasses back up, blew him a "if you can catch me, you can have me" kiss . . . flicked my skirt up around my hips granting him a glimpse of what he so desperately wanted to see . . . and then stomped on the accelerator and blazed away to a lusty fanfare of air-horns.
Ah . . . I'm so bad!
Sometimes, when I get this way, it's like salted peanuts. I just can't stop. I wanted more admiration. I wanted more men panting for me. I wanted to be the object of unattainable desire.
I wanted a cup of coffee.
There was a truck stop ahead and I wheeled Buffy in. This little pit stop turned out to be both my salvation and my curse.
I parked in a spot near the entrance, opened the door and slid out with a delightfully feline grace. I'd already found out; you can get out of a sports car one of two ways. You can either just try to climb out, in which case you look awkward no matter how naturally graceful you are. Or, you can make a big production out of it. Men have to slowly uncoil and stick one leg out while levering themselves into a tall, commanding stance as they survey their conquests. Women need to swing both legs out, (letting one stick out straight a bit longer while the other first makes contact with the pavement), then uncurl themselves with cat-like languor as they stand . . . maybe brushing back their hair from their temple as they do it.
I sauntered up to the door, swinging my hips in that flirty little dress. I deigned to allow a burly trucker to hold the door open for me. I swept past with a little smile and a little extra wiggle and a little extra spring in my step to get those luscious "C" cup breasts into action. Poor helpless schmuck . . . I know what you'll be dreaming about tonight up there in the sleeper.
Man . . . I wasn't just swinging my hips anymore . . . I was positively strutting.
I picked a stool right in the middle of the counter and tried not to look too smug when conversation ground to a halt for a good minute while all the males tried to tear their eyes off me and the women tried to convince themselves I hadn't just blown all of them out of the water without even lifting a finger. A puffy waitress long past her prime finally wandered over and we both sharpened our claws while she took my order for a cup of coffee and an order of toast.
After a few moments, conversation stuttered back into motion. I sipped my coffee and let my mind wander.
"So they been there all day? They don't usually do that."
"Yep. I guess they's gonna make sure they get ever-one t'day."
"Pfft. You'd think Smokey had som'tin' better than ta jest sit out there checking licenses."
I think it was the first time since grade school that I'd snorted something I was drinking back out my nose. I swung around on the stool trying to locate the two speakers. They were a pair of middle-aged men sitting at a booth behind me. One of them was wearing a "Peterbilt" baseball cap, the other favored a stained and battered cowboy hat. I quickly stood and scurried over, forgetting all about my sexy "sashay"
"Excuse me . . . I couldn't help overhearing. Did you say that the police were out checking driver's licenses? Did you mean that they were stopping all the trucks, perhaps?"
The two truckers eyed me appreciatively (which suddenly had lost all its charm) and "Peterbilt" finally grinned. "Nope ma'am. They's stoppin' ever-one. They do it sometimes. Make sure ever-body's got valid licenses . . . got proof of insurance . . . " They exchanged a knowing look. " . . . make sure nobody's up to no good."
Oh gawd! "Umm . . . where are they set up . . . which direction?"
"Well ma'am. That depends. You're kinda in the middle of the whole shebang. If'n you go west, you'll meet up with the roadblock about four miles from here. If'n you go east, they's set up at the rest area at milepost 132."
"You mean, they're on both sides of us? We're surrounded?!"
Another exchanged glance. "Yep. Either way you go . . . you're gonna be talkin' to Smokey 'fore the day gets much older."
My mind was swirling. Of course, you can see there was an easy solution . . . just sit here and wait for the check to end. But I wasn't thinking that way. I was panicking with visions of trying to explain to a sweaty small-town southern sheriff why my driver's license was for a Peter Wright . . . of the county judge peering at me over the top of his glasses while he slammed down the gavel and sentenced me to six weeks on the chain gang for being some kind of communist pervert . . .
All I could think was; 'I'm trapped and I've got to get out of here!'
Maybe I could shed Pamela and then everything would be fine. A bathtub . . . I needed a bathtub filled with hot water. I think the panic was starting to show in my voice. "Please . . . is there a motel around here? I mean real close by?"
That didn't get the reaction I'd intended.
Both my informants sat up a bit straighter and this time there was definite calculation in their smiles. "Well . . . There's the Motel 6 over to Crosbyville . . . that's just fifteen miles west."
I almost shrieked with frustration. "No . . . I mean something that I can get to without crossing the police checkpoint."
Peterbilt rubbed his stubbled chin and thought about it. "No ma'am." Pause. "Course, you don't actually need to go through the checkpoint if'n you're westbound."
Cowboy Hat piped in. "Tha's right. If'n you don't mind a little side road detour."
"I can take a side road and avoid the checkpoint?"
"Yes'm. You just go back out on to the highway, go about two miles and then watch for the Horraceburg Road on your right. You take that road . . . Go right through Horraceburg for about another six miles . . . Then take a left on County Road 1108 . . . that'll fetch you right back to I-10 about seven miles past the checkpoint. Nothin' to it."
I was so rattled that I actually shook both their hands. "Thank you guys . . . you're real life savers!"
I threw a five on the counter to pay for the coffee and made a bee-line for Buffy, ignorant of all the perplexed stares I'd left in my wake.
For the next five minutes I was in a state of utter, unreasoning panic. I kept looking down at the odometer, convinced that I'd already gone more than the recommended two miles. I began to wonder if I'd missed the turn . . . if those two yahoos had been lying to me . . . if I was about to run into the checkpoint full tilt. Maybe they'd seen through my disguise . . . maybe everyone had . . . maybe that's the reason they'd all been staring at me . . .
Would I be spending the night in the county lock-up?
What would I tell all my friends back home when the news hit the national papers?
Dear God . . . get me out of this. Let me find the turn off. Let me get past the cops and find a motel with a bathtub and some hot water. Let me ditch Pamela and go back to being Peter like I should have in the first place. I promise I'll never tease anyone again. I'll just stick to business and be proper and prim and never put evil thoughts in folk's heads. I swear, I'll start going back to church and . . .
The white lettering on the green sign read "Horraceburg, Exit 1/2 mile". I could see the turn off. I couldn't yet see the police check point.
I'd made it.
Instantly abandoning all my promises (hey, they were made under duress . . . I'm sure nobody expected me to keep them), I slowed and with a huge sigh of relief veered gracefully off the perilous freeway onto the two lane country blacktop. Slowly my heart returned to a normal rhythm and my fingers loosened their death grip on Buffy's steering wheel. The cool spring breeze washed across my face and the trees formed a sheltering canopy over my head. I'd almost completely relaxed and was beginning to grin at my overreaction when Buffy's motor started to simultaneously thump and screech. A pair of red warning lights came on on the dash, one reading "Check Oil" and the other reading "Stop Engine".
Perhaps I'd been too hasty in dismissing those promises. Um . . . is it too late to reconsider?
Buffy's engine faltered then abruptly died leaving me to coast to a stop on the side of the road.
I guess it is.
I hopped out. (No pretense at feline grace this time. In fact, anybody standing by the side of the road would have gotten a real show as I just sprawled sideways in the seat and levered myself into a standing position.) I fumbled for a second getting the hood open and then peered inside.
I'm nobody's idea of a mechanic. I knew vaguely that the round thing on the top was the air cleaner . . . that all the belt-things should be in one piece (they were) . . . that the wires should all be connected (they seemed to be, but I didn't want to fiddle with them. I liked Pam's hairdo just the way it was. I had no interest in obtaining a do-it-yourself "Bride of Frankenstein" electric frizz.) . . .
And then I saw poor Buffy's 'mortal injury'. There was oil leaking in a fairly steady flow from a kind of electric motor looking thing bolted on to one side of the engine block and connected to one of the belts. Hmm . . . could that be the oil pump? I knew that cars had oil pumps. I also knew that pumps shouldn't be spewing oil all over the ground.
Oh fine. Dead in the water on a country side road in the middle of nowhere. Did I start walking? Which way? Back toward the interstate? What if I ran into some of the cops from the roadblock? Didn't they ask for ID just as a matter of course? That was out. How about toward that town that was supposed to be up ahead? (What was its name again?) How far did those two good-ole-boys say it was from the turn off? I remember the distance was stated in miles. Lovely . . . a little stroll in the country wearing flimsy sandals and a skimpy sundress. Did I just stay by the car and wait for the auto club? I looked up and down the road. This didn't seem to be the heaviest traveled thoroughfare in the whole world.
What to do?
Ultimately, I was saved the decision by the appearance of a rather battered looking pickup coming from the direction of the interstate.
I smoothed out my skirt, smoothed out my hair and tried to look fetching (not difficult for Pamela) and helpless (not difficult for Peter the world class auto mechanic). I'd just flashed on a mental image of getting pounced on by the driver of the pickup and dragged off to some backwoods cabin as a mate for his half-human son when the pickup pulled off on the shoulder and a middle aged and very . . . umm . . . well endowed woman, got out. (Was I in dairy country?)
"Hey there hon, y'all havin' car trouble?"
(No you moron. I always park by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere with the hood up. It's a hobby.) "Golly, I sure am. Thanks for stopping. I don't know what could be wrong. It's a brand new car."
"And a right pretty one! Let's take a look see." My savior walked around to the front, peered for no more than a second into the engine compartment and then announced; "Well, there's yer problem right thar! Y'all got a blowed-up oil pump!"
"I was afraid of that. Oh dear. Now what? Is there a garage in the town up ahead? I really need to get this fixed and be on my way."
The woman dusted her hands off on her jeans and then turned and examined me. "Normally hon, I'd jest say ta take it inta Floyd. But these ain't normal times."
"Umm . . . I don't understand."
My benefactor folded her arms and looked at the ground. "Well . . . see . . . it's kinda complicated. Just yer bad luck ta be a girl in trouble around here. If'n you was another no account man, why then them boys'd be happy to . . ."
And then she stopped talking and flashed me a sidelong gaze. Something had occurred to her. She was having some kind of brain storm. A plan was forming.
I didn't know what was going on. Suddenly, I didn't think I wanted to.
For the second time today, I was the object of a rather uncomfortable scrutiny. She 'sized me up' for a good two minutes without saying a word. It finally got uncomfortable enough that I had to do something.
"Excuse me Ms . . ."
"Oh, where are my manners?" She stuck out a hand. "I'm Doris Ploughwright. Ever-body jest calls me 'Dori' though."
I took the offered hand. "I'm Pamela . . . Pamela Wright. 'PJ' to my friends and road-side saviors. Umm . . . Dori . . . is there something wrong?"
She got a not entirely reassuring smile on her face. "PJ . . . everything might jest be finer-'en-frog's-hair. How'd you like a chance to get yer car fixed where 't-wouldn't otherwise be possible, and do the ladies of Horraceburg a real service in the process?"
I thought about the wording of that offer for a minute. What did she mean by 'wouldn't otherwise be possible'? That didn't sound good.
"I . . . uh . . . "
She took my arm and began hustling me toward the idling pickup. "Here, let's get you back to town so's you can meet the other women-folk and we can work out how we're gonna do this. PJ, this might jest be our lucky day!"
Why did I suddenly doubt that?
The story came out after Dori had smuggled me in through the back door of the Horraceburg beauty parlor. The beauty parlor had been chosen as the headquarters for the female contingent in the on-going war of the sexes that currently raged in this little hamlet.
Yep . . . the cold war that had smoldered between the genders since the Garden of Eden had burst into a shooting conflict (so to speak) here in Horraceburg.
And I was just in time to get drafted into the cause.
Dori introduced me to the assembled women. They were gathered to plan strategy for their next campaign. It was down to trench warfare at this point and both sides seemed pretty well stalemated.
Umm . . . maybe I should back up a bit and give you some history as to just what was going on here.
It all came down to Bobbi Mae Whitly's apple pie.
Bobbi Mae was currently sitting in the back corner of the beauty parlor. She was a pretty little thing. Somewhere around seventeen or eighteen I'd guess with an open, well featured face and a petite, feminine-without-being-showy figure. She was what you picture when you think of "the girl next door". And evidently, that's just what she'd been for one Billy Ray Whitly. He was the hometown hero . . . the quarterback of the local high school team . . . Horraceburg's favorite son and the natural choice to marry the homecoming queen; Bobbi Mae Gentry.
And so it had turned out.
As I understood it; the storybook wedding had taken place three months ago with the whole county in attendance.
At first, things had gone just the way they were supposed to. Proud, handsome husband . . . blushing, beautiful bride . . . a marriage made in Heaven. And Billy and Bobbi were in love . . . so very much in love. One look at poor little Bobbi Mae sitting forlorn in the corner, staring far-away-eyed out the window, and you knew just what . . . or rather who she was thinking about.
So, what had gone wrong?
As I say . . . it all came down to apple pie.
A new batch of beautiful red apples had come in to Mr. Granger's General Store last week and Bobbi Mae had decided that it was high time she made one her mother's special secret recipe pies. Nothing was too good for Billy Ray and Bobbi apparently pulled out all the stops that afternoon in the kitchen.
Now if you're expecting me to tell you that Bobbi Mae was one of those cliché new brides who couldn't cook, you're in for a disappointment. By all accounts Mama Gentry walked away with the blue ribbon for baking at every County Fair she cared to enter. And Mama Gentry had made very sure to pass down everyone of the old family recipes and cooking skills to her little girl.
No sir . . . 'thar weren't nothin' wrong with that apple pie'.
Billy Ray came home from a hard day in the field. His adoring wife met him at the door with a hug and a kiss and the aroma of Billy's favorite (fried chicken and mashed potatoes) wafting out of the kitchen. They laughed and talked and gazed into each other's eyes over dinner, just like newly-weds are supposed to do. Billy finally pushed his plate away and told his young bride that she was probably the best cook in the whole county if not the whole state. Bobbi beamed at this praise from the person who meant more to her than anyone else in the world, and then brought out the piece-d'-resistance; a great big slice of Mama Gentry's Secret Recipe Apple Pie Ala-Mode!
Billy tucked in . . . swirled the first bite around in his mouth and then smiled like a man for whom the Pearly Gates have just swung wide.
Bobbi grinned and asked, "So honey . . . ain't that about the best pie you ever ate?"
Billy swallowed and nodded. "Yes'm! . . . why that's near as good as my own Mama's!"
Lightening flickered on the rosy horizon of Bobbi's and Billy's little world.
"Hon . . .What do you mean, 'near as good'? That's my Momma's secret recipe ya know."
Maybe Billy saw the danger . . . maybe he didn't. It was probably too late anyway.
"Well, baby . . . I don't mean nothin'. It's jest . . . well . . . when my Mama makes apple pie, she uses a bit more brown sugar. Makes the pie sweeter you know. This is fine pie. Nothin' wrong with it at all! It's jest a bit more tart than I'm used to . . . tha's all."
Bobbi had slaved all afternoon on that pie. She pushed back from the table and folded her arms. "Oh . . . your Mama's pie, huh? That same pie that comes in second every year to my Momma's at the Fair? That the pie you're talkin' about?"
The bite of pie that Billy was just now swallowing kind of caught in his throat, and for the first time in their lives, Billy frowned at Bobbi! "I suppose if I was wantin' to eat a blue ribbon, that'd mean somethin'. Turn's out I'd rather eat my own Mama's apple pie."
Tears welled up in Bobbi's china blue eyes. "Billy Ray Whitley! You take that back!"
"I won't neither! You take it back first!"
War had come to Eden.
It might have been all right if Billy and Bobbi had just thrashed it out there at home. It was inevitable that eventually there'd be a squabble. I've heard that if you can fight with your spouse, and then make up . . .learn to forgive and forget and to listen . . . that you grow thereby. Billy and Bobbi had everything going for them. They were in love. They were meant for each other. If they'd only just shouted for a while there in the dining room . . . if Billy had only had the chance to really see those tears in Bobbi's eyes . . . if Bobbi had only really seen that hurt on Billy's face . . .
Ten minutes . . . tops . . . The fight couldn't have lasted for more than ten minutes. Then one of them, probably both of them in unison, would have said "Oh baby. What are we doing? We're fighting over pie! It ain't worth it! I love you too much to be fighting over something so silly" And they would have kissed, and hugged, and Billy would have told Bobbi that her pie would beat out both their mamas' pies at this year's fair, and Bobbi would have admitted that a little pinch of brown sugar was just the thing that recipe needed.
That's what would have happened . . . if Billy hadn't grabbed his coat and stormed out the door heading for the Dew Drop Inn leaving Billy Mae sobbing and wringing her napkin in her fingers and reaching for the telephone to her Momma.
Remember, Billy and Bobbi were the town's favorite children.
When Billy made it to the Dew Drop Inn, the regulars . . . males one and all . . . were there. Billy cried in his beer and told the sordid tale. The men all gathered around and patted his shoulder and told one another how silly and wrong headed womenfolk were . . . how unfair it was to treat your man like Bobbi had treated Billy after he'd come home from a hard day in the field, sweating to put bread on her table and a roof over her head. I mean . . . to talk bad about a man's Mama to his face! There were some things that you just didn't do! And as the beer flowed and the tongues wagged each man there began to think about all the little wrongs and slights his own mate had heaped on his head.
Bobbi couldn't reach Momma at home. So she fled the house and headed for the one female sanctuary in Horraceburg . . . this very same beauty parlor. The sewing circle was there, digesting all the day's news. When poor Bobbi burst through the door, sniffling and looking for her Momma . . . well, you can imagine the effect that had on the conversation. What a horrible thing for a man to do to his new bride! What an unfeeling monster! After Bobbi, out of the goodness of her heart and with no other thought than to make him happy . . . after she'd spent the whole afternoon working on that pie . . . to have him insult her that way! Men were such callous, unfeeling brutes! And as the tongues wagged each woman there began to think about all the little wrongs and slights her own mate had heaped on her head.
And so the battle lines were drawn.
And that pretty much brings us up to the present. The sexes had divided into two camps. Neither side would give an inch.
If the women wanted to be all flighty and unreasonable and take Bobbi's part . . . well that was just fine! Let them do all the heavy chores and such. Let them fix the washing machine when it broke, and change the fuse when it blew. Let them tote the fire wood and mend the flat tires.
If the men wanted to be so pig-headed and side with Billy . . . well that suited the women to a tee! Let those hairy apes get their own food and wash their own clothes. Let them fetch and carry. Let them balance the checkbook and pay the bills on time.
Of course, standing on the sidelines looking in, it's obvious that both sides were right . . .
. . . and both sides were wrong.
And it's equally obvious therefore, this was doomed to be a stalemate from the outset.
But how do you get someone to see reason when so much of their ego has gone into their position?
More to the point, how do you get some small town southern mechanic to fix your car when he isn't interested in giving a woman the time of day . . . and you're standing here in a too short sun dress that's hugging every one of your traffic-stopping curves as your long blonde hair is falling down around your Hollywood starlet breasts?
You agree to Dori Ploughwright's hare-brained scheme . . . that's what you do. Because it's the only thing that you can think of.
I arrived at the beauty parlor at a little after two p.m.
There were currently five ladies present including Dori. (Six if you count me . . . you might as well.) The town's womenfolk were taking it in turns to "keep Bobbi company". As I later found out there was an ulterior motive, other than solicitude. They wanted to make sure that Bobbi didn't have a sudden change of heart and go running back to Billy Ray. Now, since you can't keep a person prisoner in the beauty parlor for twenty four hours a day, one of them would always take Bobbi home with her at night so Bobbi would have "a friendly place to stay" as opposed to "that cold, lonely house". And there was no end of discussion in Bobbi's presence about how mean Billy Ray was being to her . . . how if he really loved her, he'd have come by and apologized by now . . . of how he must not be such a wonderful boy after all . . .
. . . Psychological warfare at it's finest.
Now I don't think that there was a conscious attempt to warp Bobbi's mind, or to really harm her in any way. I do believe that the women had Bobbi's best interests at heart. It's just that they believed that it wasn't in Bobbi's best interest to get back with Billy Ray until the men caved in.
They understood that in this battle, the first side to "blink" would be the looser. Both camps were as strong as their weakest member. In the women's case, that was obviously Bobbi Mae.
At the point where Dori dragged me in through the back room, an older woman; Mrs. Mavis Horsey, was sitting in a chair having her hair frosted. The town's beautician; Norma Jo Sivley was plying her spray bottle and holding forth about her second husband's penchant for going on a "toot" and "lighting out fer weeks at a time with the closest skirt" to the barstool upon which he happened to conducting his bender. A portly middle aged woman; Elizabeth Shoee, was blinking and nodding and throwing in an occasional "Ain't that jest the way of it?"
And of course, poor little Bobbi Mae was sitting in a corner, gazing out the window at the Dew Drop Inn, three blocks down Main Street.
"Ladies! Lookee here. I want all of you to meet PJ Wright."
Conversation halted and I was suddenly the center of attention. "Umm . . . hello everybody."
Dori pushed me into the center of the room. "I found PJ out by the turn off to the Meese's place. Seems like she's havin' a bit a car trouble."
Mrs. Horsey made a clicking sound with her tongue and in a voice loud enough to carry to Bobbi's corner exclaimed. "Oh, now that's a shame, sure 'nuff ! To be a woman broke down in a town full of no-account men who don't have a good word to say to a woman much less . . . "
Dori broke in. "Yes Mavis . . . I've told PJ all about it."
Norma Jo gave Mavis another spritz. "I guess there's nothing for it but to let the poor woman use the phone and see if'n she can't get a wrecker to come out from Crosbyville and give her a tow."
Dori began pushing me in the direction of an empty chair near Bobbi Mae. "Well, that was my first thought. But then I kinda had a . . . here PJ, set yourself down here next to Bobbi and keep her company . . . I had a idea as to how we might jest get a leg up on those no-account men. That is; if we can convince PJ to be a real dear and help us out."
There was an expectant silence as everyone looked from Dori, to me, and back to Dori. This went on for at least two minutes, till I decided to take the bull by the horns.
"Uh. Well . . . of course I'd be willing to listen to any plan that you might have Dori. I don't know if I'd be willing . . . "
Dori took the fact that I didn't reject the possibility outright to be the cue to take the center stage and launch into the details of her plan.
"Oh, that's just fine! Now then, we all know that the onlyest reason that this whole thing started in the first place is 'cuz Billy Ray was bein' muleish. An' we also know that as soon as he admits that he was wrong to poor Bobbi . . . and he asks her fergivness . . . why, the rest of them jackasses will have to admit that they's bein' wrong too. So, the question is; how do we get Billy Ray to see reason?"
Mavis chimed in. "I can't see why he hasn't seen reason already. We all know that he's basically a good boy . . . even if he does have his pappy's stubborn streak."
Dori nodded her head emphatically. "Um hmm. I 'spect it's cuz he really hasn't taken time to think on it. He's over to that bar . . . hasn't set foot out of it. And he's surrounded by those no account loafers what always hangs around in there. And you can bet they've been fillin' his head and pourin' the beers down his throat." She laid a hand on Bobbi's shoulder. "But I bet, if someone would just get him to thinkin' 'bout how he's done so bad by Bobbi Mae . . . why . . .before you know it, he'd be over here on his knees beggin' her pardon. Jest like he shoulda' two days ago!"
Norma Jo gave Mavis another spritz. "Well. Seem's to me that that's the problem right thar'. You can bet none o' them men are gonna start tellin' Billy Ray that he ought'en to make up. And none o' us women folk can get any wheres near that old bar to make him see reason. So I guess we're back where we started."
Dori smiled large and folder her arms. "That's right Jo. None o' us women can get near that bar. But what if one o' us was to get in there and none o' them old fools knew it were a woman?"
There was a thoughtful silence. Then all the eyes turned back to me . . . and for the third time today I was the object of a close, uncomfortable scrutiny.
"PJ . . . hon . . . how deep can you pitch yer voice?"
It was a screwy plan . . . bound to fail.
But I had to admit, there was a certain symmetry to it. A woman couldn't get her car fixed in this town. A woman couldn't get near the men. But if that woman were to disguise herself as a man, and go to the bar where all the other men were, and if "he" was to just happened to strike up a conversation with Billy Ray while the mechanic was tending to "his" car . . .
"Dori . . . ladies . . . look. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to your situation. If I thought I could pull something like this off . . . "
"Does that mean you won't even try? I mean . . . how do you know it won't work?"
This was so outrageous. Not the plan . . . that was certainly silly, and it had about a snowball's chance in hell even with a person of my . . . "unique qualifications" . . . trying to run the scam. What was so weird was; if I had had access to a bathtub, and if Peter didn't look so much different from Pamela that the sudden transformation would be too noticeable, I'd be the perfect person in the perfect place to help these ladies out. But as it was . . . it was just too far a stretch. I decided it was time to cut my losses and call for the Crosbyville wrecker. I tried out my best diplomatic smile. "Dori . . . I just . . . I don't think . . . "
I'd gotten up at five this morning, (I don't sleep too well in motels), and had gone about making the change into Pamela. The 'conversion' had been complete by six. It was then that I'd last used the chemical spray to change my voice.
The clock on the wall chimed to announce two thirty p.m., just a little over eight and a half hours since the change . . .
. . . And a familiar little tickle in my throat told me I was about to start doing a very convincing impersonation of a man's voice . . .
. . . Whether I wanted to or not.
And better yet; my bottle of voice altering spray was three miles back down the road, snug and secure in my suitcase, locked in Buffy's trunk.
A good deal of the warmth had gone out of Dori's smile. "PJ, I really do wish you'd reconsider. This seems like such a good opportunity. I don't know when we'll get another stranger in town . . . and you do need help with your car . . . and poor little Bobbi Mae . . . "
I had a quick thought about what had brought me to this predicament in the first place; my attempted escape from the police check point. Talk about leaping out of the frying pan. My mind was racing. I don't know, maybe there was some other solution, but the tickle in my throat was starting to turn into a burning. From experience I knew I had a minute, at most, left of Pamela's contralto.
"Well . . . I suppose I have nothing to loose by at least seeing if there's a chance."
Dori's broad smile was back. The rest of the women, excluding Bobbi Mae (who seemed curiously disinterested) leaned forward and stared at me expectantly. I cleared my throat.
"I once played a male role in my school play. . . let's see if . . . " Another clearing of my throat. The burning was becoming pronounced. "If I remember . . . " My voice was starting to crack. I counted to three in my mind . . .
"But soft . . what light through yonder window breaks?"
Dead silence. Even Bobbi Mae was staring at me, wide-eyed.
Dori finally broke the silence with an awed murmur. "PJ! That's . . . that's . . . scary!"
I nodded and smiled and tried to make sure that all my feminine charms were still very evident for everyone to see. "It's how I got the part."
The women exchanged puzzled glances . . . which slowly changed into puzzled smiles . . . which slowly changed into calculating grins.
By a little after five, Dori was ready to set her grand scheme into motion, and I was again having doubts as to whether my own double cross had any chance of working.
Plans with plans . . . "Oh what a tangled web we weave . . . "
It had been a very strange four hours.
Being stuck with the Peter's voice, I'd managed to convince everyone that it would probably be a good idea to just keep talking this way. I claimed that I wasn't quite positive I could just switch back and forth between my "normal" voice and this "assumed" one. Since I had this voice working "correctly", I suggested that I not mess with a good thing and just keep it up. The ladies had all agreed that that was probably a very wise precaution. I still caught the odd side-long glance out of the corner of my eye though.
Mavis had quickly vacated the chair and I had come under Norma Jo's talented hand. She fussed with my over the shoulder length blonde hair for a few minutes, but it rapidly became obvious that there was just no way to style those long tresses into anything even remotely masculine. (Hey, I'd specifically ordered that hair that way! Why pay several thousand dollars for something that looked even vaguely masculine? Wasn't that contrary to the object of the whole exercise in the first place?)
Norma Jo finally set down her brush in disgust. "Well . . . I can't do nothin' with this."
Dori delicately cleared her throat. "Uh, PJ . . . I don't suppose you'd be willin' to get a little length taken offen that lovely hair?"
Norma Jo chimed in. "They do say that short hair is gonna be "The Thing" this season. I could just trim a few . . . "
"Don't even think about it!" Pamela was marvelous technology, but even the folks at Nu-Gen hadn't figured out a way to make her hair grow out after some back-woods beautician had whacked off a couple of feet.
That pre-emptive bark in Peter's rather commanding baritone had the desired effect. Dori quickly waved her hand in dismissal. "You're right . . . you're right. That's askin' too much, I grant."
Norma Jo spoke up again. "Wait a sec . . . I've got some old wigs in the back room! Shoot, we can shorten them up or do anythin' we want with them!"
Just under an hour later, blonde Pamela was gone. In her place was a neuter appearing brunette with a very short, very masculine haircut. I also had a set of sideburns that were right out of the '70s. The person staring out of the mirror reminded me a great deal of that comedienne, the one with the androgynous character whose true gender nobody could figure out. At least until you proceeded downwards from my new face that is. Then the substantial cleavage and the long slender legs sticking out of that pesky-short skirt removed any doubt.
We all studied the effect in the mirror for a while, but nobody there believed that I'd ever pass as a man. Then Norma Jo came up with the idea of making a mustache out of all the trimmings on the floor. We used false eyelash adhesive to glue it in place.
Believe it or not . . .
Dori detailed Mavis and Elizabeth to go round up some of the other lady folks and make sure that Buffy got moved off the road and placed in such a way as to not be easily observed. We'd decided that my 'entrée' into town would be arranged by letting word get back to the men that one of their fellow males was having car trouble out on the road. Theoretically, Floyd would then be dispatched to my rescue and I'd have my "in".
Dori and Norma Jo headed off to Norma's house to get some of Norma's third husband's clothes. Norma's third mate had worked out about as well as the first two. I never did find out what had happened to him. I gathered that it wasn't a topic for discussion. Apparently he had been a fairly slender fellow, of my approximate build. And he'd left some clothes behind.
And that left Bobbi Mae and me.
We sat there in silence for a few uncomfortable minutes.
"Miz Wright. I . . . well first off, I want to thank you for goin' along with this fool stunt."
"Please, call me PJ. And hey . . . anything for the cause of love."
Bobbi stared at her feet for a second, then she turned those big innocent eyes full on me. "Miz Wri . . . PJ . . . I got no right to even think o' asking you this . . . but . . . I need a favor of you."
"What's that Bobbi?"
"Don't go through with this. Just get your car fixed some how, and then . . . "
I arched an eyebrow and stared at her.
". . . and then . . . oh, I don't care where you're goin', or how far you want to take me, but please . . . take me with you when you go."
I couldn't have heard her correctly.
"Bobbi . . . I . . . " Then I just threw my hand in the air. I was out of my depth. This made no sense. "I don't understand. Don't you want to get things back to normal? To get back to your husband?"
Then the worst possible thing happened . . . or, in retrospect . . . the best.
Bobbi's lower lip began to quiver, her eyes finally overflowed and in a lost, anguished voice she wailed "Oh Miz Wright . . . I don't know what I want anymore."
I quickly sat beside her and patted her arm and tried to comfort her. "What's wrong honey? You can tell me."
She sniffled a bit, and wiped her eyes and then nodded. "I 'spect you're about the only woman around here I can tell. I don't know what to do. I thought Billy loved me. I though I loved him. But ever-body keeps tellin' me that if he really loved me, he'd 'a come for me by now. And I gotta think that maybe they's right. PJ, if'n a man loves you . . . shouldn't he show it? Shouldn't he stick by you?"
"Well . . . I suppose so . . . "
Then the tears started to really fall and her words came out between the hiccuping sobs. "Then why ain't he stood by me? Why's he left me alone for two whole days? Please PJ . . . please . . . I cain't stay here no more. I cain't listen to Momma and the women no more and just wait and wait and . . .Please take me away. I got no one else to turn to."
I squeezed her shoulders, and let her cry on mine, and tried to maintain a maternal posture, and made little comforting noises in Peter's voice . . .
And then, in a flash of clarity, I saw the answer.
It was so simple, it might even work!
I took her shoulders in my hands and held her out at arm length. "Well, maybe that's what's needed Bobbi Mae. Maybe you just need to get away for a while and think about things. And I'll help you. Now, here's what I want you to do . . . "
Dori and Norma Jo returned in about half an hour with my new male "togs". They'd given it some thought and I guess I was supposed to be some kind of traveling businessman. They'd selected a polyester business suit in a rather bizarre shade of blue, a light blue shirt and a print necktie whose width very nicely matched my sideburns. I had a pair of brown penny loafers completed my ensemble.
We stepped into the back room for a bit of privacy. Dori reached into her bag and pulled out a large "Ace bandage". "I guess the first thing we need to do is take care of some o' them curves of yours hon." I unzipped the sundress and let it fall around my ankles so as not to mess up my haircut/facial hair.
My lack of underwear raised several eyebrows. "Umm . . . Norma, why don't you hand me them boxer shorts." I was pleased to notice that my borrowed skivvies had been recently laundered. I slipped into them and then Dori began to wield that bandage.
Objectively I could imagine that, for a woman, having your bosom squeezed tight against your chest had to be a bit of an uncomfortable operation. I'd been prepared to fake a bit of discomfort. I had no need to fake anything. True, those breasts had no sensory nerve endings. As I'm so fond of saying; they were just two largish lumps of plastic. But the chest beneath the suit was very real. And all that mass had to go somewhere. I gasped and wheezed and tried to draw a breath and felt generally like I was trying to fit back into the sweater I'd worn in third grade. Dori made sympathetic noises and assured me that everything was alright . . . and went on wrapping that bandage tighter and tighter.
Finally she finished. I could breathe . . . sort of . . . And the effect was what we'd desired. Pamela's bountiful bouncing breasts were suddenly no more than a slight rounding of my upper torso.
I donned the shirt (which was a bit too large) and the slacks (which were a bit too tight, particularly in the posterior), then Dori handed me the necktie. I fumbled with it a bit, lending a nice (if unintentional . . . I don't often wear neckties) touch to my masquerade as Pamela. Add the penny loafers and the suit's wide-lapeled jacket and I was dressed. After making sure that there were no men out on the street to observe the "goings-on" I got a quick trip out into the main room to check out the overall effect in the mirrors.
Well, my baritone voice would be the selling point. The "fellow" staring out of the mirror was a real wimpy looking wuss . . . but believably male. Barely.
Then we got around to making the disguise "work".
Dori finished primping and straightening my jacket then commanded me to "Walk around a bit, hon. Let's make sure you can do that as well as you can talk."
At least here was something I could do. I usually didn't spend a lot of effort trying to "walk like a girl" when I was Pamela . . . at least, not unless I was showing off . . . walking into the truck stop this morning for example. Usually I just remembered to take somewhat smaller, quicker steps than I normally would and to try to place one foot directly in front of the other. I think it was actually a case of; Pamela's appearance was so obviously that of a woman that I probably could have goose-stepped and folks would have thought 'Boy, she's pretty, but she sure walks funny'.
In any event, I just dropped trying to take small steps and to put one foot in front of the other and took a quick "turn" around the room.
The women all stood considering, and then Dori shook her head. "Nope, hon. You walk like that and the boys are gonna think you ought ta be carryin' a purse. Can't you put a little more 'macho' inta it?"
"What the heck was wrong with that?"
"Well goodness girl, you was swingin' yer hips and wigglin' yer butt. Ya gotta put more 'stride' inta it. Like this . . . " And Dori promptly stomped around the room for a few minutes like a lumberjack struggling in deep mud.
Norma Jo chimed in. "Oh heavens Dori! You look like yer wallerin' in pig slop. You don't need to stomp, jest throw yer feet out . . . like this . . . "
Okay, maybe it did look odd when a woman goose-stepped.
Mavis giggled and said "If'n the three of you don't make a sight. Why, there ain't nothin' to it. Ya jest gotta roll yer hips, 'stead of swinin' em. Lookee here . . . "
That one beggared description.
In the end, after much discussion and practicing, we finally had a masculine walk for me. Watching myself in the mirror striding around the shop, all I could think was; 'so this is what it would have looked like if John Wayne did an add for Preparation H'
Eventually everyone was satisfied with the 'whole picture'. The women smiled and nodded and congratulated each other on the fine job of disguise. Then they hustled me out the back door to Dori's waiting pickup. I met eyes with Bobbi one last time, and she gave me a subtle nod. Then I was on the floor of the pickup's cab and we were heading back to Buffy.
Several of the town's women were waiting near where I'd been forced to abandon Buffy. They'd pushed her off the highway and a few yards down a private road to prevent her premature discovery by any passing male. We went through a few more minutes of "oooh, what a wonderful disguise!" and then with me lending a hand we pushed Buffy back out on to the road. I got a last bit of encouragement and compliment on my appearance, and then the ladies were in Dori's pickup, disappearing back down the road toward town.
We'd figured I had at least twenty or thirty minutes till word of the "stranded male" could reach the bar in a believably round-about fashion, and then another half hour or so for Floyd to fire up the wrecker and get out here to my assistance.
I stood around for a while, trying to adjust the bandage that still made breathing hard enough to give me a bit of a light-headed buzz. Then a thought occurred to me and I rummaged in the trunk for a while till I found the bottle of voice altering spray that I tucked in the pocket of my jacket.
I wanted to be able to create at least one wholly convincing illusion as a fall back position. I figured that Pamela would be my ultimate refuge. The women already believed in Pamela's reality. If the men penetrated this rather obvious faux male exterior, I wanted to be able to retreat to Pamela in convincing style. I had to believe that though the men might be angry, they were still southern gentlemen . . . weren't they? They wouldn't beat up some poor defenseless woman for pulling this stunt on them.
How to get the spray into my mouth . . . well . . . I'd cross that bridge if and when I came to it.
About an hour after I'd arrived, right on time, a battered old wrecker came rattling down the road from the direction of town.
Floyd was a laconic fellow in greasy coveralls and a wielder's cap. He climbed down from the wrecker and sauntered over to me standing at Buffy's front fender. He stopped about five paces away and proceeded to look me up and down, his left eyebrow raised in obvious disapproval at what he saw.
That made four times today I'd been sized up like an unattractive cut of meat.
"Y'all havin' car trouble?"
I suppressed the comments that struggled for release and nodded. "Yep. She just quit on me. I think it's the oil pump."
Floyd slouched over. "Is it the lines, or the pump housin' . . . or is it just a gasket?"
I shrugged. "Beats me. I'm not much of a mechanic."
That got me another disgusted frown. Wasn't every "real" man able to diagnose and fix an internal combustion engine from the time he could stand on his own hind legs and walk? He peered under the hood for no more than ten seconds and then straightened up. "Well, it's pretty obvious . . . y'all got a blowed gasket."
"Um . . .is that serious?"
Floyd looked to Heaven. "It'll take me 'bout an hour ta fix. If'n I got a metric gasket that'll fit this here Eye-talian gear. I guess yer trying ta get somewheres. I don't think I'd be far off the mark if'n I was ta say you ain't from around here."
"Oh no . . . no . . . I'm on a business trip. I'm heading back home to California."
That seemed to confirm Floyd's suspicion and to explain a lot. "Thought so. Well . . . let's get her hooked up and drag her back to town. I'll get her fixed. It ain't like I got anywhere's ta go tonight."
I tried to make some light-hearted chat. You know . . . get a little male bonding going.
"Dull night tonight? No big plans?"
"Shoot no . . . not with all the women folk holed up in that old froo froo parlor. I swear, if'n somethin' don't give soon I'm gonna just bust. It's been two whole days now."
I played dumb. "Two days since what?"
Floyd was trying to unreel the towing hook and make small talk at the same time. "Oh, it's nothin'. It's them damn women. You know how they can be sometimes." Then he paused and gave me a sidelong look. His expression made his thoughts fairly clear. 'At least men who have any interest in women would know.'
And then his expression suddenly became thoughtful. He was having a brainstorm. A plan was forming.
They say that "great minds think alike". I don't know about the "great" part, but the minds around here certainly did.
Floyd hooked Buffy up and towed her back to town. He maneuvered her into the repair bay of his seedy little garage/filling station then insisted that we head over to the Dew Drop Inn. I just followed meekly. I knew already where this was heading, or at least I had a very good suspicion.
There were about a dozen men in the bar by the time we arrived. I eventually got introduced around, but I can't remember the names. There were lots of Harleys and Franks and hyphenated Joe-Bobs and Jimmy-Lees. And sure enough, sitting alone in a seat near the window, staring down the now rapidly darkening street in the general direction of the beauty parlor was Billy Ray. Floyd was the obvious "ring leader" though. The masculine version of Dori.
If I thought I was getting a bunch of raised eyebrows at my impersonation while with the women, well . . . it was nothing compared to the doubtful stares I got treated to by the "boys". I don't know if it got better or worse when Floyd mentioned that I was on my way back home to California. Then the expressions went from 'what the heck kind of flower is this?' to 'oh . . . a pansy . . . that explains everything'. I just smiled and nodded and tried to accept it all with a good grace.
Finally, after about ten minutes of small talk and introductions, Floyd got around to describing the brilliant plan he'd just come up with.
You've already heard the gist of it. It was just about a carbon copy of Dori's scheme. The boys figured that if they could smuggle somebody into the beauty parlor . . . plant a few words in Bobbi's ear . . . well, she'd be running down the street to Billy's arms before the night was much older. Of course, to make it work, they needed just the right person. "Them women ain't stupid." The spy would have to be pretty convincing. Of course, none of the boys around here could get away with it. (One look around at this crew and I had to agree. Nobody in here could pass for a handsome man, much less any kind of woman.)
But if they could find a slender sort of fellow, one with a kind of 'delicate' face . . .
Of course, they'd be just as grateful as could be to such a noble gent. Why, he could pretty much name his reward. For example, and just as a 'what if' mind you, if that person were to . . . oh . . . have a car problem or some such. Why Floyd would be just pleased as he could be to fix it for that fine fellow quicker'n spit! . . . Free of charge! Now, the boys didn't want me to get the idea that they were forcing anything on me. This was all hypothetical . . . "just supposin'" kind of stuff. Floyd would get to fixing my car just as soon as he could get around to it. 'Course, he had a lot on his mind right now. And them 'eye-talian' parts, why they could be awful 'spendy'. By the way, had Floyd mentioned that he only worked for cash on the barrel head?
I let them twist my arm for a bit, just so it didn't look too easy. But I already knew I'd agree. I was still working my "double cross" and I needed some time with Billy Ray. I'd have a little fun at their expense too. Just wait till they got a look at what a dynamite female impersonator I'd make! I could even do a spectacular voice! (I checked just to make sure. Yeah, the spray bottle was still snug in my pocket.) Finally, and with a great show of reluctance, I agreed . . . even going so far as to submit to shaving off my sideburns and moustache.
'Gosh', the fellows all agreed, 'Maybe I was a 'regular Joe' after all. Maybe they'd been a bit hasty in their first judgments.'
The first hurdle was a convincing "outfit" for me. Floyd sent all the men scurrying for items from their spouse's closet . . . dresses that the ladies hadn't worn for a while and so might not recognize . . . shoes that could fit me. "And Harley and Milt, don't yer missuses have wigs? Go and fetch 'em". Some of the boys asked, with a distinct pink tinge to their cheeks, "What about . . . you know . . . 'flimsies' and such." Floyd allowed as how he'd handle that.
Pretty soon, the bar was empty except for me and a listless, disinterested Billy Ray. I picked up the third beer that I'd had foisted off on me and walked over to meet Bobbi's 'significant other'. He glanced up at me and made an attempt at a smile. "Uh . . . I wanted ta say thank ya Mr. Wright. Fer helpin' out and all. It's a special kinda man what'd agree ta dress up like a girl for some stranger." I let slide the rather ambiguous meaning of that 'compliment'. (At least I chose to understand it as such.) "I'm pleased to help out Billy Ray. It's for a good cause. We men have to stick together."
He sighed and turned back to the window. "I suppose." I set the untouched beer down in front of him. "You don't sound so sure of that." He shrugged. "Oh, it's jest that I've been in here for goin' on two days now, and I kinda get the feelin' that it's stopped bein' so much about Bobbi an' me as it is 'bout all the other's problems, if ya take my meanin'." I nodded sympathetically. "Well, maybe it's just time to call it quits and head home to your Mrs." He got the most touchingly wistful expression as he looked down at the hands folded in his lap and sighed. "Well . . . I don't suppose there's much point in that no more, neither."
"What do you mean?"
"Bobbi's a good woman . . . true blue, sir. If I still meant anythin' to her at all . . . she'd a been here by now."
"Maybe you need make the first move. Bending doesn't necessarily mean you're weak. Sometimes it takes more courage to be the first one to admit you're wrong."
He finally met my eyes, and there was such pain there. "Sir, I'd be the one to admit I'm wrong. I was ready the first night I slept alone on this here bench, and all I could think about was to wonder where Bobbi was . . . if she was alright. Mr. Wright, you gotta believe, it ain't for orneriness that I'm doin' this. But it's all got so crazy and mixed up." He indicated the now empty bar. "They's all made it pretty clear; if I fold and let all them down . . . well . . . But I'd still do it . . . I would! . . . if I thought that Bobbi'd be waitin' for me."
We'd come down to it. Time to put my plan into operation.
"Billy Ray . . . may I make a suggestion?"
"If you've got any ideas, I'd surely love ta hear them, sir."
"Sometimes, people need to lose something before they really appreciate it's value."
"What would happen if, once I was in disguise, I went over there to the beauty parlor and I just kind of mentioned what a handsome young fellow I'd met before the men folks threw me out of the bar? What if I said that he was such a lonely, unhappy boy that my heart just went out to him. What if I told all those women, especially Bobbi Mae, that I'd offered him a lift west . . . and he'd accepted?"
His eyes lit up as he considered the scheme, but then his face took on a hard set and he shook his head. "I appreciate the thought, I purely do, and I thank you for it. But that'd be harder on Bobbi Mae than I think I want to be."
My brilliant plan was going down the tubes because Billy was too considerate?! Oh no you don't!
"Billy Ray, I know you'd never do anything to really hurt Bobbi, and I admire you for it. But sometimes we need to be a little cruel to be kind, as the song says. It hurts to have a bad cut stitched up, but it's for the best in the long run. That's what I'm proposing. A little hurt now to cure the big hurt before it really starts to fester. Before it really is too late to heal."
Billy was silent for a long moment, then he nodded. "You're right, sir. I'd be willin' I guess. But it won't work. Bobbi'd just think you were 'big talkin' if I know her at all."
"I'm sure you know your wife Billy Ray. So, we'll just have to make her believe it's true. She'd have to believe her own eyes, now wouldn't she?"
"So, we'll show her. Here's what I want you to do . . ."
I outlined the plan, Billy smiled (for the first time that day) and shook my hand..
And then the men started coming back toting various grocery bags and boxes and looking embarrassed and guilty as hell.
Horraceburg was a small town. No more than two hundred souls all told. Now, it's not that Pamela is an odd size or shape. (She's actually a perfectly ordinary size 12 , and can sometimes get down to size 10 in some things when I don't stuff my face.) The difficulty was; none of the other ladies of this fine town seemed to be a perfectly ordinary size 12. We pawed through the five or six dresses. (Nobody had thought to bring a pair of jeans, or even a nice baggy pair of shorts . . . oh no . . . say women's clothing to this crew and that meant dresses . . . period.) After holding them all up against my chest, we estimated that a rather dowdy cotton dress with an unnecessarily busy polka dot pattern was probably the best candidate for a believable fit. Then we all stood around for an uncomfortable minute or two. Floyd finally picked up his own Piggly Wiggly bag and led me by the elbow to the men's room.
He stood there, for all the world like some commander sending one of him men off on a suicide mission.
"I just want to say, and for the record, we surely do appreciate this Mr. Wright. We surely do."
I just squared my shoulders and tried to look brave.
"You got the dress, you got them shoes of George's . . . well . . . George's wife, and that red wig of Shirley Price's, I think that'll look good on you. Now, there's a razor, and some shavin' cream in here." He indicated the bag. "And . . . uh . . . I got some of my wife's . . . uh . . . you know." I nodded, though I was tempted to play dumb till he actually had to say "underwear". Then he handed me the bag, and shook my hand, and went off to 'tend to yer car . . . best as I know how!'
I closed and locked the bathroom door behind me. The first thing to go was my shirt and tie. Then I clawed at that damnable Ace Bandage till it unwound in a flurry of flesh colored elastic. I stood there for a good two minutes sucking one gloriously deep lung-full after another into my abused chest.
A quick inspection in the mirror over the sink confirmed that Pamela's 'charms' had suffered no permanent damage. I wonder how I'd explain the repair request to Nu-Gen if they had.
Shedding all the rest of my male accouterment, I then took a moment to peel off the moustache and sideburns, then shed the brown wig. I kept smiling at recurring mental images of the old "Mission Impossible" TV series.
In fairly short order, Pamela's familiar sexy nude body enticed me from the mirror. "Hi Pam . . .you don't know how I've missed you!"
I gathered her long blonde hair up in a bunch on top of my head and then wrestled with the woman's wig for a while. Counting the "male" wig I'd just discarded, this was only the second time I'd ever worn one. Pamela's blonde hair is permanently attached to her head and is "self adjusting" as it were. I think I primped and tugged and straightened for a good twenty minutes. In the end it still looked like some ratty angora cat had crawled on top of my head to expire. Well, with the voice and the figure, I guess the hair wouldn't be all that noticeable. And after all; if my "double cross" worked, and at this point I had every reason to believe it would, I wouldn't have to fool any of the women anyway.
I was reaching for the bag for a pair of panties, or what ever Floyd believed a woman wore over her hips . . .
. . . when I was struck by an odd feeling of embarrassment.
I'd been dressing as Pamela every work day for almost a year. I'd been shopping for my own lingerie . . . what? . . . six times now? . . . seven? It was to the point where I no longer even shopped for "sexy" . . . I shopped for things that wouldn't "ride up" (yes, it was uncomfortable, even inside the suit) or "dig in" to my shoulders or looked easy to care for. In short; women's underwear was rapidly loosing its mystery for me.
And then I realized . . . it was Pamela's underwear that had lost most of its mystery for me. But this wasn't Pamela's. This was intimate clothing belonging to some total stranger.
I stood there for a moment, looking at the bag. Had I met Floyd's wife today? What was Floyd's last name? I didn't believe I'd ever heard. Suddenly it was very important to me that I know just who's panties I was about to stick my legs into.
But I simply couldn't guess which of the women I'd met . . . if any of them . . . were married to Floyd.
Well, this was silly. I wasn't embarrassed when I'd put on Norma Jo's husband's suit. It was sexist of me to be feeling guilty about wearing this woman's clothes. I didn't intend any harm or insult. And it was for a good cause.
I reached into the bag. My hand first encountered what I immediately recognized as a bra and I pulled it out. I studied it for a moment.
Floyd's last name was Ploughwright.
I couldn't help it. I started to giggle.
I own a few padded bras myself. Hey, every girl owns a few. Some outfits call for a little extra curve. There's nothing wrong with wearing one. It's not about vanity, just fashion. Or, at least . . . it isn't for most women.
Poor Dori. There could only be one woman in town who'd be as . . . "voluptuous" . . . as this bra would make its wearer and that would be Dori. But more than that; judging from this bra, she had to be one of the most flat-chested women I've ever encountered. Maybe it was overcompensation on her part. This bra was obviously designed to add at least three "letters" to its wearer. And I'd guess Dori started out at the letter that stood for "B"oy. Maybe. However, from the tag I saw that she was a 36. I'm a "small" 38 (37 to be precise) so this shouldn't be too bad. I spun the cups around behind me and fastened the hooks. Then I spun it back around and began to pull it up over my breasts.
37 into 36; no problem . . . full "C" in to small "B" (padded out to epic "DD") . . . no way!
I looked in the mirror and all I could think was 'nobody's built that way'! Not even cows! Between the extensive padding and Pamela's admirable bust . . . even standing with my back straight it still looked like I was falling forward.
Growing up, I never would have believed that there could be such a thing . . . but I'd just found out there was!
I had too much tit!
I tucked and stuffed and poked and prodded. No way. What I shoved in over here just came bulging out over there. After a while I gave up and removed the bra. Going without was not an option given Pamela's . . . attributes. You'd have to be blind not to realize that Pam was going bra-less. How "Mr. Wright" was managing that trick would raise questions from the men that I just couldn't answer.
I picked up that infernal Ace Bandage and started wrapping.
The boys had gone through four more rounds when the bathroom door opened and conversation shuddered to a halt.
Their very own Mati Hari stepped into the center of the room and then stood there, inviting their inspection.
There was a long, expectant silence.
Then Floyd (who'd returned from fixing Buffy. He was good as his word, it had only taken him an hour, just as he'd first said.) broke the silence.
"Well . . . it's a start I guess."
I guess I'd expected no better. I'd tried . . . honestly I had. And as I'd progressed, I'd started to become more and more desperate. I'd tried tinkering with the wig. I'd fluffed the dress and tried to adjust the unflattering neckline. I'd finally removed the "body shaper" brief that Floyd had provided to try and minimize the "bubble butt" curve it had grafted on to Pamela's firm little ass.
But nothing had really worked.
The best I'd managed was a fairly bland featured woman suffering a terminally bad hair day, with a bust that looked like a young explosion in a hydrogen balloon factory, and wearing a red and white polka dot dress, thick opaque stockings (that somehow managed to remove most of the allure from my world class legs) and four inch heels. (That were already starting to make my ankles ache.)
"Sorry guys. It's the best I could do. Do you think it will work?"
Nobody wanted to venture an opinion aloud.
Finally Floyd sighed and decided to put the best face on things. (Somebody had to . . . I certainly wasn't having much luck trying!)
"Oh, I'm sure it'll all work out. It's not . . . all that bad. Is it boys?" A significant look from their leader got heads nodding and voices muttering 'oh no, it ain't bad'. Floyd continued. "Now then. Y'all are gonna have ta talk ta them women. I think we need to work on yer voice."
I glanced quickly at the clock. The timing should be just about right.
"Well, there I think you boys are in luck. I once played a woman's role in my platoon's Christmas play." (Okay, so the only 'platoon' I've ever been in was my local Boy Scout Troupe . . . I was getting tired of all the 'sissy stares' I was getting.) "Everyone said my voice was just unbelievable."
Skeptical stares. Fine. Just you yahoos wait. Another quick glance at the clock. The last thing I'd done before stepping out of the bathroom was to give myself a quick shot of the voice spray. It was just coming up on five minutes ago that I'd done it.
So where was the 'tell-tale tickle'?
"Uh . . . yeah, I was a real hit all right."
Floyd raised an eyebrow expectantly. "So . . . let's hear it."
Ah! There was that familiar burning!
"Sure. Now let's see . . . " I cleared my throat. "It went something like . . . " I counted to five in my mind.
"Oh Romeo, Romeo . . .wherefore art thou Romeo?"
"Why Pete . . . that's . . . that's . . . scary!"
I had to show off the voice for a while. And I used the same excuse for why I couldn't change back to my normal baritone. It worked as well this time as it had with the women. The boys began to believe that this might work after all.
Then Floyd announced that it was getting late, and it was time for me to be heading over to the beauty parlor before the women started going home for the night.
But first, we should work a little on my walk.
Let your imagination run wild. Just picture a dozen men prancing and swishing and wriggling and you get the picture. I bit my lip and tried to keep from laughing. I just accepted the show as small payment for the indignity I was putting myself through.
Floyd ended the show by announcing "Here's how you do it . . . watch. Ya gotta kinda clench yer butt and wiggle yer hips."
Marilynn Monroe advertising Preparation H.
I was finally prepared. The men shoved me out the door with hearty wishes of "good luck" and "go get 'em". I walked down the now darkened street till I was fairly sure I was out of sight, then I ducked into an alley and made for Floyd's garage. The hour for my own plan to swing into action had arrived and I wanted to be in there to see it in operation.
Small town America.
Floyd's garage was unlocked and I quickly walked in, closing the door behind me. Buffy was gleaming in the darkness of the repair bay. There was a little note tucked under her driver's side windshield wiper. "She's good as new. And she sure is pretty!"
I was debating whether or not I had time to get out of this ridiculous dress and wig . . . and to take this damn Ace Bandage off once and for all . . . when the door opened and in walked Billy Ray.
"Okay. I'm here Mr. Wright. How long do you reckon it'll be before you come back from the beauty parlor and we can take that little drive past the window together?"
"Well Billy . . . I guess it's time to come clean with you. I don't think we'll be taking that drive."
His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Whadda ya mean? I thought that was the plan."
"Umm . . . I haven't been entirely straightforward with you son . . . Maybe it's time to tell you the whole truth."
I was reaching for that ratty red wig when the door again squeaked on rusty hinges and Bobbi Mae stepped in, clutching a battered suitcase to her chest.
Billy and Bobbi's eyes met across the grease-stained floor.
Was it so very long ago? . . .
It seems like only yesterday . . .
Crisp fall mornings on the playground . . .
"My name's Billy Ray Whitley. You wanna play catch with me?"
. . . when everything was new, and frightening and wonderful . . .
"Billy, look! Momma gave me a whole dollar for chores. You wanna go down to Mr. Granger's store after school and get us some ice creams?"
Cold winter nights . . .
"Bobbi Mae, it'd make me about the happiest feller in the whole county if you'd go to the Christmas mixer with me."
. . . close by the fire . . .
"See Billy Ray? I told you so! You can so work those math problems! You just have to have a little faith in yourself."
Dark spring days when the clouds piled up, the thunder rolled . . .
"Don't you fret yourself Billy. So what if you didn't get that dumb ol' scholarship? Who wants to go to some silly college about a million miles from home? Everybody knows you're the best man to ever grow up in this town. You don't need some piece of paper hangin' on the wall to prove it."
. . . and the rain fell . . .
"You go ahead and cry Bobbi. You remember how much your Daddy loved you. You believe that just 'cuz he's passed on, it don't mean he's not still watchin' over you. Oh Bobbi . . . hang on tight and let it out and we'll get through."
And a breathless summer night when a million stars glittered in an endless velvet sky . . .
"Bobbi Mae Gentry . . . will you marry me?"
. . . and a fairy tale golden moon peeked over the old maple tree . . .
"Yes Billy . . . yes I will."
Quicker then a thought they were in each other arms. "Oh baby, I'm so sorry . . ." "I was so wrong . . . " " . . . don't know what I was thinking . . ." " . . . didn't mean any of it . . ." " . . . silly stupid pride . . . " ". . . just want you back . . ." ". . . miss you so much . . . " "Please forgive me." "I'm so very sorry."
"I love you so much."
The rest of the story is anti-climax. Bobbi and Billy met the next morning, right out in the middle of Main Street. They kissed. They hugged. In voices loud enough for the whole town to hear they told each other how wrong they'd been, how unimportant was what ever it was that had come between them. How the only thing that mattered was each other.
Then arm in arm they went home.
Armistice. The war was over. Couples stared across the no-man's-land of Main Street at their other halves. Then, one at a time, then in twos, then in dozens each side threw down their arms and met at the center of the street.
Old grudges were forgotten. Old loves were rekindled.
I wasn't there to see it, but I can picture it in my mind. By that time I was checking out of the Crosbyville Motel 6 with Pamela safely stowed in my suitcase. I'd slipped out of Floyd's garage last night. Billy Ray and Bobbi Mae hadn't noticed my departure. I had no intention of disturbing them with long good byes either. They had enough on their minds at that moment.
The rest of the trip home went without incident. If Pamela objected to finishing the journey in the trunk, she never complained to me.
I wonder to this day if the residents of Horraceburg have ever compared notes to the point that they suspect their trusted spy wasn't everything s/he appeared to be. Or, if when the conversation turns to that silly feud . . . the men don't turn to the men, and the women don't turn to the women . . . and each gender doesn't share a private wink and a smug little grin over how cleverly they pulled the wool over the other side's eyes.
I'll just smile and nod . . . and mention that "love conquerors all" . . .
. . . and "All's Well That Ends Well".