General Fiction posted August 25, 2013


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Femme Fatale and Love Triangle

The Crimson Shoes

by JeffreyStone

Starting at the age of ten, Elmer Hatfield apprenticed for his father, Harvey, at Hatfield’s Shoe Repair and Emporium. Elmer inherited the thriving business when Harvey succumbed to internal bleeding, caused by swallowing a handful of shoe tacks, which he was holding in his mouth while fitting a hunting boot over an iron last. Harvey’s longtime friend and former high school classmate, Billy Buttmore, ventured into the shop just at that untimely moment, slapped Harvey on the back and greeted him with a raucous hello. Harvey sucked in his breath, attempting to respond with equal exuberance, but swallowed the tacks and precipitously keeled over, never again to regain consciousness.
 
A mere boy at twenty-two when he assumed the proprietorship of a thriving shoe sales and repair business, Elmer Hatfield promptly became the matrimonial target of many young ladies of Steadfast, South Carolina. Theretofore, he had been characterized, by people who knew him best, as a good natured doofus. But Elmer—victim of a typical male ego—soon bathed in his new popularity, attributing it to his imagined good looks, wit, and charm. He blissfully discounted the attractiveness of his modest inheritance, including a cinnamon red 1948 Buick Roadmaster convertible with Dynaflow transmission, his late father’s single venture into extravagance.
 
It might be said of Ruby Rhinestone that she also apprenticed in an equally lucrative trade, learning the art of seduction at her mother’s knee at an early age. Ruby hailed from the other side of the tracks, having been sired by an itinerant New World Encyclopedia salesman and reared by her mother, wickedly beautiful and consummately skillful in the wiles and ways of a wanton woman.
 
Ruby never knew her father, but was briefly attached to each of numerous uncles who passed through her life in frequent succession. From these gentlemen, she acquired a sense of adventure that, combined with her natural beauty and sensuality, made her a twenty-to-one long shot for being true to any one man. Unfortunately, no one ever warned Elmer Hatfield to be wary of such women.
 
Still, we should attempt to be objective when assessing Ruby’s intentions. In fairness, we might surmise that she had never seen Elmer cruising about town in his convertible Roadmaster, top down, before she innocently wandered into Hatfield’s Shoe Repair and Emporium one Saturday afternoon in 1950. And one can only conjecture as to Elmer’s delight when Ruby said in her most coquettish Low Country dialect, “Would you mind if I tried on those crimson straps in the window?”
 
Elmer slithered from behind the glass counter, scurried nervously toward the small display window, keeping his head turned toward the green-eyed beauty. “Wha… Wha… What size are you?”
 
“Thirty-eight.” She smiled demurely, her eyes fluttering.
 
 “No,” he said, holding the patent leather heels by their straps, almost daintily, for her to see. “I meant what size shoe do you wear?”
 
They both laughed flirtatiously.
 
“Six and a half," she said.
 
“These should be just right.” His voice took on a serious businesslike tone, belying a palpitating heart inside his chest and the trickle of sweat down his back into the crack of his butt.
 
The ventilation fan droned above Ruby’s head, lilting her raven hair softly in the breeze. She took a seat and crossed her legs, the hem of her dress settling just above her knees. Elmer gasped, then breathed deeply, attempting to contain the composure he felt swiftly slipping away. He cleared his throat as he straddled a fitting stool, scooting it closer to her feet. At the carefully choreographed moment, Ruby slowly uncrossed her legs. He sucked in his breath at the sight of her red garters with miniature black bows. The fatal mistake of his father flashed through Elmer’s mind, and he gave thanks to the Good Lord above that he was not about to swallow a mouthful of shoe tacks along with his tongue.
 
Their eyes met in a mutual embrace that endured for several minutes while Elmer fumbled with the patent leather straps, encircling her trim ankles. He fastened the final strap and pushed back the fitting stool to get a good look at his handy work. “My, my, Miss …What did you say your name was?”
 
“Rhinestone,” she said, then slowly wet her lips with her tongue. “Ruby Rhinestone.” She extended her hand, which Elmer grasped lovingly between his palms.
 
He smiled with exemplary satisfaction. “Miss, Rhinestone. No doubt, those shoes were made for you.”
 
She extended her legs, first one then the other, raising each to get a good view of the shoes. With each move, the hem of her dress inched its way further toward her garters, almost giving Elmer an equally good view. “These are so pretty,” she remarked, getting to her feet. “How much are they?”
 
“Five and a quarter.” Elmer grimaced apologetically.
 
“My, my. They are expensive; aren’t they?” She opened her purse and began to rummage inside.”I don’t know if I can afford them.” She continued to fumble with the purse’s contents, jiggling lipstick, Maybelline, mirror, rouge, and powder compact. After a moment, she sat and began undoing the buckle on one shoe. She sighed, “I just can’t do it right now.”
 
Elmer shifted his weight from one foot to the other, contemplating how he might facilitate the momentous decision being considered by his menacingly attractive customer. “Tell you what.”
 
She stopped unbuckling and looked up through half-closed eyes at the shoe store proprietor. “Yes?”
 
“Tell you what. I’ll let you have them for three dollars … that’s below wholesale.”
 
Slowly blinking her long dark lashes, she sighed again as she went back to unbuckling the shoes. “No. I guess I’ll just have to order something from Montgomery Ward.”
 
Elmer moved the fitting stool close to her. He sat and lifted each foot, his eyes gazing into hers as he adroitly rebuckled the straps, one then the other. “We’ll call it customer relations,” he said, “They’re just your size.”
 
“It would be a shame for someone else to get them, wouldn’t it?” Her eyes twinkled with appreciation. She leaned forward and kissed Elmer, who sat dumfounded but happy to have been taken by the seductress from across the tracks.
 
Two weeks later, he drove the Roadmaster to Columbia, Ruby by his side. They returned three days later, a blissfully married couple. Elmer’s public relation strategy had worked exactly as Ruby planned.
 
* * *
 
It was soon apparent that Ruby possessed natural attributes, ideally honed to the art of salesmanship, and particularly alluring to the male population of Steadfast. Bachelors and husbands, alike, abandoned JC Penny’s, Walk-More, and City Boot Shop in order to frequent the newly decorated Hatfield’s Shoe Repair and Emporium. No doubt, even Montgomery Ward’s catalogue shoe sales plummeted in the face of the accelerated competition from Hatfield’s, engendered by the presence of one Ruby Rhinestone.
 
 Elmer reveled in his success, intoxicated at the thought of his bold business prowess, which by all accounts, surpassed any achievements of his recently departed father. As business boomed and profits soared, Elmer busied himself at the iron last—the one implicated in his father’s untimely demise. Elmer, secure in his belief that his much admired young wife was true to the bone, was too busy to take note of the frequent visits to the emporium by Happy Hanover, heir to the Hanover Hotel chain—consisting of three hotels, the latest a twenty-six room monstrosity newly established in Charleston. Elmer might never have grown suspicious if not for the keen eye of Pudge Parker, a new sales clerk and fellow Steadfast High alumnus. And Pudge might never have brought the matter to Elmer’s attention if Pudge’s own awkward advances to Ruby had not been spurned—such is the guile of a rejected suitor.
 
Pudge approached Elmer as he pounded shoe tacks into the new Cat’s Paw heels and half-soles he was attaching to Dickey Dilford’s well worn, but salvageable, Red Goose oxford loafers. Pudge’s bountiful butt cheeks wrestled for room in his too tight pink pegged pants as he sidled alongside Elmer and whispered into his ear. “As much as I hate it, I have to tell you something, boss.”
 
“Yeah?” Elmer kept right on pounding without missing a stroke. “What’s up, Pudge?”
 
“That Happy Hanover comes in here every day.”
 
“Buying shoes?”
 
 “No,” he emphasized, “no, Elmer—sniffing.”
 
 “Sniffing?” Elmer stopped pounding tacks and looked up. “Sniffing what?”
 
Pudge jerked his head toward the front of the store.  "That pretty wife of yours.”
 
At that very moment, Happy Hanover honked the horn of his new lemon yellow 1951 Cadillac Coupe de Ville as he slid it to a stop alongside the curb in front of the emporium. Elmer and Pudge heard the clamor and pulled back the leather curtain that covered the doorway between the shoe shop and store front. They watched, not making a sound, not even breathing, as Happy got out of the car and made his way through the front entrance, heading directly to the back of the store where a smiling Ruby waited behind the counter, her face alight with an effervescent glow.
 
Happy cut a handsome, debonair figure in his perfectly tailored vanilla-ice-cream-white summer suit with matching Panama fedora hat, the brim of which he held nonchalantly between the thumb and finger of his left hand. Elmer, imagining his own face streaked with shoeblack, looked himself up and down from his unpolished brown brogans, past his full length leather apron, to the small streak of mustard on the rolled up cuff of his blue chambray shirt. The comparison sent shivers of doubt up his spine, through his brain stem into his frontal lobe where they awakened the green-eyed monster, the center of envy and jealousy. Not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, he was, nevertheless, astute enough to know his empire was in danger of crumbling if Happy Hanover was allowed to sweep Ruby Rhinestone right off her three-inch crimson heels.
 
That night, after finishing the Friday night dinner dishes, Elmer laid down an ultimatum to the worrisome wench who had shared his bed for nearly a year. “I don’t like that Happy Hanover strutting into the store like he owns the damn place.”
 
Versed in subtle subterfuge regarding matters of the heart, Ruby responded with apparent equanimity. “I hadn’t noticed.”
 
“From now on, when he comes into the store, I’ll wait on him.”
 
“If that’s what you want, sweetheart. Better yet, I’ll just tell Mr. Hanover we don’t need his business.” She tweaked Elmer’s cheek. “I think my little hubby is jealous.”
 
“I just don’t want people thinking I’m dumb.” He pulled the kitchen apron over his head and laid it across the towel rack.
 
“Oh, I don’t think you need to worry about that, honey. Everyone tells me how bright you are.”
 
That night, Elmer sighed with satisfaction as Ruby gently stroked his back, lulling him into a sense of serenity. Moments later, he was snoring. She eased herself from the bed, slipped quietly down the stairs and dialed Happy Hanover on the living room phone.
 
* * *
 
The following Monday, Ruby failed to show for work at the emporium. Elmer offered no explanation for her absence. He took refuge in the shoe repair shop, leaving to Pudge the task of appeasing inquiring customers, eager to get a glance of the long legged beauty.
 
By Tuesday, the venerable citizens of Steadfast were atwitter with speculation and gossip—Ruby Rhinestone had probably eloped with another man. And considering her less than desirable origins, most people believed the rampaging rumors well-founded. But the tongue-wagging and eyebrow-raising that had followed the marriage of Ruby and slow-witted Elmer were only rehearsals for what was to come. Predictably, the town folk were blessed with a desirably sordid situation when the Thursday morning headline blazed across the banner of the Charleston Gazette: HANOVER HEIR MISSING.
 
There was a sliver of satisfaction in Pudge’s demeanor as he approached the workbench where a disconsolate Elmer sat. Pudge placed the newspaper, folded in half, headline up, onto the workbench. Elmer glanced at the headline, but continued to trim excess leather from the new whole-soles of Clyde Colburn’s army boots, survivors of the amphibious landing on Iwo Jima.

After a moment, he set the boots upright on the workbench and looked at the paper. A two by three, black-and-white photograph of Happy Hanover smiled back at him. He turned to his prospective new sales manager. “What’s it say, Pudge?”
 
“Says here, ‘The son of Harold Hanover, prominent founder and CEO of Hanover Hotels, Inc. is missing. Happy Hanover was last seen on Saturday afternoon according to a spokesman for the Hanover chain. The thirty-one-year-old has not communicated with his family since Friday evening. That is unlike Happy,” the spokesman stated.
 
The Charleston Police Department is leading the investigation into Mr. Hanover’s disappearance. They are following a report that he was sighted at a filling station in Moncks Corner on Saturday afternoon. He was driving a yellow Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and was accompanied by a dark-haired woman.”
 
Pudge folded the paper to the back page. “There’s more here; want me to read it?”
 
Elmer shook his head, picked up a bottle of shoeblack and began staining the edges of the soles on Clyde’s combat boots. “No,” he said dejectedly, “I’ve heard enough.”
 
The atmosphere at the emporium took on a morose personality. From behind the curtain, the thud, thud, thud of Elmer’s hammer struck a dirge upon the iron last. Out front, sales slumped as curiosity seekers replaced paying patrons. Absent were the men who once waited their turn for a chance to glimpse Ruby’s red garters with tiny black bows as she straddled the fitting stool. Pudge, prissy and precise in his form-fitted pegged pants, his hair combed into a carefully styled ducktail, was poor compensation for the loss of Ruby. Despite his best efforts, he could not fill her shiny red shoes.
 
* * *
 
Melvin Magineaux backed his 1942 Ford Pickup down the boat ramp on the north side of Lake Moultrie. The slightly overcast sky and calm winds forecast a good Saturday of fishing. Behind Melvin’s truck, his fourteen-foot bass boat trailer eased slowly into the lake. As the boat stern touched the water, the trailer came to an abrupt halt. Melvin gunned the engine, but the trailer stubbornly stood its ground. He turned off the engine and got out. As he peered into the translucent water, the sun broke through the clouds like a lightning bolt and reflected back from a shiny object four feet below the surface.
 
By 10:00 a.m., Berkeley County Sheriff, Buford Billings, was on site with a squad of highly trained deputies. By 10:30, a scuba diver confirmed the submerged car contained two bodies, probably a man and woman. By noon, the lemon-yellow Cadillac Coupe de Ville had been hauled onto the boat ramp and cordoned off to keep away the curious.
 
That afternoon, Elmer answered a knock at the door. Sheriff Billings doffed his cap and placed it under his arm. “Mr. Hatfield, can I come in?” He entered and stood stiffly as if preparing to make a rehearsed speech. “I’m afraid we have some bad news. We think we’ve found your wife’s body in Lake Moultrie.”
 
Elmer’s face contorted with anguish. He sat, silent, his eyes shielded by his hands. A sob, and then another, ebbed from beneath his palms. Somehow, his tongue managed to push the words from his mouth. “What happened?”
 
“We think she drowned,” the laconic sheriff replied. “We need for you to come to the morgue in Charleston to make a positive identification.”

The Sunday Gazette told the story, led by a three-inch bold headline: HANOVER HEIR FOUND DEAD. Happy Hanover, heir to the Hanover Hotel chain, was found dead in Lake Moultrie yesterday. He was reported missing on Tuesday. His submerged car was discovered by Melvin Magineaux of Monck’s Corner. Berkley County Sheriff, Buford Billings was called to the scene. His deputies recovered a 1951 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, registered to Mr. Hanover. The car contained the bodies of Hanover and a female companion, later identified by Elmer Hatfield as his wife, Ruby Rhinestone Hatfield. Mr. Hatfield is the owner and proprietor of Hatfield’s Shoe Repair and Emporium in Steadfast. The cause of death has not been determined.

Elmer read the Gazette story continuation on the second page. He took note of each detail including the probable length of time the bodies had been in the water and the fact that Ruby was not wearing shoes. The paper quoted Mr. Magineaux. “I went fishing last Sunday, didn’t pull my boat out until nearly dark. The car wasn’t in the water then.” The Gazette went on to say, “According to Sheriff Billings, Mr. Hanover’s car must have been driven into the water Sunday night. The sheriff stated ‘It’s hard to see how the deaths are accidental. The investigation is continuing’”

The town of Steadfast had the scandal it had longed for since Ruby Rhinestone crossed the railroad tracks and made her way to Hatfield’s Shoe Repair and Emporium, smack dab into the middle of poor Elmer Hatfield’s heart. The public consensus was that Elmer simply lost his simple mind when he learned Ruby was consorting with Happy Hanover, well-renowned playboy and reputed womanizer. People propagated as fact the theory that Elmer had deposited.38 caliber lead slugs in the skulls of Happy and Ruby before releasing the Coupe de Ville emergency brake. Such whispers made their way across Berkley County, into Charleston and its inner harbor, out to Fort Sumter. The suppositions and whispers were confirmed on Monday shortly after the coroner began his autopsies.

 
* * *
Hang down your head Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head Tom Dooley
Poor Boy you’re bound to die
An old North Carolina ballad
 
Justice must prevail, or must it? Three years to the day, following Melvin Magineaux’s discovery in Lake Moultrie, Elmer Hatfield received three jolts of electricity, each raising his buttocks off the wooden seat. His final phone call a few hours before walking the long mile was to the person he trusted most. “I want you to be here when it happens. You’re the only real friend I have.”

Pudge Parker’s hands shook as he replaced the phone receiver. He nervously combed his ducktail nearly to perfection as he prepared for his two-hour drive to the state prison in Columbia. As he approached the door to leave his apartment, an image in the mirror over the dressing table caught his eye. He followed the reflection to a table by his bed. There, a pair of three-inch crimson heels sat, reflecting brilliant rays from the bedside lamp. Pudge slumped into a chair by the bed. For an instant, he thought of doing the right thing, of calling Sheriff Billings and confessing.

The shoes glistened. Pudge had wiped them clean, all the while, imagining the straps wrapped about Ruby Rhinestone’s trim ankles. He closed his eyes, clutching the patent leather straps to his chest. There was nothing he could do now but wait to hear of his friend’s unhappy end.


 
 


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