I was shopping with my wife one afternoon a frigid day in early January. We had just left Walmart and I drove past a homeless man leaning against a stop sign with a handmade sign exactly like the one I describe here. I have often wondered how people become homeless and why so few of us seem to care. That sighting was the inspiration for this story. It’s long so I’ve divided it into six parts. I hope you enjoy it. Sr. Longo
It was the sign I saw first—“HOMELESS,” it said—just some marker on a torn sheet of cardboard about three feet high and less than two wide. “Anything will help. PLEASE!” I looked around at the modern shopping center and the hundreds of mostly new cars and wondered not for the first time how something like this could happen. Then I wondered what would happen tonight when the temperature was supposed to go down to 23—nine degrees below freezing. By this time I had driven my Honda Accord past the unfortunate guy and was on the way to the highway.
I’m no softy. I grew up just outside New York City and I’ve seen beggars aplenty both in the city and on gambling junkets down in Atlantic City where the boardwalk is infested with them. In the past I’d just driven or walked on, ignoring and not even making eye contact–but something about this bothered me. I’d taken early retirement—really early–and moved to “warmer climes,” as the saying goes. I lived now north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where everyone seemed to have plenty of money—money for golf, restaurants, shows and clubs in addition to the necessities of life—yet there were still some with no food and no shelter, and worse—no hope. Here, where there were so many with so much, there was still someone who could freeze to death in a matter of hours.
Instead of the highway I turned into Home Depot to swing around in a circle that would bring me back to the desolate soul leaning there against the stop sign. Parking my car nearby in the huge lot I walked up to the beggar. “I’d give you some money, buddy, but what guarantee do I have that you won’t spend it on cheap booze or snort it up your nose?”
“You have my word, Mister.” I was taken aback by the voice. I had expected it to be gruff—matching the rough clothes and heavy boots–but it wasn’t. Then, taking a really close look, I saw this beggars face was clean shaven—okay, not shaven, but hairless. Hidden under the knit cap and heavy sweatshirt and jeans was–I was sure–a woman.
Reaching out, I lifted the beggar to his/her feet and pulled the cap from its head. Several cars had driven past when her auburn hair fell around her dirty face. “I don’t believe it. You’re a girl!”
“Nobody’s called me a girl in years. I’m a woman and what’s not to believe?”
“Mind telling me how old you are? And what the hell are you doing here?”
“Why is it your business?”
“You’re sitting here begging for money and I have some, but I’m not turning any over to you until I get some answers.” I’d noticed that the sun was setting and in the few minutes I’d been here the temperature had dropped ten degrees. I was getting cold and I was dressed in heavier clothes than she was. “Why don’t we continue this conversation in my car where it’s a lot warmer?”
“So you can rape me? I don’t think so.”
“You know, for a beggar you’re awfully particular. I’m trying to help you and all I get is lip. I have half a mind to put you over my knee.”
She appeared shocked at my words, but slowly followed my lead as I walked to my car. I held the door for her then walked around to the driver’s seat. “So…why don’t you tell me your story? How on earth did you wind up here?”
“I think I’d rather hear your story before I share mine. How do I know I can trust you?”
I was tempted to laugh, but I didn’t. Actually, the more I thought the more I considered it a good idea. “Okay, that’s fair enough…my name is Douglas Robert Preston–Doug. I’m 34 and I’m officially retired.”
“Yeah. Ever hear of the computer learning programs…’SAT for Idiots’ or ‘ASVAB for Idiots’ or ‘Spanish for Idiots’? I wrote that entire series—all twenty-three of them–and I made a real good living, especially since there were only three people in my company. I wrote code in my home office while my secretary and bookkeeper kept track of orders in my dining room. It was great—no commuting, no arguing with partners–and since I had no actual physical product–no production or mailing or returns costs. My customers downloaded every program and my overhead was almost nothing…less than a hundred and twenty thousand a year. Virtually all of that was for my employees’ salaries and our insurance premiums.
“I was clearing close to a million dollars a year after taxes and then I got a brilliant idea—‘Investments for Idiots.’ There are plenty of computer programs for every subject under the sun, but the investment field is like a deep dark jungle. I often think that the so-called experts make it that way so they can justify the billions they make at the public’s expense. My instructional programs analyzed a person’s errors and created new remedial lessons. The investment program works much the same way in that it asks questions just like the other programs, but it takes the data you put in on a stock, bond, or mutual fund and actually analyzes the information using daily info it picks up from the internet then it tells you what to do. It can even analyze stocks and bonds at random and make recommendations or do the whole buying and selling process automatically. To test it I used it every day for almost two years and it never made even a single mistake. I made millions—returning more than twenty percent in a market that was static at best–so much that the SEC came knocking at my door, thinking I had some inside information. Unfortunately, their “secure investigation” leaked like a sieve.
“I can’t tell you the name of the company, but when they learned about my program they figured their gravy train would be toast. Why pay some jerk five percent commission year after year when you could buy all of his expertise and more for a few hundred dollars? A few days later I answered my door and they were there with a bunch of lawyers wanting to buy me out. Their offer was too good to ignore. I sold the entire company and the rights to all of my programs. Even after taxes I still had more than I could spend in a lifetime. They agreed to hire my two employees for a minimum of five years at the same salary and benefits and I walked away with more than a hundred million–how much more will have to be my secret for the time being.”
“What? You made a hundred million and you’re driving an effing Honda?”
“Why not? A car is just a way to get from point A to point B. A Honda does that as well as a Mercedes and it’s a lot cheaper to maintain. This car has almost everything a Mercedes or BMW would have at less than half the price. What’s not to like? Anyway, I moved south to get away from the snow and here I am. Now you know my story; what’s yours?”
She looked down and took a deep breath. “My name is Jessica Fuller–Jessie. I’m twenty-three and I’ve been on my own since I was seventeen. I ran away from home because my step-father was raping me several times a week.”
“Couldn’t you have gone to the police?”
She laughed. “That rat bastard was the county sheriff. He had me watched like a hawk…told everyone it was for my protection because he claimed I was out of control. I was an honor roll student back in high school. How out of control could I have been? I had just graduated when he and my mother went on a cruise, leaving me home alone. One of the deputies was supposed to look in on me, but one night I bolted right after he left. I took my mother’s car and drove it down to the train station thinking that might throw them off the track then I grabbed my backpack and hiked five miles out to the interstate where I hitched a ride.
“I’m no fool. I knew I’d have to come across as payment for a lot of the rides either with a blow job or fucking. It was worth any price to get away from that asshole. My mother was no better. I tried to tell her what was happening and she called me a liar then she hit me and accused me of trying to steal her man. What the fuck? Why the hell would I want a fifty year-old man with a gut like Santa Claus?
“I figured that if I just kept on traveling I’d be able to keep myself away from them. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past five years—hitching rides and staying alive. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve fucked in that time, but I’m away from him. Every now and then I call a friend and she gives me the low-down on everything since my last call. Seems the mighty sheriff has had his hand in the till and the state cops are all over him. With luck he might get himself arrested. My last big ride was with a long-haul trucker—a nice guy who didn’t even try to get his way with me. He fed me and let me sleep in his cab for three days, but he reached the end of the line out in Lumberton, you know…up in North Carolina. I got a ride here from a Canadian couple day before yesterday. That’s my story. Not much, is it?”
“I don’t know. Seems you’re a survivor. I think a lot of people would have given up by now. Ever think of settling in one place and getting a job?”
“My step-father would be all over me as soon as my employer listed my social security number and I got a paycheck. I’m free of him, but I’m fucked job-wise.”
I sat silently for a few minutes before speaking. “You’d better buckle up. Driving in parking lots can be dangerous.”
“Where are we going?”
“Walmart…I can’t take you to dinner looking like that. You’ll need some new clothes and let me see your head for a second. Hmmm…you have head lice. Not too surprising considering how you’ve been living. We’ll have to get something to treat it.”
“Why are you doing this? You don’t know me.”
“Neither have any of the men who’ve picked you up since you’ve been on the road. Let’s just say for now that I don’t want to read that you’ve frozen to death when I pick up tomorrow’s paper.” I started the car and drove maybe a quarter mile, parking only a few slots from Walmart’s entrance. I sent her in to the women’s clothing department with instructions to get at least three sets of everything—more for underwear, bras, and socks. “See about some sneakers and maybe some shoes. If there’s nothing you like there’s a shoe store right down the lot…maybe a hundred yards. I’m off to the pharmacy to get something for your hair. I think I’ll get you some regular shampoo and conditioner, too.” I pushed a cart in her direction then took one of my own. She turned left and I turned right when we were in the huge store.
I had to wait on line to speak with a pharmacist, but that was hardly a surprise. It was Walmart, after all. I explained briefly about the problem and she recommended a product on the shelves, telling me that a fine-toothed comb was included. After listening to her instructions closely I picked up a bottle of the shampoo then went looking for some other “necessities.” Shampoo and conditioner were first then a toothbrush and some mild soap for her face. I already had plenty of deodorant soap. I picked up some razors and shaving cream and some anti-perspirant. Then I walked into foreign territory—feminine hygiene products. I had no idea what she used so I got one of each figuring that we could just leave the others at the cashier. Thinking that I had everything I walked away, but turned back when I realized she would need a comb and brush, at least.
I found her in the women’s department with three pairs of Levi’s, two pairs of Capri’s, four tops, and a sweater. “I hope it’s not too much.”
“No…if anything it’s not enough, but it’ll be enough for now. How about some underwear and socks Then we can throw your old stuff into the trash. I don’t see any jackets here. Take a look at what I have and we can pick up the rest of the clothes.” She looked at all the feminine products and laughed. “Well, I assume you have your period. You’re too young for menopause and I had no idea what you used.”
“Most of the time it was whatever rag I could find. Thanks.” She picked up a box of tampons and put them in her cart then I added everything not a feminine product and abandoned my cart. A few minutes later we had bras—34B’s–and panties and socks. Amazingly, we found a cashier line with only one person ahead of us. Once we had checked out we returned to the car and I drove down to the shoe store. One of the clerks gave Jessie a dirty look which I suppose might have been justified considering her appearance, but my withering glare turned him in the opposite direction fast.
Jessie picked out a pair of New Balance sneakers and a pair of basic black—well, I’d call them ‘loafers,’ but I was sure they were actually called something else. Back in my car, I drove to my house.
“I live about twenty-five minutes away up in Sunset Beach, North Carolina. When we get there I’d like you to go to my guest bathroom. Drop your clothes outside the door. You can lock all three doors so you’ll be assured of privacy. Use the medicated shampoo on your hair then if you wrap one of the big towels around your body I’ll come in and use the fine-toothed comb to pull out any nits. Now…don’t be insulted, but the pharmacist said you might have them in your pubic area, too. She suggested either the shampoo or shaving the area. That would wash any lice and nits down the drain. I think you should check your armpits, too. If we don’t get everything the first time around we can continue tomorrow morning. You can have your choice of the extra bedrooms, okay?”
“Like I’m going to argue. I assume you’d like to fuck me so why am I sleeping in a separate room?”
“Let’s get things straightened out before we even think about it. I’ll make an appointment with my doctor tomorrow, too. I think you should be tested for STD’s. Again, please don’t be insulted. Did every one of your partners use a condom? I’ll bet not, and you weren’t exactly in a position to insist.”
I had turned off US-17 North onto NC-179—Beach Road—that would lead straight to my house. I pulled through the gate about ten minutes later. Carrying the bags of clothes into the living room, I stopped before taking all the personal items into the guest bath. I locked the two doors that led to the two adjacent bedrooms and placed everything on the vanity. “Need anything else?”
“Of course—I’ll cut the tags off while you shower and wash your hair. I’ll bring in a set of clothes for you when I comb out your hair.” I opened the linen closet and removed a wash cloth and a big thick bath towel. “I think this will cover you. I’ll get a trash bag for your clothes. They’ll have lice in them so they have to go. Just drop them outside the door. I’ll have the bag ready. Make sure you remove any personal items you might have in the pockets. Okay, see you once you’ve cleaned up then we’ll go out to dinner.” I closed the door and heard her lock it. I was back in less than a minute with a heavy-duty trash bag and I was just in time to take the items directly from her outstretched hand.
I selected the rear bedroom for her thinking it would be quieter and made the queen bed there before cutting the tags from her clothes and placing them either on hangers in the closet or into drawers in the dresser. I selected a top, bra, panties, Capri’s, and socks for her to wear. I was just about finished when I heard her open the door. “Doug?”
“I’m right here. Here are some clothes for you. I hope everything matches okay. Why don’t you sit on the stool while I comb your hair?” She did and I ran the comb through her hair exactly as the pharmacist had told me to, the teeth flush with her scalp. I must have pulled a hundred nits—lice egg cases—from her scalp before running them down the drain with steaming hot water. I could see the bite marks where the lice had feasted on her blood. What a shame that a decent human being had to live like this.
All told I spent almost a half hour combing her hair, even going over the same areas two and three times until the comb was clean. Then I left Jessie to dress. I was somewhat surprised at how well she had cleaned up. I guessed her height at about 5 feet 9 inches and she was painfully thin, no doubt because she hadn’t eaten regularly. She had small breasts, I thought for the same reason and narrow hips. Her face was an almost perfect oval with blue eyes and high cheekbones I hadn’t noticed before. I left her alone and five minutes later she was ready.
I set the house alarm and led her out to my Honda. It really was a pretty decent car. I’d bought it new when I moved here last year. There’s a big difference between buying a car in New York and buying one here. For one thing, the sales people actually make you believe they’re glad to have you in their showroom. Many times in New York I’d stood around for half an hour while they completely ignored my presence. I only give people like that one chance. I’d never go into that dealership again, but I always made sure to write an explanatory letter to the general manager. The biggest difference was that I paid for this car with a personal check. In New York an official bank check was always required and, even then, I had to sit around the dealership while they called the bank to ensure that it was real.
I opened the door for Jessie and backed out into the driveway. A minute later we were back on Beach Road headed toward the nearby village of Calabash. I parked in the lot at Boundary House. It was just after eight so the early rush of senior citizens was long gone. We were shown straight to a table by the hostess. Once we had our menus I asked Jessie, ”Would you like a drink? They might ask you for ID, but maybe not since I come here often.”
“It’s okay…I have my expired driver’s license from Iowa. What would you have? The drink, I mean.”
“I usually have a Margarita on the rocks. I enjoy it. You can barely taste the tequila through the lemon-and lime juice in it.”
“I think I’ll join you.” That was what we ordered when the waitress came to the table. I explained what I knew about the menu. “I’ve had the baked potato soup several times. I think it’s really good. When was the last time you ate?”
“Day before yesterday with the Canadian couple—a burger and some fries with a Coke for lunch.”
“Then you’re probably hungry enough that you can handle the soup. It’s pretty filling. Also, the salads here are big and really good with cheese, bacon, and almonds in addition to the standard lettuce and tomatoes. For entrees I suggest the shrimp—grilled or fried—the chicken fingers, ribs, or prime rib. They’re all usually pretty good. I had the filet once and it was okay, but just okay. I’m going to have the ribs.”
Jessie did order the soup, suggesting we share, the salad with Italian, and the ribs with baked sweet potato. I had the salad with bleu cheese and the ribs with baked potato. I toasted with Jessie once the drinks had arrived. “Here’s to better days.”
She smiled and took a sip. “Good choice; I really like it.”
Now I smiled. “Don’t like it too much. They can really sneak up on you. They’re stronger than you might think. That’s why I never have more than two.” A minute later our soup arrived and I could tell by the expression on her face that it was another good choice. I could also tell that she was reluctant to share, but, after eating about half, she pushed the bowl across the table. I only ate a little bit and returned the bowl to her.
I loved the salads here and the accompanying croissant was always fresh and delicious with its drizzle of honey butter. Jessie must have been really hungry because she finished everything and even agreed to share a dessert of New York cheesecake even though she told me she’d never had it before. “Your other suggestions worked out well. I’ll trust you on this one.” The restaurant claims their cheesecake is flown in daily from the world-famous Carnegie Deli in Manhattan. I couldn’t say for sure if that was true, but the cheesecake was always delicious. Apparently, Jessie agreed. I paid the check, adding a generous tip and we were back in the car a few minutes later.
“Feeling better now,” I asked.
“Much—I can’t remember eating such a good meal or so much in years. Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
“You’re welcome. I want to give your job problem a little thought tomorrow. There must be something you can do. I just have to figure out what. It’ll probably come to me while I’m sleeping.” I could see her confusion so I continued. “That’s when I always get my best ideas.”
We were back at the house and had walked in when I noticed how tired Jessie was. “You know what? I just realized that we didn’t get you any pajamas or a nightgown. I could let you use one of my tee-shirts and some gym shorts that you can tie. I’m obviously bigger than you, but I think it’ll work.” I disappeared down the hallway to the master bedroom, returning a few minutes later with a navy blue tee shirt from the Bulldog Saloon in Whitefish, Montana and a pair of grey nylon shorts with ties in the front. I said goodnight, reminding her that she could lock the bathroom doors as well as the bedroom door if she wished.
“I think I’ll trust you, Doug. You’re obviously one of the good guys.” She gave me a hug and closed the door. I walked into my bedroom, closed the door and stripped naked for a quick shower. Ten minutes later I was sound asleep.
I always get my best ideas when I’m unconscious. When I woke at 4:30 I knew what to do so I walked into my home office and started to write a short program even though I was still half asleep. It was 5:15 when I turned it loose on the internet. I returned to bed knowing I was done sleeping for the night. Instead, I lay quietly in the bed while I thought about the events of the past day. I rose and dressed around 7:00.
Jessie walked into the kitchen as I was just finishing the morning paper. “Did you get any inspiration last night?”
“Did I ever! I think I’ve solved your problem and I’m working on it as we speak. It’s really so simple. You have to become someone else.”
“I wrote a program that will search the internet for news stories on births and deaths. What we need is someone—a girl, obviously—who was born around the same time as you and who died shortly thereafter. If we can find one we can write to the county where she was born for a birth certificate. Then we can get you a social security card, a driver’s license, the whole works.”
She looked worried. “Is that legal?”
“No, but if we can find the right one we’ll never get caught. We’ll find one. It’s just a matter of time. Later today I’ll phone my doctor and get you an appointment for a complete checkup. I think you should see my dentist, too. Let’s get some breakfast—scrambled eggs, French toast, or pancakes? Bacon or sausage?”
“What would you like?”
I had to laugh. “I knew you were a survivor! Talk about tactful! Okay, how about scrambled and sausage links? Help yourself to coffee. Ever use one of these single-cup machines?” I gave her a quick tutorial before opening the refrigerator and pulling out six eggs and eight links. They went onto a hot griddle while I broke the eggs and stirred them into a homogeneous batter with a stainless steel whisk. I had everything cooking in less than a minute. Jessie had just taken her first sip of coffee when I pointed her to the cabinets for plates and silverware. I served her a generous helping before serving myself and dropping the frying pan into the sink.
We sat in the large eat-in kitchen overlooking the back yard and the marsh beyond that led to the Intra-Coastal Waterway. I had a long dock four feet wide with railings over the marsh leading to a 150 square-foot area where I kept two boats high above the water on hydraulic lifts. “So, you drive a Honda, but have two boats?”
“Of course! One must always keep one’s priorities in order besides…fishing is much more fun than driving. There are some great beaches nearby, too.” She held herself as though shivering from the cold although it was a toasty seventy degrees in the house. “Well, there are great beaches nearby when it’s warm enough.”
“Why two boats?”
“One is perfect here in the ICW or in one of the inlets, but it’s much too small to use in the ocean. That’s why I have the 33-footer, plus it has two engines which are a big insurance factor when you’re offshore. They’re both from Grady-White, known for over-built boats for generations. The outboards are all 250-horsepower Yamaha’s—the best outboards that plenty of money can buy. What the hell, I have to spend it on something.”
Now Jessie laughed. “You are human, after all. Great eggs, too—you’re going to make me fat.”
“I doubt it, but you look like you could use a few extra pounds. I know you’ve had a tough time.” We chatted for a few minutes then I dumped the dishes in the sink for later and took her on a tour of the house, stopping first in my office. She looked in awe at my computers arranged vertically on a steel rack.
“What on earth is that?”
“That is actually my computer. There are four servers, each capable of handling dozens of individual work stations, hooked up together. I have more speed and power than Merrill Lynch does in their Manhattan office. Let’s see if we’ve gotten any results yet.”
My hands flew across the keyboard. Shit! I had results—too many. “Okay, when’s your birthday?”
“August 6, 1992; why?”
“I need to narrow the parameters on this search. I already have 15,000 matches. I was kind of asleep when I wrote it. Also, I forgot to input your sex. Finding Robert or Mark or Thomas isn’t going to help us.” Again, I typed quickly and the number of matches dropped to 76. “I asked for July through September of 1992 and added ‘female only’ to the search parameters. We can look at them later. Right now I have to make some phone calls.”
I phoned my doctor and made arrangements for blood tests tomorrow morning. “I also want testing for STD’s for my friend. She’s had a tough time surviving. I’ll go into detail with Dr. Whitney next week.” After ringing off I dialed in to my dentist, making an appointment for a cleaning and exam on Friday morning. Money talks; I learned a long time ago about the power of cash.
Jessie and I made short work of the dishes then I walked her to her room where we worked together to make her bed. We hadn’t found any lice on the sheets or blankets, but I still suggested that she wash her hair again. I hesitated to ask her about her other areas out of respect for her privacy. However, she readily volunteered the information. “I shaved my legs and underarms last night after using the shampoo. I thought about my pubic hair until I realized that I would have to comb the hair there. That cinched it for me. It’s the first time I’ve been bald there since I was eleven.”
“That was entirely your decision. All I care about is your health.” She looked at me for a few seconds as though to ask me a question then she smiled and went back to work. I left and Jessie closed the door. I noticed that she didn’t lock it, not that I would ever dream of intruding. Hearing the water in the shower, I turned and walked into my office to check the results of my search.
My computers were so powerful and so fast that they could scan millions of birth and death notices in a single second. It might take another second to compare them in search of a match. I had designed the program to begin searching births in the southern states and the deaths in the mid-west. After exhausting those it would automatically shift areas, concentrating wherever possible on pairs that were geographically different. The program had already identified 86 pairs. I had never realized that there were so many cases in which children died shortly after being born.
First I printed out the highlights—date of birth, place, date of death, and place. I automatically rejected any in which both places were identical, assuming that people would know the family and identify their tragedy if I made an inquiry regarding the child. That removed more than ninety percent of the pairings. I now had exactly seven examples to investigate. I eliminated another two almost immediately. In one the father was a mayor whose two-month old daughter had died on vacation. In another one parent was a relatively well-known entertainer. It was the third in which I thought we hit pay dirt. I couldn’t wait to share it with Jessie.
She called me from the bathroom so I left the data for later. I found her seated on the stool, the towel wrapped tightly around her slender body. I parted her hair with the comb and began a methodical combing that I hoped would cover every hair on her head. Whereas I had uncovered roughly a hundred nits last night, this morning I found only three. More importantly, I didn’t see even one live louse.
I was about a minute into the combing when I remembered to share my news. “I think I’ve found the perfect new identity for you. The child—Jennifer Marie Townsend—was born on August 4th, 1992. There was a news story from the local newspaper in Whitehead, Tennessee that the family was driving north on I-65 to Chicago where the father was going to accept a new job when mom began to give birth. They pulled off the interstate when they saw a hospital sign, stopping at the emergency room of the nearby Marshall Medical Center. Jennifer was born and her birth is registered there in the Marshall County records. They stayed there for three days before continuing north, again on I-65 en-route to Chicago. Unfortunately, they never made it. A day later they pulled off I-90 near Hammond, Indiana. According to witnesses, Mr. Townsend attempted a right on red from the exit ramp when his car was struck by a tractor-trailer doing 55 with the light. Either he was distracted or something, but all three in the family were killed when the car broke apart and flew almost fifty feet through the air.
Apparently, there was an extensive police investigation, but they never found any relatives to claim the bodies so the company the father was going to work for paid for cremations. The ashes were never claimed and were disposed of by the crematory. It’s a sad story, but perfect for you. That the death was in another state means there is unlikely to be any tie-in between the agencies.”
“I almost feel guilty taking her identity.”
“Don’t. Why don’t you look at it as being a second chance for her…and for you, too? It’s the only thing I can think of to throw your stepfather off your trail permanently.” She gave me a coy smile and nodded.
I lent her one of my college sweatshirts and we walked together to the garage for a ride down to the nearest big shopping mall. She needed a warm jacket badly and we hadn’t found anything in Walmart last night. Looking down at her chest she asked, “MIT?”
“Yeah, I was a grad student there. Having a PhD. is almost a requirement in the software development field unless you’re under eighteen and a genius.”
“I thought you were a genius.”
“Thanks for the compliment, but I was eighteen when I started my undergrad studies. I was already too old when I decided this was what I wanted to do.”
“I hesitate to ask where you went to college.”
“Then don’t; let’s get into the car and get you a jacket. That’s a bit more of a priority than my personal history.” She shrugged her shoulders and I drove down to Myrtle Beach.
The Myrtle Beach Mall in northern Myrtle Beach has JC Penney, Belk, and Bass Pro Shops which actually had quite an extensive assortment of clothing for both men and women. I liked BPS so we went there first. We had just entered the ladies department when I spied several jackets.
Unfortunately, they were more suitable for spring or fall, but there were several others nearby. Jessie tried on a few before picking out a down-filled jacket by Columbia. Rather than pay I led her to the back of the store where we found the large salt water aquarium. The store was almost deserted so we sat on a nearby bench to watch the fish.
“I never would have guessed,” Jessie said just above a whisper.
“Yeah, there are a lot of things on display—bears and deer over on the right in the hunting department and loads of deep water fish replicas up by the ceiling in the fishing department.”
She looked right first and then at the fish models. “Wow!”
“If you like these I think you’ll love Original Benjamin’s.”
“Do you like seafood?”
“Yeah–when I can actually get it.”
“Original Benjamin’s is a big seafood buffet restaurant just down the road in Restaurant Row. There’s a huge model of the Queen Elizabeth in the entry and the restaurant is decorated like a museum.
The food is pretty good and it’s all-you-can-eat—right up your alley”. She gave my arm a playful punch before I continued. “The crab legs alone are worth the price. Let’s try it tomorrow. I’ll cook up a steak tonight. We can have hot dogs for lunch if you like.”
“Three meals a day; I don’t believe it.”
“It’s the least I can do. How could I save you from the cold and allow you to starve? That wouldn’t be much help, would it?” I looked over to her and received a shy smile for my efforts.
After charging the purchase we detoured to customer service where I was able to cut the tags from Jessie’s jacket. She held her arms out and I slipped it onto her shoulders. She smiled again and we were on our way home.
There was a white panel truck in the driveway when we arrived. “I have the house cleaned once a week. They have a key and they know the alarm code.” I continued when Jessie showed a shocked expression on her face. “And they’re bonded. They have an excellent reputation and they want to keep it. A story in the news about a theft and they’d be done. C’mon, let’s go in. I need to write a script for your call to Marshall County this afternoon.”
“A script for you to follow; you might need a story to tell them and I know you’ll be nervous.” We walked into the house and I found May Gore and her daughter Le’andra at work in the living room. “Hi, May,” I said as we entered the spacious room. “This is my friend, Jennie…Jennifer.” No time like the present for Jessie to assume her new identity.
“Hi, Missuh Doug…Miss Jennie. We just got heah ‘bout a half hour ago,” she said with a huge smile of white teeth in stark contrast to her coal-black skin. Like many black women, she was heavy-set with big breasts and a huge butt, but I’d never seen anyone work as hard as May and her children. I’d met four of them since I’d moved here ten months ago. I waved to Le’andra as she set up the vacuum and led Jennie/Jessie to the office.
We had just entered when Jessie whispered, “Why did you call me Jennie?”
“Sorry to take you by surprise like that, but I thought it might be better and avoid questions later—you know…Jessie…Jennie.”
“Oh! I guess you’re right.” We laid our coats on the chair and I moved to the desk. I began to type what I thought would be a reasonable and believable history for Jennifer Marie Townsend. I double-spaced it in a 14-point font and handed it to Jessie/Jennie once it was printed out. She read it quickly then looked up, smiled and read it again. “I like it, Doug. It makes sense and I can even believe it.”
“All you have to do is read it and ask what the fee is for a duplicate birth certificate. You probably don’t have to go into any detail, but most people are suckers for a hard luck story.” I checked the clock and suggested I begin our lunch. I asked May if she wanted to join us already knowing the answer. She and Le’andra had joined me several times since coming to work for me.
I started the grill and left it to warm up while I made the other preparations. With Jessie’s…oops, I mean Jennie’s help we had the table set in no time. I had eight buns, but thought I might need more dogs. May and Le’andra could put down three or four each easily and I knew that Jennie was making up for lost time. I went out into the freezing air to toast the buns, returning them to the plastic bag once they were done. The dogs were done about ten minutes later and I called May and her daughter to join us.
We sat around the table, eating and chatting amiably until May asked, “Jennie, how did you and Missuh Doug meet? We never seen no woman ‘round heah before.”
I thought Jennie would choke so I rushed to her rescue. “It’s kind of personal, May. The important thing is that we did meet. You’ll no doubt see her here in the future.”
“Yeah, I figured that. Le’andra spotted the clothes in the back bedroom and all the things in the bathroom.”
“Those are none of your business, May. I assumed you were discreet when I hired you.”
“Yes suh, I meant no harm.”
“Good…not another word about Jennie’s presence here.” I took her hand; I could see that she was near tears. “Perhaps it would be best if you returned to work.” May and Le’andra rose, but they were not happy. There were still four hot dogs remaining on the plate.
“You have no reason to be concerned or ashamed about your past, Jessie. Leaving home the way you did and for the reasons you had took a lot of courage. You managed to survive for more than five years when you couldn’t even get a job. You had to do a lot of unpleasant things, but you survived when many others would have died either by their own hand or murdered by some sicko who picked you up. That part of your life is behind you. I don’t think you’ll ever have to go through that again.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because starting this afternoon you’ll have a new life. I’ll help you put it together and I’ll stand by you until you’re ready. You’re safe here. You should think of this as your home while you….” I never had the chance to finish. Jennie threw her arms around my neck and hugged me fiercely. There were tears on her face when she finally pushed herself away.
“I think meeting you is the best and luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“I’m glad. For the record I’m glad I met you, too.” I squeezed her hand and we returned to our lunch.
I wasn’t at all surprised when she ate four dogs. I only had two. We cleaned up the minimal mess, nothing more than paper plates, napkins, disposable plastic cups, and only a single large dish for the dishwasher. We retired to my office, the one area of the house that May never entered. I sat Jennie at the desk and entered the number of the Marshall County Administrative Building.
I knew that Marshall County was sparsely populated with fewer than 31,000 residents as of 2014. I’d be amazed if their records department was computerized. The phone was answered on the third ring.
“Um…can I speak to someone about a duplicate birth certificate?”
(Just a moment; I’ll connect you.)
(Records…how may I help you?)
“Uh…I’m Jennie…I mean I’m Jennifer Marie Townsend and I’ve been told that I was born in Marshall County. I don’t know for sure because both my parents died in a house fire when I was about a month old. According to neighbors my dad carried me out of the house. He must have thought that my mother was behind him because he hesitated a bit before putting me down on the lawn and running back into the fire. The house collapsed and he and my mother died.
“I was brought up by my grandparents and I’ve lived with them ever since, taking care of Grandma for the last five years until she died last month. Now I need a job and I have to prove my citizenship so I need a replacement birth certificate.”
(I’m really sorry for all your troubles. Getting a new certificate is easy. You just need to send a letter with your name, birth date, and address…you know, where to send it. The cost is ten dollars so I’ll need a check, preferably a bank check or money order. That’s what they tell me to ask for, but a personal check is okay. It’ll just take a few days longer. Send your letter to the County Clerk, Lewisburg, TN 37019. I am really sorry you’ve had such a tough time, Dearie. I hope everything works out for you.)
“Thanks so much for your help. I really appreciate it.” Jennie hung up the phone and turned to me. “That was easier than I thought. Maybe this will work out after all.”
I had been taking notes so I took Jennie’s place at the desk and brought up my word processing program. I had a letter to the County Clerk done in no time. Checking my watch I saw that we might just make it to the bank before closing. I pulled Jennie after me, grabbing our jackets on the way and we were out the door a minute later. “Lock up, will you, May? I have to rush to the bank.”
We had our check fifteen minutes later then we were on our way to the local ACE Hardware. “Why are we going to a hardware store, Doug?”
“See the sign over there.” She looked to the building and saw it—United States Postal Service. “They have a desk in the back that handles mail on a contract with the real USPS. There’s no incoming mail here, only outgoing. It’s a lot quicker most times than driving all the way to Ocean Isle or Little River down in South Carolina.” We had a stamped envelope from the postal desk less than five minutes later. I addressed it for Jennie, using her new name c/o Douglas Preston, PhD with my address on Beach Road, Sunset Beach, NC 28468 as the return address. After handing the completed envelope to the clerk he told us it would likely be delivered by Friday, two days forward.
May was gone by the time we were back at the house. I returned to the office to clear all the search data from my computer. I had huge memory on my hard drives, but old habits die hard. Cleaning up after a project was something I’d begun as an undergrad, back when I had to do everything on a single laptop. Also, I didn’t want any evidence of illegal activity on my hard drive. Once the files were deleted I ran a program that would reformat the drive I had used. I rarely used the hard drives on the computers, preferring to use an external drive—just in case I picked up a serious virus. I could reinstall the files and programs that were required for compatibility with my servers. Once I was done I looked for Jennie, finding her lounging with a book, her back facing the glass doors that led to the deck where I kept my grill and an assortment of lounge chairs.
“Know what I missed most while I was on the road? Reading; I loved books as a kid. I was always reading something…anything. I’m glad to see you have more than just computer books.”
“I do have a life, you know.”
“I guess…so, when are you going to fuck me?”
“Huh? What brought that on?”
“In my experience people do something because they want something. I heard May and her daughter talking earlier. They’ve never seen a woman here…never! She said you lived like a monk.”
“Am I giving you a hard time because of how you lived? The truth is I don’t have much experience with women. I’m a nerd! So, shoot me! If we ever make love you’ll be on the pill and you’ll be 100 percent clean. Remember, that’s one of the reasons you’re being tested tomorrow morning. Besides, I’m doing this to keep you from freezing to death. One other thing—if we do make love it will be because you want to, not because you feel obligated. I hate the thought of being owed sex. Ugghh! That just makes the whole thing so cheap and so dirty. It makes my skin crawl. I’m not criticizing you. You had no choice, but now you do. You’ll have that choice as long as you’re here with me.”
“And how long will that be?”
“I have no idea. I obviously can’t keep you here. You’re not a slave, after all. You can go anytime you wish.”
“Do you want me to go?”
“No! For one thing you need your new identity and you need to get your health straightened out. You must be twenty pounds underweight. You need a driver’s license, both as an ID and if you ever get a job. Those things take time.”
“Plus, you want to fuck me.” She leaned forward and stuck her tongue out in my direction.
I gave up. “Alright…plus, I want to fuck you. Happy now?”
She jumped up and into my lap. Her arms around my neck she leaned in and whispered, “Yes.” She pressed her lips against mine and started to kiss me.
“You’re doing this because you want to…not because you feel you owe it to me.”
“I can see you know nothing about women. Shut up and open your mouth.” I thought at first that she had misspoke, but that idea vanished when she thrust her tongue into my mouth. Her fingers gripped my short hair with a ferocity I’d never known until now. I found my arms around her, pulling her slender body to mine. I was suddenly filled with a desire—no, not a desire–a need to be inside this woman. I picked her up and carried her to my room. Stripping her clothes from her body I laid her gently onto the bed while I threw mine onto the floor.
She laid there with a look of satisfaction on her face and her legs apart, her knees high into the air. I could see her recently naked pudenda glistening with droplets of her nectar. Reaching into my night table I removed a sleeve of five condoms. “Ooh, I hope you’re planning to use all of those even if I can’t walk tomorrow.”
My teeth tore the condom from the wrapper and I pushed it down my shaft, pulling it tight when it reached the base. I found myself kneeling between her legs a second later as she pulled me to her core. Damn! She was tight—certainly the tightest I’d ever known—and her heat was incredible. Her legs around my waist and her arms around my back pulled me balls-deep in but a single thrust.
I’d told Jennie/Jessie that I didn’t have much experience with women and that was true, but I wasn’t a virgin, not by a long shot. Who fucks a nerd? A girl nerd, that’s who, and there were girl nerds by the hundreds, if not thousands, at both Harvard where I was an undergrad and at MIT where I studied for my PhD. In one respect I was a virgin. This was my first time with a normal woman. All I had to do was survive her frenetic movements.
Jennie’s hunger surprised me. I knew she was grateful for what I’d done. I thought that any human being would be, but her emotions—her desire and her need—were overwhelming. She rose to meet my every thrust with energy and force equal to or exceeding mine. There was no way I was going to last very long at this pace even though I tried desperately to hold it back. I finally let it go when I heard Jennie whisper, “Give it to me. C’mon…cum hard for me.” And then, as if to emphasize her point she lifted me a foot above the bed. I drove into her even harder when we fell back and my cock seemed to explode as jets of slick white semen erupted from my rock hard organ.
Eventually, it ebbed and I softened. I rolled off Jennie, gripping the condom to ensure it wouldn’t leak into her. My breath was coming hard as I slowly recovered. I doubted then that I’d be able to get up to cook the promised steak for our dinner. Jennie slid onto my left side, her head on my chest and her leg thrown over mine, her red pussy oozing onto my thigh. “I’ve never done it like that—not even once. I’ve always lain perfectly still and allowed myself to be fucked. I liked doing it with you much more. That wasn’t so bad for you, was it?”
“Bad? No, it was incredible.”
“Good…then we can do it again after dinner.” I groaned in mock rebellion as I pulled her even closer. A minute later Jennie was asleep. I joined her not more than five minutes later. We slept together as lovers have for thousands of years, rising only when I felt an urgent need. There was no way I could slip out from under Jennie without waking her.
“What? Where are you going, Doug?”
“To answer nature’s call, unless you want to sleep tonight in a wet yellow bed.”
“I love it—now we’re sleeping in the same bed. I’ll move my clothes in here while you’re cooking dinner. Let me see the bathroom so I’ll know where to put my stuff. She walked behind me while I was taking a whiz, laying claim to the second basin and the drawers next to it. I had just finished when she pulled me into the shower. It was easily big enough for four.
“How the hell does this thing work,” she asked. I spent a few minutes explaining, showing her the thermostatically controlled tank-less water heater in the glass enclosed panel.
“This knob controls the temperature. We’re a long way from the water heater in the garage. This arrangement saves a lot of water and guarantees uniform temperature. Here, I’ll turn it on and we’ll have to wait a few seconds until the water is hot enough.” I set the thermostat for 104 degrees and opened the valve. We stood together holding hands for maybe thirty seconds until the deliciously hot water poured from the twenty-two spray heads on the four walls. Grabbing the soap from the recessed well I began to wash Jennie’s back and butt. Then I moved forward to wash her breasts and stomach. Her breasts were small, barely a B-cup in my limited experience, but I was sure they’d grow as she gained weight. Moving down I washed her abdomen, her pussy and her thighs.
I was tempted to eat her pussy, but that was going to have to wait until we knew if she was healthy. Her unfortunate lifestyle could easily have brought her into contact with one or more STD’s. That would be addressed tomorrow morning with a full set of blood tests. Dr. Whitney had always done a full battery on me and her analysis was always spot on.
I finished Jennie by tickling her feet then handed her the soap and watched as she addressed my body. For a nerd I have a decent body. I’m 6 feet 1 inch tall and weigh a solid 185 pounds. I usually go up to Shallotte to Gold’s Gym two to three times a week. I’d invite Jennie to join once things settled down between us.
Like me, Jennie began with my back and butt although she was much more playful when it came to my butt than I was with hers. I had to remind myself that she was eleven years younger than me. She did play with my cock and balls, even suggesting that I shave to match her. I told her I’d think about it, but made no promises. We dried each other and dressed. I put two potatoes in the oven to bake and took a good-sized ribeye out of the refrigerator to warm up before putting it on the grill.
Jennie set the table and we worked together to toss a salad. We were done well in advance of dinner so I opened a bottle of Chardonnay and brought two glasses of wine to the living room. We sat together on the couch, content and comfortable in our silence. I turned on the TV, but even with 200 channels there was still nothing I thought was worth watching so I pushed a DVD into the machine and turned to ask Jennie, “Ever hear of Charlie Chan? His movies used to be popular, but they’ve fallen out of favor because while good old Charlie was supposed to be a Chinese from Honolulu he was always played by white guys like Sidney Toler with a cheesy accent.”
“Sounds like a rip; I’ll give it a shot. Is this what you do for kicks…watch obscure old movies?”
“Sure, they’re better than the trash that’s on the tube these days. Those so-called reality shows are just absurd. None of them are anything even close to ’reality.’” I started the movie and sat back. Jennie snuggled close, pulling my arm over and around her shoulder. We sat silently, watching cornball Charlie Chan solve yet another insolvable crime.
I was about to turn the set off when the movie had ended, but stopped when Jennie commented, “Better than I thought it would be. Have any more?”
“Yeah, I have. I have Blazing Saddles, North by Northwest, High Noon, and a few others, too.”
“I’ve heard of Blazing Saddles, but not the others.”
“Then you’re in for a few surprises.” I kissed her quickly then rose to turn on the grill and tend to the steak, cutting into the fat along the side to prevent shrinkage and rubbing a mixture of salt, pepper, and spices into the meat. “I hope you like your steak medium rare,” I called into the living room. “That’s the only way I know how to cook it.” Jennie responded with a laugh.
Dinner was served fifteen minutes later and the steak was delicious, the potatoes were done just right, and the salad was a good complement to the meal. To complete the dinner I had opened a bottle of Chianti Classico, Vintage 2008. “Did you know that there’s a special Chianti grape? Regular Chianti has varying percentages of that special grape, but only Chianti Classico is made exclusively from the Chianti grape.”
“Actually, I didn’t know that. It wasn’t high on my menu priorities in my former life. I think Ripple or Muscatel was more appropriate.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up…I mean….”
“Relax, Doug—I’m not upset with you. It was what it was. You were right—I am a survivor.” We finished the meal in silence then I sat her at my desk with a note pad and told her, “Practice your new signature—Jennifer Marie Townsend. I’m sure you’ll have to print it tomorrow morning and complete some forms, too. The more you do it now the easier it will be then.” I kissed her again and went to tackle the dishes. It was no big deal. I’d been single like forever. I’d done them like a thousand times.
I emptied the trash and returned to find Jennie working feverishly on her third sheet. “This was a good idea. It’s almost automatic now.” I noticed that she had written her new signature three different ways with “Marie,” her initial “M,” and without. It was a very satisfactory exercise. She was just about to start her fourth page when I stopped her. “We need to go to bed. We have an early appointment and we’ll have to fast. I’ll take you out for breakfast after.” I set the house alarm and followed Jennie to the bedroom. She slid into bed naked and I followed. “Don’t you think we should brush our teeth…maybe go to the bathroom?”
“Can’t we do it after? You’re going to get up to dump the condom, aren’t you?” Damn, sometimes I just hate logic, but she was right. I lay back onto the bed and pulled her to me. We kissed and held each other. I ran my hand up and down her back, my finger exploring the sweet crack of her shapely ass. Jennie, for her part, had one hand enmeshed in my hair while the other had a firm grip on my cock. We rolled around on the bed for more than ten minutes until she could take no more. “Oh God! Fuck me, Doug. Please…please fuck me!”
I reached for a condom, but Jennie beat me to it. A second later it was snugly in place and a second after that Jennie was sliding down my pole. I reached up to massage her breasts and tweak her nipples. She groaned as our bodies met in a rhythm that ground her clit into me faster and harder with my every thrust.
In minutes we were rutting like wild beasts. It certainly was unique for me to experience rabid unbridled sex like this, and to do it more than once a day was simply incomprehensible. Where had this woman been all my life? We continued our rapid pace for several minutes. Fortunately, having cum only a few hours ago gave me the stamina to keep up with her.
My hands found her breasts and nipples as her lips found mine. Damn, but this woman could kiss! Mid-kiss she began to groan and her body began to shake. Good thing, because I felt a rumbling deep within my groin. Jennie hesitated for a second, her back arched more than I thought humanly possible then, just as quickly, she moved forward as her body was wracked with spasm. It was the most powerful and the longest orgasm I’d ever seen. She had just collapsed onto my chest when my cock went off. My orgasm lacked the energy of this afternoon’s, but I was plenty satisfied when it ended. I asked myself then why I had agreed to get up after we were done. I really was done in. I had no energy at all.
We laid there for perhaps fifteen minutes before Jennie whispered, “I’m sorry. I should have realized we’d both be shot after that. It was incredible, Doug—my best ever…honest.”
“I’m glad, but we’d better get up before this condom leaks into you and before we fall asleep.”
“Party pooper!” She grinned then gave me a quick peck before struggling to get up. I struggled after her. Five minutes later we were luxuriating under the hot shower. We soaped each other then Jennie used the special shampoo again just to be sure. We dried each other, dressed in tee-shirts and gym shorts and I attacked her hair with the special comb. We were both pleased to find no evidence of lice.
The night was still relatively young but we had to get up early. We flopped into bed, falling asleep almost immediately. Jennie’s head was on my chest and her leg rested lightly on my thigh. I wasn’t accustomed to being touched while sleeping. Truth be told, this was the first time I’d ever actually slept with a woman. I loved it.